Dawn Redwood: Fantastic Multi-Colored Young Needles [Bonsai]

in bonsai •  3 months ago  (edited)


Time to introduce a new tree from my bonsai collection.

The Dawn Redwood was originally a bare-root tree that I planted in a pot in early March. Over that last month, it has slowly been opening it's buds.

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Check out the difference in growth every two weeks.

These needles are so soft and tender. Makes me want to pull them off and eat them. They have the silky texture of tender broccolini crowns.


Young needles are slightly multi-colored. The tips are yellow-magenta. The stems are silvery.

From photos I have seen of mature Dawn Redwoods in nature, these needles will likely change color again in autumn. I am not sure if the needles will fall off or remain on the tree through winter.

The bark on this tree is tan, with a slight cinnamon red tint. It's already developing the flaky strips that peel off in strands, almost like grape wood bark.

Memory Lane

Let's check back in with how this tree looked when I first received it.

The roots were all bundled together around a plug of moist soil.


To plant it, I teased the exterior roots a little bit to encourage them to spread outward through the soil, while leaving the interior roots in-tact through the rootball.

The soil I added around to the pot was my high quality bonsai soil mix. To protect the roots from frost and cold winds, I mulched the top layer with pine wood chips. The mulch prevent the roots on top from being dried out by the cold air.

Mulch even feeds the worms a bit, which adds small doses of healing nutrients to the soil. Great for reducing transplant shock.



Last year, when visiting the Rhododendron gardens downtown, I captured a sight of an odd conifer I did not recognize at the time.

Looking back, I believe it was a Dawn Redwood.


This is the photo I snapped.

What struck me was the fact that the tree was bare, except for the brilliant green new needles that were appearing all over from the buds.

I had never seen a deciduous conifer before! I thought all conifers were evergreens, but clearly this tree was different.

Also unique was the buds were all growing in lateral directions. None of the buds were aiming upward for the sun. The branches were all growing in diagonal sweeps. Many of the diagonal branches were parallel angles.

My love for perfect geometrical aesthetics overwhelmed me, and I realized I had to keep this in mind for future bonsai designs.

The key this tree's beauty is defining balance with matching angles, yet avoiding perfect symmetry. It's part of the tree's DNA to grow this way.

My Design

Originally, this tree was growing like an upright stick. No form. Redwoods are among the tallest trees in the world, and tend to grow very straight trunks, so they can quickly outgrow all competing trees nearby. They need lots of the sunlight to support so much mass.

I could have just allowed my tree to grow tall, and become an enormous straight tower of a tree. Eventually it would tip over or outgrow me. I would have to decide if I wanted to invest in an expensive bonsai pot bigger than my bathtub.

No, I wanted to break that tendency for this tree, and tame it to stay smaller. It is already over 2 feet high. Create a story for this tree that matches the growth tendency of the branches.


So I wired the trunk into an angle. This reduced the height slightly. Another advantage, is I did not have to prune anything off. Most of the buds forming are in ideal locations I want to take advantage of.

As best I could, I bent the upper diagonal to be a perfect mirror angle of the bottom diagonal. A smooth bend was made, rather than a sharp corner bend. I could tell when flexing the wood that too much bend was causing the young wood fibers to rip. I prefer the smoother bend anyway, which is considered a feminine trait in design.

When the branches develop, I may need to add more wires to train new branches match the angles defined by the trunk. It will create a uniformity that will makes sense.


This illustration I made shows what I think might be a good future for this tree after two or three years of growth.

It already has a nice strong needle cluster growing at the location where the trunk bends. Here it should be easy to expect a branch to form the first low branch at an ideal location, extending the line of the lower trunk.

The top of the tree where it is budding mostly right now will become the top the of the tree where a new diagonal will bend back to the left.

One thing I will need to prevent is forcing this tree to grow as an espalier design. A 2-dimensional flat tree shape would not look very natural, so I need to pick some of the interior branches to move forward and backward into diagonal directions that will also fit the right picture profile.


Photo above is from pixabay.

This is what Dawn Redwoods look like when planted in rows.

Together they form a beautiful hedge fence. Alone, they stand as a tower with symmetrical branches all aimed diagonal up in straight lines.

This is the geometry I am attempting to match in my tree's design.


Thank you for viewing my photos of my backyard bonsai hobby. Hope it brightened your day.

Photos in this post are all #originalworks by @creativetruth, unless stated otherwise.

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