Zach Smith - 25 Years' Experience
Fine Quality and Specimen Bonsai for Sale
Fine Quality Pre-bonsai for Sale

Specializing in large collected and field-grown deciduous trees
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I am here to help you acquire, style and maintain the finest collected and field-grown material available anywhere for bonsai.  Whether you’re a beginner or a more experienced artist, please think of me as a resource you can count on.  Each tree you see on this site has been personally collected/grown, pruned, potted, and in the case of “finished” trees, styled by me.  Now, this doesn’t mean that mine is the final word on any of these bonsai; it’s a given that in the wonderful world of bonsai, there are many tastes and many different views on what makes a great tree.  You may like what I’ve done and simply work to refine and maintain the design.  You may choose to re-style the tree based on your own vision.  Either way is perfectly fine!

My bonsai philosophy revolves around one simple fact: better material means better bonsai.  If you start with great material, then no matter what direction you take the tree in you’re hard-pressed to go wrong.  I like to think it’s not that easy to make something bad out of something really good (though it certainly can be done).

The bottom line is, we all work with whatever material we acquire, or collect, or happen across.  Treat yourself to a little of the finer material that's out there.  Your collection will be much better off for it.

And don't forget, I'm always available to answer any questions you might have.  Just email Zach.

Our website is geared toward presenting you with BONSAI and PRE-BONSAI that are of superior character, so you can focus on artistic design.  You’ll also find ARTICLES on various bonsai topics.  I don’t know about you, but along with the pure enjoyment of bonsai I really love all the doing that goes into this art/hobby: the collecting, the workshops, the exhibitions, laying out the display garden, pinching, pruning, potting, repotting, wiring, unwiring, rewiring; even the weeding and feeding.  All of these things are part of a greater whole, which I guess is another way of saying that bonsai is much more than the sum of its parts.

Please enjoy these pages, and please keep me in mind as you make your bonsai journey.  I would love to help you in any way I can.

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Sweetgum as Bonsai - New Article

Sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua, is not commonly grown as bonsai.  Nonetheless, it’s my contention that Sweetgum should be counted among the best bonsai trees for beginners as it possesses at least two qualities vital to the bonsai learning process: pests and diseases don’t bother the species, and it grows almost continuously from spring through fall which hastens training.  This means the beginner need not be concerned his or her tree will die mysteriously from an incurable fungal disease, and aside from a brief spate of webworms in spring nothing seems to want to eat the foliage.  This is why, when asked to suggest suitable bonsai trees for beginners, my short list always includes Sweetgum.

Read the rest of the article ...


October 12 - Sweetgum Development

Today I took a photo of the sweetgum I've been working on for the past few years.  I repotted the tree earlier in the season, and boy did it need repotting.  Sweetgums tend to come out of the ground with essentially no feeder roots; just big fat soft roots.  You wonder if the tree will make it, then you wonder how well it'll root in a pot.  But sweetgums love container life, producing an amazingly dense fibrous root system.  They root so well it's no exaggeration to say you could safely root-prune yearly.

Over the past few years this tree has gone from single-shoot branches with profuse budding all along those branches to actual supportive ramification.  By supportive I mean branching and sub-branching hefty enough to support the smaller branching with smaller leaves that will ultimately make this tree a true specimen bonsai.  In nature sweetgums sport leaves up to 6" long.  I know I can get the leaf size to 1" or less on this tree.  I'm already getting some leaves that small.

The real trick I've learned with sweetgums is they much prefer to be lifted in May-June.  I used to dig them dutifully in January or February, like most other deciduous trees, but my success rate was poor.  I assumed the species didn't like me, of course.  Then a couple of years ago a thought hit me - what if you tried collecting them after the first spring round of growth?  So I went out in May and dug a good-sized specimen just to see what would happen.  It came back fine.  The next year I went after a really big specimen, a stump with a 6" base.  That one lived, too.  I was onto something!  Since that time, I've lifted quite a number of specimens from May through June and virtually all of them have lived.  So I don't even bother trying in winter anymore.

The tree above is taking on a little color on some of the leaves.  We don't get much in the way of fall color down here in the Deep South, so anything we get is appreciated.

Two more things about sweetgums: they aren't bothered by pests and have a very broad range in North America, which means they hold up well over winter.  This was especially good this past winter, when happenstance cost me quite a few trees.  This specimen came through without missing a beat.

October 4 - Loblolly Pine Anyone?

I've been experimenting with loblolly pine, Pinus taeda, since 2013.  I've tried Japanese black pine off and on over the years, and been frustrated by the species.  I picked up a handful of loblollies last year, and have been playing around with them since then.

Loblollies are native to my area, so I figured if any pine would give me good results it should be loblolly.  Granted, the needles can get to be 5" in length, but that isn't too much more than JBP.  I've found this year that by doing the appropriate candle-pruning and chasing back the branches, I've gotten the needles down to around 3".  And that's just round one of the work.  I'm hopeful for needles 2" or less as time goes on.

The tree to the right has a 1.5" trunk base and is 27" tall.  It seemed to want to be a bunjin style, so that's what I went with.  I'm pleased with the results so far.  What do you think?

I have a few specimens available, which have received some training, so if you'd like to give one a try email me for photos.

August 4 - Summer Work

American Hornbeam - Carpinus Caroliniana

This is the time of year when some trees desperately need attention.  To the right is my monster hornbeam, which I've been developing now for five years.  The branches are getting some heft to them, thanks to rampant growth each spring followed by thinning and chasing back.  The tapering transition is just about completed, and I have a good branch set in the lower part of the crown.  I'm probably looking at another five years to complete work on this tree, after which I'll be limited to maintenance pruning (no more wiring at that point) and renewal pruning.

Next spring will be time to repot, and I'm not looking forward to that.  Moving this tree to and from the photo stand reminded me why I try to limit how many giant trees I keep.  This one probably weighs close to a hundred pounds.

The trunk base on this tree is 6", and the finished height will be 36".
Bald Cypress - Taxodium Distichum

This is the tree first shown below after its first wiring.  How fast they grow!  I've now got most of the flat top major branching done.  By the end of next season, I should already be refining the crown.  Development in the upper part of the tree will be quicker than down low, just because bald cypress is so apically dominant.  But this is no problem.  With the right techniques, I can compensate for the natural imbalance.

As noted below, I collected this tree in February of this year (2014) and direct-potted it.  This can often be done with newly collected trees, once you're experienced enough.  As a rule, however, I only do it if I have a ready-made trunk and don't need to build a tapering transition ... with the exception of bald cypress, where this is no problem to do in a pot.
Sweetgum - Liquidambar Styrachiflua

I love sweetgums.  I collect them and grow them from seedlings.  They're easy to train, backbud well, respond to pruning with still more budding, and grow all season long.

I had the seedling shown here in a nursery pot along with a number of others.  What caught my attention with this one was the fact that it produced some fall color in the middle of summer.  Now, this is likely attributable to a watering issue, we've had some hot weather and this guy probably got too dry one day, but nonetheless I thought the graceful trunk and branches were worthy of a pot.  I had this neat little Chuck Iker rectangle lying empty, and to me they just seemed to belong together.

New buds are pushing now, meaning my summer transplant was successful.  I expect to offer this tree for sale in a few weeks.

Bunjin sweetgum, 1/2" trunk and 22" tall.  A take on the natural shape of the species.  I think it's worthy of being called art.

One of My Bald Cypresses - First Wiring and Pruning - July 6

I collected this beauty in winter of 2013, and let it grow out all last year.  When I pulled it from its growing tub this spring, there were roots everywhere (naturally).  I had gotten this stunning pot from Chuck Iker last year, and just knew it was meant for this cypress.

You can see the original chop point, which I've begun carving this year.  Over the next few years, the leader will thicken and I'll be able to complete the carving to make the transition smooth and believable.

Quite a tree!

June 22 - A Flat-Top Begins

I collected this tree in February of this year and direct-potted it into a nice Byron Myrick oval.  It responded well, throwing lots of growth starting in spring.  I always thought the tree should be a flat-top, and yesterday I did the initial styling that will ultimately lead to this goal.  The occasion was a one-on-one teaching session with a client, in which we performed the initial styling on his more traditional informal upright cypress.  He asked me how I determined which bald cypresses were suited to flat-top style versus the more traditional informal upright.  It always has to do with the trunk base diameter versus height.  Flat-top style trees are usually slender, and don't possess the deep fluting/buttressing you see in the informal uprights that are trained in the more traditional style.

This tree will develop quickly next year, and by 2016 should be very presentable.  The trunk is festooned with lichens, which help with the impression of age.

June 8 - Remarkable Recovery

I lost a lot of trees this past winter, as you know.  There was one in particular that I hated to see go, shown below.  This is the best willow oak I've ever collected, possibly the best oak period.  When it failed to come out this spring, despite passing the "scratch" test repeatedly, I thought it was just one of those casualties that seems to have life under the bark but simply won't bud out.

We returned from a short vacation on Saturday the 7th.  When I went out to check on my trees, guess what?  Buds emerging all over my willow oak!  It appears the tree just was late in coming out.  We'll see how it grows this year, but even if the harsh winter set it back I'm confident I can nurse it back to health.  I'm really anxious to see the bonsai in this specimen.


Winter Woes and Perseverance - April 6

Well, my trees are waking up now that the worst winter in 20 years is behind us ... that is, those tree not done in by the worst winter in 20 years.  Now, I'm no newbie when it comes to winter protection for my bonsai, so when the snows came I wasn't particularly worried as our snows down here are those that occur around 26-30 degrees.  As you know, snow is actually protective unless you get a reinforcing blast of cold, which is very rare here in the Deep South.  Well, this year we had one of those rare events, as one of our snows was followed by clearing and a second blast of cold right on the heels.  This wouldn't have caused me any concern, as I would have merely placed all of my trees on the ground.  Unfortunately, this was also the evening after we buried my mom and I simply couldn't get to the trees.  It was just one of those once in a lifetime events.

The world of bonsai is pretty much like life in general.  You never know when you'll be knocked for a loop.  You do know the only thing you can do is pick yourself up and forge ahead.  Perseverance is the key to success in any endeavor.

I got a practical lesson in bonsai care out of this as well.  Water-elms are tender at 15 degrees on the bench.  I probably lost ten nice bonsai.  Most of the other species I usually work with are hardy.  I did lose a couple of small privets, a sparkleberry, and a sweetgum.  But others of each species came through, so you can't automatically assume 15 degrees will get them.

The bottom line is, if you give up after losing a few trees you'll never make it in bonsai.  The real challenge is much less in making a nice tree than it is in keeping those trees alive over time.  Horticulture and environmental factors are the key.


Spring Is Coming - February 23

After a terrible and cold winter, there are signs that spring will soon be here.  I have a group of bald cypresses I collected last January from a spot over 100 miles south of here.  All of them are budding (they think they're still "home").  I decided it was time to pot one of these trees, which is the second one pictured below.  You always wonder how the roots grew during the tree's recovery from being collected.  I lifted it from its tub, and you can see in the second picture in the first group above how it did.  Amazing!  Some of the roots were pencil thick.  Picture three in the first group shows the roots after being teased out, and the first picture in the second group was taken after the roots were washed.  I had to trim a lot to get the tree in its first pot, but you can see I was successful.  The final picture is after soil was added.

This tree has a trunk diameter of 4 inches above the root crown.  Distance across the surface rootage is about 10 inches.  The finished height of this bonsai will be about 30 inches.  This tree has great taper and really graceful movement.  I did the taper enhancing cut today along with the other work.  The first picture above shows the before shot.  Additional carving will need to be done in the years to come, but after the tree heals some more.

The pot it's in is a training pot.  I know it looks a lot nicer, and it's actually a fine Paul Katich pot that broke during shipment to me.  I glued it back together and I think it's doing nice service for this cypress.


Bald Cypress - June 13 - More Peering Into the Future

Here's a cypress destined for my collection.  As with the tree below, it's been allowed to grow wild this year in order to re-establish its health.  This is easy to gauge by the length of the shoots and the fact that they're still extending.  Today it was time to do some editing.  This tree has fantastic taper, so all that's left for me to do in the apex is to grow the new leader for a couple of years to thicken it properly, then carve the side so that the transition is smooth and the wound can heal over.

I used an interesting technique on the branches, which as you can see are now nearly horizontal.  Instead of wiring (which will come later), I bent them down gently until I was able to feel a slight cracking.  Bald cypress is the only species I know that you can do this to without fear of the branch dying.  So these branches will grow horizontally now, and I'll let them thicken through the remainder of the growing season.  This coming winter it'll be time to wire and move them to their final position.


Bald Cypress - June 12 - Peering Into the Future

Yesterday I took time out from display area construction to do some trimming on one of the bald cypresses I collected this past winter.  They've exploded in growth, and since bald cypress is apically dominant (and how!) you have to take steps to redirect their energy back downward.  At the same time, I need the trees to push roots in order to get established.  So I have to do the right amount of "editing" of branches.

The photo on the left shows the mass of foliage that's developed so far this year.  In the photo on the right, I've removed maybe a third of the foliage, mostly in the upper part of the tree.  I'll allow the branches in the lower area to grow unrestricted for the rest of the year, and depending on how well they grow may wire and position them.  Stay tuned.

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April 28 - Mayhaw Progress

You may remember this big Mayhaw from last year.  I decided it was time to pot the tree this year, so I commissioned a wonderful piece from Byron Myrick and did the potting back in January.  Today it was time to wire the tree again and continue work on the branch structure.  The apex is developing sub-branching, so after another growing season of allowing the apical shoot to run in order to complete the tapering transition, I'll be most of the way home.

This is also the tree that I initiated a thread graft on two years ago.  The graft is still growing, albeit slowly, but there's a good chance I'll be able to separate it within a couple of years.

You can probably see the slight twisting of the trunk on this specimen, which adds to the interest.  All in all, it's a powerful bonsai in the making. 

  September 22 - Big Water-elm progress

Here's an update on the big water-elm from below.  It's been filling out all summer, and the tapering in the apex is producing a nice, smooth transition from the starting trunk chop.

I'll be removing the heavy-gauge wire I used to position the major branches sometime in the next few weeks, along with the remainder of the wire.  That will be it until late winter, at which time I'll completely wire the tree again in anticipation of new spring growth.

2013 should complete the major design work on this tree.  Since the apex has the proper taper, all I'll need to do in the crown of the tree is work to fill it out.  I should get the majority of this work done next year as well.

Big Water-elm - Planera aquatica - August 14

I collected this tree in Winter 2011, which is not the normal time for collecting the species.  But it was in an area that is usually under at least three feet of water, so I didn't want to miss my opportunity.  You can see in the first photo on the left below how well it grew this year.  I wanted to begin the training while the branches were still pliable.  The "after" shot shows the result.  Next year should get this tree a long way toward its ultimate design.

The trunk of this tree is 5" in diameter at the base, and the finished height should be around 24".  It's got some beaver marks on it, which I plan to incorporate into the design.


Water-elm Raft - May 2011

You may remember seeing this unique raft-style water-elm last summer after I collected it.  This is how the tree appeared this spring before I took it to our local show in Baton Rouge to do the initial styling.  As you can see, the growth was rampant which is typical of water-elm.

How do you style a tree like this?  Because nature (and someone's truck) did such a good job of creating the basic layout of this forest, all I had to do was decide what to get rid of.

I should be loading up the result soon, so be sure to check back.

Photo copyright 2011 by Leslie Smith.  All rights reserved.
November 21 2010 - The National Champion Bald Cypress

I have the great good fortune to live a mere 17 miles from the national champion bald cypress.  This massive tree measures 17 feet in trunk diameter at the base and 94 feet tall.  It is reputed to be at least 1,000 years old.  I suspect it could be over 3,000.

This tree is the largest east of the Sierra Nevada, and the sixth largest in terms of overall volume in the nation.

It appears to be two trees at first glance, but is actually a twin-trunk.

Now, for those of you big tree fans, Wikipedia mistakenly says that a tree called "The Senator" in Florida is the champ (note: The Senator was destroyed by a vandal who set it on fire; it's not possible to describe a tragedy of this proportion; RIP, great tree). To the left of this tree and back toward the viewer stands a cypress with a 13 foot trunk.  To the back and left of this tree, about thirty or forty feet, is a multi-trunk cypress unrecognized in any literature I know that's not too far behind the champ.  I stepped off a trunk circumference of almost 50 feet, meaning almost 16 feet in diameter.

It's hard to describe the feeling you get when standing near this incredible natural phenomenon.  Enjoy!
November 28 2010 - Me and the Champ

Here's how to judge the scale of this tree.  I'm standing at the right side of the left-most portion of the twin-trunk monster.  You can't even see all of the trunk base.

For those of you whose thoughts go to the obvious, I have collected cones from this tree and plan to propagate it.  It's going to take a while to make bonsai worthy material from it, but so what?  How could I pass up an opportunity like this?


  November 6 2010

The Louisiana Bonsai Society of Baton Rouge held its fall show
November 6-7.  I did a demonstration on a large triple-trunk
water-elm collected back in July.

Here I've begun the wiring process.
  Here's my sketch of where I see this tree in five or six years. You
can see that I need to build the top of each trunk.  This is not
going to be a problem, as these water-elms grow more or less like weeds given sufficient water, food and sunshine.  As I told the audience, while researching this species I ran across a paper by
an LSU professor who noted that water-elms can sometimes
become "noxious weeds" in certain areas requiring control.  I'm
more than happy to provide a public service in helping control this "pest."
  A final survey of my work.  The basic branch set plus the new
leaders are in place.  I'll allow the new leaders, especially on the
larger trunks, to grow wild next year so the tapering transitions
are believable in a few years.  This is a critical step in developing a
bonsai from trunk-chopped material.
  Me and the tree, a basic design to work from.  The left-most trunk
will need a tapering cut this coming spring, when I'll be able to
count on rapid growth for healing.  Water-elms don't always roll
over as well as you'd like, but I do want to be sure I make the cut during the first active growth period of the 2011 season.

Show shots copyright 2010 by Leslie Smith.  All rights reserved.

What Others Are Saying

From J.K., Michigan:

Just a quick note. No tree questions this time. Your home page on the web says this:
"I am here to help you acquire, style and maintain the finest collected and field-grown material available anywhere for bonsai. Whether you’re a beginner or a more experienced artist, please think of me as a resource you can count on."
You are an exceptional person. Very few people live up to their claims made on a website. Thank you for being one of the best at service, response and assistance before, during and after the sale. It is an honor to know you, learn from you and purchase trees from you. Thanks.


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