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Thuja occidentalis progression

This is the first large Eastern White Cedar I collected. After four years of growing, the foliage mass was finally ready for some real work and this year it has gotten a lot of attention. In July it was thinned and roughly wired, and today it received its second and final thinning for the year.

I think this tree is actually two separate trees that have been growing together for a long time. The second trunk on the right is growing towards the back, and I’ve always toyed with the idea of removing it since it seems out of place. David Easterbrook and Marco Invernizzi both advised me not to remove it, and now I am starting to understand why.  That secondary trunk provides much of the depth of the tree and without it I would be left with something very two-dimensional.

It will be difficult to find a traditional bonsai container that works for this tree. I’ve got some ideas for the future planting, but it will not be easy to pull off. The final planting will determine which of the large jins I end up keeping, if any. If I can sort it out next spring, this tree might be ready to be shown in Fall 2015.

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As collected Fall 2010. Note the fist-sized rock lodged in the base of the trunk which had to be cut out with a die grinder.

Late summer 2011 after removing a major foliage mass from the upper left of the tree.

Late summer 2011 after removing a major foliage mass from the upper left of the tree.

Summer 2012, completed barerooted and repotted into a much smaller grow box.

Summer 2012, completely barerooted to remove the toxic muck and repotted into a much smaller grow box.

Summer 2013. Some major pruning and coarse wiring was done this year to open up the foliage and set the basic structure of the secondary branches.

Summer 2013. Some major pruning and coarse wiring was done this year to open up the foliage and set the basic structure of the secondary branches.

July 2014 after thinning and re-wiring.

July 2014 after thinning and re-wiring.

Today after another round of thinning and minor adjustments. There is still a fair amount of floppy foliage but that is gradually being replaced with tighter growth or removed entirely.

Today after another round of thinning and minor adjustments. There is still a fair amount of floppy foliage but that is gradually being replaced with tighter growth or removed entirely.

Future planting angle?

Future planting angle?

 

 

Thuja occidentalis Initial Cleaning

This large Thuja was collected in Spring 2013 and this year has been growing well enough that I have started some basic work. In the first year of collection, I try to do absolutely nothing to a tree – not even move it around the yard. Cleaning work like this invariably involves bumps and vibrations, so I don’t do it until the tree is obviously strong and established in the grow box – typically the second year.

This is not a thorough cleaning – just the removal of bark that come off easily, getting piles of detritus out of cracks and crevices, and cleaning the deadwood with water and a toothbrush to get rid of algae. After this it is easier to study the tree and identify the path of the live veins. As the live veins swell up over the next few years, they will be defined further.

The thin dead bark that is really stubbornly adhered to the deadwood will gradually be picked at over the next few years. Removing it right now would require aggressive scraping or rotary brushes that would ruin the natural texture of the ancient wood. I’m estimating this tree won’t be show ready for around ten years, so there is no point in rushing things. Cycles of wet-dry-freeze-thaw will aid the gentle removal of the bark.

Next spring it will be bare rooted and repotted into a much smaller pot or box. Like most collected Thuja, designing this tree will be a serious challenge. Semi cascade seems like the obvious direction but close examination reveals that there is no easy solution.

Before cleaning, likely front.

Before cleaning, likely front.

Before cleaning, likely back.

Before cleaning, likely back.

Before cleaning.

Before cleaning.

After cleaning, likely front.

After cleaning, likely front.

After cleaning, likely back.

After cleaning, likely back.

The thin layers of dead bark are the hardest to remove. Since there is no rush, I will pick at it bit by bit over the coming years. Cycles of wet-dry-freeze-thaw will aid the gentle removal of the bark.

The thin layers of dead bark are the hardest to remove.

Montréal Bonsai Bazaar Saturday August 23rd

Matthiew Quinn from Bonsai Quinn asked me to share the information about the upcoming Bonsai Bazaar being held by the Society of Bonsai and Penjing of Montreal.

See here for more information about the Bazaar, or click the image below (one of the excellent larches that will be for sale). Montreal has a wealth of bonsai talent so this would certainly be worth the trip!

Gorgeous Larix laricina yamadori to be offered at the Bazaar.

Gorgeous Larix laricina yamadori to be offered at the Bazaar.

Small Thuja Wired

Collected Spring 2011, about 30 cm to the tip of the dead spire. The deadwood of this tree was sandblasted last year which helped preserve the lovely little jins. The pot is by Shibakatsu.

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Spring 2011, as collected.

Spring 2011, as collected.

 

Futame-futaba-nokoshi

As I have recently come to own two satsuki azaleas, I realized I’d better figure out how they work. One step I took was buying and reading Satsuki Azaleas for Bonsai and Azalea Enthusiasts by Robert Z. Callaham. It is an interesting book with some good satsuki techniques, but the bulk of it is designed as a reference for identifying cultivars.

One interesting technique is known as futame-futaba-nokoshi, and it means pruning the tree such that each branch ends in two shoots, each with two leaves. All other growth is removed. This allows an opportunity to wire the young shoots and promotes budding in the interior of the tree. Essentially it is partial defoliation combined with branch thinning. This ‘Kaho’ azalea which I purchased last summer has been undergoing a major restoration project, and it seemed a good time to apply this technique. All of the secondary branching was cut off last year, so futame-futaba-nokoshi provides a good opportunity to carefully create the future secondary branches.

The cutting/wiring was done almost exactly one month ago, and the follow up pictures are from today. This tree will probably have another round of cutting this year, as well as flower bud removal. Some long and awkward branches still need to be removed/shortened.

One view (front?) after cutting.

One view (front?) after cutting and trunk scrubbing.

Another view after cutting.

Another view after cutting.

Branch detail.

Branch detail.

One month later.

One month later.

Tree as purchased July 2013

Tree as purchased July 2013

 

 

 

 

 

Defoliation of American Hornbeam Forest

This Carpinus caroliniana forest was made in the Spring of 2013 and this year it was defoliated for the first time. Owen Reich told me that American Hornbeam respond well to defoliation (maximum once per year) and indeed the results were positive. One issue I noticed is that as the second flush was coming in, some very vigorous leaves grew back at an accelerated pace and became very large. These were periodically removed to allow the smaller, less vigorous leaves to fill in at a more uniform pace.

The tree was defoliated May 31st, just after the new growth had hardened off. One month later, the second flush had filled in and hardened off.

May 20th, ten days before defoliation. I forgot to take a picture right before defoliating the tree.

May 20th, ten days before defoliation (I forgot to take a picture right before defoliating the tree). The leaves here are not quite hardened off. 

May 31st immediately following defoliation.

May 31st immediately following defoliation.

 

The tree today, just over one month after defoliation. One major effect of defoliation is that the smaller interior shoots were allowed to open up. Many did not open up at all in the spring.

The tree today, just over one month after defoliation. One major effect of defoliation was that the smaller interior shoots were allowed to open up. Many did not open up at all in the spring as all of the vigour went to the shoots of the exterior canopy. After defoliation, the density of the tree is much more uniform. 

 

The new leaves are about 50% the size of the old ones. Very nice!

The new leaves are about 50% the size of the old ones. Very nice!

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.

Stolen American Larch Bonsai

This old American larch (tamarack) bonsai, along with two others, was stolen from a private collection in Toronto on June 23rd, 2014.

If you have seen this distinct bonsai, please call your local police department and/or contact the owner Elisabeth Leslie ewleslie[at]icloud.com

The bonsai community is tight not only in Toronto but worldwide. Hopefully we can use this to our advantage to help get this lovely tree back to the owner.

Stolen American larch bonsai.

Exhibition Gallery: Bonsai Society at Royal Botanical Gardens

Click here or the image below to see a gallery of over 60 trees exhibited by the Bonsai Society at Royal Botanical Gardens to honour the 25th anniversary of the twinning of Itabashi, Japan with Burlington, Ontario.

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Blue rug juniper bonsai exhibited at Royal Botanical Gardens.

 

2014 Toronto Bonsai Society Show Photo Gallery

The Toronto Bonsai Society is extremely fortunate to have a member who committed much of his time and energy to professionally photograph every tree at this year’s Spring Show (not to mention updating and maintaining the website). It is amazing the difference a professional quality photograph makes (and also amazing how it highlights the flaws in our trees!). Thank you Dan… even if you photographed my Potentilla from the back… doh! :)

Click here for the full gallery, or the image below.

Collected Thuja occidentalis by TBS member Mike M.

Collected Thuja occidentalis by TBS member Mike M.