Taxus cuspidata

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.

 


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.

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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.


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


Overwintering Bonsai in the Toronto Area USDA Zone 5-6

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I’ve received quite a few emails from people asking about overwintering hardy trees outdoors. While there is lots of good information out there on the internet, most of it is region specific. What applies in England, Japan, or North Carolina does not apply in Toronto. With that in mind, this information is specific to zone 5-6 and is for people who have no special facilities (heated garage, polyhouses, etc.).

Reiner Goebel of rgbonsai.com has a good article about overwintering trees in the Toronto area. Have a read here. What I do is very similar.

  • Use tough species to make life simple. Semi-hardy species (Trident maples etc.) require more attentive care in this climate. My collection consists of Eastern White Cedar, Larch, Juniper, Yew, Siberian Elm, Potentilla, Ginkgo, and  few others. All fully hardy.
  • Don’t be afraid to leave them on the bench through a few late autumn frosts. They can take it. I usually put mine away in late October or early November. If the ground is frozen, you’ve waited too long 🙂
  • Bury the pots in the ground in your garden and water everything really well. This insulates the roots. The risk is not the rootball freezing. It can and should freeze solid. The tree will be fine. The risk is frequent freeze-thaw cycles. This is why unusually warm winters are more of a concern to us northern bonsai growers than unusually cold ones. Burying the pot helps ensure that once the rootball freezes, it will stay frozen until around March, even if there are some freakishly warm days in January (it happens). If your tree is in a massive training box but is a hardy species, just sit it on the ground and mulch around it. Just having contact with the ground will help buffer the rootball temperatures.
  • Snow is your friend. As soon as fluffy snow hits the ground, shovel it onto your trees (don’t shovel on heavy wet snow!). Sure, three feet of snow can bend branches but I feel most comfortable when my trees are buried in snow all winter. This protects from -20 degree air temperatures and drying winds. But when the snow starts to melt, brush it away as this heavy slushy mess can really cause damage to branches and fine ramification.
  • Try and winter them in a shady spot in the garden protected from the wind (i.e. a north facing corner). This provides a bit of insurance against wind and sun if it is a snow-less winter (like the infamous winter of 2011). It also helps keep the tree dormant as far into the spring as possible. This is important. If your trees break dormancy too early, the tender new growth will be exposed to the unpredictable early spring weather.
  • Rabbit-proof your garden as best as possible. When rabbits get hungry in the winter, bonsai bark apparently looks quite appetizing. Even  a couple of exploratory nibbles can ruin the image of a tree. Try to board up any gaps under the fence.
  • If you have the energy, fence in your trees with hardware cloth to provide further protection from pests. Burying the fence a couple of inches provides me some reassurance against mice, although if mice want to get anywhere bad enough, they will find a way.
  • Don’t worry about watering! If you put them away late enough, they should not need any water the entire winter.
  • Again, keep them dormant as long as possible. Don’t take them out of the ground at the first sign of spring in March. You know that in our part of the world it is not impossible to have freezing nights in May, and these spring freezes can kill off tender new deciduous growth.

This approach has worked well for me for 8 seasons. There are many ways to do it, but I find this to be the simplest and most foolproof approach. It takes some time to prep the trees for winter, but once they are in the ground you can literally forget about them, sit back, and wait for repotting season to come! Unfortunately, since the trees are frozen solid in the ground, you cannot really work on them in the heart of winter.


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.