This past September I acquired this American hornbeam, Carpinus caroliniana, from a fellow enthusiast. It’s a fine specimen, with “muscling” to die for. My goal is to create a great hornbeam bonsai out of it, which I can achieve in just two years. It’s well on its way already. A new leader has been selected and some shape wired into it. Additional initial wiring was done on some of the branches.

Let’s see where this tree is now, and what I was able to do with it in advance of the coming spring.

I left the tree alone after I acquired it, only unwiring branches that were starting to get the wire bite. As you can see, it’s a strong specimen.

It’s worth noticing the transition point where the new leader emerges from the trunk chop. If you compare this with the photo above, you can see that it thickened more going into dormancy. This is common for trees in fall. Branches tend to thicken up as the tree stores food for winter. That’s why you have to keep a close eye on your wires!

Fast-forward a few minutes, and here’s all the work the tree needed at this time. But keep on reading to find out what’s going on in each part of the tree, and what needs to happen as the new growing season comes.

I pruned out an unneeded shoot that was emerging from where the left-hand first branch sits. Then I wired the branch as needed and positioned everything, then trimmed a bit.

This tree is currently hampered by the lack of a right-side branch between the lowest left branch and the one higher up in the tree. I can mitigate this problem temporarily by bringing over a shoot from that branch in the middle of the trunk. That will give me visual foliage on the right side where I need it.

Sometimes a collected tree will produce new growth where we need it; sometimes not. Then we have to put our problem-solving cap on. I’d love for this tree to push a bud or two on the right side of the trunk next year. Failing that, I’ll need to graft one in the right spot.

The next branch on this tree, on the left side (it will actually also provide foliage in back of the tree that’s needed), was very strong and could only be brought more horizontal by wiring. American hornbeam shoots get surprisingly brittle when they reach a certain size. They tend to snap when you least expect it. Fortunately, it’s not hard to save them with a little glue. But best if you don’t have to.

This branch will begin ramifying quickly in 2019, so I can use grow and clip to give it a better shape. For now, I’ve done all I can.

The next stop is the original chop point. I leave this area alone in year one after collection, in order to prevent/minimize dieback down the trunk. This coming spring, I’ll go ahead and carve it down and make the transition a lot smoother looking. As the wound rolls over and the leader continues to thicken at the base, the taper will look very natural.

I wired the branches in the apex, to finish giving shape to the tree. As growth comes on in 2019, I’ll fall back to grow and clip to develop the crown and branching. This is my preferred method for all deciduous trees, following the initial wiring and shaping.

Let me know what you think of this nice hornbeam. I’ll probably go ahead and pot it in spring. The tree can develop well in a bonsai pot from this point on.