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.

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?

Shohin American Elm Progress

shohin american elm progress

Sneak Peek

You can build a shohin bonsai quickly, provided you have the right species to work with. This American elm is a good example of this.

Shohin American Elm Progress

I’ve shown you this small American elm pre-bonsai before, the theme being you can build a small tree by first building a tall tree. This is a good example of the technique, which you should master as it teaches quite a few skills you’re going to use often along the way.

The first thing to take note of here is the two changes of direction in the trunk, both of which take place in a space of less than six inches.

This photo is from July of this year, a few weeks after a much taller tree got cut down to size.




This closeup is to show you the two cuts that were made at the same time. The original trunk had some curve near the base, and forked to the left at that point since a node existed there and a branch had emerged and was allowed to grow out for thickening of the base. Notice not only the change of direction but also the change of thickness (created taper). This is vital when building a small informal upright bonsai.

So I selected a few branches and a leader and wired them (carefully!). Tender shoots are very easy to pop off a branch or trunk – and I have done so many times.

A week after the above shot was taken, you can see growth pushing and especially in the leader which is wired upright to encourage it.

This shot was taken just shy of a month after the one above. See what can happen with a vigorous species! But that’s American elm for you.

Now it’s time for the next round of work. I can’t let the leader go unchecked, as doing so will adversely affect the taper in the apex.

It’s worth studying this photo closely. What’s very important is the thickness of the leader that I’ve cut back to three nodes’ length. If I allowed the leader to continue growing over the next month, the transition point between the second chop point and the new leader would have been ruined. Why? First of all, its thickness would have quickly approached that of the chop point. Remember that as the crown grows out, more thickening is going to happen. In order to properly finish off the tapering trunk, I had to stop the leader from drawing more strength than it’s going to when it buds back out (this will happen in a week or so). This is what I often refer to as “cooling off” a branch or leader. Also, I’ll be pruning the leader back to the first node once the new growth there has pushed out a couple of leaves. This will ensure I don’t ruin the taper I’ve been creating, and will also keep the strength reigned in. By the time this last round of growth is over, it’s going to be about time for the season to be coming to an end. My goal at that time will be to keep any residual strength under control. That will allow me to pot up this tree in Spring 2021 and finish out the design by focusing on ramification.

Let me know what you think of this little guy.

Elm Wednesday

elm wednesday

Sneak Peek

As summer kicks into gear, it’s time to prune and wire/re-wire your elms. Here are some trees that I’m working on.

Elm Wednesday

Back in April I hard-chopped this Water-elm to eliminate a straight section of trunk. The goal was to make a better specimen out of this tree. You’ll end up doing this any number of times in your bonsai journey, and it’s never easy. But once you reconcile that nagging sense that your tree can be a lot better with the immediate loss of a lot of work, you’ll end up with much better trees.

This one is moving forward now, just a couple of months later. Sure, there’s a long way to go to rebuild the apex of this bonsai, but the work will go much faster than you might expect and the result will be well worth it.

Notice that I also hard-pruned the rest of the tree. Again, this is how your building process should go. Trees can get quickly overgrown, and hard-pruning is one of the most difficult things to make yourself do. I can honestly say I’ve never regretted cutting off more when pruning a tree; but cutting off less, that has been a problem on many occasions.

This Water-elm is currently in the Bonsai South collection, though I suspect it’ll go on the block before too much longer. This shot is from just over a year ago. It’s been through a few rounds of “grow and clip” since then.

Notice how I’ve used the same technique in hard-pruning this tree. Each round of growth has thickened the branches and increased the ramification. I’ve almost got the branches to the desired thickness. By the end of this growing season, I should be almost done with the design. At that point, pinching and maintenance pruning will be the main techniques used to keep this bonsai in top shape.

This tree just got potted about a year ago. I knew when I first collected it that I had a very special bonsai to be, and I was really eager to work on it. The initial design was easy, and this will most likely be your experience with most of your trees. The next steps often get a lot harder.

A lot has happened since the photo above was taken. With a year of growth accomplished, the ultimate form of this tree is coming into focus. Branches have been grown out and cut back hard. Some that need more thickening have been wired and pointed upward to encourage them to run. By this time next year, I should be entering the more detailed phase of tree-building. As always, though, you can’t take shortcuts and end up with a good result.

Last Water-elm for today, a really terrific raft I’ve been working on since last year. It’s been through a round or two of shearing. Each time it gets closer to the design goal.

Everything is filling out with each new round of growth. As I’ve mentioned before, shearing (or “hedging”) is one of the best techniques for developing deciduous bonsai that have their basic design in place. Shearing increases ramification and reduces leaf size. This is absolutely vital to the end-goal of making your bonsai believable. In the case of this specimen, it’s really starting to look like a natural forest.

This one is on sale at our Shop page for a few more days. If you’re into raft-style trees, this is about as good as they get.

Let’s shift gears back to this American elm I styled and potted a couple of weeks ago. I’m a big fan of American elm, and highly recommend them for bonsai. They are tough customers, and are not susceptible to Dutch elm disease even if you’re in a part of the country where the disease has decimated the species (bonsai do not get tall enough to allow the disease to complete its life cycle).

Here’s where this little bonsai to be was after I got through whacking it down to size.

And here come the buds! This is two weeks after the initial potting, and in another two weeks I’ll have shoots that are several inches long. All I’ll need to do is pinch and prune, and remove the wire when it starts to bite. By keeping the form of this tree in check, I’ll have nice small leaves to finish out the season. With a little luck, I’ll get some nice yellow fall foliage when the time comes.

Watch for this tree to hit our Shop page sometime in the next month.

Last but not least, here’s a Zelkova I’ve had in the field for about four years now. It’s been chopped and regrown, and now has a workable trunk that’s just under 2″ in diameter. Today I lifted and potted it, and I expect it’ll come back out in a couple of weeks. I should have a basic design built by the time fall gets here.

Let me know what you think of these specimens.

Building A Small Tree By Building A Tall Tree

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.