I lifted this Sweetgum last year and put it in a nursery container to recover and gain strength. It was sluggish for most of last year, but I just fed, watered and otherwise ignored it. As I knew it would, it finally kicked growth into high gear this spring, which allowed me to slip-pot it last month. Then the fun really began. Due to the growth habit of Sweetgum, you can make a lot of progress in a very short time. You just have to know how to manage them.


Here’s a Sweetgum “stick in a pot.” Not the greatest specimen in the world, granted, but it does have some nice character in the lower trunk. Plus I know that in a pot Sweetgums put on nice trunk character quickly, so it’ll look much better next year.

The trunk base is 1″ in diameter, and the trunk is chopped at 17″. That may seem tall, but the classic Sweetgum shape is columnar with a fairly narrow branch spread.


So here we are a year later. After a sluggish start, the tree is taking off. Time to hurry it along!

Notice here that most of the growth is in the upper third of the tree. While I’d like to have branches lower down, that’s not what the tree had in mind (at least not right now; it wouldn’t surprise me next year if buds appear farther down the trunk, as this is common with the species). So I’ll work with what I’ve been given.


I thought this nice Chuck Iker round looked really good with what is going to be a tall-tree style bonsai. Notice there’s no wire on this tree yet. I’ve just trimmed it a bit; in a few days I can come back and do the initial wiring.

Still not much to look at, but the trunk character has already kicked up a notch from last year. Lovely coloration.


As promised, five days later the initial wiring is done. We’re starting to get somewhere, but the foliage is sparse and this tree is just not worthy of being called a bonsai yet.

As with many other species, Sweetgum produces buds in every leaf axil. What’s somewhat different about the species is that it will almost continuously push new shoots from these leaf axil buds well into summer, and this includes ramifying through tertiary and higher levels. This is very advantageous if you’re looking for fast development. See the proof below.


Another three weeks have gone by. You can get a good idea here of how pinching the new growth as it pushes from the leaf axils creates thicker foliage, along with ramification. Compare this photo to the one taken on 5/19/18. Where you had only leaves on those long petioles, now you have branches and sub-branches and the leaves are smaller and so are the petioles. This Sweetgum is taking on the qualities of a bonsai, just a year out of the ground.


Here’s another secret of bonsai graphically illustrated. Notice in the above photo how bushy the tree appears. This is commonly understood to be the goal of bonsai development – full, lush foliage. Well, that’s only true to an extent. If you go for the “bush” appearance, your bonsai will end up looking like a shrub in a pot. There’s no branch delineation, and most of the trunk ends up being hidden. This does not produce the impression of a mature tree in nature. Study some, next time you’re walking or driving around. Take note of how much of the trunk of every tree you can actually see. Also note that all of the foliage on each branch occurs out near the end of the branch, while the interior part of the branch is easily visible. This of course changes as you work your way into the upper part of the tree, where all you see is foliage. This is the way trees grow in nature. So why would we not train our bonsai to look like real trees? I don’t, because it doesn’t look real. In this photo, I’ve removed a lot of the interior foliage in the lower branches so they’re more visible inside, along with more of the trunk. It makes a big difference!

Let me know what you think about this tree. Hasn’t it come a long way in a hurry?