Starting from seedlings: what type of movement should you put in the trunks?

Hello from Seattle!

General question on getting movement started in seedlings, or smaller juvenile material: I have a couple of Korean Hornbeams, firs, and pine juvenile plants that are Sharpie sized and still malleable and was wondering if there was specific movements i should try to wire in now that would enhance the future Bonsai.

after wiring them up, i am looking for some “rules of thumb” on what to avoid, ie. S curves are to be avoided, no closed loops, move the apex of the sapling back towards center, etc.

at this early stage i am sure any movement is better than a straight trunk that i will have to cut, but should i avoid particular bends? i can post a couple pics if that helps, but was more looking for general ideas on shapes i should be shooting for/things to avoid.

I know at some point the single leader will have to be pruned to get some angles in, but should the focus be on the lower trunk only?

thanks for any ideas, and pictures welcome of some examples. currently mine all have variations of corkscrews with some slight down turns.



One thing to make sure about is that any movement that you put in should be in three dimensions. Don’t forget moving the things front to back as well as side to side. At this time, you are looking at just developing the lower trunk. The final upper trunk hasn’t grown in yet.

You can also try to put a twist in the trunk too.

When the seedlings are young, bends will look very artificial, but they will naturalize over time. Try to also plan for sacrifice branches to help develop taper lower down in the trunk. Good taper helps the trunk curves not look so artificial.


Awesome info, thank you! I have a number of trees that are starting out, and they were all starting to feel artificial. I am sure once spring buds push the will take on more character. Thank you for the tips and putting my mind at ease​:+1::blush:

The first question to ask…
What are you trying to accomplish?
This will inform how you proceed. What is your timeline for developing these trees?
For me early development of a sapling does not include much wire, but rather letting the tree run and then trunk chopping to produce movement and taper. Wire would be used minimally to put some contour in straight sections.
The most natural movement will come from trunk chopping.

This is a little scrub oak that was about 3’ feet tall with no taper. I have selected a low branch as the new leader and will now let the tree grow unchecked for a couple of years.


Yeah that too. I meant to mention that you should still be chopping too, for both taper and movement, even if you put movement into the trunk via wire.

Hi Ryan, I’m a beginning practitioner and I am curious as to the terminologies of these different branches. I hear new leader, sacrifice branch, and defining branch. My understanding of defining branch is that it is part of the design, but are leader and sacrifice branch the same? thanks, David

New Leader: development term that refers to the branch that has been selected as the new trunkline. In the picture I posted of a small trunk chop the branch just below the cut line will be the “new leader”.
Sacrifice branch: development term referring to a branch that will not be part of the final design, but is being used to maintain foliage mass generally to increase the rate at which a trunk or branch thickens.
Defining branch: check out the Design Fundamentals Stream.


Thank you Ryan for the clarification. I’ve watched the “Design Fundamentals” video twice now. Very helpful.

Put in whatever movement in trunk/leader you want in the final tree. This can be slanted, windswept, cascading, coiled, informal upright or straight and boring, Apex will seldom be direct above base. Adding this movement is best done while young and limber if possible but can be done later if no other choice:wink:.

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