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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.

A trident slipped from the grow bed.

A trident slipped from the grow bed.

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.

Another great base.

Another great base.

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.

A Japanese maple from the same beds.

A Japanese maple from the same beds.

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.

The roots on the underside of the trunk being removed.

The roots on the underside of the trunk being removed.

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.

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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.

It has been a busy couple of weeks. Autumn has begun and with it a range of seasonal tasks. I have been madly plucking Japanese black and Red pine needles. Here in Melbourne we have a convention coming up for which I have to prepare a few trees so I tried to get my needle work out of the way early on.

It took a long time this year. What hadn’t really dawned on me until now was that needle pruning takes more and more time each year. Now this is not a bad thing, its more a by-product of a successful technique. As ramification increases, so does the amount of needles you have to remove. Where last year I was removing needles from one candle there are now two candles at that location that need needles removed from them. Not only are there more needles to pluck, but also the space you have to pluck them in becomes more and more cramped forcing you to use tweezers to negotiate the cramped conditions.

2008

2009

2012

2012 after needle plucking.

The above tree has wholly been grown in Australia and has come great leaps and bounds since I learnt how to properly care for it during my first trip to Japan. It is becoming a nice little tree although it is not perfect and it bears the marks of many of my early mistakes. That being said it has taught me a lot and although I have though about selling it on a couple of occasions I think now I would find it a little hard to part with. After all I have invested a huge amount of time into it.

Perhaps this is something to keep in mind when deciding on how large your collection should grow. How much time do you have, and will this time be enough to maintain your trees to a high level? Bearing in mind that as your trees improve and refine, in turn their maintenance times increase. I really enjoy growing pines but I am very aware of the time I have to spend on them each year. Needle plucking, pruning, wiring and candle work all add up. On a tree that is starting to get refined I am guessing I would be sending 6-10 hours on each of them over the year. When you add up all the pines you grow and then the time you spend on them, combined with the tasks you have for all other species you grow you begin to realise that there is a limit to how many trees you can look after to a high level. I lean towards keeping a smaller collection that is well maintained rather than a larger collection that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. That said it is hard to turn down a good tree.

 

Spring is certainly around the corner and all my trees seem to know about it. They are for the most part starting to swell their buds. As a result I have been re-potting. I re-potted one of my trident maples a couple of days ago to get it ready for the springs growth and thought I would share some pics of the process.

The bottom side of the rootball before and after the work.

Surface roots combed out.

Once the roots are all in order you can continue to pot up the tree. In this case it went back into the same pot.

Re-potted.

Another year and another re-potting…..

Winter is a hard time for me and my bonsai. For the most part, when I arrive home from work it is dark and cold. This makes working on my trees something I only tend to do on weekends. That being said I did get motivated one night after work to do some pruning on my Trident Maple (seen here and here).

Tridents grow quite quickly and within a year they can put on a lot of twiggy growth. A lot of this growth is not suitable to build future ramification on so it must be pruned off. Quite often it seems like you are taking two steps forward and one step back but the removal of twigs that are not formed correctly will ultimately make for a better bonsai in the long run.

Before and after pruning. The red lines show approximately where I made cuts.

At this point in this trees life I am looking to start to build fine twigs. Most of the vigorous growth over the last year has helped to form secondary branches but it has grown with internode gaps that are too long for the tips of a branch. As a result I have pruned to remove these long internodes, reduced all branch divisions to two and generally tried to form a better structure within the branch.

A lot of my trees were grown a little too quickly and as a result their branches do not have as good a structure as they might. I am now cutting a fair amount of  those branches back and trying to correct the structural problems. One of the main problems I have in my trees is that the branches do not have a main branch line with sub branches but instead have several main lines. This makes the branches look full very quickly but in the long-term you do not get the taper and look you would if the branch was grown otherwise. It all comes back to pruning. Sometimes you have to set a tree back a little in order for it to progress.

The tree before and after. (poor lighting care of my kitchen.)

This tree will be re-potted in the coming months and may also have its branches fine tuned a little with some wire which should then make it ready for the start of spring.

I am still slowly working through my collection and preparing for winter. This weekend this Chinese elm was cleaned up along with a couple of other trees.

Before the work.

The tree I worked on had recently undergone a re-style. Upon re-potting last year I also decided to change front slightly. This required a bit of pruning. As I began to prune I realised that the initial branch structure had been grown too quickly and lazily on my part. Many branches were too thick, had little taper and had messy structure. I decided that the change in front would also be a good time to re-structure the ramification so I pruned hard.

The same tree a year or two ago prior to re-styling.

Re-styling an established tree can be a hard step to take but ultimately having this tree go backwards for a couple of years will mean that in the future it will be a much better tree. Luckily chinese elms are strong growers and rebuilding the ramification should be a fairly quick process.

The work I did this time around was mainly removing leaves that had not yet fallen off and cleaning the trunk of moss and also cleaning up the soil surface.

The soil and trunk need a clean up.

Keeping your bonsai clean of moss and fallen leaves and other debris achieves a few things. First, it makes the tree look better which I always find makes me take better care of it. I also find that doing work that makes you look closely at your trees you become more familiar with them and it often reveals what future work will need to be done in coming seasons. The last thing a good clean often does is it reduces the hiding places for pest insects and places for their eggs.

A large caterpillar that was living under the moss growing on the trunk.

After a general clean I pruned the long growth and then sprayed with lime sulphur.

After the work.

All the tree needs now is a wiring and a re-pot sometime prior to spring. I am toying with the idea of lengthening the canopy on the left side and possibly growing a low branch from the left side of the hollow. I guess I will grow one and see how it goes next season, i can always cut it off if it doesnt work out.

I am pretty happy with the pot it is in at the moment. I was never really 100% on the last oval pot and feel this one suits it a lot better.

The pot is a production Reiho. Reiho is one of my favorite production potters from Tokoname. Although the photos don’t really capture it, the pot really changes moods depending on the sun. Sometimes in low light it looks almost black, and then in full sun it turns to an almost ultra marine blue. you can kind of see it by comparing the colour in the first pic with that of the soil surface photos.  Hopefully next season I will get some good colour on the tree so I can see the yellow leaves set off against the dark blue fo the pot.

This year has seen some dramatic changes to my bonsai. The most major of these was moving house and gaining some backyard space. My trees previously were kept in amongst a lush garden. On one hand this was good in that my bonsai were quite sheltered and there was a good micro climate in which to grow amongst. The down side was that I could never really rid my trees of pests as once the garden was infected everything was. As a result my trees ended up with a number of pest problems. Now I have moved I hope to rid them of these problems, which brings me to the subject of this post, my Trident Maple.

Earlier this spring I defoliated the maple and posted the results HERE. I repeated this defoliation process twice more during the season and was rewarded with much increased ramification.

As it began to change into its Autumn colours I set about doing the final defoliation. Usually I would leave the leaves on a little longer in order to see the full range of colours they would turn but I wanted to remove them before they dropped so I could dispose of them along with any insect eggs that may have been laid on them.

The trident at the beginning of autumn just beginning to show signs of it changing colour.

Starting to turn

I removed all the leaves which revealed the structure of the branches and all the new ramification. All the leaves that were removed were put into the household garbage to ensure that any eggs on them would not end up anywhere near my bonsai.

Defoliated.

Once the tree was naked I was able to carefully look over the tree to assess the amount of pruning that would be required. I wanted to spray the tree with lime sulphur to kill any remaining pests so I did not prune at this stage. I don’t like the idea of lime sulphur getting into fresh cuts. I am not sure if it is actually a problem or not but I choose to avoid it where I can.

What I did prune off was some insect eggs. I found what I first thought were fungal blooms on dead twigs.

If you look closely you can see the small white tufts of damage.

A close up of a damaged twig

Upon further investigation I realised that the tufts lead to a hollow channel within the twig which was filled with eggs around 0.5mm in size. I did a quick search on the net and realised they were the eggs of Passion Hoppers which lay their eggs in channels they make within small twigs. The twigs die soon after the eggs are laid so cutting the twig off and destroying it is a good way to tackle them.

I then went over the tree with a pair of scissors and removed every twig I could find that exhibited signs of damage.

A pile of some of the damaged twigs.

After removing what I can only guess was hundreds of insect eggs I sprayed the tree with a diluted solution of lime sulphur to prepare the bonsai for winter.

It was a satisfying days work. I hope that the work will pay off next season with a dramatic reduction of insects in my collection. Fingers crossed.

During my recent trip to Japan i managed to visit Fuyo-en. Fuyo-en is a garden that always has a high number of quality bonsai. I was a little pine-ed out by this part of my trip so it was nice to spend some time with their amazing deciduous trees. I took a number of photos which can be found HERE.

What was also nice was to see some of the recent work that was going on around the garden.

The frist bonsai i noticed of interest was what I am guessing was a flowering apricot. It had recently been grafted in a number of places. I have read that these trees often need to have young wood grafted into areas of older wood to maintain vigour and keep the bonsai compact.

The grafted bonsai.

Although the grafts looked to not have completely healed nearly all of them were  producing flowers as can be seen below.

The grafting in detail.

One of the other trees that caught my eye was a maple with an enormous nebari. The bonsai was being worked on by one of the apprentices who was wiring all the branches to the tips.

An impressive nebari

I always enjoy seeing techniques done by Japanese professionals. Even seemingly simple tasks can reveal tip and tricks when performed by someone who works at these high levels.

A freshly wired branch.

One such trick that can be learnt from the above image is the use of the little wire bracket. It has been used to gently spread two sub branches. Had this not been used, the two branches would have had to been wired with quite a large diameter wire to achieve the same spreading effect. Having avoided using a heavy gauge wire, the wire that is on the branch appears far less obtrusive than it could have. A small trick with large results.

I always look out for these little tricks when ever I am around other people’s bonsai, as I find there is always something to learn.

It’s that time of the year again.

It’s a time of the year that I both look forward to and dread. Once you amass a certain number of pines you begin to realise just how much time you need to set aside to give each tree its seasonal maintenance. This year, I have moved house and as a result some of the trees I would have normally have worked on earlier in the month were left until now, so the back log of tasks compounded the time I needed to spend on them. That being said, once I began the work I really enjoyed getting to see  just how each tree had been growing over the season. When you thin needles you get to inspect very closely every branch of the tree and evaluate each new bud, needle and twig. You really get to know your trees while doing these tasks.

Why do you thin needles? You should thin needles at this time of year for a few reasons.

  • By removing last season needles you let more light and air into the canopy which in turn encourages back-budding.
  • By removing some of this seasons needles on strong areas you are able to balance strength across the tree foliage.
  • By removing surplus needles you also reduce the amount of places that insects and other pests are able to hide.

I like to think that needle reduction for pines works a little like defoliation does for deciduous trees. I figure that the pine realises it suddenly has less foliage and as a result sets new buds which will grow the following spring to replace the needles that you removed. As pines cannot simply grow new needles they have to throw new buds. Most of these new buds will be dormant buds back within the canopy. These are the buds you want. This back-budding is what will give you foliage to cut back to in the future and which will prevent branches becoming leggy.

This year I have left a few more pairs of needles then I usually may on some trees as I plan to re-pot them come spring and figure they could benefit from the extra strength more needles will provide.

A Formal upright Black Pine in the making. This image was taken prior to beginning needle thinning.

The same tree after thinning. It is still very much in developement but after a few years of work i hope to have a more complete looking tree.

This is another JBP from the same batch as the above pine. It has developed much better than the above pine. It avoided many of the mistakes the other tree had to endure as i was learning. Photo was taken before thinning.

The same tree after thinning. It needs the apex developed but otherwise is on the right track. I am also planning to graft a back branch or two into the upper section this spring which may be the topic of a future post.

I also thinned my large Radiata. I again left more needles on it that i usually might for two reasons. The first reason is because I will be re-potting it this spring and I want it to be strong. The second reason is because I am experimenting with leaving more foliage on it much like you would on a white pine. We will have to see how that works out.

A Radiata branch prior to thinning.

And the same foliage after a light thinning.

If you read my previous post Pinus Radiata (Monterey Pine) Techniques you are probably wondering how the progress is going. The answer is slowly but surely.

After asking all over the net, i have come to the conclusion that not a whole lot is known about growing this species as bonsai. Funnily enough the most information came from Australians. I am guessing that this is due to its wide availability in Australia and Australia’s lack of other dig-able pine species.

There are quite a few growers of this species here and quite a healthy debate was started on Ausbonsai and some very nice examples of Raditatas grown as bonsai were posted. There was also a lot of interesting information shared such as how easily they airlayered.

What has come out of this? Well I think it will be a bit of an ongoing project, ticking away in the background. I plan to document over the next 12 months the various changes in a couple of my trees as they grow in the hope that once I understand their growth habits a bit better I will be able to work out a timing for pruning and candle removal.

I will keep giving updates from time to time as I document them.

I will leave you with two images. Both images were taken on the same day, from different trees. One needed repotting and the other had been repotted this year. I think it is clear that one has neat needles while the other does not. This pair of images gives me hope i can get radiatas to consistently give short neat needles like those in the picture of the older tree.

A young tree

An older tree

Stay tuned.

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