water-elm progression

Sneak Peek

I’ve been keeping you updated on the progression of one of the Water-elms in my personal collection. This tree has done so well, it’s just about show-ready.

Water-Elm Progression

Beginning at the beginning is always best when you’re showing a progression. Here’s one of my personal Water-elms on the day it was collected, 8-4-18. This trunk is just outstanding, and I knew it was destined to make for a great bonsai.

This specimen came with more branching than I’m used to. I never object to having some structure to work with; it usually speeds up the whole development process.



Fast-forward to the next June, the tree has grown out enough to have been through a couple of rounds of wiring and has even made it into its first bonsai pot.

I’ve written about the development technique of shearing before. I blogged earlier in the season about this technique, as applied to this tree. The reason it’s worth mentioning now is I just conducted a Zoom consultation with a Water-elm client to demonstrate the technique, using this same tree again.

This was the result of shearing the tree back in May. It’s worth bearing in mind that shearing is not a refinement technique per se, though it does set up your tree for refinement as it helps build the tree’s superstructure. Shearing prompts the tree to backbud and produce ramification – not necessarily the ramification you’re seeking as the tree enters its maturing stage; rather, this period of ramification is what provides the finer design of each branch. It’s this design of each branch, repeated throughout the tree, that ultimately makes the whole thing realistic looking.

Once I was finished with this shearing, I set the tree back on the bench and just left it alone. It’s always tempting to pinch off some growth you think you won’t need as you pass by your trees on the daily rounds, but the technique works best if you just keep on walking. I would eventually get shoots a foot or more long for my current round of shearing.

This is the after shot of the tree following shearing and then some more detailed pruning.

I think it’s very instructive to spend some time studying this photo in comparison with the one just above. Notice that I do indeed have more ramfication in this iteration than in the previous one. But this tree is by no means fully styled; I’ve only set it up for that next stage by building a superstructure that will support all of the twiggy growth to come.

I took the opportunity during this round of pruning to remove crossing branches, downward pointing branches and those that just had no future either horticulturally or aesthetically. I especially wanted to clear out the interior of the tree, where no foliage is found in nature. All too often I see deciduous bonsai grown like bushes in pots – you can’t see 90% of the trunk and branching (and the excuse that you get to see all of it in winter is not acceptable). This tree shows and always will show the lowest half of the trunk, and when it fills out I’ll be sure you can see some of the interior structure higher up. There will be “space for the birds to fly through,” as John Naka used to say.

You’ll also notice that I employed some wire for the purpose of bringing two of the lower branches into a more horizontal position. This is a key step in the design process. You lowest branches will tend to be horizontal, the next layer above will tend to move somewhat upward, and by the time you reach the crown of the tree they’re really reaching for the sun. I think this tree gives a fine example of this design principle.

Let me know what you think of this Water-elm bonsai. It’s one of my all-time favorites.