Nursery Material

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.

 


Portulacaria afra

Also known as Dwarf Jade, Elephant Bush, and many other names. This is my only tropical at the moment (I killed my lemon last year… good riddance). It was wired the other day, and the downward growing leaves were removed in an attempt to make it look more like a species I actually like 🙂 The pot is a “meh” quality piece by Sankyou of Tokoname (pretty sure its a poured pot), but I love it for its simplicity.

Today

Today

Sankyou rectangle, starting to develop a subtle haze.

Sankyou rectangle, starting to develop a subtle haze.

Yesterday

Yesterday

2007

2007

 

 

 


Juniperus chinensis ‘Blaauw’ Raft

Blaauw’s juniper is a variety of J. chinensis that has foliage very similar to Shimpaku, except it is a deeper blue-green when healthy. Blaauw’s (often called “Blaauwi” around here) used to be very popular in Toronto as a shimpaku substitute because they were readily available in nurseries as single trunked specimens. This was well before my time. I have never seen a nice single trunked Blaauw in a nursery. Blaauw in general is quite rare to see in nurseries these days, presumably having gone out of fashion in the landscape trade. Nevertheless, some impressive Blaauw’s juniper bonsai survive today as reminders of “the old days” of Toronto bonsai, the most highly regarded one being this Blaauw forest by retired-from-bonsai-artist Bob Wilcox.

This raft style Blaauw was gifted to me this spring by a good friend who is one of the matriarch’s of bonsai in Ontario. She created it something like 20 years ago from a discarded workshop tree after the student had cut all the branches off one side in an effort to make a bonsai. Raft plantings, like Blaauw’s juniper, are another thing that used to be very popular with the previous generation of bonsai artists, but have seemingly gone out of fashion.

Anyone who has a juniper knows that they are a lot of work. When you have eleven trunks growing in one pot, it is about eleven times more work. The amount of work involved in cutting and wiring this tree is the main reason it was passed on to me.

When I received it back in May, it was obvious there were some health issues. The trunks on the right were turning that grey-yellow colour that you never want to see in a juniper. I decided the problem was related to the poorly draining soil the tree was in, so I immediately bare rooted it with the garden hose and planted it in a coarse inorganic mix of lava rock and haydite.

The tree as I received it, showing the weak right side and the mucky soil mix.

The tree as I received it, showing the weak right side and the mucky soil mix.

By August, the group had regained quite a bit of strength and the colour had returned to the trunks on the right. So it was ready for some desperately needed thinning.

Early August, before thinning.

Early August, before thinning.

This juniper was not paid much attention over the last few years except for the occasional pinching. As a result, there were masses of foliage growing from the crotches and in some cases 4-5 branches emerging from the same point. I went over the whole tree, removing all the foliage from the crotches and simplifying the ramification to two branches at each branch point. This process took approximately 3 hours. One of the trunks on the right was still recovering, so I hardly touched it. Removing foliage is probably the worst thing you can do to a weak juniper.

After thinning.

After thinning.

I will let the branches elongate more because to my eye they are too short and stubby. I anticipate that next summer it will be thinned again, then detail wired.

The design of this group is quite unique, with the largest trunk being almost on the outside of the planting. It is certainly unorthodox as far as forest planting design goes, but I like the directionality of the trunks, as well as the gentle movement that was wired into them many years ago. I would also like to restore the original planting position which was lost when I did the horticultural repot this spring. I think with the right container (ideally a stone slab) and lots of wire, this retro bonsai will one day shine again.

I’d just like to point out that last year at this time I had zero forest plantings. Now I have four! I will probably have to quit my day job to maintain them all…


Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Alps’

Worked on over the last couple of days.

edited

DSC_0555

DSC_0540

Spring 2011

Spring 2011


Japanese Yew Second Flush

This tree is starting to show good balanced growth. Compared to the spring image the second flush is more compact, with more buds. It will be wired when the new growth hardens off.

DSC_0460


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

DSC_0187

Ginkgo-Oct-24-09

October 2009

 

 


Pinching Japanese Yew

Yew are pinched in the spring to balance the energy of the tree. If they are not pinched, the outer growth will become coarse and the inner growth weaker. Pinching helps maintain or develop finer branching. Yews are not pinched to promote backbudding – they don’t need any encouragement to do that (if anything, they produce too many buds).

Whole-tree pinching as shown here should not be done on trees in development! It is counterproductive to weaken the tree when you are trying to build a foliage mass and grow out branches. I’ve been developing this tree from nursery stock since 2006 and this is the first time I have pinched the whole tree.The last six or so years have been spent developing the roots and basic branch structure.

This is also the first year in which I have held back on heavy spring fertilization – I just gave a little bit of mild organic (chicken manure) to help it bounce back from the pinching. I am not planning on fertilizing it again until late summer/early fall, once everything has hardened off. Too much fertilizer will make the second flush too vigorous. Bud selection and wiring will also happen in late summer/fall.

    The lovely colour of spring yew shoots are just as stunning as some flowering trees, in my opinion. But they've gotta go!

The lovely colour of spring yew shoots are just as stunning as some flowering trees, in my opinion. But they’ve gotta go!

    After pinching. Everything was pinched - even the tiny little buds that barely opened. I left a few basal needles of the pinched shoots, as per Ryan Neil's advice in a youtube video.

After pinching. Everything was pinched – even the tiny little buds that barely opened. I left a few basal needles of the pinched shoots, as per Ryan Neil’s advice in a youtube video.

This tree does still need some branch development, but nothing major. It is often helpful to look at a tree from above to see design weaknesses. Most trees should have a pretty rounded crown when viewed from above. This tree has some noticeable gaps, but they should fill in pretty soon.

Gaps from above show the immaturity of the crown.

Gaps from above show the immaturity of the crown.


Sticks in a Pot

Like many bonsai enthusiasts, I am obsessed with old, collected trees. For several years I have been heavily biased towards collected material and still am today – nothing (well, almost nothing) excites me like a stunning piece of yamadori. Nevertheless, I find that wild material almost always lends itself to a dynamic, survivalist image. If I were to fill my yard with this material only, I would have a pretty monotonous bonsai collection. Already my collection is lacking in delicate deciduous trees (nine years of bonsai and I have never had a japanese maple!).

I was recently inspired by an article in Bonsai Focus #120 entitled Easy Does It, Forest Planting by Nobuyuki Hirose (see the preview of this issue here). In this article Mr. Hirose and his apprentice use young beech and hornbeam seedlings to create simple yet elegant and attractive forest plantings. The careful selection of the material and design of the planting made these “sticks in a pot” into something special.

Armed with these images in my mind, I visited my friend Andrew who works at a gigantic (read: millions of plants, literally) wholesale nursery and picked up a trunkload of American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana), American Beech (Fagus grandifolia), and European Beech (Fagus sylvatica).

Today I made a nine tree forest planting of American Hornbeam. This species grows locally, although I have never found one worth collecting (most people who collect them trunk-chop them drastically, thus creating a long-term project). Like most hornbeams, these have fine twigs, smooth bark, and small buds – things which are useful for a small group planting that is best appreciated in winter.

    Hornbeams. These are all in one gallon pots, and roughly three years from seed. I tried to select a range of trunk sizes with gentle movement and lots of twiggy branching.

Hornbeams. These are all in one gallon pots, and roughly three years from seed. I tried to select a range of trunk sizes with gentle movement and lots of twiggy branching.

    In addition to the normal screening, some 1/2" galvanized steel mesh was tied down to the bottom of the pot. This creates as many tie down points as one could ask for, thus making it relatively easy to fine-tune the placement of the trunks.

In addition to the normal screening, some 1/2″ galvanized steel mesh was tied down to the bottom of the pot. This creates as many tie down points as one could ask for, thus making it relatively easy to fine-tune the placement of the trunks.

 

The cream coloured pot is by Yamafusa. I think a light blue pot would have been better, but this was what I had on hand.

The cream coloured pot is by Yamafusa. I think a light blue pot would have been better, but this was what I had on hand.

    Every tree was more or less barerooted and at least 80% of the roots removed. These trees were not prepared for bonsai, so each one had a massive taproot, roughly the same thickness of the trunk.

Every tree was more or less barerooted and at least 80% of the roots removed. These trees were not prepared for bonsai, so each one had a massive taproot, roughly the same thickness of the trunk.

    Before pruning/refinement.

Before pruning/refinement.

    Final image. I need to keep on top of the cutting this season to ensure that I don't lose the delicate twigs. I would like to shorten the main tree by a few cm, but currently the necessary branches don't exist.

Final image. I need to keep on top of the cutting this season to ensure that I don’t lose the delicate twigs. I would like to shorten the main tree by a few cm, but currently the necessary branches don’t exist.

 

    Final image. I need to keep on top of the cutting this season to ensure that I don't lose the delicate twigs. I would like to shorten the main tree by a few cm, but currently the necessary branches don't exist.

Side view.

scale

scale

 


Prepping Yew for Show

This tree still has at least one more growing season to go before the crown has filled out properly (there are several empty spaces when viewed from above). Nevertheless, I showed it for the first time at the Toronto Bonsai Society’s Fall Exhibition.
To prep it I removed guy wires, plucked some needles, adjusted the positioning of some branches, scrubbed the bark and deadwood, applied some dilute lime sulphur, mossed the soil surface, and oiled the pot and bark.

Before prep

Before prep

 

After prep

After prep


Squamata Juniper Wired

This is a Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Alps’. It is a very vigorous variety of juniper and has developed quickly since its first styling last spring. Junipers are a ton of work… I spread the wiring of this guy out over three evenings.

Before work.

Chuck Iker of Batavia, Ohio. I have lots of his pots but this one may be my favourite.">

After work. The pot is by Chuck Iker of Batavia, Ohio. I have lots of his pots but this one may be my favourite.

October 2011. This is the preferred planting angle of the tree, but I was not able to achieve it in this years repotting. Maybe next time.

First styling March 2011.

As purchased from garden center. $20 on sale!


Japanese Yew Wired

Today and yesterday I worked on this dwarf japanese yew. Lots of detail wiring was done but not every single branchlet was wired – only those that really needed redirection. Wiring every little twig may sound good but it is often not necessary. Still, this took awhile but that`s probably because I like to drink wine and watch movies while I wire 🙂

With lots of fertilizer and cutting, this tree should fill out nicely by the fall. The last major task this tree needs is fixing the first branch on the right. It is emerging at the wrong angle and is too long. Practically every branch on this tree (except the first on the right) has been hollowed from below and pulled down. The same task needs to be applied to the first branch, although the tree is not established enough right now for heavy work since it was repotted this spring. Maybe next year.

Nice and shaggy

Half done.

Done for now. Very thin, but being a yew it will fill in very quickly. More foliage will also hide the defect in the first branch on the right. The `key` branch is actually the first branch on the left. This needs to grow out and be pulled down more.

This is pretty close to the desired profile of the tree. I could have achieved this silhouette in today`s wiring, but instead I cut back most of the branches hard to work on developing branch structure.


Blue Alps Juniper Prep Work

I have a progression of my work on this tree in 2011 posted here. The species is Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Alps’, and it is an incredibly vigorous variety. It was crammed into a shallow pot this spring, but bounced back nicely. I detailed wired it in July 2011 and today and it has already outgrown most of its wire. So today, after coming back from the US National Bonsai Exhibition in Rochester, NY, I was itching to do some bonsai work so I removed the wire from this tree and gave it a trimming in preparation for its next round of wiring.

It may be worth noting that I unraveled the thin copper wire instead of cutting it away. Unraveling it is usually faster, makes less of a mess, and is better for the tree as it minimizes the chance that small loops of wire will be left on the tree that could later girdle or otherwise weaken a branch. I only unravel the detail wiring. The thicker copper wire applied to primary branches is cut away.

After a light round of scissor thinning, the tree went back on its bench. I will give it another month of growth until I have more free time to rewire the tree. Detail wiring this tree will probably take me the better part of a day.

Late March 2012 after repotting.

Today, before work.

After removing wire.

After a light trim. Only the strong middle shoots were cut back. The goal was just to balance the energy in some areas without weakening the tree overall.


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 Frost Damage

I featured this Ginkgo biloba ‘Mariken’ in a recent post where I began the air layering process on it.

As expected, the unseasonably warm March we had has been countered by some freezing temperatures. Last week on a clear night it went down to -2 celsius. I brought most of my smaller trees in the garage, but this ginkgo was left outside to weather it. The damage is clear, but the tree is already starting to throw a new crop of spring growth.

I am not concerned about losing the tree (I’ve seen ginkgo bounce back from worse frost damage than this) but am wondering what effect this may have on the layering process. Time will tell, I guess.


Run free, Forsythia!

This forsythia was collected two years ago from a school that wanted to replace all their landscaping with native species as their feeble contribution to the Green Wave. Its not a great piece of material (lacks taper) but forsythia with thick single trunks are rare so I was happy to dig it up.

I stuck the thing in a small pot last spring and I’m surprised it didn’t break it with the root growth. To thicken the new apex branch, I planted it in the ground today. It will probably take a while to get the desired taper transition (read: forever) but I am mainly growing this tree for the flowers so it doesn’t have to be perfect.

On another note, did anyone else notice this was an incredible year for forsythia flowers? Maybe it had something to do with the mild winter…

Pretty gnarly trunk, but lacking taper.

Forsythia are incredibly prolific root growers. I had this tree half submerged in a basin of water all last summer because I couldn't keep up with the watering. It loved it.

The roots were coarsely raked out and some thick roots cut back.

This pic shows the new apext that I want to thicken up a bit. Thrice its current thickness would probably suffice for a decent image. That branch was grown in 1 year, so who knows what might be possible this year in the ground...

You're free.. now go! The soil was enriched with a bit of turface and some bone meal.


Ginkgo biloba ‘Mariken’ Air Layer

This is a very dwarf and dense variety of Ginkgo that I picked up at a specialized nursery for a good price. I keep telling myself that I will not buy nursery material unless it is exceptional but it is tough to live by this rule!

Ginkgo biloba 'Mariken'. If the layer is successful, this tree will quickly develop into a simple but attractive shohin.

Anyway, like most dwarf conifers, this specimen is grafted  – and the graft is very ugly. I knew this when I bought it, so air layering was definitely part of the plan.

Graft showing massive reverse taper below the bulge.

I have air layered a number of trees successfully in the past, and normally start the process in the late spring after the leaves have just hardened off. Of course, there is more than one way to do things in bonsai, and Graham Potter made a video which does a great job of summarizing his approach to air layering. The video can be watched here.

A summary of the key points of his process is as follows:

  • Start the layer in the early spring, when the tree is just beginning to show signs of activity.
  • Cut away a ring of bark, and scrape away all of the white phloem tissue until you have reached the sapwood below
  • Clean cut the top of the ring with a sharp knife
  • Rooting hormone doesn’t really help
  • Pack the sphagnum moss tightly against the trunk. Good contact between the moss and the trunk is important.

I am keen to try Graham’s approach, because starting the layer as early as possible will give it more time to develop in our short growing season.

The one time I tried a Ginkgo air layer, it failed. The tree bridged the ring wound – probably because I did not scrape away the phloem. When I re-opened the wound, the tree died. However, I know that Ginkgo are conducive to air layering because a friend of mine has layered a pretty chunky branch of a specimen Ginkgo yard tree.

The ring wound after scraping away the white phloem tissue.

The completed layer, packed tight up against the trunk.

Hopefully this tree continues to bud out and shows some roots soon!


Taxus cuspidata ‘nana’ Planting Angle Adjustment

The main purpose of this repot was not horticultural, but rather to adjust the planting angle of this Dwarf Japanese Yew. It has been tough to get this tree at the right angle due to the presence of thick sections of downward growing trunk which I have been rather timidly chipping away at (the tree was developed as a ground layer). You can read more about the history of this tree in my progressions page. This tree has been slow to develop, largely due to the long period of time spent replacing the root system. It is finally at the point now where I can solely focus on its development as a bonsai. It does admittedly have a few years to go before it is show ready.

The tree last spring. The tree looks unstable at this angle, and the direction of the first branch is upward. This branch will be pulled down eventually, but correcting the planting angle will reduce the degree to which the branch has to be lowered.

The tree before repotting, propped up at the intended angle.

After grinding away some of the offending 'root' (which is actually a section of trunk from where the ground layer was separated). Yew develop fantastically dense fibrous root systems. It is important to really open them up during repotting so soil can be worked in. The final bits of original nursery clay were also hosed away.

The result. I believe that this is the best angle for this tree. It also went into an aged yamaaki pot which may look a bit small right now, but I think will be ideal when the intended silhouette of the tree is achieved.
This tree will not be repotted again for several years.


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!

 


RIP Potentilla. A harsh lesson.

Bonsai is, to some extent, about making mistakes. Sometimes we make really stupid ones.

This Potentilla fruticosa ‘Pink Beauty’ developed very quickly from nursery stock to being practically show ready in about 2 years. It was my favourite tree, and had lots of fine detail for being only 10 cm tall. You can see the progression of its development here.

The tree reached its prime in the early summer of 2010. This was the first tree I had created that I felt proud to exhibit, even though it still needed its planting angle corrected and a much finer pot.

Well, an important Canadian bonsai exhibition was appraoching in the summer of 2010, and I was very unhappy with the planting angle of the tree. It needed to be tilted about 10 degrees to the right. In August, about one month before the show, I removed the tree from the pot and corrected the angle. No roots were cut and the soil was hardly disturbed. I was not concerned about doing such an operation on my best tree mid-summer because it was non-invasive and potentilla are tough as hell. I would have felt comfortable doing the same with any healthy tree, let alone a potentilla.

Big mistake.

A few days later I noticed signs of weakness. Then I was certain the main branch was dying. I thought to myself “this sucks, but I should be able to restyle it”. I still hadn’t accepted the gravity of my error.

Within two weeks the tree was dead. My best tree, killed because of my impatience and zeal. Sure they may be tough in the spring. When I collect them, I literally rip them out of the ground like turnips and get 100% survival. But apparently the lesson here is DO NOT mess with potentilla roots at any time except the early spring.

The tree at its peak around May 2010

Less than two weeks after adjusting the planting angle, it was clear that something was terribly wrong.

Now the poor thing sits 'permanently defoliated' near my repotting bench 🙁 At least its at the correct angle now!