Stewartia Pruning Decisions

This tree has been in a box to develop branching and nebari.

We pruned at the same time we repotted this tree. Pruning back at repotting is possible with deciduous and less recommended with conifer (this story is spooled out in Bonsai Heresy).


A Stewartia in a box. This tree grew with vigor, and, as tends to happen, the branches then begin to lose taper. The same problem can happen with a top grown sacrifice branch, which can obliterate any taper achieved below it (a cautionary tale for an otherwise solid technique). Pipe cleaners of all colors (no reason for this, just what we had) were positioned where students thought it might be pruned.


After a discussion of which branches deserved pruning, the cutting began.


A few closeup shots of the operation.


Many branches lacked taper.


The crown in particular had strong areas that had lost their convincing taper, and hence, delicacy.


Here is the finished pruning in late winter 2022. In some places you can see the taper from a pruning cut to a smaller branch is a bit abrupt, but often only a year’s growth rectifies this. We repotted this tree back into the same box and in another couple years it may go into a bonsai pot again—with yet more pruning.

This Stewartia has a great history. It was grown from a seedling by the great Warren Hill, past curator of the National Bonsai Collection. Likely over 50 years old now. It’s now 40” tall with a 3” trunk and a 7” nebari.

March 2023 Bulletin Board 

  • For those who missed the post on lava, there’s been some great discussion about it: Is Lava Good For Bonsai?
  • My birding-related Indiegogo campaign is wrapping up, Buy Binoculars for Young Birding Guides in Ecuador. With one day remaining we’re now 109% funded at $5,445. It will still be up, searchable, and donatable after that though in their InDemand program. We still have some platform fees to pay and shipment of our as-yet-unpurchased binoculars, so please: take a look, donate, pass on to friends—
  • This week Bonsai Heresy is on sale—$3 off! Bonsai Heresy is still—as ever—available on Stone Lantern. Written over a 15 year period, hilariously illustrated by Sergio Cuan, and published in 2020, this offbeat educational book is about the myths of bonsai practice. If you know someone who needs this book—an Aries, Taurus or Gemini with a birthday coming up—spring is excellent reading weather. Second only to winter.
  • Post-Dated is also on sale at Stone Lantern! If you’ve not read my memoir about apprenticing in Japan—or again, know a Aries, Taurus or Gemini with a birthday coming up—get $3 off now from my distributor Stone Lantern.

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  1. Victor Taboada says:

    Excellent post. Simple and to the point. The idea of the pipe cleaners is great!

  2. Ray says:

    That Stewardia has come along very nicely. It’s beautiful .
    Thanks Michael

  3. Stuart Rogers says:

    Nice tree, good to see someone else also has a Warren Hill tree.

  4. Pete says:

    Wow that tree looks beautiful after being pruned! It reminds me of a tree removal service near me that did a good job as well on my trees and plants.

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