I’ve been having a great time this year with Cedar elms (Ulmus crassifolia). I slip-potted this one last month, as part of my bound-and-determined campaign to develop this tree into a bonsai as quickly as I can. This is something I started doing almost 30 years ago, partly out of impatience and partly out of the desire to make a study of bonsai techniques to test limits.

This specimen has been “Cedar elm strong.” It came back from collection quickly and has grown with vigor since. It was four months from lifting to bonsai pot. Now, the main advantages of this specimen and others like it can be summed up as follows:

  • The species is naturally vigorous
  • The specimen has the appearance of age
  • The specimen has actual age
  • Slip-potting (or, though usually less desirable, direct-potting) can be done without fear of killing the tree
  • The specimen has good taper, with the trunk chop being small enough that the tapering transition can be pulled off in the pot and within two years

Given these features, I know I can cut out one or two years’ worth of development time. What this means is, if I were to have plodded along with this tree in accordance with conventional wisdom, it would still be in a nursery container putting on growth without my having done a thing to it besides water and feed. Only next year would I sit down and start the styling process. It would be another year before the tree went into its bonsai pot, and another couple of years before the tree could reach a “finished” (meaning showable) state. That’s a total of four years.

I am confident that I can reach the same degree of development in, at most, three years by being aggressive. So why wouldn’t I do that?


Here’s the tree today. I’ve had to unwire the leader, as it’s grown really well over the past month. My goal for today is to carve down the chop point (hurrying the tree along), and do some more work on the leader.



Here’s the result of today’s work. This only took me about 10 minutes. I’ve done some carving at the chop point, which enhances the taper from the trunk into what is going to ultimately be the crown of the tree. I’ve also taken the opportunity to cut back the leader to a side branch, which I’ve wired straight up. This is how you build an apex properly. I’ll let this leader grow on out for the remainder of the season, with the plan of cutting it back again just before the buds start swelling next spring. I should have the crown mostly built next year.


Now for the pop quiz. Are you able to see the small change I made today in this bonsai-to-be that makes a huge difference in its appearance? If you spotted the change in the planting angle, you got it right. Compare this photo with the first one above. When I first potted the tree, the more significant slant seemed like the way to go. It’s bothered me since, but I didn’t want to fool with the tree again so soon. The roots needed to firm up. By today they had, so I was able to manhandle the tree into a more upright stance. It makes a world of difference, doesn’t it?