Guidance for young Chinese Elm

cetanorak

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Hello all,

I have brought my little chinese elm bonsai starter through it's first winter in my garage here in Portland Oregon. About a week ago buds began to sprout and I am looking for some guidance from more experienced folks about what I need to do this spring (repotting, trimming, etc...). I've attached a picture of the tree (with a tape measurer for scale), a picture of the soil/roots and of an image of a "target" Chinese Elm style that I'd hope to achieve.

Repotting
Since the roots do not seem to have emerged on the periphery of the soil block, does that mean that I could continue growing this Elm in the current pot and then re-evaluate for repotting next spring?

Pruning
Heading into this Spring, the tree seems a bit "long and leggy". Would you recommend trimming back some of the length? I'm not too certain about when and where to trim...I don't want to deplete the tree from all of it's stored energy reserves or remove too many of the buds but the shape is getting a little tall.

Any guidance that you could provide would be greatly appreciated. I'm still amassing knowledge and trying to make the right decisions for the health of this little fella._51A3481.jpg_51A3476.jpg_51A3477.jpgchinese-elm-bonsai-4.jpg
 

Shibui

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There is a long way to go from what you have now to what you would like to have.
Basic advice is that allowing free growth is the quickest way to get trunk thicker so probably don't worry about pruning for a couple of years at least. Good news is that elms can be cut anywhere any time and they will produce new shoots and grow again.
Although it does not need repotting yet it will grow faster and better in a larger container or in the garden. You can pot into a larger container without interfering too much with the roots at any time.
 

James W.

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Comb out the roots and lay them out flat when you pot up. You will probably need to cut off a big fat tap root. It is important to get a good start on roots (future nebari) when the tree is young.
 

cetanorak

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What’s that wire on the trunk for?
That wire is present but not actually serving a purpose at the moment. It is wrapped loose and was being used for several months to keep the thin truck straight.
 

bleumeon

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Hi @cetanorak, you have to focus on one thing at a time. Start by building the roots, then trunk, then primary branches, secondary, etc. Of course it's possible to co develop different parts at the same time, but as a general rule of thumb when you are building a tree from the ground up (as you're doing) the results will be faster and better quality if you work in this fashion.

The tree already leafed out so it's a bit late to repot. Typically I'd recommend sorting the roots early in development, creating a lateral root level with ideally radial roots that will be your future nebari. I would just tackle it next year. A healthy chinese elm, albeit young one, can tolerate fairly hard root work so next year you can work through and organize your root system. Another consideration is to ground layer your tree to produce nice radial roots. A wire tourniquet or washer at the base of the trunk can create basal flare and encourage lateral surface roots that you can use to build your future nebari.

Roots/nebari aside, you need to build your main trunk line first. Taper is established during the early development of the tree. Typically this means successive stages of allowing the tree to grow back, followed by cutting back. After cutting back you establish a new leader which you allow to elongate and thicken but to a lesser degree of the trunk line below it. The duration of each respective growing out stage will determine the taper of your tree. I would recommend very lightly teasing the outside of the roots and essentially slip pot the tree in a bigger container to let it grow free. Don't cut anything. If you have a coarse substrate like pumice make that the bulk of your soil medium. It allows for very rapid root proliferation which equates to faster growth. (Know that a coarser mix = dries out faster and retains less fertilizer. Compensate accordingly)

The sample tree you posted has a very graceful trunk line with subtle movement and taper. This is good for you in terms of development time. Meaning there weren't many "extended" grow out stages for the respective segments of the trunk.

In any case don't cut anything. You can do the slip potting I recommended. The nebari under the soil line could be good, could be bad. Since the tree is so early in development just start a ground layer to give you that nice radial root system you have control over. Your main priority is to allow the top leader to become strong and run freely. This will produce girth in your trunk. Don't worry about building branches at this stage.
 
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