Chinese Elm Design Brainstorm

Vincent Tanner

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Hey, everyone. I’ve been lurking a while, and this is my first thread.

I am a beginner. I have five trees that I’ve owned for between 1 and 3 years. Until now, my focus has been on keeping them happy and alive. But I think this spring is time to start some design work.

The Chinese Elm pictured here is a tree that I’m having trouble visualizing where to go with it.

Several aspects of the tree I just love. I love the trunk! The thickness is great for me, the bark is very nice. I love the big deadwood feature on a deciduous tree. Seems unique as I mostly see conifers with deadwood.

However, there’s some issues and I’m not sure how to think about them… Here are some things I’m thinking about:

1.) The large deadwood feature is super cool and I’d love to keep it and have it be an interesting visual focal point. Maybe it has to go though?

2.) The second branch is so much thicker than any other branches including the ones beneath it. Which as I’ve been reading, isn’t ideal… What are my options? Let all the other branches grow unrestricted for years until they match the thickness? Remove the branch even though it’s such a huge part of the tree?

3.) Does this tree benefit from a trunk chop and major cut back of the branches? Maybe 5-10 years from now it would be better.

4.) Maybe everything is ok and it just needs some wiring?

Thank you to anyone who helps me brainstorm as I learn how to think about visualizing the future of my tree! I appreciate all your experienced feedback!

PS: It is rootbound in the pot and due to be repotted. And I have removed most of the overgrown moss on the nebari and trunk.
 

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Bonsai Nut

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Two cuts...

two-cuts.jpg

Why? You have a big problem with that deadwood and the big scar with the large branch coming off to the side. It is a big lump of inverse taper and it will just get worse with time. Plus that large branch is useless for the future design of your tree - pipe straight with no taper.

Better to move aggressively, eliminate the problem, and start fresh with a new trunklink with taper and movement.
 

BrianBay9

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BNut has certainly shown you the process of finding the smallest tree in your material. I agree it may be the best long term solution. But it's possible you could move the cut up some and use the second branch on the right in that photo as the new leader, giving you a couple of starts on lower branches.
 

RKMcGinnis

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Welcome to the forum! And don’t be afraid to make mistakes. I’d recommend getting some tree’s to practice pruning and wiring on before doing major work to something you are more heavily invested in financially and emotionally. It can be a downer making a simple mistake on a tree you really like. But mistakes are gonna happen. And ask yourself what kind of tree you want to have before taking advice or just cutting.
 

Bonsai Nut

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BNut has certainly shown you the process of finding the smallest tree in your material.
I disagree. Same tree, same nebari, same trunk caliper. When evaluating a tree I always start at the bottom work my way up and when I come to the first unfixable flaw that's where I make the cut. I know that you know Chinese Elms back bud everywhere and in one season you could grow a branch equal in caliper to the one on the right... except you could wire it when it was young and give it movement and refinement. Not a single branch on this tree was ever wired and there is zero ramification. Perhaps what I am suggesting seems aggressive but I would rather fix the problem now than have it staring me in the face 10 years down the road, and realize you still have to fix it except you've lost 10 years in the interim.
 

BrianBay9

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I disagree. Same tree, same nebari, same trunk caliper. When evaluating a tree I always start at the bottom work my way up and when I come to the first unfixable flaw that's where I make the cut. I know that you know Chinese Elms back bud everywhere and in one season you could grow a branch equal in caliper to the one on the right... except you could wire it when it was young and give it movement and refinement. Not a single branch on this tree was ever wired and there is zero ramification. Perhaps what I am suggesting seems aggressive but I would rather fix the problem now than have it staring me in the face 10 years down the road, and realize you still have to fix it except you've lost 10 years in the interim.

I don't think we disagree at all. You describe my process perfectly, starting at the bottom up. When I say "finding the smallest tree", I'm referring to a process of using the base and the first branch to establish trunk, movement and taper - if it works. Then examining the next possible trunk line, then the next. I refer to the "smallest tree" as the minimum trunk line that works.

Sometimes you select the smallest tree to work from. Sometimes you move up the tree a bit and work from there. Sometimes you keep the whole tree. But the process forces one to consider each step from the bottom up. In my vocabulary, you suggested the OP use the smallest tree, and develop from there.
 

Vincent Tanner

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Two cuts...

View attachment 416708

Why? You have a big problem with that deadwood and the big scar with the large branch coming off to the side. It is a big lump of inverse taper and it will just get worse with time. Plus that large branch is useless for the future design of your tree - pipe straight with no taper.

Better to move aggressively, eliminate the problem, and start fresh with a new trunklink with taper and movement.
From my reading this is about what I was thinking would be best long term. I’ve got nothing but time so might as well do it right now for the future quality.

I think I was scared to come to this conclusion on my own because it’s so drastic but I understand it and I’m game now that I have some confirmation.

Couple follow ups…

When is the best time of year to perform the surgery?

Does it matter that the tree is fairly rootbound? Should I repot it before, during, after? Next season?

Or should the teee be moved out of a bonsai pot and into a larger nursery pot after the chop?
 

rockm

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From my reading this is about what I was thinking would be best long term. I’ve got nothing but time so might as well do it right now for the future quality.

I think I was scared to come to this conclusion on my own because it’s so drastic but I understand it and I’m game now that I have some confirmation.

Couple follow ups…

When is the best time of year to perform the surgery?

Does it matter that the tree is fairly rootbound? Should I repot it before, during, after? Next season?

Or should the teee be moved out of a bonsai pot and into a larger nursery pot after the chop?
THis depends on where you are. Zone 6a is not warm. Spring is the best. Trunk chop, repot at the same time--work the roots to flatten out the surface root profile--there's probably a lot going on under all that moss that is obscured.
 

Bonsai Nut

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I think I was scared to come to this conclusion on my own because it’s so drastic but I understand it and I’m game now that I have some confirmation.

Perhaps this series of photos will help.

Before:
elm1.jpg

Reduction:
elm1_2.jpg

Today:
elm4.jpg
 

Vincent Tanner

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THis depends on where you are. Zone 6a is not warm. Spring is the best. Trunk chop, repot at the same time--work the roots to flatten out the surface root profile--there's probably a lot going on under all that moss that is obscured.
Yeah, I’m in eastern CT… Zone 6a!
 

Kanorin

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If it were mine, I'd probably try to airlayer off the top (just above where @Bonsai Nut 's big red line is) - and then proceed with the bottom as he indicated. It might set you back half a season, but I think the top would make a really cool shohin elm with a hollow eventually.
 

Vincent Tanner

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Hey, friends. Thanks again for your help brainstorming in January. Here in New England the nights are no longer freezing and the buds on my trees are all swelling.

The Elm tree pictured here is rootbound and needs repotting. I was considering doing so soon… this week maybe.

Is it appropriate to trunk chop and repot at the same time?

Is there a particular time of year most appropriate to perform big chops?

Last question: Should this go back into a bonsai pot after the chop or into a 1 gallon (or larger?) container to grow?

Thanks a ton!
 

Katie0317

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Is there a bonsai nursery or bonsai club in your area? I think it might help to take some classes to get a better idea of what your options are. I agree that had this tree been wired early on it would be a very different creature.

As it stands now, I'd probably air layer it. It needs to be chopped but air layering would let you keep the original tree that you like and as you develop the new one you can compare them and see the difference between the two trees with your own eyes.

Consider taking classes if there are any available, it makes such a difference to work one on one with someone very experienced.
 

Kanorin

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Trees tend to recover more quickly from big chops in late spring / early summer. For your climate, I'd guess around early June. You can repot now (larger container might be a good choice) and chop only if the growth is really strong in late spring. Maybe just remove ~20% of roots if you are preparing for a chop.
 

PA_Penjing

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Normally I'd do a drastic prune (trunk chop) in the early summer, that's when us coldies are gonna get the most growth on these. But since you are repotting and it will probably be severe, spring should be a fine time to reduce the height. If I were doing this, I would replant that tree in a container about twice as big as the current one it's in. I like growing out trees in a shallow container once the trunk has reached the desired thickness, which I assume your first section has, or you shouldn't be cutting it back now. maybe just twice as deep as what it's in? I like the tree, I think it should look pretty great pretty fast. It'll take a few years for that first branch to get thick enough to be usable so let it run, but don't forget to wire anything you're keeping in the final design when it's nice and young/flexible. other wise you'll be stuck with bolt straight sections. Chinese elm notoriously don't build taper easily so don't be afraid to let a sacrifice branch run on the back of the tree that will be removed later. anything below it should get some girth and maybe a little trunk fluting if it really runs. I'm missing something....

well as a bonus tip, anywhere you want a branch just nick the bark with an xacto blade/razor and the tree should bud up there. Especially this time of year. I only know this to be true for chinese elm through experience but have heard it's the case for elm in general.
 

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