Archive for May, 2012

Big Thuja Update

This big Thuja was collected in Fall 2010 and had its first serious root work just over a month ago. It is growing very nicely now, and I moved it into full sun the other day.

As soon as possible this tree will need some major thinning to prevent weakening of the interior growth. Probably 50% of the foliage will need to be thinned. However, before that I decided to cut back some useless branches at the top of the secondary trunk.

This tree actually seems to be two trees/trunks growing together. The main deadwood trunk, and an apparently younger but still interesting trunk behind it. They could work together for a final design, but I think I would prefer the simplicity of the main trunk alone. However, I need to be sure that I can kill off/separate the second trunk without harming the living part of the nicer one. And I am still not 100% convinced as I saw some root fusion when I repotted it last month. The entire deadwood trunk only has one live vein.

Here is the tree as collected in October 2010.


Korean Hornbeam Cutting

I’ve been developing this carpinus from a neglected stump for about 6 years. Most of the primary branches had died back under the previous owner. I have been trying to build a new tree from thread grafts. It is coming along, but slowly.

Korean Hornbeam need to be cut back later than maples, otherwise they won’t backbud well. Usually this mean late spring, once the new growth has hardened off. This is also a good time to send through some thread grafts as defoliated branches will bounce back quickly, and smaller holes can be drilled since winter buds have not yet formed.Thread grafts can also be sent through in the late winter, but larger holes need to be drilled to get the branches through without rubbing off the large winter buds.

Healthy spring growth. I was planning on repotting this year, but never got around to it.

Leaves have just hardened off in the last week.

After cutting back. The tree will be moved to a sunnier location and fertilized heavily to encourage backbudding.

This branch was thread grafted a few years ago.

This is the first branch I threadgrafted on this tree. Funny that it is now supplying the whip for this year’s thread graft (note small branch wired inward)! Ahh… the circle of life… :)

This years little threadgraft, growing well. Note the size of the hole. This is the disadvantage to sending threadgrafts through in the winter. Larger hole = longer time period before the scion is large enough to start fusing with the trunk.

Some fruiting structures (catkins?) were spotted and removed. The branches that these grown on weaken dramatically. I try to remove the conspicuous flowers in the spring, but usually miss a few.


Pruning Ginkgo to Develop Ramification

Ginkgo have a bad reputation for developing ramification, but that doesn’t mean they don’t ramify at all – they just need some encouragement! Unlike other deciduous species like Maple or Elm that will develop some ramification even with improper cutting techniques, Ginkgo will barely ramify at if they are not cut properly. Still, even in the best of cases, Ginkgo ramification cannot hold a candle to that of maples… but that is just the character of the tree. They are still a great species to work on.

This post outlines the pruning techniques I use on my Ginkgo in USDA zone 6.

The first step is making sure the tree is growing strong. This tree was repotted in March but has grown better than expected.

I don’t cut my ginkgo until it is showing very strong shoots like this (about five pairs of leaves). This gives the tree some time to build up strength. I find that if I cut it too early, the tree doesn’t respond well.

Here is a typical gingko branch. The buds circled in red are backbuds. Ginkgo backbuds very well, and most buds open up in the spring. However, the problem with Ginkgo is that it is hard to get these backbuds to extend into twigs. Usually only the end of the branch (circled in blue) will extend during the growing season and the backbuds will just form winter buds. Therefore, you need to cut back the tip of the branch to one pair of leaves to redirect some strength to the backbuds. This is a rather weak branch, so the side buds may not even start to extend until the process is repeated next year. Again, I find that if the tree is allowed to gain some strength in the spring, you will have much better luck getting the backbuds to extend.

Here is a stronger branch after cutting the tips back. This branch is strong enough that I would expect some of the back buds to extend.

Strong apical nodes that have not yet extended may have 3-5 leaves instead of the usual 2. Cut off some leaves to leave just a pair. This weakens the outside of the tree and allows more light into the inside. This is especially important for the top of the tree since Ginkgo are very apically dominant.

After cutting. I will continue to fertilize the tree heavily and the process may be repeated again in the summer. Further leaf-thinning may occur throughout the season.

Really, the pruning techniques for Ginkgo are very similar for most deciduous trees. The development is just much slower and the end result less ramified. However, I’ve found that by using the above strategy, I can increase the twigginess of the tree by about 50-75% each season.


Siberian Elm Cut Back

Siberian Elm are very strong growers. Despite having 95% of its roots cut off, crammed in a small pot, and being roughly wired in March, this tree grew very well this spring.

The other day I cut back the upper branches. This process will probably be repeated two or three more times this year. The lower branches need to grow wild for most of the season to allow them to thicken.

March 24.

May 22 before cutting.

May 22 after cutting.


An Eastern Hemlock Story and a Lesson Learned

Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) is rarely seen as bonsai because good material is hard to find. They bark up slowly, and grow in shady protected environments where exciting stunted material is rarely found. I’ve only seen two really good pieces of Eastern Hemlock yamadori that impressed me. One is dead now, and I have been trying (unsuccessfully) to buy the other one for awhile. I’ve never seen a mature and refined T. canadensis bonsai.

This Tsuga was one of the first decent trees I collected, back in 2007. It was growing in a dark understory near a trail were it was getting battered and bruised by passing vehicles. It has the beginnings of mature bark which is a sign of some age. Ring counts on a cut branch lead me to think the tree is 40-50 years old.

It had a shallow root system growing in mostly leaf mold, and I took home a mostly intact rootball. It grew happily in the moldy compost for 3 years, sending out 3 extensions every season. The tree seemed very strong.

Then, I had the bright idea to try and get it in a training pot and some coarse bonsai soil. The tree HATED it. Its growth slowed down, and the apex started to die back. It almost looked like a fungal attack, but whatever it was I am convinced that it was a symptom of a more fundamental problem – the soil mix.

The lesson here it to grow T. canadensis in a fine, organic mix. It may be the low pH that they like. Many people know this already (see Nick Lenz Bonsai from the Wild 2nd Ed.) but I was stubborn and in a phase where I though “bonsai soil is better for everything”.

So this spring I raked about 80% of the bonsai grit out of the pot (without removing the tree). The root system looked pathetic. I packed in sifted top soil and hopefully this will help the tree to recover. If it doesn’t help, I am about ready to throw in the towel with this one.

As a side notes, T. canadensis heals over wounds incredibly well. For such a delicate conifer, you would not expect it. This makes them suitable for grafting. The first branch on the right near the top of this tree is a successful one-point graft.


Another Potentilla

This one was repotted back in March and since then produced 2-5″ extensions, which were cut back today.

Also, some significant branches were removed from the apex. A new, lower apex will be built over the coming months.

Before apex pruning…

… and after.


Strange but Interesting Potentilla

Usually when you collect a tree, you have a rough idea of the final image you wish to achieve. Other times, you just see something interesting and decide to “collect first, ask questions later”. This Potentilla fruticosa was one of the latter.

It was collected last spring and hasn’t been touched except for a couple rounds of indiscriminate hacking of long branches.

Shaggy potentilla bark hides much of the details.

After removing the bark, the embracing fused trunks with interesting movement become more clear.

Another view. This little tree has some decent natural shari on both trunks as well.

This one is going to take some more thought. I have some ideas, but nothing solid yet. For now, I will continue to let it grow, hacking it back every couple of weeks.


Larch from Seed

When I told of of my bonsai friends that I was planning on starting some larch from seed, he looked at me like I was dense and asked “Why?”

It is a fair question since we have access to very good wild larch in this part of the world. However, the good larch grow in rocky soil and larch in rocky soil send out just two or three large roots, therefore almost always having a bad nebari. Furthermore, collected larch have a rough and wild appearance. You will never find a collected larch with the features needed to make a “softer” classic upright bonsai. I’m not saying the classic look is better than the wild look. They are just different… and different is good in a bonsai collection.

Newly collected larch. The appearance is coarse and wild, with sharp curves and great bark. The nebari is buried, but trust me – its bad. Note the natural sacrifice branch :)

The question still remains – why larch? Why not something more classic like maple or black pine? There are three answers for that: 1) I see larch as one of the most beautiful species on the planet, 2) Larch can growvery fast in my climate when you want them to, and 3) Larch are bomb-proof and idiot-proof (so long as they are established). I am very lazy and hate dealing with exotic species that require special attention in the winter.

The only drawback I see in American larch is the slow bark development. For that reason, I am also growing some Japanese larch as apparently they bark up faster.

Basically I just want to produce some very nice shohin larch and also have some larch to plant in the ground as longer term “bigger” projects.

The process starts by making seedling-cuttings. The idea is you remove the taproot a few weeks after germination to promote lateral root growth early in the life of the tree.I’ve never done this with larch, but don’t see why it won’t work.

Little seedlings waiting to have their roots removed.

The best time to do this for pines is when the stem has turned reddish-purple, so I’m assuming the same applies to larch. Rooting hormone was applied after this step.

They were planted in a mix of turface fines and perlite. A top layer of something finer like sand would have been better, but I didn’t really have anything available. The seedlings are now in part shade and covered in a dome to increase humidity.


Spring Flushes

We are finally getting consistently warm temperatures, so my trees are really starting to move. Looking at them gives me a reminder that I have a lot of work to do 🙂 Sorry for the busy background… bad camera settings.

Dwarf Japanese Yew

Korean Hornbeam

Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Alps’

Ginkgo. If only the leaves would stay this size!


Sweet Little Thuja

Mother nature has done a nice job on this little cedar. It was collected in April and the shallow, dense root ball allowed it to be planted right into a bonsai pot. The shaggy growth hides much of the details, but this tree has excellent movement and taper. Not only that, it has perfectly placed branches with lots of interior growth. If it grows well this year and next, I would expect this tree to be show ready in fall 2013.

This is probably the front of the tree. The Chuck Iker pot was chosen just because it was the right size, but it is actually a pretty decent match to the tree.

One of my favourite features of this tree is the first branch, Shown here from the back, you can see that it has excellent natural movement and character. Like many old Thuja branches, it has been torn down from the trunk, presumably by heavy snow and ice. The relatively fresh looking wood here makes it look like the tear happened only in the last few years. Although this tear happened in nature, it can be replicated artificially as a bonsai technique to redirect an old upward growing branch.


Marco Invernizzi Demo @ Toronto Bonsai Society

Marco has been coming to Toronto pretty regularly for a number of years. This year he did a demo on a less-than-stellar collected Thuja, but as usually he was able to come up with something pretty impressive. His discussion focused on preparing material to become bonsai material, with an emphasis on Thuja.

Although the collected Thuja has some nice features (bark, jins), it is pretty far gone with hardly any interior growth.

Bending the straight jin, with some help.

Demonstrating thinning techniques for the difficult to manage Thuja foliage.

The final tree. Many onlookers questioned keeping the entire length of the 45 degree jin, but Marco proposed that it was the definitive characteristic of the tree, which would make it memorable. You can’t argue with that! Sometimes having a tree that annoys people is worth it’s weight in gold :)


Ginkgo wire removed

This is the first spring where I am having trouble keeping up with the needed work on my trees. I am planning on doing some (more) culling on my collection soon, but much of that depends on the survival rate of my newly collected yamadori. I don’t have a huge collection (40-50 trees), but giving every tree the attention they need really takes a lot of time.

In the meantime, I am busy as hell. A friend was nice enough to remove the wire from my Ginkgo  for me 🙂 As a side note, this guy also has an amazing collection of fine mame and shohin sized pots and is always selling/buying. If you are looking for nice small pots, check out his website: Mame & Shohin Bonsai Pots.

As for the Ginkgo, many of the branches sprang back once the wire was removed. Kind of expected. Ginkgo is tough to wire because it scars so easily. Last year I wired it in late October and took off the wire yesterday (April 30). The branches seemed to have set better than in the past where I have wired it in March and had to take the wire off by early June.

I still haven't decided on a front for this tree. I think this side is more attractive, but the apex leans slightly back (it was not designed as the intended front by previous owners).

I think this is the original front of the tree, but I don't like the two symmetrical lumps about 1/3rd up the tree. They never used to bother me, but then my friend's wife pointed out that they look like bull testicles. Now that's all I see!


New Rocky Mountain Juniper

I have a friend who lives in the Canadian Rocky Mountains (British Columbia) who occasionally sells me some of his newly collected trees. This is the third RMJ (Juniperus scorpulum) that he has sent me, and the largest. It is a pretty nice tree with a powerful presence and some nice deadwood. The tree was growing in a rock pocket and the rootball is outstanding, and I think this tree has an excellent chance of survival. Sure, the 3,600 km bus ride might have stressed it out a bit, but I still think the chances are good 🙂 The tree still seems to be dormant, so that helps the situation.

Based on my experience, RMJ grow well in the Toronto area. One issue I have encountered with my RMJ is the alarming and persistent Cedar-Apple Rust (Gymnosporangium)… but more on that later. It should be exploding on one of my trees any day now.