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  • Writer's picturepeacelovebonsai

Bonsai Progression - The Chainsaw Elm

Welcome back to another installment of #ProgressionThursday, where I take you through a progression of one of the trees in my garden. Just like last week's progression, this is an elm with humble beginnings. If memory serves, this was a seedling from Arbor Day, which is a great place for cheap seedlings.

My hope for the PLB readers is that you learn from the mistakes I've made over the years. And ohhh boy, did I make some mistakes with this tree. Early on, in 2016, I was in the ground-growing phase of my bonsai journey. I was interested in *nebari techniques. I had read that placing trees on/or in plates, tiles, etc would allow for the growth of bad-ass nebari. So, I purchased some plates and placed a few trees in the ground. There was only one problem...

*Nebari - A Japanese term referring to the root flare. A very important aspect of bonsai, as it provides balance and sense of age to a tree.

Don't use these, ok?

Why am I wearing a glove?

The plates were made of plastic. Trees are very strong and they will grow just about anywhere. Including around a plastic plate. My recommendation, if you're choosing to grow a nebari through a hole, use a stronger material, preferably a ceramic tile or a washer.

I put this tree in the ground in the spring of 2016 and didn't touch it until last summer, when I moved to Nashville. At that time, I cut the top to try and create a broom style and pulled it from the ground. It was only then that I began to see the issues I would have with this tree.

Spring 2021

The roots grew out of the pond basket and into the plastic plate.

Chinese Elm Bonsai roots
Big roots everywhere!

Bonsai nebari growing into plastic
Plastic no good for nebari techniques

Probably the biggest issue, though, was the root growing below the plate. It was huuuuuuge! Here's a tip for you new ground-growers. If you're gonna grow Chinese elms in the ground, pull them out every other year and do some root work. They are such strong growers that you will lose control of the tree and the roots. And before you know it, you will have a huge bulbous root growing below the soil line like I did.

Big root of elm bonsai
Big ol' root

I tried using a small saw and varies root cutters, but this root was just too big and gnarly. So, I brought in the big guns. See the video below.

That's right, I took a chainsaw to it! And to be fair, it worked quite well. Now, before you go pulling out a chainsaw on your trees, be sure you have the tree secured and that you know your way around the tool. In this case, the cut was pretty straight forward and I was able to secure the tree into a vice on my workbench.

As you can see, the root I cut was large. By using the chainsaw I was able to create a flat bottom which allowed me to get the tree into this nice Forest Inn round pot.

Elm - After Repot - Spring of 2021

Being that it's an elm, it responded very well to the chainsaw. Not many trees could take that sort of abuse. As you can see, the growth this spring has been strong. Now I can focus on creating a broom style

Summer - 2021

5 Year Progression - 2016-2021

So, what do you think? Do you like the white pot? How about that chainsaw, ever used one in your bonsai journey? Be sure to leave me your comments below and subscribe to the blog for future updates on trees and bonsai from my garden. See ya next time, Peace Love Bonsai!

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