American hornbeam, Carpinus caroliniana, is hands-down one of the best bonsai species for beginners. I’ll be out looking for new material next month, but in the meantime I had this lone specimen left on the bench. I collected it last year. What I liked about it, aside from the size and obvious potential, was that it featured rough bark. This happens sometimes with hornbeam, but frankly it’s unusual.

This tree took its time coming out in Spring 2016, so I fed, watered and otherwise ignored it. Only recently did I take note of how well the leader thickened up as the growing season drew near its close. That told me one thing, that the tree had produced a great root system. This is typical for American hornbeam.

Given the fact that next month it’ll be time to go collect new hornbeams, I thought it might be a good time to play around with this one (it’s hard not to make bonsai, regardless of the time of year).

The first order of business was to address the chop. The tree had produced a nice bud right at the chop, and that bud had grown into a very strong leader. No time like the present to make the angled cut that will produce the tapering transition needed in the apex.





Here’s the tool of choice for this operation – a trunk splitter. It takes a bit of practice, but you eventually become adept at figuring out just the right spot to begin the angled cut.






This is as far as I can go with the trunk splitter. Now it’s time for the knob cutters.











And this is the final result. Now I have a good angled cut that takes the original trunk right into the new leader. As the leader grows and fills out, it’ll continue to thicken which will make the tapering transition look smooth and natural.






Given how strong the tree’s root system is, I felt it was perfectly all right to go ahead and put it into this nice unglazed Chuck Iker round. I’ve wired the branches in the apex and wired up a new leader. Once the 2017 growing season is over, I think this will be a stunning tree. And isn’t the fall color nice, too?

This tree does have one significant flaw I need to address next year. It lacks a nice surface root in the front of the tree. I plan to layer it this coming spring. Given how vigorously hornbeams root, I’m confident I’ll be successful.

Do you grow American hornbeam? Have you had good luck with the species? Leave us a comment below.