That time of year is soon upon us, where our trees are more or less done growing foliage and we need to think about what we have planned for them next year. Bonsai is in large measure a game of patience, but that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t plan ahead. And do certain things this year in preparation for next.

For me recently this has meant working on elms. As a family, elms for the most part can be worked on according to the following guidelines:

  • winter: lifting, chopping, dramatically root-pruning, wiring established trees;
  • spring: chopping, wiring, root-pruning, potting;
  • summer: wiring, potting, pruning, pinching;
  • fall: unwiring, light trimming, light pinching.

I try to take advantage of the entire growing season, based on where each of my trees is along its development path. With the elms below, I’m taking advantage of what will be our last round of growth for the 2017 growing season. By doing this, I’ll get a head-start on next year.


This is one of the Cedar elms (Ulmus crassifolia) I got from my friend’s parents’ property back in April. Nice trunk, nice taper, nice movement, nice bark. It had bonsai written all over it.


After a sluggish start, it took off and hasn’t stopped growing since. Time to make a move on this unbalanced growth while getting a bonsai-in-the-making on the bench.


That’s more like it! I needed to cool off that growth in the apex, or the lower branches were going to be weak going into 2018. That’s always risky with winter just ahead.


This Byron Myrick rectangle suits the tree very nicely. I basically slip-potted the tree, meaning I lifted it from its nursery container and with minimal disturbance to the roots set it in this bonsai pot. I filled in with fresh, well-draining bonsai soil mix and watered it in. This tree is going to be outstanding come next year.


You don’t see Japanese gray-bark elm, Zelkova serrata, all that often. It’s a pity, as the species has a lot going for it. I got some stock plants for a fellow bonsai nurseryman, including a handful of larger ones. I chopped the trunk (which had been four feet tall) back to 12″, and as buds popped and grew into shoots started working on it. Because it had a significant root mass, the regrowth was natural as the tree was attempting to regain everything above ground that I was removing. This process has continued into and through summer.


Compare this photo with the one above, which was taken in early August. That’s some fast development!


Time to find out what Zelkova’s are made of. I cut off all the roots that wouldn’t fit in this Chuck Iker pot, and in the tree went! If it comes through okay, I’ll have a leg up going into 2018.

You’ll find, as you work with the various elm species, that some of them can take a lot of work throughout the growing season and won’t keel over from it. Based on my experience, the only ones I’d avoid doing “out of season” work on are Hackberry and Winged elm. For any of the others, have at it!