My Big Cedar Elm Gets A Pot

my big cedar elm gets a pot

Sneak Peek

We collected this big Cedar elm in 2017. It’s taken five years to build the apex and branch structure. Time for a pot now.

My Big Cedar Elm Gets a Pot

We collected this large Cedar elm (Ulmus crassifolia) back in 2017. The base, bark, taper, and movement were what caught my eye. I knew I’d have to build the whole tree from this stump, but I also knew that it would be worth the effort.


Grow and chop, grow and chop, grow and chop. Wire, prune, unwire, prune, wire, prune, unwire, prune. (Do that for five years.) This is where you can get if you have a good plan and a cooperative species. Cedar elms are hard to beat!

First I did a rough pruning. This is not the time to be doing any detailed training. The goal for today is just to get the tree in a bonsai pot. The rest can be done there.

Now, the primary goal with a rough pruning is to reduce the foliar demand on what will be a seriously pruned root system. Supply and demand are the key things to keep in mind.

Not surprisingly, the tree has grown a massive root system in five years.

When confronted with this sort of thing, and assuming you know where the surface roots are, I recommend just taking your reciprocating saw and cutting the root mass flat (meaning take off most of what you need to be gone). You can get more precise once the rough work is done.

Here’s the final result, after the rough cut followed by scissors to bring the mass in. I think I’ve balanced foliage and root pretty well.

I’ve had this Chuck Iker round for several years now. The color is exquisite. It might not be the right color for the tree, but it does work and I can always change it later on. For now, I think I’ve got a pretty good composition.

Let me know what you think.

The Way Of The Forest: Chinese Elm

the way of the forest: chinese elm

Sneak Peek

Forest bonsai are wonderful! And Chinese elm is one of the best species you can pick for the style.

The Way of the Forest: Chinese Elm

I love forest-style bonsai! In fact, they are probably my favorite. You can make forest bonsai out of just about any species, but for my money Chinese elm is the best. They grow fast, are tolerant of less than exacting horticultural practices, and with naturally small leaves they produce wonderful proportions in the forest setting.

With that said, of course, every forest has to start somewhere. Most are built from one- to three-gallon specimens of whatever species you’re using. Those specimens are typically straight and tall for the trunk diameter. And they have varying degrees of branching at the start.

This forest, along with the one shown below, came about in an unusual way. I discovered an interesting feature of Chinese elm I had never heard of before, namely, that when you lift them from a ground growing bed they tend to sprout new trunks from all those severed roots. So unless you stay after those root shoots they’ll end up producing something along the lines of what you might call a “fairy ring” forest.

This photo is from August of 2020. I had lifted the forest as a group earlier that year, and grown it out in a nursery pot. By August I figured it could slide over into a forest tray, because all I needed to do was build branching and ramification. No trunk thickening, in other words, which does not occur in a restricted space.


The year 2021 was one of growing and building for this specimen. One thing you can expect from Chinese elm, and that’s vigor. Another thing you can expect from the species is ramification and leaf-size reduction. What’s really nice about it is, the characteristic growth habit of the tree is more bush than anything else. Given the choice, a Chinese elm will produce a lot of small leaves rather than a few large ones. We bonsai artists are all about that!

Here’s this specimen today. That’s quite a transformation in two years!

This is another example of a tall-tree Chinese elm forest made the same way as the first. You can see the potential in this one just as the other. Nothing to brag about yet, but it’s a start.

This is an “intermediate-stage” photo from March of 2021. If you compare this shot with the one above, you can see just how fast good things start happening with Chinese elm forests.

And the latest photo, from today. It’s nothing short of incredible just how quickly these trees develop. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that this Chinese elm forest bonsai looks just like a Chinese elm forest! Would you agree?

Both of these forests are available in our Shop.

Bonsai Odds & Ends – American Elm, Lantana

bonsai odds & ends – american elm, lantana

Sneak Peek

Here’s another American elm that’s coming along, and a Lantana in bad need of a haircut.

Bonsai Odds & Ends – American Elm, Lantana

I’ve written about American elm before. It’s sadly under-utilized for bonsai, most likely because folks are afraid of Dutch Elm Disease. I’ve never had a bonsai affected by DED in 30+ years of experience, nor have I heard of a case (though perhaps it’s happened out there somewhere).

This specimen is a perfect example of the bullet-proof nature of the species. I collected it in the dead of summer, along with two others, because I was cleaning up a former ground growing area. This tree and a couple of oaks were dug at the same time; all of the American elms made it, and one of the oaks is barely alive. Not only that, but all of the growth on this tree above the smaller cut-back leader coming off the main trunk is following the lift. So you see, it’s a tough species!

How tough? Well, I’m willing to slip-pot the tree at this time and bet on it surviving. I just got in this nice Lary Howard oval, and it’s a perfect complement to the tree.

Now it’s all about a few things: more leader and branch development, closing over the trunk chop and making ramification. You can see many of the leaves are already pretty small. This is very typical of American elm.

As for the trunk chop, you may be thinking it seems pretty straight across and somewhat jarring visually. Not to worry. American elm calluses vigorously, so expect the chop to look much more like a realistic transition in about a year or so.

It’s been a while since I wrote about Lantana. Although I just started working with the species last year, I have to say I’m very pleased. They have interesting bark, aren’t fussy about care, and bloom profusely in a pot (don’t be alarmed about the length of those flower stalks – with pinching and pruning you can keep the flowers in very tight and reduce the stalk length dramatically).

As I mentioned above, this one is badly in need of a haircut. I actually let it run this year for a couple of reasons: one, it helps to thicken the branches; and two, I’ll get a nice crop of cuttings to make more Lantanas with.

A nice improvement. I will cut back additionally before we start growing next year, but I wanted to leave the branches a little long for now in case I get some dieback (which is not likely).



Let me know what you think of today’s work.

Bonsai Odds & Ends – Dogwood, American Elm

bonsai odds & ends – dogwood, american elm

Sneak Peek

Last time I showed you a Roughleaf dogwood that was eligible for the burn pile – only I saw some potential in it. Here’s the result. Plus a small American elm.

Bonsai Odds & Ends – Dogwood, American Elm

Last time I left off with this Roughleaf dogwood at the styling stage. I noted that the dead wood on the tree needed a lime sulfur treatment. Here’s how that turned out, plus you I’ve gotten a lot of growth in the past month. That’s one thing about Rougleaf dogwood, by the way. It’s considered a “trash tree” – which is another way of saying it’s very vigorous, hard to kill, and plentiful where it pops up. I love making bonsai from trash trees that have good characteristics.

So here’s the tree slip-potted into a nice Ashley Keller round. Considering where I started with this tree, I think it’s come a long way.

I’ve written on a number of occasions about American elm, which is one of my very favorite species to work with. This is a small one I’ve been growing from a cutting for about five years now. it’s been cut back a few times – in this shot you can see the original chop rolling over.

I think this looks like a good front.

Incidentally, the growth you see here is about three months’ worth. Yes, they grow fast!


A few minutes later, I’ve got a design to work with.

In a month it’ll be time once again to trim this tree. By not root-pruning along with removing all of that top-growth, I have a lot of supply and not enough demand yet.

I’ll put this tree into a bonsai pot next spring. At only 4″ tall, probably ending up about 6″, it should make a very nice shohin bonsai.

Let me know what you think of these two trees.

Portrait Time – Hawthorn, Oak, Elm

portrait time – hawthorn, oak, elm

Sneak Peek

There’s nothing like the combination of spring, sunny weather and nicely developed bonsai.

Portrait Time – Hawthorn, Oak, Water-Elm

Well, after the winter we had it does your heart good to see your trees responding to spring. Here’s my Riverflat hawthorn, 10 years in the making.

The next step for this one is a hard-pruning, but I’ll wait until next year when it’s time to repot again.

“Rip van Winkle” is finally leafing out. I thought it would be nice to catch him while his leaves are still tiny. They’ll get somewhat bigger, but the leaf-size reduction has been gratifying (that part has taken some years).

This one has also been with me for 10 years.


And here’s the newcomer, a very large Water-elm I potted this year. I’ve only had it for a few years now, but in another two it’ll look like it’s been in training for a decade. Lovely tree.

Let me know what you think of these guys.

Coming Attractions – American Elm And Live Oak

coming attractions – american elm and live oak

Sneak Peek

It’s very uncommon to see American elm and Live oak bonsai. There are reasons for the dearth of specimens. Here’s one of each I’ve started on the bonsai journey.

Formal Upright Bald Cypress – Development 101

It’s relatively easy to find American elm seedlings to harvest and grow on for bonsai. It’s not at all easy to find larger specimens in the wild to collect – at least that’s been my experience. While American elm is a very fine bonsai subject, you don’t see many of them. I frankly don’t know why this is, considering their qualities.

Here’s a specimen I’ve been working on for a few years now, that I pulled up as a seedling and potted. It’s been trunk-chopped a couple of times to build movement and taper, and naturally it’s grown out vigorously each time. I like the way this one’s looking, so why not prune, style and pot it?

These are easy to “take in” when it’s time to shorten the ranging branches that grow way out. Some quick snipping is all it takes.


A little wiring helps get those branches in the right positions.

I like the way this Lary Howard pot goes with the tree. Nice pot design, and since American elm will usually give a bright yellow fall color that will be something to look forward to considering the pot color.


Live oak bonsai are as rare as hen’s teeth. I’m not sure if this is because they are very hard to lift from the wild successfully (when you can find them), or it takes some years to get a good design going. Regardless, who could resist the species as bonsai?

As near as I can tell, the secret to successfully lifting Live oaks from the ground – and I’m working strictly from material I’ve been growing for 10 years from acorns – is to take them out of the ground about 10 to 14 days before they change leaves in spring. That means a March 1st collecting date for me. While I’ve had very poor luck lifting the species in late winter or summer, every specimen I’ve lifted on March 1st has lived. Here’s one of two I harvested this year. It’s going to make a classic Live oak style Live oak bonsai; here are the first steps.

If you study Live oaks in nature, the older ones tend to look a lot like octopuses in their branching. The trunks are short and stout, and divide off into two, three, four, or more leaders. Those leaders then have branches that grow off of them and snake outward, often dropping down to the ground (and I mean on the ground). They make quite a show.

You can see how I intend to make this tree into a classic Live oak. I have main leaders that point upward, and I have the beginnings of branches that emerge from those upright leaders but droop over. While I intend to keep the ends of those dropping branches pointed upward – toward the sun, for stronger growth – in time I plan to bring the outermost points as close to the soil surface as I can.


Here’s a final shot of this one for today, showing the nice barky base and good flaring roots. I’ll let the tree grow out to get strong. By summer it’s going to be full of new growth. The chop point will stay as-is for this season, but next year I’ll get in there and carve it down so the rolling callus will close off the wound as the leaders thicken.

Let me know what you think. Any Live oaks on your bench?