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A Couple of Fall Images

Larix laricina

Larix laricina

Acer palmatum

Acer palmatum

Siberian elm shohin

This small Ulmus pumila was displayed at this year’s Toronto Bonsai Society Fall Show and Sale.

Ulmus pumila

Ulmus pumila shohin. Yellow pot by Sugiura Keisen, accent pot by John Pitt.

The tree was developed from a naturally layered low branch from a much larger elm that was collected from a hedge, along with many others.

The shohin elm was a low back branch on this larger tree (circled in red).

The shohin elm was a low back branch on this larger tree (circled in red).

After separating the rooted branch.

After separating the rooted branch in April 2011.

Summer 2011.

Summer 2011.

A Punishing Urban Environment

Finding worthy trees to collect in urban environments is just as difficult (if not more so) than finding worthy trees in the wild.  The criteria is the same though – you are looking for trees which have been growing for a long time in an environment where they are repeatedly punished such that they develop the characteristics we are looking for in bonsai. It is therefore often helpful to first look for the environment. Once you’ve found that, finding the tree is easy (or easier).

I’ve noticed one particularly tough urban environment that is common in snowy climates: the perimeters of parking lots where massive piles of snow and ice accumulate after the snow plows come through. Any plants (particularly conifers) unlucky enough to be in a place where it is convenient to pile snow have a good chance of developing the characteristics we look for in yamadori.

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After a few decades of this, most woody plants will either be dead or extremely damaged.

Common species planted on these borders are tough, low-growing conifers like yews, junipers, and mugo pines. If you see something you like, act fast to get permission and dig. Often these parking lots are managed by contract landscapers who will rip out these ugly plants during the spring cleanup. I learned that the hard way this spring when a patch of mangled junipers I wanted to get at was replaced by some lilies as I procrastinated over approaching the landlord.

I was inspired to write this post because recently I dug a mugo pine from a very similar situation.

The trees on the outside of the planting are the most likely to get punished. This simplifies finding and digging potential bonsai material.

The trees on the outside of the planting get the most punishment. This simplifies finding and digging potential bonsai material.

Much easier than digging a tree out of a pile of fist-sized rocks!

Much easier than digging a tree out of a pile of fist-sized rocks!

Large single trunk mugos like this are very hard to find on this side of the Atlantic ocean.

Large single trunk mugos like this are very hard to find on this side of the Atlantic ocean.

As this is probably not the ideal time of the year to be collecting a mugo, the tree was treated as a balled-and-burlapped nursery tree and planted in a raised bed with minimal root disturbance. If all goes well it will be planted in a container in Spring 2016.

As this is probably not the ideal time of the year to be collecting a mugo, the tree was treated as a balled-and-burlapped nursery tree and planted in a raised bed with minimal root disturbance. If it doesn’t die, it will be planted in a container in Spring 2016.

Trunk detail

Trunk detail. Nice job, snow plow operator! In my experience mugos backbud well so I’m not worried about the leggy growth. This is certainly a 10+ year project though. 

Thuja occidentalis Foliage Shedding

This is peak season for eastern white cedar foliage shedding. While not at all a health concern, it is somewhat unsightly and can leave your tree looking quite sparse.

To reduce autumn foliage shedding, I’ve been following the advice of Reiner Goebel and making sure I prune my cedars some time around mid-August. This year the results are really showing. Bear in mind that if a tree is early in it’s development or recently collected, it is often better to avoid pruning and just let it shed.

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Pruned August 21st.

Pruned August 15th

Pruned August 15th

Pruned August 20th

Pruned August 20th

Not pruned

Not pruned

Not pruned

Not pruned

Not pruned

Not pruned

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!