The Hawthorn “Crataegus” is a tree species that you can find almost any where around the world, from Europe right up to North America and Asia. There are many different Hawthorns, and even more variations with in the genera. Their growth pattern can range from a bush like shrub to a long branched gnarly middle sized tree.
The tree highlighted in this story is a: Crataegus Monogyna or common Hawthorn. The common Hawthorn is well know because of it’s many very fragrant clusters of white flowers during the month of May. In the Fall all those flowers will turn into dark red berry’s. The common Hawthorn is very well suited for a life as bonsai, because it is hardy, adaptable and (as this story will show) it will look in a relatively short time like a old full grown tree!
Standing place: They like plenty of light and sun. But provide partial shade during the hottest part of Summer.
Soil: Because it drains very well, I use a mixture of Akadama, Kiryu and fine gravel. This is very important when your living in Holland, were it rains a lot.
Repotting: Depending on the stage of development of the tree, every 2-3 years in early spring just before the buds start swelling.
Watering: Especially, with the soil mix I use, you have to water generously. And make sure that the soil never dries out completely. When the tree is in bloom; don’t mist on the flowers.
Collecting: From late winter until early spring before the buds start to swell.
A Crataegus story
This is a story in picture and words about a common Hawthorn Yamadori. A story starting way back in early 1999, when it was collected on a mountain in North Wales, going trough the trainings years in Holland, leading right up to the Gingko awards 2006 in Belgium.
In February 1999 I made the long journey from Holland (where I live) to the North of England for my second yamadori trip with my close Bonsai friends who lives up there. After a trip of 11 hours I finally arrived ad my friends house. We enjoyed a nice meal and some beers and than went early to bed to rest for the long trip we had to make the next day. After just a few hours of sleep we got up really early to make the long drive up to the North of Wales. Finally arriving there we Quickly put on our climbing boots and backpack with the necessary collecting tools and started the difficult climb up the mountain were the hawthorns live. These old small survivors grow on a very steep mountain side that is facing the sea. Here they are constantly battered by the strong winds, cold winters and scourging sun light in the Summer. This whole mountain seemed to be made up out of nothing more than small grey rocks on witch hardly anything was able to grow. These loose small rocks seemed to be constantly on the move, and tumbled down the hill at the slightest touch. So those small hawthorns where constantly crushed and covered by rocks and if they were finally able to grow a inch or two above them, the sheep who lived on this hills would make sure that they did not grow much further. This rocks also meant that if you wanted to have a closer look at the base of the trees, you had to try to move those stones from in between the tangled branches covered with long needles, this turned out to be rather difficult and painful! But after a long and hard search and two hands that looked like I had been a referee in a cat v/s porcupine wrestling match, I finally found the leading lady of this story.
Above: Because there was hardly any soil in between those rocks, she had almost no roots. The ones she had I carefully protected in wet sphagnum moss and than the tree was carefully put in to a large bin back and taped tightly for the trip back.
Above 2 pictures: As soon as we got home we wend in to the work shop to put our finds into training pots. After cutting off the to long and thick roots, I planted my Hawthorn in a dish wash tub with holes drilled in the bottom. It was firmly tight down to the bottom and sides of the plastic pot, so it would not move during the long trip home. The pot was then filled up with a mix of Akadama and a fine gravel, so that the new roots could grow easily and with no change of staying to wet for to long. Witch is very useful in the wet climate where I live.
Above: Then, with the future design in mind, big decisions were made. Thick or to long branches were cut off and sealed with cut paste.
Tips on pruning:
As you can see in the next photograph (below) that was shot a day later, when I got back in my own garden in Holland, that a lot of branches where cut off and that only the really necessary branches were saved for my design. This kind of drastic pruning will promote heavy back budding all over the tree. Remove the buds that appear on the wrong places on the trunk to prevent unnecessary scaring of the old bark. When cutting off a branch: it is always safer to do this just above a small branch or strong bud. Making sure you leave enough room for the branch tip to dry back safely. Around the wounds left from cutting the branches much buds will appear, choose the ones you are going to need for your future branch ramification carefully and remove the useless ones. By letting this new buds grow: the scares will heal much better and there will be less chance of permanent damaging the sap flow of the tree. Remember always to leave enough of a stump on branches that are cut back way up to the trunk and let some of the new buds that will appear around the cut grow freely for a season. This way the sap flow has time to find a new path around the wound and time to recover from the stress of losing that branch. If you don’t do this: you might loose whole branches above the cut or worse. On Hawthorns, I always use cut paste on every wound. This prevents dry back of the wounds on this species!
The year 2000.
The tree has recovered fine and looks healthy enough for some more drastic pruning!
Above: Because the tree is so vigorous it is save to shorten the larch branch stump I left on for safety to prevent dry/die back. It will be cut to were there are some strong shoots, close to the trunk line (doted line). Again, these shoots are left on there, to prevent dry/die back of the wound.
Above: Here you can see it is cut off, if you look closely you can see that I still left some small sacrifice shoots around the wound so the sap flow is still maintained, minimising any danger to the branches above this large wound.
Above: Except for those sacrifice branches, all unnecessary branches where removed. For the rest of that year she was left to grow, receiving regular doses of mild fertilizer.
The year 2001 (March).
Above: All branches where shortened to promote back budding for better ramification. Than the tree was loosely wired into it’s basic form. Next it was lifted out off it’s container and because of the very lose soil mix I used, I could almost shake out all the soil from out off the roots. The drastic root pruning that was done right after collecting, had triggered the same effects, as cutting deep into the branches those: it promotes new growth of roots and buds a like! So, as was to be expected, there were plenty of new roots! So it was safe to tackle the next problem with out to much danger! I had to saw off a very thick root on the back side of the tree.
Above: This root was removed, to just before, where there where small roots growing from it’s side. Those roots will grow fast from now on, because of the extra energy that they will receive. This means that the large stump of the root can be made smaller and more in balance in the near future. (see root work). When you look at the rest of the picture you will see that almost all major scares are located on the backside of the tree. Notice the small sucker branches around the large wound just above the large root, the were left on there so the sap flow is assured to stay strong.
The roots on the side of the stump were left to grow strong for 2 years. Then it was safe to start working on the now dry middle part of the stump. With power tools I removed a wedge shaped part out off the stump, making sure not to damage the live part! As the roots kept on growing on each side, they closed over the wounds a bit, so now the former stump looks just like two smaller roots (picture below).
Above: This is how she looks in her new training pot.
A: Here you can see the result of a cut that was left a bid long last year. Several small branches have immerse around the wound that will help to close it (very hard with Hawthorns), one or two of those will be selected to stay on and are allowed to grow to be used as branches.
B: Shows a wound made along the length off the branch. As this branch will thicken substantially in the future because of the sap flow that passes along it, the scare will heal almost invisible.
C: Shows just how much there has to be taken off from the stump left from cutting the former right branch, for the tree to look more tapered in the future.
Above: May that same year. The tree is doing just fine, so it is safe to remove the rest of the stump (that you can see underneath the right branch).
Above: A close up look of that same stump from the right side. (red arrow) Look at all the small sucker branches that were left on to insure the sap flow.
Above: Here all the sucker shoots are cut off. (red arrow) The thick root that need to be worked on in the future.
Above: With the help of heavy cutters the stump is completely removed. The wood had dried naturally, with out any risk of damaging the sap flow. It was all removed just to were the soft wood began: just below the bark line, so the bark could grow and curl over the scare to make it look more naturally.
Above: This is how the tree looks from the front side after the stump is removed. As you can see it has a nice taper now and looks more natural.
Above: June 2001. The Tree after some more pruning and wiring, the final shape is showing more and more.
Above: 2002 (May). The tree is still going and growing strong!
Above: May 2005, This picture was taken during her first show at the “JOY OF BONSAI SHOW 2005” in Bath (UK) . She is full of sweet smelling flowers and looking great, as if she wanted to say to the folks back home: I’m doing just fine in my new home in Holland!
Above: This picture was taken back in my garden a few days after she was showed at the prestigious “GINKGO AWARDS 2005 ” in Belgium. The birds already had a go at her berries, and although she looks a bit tired from all the traveling and attention, she still looks very nice I think.
This small tree has come a long way from that hill in Wales to the bonsai she is now, and in a reasonable short time. Showing how well suited Hawthorn’s are for a live as bonsai! I was very lucky to find and work with this special little tree that holds so much memories for me! I look forward to work with her for many more years to come.
Note: Part 2 is in the making!
Hans van Meer.