Miniaturizing a Live Oak?

jcmohn(8b, Austin TX)October 15, 2005


I've been reading several Bonsai books over the past couple of months (e.g. Tomlinson, Coussins, and Naka), and am ready to give it a try. Initially, I just want to experiment a little to see how things work. I was thinking of starting with a Live Oak (Quercus virginia).

Home Depot has some 15 ft trees with 2 - 3 inch straight trunks, and no low branches. Since the trunks are fairly straight, they might not be suitable for traditional bonsai, but I'd still like to experiment with one.

1) Can I chop the trunk at about 2 feet up without killing the tree? If so, is Fall the best time to chop it, when it is dormant, or should I wait until Spring?

2) Has anyone on this forum ever tried to miniaturize Live Oak? Do they handle root pruning well?

3) Any other advice?



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mrgreengenes(5 Chicago)

Jon. Yes indeed, live oaks are used in bonsai and I'm sure if in good health can withstand a good trunk chop however I would be more inclined to air layer off the top. It does take more time but you double the material you have to work with. 6 to 1 .... In more northerly climates with dicidious trees trunk chopping is best done in spring as buds begin to swell but before leaf break. I am also inclined to refer you to a bonsai club. Being that Austin is a major metropolitan area I am sure you'd be able to locate one. You can really get alot more from meeting with real people who work with similar material than using your imagination to fill in the blanks. Well I should say it works for me that way most of the time anyway. Good luck. -G

    Bookmark   October 15, 2005 at 6:17PM
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jcmohn(8b, Austin TX)

I like your name, Mr. Green Genes!

Thanks for the response, and the advice. I'm sure joining a bonsai club is the right thing to do -- if I can find the time, of course. I hadn't thought of air layering off the top part of the tree to double the material, and I'm sure that type of great advice flows freely at the local club(s).

I'll look around and see if I can find a club to join. I'm planning on buying one of the Live Oaks discussed above, keeping it in its pot through the winter, and chopping it next Spring. In fact, I might just buy two and try air layering one of them as you suggest.

At the risk of wearing out my welcome, I'm going to ask just a couple more beginner questions:

I've only read about air layering branches to get starts. Can you air layer the trunk, too? Is it possible to air layer several sections of trunk to get multiple starts?



    Bookmark   October 16, 2005 at 12:18PM
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TerryW(z8 TX)


Spring, as G said, is the best time to do either the chop or airlayer. You can do an al anywhere on the oak, but usually only one at a time on a trunk. You can al several branches at once. Make sure the tree is healthy. The HD store closest to me in Austin frequently lets their stock dry out badly. Seems to be common at big box stores.

The Austin Bonsai Society meets on the 2nd Wed of each month at Zilker Garden Center. We start at 7:30. It's a great way to learn bonsai and meet bonsai folks.


    Bookmark   October 16, 2005 at 6:01PM
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mrgreengenes(5 Chicago)

Your welcome Jon. No need to worry about wearing out your welcome either. It seems to me the best you recieve from people when you're truly in need and the worst when people don't come through for you. Just glad to help when I can. -G

    Bookmark   October 16, 2005 at 8:23PM
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mark_rockwell(7 Va)

I have kept live oak bonsai (Quercus virginina) for over five years here in Va.

I have a very large--over 3', 9" nebari, 100 +--collected live oak. It was dug near Salado, Tex. by an Austin-area bonsai dealer (who has since retired from the biz, unfortunatley) I've also trunk chopped nursery live oak, too with pretty good results so far.

I don't live in Tex, but have family there, so I get down to visit alot and bring back trees (cedar elm is another terrific bonsai candidate)to Va.

Anyway, I've found Live Oak to be extremely good bonsai material. Very hardy, adaptable to pot culture and a vigorous grower. The species of live oak growing in Texas is distinct from the coastal form growing along the Gulf coast. It is a subspecies called Quercus Virginiana "fusiformis." It tends not to spread as much and is more winter hardy. It's a tougher customer overall.

Since I REALLY dislike this forum, email me privately. Maybe I can help you more.

Mark R.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2005 at 8:31AM
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I just recently tuned in to your forum, but I have repeatedly noticed the rudeness of the person "Lucy". Her remarks are critical and uncalled for. In every communication there is an undertone of sarcasm and ridicule. I am sure many people hesitate to write again, or to use this forum, when they read such a response. It detracts from the kind, knowledgable, and wonderful advise given by so many others who are sincere in their efforts to help. Further, it makes you feel squeemish when you see that name appear. I think "Lucy" should refrain from input until she learns some communication manners. The most knowledgable person cannot help others if they do not know how to communicate in a tactful, helpful manner.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2006 at 12:39AM
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rjj1(Norman OK Zone7)

I won't dispute your statement. Lucy's laptop manor may not be to everyones liking, that's life. Lucy is Lucy, and in general trys to help people. There are other venues that are worse.

I'm curious what's the difference between what Lucy does and what you have just done? You haven't brought anything to the table. No posts other than this "rudeness" toward Lucy.


    Bookmark   September 13, 2006 at 8:09AM
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rij1 - I'm a bit surprised to find myself here... but Thank You! I was wondering about that myself, but didn't want to say anything as it would just be adding fuel to his fire.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2006 at 10:45AM
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I have a 4 year-old "potted" live oak that is about 4 feet tall with one solid trunk and about five or six branches coming out of the top of the main trunk with little branches with leaves coming out of these five or six branches. I have been training these little branches by twisting them around each other and the five or six main branches into cool circles and spirals. In about two years, once these little branches become thicker and part of the five or six main branches, I plan to cut the tree back just above the circles and spirals in hopes of thickening all branches, especially the cool circles and spirals, and of course the main trunk.

In the meantime, I plan to cut the roots back this fall, but just barely. I don't want to stun this fairly young live oak.

How does my plan sound? I am very new to bonsaiing.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2006 at 7:07PM
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Yes, I guess you are :-)! Well, the first thing would be to see if you can post a picture on the gallery of this forum (with a note here to let us know to go look at it) which will go a long way to helping us help you. The second thing is to say where you live, as that's going to matter. From your description, I imagine some pretty cuckoo things that your tree might look like, so a picture would really help! Well, you want to thicken branches - why? The trunk, yes, but if you thicken branches, you lose the whole effect of a fat (therefore 'old') trunk - set off by relatively small branches - making it proportional to a very mature tree, vs a young (if strong and healthy) tree... and bonsai's all about fat trunks and old trees, not young ones... it's the illusion that counts. If you cut roots and/or foliage, you'll slow down its growth - most good bonsai growers plonk their trees straight in the ground (or at least a large pot) for a few yrs to speed up the trunk growth, don't touch the roots, and don't touch the tree otherwise. It's not supposed to look 'bonsai' instantly, that takes time, or you just end up with a table decoration from Wal-Mart that no one respects (and probably won't live very long). What you DO want to do (if you're serious about bonsai, and not just this tree) is chop the thing right back (to a reasonable height!), and encourage new smaller branches to grow, but that's done at the right time of year, in the right way, with a rationale behind the chop, and not just a random choice of location, plus results will depend a lot on the species. And what are you doing with 'circles' and spirals? That doesn't sound very bonsai to me. Good bonsai should look like real trees, natural, not contorted into some fantastic shape... that's considered tacky. I mean if you want a 4' tall trunk with circles and spirals on top, I guess that's your choice, but please don't call it bonsai :-). Send pix!

    Bookmark   September 15, 2006 at 9:51PM
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I am new to this forum, I am looking for advice on starting a bonsai. I live in Ohio. i have had a great interest in bonsai for years. Last summer my husband took me to a truck sitting along the road, they were selling juniper shrubs with a haircut. He was so proud he was gonna get me a bonsai. Sorry Hubby, don't want that kind. I want a real tree. I live in a area with hills on one side of me and the river in my back yard. So can someone please tell me what kind of tree I should get how I should go about getting it started. I apologize, I'm sure you all get sick of guiding dummies like me along. Thank You

    Bookmark   October 18, 2006 at 9:02PM
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gnome_in_pa(Zone 6)


QUOTE: "they were selling juniper shrubs with a haircut. He was so proud he was gonna get me a bonsai. Sorry Hubby, don't want that kind. I want a real tree."

Junipers make excellent bonsai. You may have been wise to pass up these particular plants but don't rule Junipers out.

QUOTE: "I live in a area with hills on one side of me and the river in my back yard. So can someone please tell me what kind of tree I should get..."

Not really sure what your topography has to do with this issue unless perhaps you live on the north side of a hill and get little sun.

QUOTE: "how I should go about getting it started."

Bonsai are started in many of the same ways that other plants are, seedlings, cuttings and layers. Trees/shrubs can be purchased at nurseries and trained. Some of the best specimens are collected either from the wild or from the urban landscape. There are literally millions of shrubs and trees growing in lawns and gardens across the country.

There are also bonsai nurseries that sell trees in any level of development that you wish to pay for. Anything from "finished" trees to stock that has had only the initial work done. In your climate you will probably be waiting until Spring now, use the time to choose a species that you like and make your plans.

In the future you will probably get a better response if you start your own thread and ask more specific questions.


    Bookmark   October 21, 2006 at 10:34PM
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Dear jcmohn,
Your title aptly captures the spirit of bonsai in a nutshell. I sense there are 2 methods of miniaturizing techniques: one is to train a plant to remain small from the point of germination, another is to diminish the height of larger plants to make them look small. The former takes too long but looks more natural n the latter is a quick fix n appear artificial. In Japan, bonsai lovers will never accept any bonsai where the main stem had been prune, though careful hands can make the branch to hid the cut. The quick fix also will not look "aged" even it has a thick trunk, albeit too straight for a bonsai appearence. In relation to its height, a good thick aged trunk can be attained in about 6 years (for fast growing variety like maple) or 10 years (slow growing like your oak) but it will possess a natural decrease in girth from base to tip.
People in the west have been exposed to the Japanese style of bonsai, with their distinct different styles of presentation. What is interesting is the bonsai which had been developed in China for thousands of years. In China there r at least 8 distinct style of bonsai, developed more on a geographical basis. Eg. the Szechuan bonsai has right angled bends in its main trunk and looks exquisitely artful. Then u have the "one inch three bends" style of the Yangchou school, sometimes referred to as the "flower pagoda". It has the appearence of layered thin clouds in odd numbers, never even. Each style is very distinctive in its own way and presents a different character.
Who is to know which country started bonsai first: China or Japan? Suffice to say the beginning is not an issue; both styles have their own beauty. People have their own preference and we need not waste our energy n time trying to exert our preference. Like Shakespeare "To each his own".

    Bookmark   October 23, 2006 at 2:12PM
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rjj1(Norman OK Zone7)


You do have a right to express an opinion. Problem is the opinion you expressed is not based on facts. A little reading and study of bonsai techniques will do wonders for your opinion.


    Bookmark   October 31, 2006 at 5:54AM
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The thing is, newcomers to bonsai will see something here 'in print' written by someone who sounds very confident in their post, and the newbies will take it as gospel, and then wonder why their trees die. There's some responsibility that comes with expressing opinions here, and while no one expects everyone else to be an expert, a lack of truly erroneous information in a posting is probably a better thing than a lot of it.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2006 at 8:44AM
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I am in the area of the Central Coast - Monterey Peninsula, and Coast Live Oak is one of my favorites. A few months ago, I purchased one, to play with and it has a nice thick trunk and lots of shoots and green leaves.
The wild oaks in the area provide loads of great examples to emulate and I want to know a good way to thicken the branches, and also is now (midsummer) a good time to do some root work?


About the circles and swirls, there is a fun bonsai book I found at Borders called "pop bonsai". It was written by a trained Bonsai expert who likes to experiment with unusual patterns. For me, I tried it once with an azelea, but quickly discerned that the traditional discipline of Bonsai is something that I prefer.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2007 at 9:19PM
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Hi. I'm new here. Ihave always wanted a Quercus virginiana and being in SW Pa can't have one in the yard I thought bonsai may be a way to grow one. I have seed coming to me in a week or so. My question is where to put it in the winter. Does it need some cold or can I put it in my pretty much consistent 60 F basement in front of a south facing window? And when I sow the seed should I let it grow for the trunk thickness as stated above and let the taproot kink up in the bottom of the container? That just seems wrong but if I don't do that it would mean I would have to mess with the roots. Unless there is a method like bottomless pots for seed germination. I have no experience whatsoever with bonsai, I've grown oaks from seed outside which is of course super easy. Has anyone tried a southern tree as this outside and under protection in winter? Being that they are small a mini-greenhouse would do fine in covering it. Maybe it would get moldy though with the lack of air circulation? Any input from someone who has done this or has any ideas? thanks. poaky

    Bookmark   December 20, 2010 at 8:28PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

I haven't grown Q. virginiana, but I have grown native Blue oaks.
After the first year, you can trim the taproot when you re-pot.
I re-pot in late Winter/early Spring when the trees are still quiescent.


    Bookmark   December 20, 2010 at 9:08PM
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Thanks for the tip. I'll be shopping for a book on bonsai. Any sugestions on a good book? If I get one online you don't know if the book is really informative or not. I wrote down the names of the authors of the original posters books. Thanks

    Bookmark   December 21, 2010 at 2:20PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Hey, I think Al (Tapla) can direct you to the best books.
If you can, joining a bonsai club is really helpful.


    Bookmark   December 21, 2010 at 3:07PM
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I must ask what is Tapla? I live in a small town and can't even imagine how to find out where the bonsai club is. The nearest big city is Pittsburgh. That's 30 to 40 miles away and may be hard to consistently attend classes. I learn better by trial and error anyway and a good book or website will be better for my situation.

    Bookmark   December 22, 2010 at 3:55PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

He's named Al. He posts here ;)


    Bookmark   December 22, 2010 at 5:36PM
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It is like this, long tap root using fertilizers on that long tap to bonsai it, is very important, shrinking the tap and keeping the other roots pruned and shrunk as you should gets the job done. Trial and error. If you start bonsai on a young plant you get results. If you let it go wild for a thick trunk, bonsai later, you reduce value. Bonsai can bring big money or be a sentimenal treasure, so the choice is yours. If you chop the taps forget the cash it could of brought in the quad plus digits. It takes awhile to get the deformed look going, but eventually through trial and error you can have something to pass down, but a curved trunk will leave it dead later in the next persons generation, so keep it straight and study up on the kind of tree and precentages. But then again, I am still working with trial and error as well, like anyone else. Bonsai is just like that, prepare for mistakes. The more natural the style, the better the tree, curved eats itself, and other styles can break with age. Natural appearence in small, gets the notice and the awe.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2013 at 2:57AM
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This is a confusing thread

    Bookmark   March 31, 2013 at 4:12AM
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Ok this is my first post on this and I have a really big tree to look at and copy the growth of it just small. I have a few that are about 5' tall. Would it be ok to take off about 2 ft of it and train it from there? Also what kind of pot would be good to start on in that is only about 2" or 3" tall and has about 3 or 4 leaves on it?

    Bookmark   May 4, 2013 at 3:24AM
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