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"Members Choice" Kifu Elm Bonsai

"Members Choice" Kifu Elm Bonsai

Kifu Elm repotting show

If old bonsai trees could talk, I'm sure they'd have amazing stories to share of places they're been and the people who've cared for them. They can live for decades, if not hundreds of years, after all. Here is my chapter in the story of one Kifu Elm bonsai that I've loved for more than a decade. I bought it from the estate sale of a Bay Island Bonsai member who had been a serious enthusiast with a very good collection. He very well may have started the tree himself.

Elms aren't generally my favorite trees to grow, but I find their winter silhouettes very rewarding. When I bought the tree in 2007 it was in a large terra cotta container that was wide and about 6″ deep. It had two-foot long runners on it such that you could barely see anything. My first task was to cut the tree back and eliminate all the strong branching that was too large or stiff to use.

After cutting it back I repotted the tree into an intermediate container, and started over with the ramification process. You can see in the photo above that the secondary trunk on the left side is much taller. At some point I decided that I needed to shorten it to almost nothing and regrow the low branching on that side. There wasn’t anything wrong with the existing branches; they were just in the wrong place. The straight secondary trunk also didn’t visually compliment the curve of the primary trunk.

Interlude: I sold the elm to a friend in 2009, and I sincerely regretted it. Luckily this same friend sold it back to me a few years later. Reunited, and it felt so good!

By 2012 the tree had a pretty good canopy of fine branching on it, but there were still holes and the secondary trunk that makes up the low branching on the left side was lagging behind the apex in ramification.

By January 2014, the silhouette was really looking good but the lower left branch was still a bit thin. I repotted the tree into a very shallow container in 2013 that was the best that I had at the time, but I was still searching for a good show pot.

During the summer of 2014, the tree was growing alright (the price of a nice winter silhouette is that big green mop in the photo above for most of the year!) but it's tiny pot was definitely limiting the branch and root growth to a slower pace than when it was in a box. I was able to secure an old, but not antique pot that had a good patina on it and a really nice color glaze.

I brought the tree in its new pot to the 2015 Bay Island Bonsai show (photo at beginning of post). It was my favorite little deciduous tree in the display, and everyone else’s as well. The tree won the members’ choice award for best small (aka Kifu) deciduous tree.


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  • Kyler Serfass on

    Do you know what species of elm this is? I’m really into corky bark on elms (really all trees) but not sure which species I should go for.


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