Yew can do it

A simple yew can be made into a stunning small bonsai in just a few steps. Michael Tran of Minoru bonsai guides you step by step in how to create a bonsai from a yew.

Yews are a very robust and a great species for bonsai. Their hard wood makes them perfect for jin and shari techniques, which
contrast well with the red bark and the fresh green of the foliage. The young shoots are easy to bend and very quickly grow dense and strong. It will be interesting to follow its further development . . .

The raw yew with plenty of shoots and possibilities

Analysis and reduction

As expected of a yew this one has plenty of new shoots and a formidable little trunk. The tapering can be much improved by shortening the tree, which will also help to improve its proportions.

Cutting off the top leaves a big stump; this is worked into a jin with hand tools. It is very important to create a fluent and natural transition between the deadwood and the living parts. This can only be achieved by using hand tools and keeping a careful eye on the life veins.

Several of the plentiful young shoots can be cut away in order to create more open spaces — it’s essential for the design, lets the sun in and encourages the branches to grow.

I remove the heavy top and it improves tapering and proportions
I am holding a well developed side branch, which can be used to form the new top
The stump is split to create a so-called tenjin or top jin
A trunk splitter is used to remove larger parts of the deadwood
Helped by jin pliers, flints of wood are pulled out. This gives more detailed structure to the deadwood
Using concave pliers, create an image of a tree struck by lightning. It is essential to achieve a natural look between the deadwood and the living parts
Another big branch is removed; it’s too thick and dominant, distracting from the fine proportions of the trunk.
I also create space for younger shoots to develop

Wiring and styling

Wiring the Taxus is easy once you have removed the older needles. The shoots are very flexible and easy to bend. When wiring, take great care of the retained needles because the wire is placed between them.

Bending the branches of yew is really easy; although their wood is hard, the branches are not brittle and can be shaped by applying some gentle force.

Combine one wire with two branches, using the trunk as an anchoring point
Go all the way to the tip with the main wire
Continue wiring the fine shoots with wire, in this case 1mm aluminium; carefully manoeuvre the wire between the needles
The yew is very easy to bend and does not break easily
Working on the top branch: young shoots should be arranged carefully

Repotting

I prefer to repot the tree in spring just before it starts to bud so that it benefits from the coming growing season. The yew was cultivated in a fine hard pumice planting medium. The root system is very healthy and strong, so repotting can be undertaken at the same time as styling. Since the foliage of the tree was heavily reduced by cutting the top and a lot of small branches, the big root system can also be reduced to make the tree fit into a suitable pot.

Different types of pot can be used for this tree, as can be seen in the pictures on the opposite page. There is still plenty of potential in the crown, so any further development will probably make the pot look too small for the tree in the near future. For the time being, though, a pot that gives good contrast to the intense colour of the bark will be used . . .

The very big and healthy root system can be reduced to almost a third
Roots that grow upwards are also removed
A pot properly prepared for holding a bonsai tree
Using a planting medium of 50 % Akadama / 50 % pumice, a base layer is put in the pot
The tree is pushed into place and, after fixing in the pot, additional soil is worked in between the roots with a chopstick
After repotting some branches need a final touch. The initial styling of the tree has come to an end. Now I will concentrate on refining the foliage pads

Which pot suits best for yew?

This pot is a little too small; however,
the outward curving sides suit the sturdy style of this yew
A classic drum pot that is a little too dominant for this tree
A classic drum pot that is a little too dominant for this tree

The final result

a: Top is formed by a back branch placed in an upwards direction b: The top jin blends in well c: Long character branch enhances the movement of the trunk d: I added some moss to complete the image
© Copyright Bonsai Europe Publications Text and photography: Giacomo Pappalardo