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As the season rolls on I am slowly getting to the end of my needle work which in turn will mark the time to begin preparing the deciduous trees for winter.

The tree below is another that has been slowly developing over the years and with another wiring and another years candle pruning I think it will be close to exhibit-able.

The tree has appeared on the blog before HERE where you can see the progress it has made and the ramification it has gained. It also makes obvious just how much it needs a re-wire.

Before the work

Before the work

After a the needle plucking.

After a the needle plucking.

Yet another of my trees that desperately needs a re-wire, it will have to get into line behind all the others that I plan on doing this winter.

This weekend gone by I got some time to do some needle work on a few more trees. One of which has featured on this blog before. It’s a bit of a strange tree and people either like it, or want to cut off the first branch. I like the first branch and as a result i haven’t cut it off just yet and actually now the tree is filling in a little bit more I am beginning to like it more than I did at first.

Looking a little shaggy

Looking a little shaggy

Probably the part of blogging I am enjoying the most is how it has forced me to catalogue my trees as they progress.  If you look at this tree 2 years ago HERE you can see that the tree has really improved over that short time. Looking at it day to day on the benches it is easy to lose perspective and feel like the tree is not progressing. It is only when you see a picture from a year or two ago that you realise just how much it has changed.

Needles removed revealing nice, new, short growth.

Needles removed revealing nice, new, short growth.

I am very happy with the progress I have achieved with it over the last couple of years and hopefully if I can keep this momentum up for a few more the tree will be well on the way to being exhibit-able.

I doubt if this tree is ever going to be everyone’s cup of tea but I think that it is now on a path where it will grow into a convincing image.

 

Its been a good year for growth in my garden which is always a bit of a double edged sword. A good seasons growth means that all your trees will have progressed and built further to their structure, ramification etc. but with lots of growth comes lots of maintenance.

With my pines this work takes longer and longer times. As the trees ramify the number of shoots double each year in turn doubling the time it takes to maintain them. As trees become more dense fingers can no longer reach areas of the branching so tweezers are employed which again can slow things down a little.

Here in Australia we are beginning to slip into autumn and it is time to shoot prune the second flush of growth and do needle work on the pine’s remaining growth.

The first tree off the bench was THIS little black pine.

Before the work.

Before the work.

Finally it is beginning to look like it belongs in a bonsai pot. you can see in the before picture how nicely the needle length has come down compared to the long needles attached to candles that were not pruned in spring due to them being weak. These weak candles now have strong buds at their tips getting ready for next springs flush.

After removing old needles.

After removing old needles.

After a few hours work things begin to look a whole lot neater. The new length of the needles is much more suited to the trees size and over all the tree is beginning to look more in proportion.  Next step is a re-wire which I hope to complete some time this winter and then a re-pot into something a bit nicer.

I have a ‘thing’ for clump styles. A few years ago I had the opportunity to purchase a flowering quince and upon seeing its clump form I bought it. Since purchasing it I have styled it a couple of times and experimented with a few different methods of growing it. It flowers profusely and easily but it seems to really resist ramifying, instead always wanting to grow only one bud per branch. This is a problem if you dream of densely ramified clumps.

I started out trying to use defoliation to force some back budding. This worked to a point but the tree quickly weakened and stopped pushing growth and although some back-budding occurred it still was very tip dominant.

I then used hard cutting back to try to stimulate some of the inner buds which worked toa point but again the terminal buds were mainly the only buds to burst.

After the clumps first styling

After the clumps first styling

The first budding after styling

The first budding after styling

The beginning of a heavy flowering. (now when i am trying to build branches i cut off flower buds)

The beginning of a heavy flowering the following year. (now when I am trying to build branches I cut off flower buds)

After a hard cutback.

After a hard cutback.

This year I tried what I am calling partial defoliation. It seems to be working much better. The logic as I see it is that by removing most of the photosynthetic surface area but leaving some leaves to continue providing energy you force a budding but keep the tree much stronger than a full defoliation.

The central trunks became infested with borers so i removed them. This is the quince in full summer leaf.

The central trunks became infested with borers so i removed them. This is the quince in full summer leaf.

After the partial defoliation

After the partial defoliation

The basic technique is to remove leaves at each clump of growth down to one leaf. This lets a whole lot of light into the inner buds and keeps sap flowing to the remaining leaves. The results are buds bursting nicely back into the inner canopy.

A clump of leaves

A clump of leaves

Leaves reduced

Leaves reduced

Some of the resulting budding

Some of the resulting budding

Some of the resulting budding

Some of the resulting budding

Now this tree is a fair way off being exhibited but hopefully with a few more seasons using this technique I will be able to dramatically increase the amount of ramification in this tree and get it into a much more presentable state.

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.

A tiny shimpaku

A tiny shimpaku

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.

A Pine wired into an interesting shape.

A Pine wired into an interesting shape. I am pretty sure that I can produce stock similar to the above pine from seed in 2-4 years.

A juniper grown from cutting could save a year or two compared from starting from seed.

A juniper grown from cutting could save a year or two compared from starting from seed. Junipers might be a little slower than some species but they do make very impressive small bonsai and are worthwhile to grow.

A small kumquat.

A small kumquat. You don’t immediately think of deciduous or leaf species when you imagine twisted bonsai but they also make convincing and interesting choices for this type of bonsai.

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.

Trident Maple seedlings as germinated.

Trident Maple seedlings as germinated.

Japanese Black Pine seedlings as germinated.

Japanese Black Pine seedlings as germinated.

The removal of tap roots (encouraging lateral roots).

The removal of tap roots (encouraging lateral roots).

Potted up seedling

Potted up seedling

A tray of 30 seedlings. These seedlings need to re-establish and put on some growth before wiring.

A tray of 30 seedlings. These seedlings need to re-establish and put on some growth before wiring.

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.

Wiring the seedlings.

Wiring the seedlings.

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.

On the 2nd of February 2013, the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection of Australia (NBPCA) opened at the newly custom-built premises within the National Arboretum, Canberra. I was lucky enough to attend the opening but unlucky in that my camera battery failed shortly after arriving.

The NBPCA at its new location really is not just a step forward for Bonsai in Australia but a giant leap. The promotion of Australian bonsai Artists, their work and Australian native bonsai species at such a public location can only help build bonsai momentum around the country. The collection itself consist of around 85 trees on display in a custom-built facility. Over the course of the day the display was packed with visitors which is hopefully a sign of things to come.

Now I could talk about all the merits of the collection and its new building but I guess I will save that for a future post and let the photos do the talking for now. I am only posting a few pics as I recommend that everyone gets down to Canberra and has a look for themselves. It is well worth the visit.

Some of the pics I was able to take prior to the battery going flat are below.

As you may or may not be aware, I have recently undergone surgery on my right wrist. Being right-handed, this has put a fair dent in my bonsai plans of late.

A few nights ago after work I decided to do something about it and tried wiring up a small juniper.

Before the work

Before the work

I have been working on this tree for a few years now, slowly chasing the foliage in closer to the trunk and replacing leggy growth with tighter growth. I decided that it was about due for its first styling so that I could create the bones to grow and fill in the foliage upon.

Considering that my right arm was in a cast I think the wiring went ok. It’s not show ready but it never was going to be. It has a few more years before it is going to be anywhere near presentable.

I really wanted to get some fine sand paper into the bark to reveal the orange / red texture below the outer layers but the cast proved too clumsy. Something to look forward to once the pins from the wrist are removed after the next operation.

The little shimpaku from the front.

The little shimpaku from the front.

I find that when wiring junipers and particularly shimpaku, that preparation is key to a good result. Pruning unwanted growth and thinning what remains so that you end up with an evenly dense canopy not only makes the end result look better but it also makes for more balanced growth and an easier job while wiring.

As seen from the right

As seen from the right

and from the back side

and from the back side

All in all I am pretty happy with the results considering that most of the wiring was done one-handed. I guess it just goes to show that interesting trunk movement is half the battle. That being said, the tree is only just beginning its journey as bonsai and should see many future wirings to come.

 

This post follows the progression of 6 months in the life of a Procumbens juniper. Last June i did a demonstration for a local club, Bonsai Northwest Inc. As most of my trees had been worked and I had very little left to do on them it was decided that we purchased some stock for the demo. While digging through all the stock at ‘Baloc Bonsai’ I came across this juniper.

The Juniper before the demonstration

The Juniper before the demonstration but after a bit of a cleanup.

Having looked over the tree for a day or so before hand while it was in my garden I came up with a plan for improvement. From the tree’s original front the foliage mass was not close to the trunk, I thought with  a little work I could compact the foliage mass into a denser crown.

The foliage from the original front.

The foliage from the original front.

I also thought I could change the front and make use of a more interesting trunk and jin line. This plan created a few issues that I had to deal with in order to complete the re-styling. First was the trunk angle. From the original the trunk needed to be stood up around 30 degrees, which in turn placed most of the foliage pointing out towards the back of the tree.

Most of the bending of the larger branches was completed with the help of a bending jack as seen in the photo.

Jack in place prior to bending.

Jack in place prior to bending.

The other issue was that from the new front the jin did not compliment the movement of the tree so this was bent by means of what is essentially steam bending. I wrapped the jin in wet towels and plastic sandwich film over night to moisten the jin and then used a small gas torch to heat up and soften the wood fibres so that it could be bent into a new direction.

After the jin was re-possitioned and main branch bent into possition.

After the jin was repositioned and main branch bent into position.

The next step was compacting the foliage to form the crown and subsequaint branches. This was done with a combination of guy-wires and heavy wiring. The below picture shows the result. A small towel covered some branching that was to be removed once the tree had back budded in that area.

The result at the end of the demo.

The result at the end of the demo.

If you look from the original front you can see how the foliage has been moved from its original positions to compliment the new front.

The re-styling from the original front.

The re-styling from the original front.

Since the demo I re-potted the tree into a new container at the new planting angle. It grew out well in early spring with plenty of back-bedding and fresh growth. It was time to work on the foliage.

After some strong spring growth.

After some strong spring growth.

All this new growth provided me with the chance to cut out some of the leggy old growth and replace it with more compact fresh shoots.

A leggy branch with tired looking foliage.

A leggy branch with tired looking foliage.

The branch cut back so the fresh shoot at its base can replace it.

The branch cut back so the fresh shoot at its base can replace it.

In this way I was able to improve and remove some of the poorer condition and leggy foliage. I cut more out of the strong areas and left a little more in the weaker areas to balance the growth of the tree.

After the cut back.

After the cut back.

I was also able to remove one of the branches on the right side and hopefully in a few months I will be also able to cut back the other right hand branches.

There are a few other thing I want to do, such as lowering the planting position, define the live veins, and work on the shari texture, but for the time being those things can wait.

What the tree desperately needs now is a full wiring, I want to further compact the apex and better form up the crown and branches but unfortunately that will have to wait until my wrist heals. Hopefully I will be able to do it in a few more months.  In the mean time I will keep feeding it heavily and keep replacing old growth with new healthy growth so when it does come time to wire, the tree is ready.

As I managed to get some time to work on my trees this last weekend,  I though it was a good opportunity to do some grafting before my black pines woke up too much. I like to do grafting on black pines just before they start moving in spring. For bud grafting this is important as once the sap starts to move in a big way any cuts made to hold grafts tend to flood with sap before placing the scion which makes them a little less successful. Approach grafts on the other hand are a little more forgiving but if I can I try to do them around the same time so that the burst of energy that comes with the first flush of candles extending goes into healing the graft site.

The graft site will be at the base of the thick bare section of trunk.

I have decided to graft this tree as it has a rather large bare section of trunk. If I can graft a new leader to the base of this I can build a much smaller and more compact tree with the new graft’s growth. Obviously this will be a longer term project but I figure why go down a long road just to end up at a mediocre tree. If this graft takes and the tree develops as I imagine it will be a far greater result in the future than had I just persevered with the existing structure.

The start of the process, a cut in the trunk.

The first step is to create a cut for the graft branch to sit inside. I like to make the cut about 1/4 smaller than the branch that is going to be inserted into it. I start by making the cut with a small saw. I try to make the cut so that it is wider at the rear of the cut than at the front edge. usually this takes two cuts, one slightly slanted upwards and a second slightly downwards. This flared cut will help the scion branch to lock into the cut.

Once I have made the first pass with the saw I clean up the cut with a knife so that I have clean and neat surfaces upon which the graft can be placed.

Some bark removed from the graft branch.

Next I remove a small slither of bark from either side of the scion branch. Make sure that you check where to make these cuts prior to getting the knife out as it is important that these cut surfaces line up with the cut surfaces you made with the saw. I usually find that the knife cute that clean up the saw cuts combined with the cuts on the scion branch tend to eliminate the 1/4 under size that was initially cut with the saw.

The graft made.

The Scion branch can now be inserted into the cut in the trunk. The fit should be snug and tight. Small adjustments might be needed to be made to the channel in the trunk to make sure things are all snug. If the channel is on the large side it is best to chock the scion branch so that it contacts firmly with the lower surface of the channel cut. (I use small twigs as chocks.) As sap runs from the roots up, contacting the lower surface will ensure that the graft has a better chance of taking than had it only contacted the upper surface. Either way, the scion should be firmly touching at least one cut surface on the channel in the trunk.

Sealed and held tightly in place.

Finally you simply seal the graft union and hold the scion firmly in place so that it cannot move and disturb the graft before it has had a chance to take.

The speed at which the graft takes will depend on the amount of growth you allow to occur on the scion branch and above the graft site. Obviously the more the trunk and scion branch grow and expand the more chance the graft has of taking. I would hazard a guess that this graft will be taken by the end of this coming seasons growth. Having said that I will probably cut off the growth above it in stages so it may be two seasons before I actually sever the scion branch from its original source.

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.

Buds starting to move

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.

Left: the tree in August 2011. Right: the same tree, August 2012.

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.

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