Western Hemlock: Radical Evolutionary Transformation [Bonsai]

in bonsai •  2 months ago  (edited)


In this article, watch as I transform a bushy young tree without much form into a delicately shaped bonsai style.

Each stage of the transformation will be aided by my illustrations. With the tree trimmed, we'll see how this affects the shape.

For the extra mile, I even wired the tree in the end. This altered several key branch details. The end result shown in the last illustrated example highlights the impact these details do to enhance the value of the design.

Historical Information

ID: 0030
Nickname: ??? (Unnamed)
Type: Western Hemlock
Age: 2 years, or so
Grown: bare-root (from nursery stock)
Last repotting: February 2, 2019
Last Wired: May 28, 2019 (as shown below)

Front View - Illustrated


This tree started pushing out new growth from the buds very rapidly over the past two months. There has been a lot of warmth, then heavy rains recently. Lately, it is becoming scalding hot at the end of May.

The tree has become so bushy that the branches are fighting for space to find sunlight in every possible location.

The tree is ready for its first trimming of the year.

Side View


From the side view, the width of the tree is well balanced. Branches are reaching out evenly on both sides of the trunk.

Not all my trees do this so naturally. This species backbuds so well and loves to spread in thick layers. Not every tree is as easy as this one to create big full branches everywhere covered in dense green growth.

There are various rogue branches spreading out beyond the space of the others, escaping the boundaries of the tiny, tidy branches. I'll be shortening these longest ones, no doubt.

Top View


From above, I honestly cannot recall which way this tree was oriented under the camera. I'm guessing this is the same left side as shown in the front view, but I'm not certain. With so much of the shape of the tree below a mystery at this angle, this is problematic.

Notice the primary branches of the tree are almost completely hidden. The trunk is not visible at all. Many of the new needle stems are concealing entire layers of healthy green needles below.

Without some intervention on my part, needles hidden underneath will eventually suffer from lack of sunlight, turn brown, and fall off. With some smart trimming, I can help keep needles on the short, lower limbs healthier so they last longer.

Front View - Trimmed


Three strategies were used to clean up the design of this tree.

First I plucked off needles and buds growing on the nooks between branches and stems. The thicker woody branches were completely stripped of all needles. This helped make branch divisions more visible. The structure of the tree becomes more evident.

Secondly, I thinned. Mostly, thinning is removal of distracting weak branches. Any new stems growing on the primary branches within a centimeter of the trunk were shaved off. They were mostly invading to take over upper branches anyway. Stems headed downward, towards the trunk, or intersecting other stems could be removed. In a few cases, I allowed awkwardly positioned stems to remain if I felt like they could be wired into a nearby space where they might be helpful to fill out a branch pad.

Large trident shaped branch divisions were also thinned down into Y-shaped divisions. Branches growing in close parallel are sometimes thinned off, to allow for proportional spacing. I prefer to see side stems growing in alternating directions from a branch, with space to flow through on the opposite side.

This all reveals more of the structure tree structure. Space under the bottom edge of the new growth takes on a cleaner, horizontal line.

Lastly, I shortened the length of nearly every new branch stem. Western Hemlock tolerates this heavy pinching better than most trees. With each of stem reduced to about an inch in size, the tree will be forced to stop extending the stems, and focus on building new buds to grow new stems from.

Pinching is done with fingers. One stem at a time, I am able to redefine the branch pads to make a smoother shape around the tree. A single conglomerate mass of green needles begins to look more like separated, organized groups of needles.

Usually I work on the lowest limbs first, then slowly progress upwards to the top. This way I define the full width of the tree first from the base, and slowly shrink the width of the tree as I move to higher branches. A cone shape of a tree looks best when both slopes are somewhat similar angles.

Front View - Trimmed, Illustrated


The tree has a clear low set of branches, a middle section, and an upward balcony of branches.

There seems to be a odd gangplank branch on the far left end that cannot be fixed today with trimming. To me, it draws too much attention. I don't like the cracked void above it, which makes the tree top look incomplete.

One of my future considerations is to possibly hard prunning the entire upper third of the tree off. I very much like the bend of the trunk as it changes direction into the middle branch. It might make a good zig-zag trunk.

This might be a personal style starting to become evident in many of my bonsai tree designs. Perhaps I prefer trees to show a sudden lifestyle change. The tree has learned from a past mistake, and wants to find the sun by growing away from the past, and moving towards a better future.

For today, the upper portion of the tree will remain. When the season ends, and the air starts to freeze, the sap will slow down. That will be much better time of year to make any major pruning choices, such as cutting off the entire upper trunk.

Side View - Trimmed


The tiered branches are becoming much more evident after the tree has been trimmed.

As the ancient bonsai wisdom goes...

"A bird should be able to easily fly through the tree".

The elbow of the trunk is much more distinctive, pointing into the void. After that elbow is also about where I think the trunk should might best be hard pruned to create the zig-zag design.

A ladder from one branch to the next is now visible. Each new level jumps across to the other side of the central trunk.

Pads have a clear bottom edge and a top dome made up of many small stems of young needles. Any new growth is going to be forced to sprout from slight voids between those pads.

Top View - Trimmed


In the trimmed tree, the trunk is now visible. Spaces have opened up. Notice many interesting details of branches dividing into smaller and smaller ones.

Green growth from each primary branch is more clearly defined from the other primary branches.

Front View - Wired


Each of the primary branches have been wrapped in wire.

The angle of some of the branches have been completely reworked. More of them that were previously headed directly forward (derogatorily called eye-pokers by some masters) are now aimed to head more leftward, under the curved trunk.

With wires, two whole twists around the trunk is key, to help make sure the wire does not slip before it is coiled around the fragile branches. It is okay to use the same wire to attach different branches as long as there are two full coils around the trunk between.

The thinnest wire I have was used to train the direction of the thinnest branches. Generally, I avoid wiring the new delicate stems, because it is still green, soft, and easy to break. However, I have a cheat for that. By folding the thin wire back over on itself on the ends, you can form a paper clip shape to gently grip green stems into a supportive direction.

Woody, thin branches only need gentle support to help them head upward into the branch pads in a few cases. Keep the coils on woody branches fully touching the wood without air space, to prevent the wind from knocking them loose. I usually only wire these smallest branches when they are covering other branches, or need to be neatly nudged out of the way.

As best I could, I attempted to create rows of green growth. I've seen this in other examples of bonsai Mountain Hemlock, and I think it magnifies the ethereal nature of the tree. The needles and tiny branches look like they are floating in mid-air on an ancient bonsai tree. It adds a sense of depth when you can see through the blinds of the lace-like exterior.

Front View - Wired, Illustrated


The top of the tree is starting to grow on me!

With so many of the lower branches placed into newly ideal directions, the top seems to have a more connected purpose.

Middle branches are completing an overall shape together, yet without needing to be in direct contact. This is going to help the tree become more disease resistant. More airflow and sunlight to the branches is a always good thing.

Notice the waterfall effect spilling out from the top, off of the hanging branches. In the silhouette, this slight exaggeration of a new direction to the problematic overgrowth of crowded branches formed a unique floating sky branch.

Yikes, that last sentence was a mouthful. Anyone with working eyes can see what I am describing.

Top View - Wired


Looking from the top it is easy to view the avenues made with the wires.

Illustrated Progression


From left to right, I made this little comic strip to show how the tree evolved from beginning, to trimmed, to wire styled.

Do you like the final results? Let me know your impressions in the comments below. I always enjoy knowing what sort of inspiration people draw from my little tree creations.


More @creativetruth articles displaying this tree:

Photos in this post are all #originalworks by @creativetruth, unless stated otherwise.

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#hemlock #western-hemlock #conifer #branch #branches #trunk #green #bonsai-wiring #bonsai-pruning #bonsai-pinching #evolution #silhouette #diy #backbudding #spring


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Your bonsai always amaze me. Do you find it quite a meditative experience?

Not so much, because I retain full awareness, just as when I work in the garden. Very calming though.

Stress can sometimes occur when I am rescuing a tree or plant, usually from human interference like breaking a limb or knocking over a potted tree and spilling out the soil. This happened a lot the first few years.

A lot of people enjoy meditation in bonsai gardens though. Surrounding themselves with the little trees or using them as focal point can better channel thoughts and help the body to relax.

Manually curated by brumest from the Qurator Team. Keep up the good work!

It looks nice for forming into a bonsai @creativetruth and a hibbyist like you will really determine how it will look years from now :D

I thought it looked fabulous after being trimmed. Wasn't sure how it could look even better, but indeed it does. The wiring gave it more definition. Would love the opportunity to watch the wiring process.

Funny story about the wiring. Had to wait for the sun to set because it was so hot that day. It actually felt nice and cool to work outside on the tree in the evening shade. Then I had to battle mosquitoes. Having to wave my hand around to shoo them away made wiring really slow. Good thing I didn't rip off any branches from my sudden hand movements.