Thuja occidentalis

Bending a Heavy Jin and Initial Styling of a Cascade Thuja

I collected this cedar in 2013 and only this year decided to style it as a full cascade. The big character jin jutting towards the lower left is amazing, but presents a practical challenge for getting the tree into a classic cascade pot. Instead of removing it, I thought it would be interesting to try to bend it flush to the trunk. In addition to solving the pot problem, it would also add some thickness to the base of the trunk, which has some distracting reverse taper.

The cascade style is often a solution for a tree that emerges from the soil with a sharp bend.

The cascade style is often a solution for a tree that emerges from the soil with a sharp bend.

Before bending the jin. This image also better shows the reverse taper of the trunk.

Before bending the jin. This image also better shows the reverse taper of the trunk.

Some of the jin had to be shortened so it could clear the soil surface when bent in.

Some of the jin had to be shortened so it could clear the soil surface when bent in. I hate removing ancient deadwood from collected trees, but sometimes it is necessary to realize the design. 

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The elbow of the jin was notched and some wood removed from the back. It was also wrapped in a wet rag several days before the operation.

Strategic parts of the jin were protected with aluminum foil then steamed with a torch to facilitate the bending. Two clamps were used to crank the jin in.

Strategic parts of the jin were protected with aluminum foil then steamed with a torch to facilitate the bending. Two clamps were used to crank the jin in.

We were amazed that the jin did no even show signs of cracking or tearing. When flush with the trunk, it was secured with two stainless steel screws.

We were amazed that the jin did not show signs of cracking or tearing. When flush with the trunk, it was secured with two stainless steel screws.

A better look at the bend jin.

A better look at the bent jin.

The bent jin from the back.

The bent jin from the back.

After setting the basic structure. The two unnecessary branches will be kept for a year or two until the main foliage mass gains more vigour. Hopefully this will help minimize dieback of the two live veins, both of which are visible from the front.

After setting the basic structure. The two unnecessary branches will be kept for a year or two until the main foliage mass gains more vigour. Hopefully this will help minimize dieback of the two live veins, both of which are visible from the front.

Photoshop without sacrifice branches. The crown will probably be 30% larger in the future.

Photoshop without sacrifice branches. The crown needs to be about 30% larger to better balance out the massive trunk. 

Image from May 2015 repotting. This tree has a surprisingly compact root ball and while it will not be easy to get this into a cascade pot, I think it will be possible without any major operations.

Image from May 2015 repotting. This tree has a surprisingly compact root ball and while it will not be easy to get this into a cascade pot, I think it will be possible without any major operations.


Sandblasting Some Large Eastern White Cedars

Prior to last week I had only tried sandblasting on one small cedar. The results were excellent, but I was limited to using my friend’s small parts sandblasting cabinet which could only handle a shohin sized tree. Recently, however, a member of our club got a full sized sandblasting tank and offered to let me try it out on some larger trees. Often sandblasting is done in an enclosed tent or room, but we just did it out on his lawn.

This tree was collected in spring 2013. Last year I did a rough initial cleaning on it using hand tools, but with a craggy old thing like this, sandblasting is the most efficient way to clean away all the old dead bark while preserving the details of the deadwood. Many of the cracks and crevices are impossible to access with hand tools. Sandblasting should be a once-in-a-lifetime event for a tree. Once it is done, the deadwood can be maintained over the years with gentle brushing (water and toothbrush) and lime sulfur application (although this is often unnecessary on thuja as their deadwood will naturally bleach in the sun as long as it is clean).

We used aluminum oxide media at 50-90 psi.

The tree before sandblasting. The trunk was wet at this point as it had been raining, so it is much darker looking than it actually is.

The tree before sandblasting. The trunk was wet at this point as it had been raining, so it is much darker looking than it actually is.

Preparation is important. Covering the soil prevents it from getting blown away. Covering the foliage is absolutely necessary. We chose to cover the live vein with modelling clay as insurance, although this is not strictly necessary if you are careful. The bark is surprisingly resistant to sandblasting. I've seen pictures from Takeo Kawabe's book (Kimura's student) who seems to sandblast junipers with no live vein protection.

Preparation is important. Covering the soil prevents it from getting blown away. Covering the foliage is absolutely necessary – it will die if it is hit by the media. We chose to cover the live vein with modelling clay as insurance, although this is not strictly necessary if you are careful -the bark is surprisingly resistant to sandblasting. I’ve seen pictures from Takeo Kawabe’s book (Kimura’s student) who seems to sandblast junipers with no live vein protection.

After about two hours of sandblasting. 90% of that time was waiting for the tank to repressurize. Sandblasting requires a high CFM compressor and the one we were using was unable to keep up for more than a minute or two.

After about two hours of sandblasting. 90% of that time was spent drinking beer and waiting for the tank to re-pressurize. Sandblasting requires a high CFM compressor and the one we were using was unable to keep up for more than a minute or two.

Unwrapped.

Unwrapped.

Very happy with the results.

The medium we used left a slight texture behind on the deadwood but it is all we had to work with. I am still very happy with the results. The live veins will be further defined over the coming years.

This heavy break will unfortunately be hidden in the back of the tree. It is gorgeous but there are always compromises with yamadori.

This heavy break will unfortunately be hidden in the back of the tree. It is gorgeous but there are always compromises with yamadori.

Another candidate for sandblasting. This tree was probably collected in the 80s and was once a bonsai, but  had been growing as a garden plant for 10-15 years. Most of the branches are unusable and it will be a challenge to bring this one back.

Another candidate for sandblasting. This tree was probably collected in the 80s and was once a bonsai, but had been growing as a garden shrub for 10-15 years. Most of the branches are unusable and it will be a challenge to bring this one back. I’ve been rehabilitating it for two years, but you can only expect so much backbudding from a thuja.

After blasting. No trunk protection was used to sandblast this one.

After blasting. No trunk protection was used to sandblast this one.

You can see where some of the bark was blasted away, but nothing too major.

You can see where some of the bark was blasted away, but nothing too major. I will likely polish the bark on this one anyway.

Original front of the tree 20 years ago. Likely the new back as the deadwood is quite flat and the inverse taper more pronounced.

Original front of the tree 20 or so years ago. It is likely to become the new back as the deadwood is quite flat and the inverse taper more pronounced.

An old picture of the tree.

An old picture of the tree from the Toronto Bonsai Society website.

This tree was also sandblasted then a basic structure was set. Sorry, no before picture. It was collected in the 90s by a senior club member and is very overgrown, therefore it will be a few years before it is presentable.

This tree was also sandblasted then a basic structure was set. Sorry, no before picture. It was collected in the 90s by a senior club member and is also quite overgrown, but not as bad as the previous one. It could be presentable in two years.

 


Detailed Wiring of Big Eastern White Cedar Complete

Previous posts about this tree:

http://lakeshorebonsai.com/?p=2331

http://lakeshorebonsai.com/?p=2172

It is looking very sparse right now due to the removal of old foliage and unnecessary branches, but hopefully it will fill in before the end of this growing season. Its current sparseness gives an opportunity to see the strange relationship between the two trunks. As the foliage fills in, the pads and the spaces between them will become more well defined.

This tree is big, about 65 cm tall from the lip of the pot, and weighs about 100 lbs.

This tree is big, about 65 cm tall from the lip of the pot, and weighs about 75 lbs. The two top jins are of equal height – a problem which I will address the next time I work on the tree.

This is a photoshop adjusted picture showing how I would like to reduce the top jin on the right, and bend the on on the left to emphasize movement to the right.

This is a photoshop adjusted picture showing how I would like to reduce the top jin on the right, and bend the jin on the left so that it better matches the overall movement of the tree.

Rights side

Right side. I’ve always struggled with the flatness of the main trunk, but yamadori always have their faults.

Back

Back

Left side

Left side


First Styling of Small Thuja

This is one of my smallest eastern white cedars, collected in the spring of 2012. It took longer than it should have to reach peak health following collection because quite a bit of mucky field soil remained in the root ball until spring 2014 when it was completely bare rooted. This year it was healthy enough for a rough initial styling. Next year it will be planted in a new pot at the correct angle and the deadwood will be cleaned. It could be show ready by fall 2016.

One year after collection, still in an untouched state.

One year after collection, still in an untouched state.

Healthy and ready for work.

Healthy and ready for work.

After recent work.

After recent work. Growing a new apex is the priority for the rest of this season. This tree has some excellent deadwood which is still obscured under dirt and dead bark. 


Twisty Twin Trunk Thuja in Erik Križovenský Pot

This serpentine tree was collected in the spring of 2013. I’ve always admired Erik Križovenský’s bonsai containers and thought this tree would be a great candidate for his unique style so, in 2014, I commissioned him to make one for this tree. Many people have tried to imitate Erik’s style of containers, but I’ve never seen anyone get it quite right. Furthermore, Erik has an incredible eye and designs containers to specifically match the style of each tree.

Erik is based in Slovakia and his work can be seen on his website Atelier Bonsai Element.

I hope you enjoy the following photo essay.

Spring 2014, still in an untouched state one year after collection.

Spring 2014, still in an untouched state one year after collection.

This tree recovered faster than most, so received a rough initial styling in June 2014. This was the picture I sent to Erik for his design input.

This tree recovered faster than most, so received a rough initial styling in June 2014. This was the picture I sent to Erik for his design input.

Erik's initial design. After some minor revisions, I gave him the OK to make the pot.

Erik’s initial design. After some minor revisions, I gave him the OK to make the pot.

As of last week it had recovered from the repotting and was ready for work.

As of last week it had recovered from the repotting and was ready for work.

After deadwood work, thinning, and detail wiring. If it grows as planned it could potentially be displayed this fall.

After deadwood work, thinning, and detail wiring. If it fills out as planned it could potentially be displayed this fall.


Thuja occidentalis cleanup

This tree was looking pretty good last August but I am hoping it will be looking even better by the end of this year. But before that it will have to look like crap.

It was finally repotted this spring into its first bonsai pot, some five years after collection. I am not completely happy with the planting angle nor the positioning in the pot, but that was the best I could do given the placement of the roots. The quality of the pot is not ideal either, but a comparable high quality container would be very, very expensive. If I could even find one. I am thinking about ideas for a custom made container in the future.

Much of the wire from last year was already biting in severely so the tree was completely de-wired. When I remove wire I always try to unwrap it instead of cutting it off. As far as I can see, there are three benefits to unwrapping the wire instead of cutting it off:

  • it is much faster to unwrap it than cut it off bit by bit
  • you are less likely to miss little loops of wire which could girdle branches in the future
  • it is impossible to cut off wire that is biting into a branch without severely damaging that branch. You have to unwrap it.

The exception is very thick work-hardened copper wire which can be very difficult to unwrap without twisting the branches. I usually cut that off if possible.

The tree was also thinned quite drastically. This will simplify the upcoming wiring process and also improve the branch structure. And for the first time, the deadwood was properly cleaned and some old dead stumps were refined. It was also treated with a 50% dilution of lime sulfur.

It is now resting for a couple of weeks then it will be wired.

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Preparing Displays for Toronto Bonsai Society Show and Sale

Here is one display I will have at the Toronto Bonsai Society Show and Sale this weekend. I hope to see you there!

Collected Thuja occidentalis with moss accent.

Collected Thuja occidentalis with moss accent.

tbs

 

 


Thuja occidentalis Foliage Shedding

This is peak season for eastern white cedar foliage shedding. While not at all a health concern, it is somewhat unsightly and can leave your tree looking quite sparse.

To reduce autumn foliage shedding, I’ve been following the advice of Reiner Goebel and making sure I prune my cedars some time around mid-August. This year the results are really showing. Bear in mind that if a tree is early in it’s development or recently collected, it is often better to avoid pruning and just let it shed.

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Pruned August 21st.

Pruned August 15th

Pruned August 15th

Pruned August 20th

Pruned August 20th

Not pruned

Not pruned

Not pruned

Not pruned

Not pruned

Not pruned


Thuja occidentalis progression

This is the first large Eastern White Cedar I collected. After four years of growing, the foliage mass was finally ready for some real work and this year it has gotten a lot of attention. In July it was thinned and roughly wired, and today it received its second and final thinning for the year.

I think this tree is actually two separate trees that have been growing together for a long time. The second trunk on the right is growing towards the back, and I’ve always toyed with the idea of removing it since it seems out of place. David Easterbrook and Marco Invernizzi both advised me not to remove it, and now I am starting to understand why.  That secondary trunk provides much of the depth of the tree and without it I would be left with something very two-dimensional.

It will be difficult to find a traditional bonsai container that works for this tree. I’ve got some ideas for the future planting, but it will not be easy to pull off. The final planting will determine which of the large jins I end up keeping, if any. If I can sort it out next spring, this tree might be ready to be shown in Fall 2015.

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As collected Fall 2010. Note the fist-sized rock lodged in the base of the trunk which had to be cut out with a die grinder.

Late summer 2011 after removing a major foliage mass from the upper left of the tree.

Late summer 2011 after removing a major foliage mass from the upper left of the tree.

Summer 2012, completed barerooted and repotted into a much smaller grow box.

Summer 2012, completely barerooted to remove the toxic muck and repotted into a much smaller grow box.

Summer 2013. Some major pruning and coarse wiring was done this year to open up the foliage and set the basic structure of the secondary branches.

Summer 2013. Some major pruning and coarse wiring was done this year to open up the foliage and set the basic structure of the secondary branches.

July 2014 after thinning and re-wiring.

July 2014 after thinning and re-wiring.

Today after another round of thinning and minor adjustments. There is still a fair amount of floppy foliage but that is gradually being replaced with tighter growth or removed entirely.

Today after another round of thinning and minor adjustments. There is still a fair amount of floppy foliage but that is gradually being replaced with tighter growth or removed entirely.

Future planting angle?

Future planting angle?

 

 


Thuja occidentalis Initial Cleaning

This large Thuja was collected in Spring 2013 and this year has been growing well enough that I have started some basic work. In the first year of collection, I try to do absolutely nothing to a tree – not even move it around the yard. Cleaning work like this invariably involves bumps and vibrations, so I don’t do it until the tree is obviously strong and established in the grow box – typically the second year.

This is not a thorough cleaning – just the removal of bark that come off easily, getting piles of detritus out of cracks and crevices, and cleaning the deadwood with water and a toothbrush to get rid of algae. After this it is easier to study the tree and identify the path of the live veins. As the live veins swell up over the next few years, they will be defined further.

The thin dead bark that is really stubbornly adhered to the deadwood will gradually be picked at over the next few years. Removing it right now would require aggressive scraping or rotary brushes that would ruin the natural texture of the ancient wood. I’m estimating this tree won’t be show ready for around ten years, so there is no point in rushing things. Cycles of wet-dry-freeze-thaw will aid the gentle removal of the bark.

Next spring it will be bare rooted and repotted into a much smaller pot or box. Like most collected Thuja, designing this tree will be a serious challenge. Semi cascade seems like the obvious direction but close examination reveals that there is no easy solution.

Before cleaning, likely front.

Before cleaning, likely front.

Before cleaning, likely back.

Before cleaning, likely back.

Before cleaning.

Before cleaning.

After cleaning, likely front.

After cleaning, likely front.

After cleaning, likely back.

After cleaning, likely back.

The thin layers of dead bark are the hardest to remove. Since there is no rush, I will pick at it bit by bit over the coming years. Cycles of wet-dry-freeze-thaw will aid the gentle removal of the bark.

The thin layers of dead bark are the hardest to remove.


Small Thuja Wired

Collected Spring 2011, about 30 cm to the tip of the dead spire. The deadwood of this tree was sandblasted last year which helped preserve the lovely little jins. The pot is by Shibakatsu.

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Spring 2011, as collected.

Spring 2011, as collected.

 


The Feels of Bonsai

According to Ryan Neil (see this video starting around 26 minutes, courtesy of the most excellent and prolific Bonsai Eejit), the overall feeling of a bonsai is determined by the combined directions of the trunk, main branch, and apex.

Three common scenarios are:

  1. Trunk, main branch, and apex all move in the same direction. This creates a calm, feminine bonsai.
  2. Trunk goes one way, but the apex and main branch go in the opposite direction. This creates tension.
  3. Trunk and apex the same way, but the main branch goes in the opposite direction. This creates dynamism and is rarely seen in Japanese bonsai.

Of course there are other scenarios such as the trunk and main branch going the same way while the apex goes off in the opposite direction. My guess would be that this creates imbalance thus it is difficult to design an attractive bonsai with this layout.

Ryan’s comments really stuck with me when I first saw this video. This is a simplified but useful approach to bonsai design. Of course, there are exceptions to the above scenarios just as there are exceptions to everything in bonsai.

When I was doing the initial wiring on this Thuja this weekend, I was aiming to create scenario #2 – Tension. Two trunks which strongly move to the left and apices/branches which strongly move to the right. This made a fun and compact design.

As a side note, my initial plan for this tree was to have everything moving to the left… trunks, branches, apices. It seemed like the most logical design. However, doing this would cover up the best feature of this tree – the two “kinks” in the trunks that boast some very nice deadwood.  The current design makes it possible to emphasize those kinks and, importantly, makes a more compact tree.

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Devilishly Sinuous Twin-Trunk Thuja

Trunk lines like this are what keep me trekking into the wild each year to scour for nature’s freaks. This tree was collected Spring 2013 and is gaining strength quickly. I am excited to do the initial work this summer.


A Few Images from the Toronto Bonsai Society Show

Despite is being a less-than-stellar year for fall colour, TBS still put on a good show. Unfortunately I didn’t bring the correct lens for the job so I wasn’t able to get far enough back to get most trees in frame. So here is a small sample of some trees that were on display at TBS.

I’m very proud of myself that I didn’t buy anything in the sales area, despite there being some nice trees that got snatched up pretty quickly.

… well I did buy 10 bags of lava rock, but soil doesn’t count 🙂

Very nice chuhin Japanese maple, trained by one of TBS's senior members for years from either a cutting or an air layer.

Very nice chuhin Japanese maple, trained by one of TBS’s senior members for many years from either a cutting or an air layer.

Very interesting pot by (I think) Horst Heinzelreiter. A creative pairing with this tree that I think works extremely well with the fall image.

Great pot by (I think) Horst Heinzelreiter. A creative pairing with this tree that I think works extremely well with the fall image.

It wouldn't be TBS without some Eastern White Cedars.

It wouldn’t be TBS without some Eastern White Cedars.

Shohin English Oak, 12 years from seed.

Shohin English Oak, 12 years from seed.

 

 

 


Grafting Hinoki on Thuja: Round 3

In Spring 2012, I tried bud grafting hinoki foliage on a scraggly collected Thuja, which failed. Later that year, I tried approach grafting hinoki foliage onto the same plant. Over one year later, the results are still unclear. The approach graft is alive and well, but it has not clearly fused with the Thuja tissue. I have a feeling the wounds on scion/stock both just healed over instead of grafting with one another. At this point I would say the approach graft was not successful.

Not convinced that this approach graft has taken.

Not convinced that this approach graft has taken.

Nevertheless, I left the approach graft in place and moved on with my third attempt of grafting this plant with a third type of graft: the One-Point aka Single-Point Graft.

One-point grafts are very similar to thread grafts, except defoliation is not required. This makes this type of graft a very useful tool for conifers. Many years ago, I successfully one-point grafted my Canadian Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) after learning about this type of graft from Nick Lenz’s Bonsai from the Wild 2nd Ed. In fact, Nick hints at one-point grafts as being appropriate for Hinoki-Thuja operations, but first describes them in his larch chapter:

A variant of [thread grafting] is the one point graft. Instead of passing a bald branch through a hole in the trunk, you fold over a branch and squeeze it into the hole. Before insertion, you scrape the outer edge of the fold with a thumb nail to remove the cambium. When jammed into the hole, the cambium layers of the drill-out and of the scraping will touch and merge quickly. This approach has several advantages. You can perform it at any time during the growing season as the branch does not need to be bald. This is especially useful in species that grow out but once in a season, such as pines. It also takes less time to complete. You do not have to drill all the way through the trunk, but only a centimeter or less.

The disadvantage to this approach is not great. The branch may be fatally injured when folded over. If this happens and the new graft begins to dry and brown up, you can readily pull it out and try again with a smaller branch. Despite the tendency of a branch to break (crack) when doubled over, you can always find one that will tolerate the procedure. Success is more likely on hot, dry days when water is withdrawn from the wood. -Bonsai from the Wild 2nd Ed., p. 33

A few weeks ago in mid August I looked disgustingly at my still-ungrafted Thuja and grabbed my drill. Three one-point grafts were initiated and today they all still seem to be alive. Basically what I have now are three thread grafts in my Thuja, and hopefully now it is just a waiting game.

A one-point graft that seems to have survived the initial folding-and-cramming.

A one-point graft that seems to have survived the initial folding-and-cramming. The scion for this graft was growing off the scion used for last year’s approach graft.

Another one closer to the base of the trunk.

Another one closer to the base of the trunk. All of the one points were slathered with some Japanese wound sealant which is pretty much white glue.

I'm not sure if this tree is even worth all the trouble. Sure, it will be nice if I can make it a bonsai, but this grafting project now seems more about me proving to myself that it can be done.

I’m not sure if this tree is even worth all the trouble. Sure, it will be nice if I can make it a bonsai, but this grafting project now seems more about me proving to myself that it can actually be done.

 


A Big Thuja That Was Collected This Spring

This large Thuja occidentalis was captured in April of this year. All of the pictures except the last one were taken in April soon after collection, when the tree was still in it’s dull winter colour.

The trunk is huge with some dramatic movement. The deadwood also tells some fascinating stories, particularly the massive break in the 8″ diameter middle section. One has to wonder how damage like this could be done without completely uprooting the tree.

This tree certainly doesn’t present any easy design solutions, so it will be a  challenge. Currently these are the best pictures I have of the tree as it is tucked away in the rehab area.

Hard tree to photograph as the base is covered by some branches.

Hard tree to photograph as the base is covered by some branches.

I've been planting all of my larger collected trees in pure perlite for the last couple of years.

I’ve been planting all of my larger collected trees in pure screened perlite for the last couple of years.

 

Before root washing and potting up, giving a glimpse into the massive base. This is a good example of the impenetrable root mass that Thujas are often collected with. Hosing out as much muck as possible greatly simplifies watering the containerized tree.

Before root washing and potting up, giving a glimpse into the base of the tree. This is a good example of the impenetrable root mass that Thujas are often collected with. Very little of it is actually live root. Hosing out as much muck as possible greatly simplifies watering the containerized tree.

Some details:

A more recent picture of the tree. It has been under shade cloth the entire year.

A more recent picture of the tree. It has been under shade cloth the entire year.


Sandblasting Thuja Deadwood

For years sandblasting has been used in some bonsai circles to clean up deadwood. The idea is that it will remove fuzz from carving, smooth “new” sharp edges created from carving, and strip away old dead bark while preserving the natural texture of the wood.I’ve always wanted to try it on Thuja since they have so many intricate little details which are often covered by old caked on dead bark that is extremely difficult to remove. The alternative is that you pick away at the dead bark with your fingernail or a variety of pointy tools, ideally after rain since the bark is soft. Still, it can be very difficult to get everything and not destroy the little details.

My friend has a sandblaster with a small cabinet so I thought this little guy might be my first test subject.

I've already spent lots of time picking and scraping at the dead bark on this one, but there is still a film of stubborn bark here and there, and the tiny jins on the character spire I am finding impossible to clean without breaking.

I’ve already spent lots of time picking and scraping at the dead bark on this one, but there is still a film of stubborn bark here and there, and the tiny jins on the character spire I am finding impossible to clean without breaking.

Sandblasting works best on junipers or “driftwood species” like Thuja which have a defined live vein that has been cleaned of bark. To prepare the plant for blasting, use a tacky clay like Plasticine to cover the live vein from the soil line to as far up the primary branching you can get. Protect the foliage and pot as best you can. I used aluminum foil and shrink wrap. A cloth and shrink wrap would have worked just as well. This step is MUCH easier if the tree has no wire on it (I learned that the hard way).

The sandblasting was done with a standard glass bead abrasive. I found 70 psi to be pretty ideal.

The sandblasting was done with a standard glass bead abrasive. I found 70 psi to be pretty ideal.

I was very impressed with the results. I kind of expected the small jins to be blasted off, but they were left completely intact and clean as a whistle! Some people might be concerned that the natural silver patina of the deadwood has been lost. Well, if you use lime sulfur that shouldn’t matter to you. Furthermore, I find it takes two years in my yard for this silver colouration to return. In bonsai terms that isn’t really long. Is this a technique I will start using more regularly? While I still need to spend some time closely examining the results, it seems very likely.

After sandblasting.

After sandblasting.

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It’s Time to Prune Your Eastern White Cedars

Rather than try and tell you how it is, I will instead quote Toronto bonsai veteran Reiner Goebel, who has several decades more experience with Thuja occidentalis than I do.

“As all trees, cedars shed old foliage in fall. Some time in September, part of the foliage, usually in the interior of the tree, will turn rusty brown and slowly fall off. If you’re not sure whether your tree is shedding or dying, pulling at the brown foliage is a reliable test, because the foliage about to be shed comes off easily, while the foliage about to die requires a lot of force to come off. I believe to have noticed that this natural shedding can be reduced by timing one of the heavy pruning sessions to occur around the middle of August.” -from Reiner’s article about Eastern White Cedar at RGBonsai.com

One of my bonsai teachers also puts it well: “Decide which foliage the cedar will lose, or it will decide for you”.

As Reiner says, it is usually the older interior foliage which is shed – yet this is probably the foliage you want to keep. So pruning generally involves shortening the strong fronds at the tips of branches and those strong ones jutting off the sides. Strong “runner shoots” that often appear sticking straight up at the crotches of branches should also be removed.

This is especially important on collected cedars that are early in their training, since interior foliage is usually sparse and weak (if it exists at all). Late summer cutting helps the tree hang on to that stuff so it has a better chance of gaining interior strength the next year.

This tree serves as an example, a small Thuja collected in Spring 2012. It has been slow to find its legs and is still not at full throttle, but this pruning is necessary to maintain the precious interior growth. Last year it was not pruned at all. Only Thuja that show exceptional growth following spring collection should be summer pruned during their first year of captivity.

Before pruning:

 

After pruning:

In the first few years post-collection, August pruning may be the only cutting that a Thuja will get, while the rest of the year is spent developing a foliage mass. Healthy cedars, like junipers, grow all year and require several pruning sessions.


Thuja occidentalis from Seed in Spain

If you were to ask me to make a list of species that I would be willing to try growing from scratch, Thuja occidentalis would be way down at the bottom. While they have a lot of good characteristics, the foliage can be a pain. For that reason we usually only deal with collected Thuja around here.

I follow quite a few Spanish blog because, well… Spaniards are damn good at bonsai! I was amazed when I stumbled across Carthago’s blog to see he is growing some lovely little Thuja’s from seed with impressive results. While I’m not about to run outside and plant a bunch of Thuja seeds, Carthago’s trees definitely made me smile!

All of the pictures below are from http://carthago2009.blogspot.ca/


Significant Bonsai Collection for Sale

A friend of mine is selling his larger bonsai, many of which are native collected trees that have been in training for decades.

Please note that these are not my trees, and I am unable to answer questions about pricing/size/ etc. For more information, drop me an email and I will put you in contact with the owner.

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New Tree: Thuja occidentalis #16

When I saw this tree at the TBS show and sale I was amazed (and somewhat frustrated) that it hadn’t been bought yet. What does it say about the state of bonsai in the GTA when people aren’t fighting over a tree like this, especially when the owner was practically giving it away? I walked away, came back an hour or so later, and the tree was still there. So I had to step up and buy the damned thing 🙂

This tree is awesome material for many reasons. It is collected so it has character. The movement and branch placement is practically textbook perfect for an informal upright. It is planted in the correct position in a good pot and, perhaps most importantly, the previous owner knew exactly how to maintain Thuja foliage, so it had an abundance of fine twigs which could be used to build foliage pads.

In short, all the hard work was already done by the previous owner over the last 7+ years. I just had to put some wire on it and make it look pretty!

The work involved thinning the foliage and simplifying the branching, wiring everything, focusing the movement of the tree to the right, and shortening the apex. The deadwood was also cleaned and bleached.

Before work

Before work

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Final image

 

The back of the tree is awesome. I would like to try to make this the front one day, but it won't be easy. For now I will enjoy the current front.

The back of the tree is awesome. I would like to try to make this the front one day, but it won’t be easy. For now I will enjoy the current front.


Thuja occidentalis #9

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.

May 2013

May 2013

Summer 2012

Summer 2012

 

Spring 2011 as collected.

Spring 2011 as collected.

 


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.


Thuja Grafting Round 2

Well, my attempt at bud grafting hinoki on this Thuja in the spring failed quite miserably. Of the three scions I grafted, only one actually started to push new green tips, but it soon fried once the heat of the summer arrived.

Here is my attempt to use an approach graft. Approach grafting on junipers is often done in the summer. I know this is not a juniper, but I think that Thuja and junipers have a lot in common in terms of their physiology. I have no evidence to back that up except for watching them grow in my garden over the years. I think the summer is a good time for grafting because this is the time when the trees are really throwing out new wood/callus tissue and wounds close up quickly. Also, sap flow is very high. I’ve done some thread grafting on deciduous trees in the summer with good success. I wouldn’t try any sort of bud grafting in the summer as the scion would probably get fried really quickly.

Here is the poor bastard, nice and healthy but dying for some foliage closer to the trunk.

Here is the poor bastard, nice and healthy but dying for some foliage closer to the trunk.\

The first step was carving a channel using a dremel set at low speed with a sharp cutting bit. I did my best to make the channel the same diameter as the scion, and the depth was about half that. The wound was cleaned up with a grafting knife.

The first step was carving a channel using a dremel set at low speed with a sharp cutting bit. I did my best to make the channel the same diameter as the scion, and the depth was about half that. The wound was cleaned up with a grafting knife.

Here is the plant that I am trying to graft to the Thuja: Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Kosteri’. A really lovely variety and somewhat stronger than ‘nana’.

The next step was securing the hinoki and Thuja containers together. In this case I simply rested the hinoki pot on top of the Thuja and tied the two together with three strong guy wires until they were rock solid. It is very important that they are securely mated so they can be moved around together through the seasons. Even in the best case scenario it could be a year or more before the two are separated. It would have been easier if I had hinoki cuttings in small pots, but this is the only material I have to work with. Making a bunch of cuttings of this variety for future grafting attempts is on my list of things to do.

The next step was securing the hinoki and Thuja containers together. In this case I simply rested the hinoki pot on top of the Thuja and tied the two together with three strong guy wires until they were rock solid. It is very important that they are securely mated so they can be moved around together through the seasons. Even in the best case scenario it could be a year or more before the two are separated. It would have been easier if I had hinoki cuttings in small pots, but this is the only material I have to work with. Making a bunch of cuttings of this variety for future grafting attempts is on my list of things to do.

Here is the branch to be grafted with the bark scraped off to expose the green cambium. It is probably a 2 year old branch. Before scraping, make sure you do a test fit to make sure you are scraping in the right place!

Here is the branch to be grafted with the bark scraped off to expose the green cambium. It is probably a 2 year old branch. Before scraping, make sure you do a test fit to make sure you are scraping in the right place!

I fit the scion into the channel and secured it in place with two wires with some protective rubber. It must be very tight. Try pushing on the scion - if it still flexes into the channel, it is not making good contact and must be tightened. The whole thing was then covered in grafting wax.

I fit the scion into the channel and secured it in place with two wires with some protective rubber. It must be very tight. Try pushing on the scion – if it still flexes into the channel, it is not making good contact and must be tightened. The whole thing was then covered in grafting wax.

Next, I covered the graft with a small piece of damp sphagnum moss, and covered that with a piece of plastic mesh which was secured to the trunk with three wires. The purpose of this was twofold: 1) to protect the moss from birds and drying out too quickly, and 2) to distribute more even pressure over the graft.

Next, I covered the graft with a small piece of damp sphagnum moss, and covered that with a piece of plastic mesh which was secured to the trunk with three wires. The purpose of this was twofold: 1) to protect the moss from birds and drying out too quickly, and 2) to distribute more even pressure over the graft.

Here is the happy couple. The graft is circled in red. You can see that I did some trimming of the foliage around the graft to create a nice opening so the graft will still get good sun exposure.

There are lots of types of approach grafts, but I chose this method because I like the idea of the long channel creating a lot of surface area for cambium-cambium contact. No matter the method, I think the key points are to get good cambium contact, and lock the graft into place so it absolutely cannot move.

If the grafted branch continues to grow, that is a good sign but does not mean much. It will probably be next spring before I take a peek at whats going on underneath.