You may remember this Chinese elm, Ulmus parvifolia, from last November. In this photo, taken in August of 2014, we have a trunk with a new leader and some branches wired and positioned. In the photo below, the end of 2015 has arrived for this tree. It has changed in some obvious and some subtle ways. The branches are ramifying, which is easily done with Chinese elm. The new leader has thickened well, even in the confined space of a bonsai pot. On the subtle side, the bark is getting rougher which is a good sign of maturity.
Here we are in mid-May 2016, and you can see the result of a couple of things I did earlier in the season. For one, I wired up one of the small shoots at the apex of the tree. And I wired and positioned two other shoots to form lateral branches on the developing apex. Remember, this tree is going to be another six or seven inches tall above the original chop, so that means I’m building branches all the way up as the apex comes into being.
Notice I’ve allowed the shoot I wired up to run. This shoot will remain untrimmed, until such time as it has forced thickening of the new section of leader that emerges from the original chop point. This part of building a bonsai cannot be shortcut. All too often you’ll see an abrupt transition at the point of a trunk chop. While this can certainly be hidden on evergreen specimens and even deciduous trees during the growing season, come winter the flaw is all too obvious. We’re all impatient when it comes to creating our bonsai, but this is one step you just have to take the time to do right.
This Chinese elm is going to make a nice upright bonsai in about three more years. This growing season is all about extending and thickening the new leader and continuing to build the crown from the chop upward. I’ll post one or two updates later on to show you the progress.
For those of you just starting out in bonsai, Chinese elm is one of the very best species for beginners. Its “bad rap,” if you will, comes solely from the mass-produced ugly S-curve specimens sold to newcomers. Don’t let that stop you from owning one.