I’ve been working on this tree since 2013 and some of that work is documented here. Recently a friend helped me plant it on a natural limestone slab which I collected from a lakeshore. We decided to make some modifications to the slab, one thing lead to another, and it turned out to be a much larger project than I expected.
The photos below tell the story.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’ll keep this brief because soil discussions are not exactly exciting.
This is the first tree I’ve repotted since I started putting all my collected trees in 100% perlite two years ago. The root growth has been excellent and I was glad to see that there has been no noticeable decomposition of the perlite after two winters.
There are probably a million other substrates that larches grow equally well in, but you would be hard pressed to find one that is as inexpensive and lightweight as perlite.
So perlite is good. Not exactly revolutionary.
/end of soil discussion.
The red stuff you are seeing all over my trees is coloured mulch. I got it for really cheap last autumn but now the damned stuff is everywhere!
This little thuja was put into a nice Shibakatsu pot last week. This is one of my favorite pots and it suits the tree better than I expected. The major work on this tree is now done – both above and below ground. Now it is just a matter of pruning and pinching to develop the foliage pads. As I refine the foliage, I will slowly scrape the dead bark of the old top jin while trying to maintain the detail of the deadwood. This will be a slow process.
This hornbeam has been in a mica pot for 6 years while I have been building the branches and apex. It is still miles away but in the meantime it will be in a more attractive pot.
The natural stone this small tamarack group was planted on is nice, but far too visually and physically heavy. Today I planted it in a more manageable stoneware crescent by Chuck Iker. See here for an earlier post about this tree.
This pine was the subject of a recent post. The main goal for the next few years is to encourage backbudding so I can reduce the length of the branches. Grafting may even be in the agenda. To achieve these things, I will need to make sure the tree is vigorous and comfortable in its pot.
My understanding is that pines are best repotted just before the buds start to move. How can you identify this time? My friend gave me a handy tip: break off the tip of a dormant bud and check back the next day. If there is sap flow, the tree is coming out of dormancy and it is a good time to repot. Another indicator is if the roots have started to grow, indicated by white tips.
This tree tested positive for both of these indicators, therefore repotting was a go. For those of you in my climate – keep in mind this tree was just flown out from the Vancouver area in Janurary, and spent the winter in my garage at about 4 degrees C, therefore it is weeks ahead of any pines that were wintered outside.