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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Live oak styled boxwood

Hello all. Today's post is going to show the initial styling of an old nursery boxwood to resemble a Live Oak. I was inspired by a thread started on the Internet Bonsai Club  (( about styling boxwoods to look like live oaks. In that thread the poster was referring to Southern Live Oaks but here in California we have many oaks of our own and it is one of these, the Coast Live Oak that I had in mind . Southern Live Oaks are similar looking but bigger than our native oaks. Oaks are very long lived trees and there are numerous examples that are hundreds of years old. Here in southern CA they are very tough trees often surviving wild fires. They tend to grow wider then tall and often have wide spreading rambling branching which suits our material perfectly. There are also very often deadwood and hollows in them.
Boxwood is a very good candidate for bonsai. They are easy to grow and are readily available both in nurseries and in the urban landscape. They are rarely bothered by insects or disease and can be used for all sizes of bonsai. They respond very well to regular watering and fertilizing and aren't to picky about the soil they are grown in. It's probably one of the most common hedging materials in this country. They can be a bit tricky to wire older branches but do lend themselves to the clip and grow technique for styling. It's relatively easy to find large old specimens especially from construction sites or homeowners redoing their gardens.

Here is the tree we'll be working on today. It's 12-15 year old nursery stock with a great nebari and nicely aged bark. As you can see there are plenty of branches to chose from for our design. The roots spread out very nicely all around the trunk and the bark has the texture and character that only time can provide.
One thing that I found a little boring was how straight the lower trunk was, so to help make it more interesting and to help disguise where a large branch was cut I decided to create a shari and to hollow the trunk a little. The wood of boxwoods is very hard and dense and lends it self to deadwood. I started by scraping the bark from the trunk in the area I wanted the shari in.

I then added a little texture to the trunk.
I decided that I wanted it to be a little more dramatic and started to hollow the trunk.
This is the initial work on the deadwood for now. At a later date I'll completely hollow the trunk and add more detail to the shari.
I then removed all branches that I knew I wouldn't use in the design and thinned out the remaining branches. Then I started applying wire to every branch on the tree.

As I wired I pulled the branches down and placed them so that they all received the sun and none were directly over the one below it. I also put some movement into the branches though this was a little difficult since the older branches are really hard to put much movement in them.

I think I've captured the essence of a Coast Live Oak with this tree. Foliage masses will be created by the clip and grow method. It's pretty easy to develop foliage on boxwoods by only allowing growth were you need it. Any growth on the trunk, in the crotches of branches, etc. should be removed as soon as possible.
This coming spring I'll do the root work and get it into it's first bonsai pot. In a couple of years I envision this in a shallow oval pot.
 As always I welcome any and all comments. Thanks for reading.


  1. Makes me think of the trees I saw in Santa Ynez. Very nice work.

  2. Thanks- those types of oaks were what I had in mind.

  3. Wow! I love Oak trees and this is a great idea. I am going to start looking at boxwoods more closely now.

  4. Great I'm glad you liked it. Boxwoods are great to work.

  5. It looks very nice. Do you have any follow up pictures?

  6. Thanks. I do I'll do a post in the near future showing follow up to several posts.