Collected, Large Pyracantha Future Direction & Styling

Hello, all! This is my first post here but I’m glad I found this community (I’ve been reading Bonsai Tonight for quite a while, however).

I am a beginner bonsai enthusiast and have around 10 or so trees, but this is probably my largest. I collected this pyracantha from a yard last spring and have kept it in this training tub all year letting it recover. I’m in no rush to style this tree but I’d like to try to get a future direction for it so I can start planning as new shoots come in (as you know they harden off quickly and become difficult to bend).

The tricky thing with this tree is that there are kind of 3 trunks to deal with, one that swings off to the left and two that are kind of joined on the right. The two that are joined do eventually cross and so I’ve felt this to be a bit of a detraction to the overall design. The left swinging trunk has little taper and goes off in a strange angle.

I’d love it if you could help me see a direction for this tree! I’ve thought of trying to keep all 3 trunks and build a type of triangular canopy over the years. I’ve also contemplated completely chopping that far left swinging trunk and focus more around the right two, creating a natural bend to the right and then develop a triangular canopy to the left-ish.

I’m open to any thoughts and ideas, I really appreciate any help provided!

I’ve upload more, higher resolution images, here:


Killer tree! You did well with this one; it’s going to make a very nice bonsai! Welcome to the forum by the way. :smile:
I’ll let Jonas or one of the others give you the input you’re after, but I will say that you may likely end up chopping those trunks lower, so they wouldn’t be crossing anyway.

Thanks, on both accounts! I was really lucky collecting this tree and did it before I moved to a new home. As I dug the root mass out there was a natural clay deposit below so the roots grew flat, but outward. Score!

I can’t believe I haven’t found this community before, even after reading BT for a while.

I had a feeling most would recommend doing a hard cut on those large trunks, I’m ready for it if that’s the case. I think lowering the overall height will give this tree a much more powerful stance.

Still unsure on that left trunk, though. Can’t wait to hear some more feedback!

Thanks, Dan!

Hi Maurizio - thanks for sharing your project! There are some interesting options here - are you leaning more towards any more than the others?

At first glance I thought a large tree with three trunks would be interesting, but after checking the photos more closely a number of things came to mind:

  • if you keep all three trunks, it’d be nice to find a way to make it look like they all really belong together - as you noted, the one on the left comes out at a different angle, and at a different level, than the other two trunks; might planting the tree higher or at a different angle help?

  • if you remove the trunk on the left you might leave a big, conspicuous scar, plus you’d want to find a way to avoid the remaining trunks crossing each other; if changing the planting angle doesn’t help with the crossing branches, it might make sense to reduce them and introduce more taper

  • have you thought of making air layers anywhere?

Thanks for taking the time to reply, you have me thinking about a few things I hadn’t previously thought about. I spent this morning looking at the tree from a few angles and have thought some about your questions. My thoughts:

I think it might be possible to get all three trunks to work harmoniously but it would really depend on the front angle of the tree. If looked at the correct angle, the three trunks actually look nice together: sweeping off to the right with little inverse taper on that left trunk, however, once you step just a bit to the left and begin to look at the tree from a different vantage you can spot the strange angle of that left branch. So, I’m thinking the only way to get them to look correct together would be to rotate the tree’s plant level about 20º to the right:

Please excuse the ridiculously crude mockup here, but I think it gets my idea across. Essentially rotate plant level right so the three trunks face more upward and then over the years build a typical pyracantha mounded canopy. The right trunk will then protrude at a slightly strange angle but it might work to create another “pad” out there. Also this mockup really has the top foliage a bit too heavy for the current trunks, just trying to get the idea out there.

The crossing of the left trunk in front of the other two does look odd to me, though. Thoughts on this?

You’re right, removing that left trunk will create a huge scar next to that really large root (which is cut by the way, just below the soil surface). If that left trunk had more taper to it I think I would really be ok with keeping it, but there is very little taper.

You can see how the trunk almost goes out at the same width all the way up.

I actually have not thought about air layering. Do you think I should consider this to salvage some potential large cuts and create some new trees? I’d love to have a cascade pyracantha… I wonder if that left branch could root and be formed to this shape cascade (if cut).

So I guess in the end I’m leaning a bit towards cutting that left branch I just don’t know how to go about it. I fear it may be quite stressful for the tree in the long run but will also leave a huge cut that may not be better than keeping the branch in the first place. So you can see my dilemma here! I’m very conflicted on what’s best for this tree. Any other thoughts based on my feedback?

Thanks again!

Pyracantha take ages to callus over so do your best to find a suitable spot for Chopping. Air layers take really easily so this is a good option if you find a good section to propagate x

Thanks, Paul, will definitely keep the scarring in mind. I’ve done a few other chops and yes, they are still very visible even after some time.

Whatever I do decide to chop, I will definitely take to air layering!

Hi Maurizio - here are some more thoughts:

  1. I think you’re right about the best angle for using all trunks. As for the left trunk, I don’t like that it crosses over. If somewhere below the soil there is a spot where you can see the left trunk emerging it’d be nice to see it. If that’s not available, the options are to live with it or remove it.

  2. I wonder if you can cut or layer the left trunk somewhere below the soil and then layer the entire right side to produce a good, even root base.

  3. Yes, layering could be a great way to make use of sections you’d like to remove. As for what’s below the layer, I’d expect some dieback, so care may be required to make sure you can at least hide the resulting scar with foliage.

A cascade or semi-cascade could possible depending on the angle of the layer. One approach is to layer once, separate the branch or trunk from the rest of the tree, and then layer it again a year or two later at the desired angle. This approach may be appropriate if you can’t get the angle you want on the first layer.

Stress to the tree is always an important concern. If lots of roots emerge from the base of the trunks on the right they’ll be able to feed the trunks that remain. If most of the roots emerge below the left hand trunk, I’d hesitate to remove it.


Thanks for the feedback! I spent the last few days contemplating things and taking another hard look at the tree.

  1. It’s not possible to keep all three trunks and not have that left one cross over the other two, unfortunately (unless I submerge under the soil but then I’d lose quite a bit of the trunk thickness).

  2. I’m still considering this… It might be the way to go to separate the two sections. My impression is that the left trunk actually holds most of the “life” of this tree due to the vigorous growth on top.

  3. I will definitely air layer whatever I end up removing.

I think at this point I’m going to leave that left branch and continue to strengthen the overall strength of the tree, let it grow out some more, hedge prune it back, and repeat for 1 to 2 more years. At that point I’ll re-assess the left trunk and perhaps by that time the right side of the tree will increase in strength and I can have more confidence when air layering both sides.

Additionally, I’ll probably repot the tree in 3 years or so and put it into a smaller pot instead of the plastic tub (I know pyracantha do not like root disturbance). The tree actually looks really nice if you plant it such that the three trunks sort of align. I think when I repot I’ll try this to hold me over until I decide if it could sustain a removal of the left trunk.

Thanks again for all the help and I’ll certainly post any updates here if my mind changes!

If only I would have had the foresight 10 years ago when I planted this pyracantha to remove that left trunk :slight_smile:

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That tree has fantastic potential.I think you are correct in not removing any trunks for a couple years, both to build health of tree, but you also need to let the tree ‘‘grow on you’’, so that the ‘‘right’’ future design will pop out as obvious after you have had time to get real familiar with this tree.

Personally, if this were mine, I would keep all three trunks, the 20 degree tilt is about right, maybe a little less, maybe a little more. New buds breaking lower on the trunks may become future primary and secondary branches. I would take this on a 7 to 10 year design plan, don’t rush it. You can not glue back a branch once removed. So go slow with the chopping until you are certain it is what you want.

About crossing branches - In my mind, the issue is trivial. I have seen many a good and even some masterpiece bonsai with crossing branches. The rule exists primarily for designing young material, as a thing to avoid. BUT it is NOT an absolute rule. Your tree has age to it, a natural wildness, the crossing branches may possibly become strengths, rather than flaws. It points to an uncontrived, naturalistic design. Especially if you are heading toward a naturalistic design rather than imitating a ‘‘formal’’ idealized tree, crossing branches in and of themselves are not an issue. See Arthur Joura’s wonderful blog pages where he discusses in a number of posts elements of a naturalistic design. It may help you ‘‘loosen up’’ and expand you thoughts to the possibilities for the future of your excellent pyracantha.

We are looking at 2 dimensional photos, not 3D. If the branches are not touching each other, but rather one is in front of the other, appearing to cross only from the ‘front’ view, it is not a bright line case of “got to cut if off”. A good bonsai has 3 dimensional depth, a branch in back creating depth may be used to advantage even if it appears to cross behind a main trunk from the front view. I downloaded an image or two, to see if I could do a virtual, and decided I wasn’t up to the task.You do have a number of ‘straight cylander’ branches that I would consider shortening to a point where a secondary branch is coming off it, to change direction, adding movement and taper. But the photos have too much foliage to clearly see what is happening. I think for the next couple years, if it were mine I would let lower secondary branches develop, keep buds that pop pretty much where ever they do if they are in the lower half of the tree. Perhaps I would prune back branch extensions in the upper part of the tree pretty hard to encourage more activity lower in the tree. Then 2 years from now decide how hard and how far to chop back the tall trunks. But I think my plans would always include the main trunks you have at the moment, even the left one. It is a nice unified clump, even though the left goes off wandering, it is a major part of the base of the other trunks.

So my advice, give the tree a couple years to grow on you, then the future design will pop out at you. If in two years the future design is not obvious, perhaps take it to a workshop with a visiting teacher. This is a nice tree, I’d love to have one like it in my collection.

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@LeoSchordje thanks so much for the detailed reply! I will dig into Arthur Joura’s site (I briefly took a look) to help guide me with a more naturalistic look. I really love the work of Walter Pall and those who tend to eschew traditional bonsai design (in some ways) in favor of a more natural look – I think it’s great. Perhaps my approach will be somewhere in the middle, I’m not sure yet, I think you’re right I should let this tree grow on me some more and see how it evolves.

Right now I’m with you (and others above) in keeping the 3 trunks, changing planting angle when I repot year after next, and then assessing the tree then. You’re right, a lot of the branches higher in the tree have almost no taper, they are straight cylinders. I’ll keep their reduction in mind for next season. After this first flush of growth is over I’ll cut the top branches back and see if I can promote some lower branches. This pyracantha, and probably most in general, back bud like crazy all over the place, so long as light gets in there. I think cutting the top thin branches back will further promote this.

So in short, my approach is:

  1. cut back top, thin growth pretty hard in a few weeks to hopefully stimulate lower branching
  2. let tree grow and strengthen through the rest of the summer, winter and into next spring
  3. assess tree health next spring and reduce “cylinders” to a branch to help create more taper & movement up top
  4. repot in 2017, changing angle, and then plan for future at that point

Thanks again and yes, it’s an awesome tree!

How about something like this


Thanks so much for taking the time to doctor this up, I finally have a visual to go after! I really like the design, nice branching and a good use of the 3 main trunks. Also a really nice overall canopy.

I chopped back only smaller branches this spring so I should be in a good point to follow your guidelines next year.

Thanks again, I’m definitely going to use this as a guide for future styling.

Coming at this as an amateur myself, I would airlayer the centre (I’m Canadian) and do a deep hollow up the right trunk. Tell a bit of a tale of struggle between two trunk where the lower underdog rises in the end.

Maybe that’s more fairy tale style :sunglasses: