Imported Trees

Satsuki Work and New Photography Backdrop

I acquired this “Kinsai” satsuki azalea in March 2014 from the Kennett Collection Reduction Sale. This event was the most significant bonsai sale in North American history and probably one of the most significant outside of Asia. According to a Facebook post by Doug Paul, owner of the Kennett Collection, “all the Satsuki’s were purchased from Kobayashi San in Kanuma City”. At first I thought this was referring to contemporary bonsai master Kunio Kobayashi, but I’ve since learned it is referring to Kobayashi Sangyo Co. Ltd. which is a wholesaler, producer, and exporter of satsuki azaleas.

While this tree has an awesome trunk and nebari, it still needs years of work before it reaches its peak. It has a number of significant wounds that, while not overly large, had not been treated with much care – probably because it was grown for wholesale purposes. Also, it seems that detailed branch thinning hasn’t been done for years. As a result, the ramification was overly dense in need of major work. Last year it was only repotted, watered, fertilized, and flower buds were removed in order to build up strength. The wounds were also carved back and sealed so they can continue to heal over. This year it was lightly repotted again and after seeing that it was extremely vigorous, I set about drastically thinning the tree and doing some structural wiring. I am relatively new to satsuki bonsai, but I know by now that they are incredibly dense growers and it seems that drastic thinning work like this will be necessary every 10 or so years, as is the case with most trees.

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Before any work. Even though I plucked the flower buds last summer I still missed a couple dozen.

None of the satsuki at the sale had labels therefore I was delighted to learn it was a kinsai when it first flowered some 3 months after purchase.

None of the satsuki at the sale had labels therefore I was delighted to learn it was a kinsai when it first flowered some 3 months after purchase. The spidery scarlet flowers are certainly unique. Kinsai is also known for small leaves and a slightly reddish bark colour and winter foliage.

A main branch after thinning and wiring. New growth should explode all along these branches in a few weeks.

A main branch after thinning and wiring. New growth should explode all along these branches in a few weeks. Then it can be maintained for a few years with diligent thinning and much less wiring. At least that is the plan.

About halfway done.

About halfway done. The idea is to make tiers of foliage which will produce tiers of flowers.

All done and photographed in front of my new backdrop. This certainly highlights the faults of the tree. Clearly the first branch on the right needs to be shortened but that will happen after the new buds appear.

All done and photographed in front of my new backdrop. This certainly makes it hard to hide any faults of the tree. Clearly the first branch on the left needs to be shortened but that will happen after the new buds appear. I am also considering removing or layering that lowest back branch poking out on the right.

The backdrop is just a roll up projector screen which I can hang on my fence. This makes it much easier for me to photograph my larger trees (of which I have more every year, it seems).

The backdrop is just a roll up projector screen which I can hang on my fence. This makes it much easier for me to photograph my larger trees (of which I have more every year, it seems). Having it mounted outside also allows me to take advantage of natural light which I find makes taking decent pictures much easier, especially since I have a pretty crappy camera.

March 2014, as purchased and in front of my old backdrop aka the wall in my kitchen.

March 2014, as purchased and in front of my old backdrop aka the wall in my kitchen.

 


Yew and Ginkgo Spring Images

Taxus cuspidata 'nana', 10 years from nursery stock. This year it will be thinned and wired again.

Taxus cuspidata ‘nana’, 10 years from nursery stock. This year it will be thinned and wired again.

Ginkgo biloba "chi-chi", 7 years in development from imported raw material. Probably started as an air layer in Japan.

Ginkgo biloba ‘chi-chi’, 7 years in development from imported raw material. Probably started as an air layer in Japan.

 


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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Korean Hornbeam

I have been working on this korean hornbeam since 2006. A major mistake I have been making over the last four or five years has been overfertilizing in the spring. This has limited the development of fine ramification and as a result the growth is still somewhat coarse.

This spring it was thinned and wired. Owen Reich visited my garden last week and he made some adjustments to the positioning of the finer branches, adding more movement and natural lines to the branching.

Late April before cutting and wiring.

Late April before cutting and wiring.

After cutting and wiring, before Owen Reich.

After cutting and wiring, before Owen Reich.

After Owen Reich's adjustments. The details are a bit difficult to see as the tree is leafing out.

After Owen Reich’s adjustments. The details are a bit difficult to see as the tree is leafing out.

An early picture, as purchased.

An early picture, as purchased.


Japanese Maple

This spring I acquired my first Japanese Maple. After ten years of bonsai, what took so long? Well I suppose it was a combination of finally having safe overwintering conditions and, more importantly, finding a good one that I couldn’t refuse.

It originally came in a lovely textured unglazed John Pitt oval. Great for a larch, but maybe not for this maple. I wanted something a little more flamboyant, so I planted it in a pale blue glazed custom made pot by local potter Geoff Lloyd. Geoff has only been making pots for a couple of years but he is making serious progress. I own several of his pots and he even made me a large custom slab which I will be planting a larch forest on in a couple of weeks.

If you need a bespoke pot and want to support your local artisan, shoot me an email and I will put you in contact with Geoff.

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A washed out picture of the tree as purchased March 15th in it’s original John Pitt container.

Besides the repot, only minor work was done. Some branches were wired, pruned, and the moss was brushed from the nebari after killing it with vinegar.

Today in it's new pot by Geoff Lloyd.

Today in it’s new pot by Geoff Lloyd.

Fellow Ontarians are probably wondering “how the hell is that thing already almost in full leaf?” Everything else around here won’t start moving for at least another two or three weeks. Well, you may have guessed that this tree came from southern Pennsylvania.


Ginkgo Winter Image

Ginkgo biloba “Chi-chi”, originally from Japan as an air layer from a specialist Ginkgo nursery.

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Do Ginkgo Wounds Heal?

I’ve heard and read several times that “Ginkgo scars never heal”. I’ve also heard and read “Ginkgo scars heal, but extremely slowly”. My experience with my one Ginkgo leads me to believe that the latter is true. Or wait. Maybe both are true?

My little Ginkgo has lots of old dime-sized wounds that were never really cleaned up. Last July I ground two down with a dremel, exposed the cambium, and packed them with the clay-type wound sealant.

July 2012. Terrible picture, but hopefully you can see the cleaned up wounds. Before, they looked like the other old wounds that are all over the trunk.

July 2012. Terrible picture, but hopefully you can see the cleaned up wounds. Before, they looked like the other old wounds that are all over the trunk.

The other day I removed the cut paste to have a look. One of them (smaller one on the top) has definitely produced a significant callus. For such a small wound, the callus is moving very slowly. A maple probably would have easily healed over this wound by now. The other larger one at the bottom doesn’t seem to have done much at all. I can’t really explain what the difference is. Maybe something to do with localized sap flow.

Smaller one beginning to callus over. Tweezers for scale.

Smaller one beginning to callus over. Tweezers for scale.

This is the larger one. A tiny callus appears to have formed around the edges, but it hasn't really moved at all.

This is the larger one. A tiny callus appears to have formed around the edges, but it hasn’t really moved at all.

I will continue to re-wound these calluses to keep it moving, and will clean up the rest of the wounds on the tree bit by bit, hoping that they respond well. Either way, the end result will look better than it does now.

 


Azalea Cut Back Again

One month ago I bought this azalea and thinned it out heavily. The backbudding response was very good, so the other day I took out the concave pruners and cut back hard to the new buds. Some branches still need to go further back, but overall I have been happy with its progress such a short time. What an amazing species!

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Satsuki Azalea Checks into Rehab

I always preach about growing species that are suited to your climate because it makes bonsai so much simpler and less stressful. For this reason I have never had a satsuki because they require quite a bit of winter protection around here i.e. garage or coldframe. Nevertheless, the opportunity recently came up to buy a Satsuki Azalea ‘Kaho’ for a great price, and I really couldn’t turn it down.

This tree has been neglected for quite a few years. It is completely overgrown, with no interior growth and lots of interior dieback (although fortunately none of the branches are dead). However, it has a great nebari and good branch placement. These characteristics make it worth spending a few years rehabilitating this tree. Azaleas are perfect for this type of project because they backbud profusely and grow quickly (or so I hear).

This year there is one goal for this tree: get backbuds.

As soon as I got the tree I spent some time removing the old flowers just to examine it in detail. Then, I thinned it out heavily, leaving just one bud at each branch tip. The apex was thinned less heavily because I have been told that azaleas are generally weaker in the apex – a very unusual characteristic but perhaps not surprising since this is a shrub in nature. All dead interior growth was removed.

Ideally the branches would have been cut back to stumps (secondary branching), but this is probably not the best time of year and I am skeptical about the vigour of this particular tree so I felt it not worth the risk. Next year it will be barerooted, planted in kanuma, and cut back much harder.

The tree is now getting blasted with full sun and fertilizer. This work was done under two weeks ago, and I’ve just noticed that new buds have started popping in the interior of the tree much closer to the trunk.

    As purchased. The shapely Yamaaki pot was a bonus.

As purchased. The shapely Yamaaki pot was a bonus.

Nebari

Nebari

After flower removal.

After flower removal.

    After thinning but before removing all the dead twigs. This picture shows how much interior dieback there was. Literally, there was only green on the very tips of the branches.

After thinning but before removing all the dead twigs. This picture shows how much interior dieback there was. Literally, there was only green on the very tips of the branches.

    Completed work for the season. This work was done just under 2 weeks ago, and new buds are now popping in the interior of the branches.

Completed work for the season. This work was done just under 2 weeks ago, and new buds are now popping in the interior of the branches.


Ginkgo 2013 vs 2009

Looking at older pictures, I’ve started to notice how much this tree has been swelling at the base (left side), mainly due to sucker shoots which I constantly remove during the growing season. I don’t think there’s much I can do about it, so hopefully it doesn’t become too grotesque.

April 2013

April 2013

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October 2009

 

 


Korean Hornbeam Cutting

I’ve been developing this carpinus from a neglected stump for about 6 years. Most of the primary branches had died back under the previous owner. I have been trying to build a new tree from thread grafts. It is coming along, but slowly.

Korean Hornbeam need to be cut back later than maples, otherwise they won’t backbud well. Usually this mean late spring, once the new growth has hardened off. This is also a good time to send through some thread grafts as defoliated branches will bounce back quickly, and smaller holes can be drilled since winter buds have not yet formed.Thread grafts can also be sent through in the late winter, but larger holes need to be drilled to get the branches through without rubbing off the large winter buds.

Healthy spring growth. I was planning on repotting this year, but never got around to it.

Leaves have just hardened off in the last week.

After cutting back. The tree will be moved to a sunnier location and fertilized heavily to encourage backbudding.

This branch was thread grafted a few years ago.

This is the first branch I threadgrafted on this tree. Funny that it is now supplying the whip for this year’s thread graft (note small branch wired inward)! Ahh… the circle of life… :)

This years little threadgraft, growing well. Note the size of the hole. This is the disadvantage to sending threadgrafts through in the winter. Larger hole = longer time period before the scion is large enough to start fusing with the trunk.

Some fruiting structures (catkins?) were spotted and removed. The branches that these grown on weaken dramatically. I try to remove the conspicuous flowers in the spring, but usually miss a few.


Ginkgo wire removed

This is the first spring where I am having trouble keeping up with the needed work on my trees. I am planning on doing some (more) culling on my collection soon, but much of that depends on the survival rate of my newly collected yamadori. I don’t have a huge collection (40-50 trees), but giving every tree the attention they need really takes a lot of time.

In the meantime, I am busy as hell. A friend was nice enough to remove the wire from my Ginkgo  for me 🙂 As a side note, this guy also has an amazing collection of fine mame and shohin sized pots and is always selling/buying. If you are looking for nice small pots, check out his website: Mame & Shohin Bonsai Pots.

As for the Ginkgo, many of the branches sprang back once the wire was removed. Kind of expected. Ginkgo is tough to wire because it scars so easily. Last year I wired it in late October and took off the wire yesterday (April 30). The branches seemed to have set better than in the past where I have wired it in March and had to take the wire off by early June.

I still haven't decided on a front for this tree. I think this side is more attractive, but the apex leans slightly back (it was not designed as the intended front by previous owners).

I think this is the original front of the tree, but I don't like the two symmetrical lumps about 1/3rd up the tree. They never used to bother me, but then my friend's wife pointed out that they look like bull testicles. Now that's all I see!


Ginkgo is Early… Time to Repot

Today is March 12th, and my Ginkgo is already showing green buds. This means it is the ideal time to repot. This is more than one month earlier than I am accustomed to seeing movement on this tree.

The last time I repotted this tree was in 2010, and it was not until April 17th that the buds were starting to move! This seems to be the same throughout the bonsai community… a warm winter means early spring.

I am happy spring is here, but I am always concerned about taking my trees out of winter storage, then having to shuffle them around again when it becomes -15C in April 🙂

The ground is already thawed so I pulled out my ginkgo and brought it to a Toronto Bonsai Society meeting.

Normally I don't see this sort of action on this tree until mid-late April!

This is the new pot, which I got on a recent trip to Japan. It is probably 20-30 years old, based on the patina that is starting to develop. The shiny blue glaze has begun to relax into a complex, matte colour which I absolutely love.

The pot has no stamp on it. Nevertheless, it is a very high quality pot... heavy, but with thin walls. It will have no problem standing up to Canadian winters.

The tips of the shoots are just turning green, and the tips of the roots are just turning white. This tells me its a good time to repot.

All done! I think the new pot is a very nice fit. The old one was great too, and I was happy with it for 3 years. But I think its time for a change. This pot will really make the fall colours pop (unlike the last one) and is also suitable for the winter image. Can't wait for fall!

 


Repotting a Very Rootbound Satsuki Azalea ‘Kaho’

Repotting mature trees is different than repotting trees in development. Mature trees are usually repotted for maintenance purposes, so the root work is less dramatic and much less technical than the sort of work used for trees in development. At a recent workshop, I observed the repotting of an extremely root bound imported Rhododendrum indicum ‘Kaho’. This is a species that I have never worked with since I sadly don’t have the proper overwintering environment for azaleas. Still, its fun to watch and learn 🙂

The bonsai in question. The owner has had this tree for 3 years. He believes that it has not been repotted for 8 years, and had reached the point that water could no longer penetrate the root ball. As a result, the tree is weak.

The kanuma soil has almost completely broken down, and the pot was absolutely crammed with the fluffy roots that are characteristic of azaleas. The first step after removing the tree from the pot was to clean away the surface soil.

One of the most important tasks in the repotting was cleaning out the bottom of the rootball, all the way up to the base of the trunk. This area is most prone to rot, so cleaning it out well allows it to be inspected and refilled with fresh coarse grade kanuma. About half of the excavation is complete here.

A saw was used to trim only about 1.5cm of roots all around the perimeter. Since the tree is weak, a more aggressive root reduction may have been detrimental to the health of the tree.

All hanging superfluous roots were carefully trimmed back so that they were flush with the rootball. This picture shows the extent to which the bottom of the rootball was excavated.

The tree is going back to the same pot. There was a unanimous agreement that this pot is unsuitable for the tree, although the owner will be repotting the tree again next year once it regains strength. Hopefully he has found the right pot by then :)

With such a deep "pit" in the bottom of the rootball, simply making a mound of soil in the bottom of the pot is not good enough. Thee tree was held upside down and coarse soil was filled into the cavity. A chopstick was used to fill all of the voids. This is a step that is unique to trees with mature root systems - particularly azaleas.

To prevent losing the soil, the pot was also put on upside down. Getting the tree at the correct height in the pot can be tricky when this method is used, but this time it worked just fine the first try. Someone commented that this must be how they repot bonsai in Australia :)

The tree was securely tied into the pot, and the pot was submerged in water for several minutes, thus completing the repotting.