A case study on creating a Bonsai from a stock tree

(Garden center or Collected)

The tree you select may start as a blob of foliage, but will with the aid of wiring and pruning end up as a good bonsai.

Look for a tree with lots of branches, leaving the trunk in all directions, a good taper to the trunk, or a branch that can be wired up to form a new leader if the existing top is removed.

Explore the roots as best you can, getting your fingers down into the compost if possible. Remember that you are looking for a radial root structure, just like the branches, but that any problems there are with the roots can be worked on at repotting time.

When you get the tree home don't be in to much of a hurry to start work on it. Become familiar with its structure. Decide what will be the front of the tree, placing a marker where the front will be.

A sketch of what you hope the tree will look like with unwanted branches removed and others wired into place, will come in handy. Then get hacking!.

Now we can start removing any branches that are in the wrong place or parts of those branches going in the wrong direction.

The lowest branch on the right seems to be in about the ideal place for the first branch, appearing to be a good size for the position.

The part of the branch in red points upward and may be to thick to wire down, the remainder of that branch can be grown on to fill in any gaps left by its removal.

The Blue branch is directly opposite another major branch and can be removed, the Green branch being wired down and developed to fill in the gap.

To the right we see the tree with the branches removed.

Much the same applies to the branches marked in this illustration. Red branches point upward and can be cut back to downward pointing shoots. Remembering to seal any large cuts, either with cut wound paste if available, however grafting wax, or paint will substitute.

The Blue branch is opposite another strong branch and with another (Green) branch available to wire into place, may be removed.

Bear in mind that this type of work on the branches would be carried out on all branches, not just those at the front.

Removing the branches at the top has lightened it, helping to give the tree a more triangular shape. This will need to be maintained over the years to stop the tendency toward apical dominance.

Repotting the tree

With so much of the original foliage removed you may consider putting the tree into a bonsai container. It is possible to do so at this time, but bear in mind you still have no firm idea what shape the roots are in. My advice is to repot the tree, but either back into it's original container, or into something shallower, if the root structure permits.

Remove the tree from the pot. Begin to tease the roots out, removing the soil. This process can take some time, so have a water spray available and wet the roots occasionally.

With most of the soil removed, you can see the root structure. The large root going straight down is called the tap root, assuming there are plenty of other roots available, this should be removed.

The chances are that you will not have a suitable bonsai pot available, so repot the tree into a suitably sized training container. The section of the Primer on repotting covers the actual mechanics of the process.

The tree is now in it's training pot. Do not expose it to direct sunlight for a month or so, then gradually bring it out into direct sunlight, you may also begin to feed it with a weak fertiliser.

Leave the tree alone for that year, then begin to apply the principles outlined in refining your tree.

Allen. C. Roffey 15:52 28/01/2001