Chamaecyparis obtusa

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 Success is more likely on hot, dry days when water is withdrawn from the wood.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.

 


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.