To answer the question first, I don’t know. If this Cedar elm (Ulmus crassifolia) survives, then the answer will be yes but I won’t have any idea of what my success rate would be if I lifted a bunch of them at this time of year. That’s a question I’ll have to answer down the road. But I do want to show you one key pointer if you decide to do some elm collecting of your own.
First of all, here’s the victim – I mean subject – of today’s experiment. It’s a field-grown Cedar elm that’s been in the ground for four years. It started off as a pencil-thin seedling, and has now grown to a trunk girth of 1.5″; the height is about eight feet. This makes it ideal for a medium-size upright bonsai.
The lift was done per my usual technique, namely a cordless reciprocating saw. It took about four or five minutes to cut it free (we’ve having a mini-drought right now, so the ground is harder to penetrate and that slowed me down).
Here’s the specimen topped, lifted, root base roughly chopped with lopping shears, and washed. It’s got some nice roots.
Now, I left the tap root long intentionally, because elms possess a peculiar feature that works against the bonsai artist. In this next photo you’ll see exactly what I mean.
Notice how the bark in the root zone has peeled away perfectly from the sapwood? This happens at both ends of the tree, incidentally. And it means death for the tissue beneath, period. You have to avoid this problem or your wonderful new pre-bonsai elm is not going to turn out the way you want it to.
The answer is the saw. Every cutting tool you use, even when they’re very very sharp, tends to put force onto what you’re cutting. This torsion almost invariably causes the bark to separate from the sapwood, if only slightly. But any separation tends to cause some tissue death. By using the saw, you can either cut through root, trunk or branch completely and cleanly, or you can score around them and then make the cut. If you do score around, it’s still best to saw through.
And finally, the tree is potted into its nursery container. As I said, I don’t know yet if this tree will survive being lifted this time of year. I do know it has good roots, and I know it has food stored for winter already, so it’s just a matter of whether or not the tree decides to live.
Cedar elm is one of my best deciduous trees for the bonsai beginner – and everyone who loves elms should have one. I expect to have a good supply this coming year.