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.
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.
Previous posts about this tree:
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 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.
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.
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.
Here is one display I will have at the Toronto Bonsai Society Show and Sale this weekend. I hope to see you there!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Trunk, main branch, and apex all move in the same direction. This creates a calm, feminine bonsai.
- Trunk goes one way, but the apex and main branch go in the opposite direction. This creates tension.
- 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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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/
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.