Berberis thunbergii 'Crimson Pygmy' Bonsai Progression Series

Guest Article by Lonnie Harkins

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August of 2006

I learned of a trailer park that was going to be bulldozed to make way for a new housing sub division. I gained permission from the owners to collect any trees I found suitable.
Since I didn't know how long the park would be left without bulldozing I had to collect the trees quickly even though August is far from the ideal time of year to collect trees or shrubs, especially shrubs you know nothing about!

berberis bonsai

The weather was hot and humid during collection. I had plastic construction bags to wrap the root ball for the 20 mile transport home and water to keep the soil damp.

First of all I chopped the trunks back so that I could get in close enough to the base to dig up the tree. I was very lucky with this tree in that the former owners had planted the tree on top of a plastic bag. This had created a perfect shallow root ball for collection. I found that I could practically tilt the tree out of the soil.
Because of neglect, dry weather and poor growing conditions, the tree had very little foliage on it and none after I had cut it back. I was very unsure about the survival of the tree, not only because of its health but also because I had no idea what kind of tree it was.
After getting the tree home, I planted it in the compost pile I have in the back yard, that being the only location I had for it at the time. That location also provided partial shade and wind protection.

The tree then sat stagnant for a month before putting out the first new leaves in late September. The tree put out very little growth before then going dormant in November.

March 2007

berberis bonsai

The tree began to put out numerous buds in March 2007. I built a grow box for it out of wood and bare rooted the tree to remove the ground soil. After spraying the soil from the root ball, I found a shallow mass of healthy roots. After a minor root prune, I planted the tree in the box using 100% Turface.
At this time I also sent Harry Harrington an e-mail requesting his help with this tree. Harry was gracious enough to agree to help. Without Harry's help I would have chopped apart the clump and attempted an informal upright with the largest trunk. Following Harry's ideas for this tree, I pruned branches and removed trunks to initial shape.

April of 2007

berberis bonsai

To begin with, new trunk lines for the tree needed to be established. All unnecessary branches were removed.
The curving trunk in the back was guy-wired down into position.

The tree was then fed, watered heavily and allowed to grow. I pruned any growth that did not extend the chosen trunk lines to concentrate the tree's energy where it was needed. All unnecessary buds on the trunks were rubbed off.

The tree grew very vigorously and in June, following Harry's advice, I stripped the foliage from the branches to be able to see where the new trunk lines were and to remove any doubled up shoots. The remaining branches and trunk lines were wired and positioned.

The tree was again allowed free growth until September when the branches and trunks were pruned back. I continued to feed and water heavily. Any shoots or buds that were not beneficial to the design were removed or pinched back until the tree went dormant.

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