When you have a lot of larches spring can be somewhat of a disaster. Pruning, wiring, unwiring, and collecting more larches (glutton for punishment) all tend to fall within a fairly short window.
That being said, here are some larches at various stages of development that I have been working on over the past few weeks of this very strange spring (weather-wise).
This sinuous larch was collected in 2014 and styled a couple of weeks ago. A massive root was further reduced and it was planted in its first bonsai pot. Collected larches usually come with one or more massive root(s) which fortunately can be reduced over successive transplants. This will need one more big root operation in a couple of years.
This big larch was collected in 2014 and transplanted this year. It also had a massive root cut back closer to the trunk. It has a wild character and will take some pondering to find the best front and planting angle.
The same larch from another intriguing (but still challenging) angle.
This stout little shohin was divided from the root system of the previous big larch. After a year or two for root development, it will be planted at the correct angle and will be pretty easy to make into a nice little tree. Without the old bark, this would not be worth much, but it is old and therefore has some good potential.
This chuhin-sized larch was styled for the first time last spring and is developing quickly. This year the wire was checked and the branches were trimmed with the aim of further developing the ramification. Can you see the single cone on this tree?
The one cone this tree produced last year happened to be in an ideal position and managed to hang on over the winter. The cone is about 1 cm tall.
This tiny larch (collected 2013) is notoriously difficult to photograph. Besides pruning, this tree has never been styled. Its development has been set back due to falling off the bench twice (once my fault, the second because of raccoons ). The bark, taper, and trunk movement are ideal. Next spring it will likely be wired. This year I just transferred it into a Nick Lenz pot.
This tree has taught me that larch are not as easy to thread graft as I would have thought. Nick Lenz estimates a 33% success rate. I have a 0% success rate. This year I am trying bud grafting on some larches, and (fingers crossed) seem to be having some success. I will also give summer thread grafting a try.
Pruning and wire removal were the normal spring chores for this little forest.
This craggy tree was collected in 2012 and had major root operations in 2014 and again in 2016. Finally, it fits into a bonsai pot. Last year some rough structural work was done. This year will focus on pruning and developing branching so it can be styled next spring. One thing I’ve learned with collected trees is that not rushing them will often help you achieve your goals faster.
This twin trunk thuja has progressed well since it was collected in Spring 2013. It was styled in the summer for the first time. While the foliage is still quite immature and lacking density, I am happy with where the image is going and it is becoming hard to imagine this tree without the lovely pot by Erick Križovenský’.
It was shown for the first time last weekend at the Toronto Bonsai Society Fall Show and Sale. The entire show was photographed by one of our members Mike Pochwat, who is a professional photographer. When the full album is available, I will share the link here.
We are extremely fortunate to have such a talented photographer in our show, and that he was generous enough to take his time to photograph our trees. Meeting great people like this is just one of the many reasons why I always encourage bonsai enthusiasts to join a local club.
Happy autumn to everyone! A busy time of year for us cold-climate bonsai nuts.
Prior to last week I had only tried sandblasting on one small cedar. The results were excellent, but I was limited to using my friend’s small parts sandblasting cabinet which could only handle a shohin sized tree. Recently, however, a member of our club got a full sized sandblasting tank and offered to let me try it out on some larger trees. Often sandblasting is done in an enclosed tent or room, but we just did it out on his lawn.
This tree was collected in spring 2013. Last year I did a rough initial cleaning on it using hand tools, but with a craggy old thing like this, sandblasting is the most efficient way to clean away all the old dead bark while preserving the details of the deadwood. Many of the cracks and crevices are impossible to access with hand tools. Sandblasting should be a once-in-a-lifetime event for a tree. Once it is done, the deadwood can be maintained over the years with gentle brushing (water and toothbrush) and lime sulfur application (although this is often unnecessary on thuja as their deadwood will naturally bleach in the sun as long as it is clean).
We used aluminum oxide media at 50-90 psi.
The tree before sandblasting. The trunk was wet at this point as it had been raining, so it is much darker looking than it actually is.
Preparation is important. Covering the soil prevents it from getting blown away. Covering the foliage is absolutely necessary – it will die if it is hit by the media. We chose to cover the live vein with modelling clay as insurance, although this is not strictly necessary if you are careful -the bark is surprisingly resistant to sandblasting. I’ve seen pictures from Takeo Kawabe’s book (Kimura’s student) who seems to sandblast junipers with no live vein protection.
After about two hours of sandblasting. 90% of that time was spent drinking beer and waiting for the tank to re-pressurize. Sandblasting requires a high CFM compressor and the one we were using was unable to keep up for more than a minute or two.
The medium we used left a slight texture behind on the deadwood but it is all we had to work with. I am still very happy with the results. The live veins will be further defined over the coming years.
This heavy break will unfortunately be hidden in the back of the tree. It is gorgeous but there are always compromises with yamadori.
Another candidate for sandblasting. This tree was probably collected in the 80s and was once a bonsai, but had been growing as a garden shrub for 10-15 years. Most of the branches are unusable and it will be a challenge to bring this one back. I’ve been rehabilitating it for two years, but you can only expect so much backbudding from a thuja.
After blasting. No trunk protection was used to sandblast this one.
You can see where some of the bark was blasted away, but nothing too major. I will likely polish the bark on this one anyway.
Original front of the tree 20 or so years ago. It is likely to become the new back as the deadwood is quite flat and the inverse taper more pronounced.
An old picture of the tree from the Toronto Bonsai Society website.
This tree was also sandblasted then a basic structure was set. Sorry, no before picture. It was collected in the 90s by a senior club member and is also quite overgrown, but not as bad as the previous one. It could be presentable in two years.
It is looking very sparse right now due to the removal of old foliage and unnecessary branches, but hopefully it will fill in before the end of this growing season. Its current sparseness gives an opportunity to see the strange relationship between the two trunks. As the foliage fills in, the pads and the spaces between them will become more well defined.
This tree is big, about 65 cm tall from the lip of the pot, and weighs about 75 lbs. The two top jins are of equal height – a problem which I will address the next time I work on the tree.
This is a photoshop adjusted picture showing how I would like to reduce the top jin on the right, and bend the jin on the left so that it better matches the overall movement of the tree.
Right side. I’ve always struggled with the flatness of the main trunk, but yamadori always have their faults.
Most of the old crusty larches I collect need grafting. It seems the older they are, the farther the living foliage is from the interesting part of the trunk. Three thread grafts were started on this larch in spring 2014 and all three of them failed this summer (despite not yet being separated from the donor branch).
Three dead grafts. The middle one was the most important as that was to become the new leader of the tree. The one above that… well it was too high i.e. a mistake.
I’m not sure why they failed, but I think it might have had something to do with long period of time elapsed. Ideally, once started, a thread graft will grow rapidly and then take within a few months. Unfortunately, these grafts hardly elongated last year therefore they had no change of reaching the thickness required for fusion until they really started to take off this year. But in July of this year when they should have been fusing, they were instead girdled and died. This is purely anecdotal, but I believe that the callus that formed around the edges of the drilled hole was somehow too hardened-off or otherwise too old to readily form a graft union with the threaded branches by the time they were thick enough to do so. Or maybe the drilled hole didn’t form a callus at all.
Anyway, they failed and I needed to re-graft. Late summer is not a good time for thread grafting larch, so I tried a traditional approach graft instead.
I’m not sure what these nails are really designed for, but in Japan they are commonly used for grafting. With this graft they are not going through the branch, but are just adjacent to it. With thicker branches it is OK to hammer them right through the branch. They do an outstanding job of creating a very snug graft junction.
This is one of my smallest eastern white cedars, collected in the spring of 2012. It took longer than it should have to reach peak health following collection because quite a bit of mucky field soil remained in the root ball until spring 2014 when it was completely bare rooted. This year it was healthy enough for a rough initial styling. Next year it will be planted in a new pot at the correct angle and the deadwood will be cleaned. It could be show ready by fall 2016.
One year after collection, still in an untouched state.
Healthy and ready for work.
After recent work. Growing a new apex is the priority for the rest of this season. This tree has some excellent deadwood which is still obscured under dirt and dead bark.
This raft style Juniperus chinensis ‘Blaauw’ was started 10-15 years ago. I acquired it in 2013 and after two years of preparation (thinning, gaining strength) it received its initial styling over the last few days. A lot of raft style Blaauw junipers were created in the Toronto area 10-20 years ago, when upright single trunk Blaauw junipers were readily available at garden centers. As the Blaauw juniper has fallen out of fashion in garden centers, so has creating Blaauw rafts.
I find multiple trunk bonsai the hardest style to work on and photograph since there are so many variables to consider. Parts of this group are still too crowded for my taste, despite having removed one of the trunks. For now though it will relax for another year.Currently we are undergoing somewhat of a heat wave in the Toronto area, so this planting will be under shade cloth with the occasional misting for a couple of weeks to help recover from the work.
As far as forest designs are concerned, this one is unusual, with the largest trunk being near the outside of the group. I think this unusual design makes it unique and very reminiscent of a Georgian Bay vista. To further emphasize this connection, I would like to plant it on a flat natural stone next spring.
Juniperus chinensis “Blaauw” raft
Last week before work began. Can you find the trunk that was removed?
As acquired in 2013. The trunks on the right side were extremely weak and discoloured.
This serpentine tree was collected in the spring of 2013. I’ve always admired Erik Križovenský’s bonsai containers and thought this tree would be a great candidate for his unique style so, in 2014, I commissioned him to make one for this tree. Many people have tried to imitate Erik’s style of containers, but I’ve never seen anyone get it quite right. Furthermore, Erik has an incredible eye and designs containers to specifically match the style of each tree.
This tree was looking pretty good last August but I am hoping it will be looking even better by the end of this year. But before that it will have to look like crap.
It was finally repotted this spring into its first bonsai pot, some five years after collection. I am not completely happy with the planting angle nor the positioning in the pot, but that was the best I could do given the placement of the roots. The quality of the pot is not ideal either, but a comparable high quality container would be very, very expensive. If I could even find one. I am thinking about ideas for a custom made container in the future.
Much of the wire from last year was already biting in severely so the tree was completely de-wired. When I remove wire I always try to unwrap it instead of cutting it off. As far as I can see, there are three benefits to unwrapping the wire instead of cutting it off:
it is much faster to unwrap it than cut it off bit by bit
you are less likely to miss little loops of wire which could girdle branches in the future
it is impossible to cut off wire that is biting into a branch without severely damaging that branch. You have to unwrap it.
The exception is very thick work-hardened copper wire which can be very difficult to unwrap without twisting the branches. I usually cut that off if possible.
The tree was also thinned quite drastically. This will simplify the upcoming wiring process and also improve the branch structure. And for the first time, the deadwood was properly cleaned and some old dead stumps were refined. It was also treated with a 50% dilution of lime sulfur.
It is now resting for a couple of weeks then it will be wired.