Monterey Cypress Progression: From Seed to Show in 9 Years

Monterey Cypress Progression: From Seed to Show in 9 Years

Growing Monterey Cypress Seed show

In 2007 I started a batch of Monterey Cypress from seeds I collected from a tree in the Presidio here in San Francisco. Cypress grow very fast, even as seedlings. It takes only 2-3 years to have a tree that is three feet tall, although the trunk remains small.

I grew them in pond baskets and boxes for a few years. They do okay in baskets, but tend to get roots so dense that using a Sawzall to remove the bottom of the root mass becomes necessary. In 2010 when I moved to Thousand Oaks, I put eight of the trees into the ground, almost like a hedge along one side of my bonsai growing area. In only two years the trunks went from less than one inch to about three inches across.

In December 2012, I dug all eight trees up again and put them into large boxes to transport back to San Francisco. Below is an example of what one of these looked like.


Before work. The tree was cut back hard after being dug out of the ground. The top half was removed and all the large branches were stubbed back to be short. Cypress can easily grow a couple feet worth of branch extension in a year so it didn’t take long to get some good small branches to work with.

My chosen front, 2014. It provides a good balance between the movement of the main trunk and the angle of the large branch on the left.

Detail of the base from the front, 2014.

The tree measured about 25″ high with a girth of 3″. One of the great things about Cypress is that they seem to put on significant wood even in a bonsai container. The wire will cut in very quickly, and after removing the wire the branches have a habit of springing back. The disadvantage of their wood production is that over time the branches can get too large, particularly on the top of the tree.


Looking down at the top of the tree, 2014. Lots of wire! Looking at it now, I suppose I should have done something about that cut mark before I wired the tree.

January 2015, after a second wiring.

February 2015, repotted into a nice old pot.

After the work in February of 2015 I seriously considered showing the tree. It’s impressive how quickly these trees develop. But this tree, while showing a nearly-full silhouette, wasn’t showing mature character. Cypress have strips of bark, which to this point the tree hadn't developed. Perhaps even more important, they have a fine needle foliage, very similar to a Kishu Shimpaku or even Itoigawa in color and size. This tree was still showing immature foliage, or somewhere in between the seedling fluffy needle and the mature foliage. I felt that waiting a year to show the tree was probably best, to allow the crown to develop more maturity and to get mature foliage.

A comparison of the foliage on the top left side of the crown from February 2015 and March 2016. Note the difference in texture.

The tree grew slowly in 2015, especially compared to its growth in 2014. I barely needed to touch it for the entire year, which is unusual for a Monterey Cypress.
March 2016, before work.
March 2016, ready to show.
It took me about 6 hours of solid work to complete the detail wiring of the tree. I used mostly 18 and 20 gauge copper to spread out and neaten up the small tips, but in a few places I had to use some medium size wire to move larger branches. All that's left to ready this tree for exhibit is some nice moss for the surface of the soil. 
Interested in watching Eric prep a different Monterey Cypress for a bonsai show? Watch this video from our YouTube channel! 

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