Bonsai design is a hugely complex subject. The good news is, we have some tried and true rules to help get us through the process even if we’re not the next Rembrandt (I’m certainly not).

Last October I published a blog titled Designing Your Bonsai – Not To Not Miss Better Options, which featured this pretty decent Sweetgum.

As I noted at the time, the usual idea with a piece of material like this is that it becomes an informal upright bonsai. There’s nothing at all wrong with this idea. But with all of the foliage emerging from near the top of the trunk, I got this strange idea while looking at photos of the tree from different angles. I ultimately decided that this angle might make an ordinary Sweetgum a little less so.






This photo was taken in October, when I published the blog referenced above. It had grown out enough to get an initial wiring. And that’s what convinced me to do something different.

Take a few seconds to study this photo. Does anything look odd about it, or not quite right? Remember our principles about potting trees in bonsai pots. For oval and rectangle shaped pots, you always pot the tree slightly off-center. The idea is that the very tip of the apex of the tree should be right about in the center of the oval or rectangle, which helps you choose where to place the base of the trunk in the pot. Now, depending on the specific degree of “informality” your tree possesses, the apex may not end up precisely over the center of the pot. And in the case of slanting style bonsai, this definitely does not happen. Not only does the apex shift away from the center of the pot, the trunk base shifts farther away from the center of the pot in the opposite direction. The key is always balance. In the photo above, does the tree look balanced in its nursery pot? It appears the trunk may be emerging from near the center of the pot, and this throws the apex far off-center. Taken as a whole, it looks like the tree and pot are going to tip over. And this gives us all of the guidance we need in order to make a nice composition out of this Sweetgum with the right bonsai pot.

Here’s the result of applying compositional principles to a slanting style bonsai. I’ve restored the balance of this tree and pot as a whole. Notice that the base of the trunk is a good bit off-center; this is to counterbalance the thrusting movement of the trunk toward the left. If the tree were planted in the center of the pot, as in the photo above, it would appear as if the whole thing were going to tip over. Balance is vital to making a nice composition with your bonsai.

The buds of this tree are starting to open, so in order to avoid any unnecessary disturbance of the roots I slip-potted it into its pot. It shouldn’t skip a beat.

I’ll be posting this Sweetgum bonsai for sale in about a month, so stay tuned.