Bonsai is high art, but it’s also a learning process. You and your trees, cooperating to make something that’s more than the sum of its parts. You’ll learn something on every tree that comes into your care. And not just the big collected specimens that are all gnarly and old and beat up by life.


When we last left the saga of this small Crape myrtle, Lagerstroemia indica, it had responded beautifully to being wired and placed in a bonsai pot. Within mere days it had started pushing new buds, which quickly became shoots. I was particularly interested in the two lower-trunk shoots. Why? Because strong shoots get thick very fast, and everything “downstream” of those shoots gets thicker as they do. In the case of this tree, I had a great opportunity to get thickening of the lower trunk.


Here’s where we are today. You can see that there’s rampant growth all over the tree. What’s more, those two shoots on the lower trunk are really taking off. You know what this means. I’m going to get a thicker trunk, which is just what a good bonsai can always use.

Now, it’s important to consider one other thing now that we’ve got all this nice growth, namely, I don’t want to do any pruning at all for a while. Why? Because strong growth thickens everything “downstream” of it. So not only will I get a thicker lower trunk on this specimen, I’m going to get a thicker specimen period. Ideally, I want the trunk base on this tree to be at least 1″ in diameter. I think I can get this in a growing season, meaning between now and next summer. So for now I just let this guy grow, and plan to remove wire when it binds and perhaps do some fall trimming in the upper part of the tree.


I wired and potted this tree a couple of weeks ago. It’s finally sprouted some new buds, and these are growing quickly into shoots. But notice a couple of things. One, I don’t seem to have any buds near the base of the tree. And two, there are no new buds anywhere on the branches I wired when I first styled the tree. What does this mean?

One thing that will become apparent as you work on more and more trees is that they don’t always grow exactly the same as one another. In this case I have two white-flowering Crapes. They were grown from cuttings taken from the same tree, and grown the same way. The initial styling was very similar. But they’ve responded quite differently. Why?

I don’t know, and that’s the best answer I have. In a way it’s good. Though you never see two bonsai that are exactly alike, you do see rough similarities and the fact is we want our bonsai to be unique art forms. From a development perspective, I’ll have the challenge of thickening the lower trunk on this specimen and in the end it may not happen as I want. But that’s okay. When you’ve been doing bonsai for a long time, you learn to go with what your trees give you and to make that work. We can only force things so much.


I solved today’s problem by simply cutting back the slim branches I’d wired and positioned last time.

They may produce buds now; they may not.

I’ll adjust the next development step accordingly.

I’d love to get your feedback. Just drop me a comment below.