Until recently, I’ve known Yaupon Holly by its less appealing botanical name, Ilex vomitoria. I took it for granted that the tree produced berries that were better left to the birds. Not so – turns out Native Americans made tea known as asi or “black drink” from the Youpon berries that were used in male-only rituals (so asserts Wikipedia). The vomiting that occurred during these ceremonies was more a result of circumstance (too much tea after fasting) than any disagreeable qualities of the berries themselves. The active ingredient: caffeine.
Too much after too little is a relevant theme for Yaupon holly. After several years of cutting back hard and leaving too little foliage, I invariably ended up with too much foliage. This year Boon suggested leaving shoots long. The assumption is that by letting shoots continue to elongate, the tree has less need to push excessive new growth.
Yaupon Holly – before cutback
Yaupon Holly – after cutback
The result is fairly rangy. Knowing how fast the tree grows, I opted to not wire the shoots knowing another cutback is right around the corner. What I couldn’t postpone was repotting.
My experience with the variety is that nothing slows these trees down. The primary motivation for repotting every year is to maintain good drainage. Here’s a look at the roots one year after repotting.
Holly roots one year after repotting
Pulling out the tie-down wire
Working with the roots is a breeze. The fine roots grow very dense and cut easily. Combing out the roots is more like sculpting the rootball. Here’s the bottom of the rootball after root-work.
Bottom of the rootball
The more interesting part is combing out the surface roots. Because they are so dense, the roots fuse easily, producing impressive nebari. Here Boon takes a turn clipping the roots.
Boon cutting the surface roots
After the root-work was complete, I repotted the tree back into the same pot. It’s several years away from exhibit, so there’s no need to change the growing pot.
This is my favorite state for bonsai – freshly worked and repotted. I think trees look great after thinning and repotting, and best of all, they can simply rest on the bench and grow for a while before they require attention. With Yaupon holly, this break is short and sweet.
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