Spring is in full force, meaning bonsai development is more or less a matter of moving from one tree to the next and doing pruning, pinching, wiring, unwiring, and on and on. Only repotting season is as intense.

Today, among others, I worked on the three trees below. Each represents a different stage of development, each indispensable to the ultimate goal. What’s important is to understand where your tree is along the way; it’s also vital to understand that not every part of your tree will develop at the same pace. This is where time and experience come in handy. You have to know what your tree needs at any given time, meaning what you can, should and shouldn’t do.

Yaupon5-8-16-1Here’s a neat yaupon, Ilex vomitoria, that I collected this past winter and direct-potted into this really nice Byron Myrick oval. This specimen has two trunks, so tightly together that one partly enfolds the other. I could see the whole design of this bonsai-in-the-making when I collected it.

So there are lots of new shoots now, and I can ask myself the three questions above:

  • What can I do now? I can let the tree continue pushing its new shoots. I can also make a design decision on the right-hand trunk. There’s a well-placed shoot on the underside of the trunk. I can chop back the trunk to this shoot.
  • What should I do now? I should continue letting the tree grow out to get stronger.
  • What shouldn’t I do now? I shouldn’t do any wiring; the shoots are far too tender and will easy snap off.


So I did what I could do, chopping back the right-hand trunk. I like it better shortened; I can build a better crown on this trunk now.












In this photo I’ve neatened up the chop. All I need to do now is seal the chop. Then I wait for the shoots to grow out so I can wire them.












Here’s my “hopeless cause” swamp maple, Acer rubrum “Drummondii.” I wired some branches last year and then neglected the tree for the remainder of 2015. It grew into quite a bush. Time for some thinning, pruning, unwiring, rewiring, and shaping.












In a couple of minutes I pruned out all the excess branches. Now the trunk is visible again. A good start.














Here’s a good example of a “should do.” The leader I wired up last year and let run thickened well. Unfortunately, the thickness was pretty uniform and lacked interest. It wasn’t helping me to enhance taper in the upper part of the tree. So the obvious should-do was pruning the leader to enhance taper and continue the transitioning from the original chop.

But where to prune? In the closeup above you can see there are two options, one lower and one higher. Either would work, however, in order to limit the ultimate height of this tree and get the best tapering in the process I had to cut to the lower shoot.

Redmaple5-8-16-4Here the cut is made and the new leader wired up. I won’t trim the leader for a while, which will allow it to thicken at its base and enhance taper. This grow and clip process is useful both for building an apex and creating believable branches.

I have no idea how this tree will do in the coming years. If it behaves like the other large swamp maples I’ve collected in the past, next year it’ll start rotting out down the trunk beginning at the chop. I hope this doesn’t happen, and I’ll do what I can to prevent it, but the ultimate result is out of my hands.







This water-elm, Planera aquatica, was collected last fall. I wired a couple of the branches that were long enough to take wire last month. Those were “could-do’s.” Then I left it to continue pushing shoots.












Today I was lucky enough to have a lot more could-do’s. In fact, the whole tree got its initial wiring and shaping. I cut the right-hand trunk back, making it into a low thick branch, and went with a slanting style design. There’s no doubt in my mind this is what the tree wants to be.

If you’d like to continue the development of this nice water-elm pre-bonsai, the tree is available at our Elm Bonsai page.