Posts tagged “Thuja occidentalis

Twisty Twin Trunk Thuja in Erik Križovenský Pot

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.

Spring 2014, still in an untouched state one year after collection.

Spring 2014, still in an untouched state one year after collection.

This tree recovered faster than most, so received a rough initial styling in June 2014. This was the picture I sent to Erik for his design input.

This tree recovered faster than most, so received a rough initial styling in June 2014. This was the picture I sent to Erik for his design input.

Erik's initial design. After some minor revisions, I gave him the OK to make the pot.

Erik’s initial design. After some minor revisions, I gave him the OK to make the pot.

As of last week it had recovered from the repotting and was ready for work.

As of last week it had recovered from the repotting and was ready for work.

After deadwood work, thinning, and detail wiring. If it grows as planned it could potentially be displayed this fall.

After deadwood work, thinning, and detail wiring. If it fills out as planned it could potentially be displayed this fall.


Thuja occidentalis cleanup

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.

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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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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.

 


Sandblasting Thuja Deadwood

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.

I've already spent lots of time picking and scraping at the dead bark on this one, but there is still a film of stubborn bark here and there, and the tiny jins on the character spire I am finding impossible to clean without breaking.

I’ve already spent lots of time picking and scraping at the dead bark on this one, but there is still a film of stubborn bark here and there, and the tiny jins on the character spire I am finding impossible to clean without breaking.

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).

The sandblasting was done with a standard glass bead abrasive. I found 70 psi to be pretty ideal.

The sandblasting was done with a standard glass bead abrasive. I found 70 psi to be pretty ideal.

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.

After sandblasting.

After sandblasting.

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New Tree: Thuja occidentalis #16

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.

Before work

Before work

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Final image

 

The back of the tree is awesome. I would like to try to make this the front one day, but it won't be easy. For now I will enjoy the current front.

The back of the tree is awesome. I would like to try to make this the front one day, but it won’t be easy. For now I will enjoy the current front.


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.


Messing Around With a Small Cedar

This little thuja (~30cm to top of jin) was collected in spring 2011. It’s not exactly a jaw-dropper, but it has some nice movement, natural jins and it reminds me of the big old thuja I see with dead tops.

Preserving the old flaky bark while extending the deadwood was difficult, and some was inevitably lost. Some was actually intentionally removed as it was giving an illusion of inverse taper.

This tree probably won’t be touched for the rest of the year except for some light trimming if the foliage bounces back strongly.


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.


Repotting my largest Thuja

Its not so much the tree that is huge, but rather the ‘coffin’ that it is planted in. When it is a bonsai, it will be an easy one-person tree… but its still my biggest Thuja (actually, I think its my biggest tree period).

I collected this in the fall of 2010 and did not want to disturb the huge flat root system, so I just built a box around it. It took two people to lift it, but the main issue is that I was stupid enough to build it out of plywood so it was starting to fall apart after a few months.

The purpose of this repotting was simply to put it in a more sturdy box that is about 1/3rd the size, and to wash some of the mucky soil away from the inner rootball.

 

 


Yamadori Rehabilitation Area

Providing good conditions for newly collected material is always tricky when you don’t have a greenhouse. The goal is to protect from wind and intense sun, but the trees still need some sun to recover (especially spruce and larch). I have my trees up against a fence, and a double layer of shade cloth protecting the southern exposure. As trees gain some strength, I will remove one layer. The strongest trees may be moved into direct sun later in the season. I am also misting them as frequently as possible. It has been very windy the last few days, which is not a good thing.

This year, I also gave my newly collected trees a sprinkling of systemic imidacloprid granules. This is mainly to help the larches fight off any borers they may have brought home with them. I suspect that borers contributed to the decimation of last years crop of collected larch.

Something else new I’ve tried this year with my larch is screwing the tree into the wooden box instead of wiring them in. I got this idea from Sandev Bonsai. It can be very tricky to securely wire yamadori into pots. Since larch usually come out of rocky soil with few feeder roots but a number of thick stubs where large roots were cut, it is much easier to drill in a few brass wood screws to lock them into the box. It is imperative that these trees don’t wobble to protect the fragile roots.


Thuja occidentalis Slab Planting

The other day I planted this Eastern White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis) on a slab I picked up from Aichi-en in Nagoya, Japan. I believe the slab is made of concrete, although the artist did a very good job of giving it a natural form and texture.

I had the help of a friend who has much more experience planting trees on slabs than I do. I was expecting to have to make a retaining wall out of muck like Bjorn does for a white pine in this excellent video, but I learned that this step is completely unnecessary with healthy Thuja because of its incredibly dense root characteristics.

Unfortunately I didn’t get many pictures of the process because I was busy working on the tree 🙂 However, the key points to planting Thuja on a slab are as follows:

  • The material should be well established and have a dense, fibrous rootball. Most Thuja can produce this in two years of growth in a coarse bonsai soil such as a lava rock or pumice based mix.
  • Do not disturb the rootball any more than is necessary. In other words, don’t rake the whole thing out. This will weaken the structure of the rooball and will make it difficult to keep it intact once planted on the shallow stone.
  • Remove thick, downward growing roots.Thuja collected from rocky areas typically have few of these, as was the case with this tree. Once the rootball is shallow enough, leave it alone.
  • Trim long, thick roots that extend beyond the desired perimeter of the rootball. Excessively long fibrous roots can be tucked underneath the rootmass once it is placed on the stone.
  • Tie it in tight. Drill more holes if necessary.
  • Work in soil where necessary, If the rootball is dense and was undisturbed, relatively little soil will need to be worked in near the trunk.

"Before" (this is actually a picture from last summer).

The rootball tied into the stone. I'm guessing only about 25% of the rootmass was removed for this planting.

The result. I am happy with the stone and the more upright planting angle. This is actually closer to how it was growing in the ground. This tree still has a lot of development ahead of it, so there is no point in adding moss. No top pruning was done. The tree just looks thinner because it shed its foliage last fall, after the first picture was taken.


Grafting Hinoki on Thuja (Arborvitae) Part 2

See here for Part 1.

My Thuja are starting to lose their winter colour, so I figured now was as good a time as any to make my first attempt at grafting hinoki foliage to this old bare tree.

Ready for grafting.

Ready for grafting.

The type of graft I attempted was a type of side veneer graft, as shown in the image below.

Side veneer graft.

Approximate size of the scions used. Hopefully they aren't too big? I chose the size based on images I've seen of people doing the same type of grafting on juniper.

Approximate size of the scions used. Hopefully they aren’t too big? I chose the size based on images I’ve seen of people doing the same type of grafting on juniper.

 

A (very tight) elastic band was used to initially secure the scion to the rootstock. This is a nice trick I learned at a recent grafting workshop. It allows you to still "tweak" the position of the scion after it is secured to the tree, to ensure that the cambium is aligned properly. There are special UV resistant elastics designed for this job, but I just used old kitchen elastics. A tight layer of teflon tape went over the elastic to protect the wound.

A (very tight) elastic band was used to initially secure the scion to the rootstock. This is a nice trick I learned at a recent grafting workshop. It allows you to still “tweak” the position of the scion after it is secured to the tree, to ensure that the cambium is aligned properly. There are special UV resistant elastics designed for this job, but I just used old kitchen elastics. A tight layer of teflon tape went over the elastic to protect the wound.

Three grafts in total were attempted. One was covered in a clear plastic bag. For another, the scion was wrapped in parafilm (which apparently breaks down quickly enough that the scion can actually grow right out of it). The last one was left unprotected. Professional propagators don’t wrap their scions in anything, but they also have fancy greenhouses to control their environment. We’ll see what happens.

To be honest, I am not feeling very confident about these grafts. I did the best I could, but I feel that I am at a big disadvantage without having a greenhouse. But nothing ventured, nothing gained – right? If these fail, I will try approach grafting and possibly some more side veneer grafting in the late spring.

Fingers crossed!


Growth Rate of Stressed Thuja occidentalis

This is not a rule, but you can see that Thuja in some stressed conditions (especially drought, poor soil, and crushing ice) grow as little as 2 radial centimeters every 40-50 years. This promotes the development of great bark and deadwood character in small trees. Good junipers cannot be collected in my part of Canada, but Thuja has much of the drama that is so desireable in Juniper bonsai, combined with a unique ruggedness.

The picture of the rings is from where the old top of this tree was cut back after collecting (not a dead tree 🙂 ). This tree was sold last year.

Old Thuja bark


Grafting Hinoki on Thuja (Arborvitae) Part 1

Many people think that the foliage of Thuja is untameable and unsuitable for bonsai. This is not true – a very refined image can be produced with the native Thuja foliage, especially for medium to large bonsai.

However, there is always the possibility of grafting the more fine hinoki foliage on if you are truly dissatisfied with the native Thuja. The two species are, after all, quite similar. While hinoki has better foliage characteristics, thuja has better vigour and wild specimens have incredible deadwood features. When I showed pictures of my collected Thuja to Junichiro Tanaka (owner of Aichi-en in Nagoya), he described them as “Hinoki Juniper”.

But even though I am content with the native foliage, sometimes grafting is necessary. Take this tree as an example.

When it was collected, I planned on building the bonsai from the branch closer to the trunk. The longer section was to be cut off when the tree recovered.

The long, far away section of foliage had no purpose for the bonsai design.

Why didn’t I cut it off when I collected it? Well, I’m not totally convinced by the “balancing the roots with the shoots” idea. It seems like common sense that leaving more foliage will give the tree more strength to produce new roots, as long as you can minimize transpiration with misting.

Well, it looks like I ate my words here. The most important branch died, of course. I think this is because the roots supporting it were damaged when collecting. Cedars have a very “divided” lifelines that are distinctly attached to roots. If I killed the roots that supported that branch, there was not much hope.

Sigh.

The trunk is nice enough that the tree is worth setting aside as a grafting project. I have never grafted cedar, and this will be an exciting project for this year (and maybe a few years to come). Nick Lenz has a “hinoki cedar” that is rather famous in the Eastern North America. It took him something like 4 years to completely replace the thuja foliage with hinoki. I believe he used thread grafts for this (yes I know… sounds insane) and Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana’ (dwarf hinoki).

An older picture of Nick Lenz's "Hinoki Cedar", created by grafting Dwarf Hinoki onto a collected Thuja occidentalis trunk.

I am not planning on using thread grafts, nor am I planning on using Dwarf Hinoki. I will try two types of graft – approach graft and bud graft using Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Kosteri’. This variety seems somewhat more vigourous that ‘Nana’. The foliage is not as compact, but it is still very fine, dark green, and somewhat less curly than ‘Nana’. Hopefully the greater vigour of Kosteri will accelerate the grafting process. Check back soon for updates.

'Kosteri' Hinoki foliage.