A middle-sized bonsai pre-worked. This is the early stages of a Zelkova serrata I have been growing in the ground for some years to mature. Last year it was potted into a container, and now it is time to start some early stages of work.
Making use of sacrifice branches is an important technique to achieve a mature looking tree using young or container grown plants. Last year the top was reduced, and new branches are forming a new canopy over time. This work is steady and requires a little pruning now and then to form a dense ramification. What the tree misses is mature and thicker branches at the lowest point of the trunk, in order to reassemble a larger tree in nature.
All older trees, with few exceptions, will have thick branches at the lowest point of the tree, being thinner the closer to the top you get. Simply because the lowest branches have been growing a much longer time than the top branches, and because it visually looks so when we stand on the ground and look up at a mature old tree. This must be reproduced visually in a bonsai to make it look naturally.
Sacrifice branches are branches that are left to grow freely in a long time, in order to thicken. When the purpose of thickening the branch is fulfilled, it is cut back severely to be formed as a refined normal branch. Therefore the expression “sacrifice” branch. Like the top branches earlier reduced helped thickening the trunk together with the roots growing freely in the ground. The technique is the same at larger trees, as it is with small shohin sized bonsai.
For some time the tree will look a bit odd, with these long branches growing wildly. But it has it’s purpose, and trees in training stages, or between exhibitions, should not look pruned and neat all the time. Trees and plants needs to grow in order to stay healthy.
Maybe we could also talk about sacrifice roots, because when the roots have been growing freely in the ground they are cut back after they helped the tree to grow faster and fattening the trunk (together with freely growing branches).
The lowest branches on this Zelkova needs a lot of growth to fatten and therefore they are left to grow without any kind of pruning the next years. Together with a good feeding regime, a nice tree should emerge within the next ten to fifteen years.