Amongst the display trees that I saw at collectors corner (which can be seen HERE and HERE) I noticed that a large percentage of the display trees were Pinus Radiata. In fact the first tree that greets you once you enter the nursery is a big old Radiata.

The welcome tree

This tree has been in possession of the nursery for a number of years and has always been an impressive bonsai. So impressive it seems it needs to be chained down!

Old bark

The old bark that the tree exhibits is beautiful and the crackled plates of bark seem in a good scale with the rest of the bonsai.

Now why does this tree have a post of its own? Well I thought that this bonsai was a good example of some of the problems that these old radiatas face.  From a distance the tree seems to be full of foliage but upon closer inspection a different story is told.

A main branch

As you can see from the above image the foliage is only on the tips of long leggy branches. This is a problem. The tree has no inner buds and no fine inner branches to cut back to. What this means is that the outline of the tree can never be reduced without the aid of grafting as at least from what i have found and the experiences of other local growers with the species, Radiata’s dont bud onto old wood well.

What does this mean for this tree? Well I think it needs a major re-working. It is always nice to project the future onto trees so I will have a quick go at making a list of the things I think needs doing short of feeding aggressively, watering etc.

  1. The branches have all grown upward. The first port of call would be to correct this by doing some heavy bending on each of the main branches, bending them down to just below horizontal.
  2. Wire all the sub branches and prune growth back where possible. This would have a two-fold effect. Bringing the foliage down would allow for light to get into the inner areas of the tree as well as taking the dominance out of the tips. A tip that is pointed upwards will always grow strongly from the tip. If it is horizontal it is more likely to bud along its length.
  3. Feed feed feed. If you are to hope of getting budding on old wood you will need a healthy, strongly growing bonsai.
  4. I would then look at grafting opportunities to start re-introducing growth into inner areas of the branch structure.

I think with a work routine something like the above the tree could be vastly improved. A nice tree as it is (Age tends to excuse many faults) but I think it could be better. If it were ever to come up for sale I am sure I could find room for it at my place.

After seeing this tree I began to think if these problems are some that  I might be facing with my Radiatas in the future. Hopefully through regular styling I can avoid the upward branch problems but I am a little concerned about the lack of back budding. Hopefully one day I will unlock the key to this dilemma. Perhaps in this case it is a result of a thick canopy shading out inner growth?I think the above tree had just been heavily thinned as my memory of it in previous visits was of a much denser canopy.

Either way, in the mean time I will keep on experimenting with my trees and keep dreaming about other people’s trees that I would love to own. One such tree that caught my eye at the nursery was the pine below. Again another Radiata.


Interesting or ugly?

I keep finding myself being drawn to trees with problems. I think I enjoy both looking at these bonsai that challenge the rigid frameworks some people use and also love to work on them to try to use those awkward features to form a design that works in a classical sense.

The heart of the problem or the heart of the opportunity?

Again I think the age displayed by this tree excuses a lot of the faults and in a way the faults in branch placement almost add to the ancient feeling the tree exhibits. Would I change things? Most probably yes, but I would like to live with the tree for a long while first to get to know each of its quirks.

Again I think with some creative styling and a total wiring this could become a very interesting tree. Another I could easily make room for at home.

It is interesting to note that this tree also seems full of foliage from a far but on closer inspection it is actually quite leggy and bare on the interior. Now I am not sure if this is a result of age or whether this is due to too thick a canopy being kept that has shaded the interior, killing the inner shoots. Hopefully it was a lack of light and not just the result of the species growth habits. If it is just a lack of light I can rectify this on my own trees.

Well i hope you have enjoyed these trees as much as I did. I always like to see old radiatas. I like to look into them and see if they will give away any hints that may lead to a future technique or method for getting them to back bud on old wood. Perhaps I will never find it, but I will definitely enjoy looking for it.

On that note, does any one out there have old radiata or Monterey pines? How do you grow them? have they ended up leggy? I would love to hear from you. Please comment below or email me at the address on the left of my website.