Monday, 12 March 2018

My Air Layering Blunder - a year later

It's been over a year since my blunder when removing the air layer from a member of my family of Ficus Ingens. A blunder which meant that, instead of having one new tree with lots of roots, I found myself with a tree with very few roots and a stub with lots of roots and nothing else. At the time I feared that neither would survive, but by the time I wrote my first update three months later, it was clear that the new tree was alive and well. Things weren't looking so promising for the stub with all the roots though. A bud had formed at soil level, but nothing ever developed there and I feared that the entire stub had died of root rot.

Winter came and went, and now the end of summer is approaching, and all the while they've been left to their own devices on the bottom shelf of one of the stands in my greenhouse, receiving water and the occasional feeding, but no other attention. Today I decided to check how the tree was developing, holding no real expectations of finding a second tree there. I was in for a surprise.

Nothing has ever developed on the upper part of the stub, but clearly the roots are still alive and have sent out a brand new trunk:

The second tree, just starting to grow - March 2018

It's going to be a long time before I can do anything with that one, but perhaps in a lighter position it will develop more quickly now that it's made a start. I don't think it would be wise to disturb it just yet, but hopefully by next summer it will be ready for me to move it to a pot of its own.

The tree it shares its home with hasn't grown substantially, though it's now covered in leaves.

The new tree - March 2018 - with the second tree just visible to its right

I guess it's put most of its energy into developing lots of roots, so I expect to see a lot more growth next summer. Again, a better position should help. As I said in a previous post, the shape is all wrong, so in time I'll have to do another air layer at the bend. I've already identified a suitable new leader, so when the time comes I'll be left with a tree with a little movement. For now the future air layer will help the main tree to fatten up.

As for the parent tree, I haven't done anything to it either but it's been outside getting the full benefit of the sun so it's grown tall and strong. There are lots of new branches near the area of the air layer but it stubbornly refuses to give me any lower down on the trunk.

Parent tree - March 2018

Looking at the structure I was tempted to think that the tree wants to be a literati, but the leaves are far too big to make that an option. One of these days I'll have to sit down and see what other options it has to offer. Perhaps a hard pruning will finally persuade it to produce those lower branches I want.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

What to do with a crazy Lonicera?

It's been four months since I bought my Lonicera  and my little tree is growing like crazy. So much so that I'm struggling to keep it under control.

Two months after its first styling it had grown so much that at first glance it was hard to see that it had ever been styled at all.

January 2018 - before pruning

Looking at all that needed to be done I took the lazy way out, and in January I took it along to one of our club's meetings and let another member do the pruning for me. For some reason he decided to change the front (he seems to make a habit of that, having done the same thing with my clip and grow ficus a month later) but didn't make any other drastic changes. After the meeting it looked like this.

January 208 - after second pruning

On the whole it didn't look too bad, but I was a bit concerned by the fact that the first two branches were now pointing towards the back. However I decided to live with that problem for the time being.

By yesterday, when I brought it inside for a haircut. it was extremely overgrown once more:

March 2018 - before pruning

With so many new branches growing in all directions it was a struggle to decide what to keep and I may well have removed a couple of branches I shouldn't have. Fortunately on a tree this vigorous that isn't likely to be a big issue in the long term.

After pruning, I couldn't help feeling it looked a bit unbalanced:

March 2018 - after pruning

The difficulty of keeping this tree under control got me thinking though, and I can't help feeling that in this case less may be more. I'm seriously contemplating going for a windswept tree. Perhaps with a starting point something like this:

Roughly pruned in Photoshop

Before I commit to any major changes, however, I'd love to hear other people's ideas.

You can find more photos and future updates here.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

The Fusion Project

In August 2015 I decided to fuse some of my long, straight Ficus Natalensis cuttings together to create one larger tree.

In order to plant them close together a lot of root pruning was required. Some had fairly substantial roots, so I was able to keep a few of the thickest ones to grow as root cuttings. The two resulting trees are doing well, but I'll discuss those another time.

Once potted I bound the bases together with self-adhesive tape. I'm not sure why I didn't bind them higher up as well, but once done I had this as my starting point:

August 2015

The base looked like this:

August 2015 - detail

As the nights were still cold (August is the end of winter here) I put them back in my greenhouse and due to space constraints they remained there for the next couple of years.

By November 2016 they were growing strongly, but when I removed the tape they were showing no signs of fusing:

November 2016 - detail

I replaced the tape, adding more higher up on the trunk, but didn't think to add movement. Here they are in December 2016:

December 2016

Finally in May 2017 I realised my mistake and tried to wire some movement into them, but after wrapping thick wire around them I found I was unable to bend the wire as much as I wanted to, so I took them to a workshop where my mentor did the muscle work for me.

Wired - May 2017

And in spring 2017 I finally moved them out of the greenhouse into a sunnier spot.

When the wire started biting I removed it and got help in rewiring them to ensure the curves didn't bounce back to their original position. After the wire started biting a second time I decided it was no longer required. This photo was taken a few days ago, several weeks after the wire was removed.

February 2018

Close-up photos show good fusion in some places:

February 2018 - detail of lower trunk

However, in other parts there are still big gaps:

February 2018 - detail of upper trunk with gaps

I added extra tape to this area, so hopefully the gap will soon close.

February 2018 - gap taped

There are a couple of additional photos here. More photos will be added to that page as the tree develops.

Hopefully by next summer the trunk will have developed well enough for me to start thinking about branch selection.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

The Consequences of Over-Aggressive Pruning

Although I've been known to do a trunk chop from time to time (with mixed results), when I chop my trees I often err on the side of caution, cutting back to the lowest branch and waiting for back-budding before cutting back further. It slows the progress, but it's a safeguard against disaster.

When my succulent cuttings didn't sell in October 2017, however, I decided to throw caution to the wind with them, leaving only minimal foliage on one of the thinner cuttings and none at all on the rest of them. On the advice of a senior member of my club I'd done a similar chop on another thick succulent a few years back and, though the tree's recovery was slow, the result was satisfactory. I had no reason to suspect that things would turn out differently this time.

Perhaps October (late spring) wasn't the best time of year for this operation. Perhaps I did something else wrong. I just know that where the two thicker trees were concerned, things did not go to plan.

The thinner trees quickly produced masses of new growth everywhere, with only minimal die-back, allowing me to remove excess new buds within weeks.

November 2017 - not much to do on this pair

The first pair didn't need much work, but the one below was getting quite top heavy so I cut it back hard. I also removed the dead branch on the left.

November 2017 - before
November 2017 - after

The thicker trees were a lot slower to respond. By November they were showing signs of die-back on important branches, with little new growth high up and lots of tiny new buds at the base.

November 2017 - little new growth with nothing high up
Detail of the base of the above tree
November 2017 - little high growth and dying branch at base. New buds at
base not shown.

Perhaps if I'd removed some of the lowest buds I'd have got better growth higher up. Then again the trees might have died and, though they weren't trees I really wanted, I didn't want to take that chance. I hate killing trees.

By early January the thinner trees were doing really well.

January 2018
January 2018

Unfortunately, while the new buds at the base were growing strongly, the trunks of the two thicker trees had continued to decline. By now the thick branch at the base of this tree had deteriorated so badly that it snapped off with no effort, leaving a rotting hole which I attempted to carve away.

January 2018 - hole where branch had snapped off, before carving.

I was beginning to suspect that the entire trunk would be lost and developments over the past month make it seem my fears are justified.

February 2018 - carved hole, one month later.

The other one isn't looking much better, though there's no rot, so part of the trunk may survive.

January 2018

As I'm trying to cut down on the number of trees in my collection, I put the two thicker trees on my club's raffle table last Saturday. While they'll never be the trees I'd hoped they would be, in time someone may be able to develop them into decent clump style trees.

As for the remaining trees, I'm contemplating putting those on the raffle table too. Given their better condition I may do it in April, when my club is hosting an all day meeting attended by members of the other clubs in the region.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Which is the best front?

I thought I had my clip and grow Ficus Natalensis all sorted out. It's been hard work getting it to where it is without ever using wire, but over time it's filled out nicely. It's come a long way since this old photo from late 2015:

This summer I've been concentrating entirely on ramification, giving it only the occasional rough haircut to encourage as much back budding as possible. By this week it had grown so full that the trunk was hardly visible any more:

February 2018 - before pruning

Yesterday's club meeting was of a practical nature and we were asked to bring along trees for discussion or work, so I took the little guy along to see if I could get some new ideas that might improve it. I decided to allow the speaker to prune the tree, instructing him only that no wiring was allowed. He didn't do anything too drastic, or so I thought.

February 2018 - after pruning

Because the trunk had been hidden behind foliage for so long, it was only when I got home that I realised that this wasn't my front. My intended front currently looks like this, with a stick inserted to pull back some of the foliage that's still blocking the view:

February 2018 - current view of my intended front

Now I'm confused. His trunk line actually looks good, but there's an issue with the nebari. From my intended front, the tree has a fairly solid base, though the root on the left could do with a bit of thickening.

From his front, the trunk below the bend is rather straight and the roots aren't great. The left one is really weak and the thicker root on the right is badly positioned, meaning I might have to remove it in favour of the weaker one:

Still, that can be fixed. For now I'm considering raising the soil level to see if those roots fatten up. I hope they do, because I think the branch structure probably is better from his chosen front.

A little bit of wiring would have everything so much simpler!

Friday, 26 January 2018

Back From the Dead

With so many trees to care for I have some which have been sitting in my bonsai area for years receiving little more attention than what is required to meet their need for food and water. It's for this reason that I've sold most of the Junipers which entered my life when I participated in my club's "New Talent" competition.

Among the other species which I'm becoming increasingly reluctant to work on are my succulents, among them a Portulacaria which has been with me longer than most of my other trees, and longer than I've been a member of my club.

When I first acquired it my plan was to create a cascade and I wired it accordingly. But I was forced to change that plan after a massive hail storm in late 2007 which, in addition to damaging what was then a small collection of trees, broke thirteen windows in our house. Remarkably all my trees survived.

Over the past ten years the Portulacaria has been to a couple of workshops and was taking shape quite nicely at one stage, but as my collection grew it found itself sitting neglected on the lower shelf in my greenhouse (where I'd put it to protect it from further hail damage). And so I failed to notice a Melaleuca seedling which planted itself in the same pot as the Portulacaria. By the time I noticed it, it was already towering over the little Portulacaria. Of course I knew it needed to be moved to its own pot but there was always something more important to take care of. And so it kept growing until I recently realised that it was now towering over me as well.

My first thought was to cut the Melaleuca back to a more convenient height (as I did with this one last year) and put the two trees back into my greenhouse until next spring before separating them, but when I gave it a bit more thought I realised that the wait would only make a really tricky job even more difficult. Although it was the wrong time of year (summer in South Africa) in the middle of December I decided that separating them was a risk I had to take.

December 2017

First I cut the Melaleuca back to half its height, then, with much trepidation I pulled the trees out of their little pot, anticipating a tough time trying to untangle their roots. I had no idea what lay in store for me! The Melaleuca roots were long, thick and inflexible, growing in circles around the inside of the pot. I had no choice but to remove most of them.

By the time I was able to separate the two trees, each was left with only a fairly small root ball.

Portulacaria straight after separation - December 2017

Succulents are tough so I was convinced that the Portulacaria would be fine but, despite having reduced the size of the Melaleuca so much, I was not too optimistic about its chance of survival.

Melaleuca straight after separation - December 2017

My fears only grew when, within a few days, all the old foliage started wilting.

A few weeks later all the foliage had turned brown and I could see no signs of new growth. I was convinced the tree was dead.

Melaleuca looking dead - January 2018

However, I'm never in a rush to throw away my dead trees just in case I'm wrong, so I decided to move it from its shady spot to the area where I've put some of my other dead trees - a spot in which it's been getting only a little morning sun and a rough sprinkling of water.

I hadn't given it much more thought until today when, while watering, I noticed a spot of green near the top of the tree. I felt sure it was my imagination, but on closer inspection I discovered this small cluster of leaves.

New buds - January 2018

There are also several smaller green buds forming lower down on the trunk. Clearly it's not dead after all.

Thankfully all I ever wanted was part of the trunk, so the loss of the branches isn't going to be a problem.

Now I need to find a more suitable spot where it can continue its recovery.

Photo progression of this tree as it recovers can be found here.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Revenge of the Mantis

A few days ago, while pruning one of my trees, I came across a praying mantis on my work surface. I'm pretty sure it's not the same one I first wrote about back in May 2017. This one seems much thinner and I'm convinced it's a male.

Once my work was done I coaxed him back into the tree and returned it to it's place in my bonsai area. When I looked for him later he seemed to have moved on and I felt the odds of finding him again was about as good as searching for a needle in a haystack. I was mistaken.

A couple of days later I picked up one of my sticks in pots, which I planned to bring inside to decapitate that night, and there he was. I didn't want to disturb him so I quickly returned the tree to its stand and chose a different tree to work on.

The fun started the next day when I found him in the middle of eating his lunch - a large ant. Revenge for the death of Mama Mantis's babies that were killed by ants a few months ago?

Of course I had to fetch my camera and record this mundane event. Then I had a flash of inspiration. If I found another ant and put it near to him, could I catch the kill on video?

The answer was yes.

Since then I've been feeding him a couple of times every day and for now he seems quite happy to stay in the little tree on which this video was shot. I hope things stay that way because I'd hate for him to move to another tree and then get a nasty surprise when I start pruning it without knowing he's there.