Zelkova

Here is a project I’ve been working on since ’06 and it’s re-development is at about the halfway point. This is a Zelkova that belonged to a friend, given to him from another friend, who styled it with Ben Oki in the 80s or 90s. Neither of them were satisfied with how the tree looked, but since it had been a bonsai for a relatively long time, it became difficult to do the work that needed to be done: chop everything that “didn’t work” and start over.

In March of ’06, my buddy decided he’d had enough of the tree, and gave it to me to do whatever I wanted to it, but he would always have first right of refusal if I ever wanted to get rid of it. I also bet him that I would have it ready to show in 5 years.

Here is the material. The trunk is 3″ in diameter at the widest point. At the time, it was about 36″ tall, but styled into a slant.

The problems with the tree included:
1. It’s an old tree, and not very strong. Parts of the trunk were no longer alive.
2. It was tall, lanky, and styled in an awkward slant; not becoming to a Zelkova.
3. Lots of dead areas in the trunk.
4. Bad nebari, and a small, weak root system.

Positive notes:
1. Great bark.
2. Mature trunk.
3. It could likely be reinvigorated.

The leader, along with everything else was allowed to grow. Here are shots from summer ’08, and fall, ’08. It grew to about 48″ wide, and the main branches and new leader were starting to thicken up:

For the 2010 growing season, the Zelkova was pinched constantly, every time a shoot appeared with 5 leaves, it was cut back to 2 leaves. The goal was to develop enough material to prune and wire over the winter.

The amazing thing this year was that the more I pinched it, the more it grew. The vigor this year was crazy. It seemed that each time I went outside I would find new shoots. Unfortunately, nothing new appeared on the right side of the trunk.

In winter ’10, I pruned and wired most every shoot on the tree. The grafted branch is still unwired, so it’s a little awkward, but the tree is starting to take shape.


It still has very few branches on the right side, and maybe growing it all year with the right side facing South will help. If it doesn’t improve, I may end up changing the back to the front, and reducing it to about 12″ tall and utilizing a great back branch as the new leader. I’m not ready to commit to that idea yet, but the option is still available…

Repotted in 2011:

After 2 defoliations and regular pinching in 2011, here is the branching structure in the winter of 2011:

It was not repotted in ’12, and grew nicely:

Defoliated in Mid-April:

A couple weeks later, it’s nearly full again. Although the first defoliation was pretty early, our spring hit early, and the goal was to time the defoliation so it would be ready to show at the ABS Spring show. My bet was it would be showable in 5 years. It took 6..but I’m not giving it back ;-)…

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2 thoughts on “Zelkova

  1. Pingback: Zelkova follow up | Nebari Bonsai

  2. Pingback: Zelkova, continued | Nebari Bonsai

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