Zelkova 016


Zelkova Bonsai. Just the name of the tree conjures up a traditional broom style trees with perfectly manicured branches, and ramification that would make any household broom envious.

Let’s look at some traditional Broom style Zelkova.

These styled trees have one thing in common. Perfection. Notice that all the branching emanates from one point on the trunk. The branching is kept compact at this union early on with a hose clamp or similar device so as not to make the trunk swell too much in that area. all the secondary trunks are of the same size. Tertiary branching from there is also kept around the same size within the halo of canopy.

This tree has a little more division at the point the secondary branching leaves the main trunk, but it is very compact there and still all the same size.

Now some trees that don’t exactly fit that mold. A little more expression. Not so by the book. While the previous trees are beautiful from an execution standpoint, these trees just seem to look more like trees. Not that pure execution is not beautiful, just beautiful in a different way.

I always wanted a nice zelkova Shohin for display. When using a box stand it pays to have as much variety as possible. Looking for material to start with is difficult or next to impossible. Many great zelkova are started from seed or liners. Control of everything can be watched from the beginning. I don’t really have the time to start one from liners so looking for a larger piece of material is a head start for me.

I purchased the Zelkova from Ed Clark on Saturday April 13. This tree is really rough. It has what I think are the bones to make a nice shohin, it’s just going to take some work.

The next day I take the tree from the pot and it is a solid brick of roots. Hard as concrete and almost impossibly root bound. There is no choice but to take a saw and cut away two thirds of the root mass. The tree was planted out in a colander to keep the new root ball small.

Some of the views around the plant.

Eleven days later on the 24th I had the emergence of the first shoots. It has pushed strong and I have no doubt that it is making roots as fast. At least now there is room!

The nice flare extends into the soil with a disk of wood that should look nice in a pot later. That reminds me, I need to be thinking about a pot. Like I need a reason for that…

19 days from the planting and the tree has a pretty good head of hair.

Let me take this opportunity to talk about pruning trees in my climate. I live in the middle of the California central valley in Fresno. We have a long growing season here, about 8 months. We have pretty cold winter, no ice or snow much, but it will freeze for long periods of time occasionally. Some may say, “hey, that sounds like a dream come true”. Well in some respects that true, and in some respects, it sucks. let me explain.

Spring starts here about Feb. 15. deciduous trees need to be repotted before that. Conifers can wait till after the deciduous. By the end of Feb. leaves are starting to show on my trees. Keep in mind that the daytime temps are only in the 50’s and we pray for no hard freezes. On my deciduous trees I begin my first prunings on about March 15. What!!

Most people will tell you or I’ve read that pruning should not take place until the leaves harden off. What! Who says this dribble? Well there are lots out there. First of all, don’t believe everything you read. No one knows how your trees will grow unless they live next door. Second, one will never learn what you can do unless you experiment and see what will do what and when.

I am very picky about what I grow. I grow what thrives here for me. Japanese maples do well here but don’t thrive like they would on the coast. Trident maples really love our desert like climate, as well as zelkova, elms, pyracantha, quince, and olives. These are the kinds of trees I keep because they respond well to the treatment I give them and what I expect out of them in a growing season.

I start pruning off the fresh growth when it reaches about 6 to 8 pairs of leaves. The stems are really limp, the leaves are really soft. I have a long growing season but a short window of opportunity to improve things. Improve things like internodes, twiggyness, branch development, and canopy shape. How I control these things is by taking the tree back hard in the winter and when it sprouts I continue to hedge the new growth off during the spring push. The tree has no idea what is going on, and as far as it knows, a cow or deer is munching away at the top and it must survive so it does so with lots of vigor.

If I did this all year I would weaken the tree severely. I don’t. Why? because I have my climate figured out. My spring lasts from about Feb. 15 to about June 1. If I don’t get all my work done in that time frame, I don’t do much after that.Why? because then the summer heat sets in and the plant shuts down. Summer heat with maybe 102 for weeks on end. No relief in site. It is not until about Sept. 1 that we see a second spring and one can work a little on a tree.

So my secret is to continually prune new growth from Feb. 15 till June 1 and then stop. That is how I develop canopies on trees in five years. We will watch and see how I do with this one.

So today, May 2, I cut back all the foliage to two leaves. The first internode. It is there I wish the next divisions to start. the canopy on this tree will only be about two inches larger than it is now. I have a lot of secondaries to build and figure out how to fit tertiaries in that distance.

Repotting for 2020

Pot by April Grigsby.


Posted May 2, 2019 by California Bonsai Art

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