American Hornbeam Bonsai Progression from Seedling

The Long Haul

Growing bonsai from young trees is an especially rewarding project. You may even discover that it can make you happier and healthier. Ming Kuo who works at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has been studying just that for more than 30 years. For more check out this incredible episode of NPR’s Hidden Brain, Our Better Nature: How The Great Outdoors Can Improve Your Life.

Today is the best time to start

Today we’ll be working with two American Hornbeam. These are native to my sweltering state of Florida which is still 86°F right now in November (please send help).

These trees have been trained to eventually be around 20″ tall. It’s good to have a tentative road map when starting a tree off from a sapling. You do not need to know exactly how it will look (and it will likely change) but a general idea of size and taper are good places to start.

Here is a two year old sapling. From here I grew a number of these for another year and then wired the main trunk in 2018.

Wire for the bonsai you want, not the one you have

A common question when wiring young bonsai is, “what should I do to it?” Which is essentially the same as a painter staring blearily at blank canvas and inquiring what they should paint. It is, ultimately a great question and alludes to one of the more difficult aspects of bonsai, creative design. The best answer is, yes. Do it and do 20 more the same way and 20 more in different ways. Get inspired, try and fail, but mostly just have fun.

After roughly nine months these trees were showing signs that the wire was ready to come off. When wiring the trunk for the first time I prefer to allow the wire to dig in to an extent. The wire marks will not be visible for more than a year or so and I want the trunk line to set.

On this first tree which is destined to be a cascade the wire at the bottom has been left on too long. It will be difficult to remove it without damaging the bark. At this point I’ll have to perform minor surgery to remove it or let the tree callous over it. If you do decide to leave wire the trunk will swell in that area as it heals over.

This Hornbeam also needs its wire removed. You can see where the sacrifice branches emerge it is creating too much swelling where the wire is.

Here are both trees after being cleaned up. I wired a few branches that will continue the trunk line.  The sacrifice branches are guy wired to the edge of the pot so that they do not shade our bonsai.

I’ll follow up in another year or so and see how these trees are doing!

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