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The blog has taken a bit of a back seat of late. I notice that my last post was from back in July last year! Things have been pretty busy since then with moving to a new city, starting a new job, renovating an old house and having a child all leaving me with very little time for bonsai related work.
That said I have been able to get the tools out from time to time and have been styling customers trees and working on my own trees as time has allowed.
To kick off 2016 and start the blog off a fresh I thought a small photo essay of some grafting I did earlier this spring might be a good way to get things back into gear. The tree in question came from Shibui Bonsai and had just been lifted from the grow beds and showed the results of the early work Neil puts into these trees. It had a good start to build a really nice base upon so i decided to begin that process with some root grafting. Photos below:
The trident maple below is this years project. I spotted this tree in a friends garden and loved the big gnarly base. I like the base so much that I have just realised that I don’t have a picture of the whole tree, just photos of the base!
The base has great character but the rest of the tree is tall and directs the eye away from the nebari so I felt I could work on that to improve the tree overall. The other challenge with this trident is that it is a variety with large leaves and long internodes which makes it difficult to make a good canopy, especially on small trees.
I have noticed that other tridents with this growth habit also develop nice bases easily. The down side is that their ramification is course and thick. How can you make use of the base and also have a good foliage canopy?
The answer is to change the foliage. I decided to graft a finer foliage onto the lower section of the trunk so that I can make a shohin sized small tree with a huge powerful base and fine delicate branching.
I chose a seedling from a batch that showed good foliage characteristics. That is smaller internodes and compact growth. I planted the seedling into the same pot as the main tree for ease of watering and then grafted the young whip into the main trunk.
I actually grafted it twice into the trunk, once on each side. I bent the seedling into a ‘u’ shape and simple cut a channel in either side of the trunk for the seedling to fit into. One side will become the apex, the other will become the first branch. This way I will have the same foliage on the whole tree once I cut off the main trunk in a year or two.
Even though i am changing the foliage I also wanted to keep the old foliage so i can experiment with it in regards to its base thickening properties. To save the foliage I decided to air layer off the top and the first branch.
If these layers work, I will probably grow them in pots for a year or two before ground growing them to see if the base flaring/thickening is a genetic trait or just a result of how this tree was grown.
I have noticed that there are tridents that grow good bases and poor ramification and then tridents that do the opposite. Has anyone else noticed this?
I am hoping that I can use cuttings from this tree to grow great bases then graft a good foliage variety on top to finish up the process. Time will tell if this works out or not. If this doesn’t work out I have another seed grown trident that shows similar properties. Fingers crossed.
Every one needs a project or two in their collection. I really enjoy project trees, that is tree that are undergoing various processes to transform them into a new style, shape or form. The problem is that each year project trees undergo their transformation and then move into ramification/maintenance phases leaving me to find new projects.
Trident maples are one of my favorite species to work on and I really enjoy having one as a project. I always have my eye out for something that has plenty of room for improvement. The tree below is one such tree.
The tree was an imported trident maple. It had been brought into the country back in the 90’s when Australia’s border protection was much more flexible in regards to bringing bonsai in.
When I got the tree it had been left to grow out for the last 2 years and as a result there was a fair amount of work required to bring it back to its former glory.
The first thing I did was cut it back hard to stimulate some back budding. It’s branches were quite old so it didn’t bud out how I had hoped. This lead me to go down the path of approach grafting rather than risk cutting off branches and not get any buds pop. I decided to graft on a new set of branches at the base of all the old branches. In total I grafted 5 branches and left the tree to grow.
I also re-potted the tree and found a lump of old akadama in the center of the root ball. I bare rooted and picked all the old soil out of the root-ball. Almost immediately after the re-potting the vigour of the tree improved and I was rewarded with strong growth which helped the approach grafts to take. In the above image you can see the grafts emerging from the underside of each branch.
This spring I cut off all the large branches as the grafts were now strong enough to take over the sap flow. When I made the cuts I cleaned the wounds up with a knife and then applied cut paste which in my experience helps things heal.
I have left the grafted shoots long and I will let them grow until I am sure that they are strong and well connected to the host trunk. Once I am sure of that (probably in a month or so) I will cut them back to the first internode and then begin growing the branch structure.
Unfortunately the back branch’s graft didn’t take but as luck would have it this spring a bud has popped right at the base of the branch right where I wanted it. Sometime trees do what you want.
Once this shoot is strong enough I will also cut off the old thick back branch above.
This spring I also placed the last graft I need, just below the apex. This should allow me to cut off the last heavy branch on the tree without having to chance whether or not I get a bud where I want.
Its been fun replacing the branches on this tree and i am looking forward to this season of growth where i can start to grow the branch structure and form the outline of the bonsai. Hopefully in 5 more years this will be a highly ramified and ready to show bonsai. Time will tell.
Well as is often the case, life has been busy and the blog has suffered. I have been able to find some time today to write a string of posts that should be published over the next few weeks.
To kick things off, while going through my photos i found some before and after images of a small tree I have been playing with. The images are just a summer’s growth apart and seeing pictures like this reminds me of how good it is to capture your trees in images to track their developement. This tree I thought hadn’t really changed all that much but looking at the images you can see it has changed a lot from the start of the season.
Picture one shows the tree as I received it. It was imported from japan some time in the 1990’s when regulations were a little less strict and I managed to be in the right place at the right time and picked it up.
Since it came into my collection I have potted it up and begun to build the branch structure. I had to graft on a branch (Third on the left) but now the basic structure is set and I am looking forward to ramifying it over the coming summer.
Probably next year it could go into a more suitable pot but for now the Koyou pot it is residing in isn’t too bad.
Where to from now? well I want to grow the first branch out a little longer and generally ramify up the tree a whole lot more. Buds are just starting to open and I cant wait to get started.
I have been busy re-potting in the last few weeks and finally managed to get around to doing a project tree that I have been growing for a couple of years. When I first acquired the tree I placed 6 or so root grafts onto the trunk. 3 took and 3 failed. Since then I have been meaning to replace the failed grafts but for what ever reason, every time I have had this tree out of its pot I havent been able to do the grafts.
The first failures were all down to the fact that the channels that accepted the new shoots were too shallow. As the approach grafted seedlings thickened, they simple pushed away from the trunk instead of fusing. I originally cut the channels with a knife and was only able to cut so deep.
This years remedy was the Arbortech! I do very little machine carving but this tool does get a bit of work this time of year as it is excellent for cutting graft channels.
The process is dead simple. It is much the same as any other approach graft except instead of using a branch from the same tree you use seedlings as your grafting material.
The basic idea is that you cut a vertical channel in the trunk where you would like some new roots. You then insert a seedling into the channel and adjust it until the seedling’s roots are at the same level as the existing nebari. Then you fix the seedling into the channel (I used big map pins), seal it all up with cut paste and let it grow. Soon enough the seedling will thicken and fuse with the trunk. Cut off the top of the newly grafted seedling and you have new roots where there were previously none. For a better breakdown of the general theory see these two posts. Post 1, Post 2.
This year, the seedlings look a little strange as they are all from the batch of seedlings I bent the year before. Having said that, the bendy little trunks were very useful as I was able to use the first bend to create a good angle for the new roots to leave the trunk from.
The new grafts were generously coated in cut paste and then the whole lot was potted back into its training pot.
I imagine that by the end of this rapidly approaching summer the grafts should have taken and I will be able to shorten them back before then some time the following year cutting them flush with the trunk.
Hopefully I remember to take a few pictures along the way.
I often hear people saying they wish they had access to good stock and or that they cant find any stock worth purchasing. Often the journey to find good stock can be difficult but there is definitely good stock available if you know where to look.
A couple of weekends ago I visited a friend on the outskirts of Melbourne to see how his ground grown stock had progressed this year.
As you can see from the above picture, the stock was going very well indeed. There is no real secret about how to produce these results as they are a simple a matter of spending 10 years applying good technique and working the root bases each and every year.
Each year the trees have been dug up and cut back hard to encourage a fine, flat root system. Digging each year coupled with the excellent growing conditions in the grow beds results in good yearly top growth without roots getting too thick and creating faults. This makes for trunks with great base flare and very small scars which in many cases are healed in the ground.
When out of the ground, the most important cuts to the roots are in removing those that are downward growing and scarring the base of the trunk to further thicken the base; and with this stock, this has been done with great results. In fact, I was so impressed with the quality of the material I put my name on a couple that might come out of the ground in the next couple of years.
For those not willing to spend 5 years working out the techniques and then a further 10 growing trunks luckily this grower also sells some of his stock.
His trident maples are available through Chojo Feature trees in Mount Evelyn. Jeff who runs the place is an extremely nice guy and I am sure could help out those interested in a trunk and or other bonsai related products.
Sometimes things elsewhere look better than what you might have at your own disposal. This can do two things. One is you can become inspired and in turn try to improve your situation, or you can feel defeated and do nothing and long for what is over the proverbial fence.
In terms of Australian bonsai we sometimes look over our fence (or ocean) and long for the material of Japan or the yamadori of America or Europe. Sometimes this inspires but a lot of the time due to Australia’s strict quarantine laws (making importing near impossible) and the fact that most native collectible material is protected by law it instills a feeling of giving up or accepting second best. Myself, after returning from a trip from Japan, have looked over my collection and felt as if I was so far behind that I might as well sell up and take up stamp collecting when comparing my trees to Japan’s masterpieces and fantastic stock.
I have done my share of moaning and complaining about what is available (or perhaps more importantly not available) but complaining doesn’t solve the problem.
Australia doesn’t have juniper and pines as our native flora and those species we do have that do make good bonsai are often protected from collecting by law. This combined with an import ban on most bonsai species puts the us on the back foot when it comes to yamadori. The best chances we have at material even vaguely similar is digging from gardens.
So where does this leave us? We need to start growing more of our own. Taiwan produces ground grown or farmed junipers that for all intents and purposes look the same as their yamadori counterparts. Japan produces tons of quality raw material in a massive range of species that ensures that there is always a healthy base of material being produced for future excellent bonsai.
Growing material is not difficult, it just takes a little time. Most of this time is best invested early on in a plant’s life when it is young and flexible. 5 minutes to do some root pruning and another 5 minutes to wire the trunk for shape and you have the foundations for something interesting that has the potential to turn into an excellent bonsai.
The above Juniper came from a grower in Shizuoka. While I was studying at the nursery we went on many stock buying trips and this tree was from one such trip. The grower was not a professional nursery man but rather a home grower. The rooftop over his small garden shed had been turned into a small stock production area. He grew stock and traded it with the nursery for pots and other trees, supplies etc. What surprised me was that this was a guy living minutes away from a nursery that sold stock and trees I could only dream of here in Australia, yet with all this stock at his disposal he still was growing his own, excellent material.
If every grower in Australia, grew 5-10 good stock plants a year we would have so much good stock we wouldn’t know what to do with it all.
This year I have finally decided to stop complaining about the lack of stock and making excuses about my lack of space and have planted 60 Trident maples and 60 Japanese Black Pines as a test batch. For some reason I had been making excuses over the last few years as to why I couldn’t get this process started. My backyard was too small, I didn’t have the time and I wanted to keep my collection at a small size etc.
This year I decided that I could make room in my backyard, the time I needed was not all that much and that I could sell a good percentage of the stock once matured to keep the collections size down and to add some money to the bonsai bank.
I decided that because space in my garden was at a premium, I would grow small bonsai stock. I don’t have a ground growing area so I also had to be able to grow in pots. Growing small-sized bonsai made this an easy proposition.
What I was hoping to achieve was similar to stock i had seen produced in Japan.
Using the above trees as my base inspiration, I decided for my test batch I would grow a mix of half deciduous and half conifer so I had some variation in the final bonsai. As I didn’t have any juniper cuttings, I struck some Japanese Black pine and Trident maple seed and potted them up individually.
Pretty simple so far. The time spent on each plant to this point ran to the 5 minute mark (a generous estimation). Not a lot of time considering how much time will be invested in the future with watering, pruning and re-potting etc.
After the seedlings have established and put on some growth I got some movement into them.
This should take another couple of minutes per tree. The process is pretty standard really, insert the wire into the soil at about a 45 degree angle until it hits the side/ bottom of the pot. Then wire the trunk making sure that the wire is applied in even coils. Then you simply bend the trunk.
The bends you put in the trunk should be tight and irregular. As the tree thickens the bends will soften in appearance so over exaggerate the bends at this stage. I try not to think about the final form of the tree at this stage rather I like to combine interesting kinks and twists and make each seedling different to the next. This means that come styling time I will have a range of shapes and styles to play with. I have also found that if you try to create styles at this stage you limit yourself somewhat. The more random you can make the trunks the more natural they seem. The times I have thought about their final form I ended up with many similar trees.
They should now be fed and left to thicken for a year or two. Once the wire cuts in I will un-wire and depending on how the bends have set, I may re-wire again.
Once i have them at pencil to finger thick I will start thinking about creating branching and small canopys. This should ensure that in a few years time I will have a lot of interesting stock to play with.
Hopefully this post inspires a few people to have a go themselves. You don’t need a lot of space, ground or time and the rewards in a few years from such a small investment should be well worth your efforts.
Re-potting this year has been a rushed affair where I have been doing it when ever I have time. Mostly this seems to be under garden lights after work. Spring seems to be a little early this year which hasn’t helped as the schedule has had to be brought forward. Having said that, I have nearly got through all my trees. I have a handful left to do that I hope to get done this coming weekend.
As i have been in a rush there hasn’t been much time (or good light) to take many pics. Most of the re-potting I have been doing has been fairly un-interesting anyway and mainly just renewing of soil and replacing the trees into the pots that they came from.
One tree I did get to do during daylight hours was a trident maple. The pics i took were with my phone to see how that would work out and as you will see they are fine in good light (see the buds pic) and not so great when the light was getting low when i had finished re-potting the tree.
I talked about this tree with Boon while he was in Melbourne and also Hirotoshi saito. They both thought that the tree should be rotated slightly to the right. I had been tossing up whether or not to do this for some time before speaking to them but their advice made me decide to go ahead and try it. I am glad I did. A small tweak such as this 15 degree turn makes a lot of difference.
The reason I had been debating whether or not to make this change lay in the nebari. In the 2011 picture you can see that the nebari’s spread has a somewhat flat side to it which was facing the front. When it was rotated this formed an angle which is a little strange although there are a few good results of this change. First the slight thickening about 2/3rds of the way up disappears and there is more movement in the trunk. Also the branching is better from this new front.
I also tilted the tree forward a little. this moved the root ball a little and raised the soil in the rear of the pot a bit. I will correct this next re-potting once the roots re-establish themselves in the new position. I think i will also try to move the tree a little more to the right, i shifted it a bit this year but having seen the photos i think it could move over some more.
If you are interested in more of the re-potting process you can see the pics from last year HERE.
I have just got back from a weekend at a friends place, Shibui Bonsai. Shibui Bonsai is located in North east victoria about 3 and a bit hours from Melbourne and specialise in ground grown stock. I try to head up each year to help Neil (the owner) dig a few rows of tree out of the ground. Neil grows a range of species and this year we dug Tridents, Chinese Elm, Japanese black Pine, and Japanese Maple. In some of the other rows Neil had Chinese Quince, Shimpaku and a range of other desirable bonsai species that will probably come out after another season.
Having been up over a number of years now it has been great to see how trees develop over time. As trees are dug and pruned, they are sorted into those that might need to go back in the ground for another year and those that are ready to begin their life as bonsai. The digging went quickly this year as the trees had only been in the ground for a season and as a result didn’t have many large roots. The trident maples had really nice compact root-balls and as did the black pines which was a nice result and should make for them establishing into training pots much more quickly.
At this time of year Neil likes to dig the trees, prune them and then heal them back into a growing trench where they will happily sit dormant until they are potted up in a few weeks time.
Once potted up they spend around a year re-establishing themselves in the new pot before becoming available for sale.
Once we had finished the day’s digging we went for a drive into the local forest to have a look at a few things of interest. We checked out the old gold diggings while looking for native orchids in amongst the leaf litter. I think some of the native orchids would make excellent accents. Neil pointed out a few of the colony forming species as the most suitable and easy to grow. It is illegal to collect them from the wild but luckily they are available from local growers if you can hunt them down. I will definitely be keeping my eyes out for a few in the future.
I always enjoy heading up to Neil’s place. It’s a beautiful part of the country and it just happens to have an excellent grower there as well.
If you are interested in visiting Neil’s Nursery I believe you can via prior arrangement. His details are found on his website: http://shibuibonsai.com.au/ For those that can’t make the drive to his place, he does also sell regularly as local club shows and will be at the Bonsai society of victoria’s show this October.
It’s a strange season. Here in Australia we are in the middle of winter, yet in my garden some of my trees think its spring.
For what ever reason, my trees seem to be ahead of schedule by a couple of months.
My Chinese Quince dropped its leaves in autumn and almost straight away began to leaf out again and is now almost back in full leaf.
I guess this means that at least for some trees I will have to move the re-potting window forward a little to keep up with their early movement. I think next year i will re-pot the Chinese Quince as soon as it drops it’s leaves in case it decides to move early again.
Are any other Australians seeing an early spring?
I wonder if these trees leafing out early will make for a big year of growth or if their lack of winter sleep will mean they are weaker than those trees that are taking the full winter sleep? It will be interesting to see what happens this season.
Another point of interest in my garden at this time of year is the ‘Choujubai’ flowering quince which although flowers throughout the year really blooms out in a big way now. It’s a nice splash of colour in amongst the bare deciduous trees. I had been hunting for ‘Choujubai’ in this country for a few years before finding one being grown by a friend. I am really enjoying it even though it is just a piece of stock at the moment. I hope to take a number of root cuttings this spring but perhaps that is the topic of a future post.