Bonsai is a pursuit that works best when given enough time. This is fairly obvious once you’ve studied enough. It’s the old trees that have been in training for decades (even centuries) that command our attention. Now, with that said I’m a big proponent of bringing a tree to a showable state in three to five years. One way to speed up the process is to harvest trees from the wild that have larger trunks than seedlings or nursery stock. Another is to field-grow specimens for the purpose of creating a thicker trunk with taper and movement. Here’s an example of each of these techniques. The bottom line? You can do a lot in three years, especially if you can get off to a solid start on your design in two to four months.

Here’s a Crape myrtle stump I lifted last month. I originally grew it from a small cutting, and a few years ago I planted it out for more rapid growth. The trunk base is now 1.5″ in diameter, which is plenty good for a small bonsai. You may also be able to see that this specimen has been chopped once, in order to build taper. I also took off another trunk emerging from the base, which I left to help thicken the trunk. This are common techniques for growing raw material.

Doesn’t look like much, does it?

This is two weeks later, in early June. I have enough growth to allow for the beginnings of a design.

I prefer to do my initial wiring on deciduous trees that have been collected as soon as the shoots are long enough and sturdy enough to take the wire. Why? Because it’s easier to bend a tender shoot and put it in the position I want it. Very simple.

This tree still doesn’t look like much, but it’s so much better than in the first photo ….

And here we are, two weeks after the photo above. Is this not an amazing degree of progress in a month and a half? Crape myrtles love summer, they’re super rooters, and you can build a wonderful bonsai from scratch is short order. The other good news? This tree will bloom next year, if not this year.

This tree is available at our Shop page. $95 delivered.

This Cedar elm was collected in February. As with the Crape above, the trunk base is 1.5″ in diameter. The really nice thing about this specimen is the trunk character – rugged bark, nice movement, good taper. No doubt it’s going to be a fine bonsai some day.

Here’s where we stood in early April. The first round of growth is underway, though not yet strong.

Much better. This is about six weeks after the photo above. I love wiring trees when they’re at this stage, as I mentioned above. No reason to put off getting a design in place.

Not much left compared to the shot above, is there? But that’s okay. I’m redirecting the energy the tree is expressing to those branches I need. This is what you have to do with all of your bonsai.

And here we are, a month after the photo above. I got the energy of this tree directed right where I wanted it. Look at the strength of those shoots. Also, the leader was a couple of feet long so I cut it back to continue the apex-building process.

And … I decided to go ahead and slip-pot to a bonsai container (an exquisite piece by Lary Howard). The tree had produced a lot of roots, so I’m confident it won’t bat an eye. Cedar elm is one of the toughest species out there.

Let me know what you think of these two quick progressions. I’d love to hear your comments.