Pyracantha   6 comments

Al Keppler Urban Yamadori I 2003

I really like working with Pyracantha. It buds well, grows well in a pot, and has many attributes like berries and flowers. I was able to dig some P’s in 2003. A shopping center near me was up for redvelopment and the entire parking lot had fire thorns in the planters. They were about 50 years old and had been hedged for most of those years. The trunks were fat and the bushes were only about three feet tall. Demolition started with removing all the landscaping, and I nearly missed getting any plants at all. I came home in the afternoon and most of the parking lot had been cleared. Luckily it was a Friday and they went home for the weekend. I asked the crew about digging out some plants and they told me to go ahead, the rest would come out Monday. I dug five, it was hard digging due to roots, close proximity of the plants to each other, and sprinkler pipes. I didn’t worry about breaking them, they were just a pain in the butt to dig around.

My first offering here will be the largest of those I dug. It had three trunks, about 4 inches across at the base and was about three feet tall. I pruned it back to about 28 inches tall retaining all three trunks. Paramount now was getting it to survive as this was June, and my temps get around 110 daily during this time. Pyracantha can take the heat as long as its hydrated regularly.

The bush was pretty ratty at this time, and it was planted rather deep. The trunk on the left would later become a secong trunk of a two trunk tree. I fed it regularly and watered it profusly. It responded well and issued new roots very quickly. It seemed to like the June temps and shot buds everywhere.

In 2004, (talk about rushing to a pot) I decided it was time to pot it in a bonsai pot. It showed promise but was definately not ready for a pot. This tree needed detailing and structure.

In 2005, I sawed off the far right trunk. It was in a bad position and it came off the trunk in a bad line. It was also much higher on the trunk to be an accepatble third trunk anyway. I removed it and used a die grinder to texturize the area of removal. Pyracantha do not heal wounds very well at all. Most small branches removed will heal, but anything over 1/2 inch will just lay there for years with hardly any callus.

With the removal of the third trunk and the addition of a new smaller pot, the tree was starting to take shape. I could see a definate improvement in the structure and all it needed was time to make additional improvements.

In these early photographs it is easy to see the trees shortcomings. It has no base or flare, the tree shows poorly in the pot looking like a modified slingshot. Kinda like an upside down frog diving into the water. Something would have to be done about that slingshot trunk. I thought about different options but never really liked what I came up with. Katsumi Kinoshita (my sensai) suggested leaning the tree forward and turning the tree in the pot 15 degrees to the right. This would suggest the illusion of the second trunk moving off the main trunk in a sharper “vee” rather than a “U”. We used wedges under the pot and turned it and I liked the new form. I would change it on the next repotting.

The repot was done in 2007 and another pot was chosen this time. about the same size as the previous one but a speckled grey from Tongrea, a Korean pot maker. The apex is much better now and ramification is difficult with this species. It takes constant pruning of twigs to get them to fork, and when they do it is always closer to the base and not out where you need it. After study of photo’s the tree still lacked something. The entire right side of the tree lacked branching due to the trhird trunk that had been removed. I did a virtual of what it might look like with a branch grafted on the trunk to help fill the void on the right. It also need a larger first branch, so this new grafted branch would have to become that first branch.

I really liked the look of the virtual with a fully developed new first branch. Now all I had to do was do it. I had never grafted a branch on a pyracantha before. I have dome maples and elms, and the process is straight forward but I wasn’t sure on the aftercare or due to the nature of wounds healing I thought they may play a part in the grafting process too. I didn’t have to worry. The grafts take so fast that all you have to do is hold a scion next to the trunk for thirty minutes and a branch grows there!

This is what I did.

The notch was cut in with a saw and a purpose grown whip was bent around and scraped to expose the cambium. It was thrust into the groove and affixed with a piece of plastic canvas and wire for pressure. The graft took in about 69 days total. You can tell when it stats to take because it will sizzle all around the wound as the wound heals and makes callus material that is full of sap.

Here the branch is still attached to the tree and not yet severed away. In the fall I detached the branch and hoped for the best.

The branch was good and firm and it recieved its first wire. At this point it would take much to break the thing right off. To this day it has a pretty good callus around it and there is a good bridge of wood, so it is not finally out of the woods.

This is how the tree has been shaping up. The branch structure is pretty nice now and the apex is well defined. The new first branch is now vigorous and growing well. I still don’t like the pot but I am asked to show the tree in Los Angelas at the Bonsai a Thon at the Huntington Gardens in Feb of 2009. In April of 2009 the First Annual Toko Kazari takes place and I decide to exhibit this tree. The composition is called Butterflies and Barbs, due to the thorns on the plant and the barbed wire attached to the woodpecker fence post in the accent. I was cricified by the judges but I learned a lot during the experience.

In 2011 the tree was once again repotted into the pot I liked best. the root pad is nice and flat and I have a profusion of roots which means the tree is very healthy. The fresh spring look of the leaves is nice after a defoliation.

New work on the tree will be posted in the coming weeks



Al Keppler Urban Yamadori II 2003

Back June 2003Fall 2003June12 2003march 2005fall2007Spring 2006Summer2005Winter2006092307Spring 2004



Steve DaSilva Pyracantha 2009

Three years ago I bought this pyracantha from Steve DaSilva. Some may know him as Treekutter from the boards. Steve has been in the hobby for many years, joining the Fresno club around the same time as me. He has a very large collection and some very nice trees. Steve brought this tree to an event we both participated in at the Community College. Steve had the tree listed at $20.00. How could I go wrong, this tree called to me and screamed help! I thnk I can help it. I bought it and then came up with a plan. I have since changed my plan but for the sake of this photo spread I will concentrate on the first phase.

Phase one

I bought the tree because of the dead snag on the top of the tree. Not really any other redeeming feature other than that. The roots were a mess and had circled what seemed to be a one gallon container for several years. Thats what I had to deal with first.

These roots were really bad, they were sticking up out of the pot andhad encircled the trunk and were very large. this tree had no future as a bonsai in this condition as wedging it into a bonsai pot would proove difficult. I decided to try something radical (at least for me) and peel all the roots as individual layers and try to get an even distribution of roots at a certain level on the trunk. Each root was girdled and then the bark peeled from the roots. Special care was taken to make sure that the top of each cut was in the same plane so that the future roots would all be at the same level. If I had high roots and low roots, then a nice nebari would have to be started all over again.

Once the tree was peeled and I felt confident that there was no cambium left to cause a bridge I prepared a pot for thetree. I used some plastic canvas to build a dam up in the pot. I filled up the pot with round grain akadama used for seeding. The round grains provide for maximum air flow as they will not interlock. Much like the ceramic beads used in hydroponic farming.

I had the beginnings of roots tip in 16 days. The small roots were issuing from the old wood and it really is a remarkable feat of nature.

Re planting of the tree the next year would mean I could cut away the entire bad root system and actually place it into a bonsai pot right away.





I will update the tree as it is now soon. At this point this will conclude phase I.

Phase 2

This is the tree as it is today Nov, 30 2012.


The branch on the right side has been removed. I decided that the long neck of trunk directly in the middle of the tree was always going to make the thing look like a giraffe. This is not a very large tree, maybe kifu size and the trunk is about 1 1/2 across at the base. and about 12 inches tall. It doesn’t take much imagination to see that the possibility exists to just devide the tree into two much better trees of more potentiakl value rather than wasting any more time on a tree as a whole that will never exhibit fine artistry.

Obviously the first consideration for a tree is the top portion with the deadwood. Pyracantha do not have hard wood. It rots very easily. I have found that as long as it is not submerged in soil it does hold up rather well. I feel that preserving the deadwood this high up in the tree must become a feature rather than just cutting it off. The tree will have to be layered in the stovepipe section to allow me to have a semi cascade tree with a deadwood apex and some shari down one side. I feel that on a semi cascade tree deadwood on a tree seems more natural due to the fact that a calamity has caused the tree to take on this form so deadwood would naturaly occur.

This is where I expect to root the top portion.

rooted semi

This is a possible view from the now front of the tree with a pot held up for a visual reference.


This could also be a possible view with the tree using the back side as a possible front view. In the previous photo the deadwood angles back away from the viewer, in this view the deadwood moves forward and is more inviting, but it will be much harder to feature the trunk. That may be acomplished by moving some branches and wireing them into new positions.


The cascade part would have to be shortened much more, almost half, as it is too long as it is. I think the possibility for a much better tree exists here in this removed part.

The lower part of the trunk has some interesting features also. It was the bottom portion that attracted me in the first place along with the dead snag. It has a decent flare which has become more prominent as the new base has emerged from the drastic ground layer I performed two years ago.



The back side of the trunk has some elephant skin on it as gravity tugs it down. the old scars from some thick branch removals at the time of purchase have just sat there and not healed at all. The scars on the front were filled with paste, which can be seen but still no signs of healing. At this point, I will just have to do some radical carving on this trunk to make it all seem cohesive as the scars and pockmarks will have to made features and not faults. The place to chop after the removal of the top is evident as there is a perfect place to continue the line of taper on up to the top.


The red line shows the area to be cut back to, while the blue area is the place the foliage and shoots will have to be chopped back to to get the flush of trunk buds I will need for lower branches. All those old pruning scars will bud if stimulated. I only need one on the right side, the left and there is already a back branch not seen in this photo. It can be seen in the photo above from the back pic. I too will have to be reduced drastically to induce a back bud for lateral branches closer to the trunk.

That part between the blue lines and the tob of the trunk after chopping will be bent back to a more upright position and twisted back over it self in an attempt to move the apex in a direction to the right. Since the tree will only be 7 inches tall there is plenty of room to build a crown on the trunk I have here. a few good bud pops in the right place and branches in one year on these weeds.


Kevin DcCiegle Pyracantha 2013













Posted November 28, 2012 by California Bonsai Art

6 responses to “Pyracantha

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  1. Al you have done an amazing job!

  2. Hi Cool trees, I was wondering if I could ask your advice on a large pyracantha i saved from a demolished building. It’s very hot here in Phoenix, and I was not able to get too many of the fine roots. I got it in a pot right away and pruned back quite a bit of foliage. It’s in a shady area and has been watered with super thrive. Any thoughts on keeping it alive?

  3. For the first four weeks check the water with a stick. Not too much water but particles should still stick to the stick. Prune it back to two pairs of leaves on every twig to keep transpiration to a minum. Get a bottle of cloud cover and spray the leaves. This will help in your dry desert climate. This is about all you can do except wait. You will not have to wait long. If everything is good buds will start to appear on old wood within three weeks. Good luck.

  4. Very nice pyracantha, Al.

  5. Al your work is fantastic!! Thanks for sharing; I have a pyracantha with twisting roots and I will try to correct them as you did.

  6. Enjoyed this blog Al…I’ve not found much on Pyrcantha to be honest.

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