When we create and maintain our bonsai, we never work on them every day. No matter whether it’s potting, wiring, pruning, or even pinching, bonsai is a “go and stop” endeavor. This excludes watering, of course. I highly recommend you water your trees daily (this is a joke, of course; water your trees daily when it fails to rain, or your bonsai will truly be finished works of art).
And so, the creation process involves many steps and decisions. Beginning with the bare but terrific trunk, which I do most of the time, you have to build the tree structure from nothing. This means trunk buds that become shoots, shoots that get wired to shape in order to make them into branches, branches that thicken and subdivide into sub-branches, leaves that start getting smaller as this process continues; a new leader that is wired and positioned, then extends and thickens, then gets cut back with a new leader that extends and thickens, rinse and repeat as many times as needed, then apical branches developed from buds that become shoots that get wired and positioned. Whew!
As you build your bonsai, you make decisions based on the stage of the tree’s development and your knowledge of the tree’s growth habit. Here’s an example of this concept. I repotted this American hornbeam, Carpinus caroliniana, earlier in the season, and also did some carving to enhance the trunk:
Collected in 2010 and having a massive trunk, this hornbeam was destined for a lengthy development period in order to thicken the tree’s branches. There must be a good proportion between trunk thickness and branch thickness, otherwise the eye/brain does not believe the illusion. Trees in the wild grow their branches in correct proportion to the thickness of the trunk, because … well, just because. No bonsai artist is out there interfering, and barring some other human meddling they just grow how they’re supposed to. The lowest branches tend to be anywhere from 1/4 to as much as 1/2 the trunk thickness at the point where they emerge. When making bonsai, this is one of the basic challenges and cannot be ignored.
Here’s the after shot from the repotting. The carving that needed doing got done, and the tree got some fresh soil (American hornbeam roots very vigorously in a bonsai pot). I also re-exposed the surface roots, which are coming along just fabulously.
Here we are, just over six weeks later. The rampant growth is obvious, and it helps to point out the fact that hornbeams are not apically dominant trees. This means you can usually develop side branch thickness as quickly as you can new leaders. Not a bad feature.
So what to do with this tree? I decided it just needed a haircut, nothing more dramatic. This coming winter I’ll cut the tree back harder, so the ramification will improve in 2017.
And after. The tree still looks somewhat disorganized, but that will change once I do the hard pruning and really tighten up the foliage. Hornbeam (and other species) like to push their shoots as far as they can. For apically-dominant species, this is to help the tree grow taller faster. For non apically-dominant trees, it’s to increase spread and the tree’s ability to gather sunlight to manufacture food.
Here’s an updated photo of my awesome willow oak, Quercus phellos. It was time for a trimming, plus I needed to do some work on the lowest two branches. I decided I didn’t like the straight, boring though thick lowest right branch so I cut it off in winter. Unfortunately, it didn’t bud back so I’ll abandon it for two new shoots. You can see I’ve wired them into position.
I also cut back hard on the first left branch, to continue building taper in it.
I probably won’t do any more trimming on this tree in 2016, unless a branch in the crown starts getting too strong. Those are coming along well, I just need to build ramification.
I’d love to hear what you think of either of these trees.