building a small tree by building a tall tree

Sneak Peak

I’ve written before about using the sacrifice branch to thicken the trunk base of a tree while building the future bonsai. Here’s another good example of this technique.

Building a Small Tree By Building a Tall Tree

This American elm was grown from a cutting I started about five years ago. It’s been entirely container grown. Two years ago I put it in this larger nursery container, with the idea of building trunk size. This happens faster in the ground, of course, but you can also do it (albeit more slowly) in a container. The use of a sacrifice branch is one of the best tools when container growing your trees for size.

Here it’s easy to see the future bonsai – the small tree – in this rather tall tree (almost four feet tall, to be exact). I’m after a smaller bonsai with this specimen, so there’s no reason not to chop it today and move it into the final stretch.

Here we are after the unceremonious chop. Now we’re starting to zero in on our goal.

Always look for opportunities to improve taper and movement. I was able to cut the leader back to what will become the new leader.


Here it’s wired up. Much better.

Now some wire on the right-hand branch. It’s now in a better position.

Time to cut off just about all the roots. This sort of pruning may look dangerous, but since I already removed 90% of the top of the tree, removing 90% of the root shouldn’t cause any harm. (I’ve done this countless times, and for most deciduous trees there’s never much risk.)

I just got in this Lary Howard round the other day. The warm ochre tones will go beautifully with the fall color of the leaves.

Here I’ve mostly defoliated the tree, and also given it a final pruning to bring in the silhouette. I should see new buds in about a week or so. I’ll then let the tree grown out for strength and then cut it back hard. That will really get the ramification process going, along with leaf-size reduction.

Stay tuned for updates.