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Studio Stories – Cork Bark Elm…Salvage Operation

Sometimes I work on nursery trees, sometimes I work on client’s trees……and sometimes if I’ve been really good I get to work on my own trees. Hopefully these regular visits will give you an insight into what goes on behind closed doors……….

Studio Stories – Cork Bark Elm…Salvage Operation

This Cork Bark Elm was acquired in a batch of trees in 2007. It had originated in Japan and had clearly seen better days. Over the years it had obviously lost several major branches, their former positions now clearly marked with dead stumps.

In it’s prime this had been an impressive tree but sadly it would now be difficult to sell even at a reduced price.


Two years passed by and as expected the tree was still for sale. So in March 2009 I decided to implement drastic measures to try and salvage our investment in this tree. I decided to try and have several sound smaller more saleable trees rather than the one large damaged tree.


Having identified three potential air layers they were ring barked at the appropriate points where I wanted to create new root systems.

The cambium layer was removed in these areas and then they were treated with a rooting hormone. The stripped areas were then covered with sphagnum moss and wrapped in clear plastic which was further covered with a black plastic bag.


On the 3rd July the outer black plastic was removed and strong new roots were clearly visible in all three plastic bags.






All three air layers were removed and potted into terracotta training pots using a compost of chopped sphagnum moss mixed with akadama.











In March 2010 the stump of the original tree was pruned back and repotted at a more appropriate angle into a terracotta training pot. The compost used was 3 parts akadama to 1 part bims (a river gravel from Germany).






In February 2011 the potted air layers had put on plenty of growth and roots so they were repotted into bonsai pots. You can see what remains of the stump where they were cut from the tree.











The first two smaller air layers have now been sold so some money has been reclaimed on our investment.

The third air layer has been retained for further refinement. The long extension on the branch to the rear is to help fatten it up. This tree has really excellent potential to make a very good mature shohin bonsai.

The original stump has also been further refined and this week the planting angle was adjusted some more when the tree was repotted into a bonsai pot. This tree can make a powerful small stocky bonsai with deadwood that could be hollowed out if required.






I feel this salvage operation has been really worthwhile. The tree as it was could never have been returned to it’s former glory and would probably never have sold in the condition it was in. I have been able to create 4 nice saleable trees from the material…..two have been sold and potentially the best two remain. I may even finish up making a profit on the project but more importantly a proud old tree can now hold it’s head up high again (………in more than one place and at the same time…… that’s magic!!! )