Posts tagged “Tsuga canadensis

Head Scratching Re: Eastern Hemlock

Happy to report that I think I solved the health issues this tree was having over the last couple of years. Replacing the bonsai soil with mucky top soil seemed to bring it back to its former vigor.

Now I’ve got a new problem – I’m not sure which of the two trunks to keep. You’d think I would have figured it out after 7 years of contemplating.

    Today before work. It is on its second round of growth which is much better performance than in recent years.

Today before work. It is on its second round of growth which is much better performance than in recent years.

    For the last 6 years I have been planning to base the tree around this trunk. I even grafted a primary branch on with this front in mind (first branch on the right). The tree would be tall and upright with long downward drooping branches. Very simple but elegant, and easy to achieve with the somewhat difficult growth habit of T. canadensis. But then the apex died setting this tree back yet again. I've wired up a new apex but it needs about 2 years of strong growth before it is where I need it to be.

For the last 6 years I have been planning to base the tree around this trunk. I even grafted a primary branch on with this front in mind (first branch on the right). The tree would be tall and upright with long downward drooping branches. Very simple but elegant, and easy to achieve with the somewhat difficult growth habit of T. canadensis. But then the apex died setting this tree back yet again. I’ve wired up a new apex but it needs about 2 years of strong growth before it is where I need it to be.

 

To use the front above, I would have to remove this entire secondary trunk. Or, I could keep it and make this the tree. This is my dilemma. This trunk has much more movement and to many it would be the obvious choice. But something about it is awkward and unattractive to me. I don't like the angle of emergence from the soil, and I hate the upper third. Plus I'm not sure if Eastern Hemlock would lend itself to such a dynamic design. It is very difficult to get movement into the branches - they do not take well to sharp bending. The nebari is better from this side, however.

To use the front above, I would have to remove this entire secondary trunk. Or, I could keep it and make this the tree. This is my dilemma. This trunk has much more movement and to many it would be the obvious choice. But something about it is awkward and unattractive to me. I don’t like the angle of emergence from the soil, and I hate the upper third. Plus I’m not sure if Eastern Hemlock would lend itself to such a dynamic design. It is very difficult to get movement into the branches – they do not take well to sharp bending. The nebari is better from this side, however.

Both options have their merits. I’m still undecided, so for now the tree will just grow.


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.