Canadian Hemlock aka Eastern Hemlock, Tsuga canadensis as Bonsai

This is the first tree I ever collected, over eight years ago now. The development of this tree has been one step forward, two steps back. There is limited information out there on T. canadensis and I’ve only seen two that could be called bonsai (this tree  isn’t one of them). This is probably for two reasons: 1) it is hard to find worthy material, and 2) they are a quirky species to work with.

Eastern Hemlock are unique for a number of reasons:

  • They very, very much prefer a rich and moist organic growing medium. I almost killed mine by transplanting it into a coarse, inorganic medium. Replacing it with topsoil restored the health of the tree.
  • They can tolerate practically any light condition from full shade to full sun. For bonsai development, several hours of direct morning sun is good for promoting backbudding and branch development. Full direct sun tends to cause the foliage to lose it’s rich green colour.
  • Despite their delicate and almost “weak” appearance, they heal over wounds better than any conifer I can think of and better than many deciduous trees. This makes grafting easy on T. canadensis.
  • The branches are very flexible however they are extremely weak at the crotches. They will suddenly and heart-breakingly tear from the trunk with little notice during heavy (or even moderate) bending operations. However, their capacity to rapidly callus over wounds means that a branch will more often than not survive, even if you have torn half of the base away from the trunk.

I have learned and re-learned these points “the hard way” on this poor specimen over the years. The resulting setbacks have probably doubled the time it should have taken me to get to the current stage of development. Now this tree has immense sentimental value to me despite being one of the last trees that draws the attention of any visitors to my yard.

I believe Eastern Hemlock is by far the most delicate and feminine species native to eastern North America, and perhaps even all of North America. This makes it priceless in our catalogue of native species and worthy of greater attention. I just wish material was easier to come across!

My T, candensis today after finally getting the main structure set into place after eight long years.

My T. canadensis today after finally getting the main structure set into place after eight long years. Still a long way to go but I think the hard work is done. 

Last summer I was trying to fully style the tree and had to stop at this point after I tore a major limb that supported two major branches - the first branch on the left, and the back branch,

Last summer I was trying to fully style the tree and had to stop at this point after I tore a major limb that supported two major branches – the first branch on the left, and the back branch.

The tear in the limb last summer. Remarkably, the more important branch (second primary branch) survived despite losing much of the secondary growth. The back branch completely died

The tear in the limb during last summer’s work. Remarkably, the more important branch (second primary branch) survived despite losing much of the secondary growth. The back branch completely died

Growing near a trail in April 2007.

Growing near a trail in April 2007.

Collected and potted up showing the current front.

Collected and potted up showing the current front.

4 Responses

  1. Nigel Saunders

    Great work, I really like seeing the work in progress pictures, you can learn a lot from others sucess and failures. Looks like this tree is on its way to greatness!

    June 30, 2014 at 11:04 am

    • LSBonsai

      Thanks Nigel – it was great to see you the other week!

      June 30, 2014 at 11:32 am

  2. Great article. Theres a couple of sites here near me that is clearly shaded most of the day but they have a couple protential material if they survive collection which brings my question.
    Are they sensitive to collection? I have heard they are so i have left them alone until better info is recieved.

    June 30, 2014 at 11:10 am

    • LSBonsai

      Thanks Mitch. This one collected very well but it was healthy and had a lot of fibrous roots growing in rich humus. It also tolerated a heavy root pruning very well during its first and only repotting.

      June 30, 2014 at 11:31 am

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