Winter is supposed to be a time where all sorts of bonsai activities more or less come to a halt, but the fact is there are a number of chores we can and should do in order to move our trees along. One reason to get these chores out of the way is to keep from having to do them in spring, when repotting tends to take center-stage.

Wateroak12-19-15-1This water oak, Quercus nigra, has been growing from a volunteer seedling for several years now. I chopped it a couple of years ago and left it alone to see what it would do. It produced what’s known as a “sling shot,” where you have two leaders in a Y shape, and it’s universally considered ugly (and it is, let’s face it). So today’s task, one of a number in the ultimate development of this pre-bonsai specimen, is to eliminate the sling shot and set the tree up for its next round of growth.









Step number one: saw off one of the legs of the Y. I chose the thicker of the two for a couple of reasons: one, its movement was at a little sharper of an angle than the other, which I didn’t care for; and two, it was thicker. One of my goals is to create adequate taper in the trunk of this tree. By cutting to the thicker of the two legs and letting it grow out, I would be limiting the amount of taper I could expect going forward.












Next I chopped the new leader. It’ll bud very near the chop and I’ll allow a leader to grow unrestrained in 2016. This should thicken the original transition area and make the tapering look much more realistic by the end of the next growing season.












I couldn’t leave that big stub where I chopped off the right-hand leader, so the next step was to saw it down in anticipation of next year’s growth. This chop will start rolling over, and I have to be sure it looks right or else I’ll need to re-chop. I hate doing development chores on trees twice (or more).









Here’s a final shot from an different angle. While there’s no real need yet to try and figure out where the front of this tree is, it’s fun to speculate on possible future directions for it. With that sizable chop – which granted in time will heal over – I may consider turning it into an uro down the road.

One final comment about oaks. They don’t seem to need to be sealed like most other species, though I do seal all of mine. Oaks are known to have the ability to compartmentalize damage that occurs to them, which is no doubt one of the reasons they can live so long.







This sweetgum, Liquidambar styracifula, grew this way all by itself from a volunteer seedling. I really like the cool snaky curve and it’s got good taper already. Developing trees like this one is a pretty easy process – you just chop and grow a new leader repeatedly until you have the trunk you’re after.










And here it is, sawed off and the chop sealed. Easy as pie. One thing I will have to do this coming spring is to watch for competing leaders and select the most suitable one. But the most difficult part of that will be remembering to do it.









Last but not least is this Chinese elm, Ulmus parvifolia, three or four years from a cutting and planted out a couple of years ago. The trunk base is now about 1″, and my plan is to grow it to at least 2″ before lifting it. First things first, of course, and that means managing the growth so that I get taper and decent trunk movement.

Right now this specimen is a twin-trunk. I’m not sure that will be the ultimate plan, but if not then the secondary trunk is in a great spot to help thicken the primary trunk.






Just a couple of quick cuts, and now this tree can continue to grow in 2016. It’ll probably take until about 2018 to get to the size I want. So stay tuned for more updates.