Here’s one of the Cedar elms, Ulmus crassifolia, that I collected in March. It’s a smaller specimen, with a trunk base of 1″ at the soil level, but it’s packed with character. I’ve been keeping an eye on it now since it first started showing buds a week after lifting. Notice how far the shoots have extended. I know from experience that this means the tree is producing feeder roots.

All good so far, but … is this the best front for the tree?

That was partly a trick question, but only partly. When I first started eyeing this tree as a soon-to-be bonsai, this angle caught my attention. Can you tell why? Notice, if you will, that first low branch in this photo. Every tree you make into a bonsai is going to have some distinctive characteristics that, when arranged properly, produce the artistic rendering of a tree in nature. The low branch on this tree must be my first branch. Why? Well, every tree has a first branch, right? And that first branch emerges from the trunk somewhere around a quarter to a third or (occasionally) half-way up the trunk. This branch is visually “anchoring,” meaning it’s the first spot your eye moves to when you view the tree from the ground up. It has to be where it needs to be, it’s that simple. Now, compare this photo to the one above. Where’s the first branch in that one? Not in the right spot, that’s where. So from this angle, I’ve got that first branch right where I need it.

Fast-forward a few steps, and you can see what that first branch means to this bonsai-to-be. I have only three branches total to work with in the main body of the tree. But that’s really all I need. Remember, in bonsai, as a general rule, less is more. You can express an entire tree in a half-dozen branches. Here I have three, and a new leader that will itself hold maybe a handful. That’s the entire bonsai. It’s going to be a Cedar elm that looks for all the world like a real tree.

The trunk base is 1″, and the finished height will be about 14″. It has lovely trunk movement and character, and it’s staring to bark up nicely.

(The pot is a Byron Myrick oval.)

Here’s how you pack a whole lot of fun into about 10 minutes’ worth of work. I lifted some smaller Cedar elms specifically so I could make forests out of them. Here’s three that had enough growth as of today to make me confident in potting them up. The largest of these trees has a trunk base just under 1″. The height of the planting is about 16″. This Chuck Iker round with cloud feet seems perfect. What do you think?

Both of these bonsai will be available in the coming weeks. I’ll send out an alert when they’re ready.