The days are getting shorter, and many if not most of you have already had some cool nights. Your bonsai have also begun to slow their growth. Now, this doesn’t mean they aren’t growing at all, it just means the dynamic growth of spring and early summer has given way to a different set of priorities for your trees. With fall comes a single imperative for temperate zone trees, namely, surviving the coming winter. To be sure, reproduction is near completion for many species – Chinese elms among them. Mine in the landscape are covered in seeds. But beyond this, the trees are working hard on storing food to get them through winter. As a bonsai artist, you may have noticed this phenomenon by way of wire that has suddenly bitten into branches you wired weeks ago. They sat undisturbed for all that time, all was well, then one day you walk out and are surprised to see the wire is binding. This fall swelling is due to food storage activities, and is perfectly normal. It also can be aggravating, but that’s part of the fun of bonsai.

Once you get all the wire off your trees needing it, you don’t want to miss an opportunity to do some pruning and even rewiring if you so choose. The leaves will be falling from your deciduous trees within about eight weeks. Once they’re gone, nothing is going to happen again until spring. There’s certainly nothing wrong with waiting till then to wire your trees again – but don’t forget that spring brings with it chores that must be done at that time. For those of you whose collections are rather large, repotting alone will occupy a great deal of your time once the buds start swelling. I do my share of pruning and wiring at repotting time, but trees that have already been wired the previous fall can go right to the repotting process. It can make a big difference.

water-elm10-1-16-1This water-elm was a perfect candidate for some fall pruning. The tree is only in its second year of training, but the basic branch structure is done. Next year the tree will move into the ramification stage, where I devote most of my effort to building foliage pads on each of the branches. It’ll start looking more “organized.”

Today’s work consisted of three significant activities:

  • I pruned out unneeded branchlets and shoots
  • I carved two uros, one of them at the chop transition point in the apex, and treated with wood hardener; and
  • I wired and positioned the number one left branch, which is a year younger than the other primary branches on the tree

I won’t touch this specimen again until next spring, at which time I’ll likely do a little more refined pruning and wiring.

chineseelm10-1-16-1Here’s another activity you can do in the fall, depending on the species and your skill level. I’ve been reporting on this Chinese elm during 2016 as I developed it into a nice pre-bonsai specimen. Today I decided the tree was ready for a bonsai pot, so I grabbed this Chuck Iker round off the shelf and cut off enough roots to fit the tree into it.

Is fall really an okay time to be potting trees? Again, it depends on the species and your skill level. I know that root growth is fairly vigorous in the fall, so this tree should recover fine over the next 6-8 weeks – in time for actual cold weather here. There won’t be any significant foliar growth for the rest of 2016, but that’s all right. Come spring of next year, this tree will be ready to explode with new growth, at which time I’ll be able to complete the design. If I wait till spring to pot the tree, the growth will be delayed by a few weeks and I’ll lose a round of growth. This way I get a leg up.