Time to repot this old boy.
Ever since the last time I repotted this elm I’ve not been very satisfied with the orientation in the pot that the tree has had.
It’s an impressive trunk but overall its boring to look at. Time for a change.




This was a landscape tree that toppled when we had the three hurricanes years ago.
I said to the owner “Hey, want me to get rid of that for you?”
They said “Sure!”
And I had a tree.
There is a serendipitous twist.
When I collected it, I put it straight into a ceramic bonsai pot. I had it sitting in the shade of an 80 year old orange tree.
The State of Florida, in its wisdom, decided that year to try to eradicate a disease affecting the citrus family called “Citrus Canker”. The disease does not affect the taste or health of the fruit or the tree. It just makes the fruit ugly.
The Dept. of Agriculture set up a program to remove affected trees and those orange trees within a certain mile radius. My trees were not affected. I was within that “Zone of Doom”
Anyway, my newly collected elm was under this orange tree. The foreman of the tree removal company was supposed to call me when they came to remove the trees so I could move my bonsai. They did not. And they brutishly picked up my poor elm by the trunk and unpotted it. This resulted in Death the roots on the one side and causing the trunk damage you see.
The State paid for all of the orange trees they took (they might have over-counted actually, I think I know who to thank for that too) and I think the elm tree is a better bonsai for it.

Clean up first!
Lets collect the moss.

Gently, delicately, I remove the moss so I can use it again. I am in a desperate need of moss my friends. I need about a square yard (meter) of moss for my tree and my friend David’s tree for our submissions into the Epcot Flower and Garden show this year. A lot of moss. I’m at a loss for moss…..sorry, I know. Bad boy Adam.

I put it to the side and weed it.

And put it on a tray to grow. I use the fine siftings from my soil making process as a growing media.

I clean the trunk using a plastic bristled brush (I’m not allowed near my wife’s toothbrushes anymore. I think she hides them. Or maybe she’s stopped brushing, I don’t know)

It is February in Florida. Those leaves are last years leaves (I think they should be called leafs until they fall of the tree and then we can call them leaves. After they’ve left. Like meteors and meteorites) . The normal technique when taking care of deciduous trees is to remove the old leaves in the winter.
Being in Florida, it’s sometimes not a good thing to do this as it will (if you’re ham-fisted like me, I mean, look at that hand! Imagine a backhand with that paw. Ask my sister about “The Incident”. ) cause the tree to break dormancy. Especially on a chinese elm. And then there will be a freeze and burn all the new foliage. And weaken the tree by using up energy etc etc.
We are the stewards to these trees. They can’t move or escape and we water and fertilize and direct the growth, so it our responsibility to ensure their health. Be respectful and learn how the trees you take care of grow.

Since this winter is just about done here, I’ve defoliated it ( be careful not to disturb the latent buds just at the crotch of the petiole and the branch. If you rip off the bud you get no leaf).

I have a feeling that this branch will not make it. Last year I had another elm that had some significant dieback on the twigs and bigger branches. That one I put in a bigger training pot with good bonsai soil and there was no dead branches this year. I believe the problem is and was drainage.

Looking at the roots, even though they are not diseased, there aren’t a lot of them. If a tree doesn’t have to go far to get water, the roots won’t grow. If the roots don’t grow, the top doesn’t grow. And this tree didn’t grow much last year. Whereas that other elm grew about 2 feet, all over.
Being in a shallow bonsai pot actually impedes drainage (paradoxically it seems. But it’s true. That’s why our soil is so coarse and drains so well.). So therefore the solution (hopefully) is to use a mix that holds less water.

Before I pot it up I’ll clean up some of the deadwood. This is the wood under the soil. Pretty punky.
Using a brass brush I’ll clean the deadwood.


Watch this for proper technique.


When you are cleaning the wood, if you catch (lightly) the leading edge of the living bark you will “excite” it just enough to keep it growing and viable. Just lightly though.

Here is a detail of the deadwood. The question that’s going through your head is “Why isn’t it bleached white?”
Dead wood on elms tend to turn black naturally. I might use some lime sulfur with some India ink added on it later. But now it looks ok. It will eventually rot away, being a hard wood ( that seems strange too, hardwoods rot faster than softwoods. It has to do with the amount of resin in it, which is little. ) but not too soon I hope. The hollow does drain out of the bottom so that will aid in the “not-rottingness” factor.

So the mix I’m using has no red lava in it; I’m substituting expanded shale. Lava will hold water more (causing less root growth) and I believe that’s contributing to my dieback problem. I also added DE granules (the white particles) for extra cation exchange capacity.

20130208-080047.jpg I made sure that the soil level is just beneath the lower lip of the deadwood. Just to keep the moisture away.

All the green stuff is lichen. It looks cool and adds age and it won’t hurt the tree but it won’t allow the sun to hit the bark and stimulate new bud growth. Clean it off where you want new growth.

Here’s the side.
After a light trim to get the juices flowing

The back.

And the new front. I think it gives it more dynamic movement that fits with the story of the tree better. It’s more dramatic.

The taper is better and the deadwood hollow is more coy and coquettish. It’s like a the Dance of the Fans instead of the January centerfold of Hustler (Have you seen it yet? ¡ Ai chihuahua !) .
You have to look closer and longer at the tree to see the more titillating details.
At least I think so.
No wire on this tree now. It’s style is more of a broom/deciduous upright style. Very natural. When it comes time to show it ill detail wire it a little but now I just want growth.

Now here’s an update.
Remember this maple?

Well, it’s officially spring in Orlando. Sorry New England. Get your snow shovels ready.


click me!

4 thoughts

  1. What a great story. That little tree has survived so much, Florida hurricanes, the negligence of a non-graceful construction worker. Very lovely to look at.

    “If a tree doesn’t have to go far to get water, the roots won’t grow. If the roots don’t grow, the top doesn’t grow.” – I’ve never considered that but it completely makes sense! Size exclusion = water migration. Thank you!


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