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.