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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.
I though it about time I updated how the grafts I did back in November were taking. If you look back at THIS post you can see the whole process of how I started this graft.
A week or so ago I had to do a demonstration on approach grafting for a local club so I took this tree in as an example and also placed some new grafts onto other areas of its trunk. It was a strange night as we had an earthquake in the middle of my talk. It was a small quake in world standards (5.4 on the Richter scale) but it was the first I had felt. The building shook, doors rattled but it only lasted for about 30 seconds and the talk soon continued. It certainly added an interesting break in the night.
Now that the earth has stopped shaking and im not in front of a meeting group I am able to see how the graft is doing a bit more closely. The graft has begun to take but I think that I will leave it attached to the host branch for at least part of this growing season (ie. next spring). You can see in the above photo that the section after the graft is beginning to grow thicker than the host branch on the other side of the graft. This is a good sign that the grafted branch is beginning to take nutrients from the main trunk. Once it becomes a little thicker I think the union will be much more solid and I will be able to remove the host section of the branch.
I will be doing a whole lot more grafts on this trunk this coming spring so I can begin to build the framework of the branch structure. It really is an easy almost foolproof technique that allows you to get branches where you want quickly. If you have a tree that could benefit from a new branch, give it a go.
Just a small side note, I will be pretty busy for the next few weeks as Hirotoshi Saito is coming to Melbourne to run workshops with various clubs over the next week and a half. I hope to attend as many sessions as possible so will not have a lot of time to update the blog. Hopefully once the workshops are over i will have a bunch of photos from the events to share. For those interested in Hiro’s visit have a look HERE (information about the BSV workshops/ demo and the Ballarat sessions are available in the links section of that page.)
Before I left for Japan a friend (who runs an interesting blog) asked me to take some pictures of bonsai from the side so he could get a good idea of how the trunk lines and apex were constructed.
He has begun growing some stock in the ground and was keen to see how the japanese constructed their trunks. So as I was snapping pics I sometimes remembered to take a few shots from different angles to show a more 3d view of the trunks.
He asked I photograph a wide range of trunks but I realised that the deciduous trees were the only ones that you could easily see the trunk movement and structure so those were what I focused on.
(Left image: front, Right image: Side view)
Looking back at the photos it is interesting to see just how far forward some of the apexes are. I guess this allows you to get a much more compact apex with many branches. If you imagine standing these apexes up you can picture that it would raise the height of the tree and also spread out the ramification in the top section creating a taller less dense image.
Looking over my own trees at home over the weekend I think that some of them could become more compact and dense from a simple tilting forward of their upper structure. It was a good exercise taking these pictures as I had seen hundreds if not thousands of trees over the years but have never really focused on this one detail. I think I will have to look over all my other photos and pick out individual styling details and see what they reveal.
The following trident maple was ground grown by a friend. Since digging it up I have slowly been preparing it for its future life as bonsai.
One of the things I wanted to do this year was to set a first branch in an area where there was no branching. I used a rough version of approach grafting which I hope to explain below.
Now the method I am using is not as exacting as it could be. The reason for this is the species I am using (Trident Maple). Tridents are very fast growing and forgiving. They also fuse very quickly which is the trait I am hoping to take advantage of in this instance.
Approach grafting is a fairly straight forward technique. I wrote about it in regards to conifers in two parts HERE and HERE. To approach graft conifers you have to be fairly exact when lining up the cambium layers. Using the below variation you can be a bit less exact if using thin barked deciduous trees.
Firstly you cut a channel roughly the width and depth of the whip you wish to graft.
You then insert the whip and secure it in place so that as it grows it is forced to grow into the cut channel, during which time it grows together with the trunk, fuses and makes the graft.
In this example I used map pins to secure the graft. I find that the round surface of the pins heads does less damage to the growing and thickening whip than using square-headed pins or those with sharper edges.
In this case two pins were used to secure the whip. As Trident maples grow quickly and have relatively thin bark the whip and cut channel should graft together in a relatively short time as they heal and thicken. What is good about this technique is you can use very young whips as you do not need to expose the cambium layer. By not having to expose the cambium layer you avoid having to expose a large percentage of the cambium in the form of a wound and therefore increase the chance of the whip surviving and growing strongly.
After setting the graft I like to lightly wire the whip and direct the tip upwards to ensure it will grow both strongly and leave the graft site at a desired angle.
This graft will be left to grow for the season so it can thicken, fuse and graft itself onto the trunk. I will cut it off the parent whip once I can see a difference in thickness between either side of the graft site. As the graft begins to take it should start to draw sap from the trunk and become noticeably thicker from the graft site onwards.
After I finished placing the graft on the trident maple I decided it was also a good time to clean up a graft on a Chinese Quince from last season. If you look closely you can see the difference in thickness between the grafted branch and the stub that use to be connected to the parent whip.
You can just see the stub below the branch junction where the whip was cut once it had taken.
I like to leave the stub on for a while until I see the graft growing strongly. I think keeping wounds away from the graft site at least until you are sure the graft is successful is a good idea.
To complete the process it is as simple as cleaning up the stub from where the whip was once attached and sealing the wound. Once the wounds heal and the graft grows for a season or two it will become increasingly difficult to tell that it was a grafted branch.
It is a very simple process all in all and one I use quite often. It can be used with a range of thin barked deciduous trees that show signs of fusing easily. It is an easy technique to do and most of the time returns great results. Some example species to try might be, Trident Maple, Japanese Maple, Chinese Quince, ficus species and other species with similar bark traits.