Earlier in the season I began a fun raft-style Water-elm project that will take a few years to become a great bonsai. But I have no doubt how it’s going to turn out. Here’s the first photo I took of this very rough specimen:

There’s gobs of growth on this three-trunk potential future raft. There’s a bonsai in there somewhere, but there needs to be more than three trunks. This is never a problem with a water-elm that has a recumbent trunk or connecting root.









In order to style any piece of material sitting in front of you, you have to develop at least a rudimentary plan. Here it’s simple: make the three trunks look like something, to get an idea of the possibilities down the road. So I’ve cut away everything that didn’t look like a triple-trunk raft in the making. The smallest trunk has the lowest branches and a complete though juvenile structure; the middle trunk has a nice upper-level branch structure with the branches in the right positions; the leftward, largest trunk has suffered dieback but has a couple of upright shoots that I can wire upward in order to rebuild the trunk. It’s not much yet, but I can absolutely make something nice out of this piece of material.

The first two photos were taken in July (2016), by the way. Now it’s almost the end of the year, and here’s what I’ve got.

What I started with in July has grown out profusely. The branch structures on the two smaller trunks have developed quickly and need trimming back. The new upright shoot on the largest trunk has grown out over a foot in length and should produce a rebuilt trunk in another season or two. But what’s best of all is I have gotten new shoots to pop on the connected root. That means I’m not limited to three trunks anymore. Now there’s a real raft in the making.

I keep an old pair of concave cutters handy for work in the root zone (rusty from the wet work, but sharp). I recommend this practice, as you want to keep your best tools out of the soil where they can be quickly dulled by the inorganic soil component(s).




The ugly root is gone now, revealing a more pleasing surface root beneath.





I also keep an old pair of knob cutters handy for working in the root zone. Here I’m rounding off the cut I made with the concave cutters.





Now it looks better.

You may have noticed a few photos ago that I have also removed some shoots that grew near the base of the main trunk, plus a couple of roots that likewise grew from up on the base of the trunk. These were not aesthetically pleasing and had to go.

Did you notice the ugly abrupt cut on the newly revealed surface root? That too has to be corrected. Here I’m using my concave cutters to make an angled cut.




Now the follow-up with the knob cutters, to make the cut smooth and round.







Now it’s time to step back and take stock of the raft once again. I’ve turned the pot, to make the small new trunk next to the main trunk easier to see (not hidden behind the main trunk). Does this perspective work? Absolutely. Now I can count five trunks for this specimen, three well-established plus too smaller ones to provide depth in the composition of the multiple trunks.

On to the next chore. As I mentioned, the main trunk suffered dieback but did produce a couple of shoots for potential trunk rebuilding. Here I’m cutting away the dead wood near where the new shoot/trunk will be continuing on.






I’ve cut down to “fresh” wood. The new shoot will be allowed to grow untrimmed for a good part of next year if not the whole year. This should induce some healing in the area where I’ve made the angle cut. I’m also hopeful of getting a bud somewhere on the bottom side of the cut area, to enhance healing. We’ll see what happens.



Seal those cuts!








And finally, the leader is wired up and given a little movement. I see a nice five-trunk raft-style bonsai in this rudimentary composition. If you compare this photo to those above, you can see how all of today’s work has really started to bring out the artistry in the future composition. I think I’ll need to change pots with this specimen, but for the time being it can continue developing in this nice old tray.

I’d love to hear what you think of this raft-style bonsai in the making. Did today’s work make a difference? Leave us a comment below.