Shohin Bonsai-To-Be – Three Cheers For The Little Guys

Just because a there’s not much to a bonsai, doesn’t mean there’s not a lot to that bonsai.  Take the case of the shohin specimen – a bonsai that is less than 12″ from the soil surface to the tip of the apex.  In terms of mass, there’s just not a lot to a shohin bonsai.  But in terms of what the bonsai is intended to be – that is, a representation of a large, mature tree in nature – it’s amazing what a shohin bonsai packs into those 12″.  Even more amazing is how this is accomplished with no more than a handful of branches.

Today was a rainy day almost from start to finish, so I puzzled around for what I could do outside in the rain.  I settled on lifting a Dwarf yaupon – more on that in the near future – and taking a couple of photographs of shohins I’ve been working on in recent days.  I think they’ll end up being awesome bonsai.  And packing that awesomeness into a very small space.

I’ve been growing this American elm, Ulmus americana, in the ground for the past few years to increase trunk size.  I’ve cut it back a couple of times, planning on a standard grow-and-chop development of the tree into a nice size pre-bonsai or bonsai.  Well that’s the normal route you’d take, and so would I.  But recently I decided to see if I could make a smaller bonsai out of this one for a change of pace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On June 24th I lifted, trimmed, carved, and potted this little guy.  The leaves on it are the ones it came out of the ground with.  For those of you familiar with American elm, at least from my writings, I have declared the species “King of Leaf-size Reduction.”  In the wild, left alone to grow rampantly, they will produce leaves that are easily 5″ long.  If you happen to take note of this while scouting for specimens to lift, you might consider the species unsuited to bonsai.  Well, that’s certainly not the case.  Once you get to the fine development stage of an American elm bonsai, you can expect to get the leaves down to under 1/2″ and even as small as 1/4″ in length.  It’s truly amazing.

Which in this case means these leaves would be removed from the tree, with the expectation that I’d get a shoot in every leaf axil with smaller and of course more numerous leaves.

And here we are today, with a lot of new foliage (smaller, of course).  With a trunk base of 1.5″ and a height of less than 12″, I see a broom-form shohin American elm bonsai that will have a terrific structure before the end of this growing season.  That’s how fast they grow.

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a Green island ficus, Ficus microcarpa, that I potted up on June 23rd.  I’ve grown very fond of the species, and as a result have introduced it to my offerings this year.  This little guy, with a trunk base of 1.25″ and a height of 7″, is another example of a shohin bonsai.  It has exactly four branches, not including the apex.  To make this specimen into something believable, I have to get the design spot-on.  I mean, when you think about it there’s a whole 7″ in which to make a tree-form emerge.  Every branch has to do its part.

A month later, this shohin bonsai-to-be has put on a lot of new growth.  I removed a low branch that was coming straight toward the viewer, opening up the trunk better.  I got a bud on the left side of the trunk above the low left branch, and it’s now growing out (that’s my fifth branch).  The branch nearest the apex has extended, and I’ve wired and positioned it.  There’s more work to do, obviously, but by the end of summer I expect to have this design mostly done.

 

 

And finally, here’s the champion of the blog post, a Dwarf yaupon, Ilex vomitoria ‘Nana.’  I won’t relate the whole story of this specimen just yet – there’s another blog post to be written on it – but consider that the trunk base on this tiny specimen measures 1.5″ and it’s a mere 3″ to the tip of the leader at the left side of the tree.  I can tell you this guy is destined for a semi-cascade style.  It doesn’t look like much yet, but if you strain a little you can see where it’s going.

Shohin bonsai are ideal for those who have limited space for their pastime.  They do present unique challenges, the most obvious perhaps being that they exist in a very limited quantity of soil.  You’ll need to make provision for this if you decide to get into shohin.  But I can tell you, it’s well worth the effort.

Do you grow shohin bonsai?  If so, I’d love it if you’d share some of your experiences with us.

How I See This Wonderful Bonsai Journey. How About You?

Don’t be alarmed.  I promise not to wax lousy with philosophical babble about bonsai.  But I do want to try and convey is how I see the art and pastime, and hopefully I’ll hear from you so we can compare notes.

As most of you know, I got passionately into bonsai almost 30 years ago.  I was determined to use the native species that grew where I live, figuring if they didn’t survive bonsai training it could only be my fault.  I’ve pretty much stuck with this niche since that time, and I’ve had my successes and failures.

Being in the bonsai business means I’ve had a lot of trees come into my possession and go right back out again.  Like a flowing river, I suppose.  I don’t mind; I really enjoy the business.  I love being able to provide great raw material, and designed bonsai and bonsai-in-training to clients all over.  And it’s given me a lot more trees to work on.

I figured out years ago that what I enjoy best is bonsai design, that is, taking a piece of material and creating from it a representation of a mature tree in nature.  I’ve written before about all of the factors that go into achieving this goal: proportion, composition, forced perspective, complementary elements, and so on.  Plus add to this that the subject of the artwork is alive, grows in a way that we’re intent on altering, has certain biological needs that are not fulfilled by its living in a shallow, small container, and is subject to attack by all manner of pests and diseases while we manipulate its shape to suit our vision of it.  It’s nothing short of a miracle that we can even hope for a positive outcome.

Here’s one example of this seemingly impossible mission, my big Riverflat hawthorn.  Today I gave it a light trimming to restore its silhouette and remove crossing branches.  This tree has a 3″ trunk base and is about 30″ tall, and fits the category of large bonsai.  I’ve been training it now for eight years.  I personally think it’s wonderful.  It really does look like a mature tree in nature, which of course is the goal of bonsai.

 

 

 

 

Today I also made this American elm bonsai-to-be.  The trunk base is somewhere between 3/4″ and 1″ in diameter (depending on how high it’s ultimately potted), and the tree will probably be 14″ tall when done.  This is not a large bonsai, nor is it a shohin bonsai.  It’s just one of those in-between trees that has (I’m convinced) a lot of potential down the road.  The emphasis here is on “down the road.”

But here’s the thing.  I got just as much pleasure in making this ordinary bonsai-to-be as I did in the refining trimming of my much more impressive Hawthorn bonsai.  If I hadn’t told you how small this tree is, you might have thought it was much bigger: after all, American elm leaves can get as big as 5″ long.  So size was not really a factor here.  It was all about the designing and potting of the tree, making the composition by choosing the elements of tree, pot, ground cover, and so on.  I can see art in this rather ordinary elm specimen.  Do you?

Now for a real challenge!  I’ve done my share of growing Bald cypress from seed, and this is one example of a specimen started from seed a few years ago.  Last year I tried to grow a bunch in standing water, but that experiment really went south.  So I ended up potting the trees into gallon containers and leaving them alone.  This one grew in such a way that I could chop to create taper, but otherwise it had ended up shaped like a bow.  Really ordinary material.  In this photo you can see it without its foliage, which I stripped off in order to work on it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this photo you can see the big flaw in this specimen.  It just bows over, and that’s no design feature!  But not to worry.  Wire can fix many things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So after a few minutes of really enjoyable wiring and shaping and trimming, followed by potting up the little guy, here’s what I came up with.  Do Cypresses grow as windswept specimens?  Well, I can tell you from living in Hurricane Katrina Land that there are many examples of Live oaks along the Gulf Coast that ended up this way, so I have no problem making a Bald cypress with this design.  One thing’s for sure, if I don’t like it I will get trunk buds that will give me a more traditional design if I choose to change it.

This one was fun as well.  I know from experience that Bald cypresses mature quickly in a bonsai pot.  Within a couple of years, the trunk is going to take on a grayness that hints of age even in a small specimen.  As I work on the branches, they’ll begin to make the tree look like more than what it is now.  This Bald cypress bonsai is about a five-year project to something really nice, despite its humble beginnings.

The point of all of this, I suppose, is to make a clear distinction between bonsai as a spectator sport and as the active working of trees and pots into artistic designs.  I don’t mean to minimize bonsai displays in club and other sponsored shows, so don’t get me wrong.  But that’s the very temporary result of all of the design work that encompasses many years of effort and vision.  And that, for me, is where bonsai is at.  Bonsai is 95% vision, sweat, work, setbacks, and more work, and about 5% kicking back and saying or thinking, “Man, that looks awesome!”

That’s my take.  What’s yours?

 

How To See The Trees In The Forest

As you read bonsai literature about forest plantings, you’re likely to run across the widely accepted idea that bonsai forests are the natural habitat of lousy trees.  When I think of this I picture a busy forest scene, with the trees trying to hide behind one another out of shame for being ugly.  I’ve never liked this whole idea, frankly, because it tarnishes the dignity of bonsai as an art.  If you put together a forest scene, each tree has a role to play and thus each has to carry its own weight or the composition suffers.  You don’t take some really nice trees and then throw in some butt-ugly trees you’re trying to get rid of by hiding them in the forest.  Trust me, they will be seen.  And just as your eye will stop on a bonsai’s flaws when you observe them, your eye will be drawn to the tree that doesn’t fit the forest.

Now consider a three-tree forest planting, which we can call a group planting though it’s the same concept.  Just as a specimen bonsai has to carry its own weight – I mean, it’s out there all alone – when you put three trees together there’s really no room for a bad tree.

The other day I took these three Cedar elms, Ulmus crassifolia, and made a forest planting out of them.  Individually, each tree is nice and you could make a case for potting them individually.  But when I collected them this past April, my goal was to make a group planting out of them and I potted them in a nursery container with that goal in mind.

If you spend a little time examining each tree, you notice a few things:

  • Each one tapers gently from soil to chop point
  • Each one has subtle but attractive trunk movement
  • Each one has nice character
  • The trunk sizes are variable enough to make a group planting work

When I put this group together, the only thing missing was a branch structure for each tree.  This is another misconception about forest plantings, namely, you can ignore the styling of the individual trees since they’re all crammed together into a group where you can’t see the lack of styling.  Wrong, wrong, wrong!  There are rules of the forest just as there are rules for individual bonsai.  So let’s see if I can apply a little bit of the necessary structure to this group planting.

I’ve applied wire to those branches ready for it.  The main tree, the one on the right, has more mature branches and therefore most of it got wired out.  It’s very easy to see the intended design on this tree.

The tree on the left was more of a challenge, having a branch that was growing back into the composition.  Well, that’s a no-no!  So I wired it and brought it back toward the viewer.  As it develops, I’ll be able to put foliage over on the left-hand side where it belongs.

This tree had slight branches to serve as the apex, so I put on some very thin wire and positioned them.  They need to grow out and thicken up, so I didn’t trim them.  Later on they need to be lower in the silhouette than the apex of the right-hand tree – just a bit.

Finally, the back tree was only ready for wiring of the apical branch, which I did.  Part of the reason for this is to get that branch pointing upward, toward the sun, so it grows with more strength.  When done, this tree will have the lowest foliage in the group (which it does now) and the lowest terminating point (which it does now).

As with all bonsai, this tree has gotten the work it needs at the time it was needed.  Every tree is developed in stages, and you just can’t rush them.

 

The Wonderful Cedar Elm, And A Lesson On How To Gauge Success

Cedar elm, Ulmus crassifolia, is one of the very best species for bonsai and especially for beginners.  They are “sturdy” trees, not being bothered by much in the way of pests and diseases.  They’ll take a good bit of abuse and neglect without objection.  They grow fast which allows for rapid development.  And they put on a nice rough bark at a fairly young age.

This past April I made a trip to Cedar elm country, having been invited by an old and dear bonsai friend to collect some specimens from his parents’ property.  To be sure, a January trip would have been better suited to lifting these trees, but it just couldn’t happen till April.  I figured that if any species could stand up to being collected out of season, Cedar elm would be one of them.  So I jumped at the chance.

A week after I’d gotten the trees home and potted up, they were all showing buds.  I’d collected just under 20, including a handful of larger ones, a handful of smaller ones and a handful of in-betweens.  Now, I’m generally leery of trees that pop buds a week after being collected, but there wasn’t anything to do about it so I just waited and watched.  Within four or five weeks, all of them had put on shoots ranging from an inch or so up to about six inches long.  I was encouraged, but I knew not to get too far ahead of myself.  And sure enough, they all stopped pushing new buds.

This is an important phenomenon to understand when you collect deciduous trees.  Usually you won’t have any fine roots on a tree collected from the wild.  This is all right – in fact, I’m convinced after 30 years doing it that it’s not even desirable.  Within a couple of weeks after collection or at budburst in spring if you collect in the dead of winter, your tree will produce trunk buds from stored food.  These buds will grow into shoots that will push anywhere from a few inches up to perhaps a foot in length.  At this point most species will pause their growth, and this pause is for a very important reason: it’s time for the tree to make new roots.  This is absolutely the critical point in the collecting process.  The tree has expended all of its stored energy making foliage to produce food plus, equally importantly, the hormone auxin which stimulates adventitious root growth.  If this process succeeds, new roots are made.  If it fails, the tree dies.

This is one of the in-between size Cedar elms I collected.  Nice trunk with some good character and starting to bark up.  As with the others, it pushed new growth over the first four or five weeks on the bench.  Then it stopped growing, as the others had.  It just sat there for at least a week or two, and did nothing.  Then one day when I was checking on things I noticed some tender new growth starting up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s the tree today.  I photographed it from this angle in order to show you one of the key ways you can gauge your success with certain collected species.  Notice the color of the growing tips?  When you get strong growth on certain species, and Cedar elm is one of them, the growing tips produce a considerable amount of anthocyanins along with chlorophyll.  Anthocyanins are what give you the red and purple colors of fall foliage, and they play an antioxidant role in both foliage and fruit (think bluberries, cherries, etc.).  This may be why the plant produces more anthocyanins when it’s recovering from collection, but I’m not certain.  One thing I do know, it’s a way to gauge the success of your collecting effort with Cedar elm.  The initial shoots I got were just green; they were produced by stored food.  When the second round kicked in, I got the reddish color, larger leaves and stronger shoots.  I knew the tree was growing roots at this point.

Unsurprisingly, the smallest trees I collected produced roots first.  I’d potted two sets of three each, with the idea of making group plantings out of them.  Here’s one of the sets.  Nice variation of trunk size, nice trunk movement, nice taper, and the beginnings of bark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two months after collection, here’s this little group today.  The shoots are strong, with many well over a foot long.  And I could tell by wiggling them in the pot that they’d put on a nice volume of roots.  So I decided I’d take a chance and see if I could make something out of them.

 

 

 

 

 

First a trim.  It’s likely I’ll have to remove some root in order to get the group into a pot, so taking off some foliage will maintain the balance.  Looking at these trees, can you tell which is the main tree and where the others need to go?

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s what I came up with.  I think it’s a wonderful composition.  The primitive square pot is by Chuck Iker, and the color I think goes really well with the planting.  Once the group gets established and resumes growth, I’ll do some wiring and branch positioning.  But not today.

Notice that I’ve wired the three trunks together near the bottom to keep them stable while the roots grow together.  This is a trick you’ll need to employ sooner or later.

I plan to post this group planting for sale in a few weeks, assuming I didn’t cause any trouble today.  Given the good root development, I’m confident these trees will respond very well to their new home.

I’d love to hear what you think about this bonsai-to-be.

Impressive And Unusual Bonsai-To-Be – Dragon, Grape, More Sycamore

“Dragon” the Water-elm put on a lot of growth last year, as you can see in this photo where I can’t get it all in the frame.  I left it to grow without any restraint last year because the branches need to gain heft.  But there does come a point where you have to prune to encourage more growth – plus you can see the apical leader is very close to being just right once I carve out the shari into it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There comes a point in the life of most bonsai where you can put away the wire and just use “grow and clip” to achieve your design plan.  I’m pretty much there with this tree.  I used wire to set the direction of the new branches and leader that grew out starting last year.  Once those were established, I got all the back-budding I needed to enable me to select secondary branches.  Going forward, all I need to do is select those new shoots pointing where I want them.

 

 

 

 

Here’s something different.  A couple of years ago I collected this Muscadine, Vitus rotundifolia, which is our native grape here in the South (and elsewhere; it ranges up to Delaware).  I liked the twists of the “trunk,” so I figured what the heck?

Yesterday I decided it was time to do something with this Muscadine – after all, it had gone to all the trouble of growing like vines grow and seemed not to mind container life.  So I grabbed a suitable pot and went to work.

This Chuck Iker round has a nice dark glossy glaze, which I think complements the bark color very well.  I trimmed back the tendrils, so now it’s time to just wait and see what happens next.  I’ve never grown Muscadine, but love exploring new and unusual species.  Grape bonsai are not commonly grown, but there are nice examples out there.

 

 

 

 

I’ve been sharing with you the progress of this Sycamore, Platanus occidentalis, since I got a wild hair and dug it up earlier this year.  So far it’s been one of those crazy fun projects.  I have no idea if it’s going to make a good bonsai, but I’m sure going to give it my best shot.

And I swear I had no plans to go out and get any more Sycamores, but one day I noticed that one growing near the back of my property had fallen over.  I assume this happened in a recent storm, but frankly it didn’t make sense to me.  When I examined the tree, it was clear that either I needed to finish taking it out of the ground or it was a goner.  So I figured what the heck?

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s what came out of the ground, minus most of the trunk and the bulk of the foliage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And potted up.  I’m pretty confident it’s going to live – I don’t know that you can kill Sycamore – but given how short a tree this is, making something like a bonsai out of it should be an even bigger challenge than the first one.

Don’t You Love Spring Growth? And Check Out A Blueberry Bonsai-To-Be

It’s just the best time of year for bonsai, spring.  Everything is putting on a fresh set of growth, meaning opportunities for the bonsai artist to make his or her trees better.  No matter if you’re styling or restyling or refining, these next four to eight weeks are going to make a big difference for your bonsai.

This Chinese elm, Ulmus parvifolia, is one of our featured Progressions.  I grew it from a cutting, then grew it out in the ground for a few years, and then lifted and started the process of making it into a bonsai.  You’ll see just how far it’s come in the Progression update I posted today.

This photo is after the first flush of spring growth and the first trimming.  I’ve also shortened the leader, and will let a new one grow out for a while before repeating that process.

 

 

This Sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua, was slip-potted in March so I could continue its development as a bonsai.  It hasn’t missed a beat, and it now throwing strong shoots that will set into branches before long.  You can see it’s been wired out completely; this round of wire will be coming off by June, at which time I’ll have secondary branching in development.  It’ll also be time to rein in the growth, in order to maintain the correct proportions in the tree.  If you’d like to take on that chore, this tree is available at our Sweetgum Bonsai page and can be shipped next month.

Have you ever grown Blueberry, Vaccinium species, for bonsai?  There are many Blueberries native to North America, and eight that grow in my home state including the so-called Tree Huckleberry that can grow to 30 feet in height (it’s the tallest of the Blueberries, as you might imagine).

This one is another of the species, which I haven’t made a precise identification on.  I decided to direct-pot in in this nice Chuck Iker round, to speed up the development process.  It had a nice trunk line with little need for tapering in the apex.  That only left branch development and some crown work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A little time and a little wire, and now we have a nice little Huckleberry bonsai-to-be.  The trunk base is 1″ and the finished height will be about 14″.  It’s got nice bark and trunk character.  I’ve posted it for sale at our Miscellaneous Bonsai page.

 

 

 

How I Ended Up With A Nice Water-Elm Group Planting

This Water-elm connected root bonsai-to-be was first presented last December.  It had been separated from a larger specimen that did not match the remainder in style.  So the idea was to make two bonsai out of it.  This part was “parked” in a too-big tray, and allowed to grow out.

The two nights of 22° F were not kind to the left-hand part of this tree, so today I thought it would be fun to see what I could make out of the rest of it.

 

The first order of business was to separate the root where the dead part joined the live part.  I used a hand saw to cut through.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s another view of the little group, from what I envisioned as the ultimate front.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s the group, removed from the pot with the dead section taken away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And shortly after, with a root-pruning and installed in this nice Chuck Iker round.

I think this is going to be a very nice three-tree connected root bonsai.  What do you think?  Leave me a comment below.

Of Groundhogs And Early Budding – What You Need To Know

I happened to catch the annual Groundhog Day festivities yesterday.  Punxsutawney Phil was his usual chipper self, and he dutifully saw his shadow before going back to bed (wish I could have done the same).  And so, it’s said that we have another six weeks of winter ahead of us.

I’m thinking that what Phil was telling us is that everybody up North is going to have another six weeks of winter.  I’m not seeing it here down South.  What’s more, I’m seeing some indications that an early spring may be headed our way.  Now, I’m nowheres near as scientific about this sort of thing as Punxsutawney Phil is, so while I’m seeing signs of spring sooner rather than later I don’t feel comfortable making any assumptions.  So here are some indicators, some things you may want to be aware of, and what you need to do about them.

Here’s a nice little twin-trunk Winged elm, Ulmus alata, that I lifted last month.  Nothing unusual about that; we are, after all, in collecting season.  So I trimmed and potted it up, then forgot about it.

Yesterday I was checking on my stock and noticed that this tree is actually pushing buds!  I truly didn’t expect it this soon, but with temperatures higher than normal, even into the 80s during the day, this tree has decided it’s time to start budding.

 

 

 

 

 

And I’m not talking about that barely noticeable budding, either.

 

 

 

 

 

No, there are actually tiny leaves emerging.

So, what do you need to consider when some of your trees decide to break dormancy early?  And why does it even happen?  For the second question, there are a few reasons I know of that trees break dormancy early.  One is pretty obvious: warm temperatures in late winter.  Warmth, along with increasing amounts of sunshine as we leave the winter solstice behind, can cause trees to begin leafing out weeks ahead of “schedule.”  And when you think about this, it makes sense.  After all, trees break dormancy earlier in the South than in the North because (in part) it gets warmer down here much sooner.  No mystery there.

There’s a second reason trees break dormancy early, and that has to do with the basic fact of collecting them.  When we lift a tree from the ground, we cut back both the aboveground part of the tree as well as the root system.  In response, the tree attempts to regrow what’s been cut away.  So with my winged elm above, I lifted it last month and now, with temperatures higher than they should be, the tree has responded by actively regenerating both roots and shoots.  This is really just simple horticulture.

Now, it’s important that we consider what steps we may need to take for these trees that come out early.  Why?  Well, for anyone who’s grown bonsai for a while you know that as winter gets long in the tooth there are alternating warm days and the occasional freeze.  That why, down South, we have our old wives’ tale that you don’t plant your vegetable garden until after Good Friday.  The odds of a freeze after Good Friday are vanishingly small.  So, for your bonsai and pre-bonsai that are pushing buds early you need to keep a close watch on the forecast and be prepared to provide extra protection from freezing temps.  Of what sort and how much?  That will depend on how cold it gets where you are.  The sap running through your tree will not freeze at 32°F, because it has sugars and other solutes in it that lower the freezing point.  But that doesn’t mean the tree is impervious to the cold, so if your local temps will go below about 25 I’d recommend your trees go on the ground or into an unheated garage or other space.  Yes, you’ll need to truck them back outside when the cold passes, but that’s preferable to having them damaged or even killed by a late-season freeze.

Here’s another eager beaver that took me completely by surprise, Allen’s crape myrtle.  This tree is due for a repotting, which I hope to have done over the next few days, but I had no idea the warm temps would cause it to bud.  I don’t recall this happening last winter.

 

 

 

 

 

As with the elm above, this one isn’t just pushing tiny little nascent buds; no, it’s downright leafing out.  Unfortunately, all of this growth is about to get cut off.  This tree has become very overgrown and needs to be brought back in.  The good news is, once I trim the roots as part of the repotting process, this tree should come out again very quickly.

 

Fun With Some Ordinary Material – It’s Going To Be Nice

All of us have ordinary material hanging around on our benches.  What I mean by ordinary material is the not-hundred-year-old masterpiece-in-the-making stuff.  I’m a great proponent of working with ordinary material.  As I like to say, it’s hard to mess up really outstanding material (though it can be done); but one of the most fun challenges in bonsai is taking a really ordinary, nondescript piece of material and making something nice out of it.

Well, it doesn’t get much more ordinary than this American elm, Ulmus Americana.  I’ll tell you the brief history of it.  About three or four years ago, I collected an American elm sapling with a trunk base of about an inch.  American elm is easy to collect, but for some reason this one died back to near the base of the trunk.  I tossed it off the bench and into the “don’t care if you die” section of the nursery.  Dutifully it trooped on, throwing some basal shoots that grew a little bit that first year.  It hung in there the next year, and by the third year I decided I’d wire the two shoots and put a little movement into them just for laughs.  There wasn’t much to lose, after all.  I had some extra bench space, so it got promoted off the ground.

This past year I let the tree run some more, and it gained strength as you can see by the two vegetative shoots coming off the base and apex of the two trunks, respectively.

 

 

 

Today I decided to have a little fun with this survivor.  I took off everything that didn’t look like a graceful twin-trunk American elm bonsai-to-be, wired it out and here it is.  There’s no branching on the main trunk, but there are dormant buds on the trunk that will emerge come spring.  I think this guy may turn into something one day.  What do you think?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m inclined (no pun intended) to think the above design will work best, but I wanted to see how straightening the main trunk might change the appearance.  What’s your take on it?

The key takeaway from this post is that you may have any number of ordinary pieces of material hanging around on your benches waiting for some styling magic.  You’re the magician.  The main thing is to work on them.  Not all will turn into exciting bonsai, but as you gain experience you’ll find that you can make just about anything better.  Think of what this will mean for your awesome trees.