Posts tagged “Bonsai

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.


Montréal Bonsai Bazaar Saturday August 23rd

Matthiew Quinn from Bonsai Quinn asked me to share the information about the upcoming Bonsai Bazaar being held by the Society of Bonsai and Penjing of Montreal.

See here for more information about the Bazaar, or click the image below (one of the excellent larches that will be for sale). Montreal has a wealth of bonsai talent so this would certainly be worth the trip!

Gorgeous Larix laricina yamadori to be offered at the Bazaar.

Gorgeous Larix laricina yamadori to be offered at the Bazaar.


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.

 


Futame-futaba-nokoshi

As I have recently come to own two satsuki azaleas, I realized I’d better figure out how they work. One step I took was buying and reading Satsuki Azaleas for Bonsai and Azalea Enthusiasts by Robert Z. Callaham. It is an interesting book with some good satsuki techniques, but the bulk of it is designed as a reference for identifying cultivars.

One interesting technique is known as futame-futaba-nokoshi, and it means pruning the tree such that each branch ends in two shoots, each with two leaves. All other growth is removed. This allows an opportunity to wire the young shoots and promotes budding in the interior of the tree. Essentially it is partial defoliation combined with branch thinning. This ‘Kaho’ azalea which I purchased last summer has been undergoing a major restoration project, and it seemed a good time to apply this technique. All of the secondary branching was cut off last year, so futame-futaba-nokoshi provides a good opportunity to carefully create the future secondary branches.

The cutting/wiring was done almost exactly one month ago, and the follow up pictures are from today. This tree will probably have another round of cutting this year, as well as flower bud removal. Some long and awkward branches still need to be removed/shortened.

One view (front?) after cutting.

One view (front?) after cutting and trunk scrubbing.

Another view after cutting.

Another view after cutting.

Branch detail.

Branch detail.

One month later.

One month later.

Tree as purchased July 2013

Tree as purchased July 2013

 

 

 

 

 


Defoliation of American Hornbeam Forest

This Carpinus caroliniana forest was made in the Spring of 2013 and this year it was defoliated for the first time. Owen Reich told me that American Hornbeam respond well to defoliation (maximum once per year) and indeed the results were positive. One issue I noticed is that as the second flush was coming in, some very vigorous leaves grew back at an accelerated pace and became very large. These were periodically removed to allow the smaller, less vigorous leaves to fill in at a more uniform pace.

The tree was defoliated May 31st, just after the new growth had hardened off. One month later, the second flush had filled in and hardened off.

May 20th, ten days before defoliation. I forgot to take a picture right before defoliating the tree.

May 20th, ten days before defoliation (I forgot to take a picture right before defoliating the tree). The leaves here are not quite hardened off. 

May 31st immediately following defoliation.

May 31st immediately following defoliation.

 

The tree today, just over one month after defoliation. One major effect of defoliation is that the smaller interior shoots were allowed to open up. Many did not open up at all in the spring.

The tree today, just over one month after defoliation. One major effect of defoliation was that the smaller interior shoots were allowed to open up. Many did not open up at all in the spring as all of the vigour went to the shoots of the exterior canopy. After defoliation, the density of the tree is much more uniform. 

 

The new leaves are about 50% the size of the old ones. Very nice!

The new leaves are about 50% the size of the old ones. Very nice!


Canadian Hemlock aka Eastern Hemlock, Tsuga canadensis as Bonsai

This is the first tree I ever collected, over eight years ago now. The development of this tree has been one step forward, two steps back. There is limited information out there on T. canadensis and I’ve only seen two that could be called bonsai (this tree  isn’t one of them). This is probably for two reasons: 1) it is hard to find worthy material, and 2) they are a quirky species to work with.

Eastern Hemlock are unique for a number of reasons:

  • They very, very much prefer a rich and moist organic growing medium. I almost killed mine by transplanting it into a coarse, inorganic medium. Replacing it with topsoil restored the health of the tree.
  • They can tolerate practically any light condition from full shade to full sun. For bonsai development, several hours of direct morning sun is good for promoting backbudding and branch development. Full direct sun tends to cause the foliage to lose it’s rich green colour.
  • Despite their delicate and almost “weak” appearance, they heal over wounds better than any conifer I can think of and better than many deciduous trees. This makes grafting easy on T. canadensis.
  • The branches are very flexible however they are extremely weak at the crotches. They will suddenly and heart-breakingly tear from the trunk with little notice during heavy (or even moderate) bending operations. However, their capacity to rapidly callus over wounds means that a branch will more often than not survive, even if you have torn half of the base away from the trunk.

I have learned and re-learned these points “the hard way” on this poor specimen over the years. The resulting setbacks have probably doubled the time it should have taken me to get to the current stage of development. Now this tree has immense sentimental value to me despite being one of the last trees that draws the attention of any visitors to my yard.

I believe Eastern Hemlock is by far the most delicate and feminine species native to eastern North America, and perhaps even all of North America. This makes it priceless in our catalogue of native species and worthy of greater attention. I just wish material was easier to come across!

My T, candensis today after finally getting the main structure set into place after eight long years.

My T. canadensis today after finally getting the main structure set into place after eight long years. Still a long way to go but I think the hard work is done. 

Last summer I was trying to fully style the tree and had to stop at this point after I tore a major limb that supported two major branches - the first branch on the left, and the back branch,

Last summer I was trying to fully style the tree and had to stop at this point after I tore a major limb that supported two major branches – the first branch on the left, and the back branch.

The tear in the limb last summer. Remarkably, the more important branch (second primary branch) survived despite losing much of the secondary growth. The back branch completely died

The tear in the limb during last summer’s work. Remarkably, the more important branch (second primary branch) survived despite losing much of the secondary growth. The back branch completely died

Growing near a trail in April 2007.

Growing near a trail in April 2007.

Collected and potted up showing the current front.

Collected and potted up showing the current front.

Stolen American Larch Bonsai

This old American larch (tamarack) bonsai, along with two others, was stolen from a private collection in Toronto on June 23rd, 2014.

If you have seen this distinct bonsai, please call your local police department and/or contact the owner Elisabeth Leslie ewleslie[at]icloud.com

The bonsai community is tight not only in Toronto but worldwide. Hopefully we can use this to our advantage to help get this lovely tree back to the owner.

Stolen American larch bonsai.


Exhibition Gallery: Bonsai Society at Royal Botanical Gardens

Click here or the image below to see a gallery of over 60 trees exhibited by the Bonsai Society at Royal Botanical Gardens to honour the 25th anniversary of the twinning of Itabashi, Japan with Burlington, Ontario.

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Blue rug juniper bonsai exhibited at Royal Botanical Gardens.

 


2014 Toronto Bonsai Society Show Photo Gallery

The Toronto Bonsai Society is extremely fortunate to have a member who committed much of his time and energy to professionally photograph every tree at this year’s Spring Show (not to mention updating and maintaining the website). It is amazing the difference a professional quality photograph makes (and also amazing how it highlights the flaws in our trees!). Thank you Dan… even if you photographed my Potentilla from the back… doh! 🙂

Click here for the full gallery, or the image below.

Collected Thuja occidentalis by TBS member Mike M.

Collected Thuja occidentalis by TBS member Mike M.


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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Bonsai Exhibition: June 14th & 15th 2014 at Royal Botanical Gardens

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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.


Korean Hornbeam

I have been working on this korean hornbeam since 2006. A major mistake I have been making over the last four or five years has been overfertilizing in the spring. This has limited the development of fine ramification and as a result the growth is still somewhat coarse.

This spring it was thinned and wired. Owen Reich visited my garden last week and he made some adjustments to the positioning of the finer branches, adding more movement and natural lines to the branching.

Late April before cutting and wiring.

Late April before cutting and wiring.

After cutting and wiring, before Owen Reich.

After cutting and wiring, before Owen Reich.

After Owen Reich's adjustments. The details are a bit difficult to see as the tree is leafing out.

After Owen Reich’s adjustments. The details are a bit difficult to see as the tree is leafing out.

An early picture, as purchased.

An early picture, as purchased.


Toronto Bonsai Society Show and Sale

Always a great event, I hope to see you there.

TBS Show Poster


Major Changes for Big Larch Forest

I bought this tree in December 2012. Being an established forest, it had some nice character but also some major challenges. Besides the unsuitable pot, the forest had far too much symmetry and the branches were too “stubby”, for lack of a better word. The variation in the trunks (diameter and height) is limited,  Some of these things would be easy to correct, but others more difficult or impossible. The year 2013 was spent just growing it out and lightly pruning to develop a more elegant branch structure.

As a side note, this tree spend the entire winter out on a bench completely unprotected. This was the coldest winter in southern Ontario in over 20 years with many days in the -20 Celsius range and a few in the -30s. Fortunately there was a lot of snow and this larch was right at home.

The tree as purchased.

The tree in Spring 2013, as purchased. Some trunks are not fully visible from the original front.

The first step for this year was to wire everything. This probably took 12 hours, spread out over several days. Conifer forests just take so much wiring, it can be overwhelming.

After wiring. No branches have been placed yet.

After wiring. No branches have been placed yet. Note the number of new branches compared to the Spring 2013 image.

The next step was to plant it in a more suitable container. This slab was custom made for the forest by local potter Geoff Lloyd. One thing we neglected to think about was the front of the slab. The slab was designed for a forest pointing to the right, yet this forest obviously points to the left. As a result I ended up using the “back” of the slab as the front. It is still an attractive side, but has a slightly less interesting profile than the other side.

Intended front of the slab.

Intended front of the slab, best suited for a tree moving strongly to the right.

Back of the slab, which will actually be my front since my forest moves from left to right.

Back of the slab, which will actually be my front since my forest moves to the left.

The next step was removing the tree from the old pot and raking out the perimeter of the root ball. The bottom of the rootball was not touched at all. The perimeter needed to be raked out quite a bit so it would fit within the boundaries of the narrower new slab.

Removed from the old pot, before raking. Sorry, no post-raking pics.

Removed from the old pot, before raking. Sorry, no post-raking pics.

A muck mixture was made to mold the rootball within the contours of the new slab. The mixture was something like 2/3rds humus, 1/3rd chopped sphagnum, and a cup or two of akadama dust, plus water as needed.

Muck mix.

Dry muck mix.

After mucking the perimeter, the rootball was completely mossed. The purpose of this was mainly to prevent erosion of the freshly worked rootball, but of course there is an aesthetic benefit as well. Besides the muck, no new bonsai soil was added. The roots still have plenty of room to grow in the original root mass. Larches are perfectly happy with dense matted root balls with scant amounts of soil. It will be a long time before I need to refresh the soil again.

This picture shows the mucked perimeter (left) and the slowly progressing moss job.

This picture shows the mucked perimeter (left) and the slowly progressing moss job.

 

After repotting. Still no branch placement.

After repotting. Still no branch placement.

Now that the tree was in its new container, the branches could be placed. Many guy wires were used to reposition the trunks. Again, the goal was to give this tree a definite leftward movement. This was accomplished by pulling most of the trunks to the left and extending out the leftward growing branches while compacting those growing to the right side. I find forests to be immensely challenging as there are so many design considerations. The branches and trunks were adjusted again, and again over several sessions. I am still not 100% happy with the design but I think it is the best I could do without removing or adding trunks. That is still a future option, but for now the work is done.

Final image of the front. The farthest trunk on the right really bothers me. At one point I was very close to ripping it out. But I will take some more time to think about that.

Final image of the front. The farthest trunk on the right really bothers me. At one point I was very close to ripping it out. But I will take some more time to think about that. The tallest tree is 74 cm and the slab is 80 cm long.

View of the left side.

View of the left side.

Back.

Back.

Spring 2013 vs. Spring 2014

Spring 2013 vs. Spring 2014

 

Thanks for reading. Don’t acquire too many forests if you value your sanity!

 

 


New Pot for Potentilla fruiticosa

Quite a flamboyant choice. Perhaps too flamboyant? Well, it technically is a flowering tree… although it certainly doesn’t carry that presence.

Regardless, I find it a fun change.

New pot by Heian Kosen

New pot by Heian Kosen

 

Old Yamaaki pot. This pot couldn't handle the winter and developed some hairline cracks.

Old Yamaaki pot. This pot couldn’t handle the winter and developed some hairline cracks.


Perlite is good (but that doesn’t make it pretty).

I’ll keep this brief because soil discussions are not exactly exciting.

This is the first tree I’ve repotted since I started putting all my collected trees in 100% perlite two years ago. The root growth has been excellent and I was glad to see that there has been no noticeable decomposition of the perlite after two winters.

There are probably a million other substrates that larches grow equally well in, but you would be hard pressed to find one that is as inexpensive and lightweight as perlite.

So perlite is good. Not exactly revolutionary.

/end of soil discussion.

Collected with a weak root system in 2012.

Collected with a weak root system in 2012.

Now it has a strong root system.

Now it has a strong root system.

The red stuff you are seeing all over my trees is coloured mulch. I got it for really cheap last autumn but now the damned stuff is everywhere!


Small Larch Forest Wired

This is a busy time of year. Once the ground thaws the larches start to move almost immediately. Then, you only have a few of weeks to get all the wiring done. This is a main disadvantage of wintering larches in the ground.

This small forest and a much larger one have taken up a lot of my free time over the last week or so.

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Japanese Maple

This spring I acquired my first Japanese Maple. After ten years of bonsai, what took so long? Well I suppose it was a combination of finally having safe overwintering conditions and, more importantly, finding a good one that I couldn’t refuse.

It originally came in a lovely textured unglazed John Pitt oval. Great for a larch, but maybe not for this maple. I wanted something a little more flamboyant, so I planted it in a pale blue glazed custom made pot by local potter Geoff Lloyd. Geoff has only been making pots for a couple of years but he is making serious progress. I own several of his pots and he even made me a large custom slab which I will be planting a larch forest on in a couple of weeks.

If you need a bespoke pot and want to support your local artisan, shoot me an email and I will put you in contact with Geoff.

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A washed out picture of the tree as purchased March 15th in it’s original John Pitt container.

Besides the repot, only minor work was done. Some branches were wired, pruned, and the moss was brushed from the nebari after killing it with vinegar.

Today in it's new pot by Geoff Lloyd.

Today in it’s new pot by Geoff Lloyd.

Fellow Ontarians are probably wondering “how the hell is that thing already almost in full leaf?” Everything else around here won’t start moving for at least another two or three weeks. Well, you may have guessed that this tree came from southern Pennsylvania.


Repairing a Broken Bonsai Pot

I’ve been buying a lot of pots from Japan over the winter so I suppose it is inevitable that one would arrive broken (although it could have been prevented with better packing). Fortunately I didn’t pay a lot for it, but it is (was) still a valuable pot. Instead of tossing it, I took it as an opportunity to experiment with repairing ceramics. My goal is to make it usable which, in my climate, means it will need to stand up to constant moisture and freeze-thaw cycles. I love this style of pot and actually have the identical one in a smaller size, but it doesn’t have nearly as nice patina as this broken one.

You might be interested in the excellent articles and videos that Lakeside Pottery has on repairing ceramics. Some really great tips in there.

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Broken Keizan pot, 16.5″ x 12.5″ x 4″

After asking around and doing some research, the general consensus seems to be that epoxy is the best adhesive for repairing broken ceramics. I purchased some water-resistant marine epoxy for the job. An experienced potter and bonsai artist warned that epoxy will degrade after constant exposure to moisture, but more on how I tried to address that issue later.

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Water resistant two part epoxy.

After cleaning the broken pieces and doing a test fit (the order of assembly is important) I glued the pot back together in two stages. Excess epoxy that seeped out of the joints was wiped away with rubbing alcohol.

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The assembly was done in two stages, with the largest piece being glued on first, then the two smaller pieces the next day. The missing chips had been ground to dust during transit, so those areas were filled in with epoxy.

The goal was of course to get perfectly flush joints, but I found that  the quality of the joints decreased as more pieces were added. This is because as more pieces went in, the space taken up by the epoxy became incresaingly significant. This problem was magnified by the fact that there were so many joints. Removing some ceramic material from the joining surfaces might be a solution but could affect the final fit.

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One of the better joints.

I blended brown and grey acrylic paints to try and match the pot colour. I knew it wouldn’t be perfect since the patina on the old pot results in a gradient of colours. But it was an improvement on the glaring white epoxy. Many of you have probably heard of the approach of highlighting ceramic repairs with gold (kintsugi). I love this look but think it is most suitable for chips, single-line breaks, and older more valuable pots. The break on this pot is more of a “why didn’t you just throw it away?” kind of break.

Most damaged side of the pot, after touch up painting.

Most damaged side of the pot, after touch up painting.

To try and prolong the life of this repaired pot, the final step was to apply a heavy bead of waterproof marine grade silicone over the inside joints. The idea is that if I can waterproof the epoxy line that sees the most moisture, I may be able to keep it together longer (since I was warned that expoxy . Yes it looks ugly, but my goal is to make this pot usable and the inside of course will not be seen when the pot is in use.

Inside after applying silicone.

Inside after applying silicone.

Fortunately the pot still has an undamaged front which is presentable. Time will tell how well this repair will stand up to the elements. If you live in a cold weather climate and have tried a repair like this, I would really like to hear your experience.

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Ice Storm

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Japanese Black Pine Seedlings Available

A limited quantity of Japanese Black Pine (Pinus thunbergii) seedlings are now available for online purchase in my For Sale section. They are available in bare root bundles of ten seedlings.

Canadians only, and shipping is free!

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My Small Garden is Ready for Winter

My yard is all cleaned up and the trees are tucked away for winter. I thought some of my readers might be interested in seeing what my tiny yard looks like when the trees are packed away.

I wrote about my overwintering strategy last year, if you are interested.

Every plant in my little backyard (except the grass) is a bonsai or bonsai in training. They are all in pots, too, except two which are growing in the ground for a short time.

Every plant in my little backyard (except the grass) is a bonsai or bonsai in training. They are all in pots, too. I just don’t have the space to grow anything in the ground since I need to reserve space for overwintering. If it wasn’t for my lovely wife the grass would be gone too 🙂

This is where I overwinter most of my smaller trees.

This is where I overwinter most of my smaller trees. There are 24 trees tucked away in there in this picture. A 1/4″ hardware cloth fence has since gone up. Most are buried to the rim of the pot, but many are just sitting on the soil with mulch tossed on top. As you can probably tell, this year I got a sweet deal on clearance red cedar mulch. Not pretty but effective.

This is where most of my large collected stuff goes that are still in their big boxes.

This side is where most of my large collected stuff goes. Cedar, larch, and rocky mountain juniper, all of which are just fine sitting on the ground for the winter. Burying the big training boxes would be impractical. I cover the soil surface in mulch mostly for moisture retention. Off to the right are some trees that were collected this fall. They are in a somewhat protected corner and are more heavily mulched in around all sides of the boxes.

Here are some Japanese Black Pines and an Azalea which will be spending the winter in the garage when it gets really cold. They can tolerate some heavy frosts no problem. The larch forest will sit right there all winter. I'm always telling people how winter hardy larch are but I've never actually left one out on the bench all winter. First time for everything!

Here are some Japanese Black Pines and an Azalea which will be spending the winter in the garage when it gets really cold. They can tolerate some heavy frosts no problem. In fact, this azalea saw -12 Celsius in its cold frame one year according to its previous owner! The larch forest will sit right there all winter. I’m always telling people how winter hardy larch are but I’ve never actually left one out on the bench all winter. First time for everything!

 

 

 


Some More Fall and Winter Images

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Tamarack

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American Beech (Fagus grandifolia). This species has stunning white-silver bark but it certainly isn’t the best beech for bonsai cultivation. This trio was thrown together for a demo in the spring. Not exactly a showstopper buy it is somewhat of a novelty in my garden. Needs a couple more trees and some adjustments.

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Tamarack

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Siberian Elm

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Potentilla. Not exactly known for their fall colour but this caught my eye as I was getting it ready for winter storage.