Shaping a Yew Bonsai

Running a bonsai nursery has it’s advantages, because I often get trees that have been grown by customers for many years. This is an English yew, It’s in a lovely pot, and we can see the customer has made some attempt at carving. From what I can see he’s been trying to make it into a semi cascade tree. It’s a very old tree, and I think the customer has been training the tree for around 20 or 30 years. If you look closely at the tree the so called ‘cascade’ part is very straight, so it’s not actually cascading.
shaping yew bonsai
bonsai cascade
There are many ways you can deal with this, one way is to tilt the tree.
titled yew bonsai
I think what I dislike about this bonsai is that you can’t see the branch structure, the interesting trunk is visible but the branch is hidden. Very often with trees like this, it’s not just a case of wiring the branches out, but some radical action is required. One option is to make it cascade more, but bending this trunk would be impossible, because it is so thick and old. Instead I’ve cracked the branch so it is bending a little more, to create more of a cascade. I’ve also begun to remove a lot of foliage to thin out the branch and make it more visible.
bonsai with semi cascade
As you can see I’ve already removed more than half of the foliage now, in an attempt to get a cascade.

After standing back and taking a look, I don’t think it’s very exciting.

I think the tree should be made smaller. At the moment, I feel the beauty of the tree trunk is becoming lost in the overall design. Usually if you want to make the trunk a strong feature with a sort of ‘large and old’ effect, you should have thin branches and the tree should be small.
english yew bonsai tree
This triple fork branch isn’t doing anything for the trees overall look, so I’m going to use a bag to see what the tree would look like without it.
triple fork branch on english yew bonsai
bag placed over bonsai branch
Just like that we have a small tree! I think it looks much more in scale, and so I’ve made my mind up.
bonsai with bag over branch
Now I can wire the individual branches and get rid of the rest of the tree. Before I take away too much of the tree, I want to make sure I leave enough branch in case I want to make Jins. If I don’t like the jins later I can always remove them completely.
removing branches of yew bonsai
I concentrate on the main part and do some quick wiring to try and establish more of a shape.
wiring bonsai tree
Now I’ve removed about 70% of the original tree. There’s now just one side branch as the new apex.
shaping yew bonsai
yew bonsai apex
At this stage I’m still troubled by the leftover branch, I’ll either cut the branch of completely or just make a short, single jin. I don’t want to make a jin just for the sake of it, and I don’t feel as though if I were to cut the trident fork branches as a jin, it would do anything for the tree.
trident branch on yew bonsai
When doing a jin, you wan’t to make a sloping cut, which I’ve done upwards here.
cutting bonsai branch
With my jin plyers I curled away the bark. I then narrow the jin a little more by splitting it. I actually remember writing about this in my first and second books, which I wrote around 34 years ago!
cutting yew bonsai branch
makling bonsai jin
Now I want to refine the tree, and make a little curve within the branches. I’m going to take my time wiring it over the next couple of hours and put it into a new pot. The pot the tree in now is lovely, but it no longer suits the tree.

As you can see the roots are very earthy.
bonsai tree roots
There is now lots of movement in the tree, whereas before there was none.
yew bonsai
I’ve now got to the stage where I can do a bit of wiring to create the ultimate desired shape, but I still need to decide which side I will use as the front. The way I decide on the front is usually down to interest of the trunk line. If the trunk is very stiff and uninteresting then I don’t use that.

A lot of people would focus on the jin, however I find it much too straight, even with carving, I don’t believe the result will be very good, so I want to hide it at the back.

There is a very interesting trunk line here, you can see below it has quite a nice ‘S’ shape, so I think I’ll focus on that. Even the root is interesting, and we can do more carving to enhance it.
yew bonsai
I also found this to be a fairly nice front, however we loose the beauty of the carving that was done by the original owner.
yew bonsai
This front dosen’t really have anything to offer.
yew bonsai
So we come back to the original, lovely ‘S’ shape.
yew bonsai
Tip: When creating a bonsai, I find that it’s quite useful every now and then to pause and take a picture. The picture gives you a much better impression than simply looking with your eyes.

Now I’ve determined the front, I’ll do a little more wiring, and trimming. Yews are very prolific so don’t be too afraid to cut your bonsai, it will soon grow again. At this stage I’m not doing any refined wiring, I’m simply using the wiring to guide the branches to grow in the way I want them.
bonsai wiring
trimming bonsai
You can see I’ve now removed around 90% of the original branches and foliage. This just goes to show, If you’re unhappy with your bonsai, and want to change the way it looks you need to be really bold in your decision making. You could end up with something that looks much nicer.
yew bonsai foliage
Here is quite a thick root, and I don’t think it will fit the pot I want to put the bonsai in, so I’ll remove that.
bonsai root
bonsai root cutting
Now I can put it in a shallower pot.

I have several options for the tree’s position in this pot. This will only be a temporary pot, I will re-pot the bonsai in around a year.

This is one possibility, having it lean over to one side. This root is quite interesting, not everyone may like it, but to my mind it’s quite an interesting root, so I want to leave it. I don’t like this positioning however as I think it looks rather unstable.
putting bonsai into pot
If I move it to sit as my original design, the root I like is quite prominent and the tree is more upright. The tree also looks more balanced, so I'll stick with that.
potting yew bonsai
I’ve potted the tree and covered it with some sphagnum moss. I like to use sphagnum moss to keep the soil a bit damp, but not over wet.

Although the tree looks a bit full and a little more refining is needed, I’m in no rush to do it as it’s better to let the tree establish before taking on the more intricate work. The root which was sticking out is not too prominent either.
potted yew bonsai
yew bonsai before and after
Shaping a Yew Bonsai