Now that winter has set in, it’s time to begin working on the 2018 growing season. The “official” collecting season begins on January 1 and goes through about March. Sometimes the weather throws this schedule off, but most of the time it’s a reliable 12 weeks during which most species I offer can be lifted with good success.

It’s always nice to get a head start on the season, which as of now means two weeks during which I can identify and lift specimens that can be offered next year. Here are a couple that seemed ready to begin their lives in pots.



Here’s a Water oak, Quercus nigra, that has been growing on my property for several years now. I’ve chopped it back in order to build taper, in preparation for its ultimate styling as a bonsai. Since the trunk is now thick enough to work with, today seemed like a good time to go ahead and harvest it.

What a mess! When you look at a specimen like this, it’s not all that easy to see what you ought to do with it. But trust me, in here is a bonsai. You just have to be prepared to identify and create a trunk line.


If you can compare this photo to the one above, I think you can get an idea of how to go about finding your trunk line. The basic process involves identifying progressively smaller upright branches that when chopped to produce a smooth tapering from base to tip. In this case, there’s the trunk base which rises about 5″, then a slimmer leader emerging from this point on the trunk that rises another 3″, then a final smaller leader that completes the trunk line that’s 9.5″ from base to apex.

As you grow trees to size, this is the process you’ll follow most of the time. You allow the tree to grow, then you chop back, then new shoots take over (apically dominant, so they want to run), you chop them back when their thickness is sufficient, and the process is repeated.



This specimen is now potted and the chops sealed. Isn’t the taper terrific, not to mention the trunk movement? Come spring, it will throw buds in suitable places along the trunk which I can wire into place.

I expect this specimen to be a nice shohin Water oak bonsai in just a few years.


Now onto this American elm, Ulmus americana. I’ve been field-growing this tree for about five years now, and it’s gained a lot of trunk thickness quickly (trunk base 2.75″).

There are two problems with this specimen: one, that thick high root on the right-hand side of the tree; and two, the swelling that has occurred at the original trunk chop point (where multiple leaders emerged and grew unchecked for too long).


Since I have a nice set of radial roots, I’m attempting to make the offending root look right by splitting it. Where it’s chopped it should heal over, and the spot on the lower trunk that’s bare should also roll over fine. Now, what about the thickness of the root? In a year or two, this root can be split longitudinally and the center area carved out. Once this heals over, the appearance should be natural.

Failing this, it should be possible to layer roots in the trunk area above this big root, and eliminate it entirely. But one thing at a time.


As for the swelling area, I simply chopped that off. I’ll come back and carve it this next growing season to make the appearance look smooth. It’ll heal over in a year or two.

I did a final chop of the two leaders I’m keeping.

American elm grows with such vigor that I should have a smooth transition into the upper part of this tree by the end of the 2018 growing season.

If you’re looking for Water oak or American elm, stay tuned for new material this coming spring. If you’d like to be on our wish list for these species, sign up for the Bonsai South email list.