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?