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Bonsai is (Usually) Not a Rescue Mission

The phrase “bonsai is not a rescue mission” is sometimes used to discourage eager bonsai enthusiasts from trying to make a bonsai from every plant they find. Instead, we should focus on the best material we can possibly get our hands on, thus increasing our chances of making something we can be proud of.

Sometimes, however, bonsai really is a rescue mission. Story time!

Last August I responded to an online ad where someone was selling their collection. Not knowing what to expect from the vague description and two blurry pictures of some tropicals, I arrived surprised to see a very old and once impressive bonsai collection in its final death throes. This elderly gentleman had been doing bonsai quietly in his backyard for 30-40 years, away from the clubs and shows, and now was in the predicament of having to sell everything due to failing health.

He had (understandably) put off selling them for years, but in those last few years the trees suffered greatly. To make matters worse, everything was planted in pretty much pure topsoil and was weak to begin with, therefore many were unable to handle the stresses of erratic watering.

Some of the tougher species were still hanging in there, but other more finicky ones like this impressive Japanese white pine had no chance.

Imported Japanese white pine.

Imported Japanese white pine.

After much haggling I went home with two larches, a ginkgo, and a Japanese maple – three very tough species that had managed to survive but were now in serious need of rehabilitation. This was August 2014 and some of the trees were already showing fall colours- A sign of definite stress.

I’m happy to report that all four trees survived the winter and were completely barerooted and repotted this spring. They seem to be doing well and I anticipate that they will have recovered their strength by the end of this growing season.


New Pot for Japanese Maple

This fancy pot is branded Ejiri Taizan, which I learned thanks to Ryan Bell’s very comprehensive Chop, Seal, and Signature Resource.

I overwinter this tree in my insulated garage. It can handle the cold, but keeping it in the garage allows me to appreciate it throughout the winter. The disadvantage is it breaks dormancy about one month early meaning it has to be run in and out of the house throughout most of April, which is probably the most unpredictable month in the Toronto area, weather-wise.

Daily bud-pinching has been underway on this tree for about three days, even though the ground outside is still pretty much frozen.

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Japanese Maple Root Arrangement

Way back in 2011 I remember seeing this Bonsai Tonight post of a Boon Manikitivipart workshop where a participant tried out a root arranging technique of the deciduous bonsai genius Ebihara. What a great idea, right?

Last summer I acquired a maple that turned out to be perfect to try this technique on. It already had several years of root training therefore a good number of flexible lateral roots were present. Still, a fair amount of prep work was needed. The base of the rootball needed to be completely flat and all unnecessary roots removed. Hopefully this will improve the nebari as I rebuild the branch structure of this tree over the next several years.

As a side note, Boon posted an update about the tree in the Bonsai Tonight post on Facebook. Apparently using plywood was a mistake as it rotted quickly. Keeping that in mind, I used pine.

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