Posts tagged “Nick Lenz

Bonsai Society at Royal Botanical Gardens Exhibition

My local club, the Bonsai Society at Royal Botanical Gardens, had our first club exhibition this weekend. Bonsai@RBG was founded almost exactly 4 years ago in October 2009, and we were all proud of the exhibition our young club was able to produce.

Approximately 60 tree were displayed, all on stands and most with accompanying accent plants. We had no backdrops for many of the trees and we thought this would be an issue, but were pleasantly surprised with the feeling of openness that it gave the show. It was nice to be able to walk into the room and gaze across the entire exhibit. Of course, backgrounds are always more desirable in a formal display setting, and this is something we will work towards for future shows.

One of the amazing things about our show was how we all pooled our resources to make the best possible displays. Many of our members do not have stands, so we pooled together everything we had and paired the best stand with the tree, regardless of owner. Similarly, members provided accent plants and scrolls to elevate the display. Without this mutual support, the show certainly would not have come together as well as it did.

Enjoy the pics below of some of the trees I was able to photograph. Most are blurry because of the low light, I had to turn down the shutter speed and of course forgot my tripod.


A panoramic view of the back wall where some of the larger bonsai were displayed alongside some nice antique scrolls. None of us are experts in displaying bonsai with scrolls, but I think it is safe to say that they added to the beauty of the display.

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.


Larch Borer Damage

In keeping with the larch posts, I thought I would talk about what is perhaps the most infamous pest of Larix laricina – borers. Borers are insect larvae that chew on the living tissue of trees as they tunnel around inside the trunks and branches, invisible to the naked eye. The parent insect (usually beetles or moths) lay their eggs inconspicuously on the bark of the tree and, upon hatching, the little demon-spawn chews its way in.

One interesting thing about borers is they are usually only a problem on weaker trees with a subdued systemic defense. Strong trees with a heavy sap flow are better able to restrain a potentially disastrous borer infestation. What does this mean for bonsai growers? Borers are most likely to gain the upper hand on recently collected trees, or very mature and slow-growing bonsai. In other words, borers pick on the weak and the elderly, making them complete assholes. This source says that “the chewing of some [borer] species may be heard by someone standing near the tree”. Ok now that is just scary.

Most often, a borer infestation is not identified until the damage is done. Just one enterprising borer could potentially girdle a trunk or a branch, causing the sudden death of a huge part of your tree.

Nick Lenz is a veteran of the borer wars, and describes in detail his approach to dealing with them in his book Bonsai from the Wild (2nd Ed.). If you live in the North East and grow any native species, especially larch or cedar, you need this book! Essentially, Nick’s approach is to bag and fumigate every larch he collects, assuming it is infested with borers. I have not been this aggressive with my collected larches (yet), although I have been treating them proactively with a systemic insecticide (imidacloprid). Hopefully I don’t regret my complacent approach in the future…

What Nick does not talk about in his book is perhaps the most alarming cases of borer damage – that on mature and established bonsai. My friend and bonsai mentor has experienced this problem this spring in a big way. Here are some pictures of what you hope to never see on your larches.

Cracks in the bark? Curious...

Cracks in the bark? Curious…

    Bark flakes away easily revealing...

Bark flakes away easily revealing…

    Large dead sections where the borer has been snacking.

Large dead sections where the borer has been snacking. You can even see the borer’s tunnel. Sawdust is a characteristic sign of borers.

    Another old, established larch with some cringe-inducing borer damage.

Another old, established larch with some cringe-inducing borer damage.


    It is difficult to see in this picture, although the borer trail extends well down the trunk leaving a trail of devastation in its wake.

It is difficult to see in this picture, although the borer trail extends well down the trunk leaving a trail of devastation in its wake.


Fortunately these trees have not yet shown any signs of branch dieback due to the borer damage, although the scars alone are rage-inducing. He treated the infected trees according to Nick Lenz’s prescription outlined in his book.

While I have not personally seen borer damage on my larches, my friend’s experience here has definitely raised my level of vigilance and hopefully yours as well.

Nick Lenz Pot for Korean Hornbeam

This hornbeam has been in a mica pot for 6 years while I have been building the branches and apex. It is still miles away but in the meantime it will be in a more attractive pot.




Repotting New Black Pine

This pine was the subject of a recent post. The main goal for the next few years is to encourage backbudding so I can reduce the length of the branches. Grafting may even be in the agenda. To achieve these things, I will need to make sure the tree is vigorous and comfortable in its pot.

My understanding is that pines are best repotted just before the buds start to move. How can you identify this time? My friend gave me a handy tip: break off the tip of a dormant bud and check back the next day. If there is sap flow, the tree is coming out of dormancy and it is a good time to repot. Another indicator is if the roots have started to grow, indicated by white tips.

This tree tested positive for both of these indicators, therefore repotting was a go. For those of you in my climate – keep in mind this tree was just flown out from the Vancouver area in Janurary, and spent the winter in my garage at about 4 degrees C, therefore it is weeks ahead of any pines that were wintered outside.

(Another) Unique Composition: Penelope by Nick Lenz

This tree must be one of the great American bonsai masterpieces…. although some may not call it bonsai.

This is ‘Penelope’ by Nick Lenz. Some decades ago, Nick got the idea to plant a young larch (Larix laricina) on a cheap concrete garden statue, and ended up producing something truly amazing.

She is named after the faithful wife of Odysseus who patiently waited many years for the return of her husband in Homer’s Odyssey. Here she is lounging under the semi-shade of early spring larch foliage.

Penelope was recently on display at a bonsai exhibition at the McMichael Gallery in Toronto.I posted a picture of her in a recent post, although I feel she is deserving of a little more attention.

I know that this is a composition loved (and hated) by many, and I am fortunate that I get to see her pretty often since she was deported to a private collection in Toronto some years ago. This post is for everyone who has not seen her since she was published in Nick Lenz’s book Bonsai from the Wild (get the book if you don’t have it). She certainly has grown since then. If you can’t see her in person, hopefully this video is the next best thing.

Don’t forget to change the viewing resolution to 720p.

Spring Work on a Siberian Elm & Bonsai Aesthetics Aluminum Wire

This tree took a step forward over the last couple of weeks, but still has a long way to go. It is one of several Ulmus pumila I got from this old hedge in 2010.

Just out of winter storage

As a side note, this winter I ended up with about 10 kg of Robert Stevens’ Bonsai Aesthetics aluminum wire. This is the first tree I actually tried it out on. It is pretty good stuff… only slightly softer than Japanese anodized aluminum with a bit less holding power, but at a fraction of the price. As is typical with aluminum on deciduous trees, I found myself using wire about 1/2 the thickness of the branch to achieve the desired bending power. It is worth noting that this wire is pure glossy black, as opposed to the copper-ish colour of Japanese aluminum wire. It will be interesting to see how the colour stands up to the elements over this growing season.

Setting some secondary and tertiary branches with Bonsai Aesthetics aluminum wire.

Root work came next. This is the first time that this tree has had focused root work since coming out of the hedge. Almost all of these elms had massive taproots. This one needed some work with the reciprocating saw and a die grinder to further reduce the taproot. Furthermore, a few excessively long roots had to be pruned back. This may look extreme, but every root I have cut back on one of these Siberians has produced new roots near the cuts – even tap roots 15 cm in diameter.

Reducing a massive taproot with a reciprocating saw, then a die grinder fitted with a carving bit.

The root system of this tree is not ideal, and needs much further reduction, but this is where I left the work for this year.

This Nick Lenz pot was the right size for the rootball, but the tree is not planted at the right angle. I'm not concerned about that right now, since this tree is still very much in training.

This Elm has an excellent trunk for a classic informal upright design, but the nebari is terrible due to the presence of large taproots. On an informal upright elm, the nebari is one of the most important features. Root grafting may be in this tree’s future.

Wiring a special Larix laricina (American Larch)

This unusual but impressive American Larch (Larix laricina), aka Tamarack was grown from scratch by the eccentric American bonsai artist Nick Lenz. The tree is currently owned by a good friend of mine, who has been a student of Nick’s for several years. He estimates that it took Nick about 20 years to produce this trunk from a collected whip. American larch with taper like this are rare to find as yamadori (but certainly not unheard of).

This tree is a few years into its development as a bonsai, and still has a ways to go. The unusual “thrusting” branch inside of the curve may seem unsual to some people, but it is a very common sight in Nick’s trees.

My friend has far too many bonsai, so I am happy to help him out during the busy times of year (I feel like I have far too few bonsai!). I eagerly accepted when he asked me to wire this tree for him (as long as he provided the wire :)).

In the Toronto area, heavy freezes are to be expected until late March/early April. As a result, this tree was wired, but the branches were not set. Without winter protection, there is always a risk of freezing temperatures damaging recently bent branches (even with larch – one of the most cold-hardy species on the planet).

After several hours of wiring (branches will not be placed until winter is definitely gone).

Photoshop: if this was my tree (which is isn't), I would seriously consider shortening the apex.