Pruning Elm for Shape   2 comments

Elm, hornbeam, and Zelkova are prolific growers. Elm trees need constant attention thru the entire growing season and specialized attention even in winter to prepare for spring. Elms respond very well to wire, since they grow fast a holding layer of wood is built within weeks and wire can be removed early before damage occurs.

Once branches have been set and shape has been determined it is just a matter of maintenance and specific pruning. While many maples can be “pinched” elms do not really achieve a level that requires pinching. maple buds will languish for days while elm buds will look round and ready to pop in the morning, and by the time you get home from work, the shoot is two inches long. They really grow that fast when healthy and thriving.

Today is the day for a first pinching of this elm. I say pinch because I am removing only fresh growth that has not hardened off. It is fresh and very soft. This growth is cut with scissors to keep the growth from being bruised and damaged. Some of the long shoots show some browning of the stem already which means they are “hardening off”, or becoming wood. At this point this type of trimming is full-fledged pruning as this stem could not be pinched with a fingernail.


The leaves emerge in horizontal alternating leaf patterns. This growth pattern lends itself very well to training without wire in a technique called “clip and grow”. In the clip and grow style a shoot can be trimmed back to a leaf stem and the new shoot will emerge from the end of the leaf stalk at the base of the branch pointing in the direction of the leaf it was cut back to.


Here is a fresh shoot with small green leaves on the end.


If I wish this branch to continue growing off to the right to fill a void there, I could cut back to a leaf leaving the leaf terminal on the right.

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If I wanted the branch to turn off to the left to fill a void I might prune it like this with the leaf terminal on the left.


After the pruning the look of the tree is much enhanced. All downward and upward pointing shoots are removed and the new growth has been cut back to two leaf pairs, keeping in mind the direction of the branch and future growth. This tree was not repotted this year to force smaller and more compact growth.


Posted March 16, 2014 by California Bonsai Art

2 responses to “Pruning Elm for Shape

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  1. Excellent explanation of how these things grow. I have several elms and a hornbeam that I am working with and hope to traing over the coming years. Thank you.

  2. Always appreciate how well you break it down, thanks again!

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