A Fall Prune (And How Stewartia Got Its Name)

Stewartia monadelpha is an elegant deciduous species with smooth, cinnamon bark and silvery, gem-like buds. Related to Camelias, they like moist, shady locations and develop at about 1/2 the speed of a Japanese Maple.

The Stewartia featured below was brought into the studio for a fall session with concave pruners.


Stewartia in training after a season of growth, sporting several red pipe cleaners that hang as question marks in likely pruning spots.

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The noble hands of our intrepid pruners, Erich and Maciek.


This stopping place leaves many ponderables for next time–which might be next June or July, another excellent time to prune back Stewartia. The smaller trunk used to be a root graft, which we decided to keep as a secondary trunk. To retain energy on that smaller trunk two extensions were left long.


A study in yellow and green and a bit of white, the lost leaves of Stewartia. (Stewartia, incidentally, is named after a little-known Scottish family’s lost wife, who sailed off to the Isle of Skye to escape her husband and the nickname he’d given her. Months later she returned to declare, ‘You’ll call me Mildred, or I shan’t return again!’ This however never happened. They have no idea where she is now.)


While that last Stewartia is modest in size at 28″ / 71 cm, this one has a big wingspan and is 48″ / 122 cm. Grown from a small sapling by Warren Hill. This past spring we attempted 7 root grafts on Warren’s tree, seen here as little shoots arising from the nebari. I think 6 have taken. Will have to do a post on that later. When approach grafting it can help to let the main tree run, as we’ve done this year. This can fuse the stock with the scions.

December 2021 Bulletin Board

  • The Winter Seasonal-lite for 2022 is up, calendared for January 22-23. Lots about repotting and design in this popular online course ~
  • Also up are the 3-day, in-person Winter Seasonal dates—similar to the Seasonal-lite but more intensive goals and with the chance to get dirty, so take a look ~
  • We’re already looking at a reprint of my offbeat educational book Bonsai Heresy. Read reviews and take advantage of the current Bonsai Heresy sale at Stone Lantern ~

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  1. Tino Mikosch says:

    Hi, I always love your interesting posts! Please, do one about root grafting, would be very much appreciated! Tino M., Vienna, Austria

  2. Grant Kistler says:

    Hi Michael, I attended an Azalea workshop at your place a few years back. Nice meeting you and enjoyed seeing all your collection. I got a Stewartia at a nursary and planted it my front yard in 2019. It was not in the healthiest of conditions. It is in full sun and is thriving. It is about 6’ and I plan on air layering it next year. Any advice on when, how, etc would be appreciated. Thanks, Grant Kistler Winlock, WA

    • Kyle says:

      Hi Grant, I air layered one this past summer, just know that they are slow to root and it may take two seasons to get a good set of healthy roots. Be patient it will root!

    • crataegus says:

      They are not the easiest to airlayer, like a maple, but they can eventually throw roots. It may take 2 years. I’d advise a pot rather than wrapping the layer with plastic. The plastic pot technique is better for the patient game…

  3. Paolo says:

    Hi, what’s the difference between autumn and early spring pruning?
    Sorry if this has been answered many times before :~\

    • crataegus says:

      Hi Paolo, the technique is the same, but early spring pruning would be around repotting time just as growth is starting, whereas autumn pruning would be as the tree is sliding into dormancy, when the leaves are dropping on deciduous trees.

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