Thickening trunk of young Chinese elm

Phfarmgirl

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I have a Chinese elm that I got from a bonsai nursery in FL last fall. I have managed to keep it alive thus far, but now I am contemplating my next step. Given that I have just moved from Northern FL to OH, I don’t want to stress him out too much, so I need advice on the following:
1.) I think it is rootbound, and was considering repotting...should I wait until fall?
2.) I really want to thicken the trunk, but since it was purchased already in a bonsai pot, I think I am going to have to take a step backward. Since I am considering repotting, should I repot into a large pot & let it grow to thicken the trunk?
3.) Should I abstain from pruning at this point, since he’s already been under a lot of stress, or will it encourage more growth?
4.) When winter comes, should I bring him indoors, or keep him in the garage? (It’s detached garage & I’m afraid it’ll get too cold & kill him)
For reference, he is about 14 inches tall & trunk is only as thick as a pencil. Any advice about what direction to go from here is greatly appreciated.
Thanks!
 

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bonsaichile

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1. Yes
2. Yes
3. Yes
4. Contact your local club and ask how do they winter Chinese elms in your new locality
 

grouper52

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I have a Chinese elm that I got from a bonsai nursery in FL last fall. I have managed to keep it alive thus far, but now I am contemplating my next step. Given that I have just moved from Northern FL to OH, I don’t want to stress him out too much, so I need advice on the following:
1.) I think it is rootbound, and was considering repotting...should I wait until fall?
2.) I really want to thicken the trunk, but since it was purchased already in a bonsai pot, I think I am going to have to take a step backward. Since I am considering repotting, should I repot into a large pot & let it grow to thicken the trunk?
3.) Should I abstain from pruning at this point, since he’s already been under a lot of stress, or will it encourage more growth?
4.) When winter comes, should I bring him indoors, or keep him in the garage? (It’s detached garage & I’m afraid it’ll get too cold & kill him)
For reference, he is about 14 inches tall & trunk is only as thick as a pencil. Any advice about what direction to go from here is greatly appreciated.
Thanks!

Please read my tutorial in the Resources part of this site, entitled, "The Importance of Starting with a Good Trunk".
 

Phfarmgirl

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Thank you so much! Grouper, is it too late to turn back time? If I were to transfer it to a very large pot, or back into the ground, would the trunk begin to develop again? I was lured into buying the baby in a bonsai pot before I knew what I was getting into. Now, I am committed to doing it right. If I need to start with a new tree, then so be it, but I just don’t want this little guy going to waste!
 

Zach Smith

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Your tree does not look to be in the peak of health, so it's best to keep it watered and fed, overwinter properly, then plot your strategy in late winter. To thicken the trunk, you'll need to plant the tree out in the ground. Within a couple of years it should start to grow some, and by year three you can look forward to vigorous growth. Keep in mind that Chinese elms do not put on taper as a natural feature of ground growing to build trunk thickness, so you'll have to plan to grow, chop, grow, chop and so on until you get the thickness you desire and the trunk movement that will be otherwise absent. Count on the process taking about five or six years to get you to a point where you can create a good starting design. I don't recommend lifting the tree in late winter, but rather let it come out in spring with a first flush and then chop, defoliate, root-prune and pot in a nursery container. It will rebud within a week or two, and once you have good shoots you can make your basic design. Good luck!
 

Phfarmgirl

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Thank you, Zach! No, it is not in the best of health right now, as it has just been through a multi state move. I am committed to turning things around as a good learning experience. I am also in the process of perusing local nurseries for good pre-bonsai stock to have a 2nd specimen in the wings,
 

Zach Smith

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Thank you, Zach! No, it is not in the best of health right now, as it has just been through a multi state move. I am committed to turning things around as a good learning experience. I am also in the process of perusing local nurseries for good pre-bonsai stock to have a 2nd specimen in the wings,
Next spring, just take a few cuttings from your guy and they should all root. Let those grow out, then transfer to larger pots and later on to the ground. Chinese elms are very durable and grow quickly, plus are easy to style.
 

grouper52

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Thank you so much! Grouper, is it too late to turn back time? If I were to transfer it to a very large pot, or back into the ground, would the trunk begin to develop again? I was lured into buying the baby in a bonsai pot before I knew what I was getting into. Now, I am committed to doing it right. If I need to start with a new tree, then so be it, but I just don’t want this little guy going to waste!
I'm glad you found the tutorial helpful! Yes, if you have a yard, throw it in the ground! If not, a distant second option is the hugest pot you can find/afford - it doesn't have to be anything special, some old thin black plastic thing 3' deep and wide might work, but nothing's as quick as the ground. And yes, it will pick up its growth/thickening again in a season. My Baby-Bending tutorial shows a trident mine I took out of it's bonsai pot and re-planted in the ground for a years, and gives a good idea of how quickly the process starts. and the sorts of effects you can get. Good luck! Down the road you'll be very happy you bought the tree! Chinese elms are some of the best deciduous trees to work with!
 

Phfarmgirl

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Thank you, everyone! I really enjoyed seeing the progression of your elm, parhamr. It gives me an idea of what to expect & how long it will take. Also reduced my anxiety over the chop & grow process. For now, I’m focusing on feeding, watering & getting it healthy. I think this fall, after getting it healthy for the upcoming winter, I will put it in a large pot to winter over indoors, then plant it in the ground next spring. Sound like a plan?
 

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