Those Devilish Details – How To Make Your Trees Better

You may remember this American elm, Ulmus americana, from a couple of months ago.  I lifted it and put it directly into this neat funky Chuck Iker rectangle.  It dutifully threw new shoots, and I wired an initial design.  So far, so good.










Here we are this morning.  Very nice growth, as you can see.  I recently pruned back the leader, as it had grown enough for this year.  But now I have a lot of unruly branches that need attention.  They say the devil’s in the details.  They must have been thinking of bonsai when they came up with that one.

Now, how do you go about tackling the details that will take your tree to the next phase of development?  Here’s a step by step illustration of my thought process and the results.

I almost always begin at the bottom of the tree.  In this case, the number one (lowest left) branch of the tree needs pruning.  You can see in this closeup that a secondary branch has emerged all on its own.  Perfect.  I can cut to this branch, and next year let it run before pruning it again.


After pruning.








My next stop is the branch above the number one branch.  Why not the number two branch, the one on the right side of the tree?  It’s not as thick as I need it to be (see two photos down).  Pruning it back would not be the right thing to do at this time.  You’ll commonly see this in the growth of your trees.  Branches tend to grow with more strength in the apex.  Branches also tend to grow with different degrees of strength in the same part of the tree.  Part of developing your bonsai is to balance this growth by means of selective pruning.

Branch pruned.









This is the number two branch, the lowest right-hand branch.  You can see that it’s not as strong/thick as the lowest left branch – in part because there are actually two branches emerging from the same spot.  I needed a back branch, so kept them both.


Now let’s move up the tree some more.  This branch near the apex is way too strong (not surprisingly, apical dominance you know).  It needs to be “cooled off.”







Cut back pretty hard.






Now on to the other side of the tree.  Same problem.






I unwired it and pruned it back hard.  That’s step one for this branch.








Now I used the same wire to rewire the smaller branch I cut to into position.






Now back to the other side of the tree.  This branch needs to be pruned.










Here’s that back branch I mentioned above.  I don’t want this branch to get too thick, as it might cause undue swelling at the point on the trunk where they emerge.  So I’ll prune it back.









Back up higher in the tree, this branch is now obviously too heavy.  I’d trimmed the secondary branches that emerged, but more needs to be done.





Unwire and prune back.







Now I’ve wired one of the secondary branches out as a new leader.






And here’s the final result.  This is a nice little American elm bonsai.  The species grows so fast that by the end of the 2018 growing season, I should have a nicely filled out specimen.

Let me know what you think.



4 Replies to “Those Devilish Details – How To Make Your Trees Better”

    • Zach Smith Post author

      I’m not sure exactly what you mean, Pierre, but I always try to wire two branches with the same wire, ensuring that it is well secured by looping around the trunk. Has worked well for 30 years now.


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