Small Change, Big Impact – And How To Hurry A Tree Along

I’ve been having a great time this year with Cedar elms (Ulmus crassifolia).  I slip-potted this one last month, as part of my bound-and-determined campaign to develop this tree into a bonsai as quickly as I can.  This is something I started doing almost 30 years ago, partly out of impatience and partly out of the desire to make a study of bonsai techniques to test limits.

This specimen has been “Cedar elm strong.”  It came back from collection quickly and has grown with vigor since.  It was four months from lifting to bonsai pot.  Now, the main advantages of this specimen and others like it can be summed up as follows:

  • The species is naturally vigorous
  • The specimen has the appearance of age
  • The specimen has actual age
  • Slip-potting (or, though usually less desirable, direct-potting) can be done without fear of killing the tree
  • The specimen has good taper, with the trunk chop being small enough that the tapering transition can be pulled off in the pot and within two years

Given these features, I know I can cut out one or two years’ worth of development time.  What this means is, if I were to have plodded along with this tree in accordance with conventional wisdom, it would still be in a nursery container putting on growth without my having done a thing to it besides water and feed.  Only next year would I sit down and start the styling process.  It would be another year before the tree went into its bonsai pot, and another couple of years before the tree could reach a “finished” (meaning showable) state.  That’s a total of four years.  I am confident that I can reach the same degree of development in, at most, three years by being aggressive.  So why wouldn’t I do that?

Here’s the tree today.  I’ve had to unwire the leader, as it’s grown really well over the past month.  My goal for today is to carve down the chop point (hurrying the tree along), and do some more work on the leader.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s the result of today’s work.  This only took me about 10 minutes.  I’ve done some carving at the chop point, which enhances the taper from the trunk into what is going to ultimately be the crown of the tree.  I’ve also taken the opportunity to cut back the leader to a side branch, which I’ve wired straight up.  This is how you build an apex properly.  I’ll let this leader grow on out for the remainder of the season, with the plan of cutting it back again just before the buds start swelling next spring.  I should have the crown mostly built next year.

Now for the pop quiz.  Are you able to see the small change I made today in this bonsai-to-be that makes a huge difference in its appearance?  If you spotted the change in the planting angle, you got it right.  Compare this photo with the first one above.  When I first potted the tree, the more significant slant seemed like the way to go.  It’s bothered me since, but I didn’t want to fool with the tree again so soon.  The roots needed to firm up.  By today they had, so I was able to manhandle the tree into a more upright stance.  It makes a world of difference, doesn’t it?

 

How To Be Off And Running For Next Year

That time of year is soon upon us, where our trees are more or less done growing foliage and we need to think about what we have planned for them next year.  Bonsai is in large measure a game of patience, but that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t plan ahead.  And do certain things this year in preparation for next.

For me recently this has meant working on elms.  As a family, elms for the most part can be worked on according to the following guidelines:

  • winter: lifting, chopping, dramatically root-pruning, wiring established trees;
  • spring: chopping, wiring, root-pruning, potting;
  • summer: wiring, potting, pruning, pinching;
  • fall: unwiring, light trimming, light pinching.

I try to take advantage of the entire growing season, based on where each of my trees is along its development path.  With the elms below, I’m taking advantage of what will be our last round of growth for the 2017 growing season.  By doing this, I’ll get a head-start on next year.

This is one of the Cedar elms (Ulmus crassifolia) I got from my friend’s parents’ property back in April.  Nice trunk, nice taper, nice movement, nice bark.  It had bonsai written all over it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a sluggish start, it took off and hasn’t stopped growing since.  Time to make a move on this unbalanced growth while getting a bonsai-in-the-making on the bench.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s more like it!  I needed to cool off that growth in the apex, or the lower branches were going to be weak going into 2018.  That’s always risky with winter just ahead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Byron Myrick rectangle suits the tree very nicely.  I basically slip-potted the tree, meaning I lifted it from its nursery container and with minimal disturbance to the roots set it in this bonsai pot.  I filled in with fresh, well-draining bonsai soil mix and watered it in.  This tree is going to be outstanding come next year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You don’t see Japanese gray-bark elm, Zelkova serrata, all that often.  It’s a pity, as the species has a lot going for it.  I got some stock plants for a fellow bonsai nurseryman, including a handful of larger ones.  I chopped the trunk (which had been four feet tall) back to 12″, and as buds popped and grew into shoots started working on it.  Because it had a significant root mass, the regrowth was natural as the tree was attempting to regain everything above ground that I was removing.  This process has continued into and through summer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Compare this photo with the one above, which was taken in early August.  That’s some fast development!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time to find out what Zelkova’s are made of.  I cut off all the roots that wouldn’t fit in this Chuck Iker pot, and in the tree went!  If it comes through okay, I’ll have a leg up going into 2018.

You’ll find, as you work with the various elm species, that some of them can take a lot of work throughout the growing season and won’t keel over from it.  Based on my experience, the only ones I’d avoid doing “out of season” work on are Hackberry and Winged elm.  For any of the others, have at it!

Cedar Elms Are Awesome – How To Beat Father Time

An old and dear bonsai friend invited me to his parents’ place in Texas earlier this year to collect Cedar elm, Ulmus crassifolia.  Cedar elms are native to Texas, north-central Louisiana and southern Arkansas all the way to southwestern Tennessee.  They’re called Cedar elm because they tend to grow in the same areas as the Ashe and other junipers, which are mistakenly called cedars.  Anyway, the collecting trip was ideally going to happen in January or February, but scheduling put it off until April.  April, you say?  Well, I had the same thought but I couldn’t turn down the opportunity.  I knew from past experience that Cedar elms are tough as nails, so I figured if any species would tolerate being collected out of season that would be it.

The trip took place on April 22nd, and as most of you know by now I had surprisingly good success.  Most of the trees I brought home survived.  Not only that, many have grown so strong that I’ve been able to go ahead and pot them.  Here are two you’ve seen lately.

When you consider that each of these trees was collected on April 22nd, had budded a week later and had grown out sufficiently by August to make their way into bonsai pots – and not having skipped a beat growing all through that process – you’ve just got to admire this species.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is one of those specimens you hope to find when you go collecting.  Great radial roots, great taper in the lower trunk, great bark – it’s hard to go wrong when you start off with a piece of material like this.  The trunk base is 3.5″ above the root crown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here it is potted up, with those radial roots buried good and deep to protect them.  They can be revealed again later on, when it’s time to put this tree into a bonsai pot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So here we are now.  Can you believe the growth?  Better still, it’s got shoots all the way up the tree right to the chop area, so that will save me a second chop when it comes time to carve the tapering transition either next year or in 2019.

As with any other specimen at this point, especially one with this much strong growth, there’s no reason not to go ahead and do the initial styling.  That’s what I mean about beating Father Time.  Normally you’d collect a tree one year, let it grow out that whole year, then next year do the initial styling and possibly go to a bonsai pot in year three.  Given the inherent strength of Cedar elm, I can easily cut a year off my development process.  Why wouldn’t I do that?

Here’s my first pass on styling this tree.  I’ve cut away a lot of growth that will not play a part in the finished design, and gone ahead and wired out what’s left.  The leader needs to continue growing, in order to thicken the point where it emerges from the chop area.  This tapering transition I’m going to create is vital to making this a believable bonsai.  If I rush this development technique, the tree won’t look right.  It’s a common mistake bonsai enthusiasts make.  So I’ll definitely avoid that.

Now that I’ve cheated Father Time, I do have to maintain my respect for him.  Nothing more will be cut from this tree in 2017.  It’s got a solid root system, and that needs to get fed going into late summer and then on to fall.  I’ll probably have to unwire at least the leader by then, as it’s going to thicken quickly as fall approaches.  But I’m prepared for that.

The bottom line here is this: as you gain experience with different species you’ll come to understand which ones can be hurried along.  You’ll also be able to recognize the clues in their growth.  In the case of these trees, it was strong growth along with the characteristics of the species that told me I could get away with more than I might otherwise.

Leave me a comment below and let me know what you think of the ever-awesome Cedar elm.

 

Bonsai Forestry – How To Make A Cedar Elm Group Better

I collected these Cedar elms with the idea in mind of making a forest planting with them.  I had two pots of them, and figured on being able to make a five-tree forest.  Ultimately I decided they were better suited to making two three-tree groups.  So I ended up with this composition as one of those bonsai-to-be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All this is is the basic composition of the bonsai.  What does that mean?  With group plantings, the selection and placement of trees is extremely important.  Spacing, trunk movement, trunk height, location of foliage, all of these factors go into making a believable forest.  And when you’re working with only a few trees, each one becomes that much more important.

The first stage of making a bonsai out of these trees was completed with the planting itself.  I could have wired the trees in advance of potting them up, but I knew their locations in the pot would dictate, at least in part, where the branches ended up going (and which branches I utilized).  So I didn’t worry about any detailed styling at this point.

The next step came not too long after the one above.  With a first round of wiring, the forest begins to come into focus.  Now they’re not just trees with random growth.  There’s planning that will lead to a naturalistic appearance.

 

 

 

 

 

Fast-forward about five weeks and here’s the current state of development.  You can probably guess I left the composition alone.  It has food, and the sun and water happened pretty much on its own (the latter since it’s rained every day for several weeks now).  The trees are strong, and now it’s time for the next step.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some trimming and wiring was all it took to continue the progress of this bonsai.  Note that these trees were lifted from the ground on April 22nd.  They had budded in a week, pushed a lot of growth by early July, and quickly became a small forest shortly thereafter.  A month later I had a nice branch set on all of the trees, ramification on some, and the need to trim off excess growth.  Not bad for such a compressed timeframe.

I don’t expect to do any more trimming on this tree for the remainder of the growing season.  That time is now past.  I will keep a close watch on the wire, as the coming fall will see biting on these trees and lots of others.  Next spring, my design for this group will be well set, and I should be limited to grow and clip for detailed work.

If this forest bonsai speaks to you, it’s available at our Cedar Elm Bonsai page.  I think it’s going to be an outstanding bonsai in just a couple of years.

How To Make Something From A “Lazarus” Tree

Once you’ve done bonsai long enough you will have killed your share of trees.  We won’t go into all the causes, but it’s pretty much a given that sooner or later you’ll lose trees to weather or climate: weather from too much heat and not enough water or from freezing; climate when you try to grow a Japanese white pine in the Deep South (I gave that as an example because I did it early in my bonsai career); fill in the blank here ______ with your own tragedy.

This Water-elm, Planera aquatica, was off to a good start as a triple-trunk specimen back in 2013.  Then came the winter of 2014 and that icy snowy freezing event I’ve written about before.  Most of my Water-elms were killed dead as a doornail.  A couple came through fine (one on the ground, the other in an oversized tub); a couple sprouted from the root base.  This was one of the latter – a “Lazarus” tree, as it were.

There really wasn’t much left of it, but it went to all that trouble to stay alive so I decided to put it in the ground and see if I could grow it back out into something.  That happened in 2014.  True to its determination to stay alive, it continued its regrowth in the ground and I more or less ignored it while it did so.

This year I decided to lift the tree in order to see if I had anything worth working on.  Here’s my initial effort.

As you can see, the tree has a nice broom-form structure that happened without any intervention on my part.  That’s just the way it grew.  If you look more closely at the base, you can see that the regrowth occurred over/around deadwood that actually existed (at least partially) when I first collected the tree.  The photo above shows the shari at the base of the tree, which was a really neat feature.  This wood is pretty solid, considering that it’s been in contact with the soil for many years.

Today I decided it was time to work on this specimen.  I also needed to move it to a different pot, because the one I started it off in was too large and (to be honest) too expensive.

I did a lot of “editing” of the branch structure, removing superfluous branches that didn’t add anything to the design.  I also did a little wiring and positioning of branches to fill out the tree.  Once it gets some ramification going, I think it’ll be a pretty decent specimen, especially for a tree that nearly died.

The training pot it’s in now is in better scale with the tree.  It may ultimately find its way into a handmade pot; time will tell.

For purposes of scale, the root base is 2.5″ across (including the dead wood), and the tree is 17″ tall.

Let me know what you think of this tree.  It’s had quite a history in just a few short years.

I Continue To Be Amazed – Here’s The Latest

Bonsai stories don’t usually develop all that quickly, bonsai being largely a matter of time and what you do here and there along the way.  But this one has been something.

Here’s the Chinese elm I lifted on 7/29, five days later on 8/3, showing buds already.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here it is today, 10 days out of the ground (and directly placed in a bonsai pot to boot).

It looks like I’ll have shoots to work with in a few weeks, at which time I’ll go ahead and wire some branches.  The trunk of this tree is so neat, I don’t see how I can go wrong with the design.

Stay tuned for updates.  It looks like they’ll be coming closer together than usual.

How To Let Your Trees Tell You What To Do With Them

A bonsai is a tree, shrub or woody vine potted in a shallow container and trained so that it looks like a mature tree in nature.  Getting from tree, shrub or woody vine to that ideal composition, however, requires a significant array of decisions and manipulations.  We start with the plant specimen.  We envision a design by considering trunk, branches and root base.  We trim, wire and position trunk and branches so that our design takes shape.  And finally we select a proper container for the bonsai-to-be and complete our composition by placing the tree in the container.

This is a gross over-simplification, of course.  But I hope in this post to give you some guidance that will make this whole mysterious process a little easier.

Let’s start with our Cedar elm friend from the other day.  When I decided to do the initial styling of this tree, I had to make some decisions that would ultimately produce the best outcome for it.  In doing so, my first order of business was to figure out what I had and the different options available.  I can tell you that every piece of material you work on is going to present you with multiple options – even if some of those options are downright terrible.  Let me give you an example with this specimen.  On first glance you can’t help but see a normal upright tree form.  This is what you’re supposed to see, by the way, because that’s pretty much what this tree is.  Nothing especially fancy about it.  But someone might suggest to you that the tree needed to be chopped to the lowest shoot and regrown over time.  This is actually something that could be done.  But frankly I’m unconvinced that this will be a better bonsai in five or six years, when a new trunk has been regrown and perhaps a branch set is in place.  Sometimes the simple answer is the answer.  When I look at a tree like this, it just says upright bonsai and it’s got nice bark and taper and some branches I can work with.

At the end of the opening act for this bonsai-to-be, I had a workable set of branches, a front, and a planting angle.  That’s what I “heard,” so that’s what I did.

Fast-forward two weeks.  I just got in some rectangular pots I special-ordered from Byron Myrick.  This tree is best-suited to a rectangle; it has a masculine appearance, and a rectangle would enhance that appearance.  So it was time to push the envelope again.

 

 

 

 

The tree had produced a lot of roots, so I slip-potted it with minimal disturbance to the roots.  Now, when I pulled the tree from the pot, I discovered a nice flaring root on one side.  In order to take advantage of it, I potted the tree at an angle.  ‘Cause the tree said so.  I think the composition is a good one.  The rectangle suits the tree well, and its color should complement the Cedar elm fall colors (yellows and bronze-yellows) very nicely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s another example of listening to your tree, a Water-elm I lifted from my growing bed today.  It has a nice, slender trunk with subtle movement.  It’s a feminine specimen, no doubt about it.  There’s one low branch, and I chopped off the trunk that extended a few feet above what you see now as the apex.  It’s a tall tree, about 20″, with a trunk base of 1.25″.  These are not your normal bonsai proportions, of course, but as I studied this tree I just couldn’t bring myself to chop the trunk down where that low branch is.  That’s the standard way to approach trees like this one.  It’s been done millions of times.  So why should I do that yet again?

This tree seemed to want to be different, and it just so happened that I had a really different pot for it.  Chuck Iker made it, and it’s been sitting on my shelf for some time now, waiting for the right tree.  Well, today the match happened.  The low profile of the pot is just what this tree needs.  The tree is feminine, so the round pot complements it perfectly.  The pot actually looks like it’s relaxed, doesn’t it?

The tree should push new buds in two weeks, assuming all goes well.  I don’t plan to create a full foliage mass.  I think this one should be airy and light, and unless it says something else along the way that’s what I plan to do.

So what’s the message here?  Well, most of the time when you choose a tree to work on you’ll get an impression of what the tree wants to be, just from the way it’s chosen to grow.  Or, as in the case of the Water-elm above, you’ll see a trunk line that looks right even though it may not fit the “normal” design ideas we usually gravitate toward.  Try going with what the tree is telling you.  It may take some practice, but I think you’ll find some really cool designs for your bonsai that way.

I’m Happy With This Chinese Elm, But Really Perplexed

As you know, I love to push the envelope in bonsai.  I’ve always been a curious sort, and I ended up being a scientist for the first part of my work career, so my doing bon-science now should hardly come as a surprise.  I like to try stuff, what can I say?

Part of the “canon” of bonsai is that you only collect certain trees at certain times of the year.  Well, I’ve already done in part of the canon because I collect my Sweetgums in May and June, and don’t hesitate to collect American elms from winter through summer.  I’ve had success collecting oaks in summer, along with Cedar elms.  So you really don’t know until you try.

This post is about Chinese elm, Ulmus parvifolia, so let’s get to the point.  First of all, Chinese elm is one of the very best species for bonsai – with the qualifier that you shouldn’t buy an “S-curve” Chinese elm, which is a crime against nature, so get one from me if you can.  Anyway, I field-grow them to size.  Last Saturday I decided to lift one I’ve had in the ground for three or four years, because it had the requisite number of direction and taper changes, in this case four.  I literally built this tree from the ground up.  Here it is, after lifting, washing, dusting the cut ends of the lateral roots, and potting.

It’s pretty awesome.  No S-curve here.  From the terrific nebari up into the trunk, the taper, the movement, it’s got a super start.  As with all deciduous trees I work with, it’s at “ground zero.”  That means I start with a bare or mostly bare trunk, and wait for buds to emerge at the right spots.  Usually with Chinese elm, I get them where I want them.

At this point I set my “clock” for two weeks in the future.  The tree was lifted on 7/29, so that meant I should see new buds on 8/12.  I placed it on the bench in a shady spot, and went about my business.

 

Here’s a shot of the tree today.  You may wonder why I took the trouble to photograph it again.  Well, here’s why.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In five days the tree is full of swelling buds!  To be sure, I always expect good performance from Chinese elms.  But I don’t expect a specimen I lifted from the ground less than a week ago to be pushing buds!

I guess this will fit nicely into my bon-science lessons learned.  I admit to having some trouble with Chinese elm specimens collected in the dead of winter.  It’s always puzzled me why that was, but I adjusted and now only lift Chinese elms once the buds are starting to swell in spring.  But now, woo hoo! I can lift them in summer too.

The next step with this tree is to just neglect it except for watering.  I should have shoots to make branches out of in about three or four weeks.  I’ll wire up a design, then ignore the tree some more into winter.  Next spring it should be ready to start taking on some character.  The nice thing about this specimen is it has all the taper it needs already, so by the end of the next growing season I should have a complete tree structure.  Nice!

Let me know what you think.  Leave a comment below.

What To Do When Your Tree Puts Its Branches In The Wrong Place

Lately I’ve been having a great time with Cedar elms, Ulmus crassifolia.  They’re just such fun to work with and make great bonsai.  Hardy, agreeable, suitable for any style.  Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, you should have at least one.

This is one of the specimens I collected in April.  The trunk base is 1.5″, but it’s old enough to have bark.  The trunk character is really nice, so I know this tree will make a fine upright bonsai.

But there’s a problem with this tree that may not be readily apparent as you study it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s another view.  Notice there’s plenty of branches way down low on the trunk.  It’s not at all practical to keep these.  Then there’s a cluster a ways up on the trunk, followed by a bare space and then another cluster of branches, and still one more higher up.  Yes, this tree put its branches in the wrong place.

There are ways to overcome this problem, with the most drastic being to do grafting.  There’s no doubt I could take that approach with this tree in time, but I want to show you another way that not only solves the problem immediately, it can also give you a unique design.

 

 

 

 

This view of the tree is the front I’ve chosen.  I’ve gone ahead and removed the low branches.  I’ll take off one more low branch, then it’ll be time to tackle those three branch clusters.

One thing you’ll learn as you work with elms and certain other species, is that when they throw trunk buds they often give you clusters of two, three, four, even five or six branches emerging from about the same point on the trunk.  I don’t know why this occurs, but I imagine it has something to do with the tree’s determination to survive.  In any event, sometimes we have too much of a good thing in certain locations on our tree and nothing elsewhere.  So we have to adjust (both our thinking and the tree).

 

 

Here’s a closeup that shows the problem in more detail.  I’ve already removed three other smaller branches from this cluster, leaving the two I plan to use.  Yes, I know the rules say you can’t have two branches coming off the same spot on the trunk.  The rules also say want you to have back branches, and this tree just doesn’t have a suitable front that gives me any.  But I can overcome this problem.

I’d suggest spending some time studying this photo.  Beginning at the bottom, I took three sets of two branches each and created a design with them.  The Number 1 branch was positioned in the classic way, coming toward the viewer.  It’s the way you want to start your upright trees, as it works best.

Now take a look at the second branch of that duo, the Number 2 branch.  It’s not too easy to see in the photo, but I pulled the branch upward and then moved it toward the back of the tree.  Doing this puts foliage immediately toward the back of the tree, producing depth of view and helping to fill a significant gap along the lower trunk.  Once the two low branches get thicker and better developed, it will be easy to see how well this works.

Branches 3 and 4 are wired and positioned toward the viewer and the back of the tree, as with the first two.  The final branch pair includes the leader, which was wired and given only gentle movement to maintain the upright character of the trunk.

I included this photo so you can get a better look at the two lowest branches.  I know this tree doesn’t look like much right now, but once these branches are significantly thicker and are developing ramification the purpose of keeping them both will be easier to see.  The goal in bonsai is to create a balanced specimen with branches in the right spots.  We often don’t have a perfect set of branches to choose from, so it’s important to learn how to compensate.

For now I also need to leave the dead stub at the top of the tree.  Next year, when the leader is sufficiently thick, I’ll remove the stub and carve the transition point.  By that time I should be well on my way to having a nice Cedar elm bonsai-to-be.

 

 

 

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.