My local bonsai club is having its fall show this coming weekend. I’ve been pondering which of my trees I’d like to show, and today this one caught my eye.



This, you might say, is one heck of a hornbeam. The American hornbeam, Carpinus caroliniana, is one of the best deciduous species for bonsai, especially if you’re a beginner.

This one has a trunk base of 5.5″ above the root crown, and is 28″ tall from the soil surface.

I chopped the trunk when I first collected it back in 2011, and I’ve been working on it since. I’ve reached the point where the only real macro development step left to do is flesh out the very apex of the tree. I’ve grown and chopped the apex several times now, in order to build taper. It’s come out pretty well, I think.

Okay, so what do you need to do to prepare a tree to show?

There will be some slight differences from tree to tree, but this list is fairly comprehensive:

  • Trim out all crossing branches, downward pointing branches, and branches that dart back into the tree or into the branch – the ugly ones that don’t belong, in other words
  • Remove upward pointing branches that cannot be used in the tree’s design; it’s a little hard to explain the difference in this blog post, but with experience you’ll know which is which
  • Trim to the tree’s correct silhouette
  • Remove ugly leaves
  • Trim pruning nubs – carve and smooth if need be
  • Clean the trunk
  • Clean the pot; oil unglazed pots (baby oil mixed with pumice works well)
  • Do any remedial or cleanup carving the tree needs
  • Treat carved wood, meaning jins, sharis and uros, with lime sulfur at least a week in advance of the show (to allow time for normal weathering)
  • Top dress the soil surface; pluck any weeds that have popped up
  • Place moss on the soil surface if you like (this is optional)

I have to do all of these things to this tree, so let’s get started.


I’ve done the bulk of the trimming and nub pruning in this photo. It looks a good bit “cleaner” now, and the silhouette is restored.


I took my Dremel® to the big uro at the front. It needed more carving; it’s much more flush with the trunk now, which helps it look more natural.


In order to top-dress the soil surface, I had to actually shear away a layer of the surface soil (along with a lot of roots). Will this harm the tree? No, I took at most 5% of the root mass. American hornbeam roots like crazy, so I know the pot is chock full of fibrous roots.

In this photo I’ve also cleaned the trunk. I used a 50:50 mixture of distilled white vinegar in water, sprayed on with a small spray bottle, and an ordinary toothbrush. This works remarkably well.


I needed to do a little remedial carving of the trunk chop. The wood was mostly quite durable. I removed the small amount of punky wood, then brushed on some lime sulfur. Once it has weathered, I’ll treat this area with wood hardener.


I took the opportunity to do a 360° portrait of this tree while I was show-prepping. Here’s the right side.


And the back.


And the left side.


Back to the front, following the top-dressing. I may put some moss on the soil before showing it; haven’t decided yet.

A question often asked is should a tree with wire on it be showed? The purists say no. I say a tree that’s fully wired shouldn’t be showed, but if there’s minimal wire present I don’t feel bad about doing it. To each his own, I suppose.

Let me know what you think.