I’ve mentioned before that one of the fall chores we can do that has a key effect on how quickly our bonsai develop is fall pruning and wiring. While we can’t expect much growth on our trees at this time of year, we can make and implement vital design decisions. Now, there are certain chores I don’t recommend in the fall. An example is trunk-chopping. The reason I don’t recommend this is the tree responds according to its “programming,” meaning it wants to replace the trunk and foliage mass you’ve removed. New vegetative shoots will do their best to form and grow out. This is certainly well and good, but all too often you run headlong into your first cold snap which means the new shoots don’t have time to harden off. If they subsequently get killed off by cold weather, your tree can easily suffer dieback.
I collected this water-elm, Planera aquatica, in August of 2014. It sprouted just a few weak shoots near the base a few weeks after collection, but that was it. I figured the tree wasn’t going the make it, but I also realized that the collecting season had been delayed last year just as this year’s was. There wasn’t really any reason to assume the tree had dried out, since I take great pains to seal up my trunk chops. So I left the tree alone, and sure enough it came out strong this past spring. I ultimately decided to keep this tree, considering how many I had lost in Winter 2014.
This first photo is from May of this year.
A month later I decided to do the initial wiring and pot the tree into my vintage Richard Robertson oblong lavender pot. I felt the elongated pot matched up perfectly with the tall, graceful trunk. The tree has a tremendous flaring base with great surface roots, which is about the best start for a bonsai you can expect.
I’ve been practicing one of my key training techniques, benign neglect, on this tree for the past three months. Aside from unwiring branches to keep the wire from biting in, I’ve only fed, watered and kept a casual eye on the tree. It’s done the rest. What a wild result, eh? But this is just what the bonsai artist needs in their trees that are under primary development.
I’m posting this close-up so you can see how quickly the new leader has thickened this year. From trunk bud to 1/2-inch diameter in a single growing season. The secret? Wire a little movement into it and let it grow!
And here’s the tree after wiring and pruning. I took off a good bit of the leader, but refrained from cutting back too far since I won’t get much more growth this year and the shoot is still very young. I’ll cut it back harder in spring and wire up a new leader in order to ensure the tapering is done right.
And that’s a year in the life of a (new) water-elm bonsai. This tree will be showable in two more years.