Started in a construction skip

By September 5, 2017 No Comments


Since I have been in bonsai, I am kept an open eye at construction sites for any unwanted pieces of trees or shrubs. The idea is that these unwanted trees might be the start of a bonsai tree.  This is what we will be discussing in today’s blog:  A bonsai that started from a construction skip.

Started in a skip

Two years ago, in January 2015, I was passing by a construction site and noticed a large branch of an olive tree in a close by skip. This is not the first time I managed to encounter such an opportunity, so I am always carrying in my car, a wood trimming saw.

  1. Cut the branch to fit in my car and drove to my bonsai garden where I quickly prepared a pot and some soil.
  2. Selected the part that has some movements, while envisioning an initial bonsai style.
  3. With a sharp knife, prepared the trunk to reveal the cambium layer, added rooting hormone to encourage roots to emerge.
  4. Placed the trunk on a bed of soil, a mixture of compost and pumice and tighten it with a wire to the pot to prevent the newly emerged roots to be damaged by any wind movements of the stump.
  5. Filled the pot with more soil.

  1. Watered thoroughly and closed the pot in a large transparent plastic bag to create a green house effect, and placed it in a shady area.
  2. Once I saw new buds emerging, I removed the plastic bag and started to introduce it to full sunlight slowly.
  3. The new buds did not guarantee that roots started to emerge, they might came out from the energy in the stump. The more buds were emerging and the longer they grew, showed that roots stared to emerge too. If not, the new buds would dry out after few weeks. By the time the pot was in full sunlight, the buds were growing longer and thicker. Watering, fertilizer and full sunlight helped the tree to become more vigourous.

The beginning of a pre bonsai

Started by having a good look of this tree and noticed some defects.  I had to design a way how to eliminate or cover all these defects.  The more defects removed the better looking bonsai, because apart from a personal style, bonsai should follow some important rules.

  1. A slight reverse taper
  2. A straight and parallel upper trunk
  3. Three long and straight dead branches that I kept from day one.
  4. A new branch that was growing from the nebari point.

To help me in styling a nice bonsai, I looked for the best front possible to bring out the trunk and making the proper use of the already established branches.

This sketch showed me how big my bonsai will be and how to achieve the taper in the trunk.
  1. Once I was happy with the sketch, started working on the tree itself by removing the lower deadwood branch that was protruding towards the viewer’s eyes.

Removing the dead branch using a sharp and thin saw.
  1. After removing the dead branch, I hollowed inside the trunk to create depth to the trunk using an electric tool with a carbide cutter.
  2. When working with an electric tool, one has to be very careful.
  3. Appropriate safety wear is recommended.

The first stage in hollowing the trunk.
  1. Now that the dead branch was eliminated and to protect the branch, I covered the branches with raffia before wiring.
  2. Then wired and positioned the first branch using a thick coper wire.
  3. This way, I was having a clearer view of the overall look.

Use the appropriate size of wire.
  1. I repeated the raffia and the wiring on the second branch.
  2. By doing so, I cleared the way to continue working with the electric tools.
  3. Now that I had more access to the trunk, Continued hollowing the trunk and cleaned around the hole.
  4. I also reduced the size ot the second deadwood branch.



More depth to and around the hollowed trunk area.
  1. After wiring the back branch and part of the apex, a prominent straight upper trunk was more visible.
  2. In my sketch I indicated that this part of trunk needs to be eliminated, so carefully selected the area to be removed.

The straight upper trunk to be removed to reduce the overall height of the tree.

In the paragraph were I pointed the defects that were visible in the tree, I noticed a live branch that was growing from the nebari.  Now that the tree has a clear visual, I decided to remove this branch:

  1. The branch was growing from the nebari area, against the rules of bonsai.
  2. While the main trunk has a very nice texture showing old age, the new branch has a greenish young looking bark.
  3. It was not working properly with the overall style of the new bonsai.

The removal of a young branch growing at the nebari.
  1. Using a large wood saw, I started to saw away the unwanted straight part of the upper trunk.
  2. A sharp wood saw was used to reduce damage to the roots.
  3. Attention was given to the surroundings live branches and the dead wood branch.

Removing of the straight upper trunk.

A clear view of the overall tree.
  1. To make the cut look more natural, I once again used the electric tools to give it an attractive twist, makeing it to look old an movimental.
  2. I also cleaned the bark to enhance the ‘shari’.  I also added some more details on the hollowed part of the trunk.

The initial part to create an interesting Shari

More details on the deadwood.
  1. The next step was the wioring and positiong of the branches that forms the apex.

A top view of the overall tree.

Frontal view of the work done so far.

I named this new bonsai olive tree: Piccola Sorella

In memory of my belated youngest sister who recently passed away.

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Martin Abela

Author Martin Abela

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