I write and talk about it frequently. Making bonsai is, aside from the obvious horticultural and design aspects, mostly about time. Trees may grow fast, but they only grow so fast. With that said, making the best use of the growth cycles of our trees is critical if we’re going to get where we want to be. So we start off with a seedling or rooted cutting or nursery stock or collected material. The basic steps from any of those options to “finished” bonsai are: 1) find or develop a trunk line; 2) select, wire and position a branch structure; and 3) develop good ramification and leaf-size reduction to establish the right proportions in your design. You’ve seen this Boxelder before. I had a mostly complete trunk line right from the start (decent movement and taper). So I out only needed to complete steps two and three. Here most of the branches are wired and positioned. I have a shoot in the apex you can’t see, that will be my leader.
A little time and continued fast growth now has given me the leader I need. More wiring and positioning. This tree will be ramifying and will likely reach a more or less “finished” shape in 2020 (it’ll go into a bonsai pot in spring; I can finish out the work from there).
This Boxelder will not reach a “finished” design next year, nor will it go into a bonsai pot. This is a longer-term project, because I have to build most of the trunk.

Here are some of the details that you’ll need to have in mind when you set out building trunks that have good movement, taper and proportions.

Notice the new shoot that’s going to be my choice for continuing the trunk line. It just so happens that it emerges in a perfect location relative to the leader that I was able to chop the trunk to (you’ll often find yourself just chopping to a stump; in this case I was able to chop to a reasonably thick low branch that worked nicely).

Why is that small shoot in just the right spot? I’ve found that when building taper, chopping a trunk (or branch) usually works best if you don’t exceed two or three basal diameters from the previous transition point. Visually, this is ideal. So when I make this next cut, I’m maintaining a good sense of proportion. (To further illustrate this principle, if you measure the base of this tree at the soil and then measure three of those lengths from the soil, voila, you’ll be at the trunk chop I made when I lifted the tree.)

Here’s another example of the trunk-building concept, in this case a Zelkova. I’ve got plenty of shoots to choose from for my next chop. But which is best?
Once again, when you examine this Zelkova trunk you see plenty of shoots to choose from for your new leader. But which is best? Once again, if you apply the principle noted above you can come up with an answer that works great. With this tree, there’s a good base and a nice curve near the base, but after that the trunk gets straight and non-tapering. Visually, this won’t work nearly as well as just chopping and building the trunk the right way. So measure the base of the tree, then take three of those diameters up the tree and you’ll end up with the middle of the three shoots that have arrows pointing to them. This will work very well. It’s worth noting that you could also take the lowest of the shoots to chop to. Are both choices equally good? I’d say so. But I’m pretty confident I’ll go to that second one next spring.
And finally, to round out our “time is everything in bonsai” blog for today, here’s that ready-made Chinese elm grove I showed you earlier in the season. I’ll have this forest in a bonsai pot come spring, and hopefully by summer it will be well on its way to a presentable state come Fall 2020. Let me know what you think of today’s notes. Have they been helpful to you? I hope so.