Japanese Boxwood (Top-Bottom-Top)

4 months ago Nebby 0

Source: Practical Bonsai Blog.

My nursery pick for October is another Japanese Boxwood. This one is different because, well, it’s actually some good pre-bonsai material. It has a nice thick trunk relative to the tree, and nebari on it. Which all together is more than I expect for a big box nursery tree and $20 or less. This one was from Home Depot, price $10.98.

Often when you visit big box stores like this all material in any one grouping is mostly the same. They obviously source them from the same folks. Material close together out on display is probably roughly the same age, from the same stock, watered and fertilized the same in similar sun, and so on. But… not always. On this particular day there were only three available Japanese boxwoods on the shelf. Either they were low or perhaps someone earlier in the day had a hankering for hedges and cleaned them out. I’ve attached a photo and the pick should be obvious. This tree had two quarter sized trunks. The other two fellows had three or so pencil thin trunks. The one I selected also had some nice nebari. It actually seemed a little unfair for this to be compared to the other material, because you don’t find something so nice looking at a big box store for $10 all the time.

Given my last Japanese Boxwood from a big box store was so root-bound it was eating it’s pot, I wanted to make sure this one was faring better. I meant to just repot and keep the roots healthy. October is really too late for any drastic pruning. It’s certainly too late for most of the country but for Floridians in early October, eh. Lets just say that I shouldn’t have and I didn’t mean to. But it is possible that I got a tiny bit carried away. Bonsai at times is a bit like trimming your hair yourself. We just take a little off here, and then, well that looks uneven so we’ll do some over here. Ah now that’s sticking up so I’ll do some there. Next thing you know you look like you shaved those bangs right off your head. So in this case, do as I say and not as I do. No drastic root trimming in October, even if it is the first week of the month and you live in Florida.


I started by trimming down the top of the pot and brushing off some soil to get a better look.

Next, I slid the plant out of the pot for a look-see. As you’d expect for a boxwood the root growth was healthy and dense. But it was root bound into its cylindrical pot shape and there wasn’t much soil left. Which is why I wanted to repot.


When you remove a sizable portion of roots you need to reduce foliage as well because the remaining root system won’t have enough energy to support it all. The roots store the energy collected by the leaves. When you remove the roots, any energy in them goes as well. Think on if you cut your food supply in half for a house of ten people but didn’t decrease the number of people to feed. You’d have a problem. Thus if you’re doing anything substantial to the roots, you have to consider that with what you’re doing on top.  But you don’t want to make substantial changes to the top and bottom in the same year, or at least the same season (it depends on the type of tree how fast and far you can push that).


I meant to just choose which branches I wanted and take off the other main branches.

Trouble is Japanese boxwood they are very linear, as opposed to curvy. And they are more in the strong and firm category than the willowy and bendy category. Which means I was pulling each branch down thinking, and then this one down over here… but then how will that look with that one down over there…

So I started wiring just a touch as I cut. And then some more. You know how this goes, it’s just like cutting your bangs.

Viola. Next thing you know I’ve taken out some foliage and rewired several of the main branches to get shaped a little for new growth to have somewhere more desirable to grow.

Here is the place I should have stopped. I’d like to say that I was sensible and said, yes I want to repot and it does need it, but lets just wait for the spring and leave it alone.

I didn’t do that.


Nope, I decided to carry on and repot.  Which is what I did.  What I was focused on was trying to reduce some height in the cylindrical root mass.  I cleanly cut away roughly the bottom third of the material.  Then I did something else I shouldn’t have done and worked the roots out to attempt to move more horizontally than vertically.

Then I repotted.  Put in pot, add soil mix, work mix in around roots with chopstick below.

Below is what I ended up with.  Which actually looks worse than what was in the nursery pot.  I simply didn’t have a bonsai pot on hand that I liked the shape, size, and color of for this tree so I went with a bulb pan for awhile instead.  That’s another reason I should have waited to repot.

I acquired, trimmed, and repot the bonsai in early October.  By the close of the month the boxwood is alive, but not happy.  One branch died, and it was one I wanted.  Other than that it looks pretty much the same.  I didn’t even take another picture.  But for now I’ve gotten ahold of myself and will leave it alone.


The lesson in this nursery stock involves pruning order.  The rule of thumb for structural pruning is top, bottom, top.

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