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Following on from yesterdays post I thought it would be good to include some examples of approach grafts that were at Taisho en while I was studying. The two examples below are using approach grafting for two different reasons. The first is grafting roots onto an upper section of a trunk to shorten a bonsai. The other is using the technique to both replace foliage and graft on new roots.

What do you do when you want to shorten the trunk of a species such as Tsuga that doesn't aerial layer well? Approach graft!

Here you can see some new roots being grafted to a Tsuga trunk. The roots have been wrapped in cloth and are both watered and fed as if in a standard pot.

The taxus tsuga above was an interesting bonsai with an un-interesting lower trunk. The image of the bonsai could be greatly improved by shortening the trunk and hence roots were approach grafted onto the trunk.

The below juniper was undergoing a major change too. It was a tosho or japanese needle juniper (Juniperus rigida). It was very large stock extending about 2-2.5 meters in length. It had some great movement and excellent jin/shari. The future for this tree was to break it up into sections. By grafting new roots and new foliage along the live vein at key points the large piece of stock would be able to be broken down into 3 or 4 bonsai, all with nice movement and good foliage. Shimpaku juniper was grafted onto the tree instead of more tosho as it is a more popular species and therefore easier to sell once the separation is complete.

As you can see this is a large piece of stock that is both too big to become an exhibitable bonsai (by Japanese standards) and the foliage is that of needle juniper which is not popular in Japan at the moment. How would you improve this material? Approach grafting.

In this case roots are being grafted onto a section of live vein in order to allow the entire trunk to be split up into smaller individual bonsai.

Hopefully from these two posts you can see the possibilities that this technique can provide. The ability to manipulate your stock and bonsai is a powerful tool in the bonsai artists arsenal. Shortening trunks, adding branches and changing foliage types can be controversial in some bonsai circles but I think that when push comes to shove the results speak for themselves.

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I have been quite lucky that I have been able to visit a number of Japanese nurseries (SEE HERE). I love seeing the high quality trees and amazing level of finish and polish that these trees posses, but what I have also found very interesting during these visits is looking  into the back of house areas where bonsai are in various stages of transformation.

Air layers, grafts and other techniques are all on display out the back of most nurseries. It not only gives you a look into these techniques but also gives you some ideas on what sort of material to apply these techniques to.

One such technique is approach grafting.

A needle juniper is slowly changing its clothes. Soon it will be a much more valuable shimpaku. The white lump is the rootball of the scion which is wrapped in towel to protect its roots.

While I was studying at Taisho-en I was able to see this technique used to improve a range of stock. Shimpaku were given smaller foliage. Needle junipers were given shimpauk foliage. Roots were moved closer to the foliage to shorten trunks. It was obvious that after only a short stroll through their back of house that this was a valuable technique.

The technique itself, whether you are grafting on new roots or new foliage, is rather simple.

  1. Find a scion whip of the same species around 1-2 pencils thick and slice a sliver of bark off opposite sides at the point you want the whip to be grafted.
  2. Cut a channel in the trunk the same depth as the whip is thick.
  3. Widen this channel with a sharp knife to ensure clean cuts. The width of the channel should make a snug fit for the cut down section of scion.
  4. insert the scion into the stock trunks channel. Ensure that the cambium layers meet up accurately along the top edge of the channel cut.
  5. Fix the scion into the channel so it will not move or become miss-aligned. You can tie it with grafting tape or use a nail or two, screw etc.
  6. Cover it all in some type of sealant and wait for it to take.

I drew up a quick diagram to help explain the technique a little.

The scion whip can be from several sources. It could be a long branch doubled back on itself and grafted into the trunk, or could be a small whip that is growing in its own pot. If your scion is of the second type you may need to wrap the root ball in hessian or towel if the root ball ends up in a strange position after being grafted.

How long does the graft take to be successful? That is a difficult question. It is species dependent, growth dependent and also depends on how well you aligned the cambium layers in the first place. Although you can have success with poorly aligned cambium layers in this technique due to the face that both scion and stock support themselves before the graft takes, it is much faster to align the cambium correctly from the get go. I would say that most approach grafts would need one to two years to take. After that you could begin to reduce the original foliage over time and slowly let the new grafted foliage take over.

All in all it is a very useful technique that can be use to get you new roots, new foliage and generally improve difficult stock.

In the next day or so I will be posting a few examples to further illustrate the technique.

To see some real life examples have a look at “Approach grafting 2”.

This is a tree I styled on during my second stay at Taisho-en, Shizuoka, Japan. It is a Tosho (Needle Juniper) that was most likely collected.

I had seen it during my previous stay and had helped graft shimpaku foliage onto the live vein via the process of approach grafting.  Subsequently, for what ever reason the shimpaku whip died and the tree grew out to a shaggy silhouette.  Mr. Urushibata had decided that instead of trying to graft the foliage a second time that he would instead have me re-style it utilizing the original foliage.

Needle Juniper Before

The tree before the work

As tree had grown out so much it had to be pruned quite severely but enough remained to establish a good structure upon which future ramification could be built.

Tosho are an interesting species to work with. They display an ancient image (especially if you are lucky enough to have material such as this) and the contrasts between deadwood, live vein and the blueish hue of the foliage make them quite unique.

They are not the easiest species to style as they can be quite uncomfortable to work with.  As their name suggests, their foliage is needle sharp and pierces your skin with almost every touch. This negative is countered by so many of the good features of this species. Even the dry heart wood rewards those who endure the sting with a magical sweet scent.

Personally I do like the fact that the tree leaves a mark on you.  Days later while my hands were stinging while washing up under a cold tap I would find my mind drifting back to the tree that left the marks.

Sometimes things are worth a bit of a struggle.

Needle Juniper After

The Needle Juniper after the work

I hope that this tree is at the nursery when i next find the time to get back there as i would love to see how it is progressing and possible have a opportunity to feel its sting again.

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