Here’s a nice little Sweetgum bonsai, Liquidambar styraciflua, that I potted up a few weeks ago. I’d been growing it for a couple of years prior, liked the base, and it struck me that I might just have a decent broom-style specimen in this tree. So I chopped the trunk and wired up two leaders to get the ball rolling. It’s resumed growth, so I expect to be able to make some good headway as the season progresses. And I can envision what the structure of this tree is going to look like.

For those of you who aren’t yet experienced at looking at a bare trunk or newly styled starter bonsai and seeing a developed specimen, there’s a good way to create a roadmap to your goal – just draw a picture.

Yes, I’m hearing all the “I can’t draw a straight line” protests out there. Drawing is art. Art is tough, unless you’re artistic. But I don’t think this is a very good excuse. After all, you set out to grow bonsai, and bonsai is high art. So you must have thought you could learn to do this high art, or you wouldn’t be here reading this. If you can grow bonsai, you can draw bonsai. And I’m here to tell you, if you can draw bonsai you can grow them and grow them well.


Here’s what I think this tree could look like. It’s a classic broom-style design. And it didn’t take all that long, maybe 10 minutes. The best part of this effort is, I now have a plan for styling the tree in a way that I know will make it look like a real tree. Not only does it take a lot of the guesswork out of doing the design, it also will help me keep the proportions of the tree in check.

As I’ve written before, I’ve seen more overgrown trees than I can count. It’s a natural mistake to make, because our trees keep on growing and it’s not in our nature to cut off the work of many years. But I can tell you this: if I compare this drawing with the tree a year or two or three down the road, if it’s overgrown I’m going to know it immediately and exactly what I have to do to correct it.


Here’s another one I recently potted, from a tree lifted last fall. It already had good roots so I didn’t have to defoliate it. Now it’s growing again, so within a few weeks I’ll be able to start doing some of the detailed design work. But what exactly will this entail?


This is the plan. So as I make wiring and pruning decisions, I can refer to this drawing. And I always know that if I can make the actual tree look like this plan, it’s just not possible to go wrong.

So does this inspire you to pick up pencil and paper? Or do you already practice drawing design plans?