Water-elm #35 was slip-potted this past weekend. I put off styling and especially trimming because the lunar cycle wasn’t favorable to pruning for growth. It also gave me the opportunity to gauge how well the slip-potting went. I can tell you, the tree did not skip a beat.

This is an exciting clump-style bonsai to be. The trunks have just enough “wildness” in them to not look contrived. At the same time, the interplay works. About the only thing I don’t really like in this clump is the direction of the smallest trunk at the back of the tree. But that can certainly be fixed.

In this photo you can see the fix on that back trunk. A piece of 4 mm wire and a little bending, and I’ve got that trunk right where it needs to be. Now its movement is in harmony with the rest of the trunks.

I’ve also done the styling on the front fork of the main trunk, and the right-hand fork of the trunk to the right of the main trunk. The tree is starting to take shape.

Now I’ve moved over to the left-most trunk. (By the way, this trunk appears to be emerging from the main trunk but it’s not. There’s a stub behind the main trunk of an earlier trunk that died back. The small trunk is an off-shoot of that one.)

You may be wondering which trunk of a clump-style tree needs to be worked first, which second and so on. There’s really no hard and fast rule. I usually apply the certainty approach: I work on the trunk and branch-set, with the overall composition in mind, that I’m most certain about. Tougher styling issues come later on. Often the tougher styling issues become a lot easier once you get to work on what you’re most confident in.

Now I’ve moved to the back fork of the main trunk. One key principle with your main trunk is that it’s going to have branches and foliage higher than any other. The work you do has to be done with this in mind. So in working the back fork, I know this foliage will be at the very apex of the bonsai.
By far the most challenging of the trunks of this bonsai is the one pushing up through that forked trunk in front of it. It’s really snugged in close to the forked trunk – in fact, it touches it. So the challenge with it is to place the branches where they can get sunlight. It wasn’t particularly hard once I got to this point with the tree; as I said, by working from a point of most certainty to least, by the time I got here the right branch placement was relatively obvious.

Now, I do have an issue I’ll need to address in spring. That left-hand fork of the Y-shaped trunk to the right of the main trunk is very tall. In order for the foliage to survive, horticulturally speaking, it’s got to have its share of sunlight. But with other trunks crowding it, a fact that is not going to change, it must stay tall. That makes for an awkward situation, since the trunk heights in forests and multi-trunk specimens range from highest-thickest to lowest-thinnest. There’s just no way to make this happen with respect to this fork of the Y, so I have to decide whether it’s worth breaking the rule. I don’t have to decide today, but I will have to decide next year.

After a little tweaking of branch positions, this is the final shot of the day for this Water-elm bonsai. Hasn’t it come a long way since I first showed it to you?

I’m really looking forward to starting the refinement process on this bonsai in 2019. Water-elms grow fast, so I expect to have at least tertiary ramification by next summer. This is going to be an outstanding Water-elm bonsai.

Let me know what you think of this specimen. Leave me a comment below.