American hornbeam, Carpinus caroliniana, is one of my best deciduous species for bonsai. It has many stellar characteristics as a bonsai subject, including relatively small leaves that reduce in size readily, smooth greenish-gray bark, and the easily recognized “muscling” of the trunk in older specimens.

I collected this hornbeam earlier this year. What struck me about it was the really nice (and old-looking) bark. Isn’t the character just great? So with this specimen I’ve already achieved one of the goals of bonsai, namely, an old-looking tree. Starting from that point, it’s pretty hard to go wrong.

The goal for today was to establish the initial design of this tree. Notice that there’s a shoot coming up from the base. I left and encouraged this shoot because I’m aiming for a twin-trunk specimen. In the video below, you can see the step by step process.

So in this video I mention what I think may be the best thing about American hornbeam as bonsai – the really unusual characteristic of continuous growth. I’m hard-pressed to think of another species grown as bonsai that literally grows all year long, constantly, rather than in flushes. What this does for you as the artist is it provides the opportunity for more rapid development. You’ll most likely do a couple of rounds of wiring each growing season, and with the normal trimming that goes with it you can expect the tree to begin producing ramification in year one. This is really hard to beat!