Sunday, 8 December 2019

Hard Pruning a Schefflera

When someone at a bonsai workshop advises me to chop trees back to leafless stumps, I'm often reluctant to do it. Although I've had some success with trunk chops, most of the time I'd rather cut trees back to the lowest growth, wait for back budding, then cut back further. Progress is a little slower that way, but I prefer to err on the side of caution.

With some species that approach doesn't work though. When I prune Scheffleras they tend to grow back from the point at which they were cut, not lower down where I want new branches.

So when I decided that this little Schefflera needed pruning, drastic measures were called for.

November 2019 -  before pruning

Some of the newer members of my club were horrified when I told them my plans, but I knew what had to be done. A few quick cuts later I was left with this.

November 2019 - after pruning

Scheffleras are slow growers and now, four weeks later, there are only a few tiny buds starting to put in an appearance on the branches. I know that my little tree is doing okay, but looking at it still makes me nervous.

At the time it was chopped I discussed my plans for its after-care with another member of my club. I said I intended to return it to its home in my greenhouse. He felt it should go outside.

At the time his idea seemed a viable option as the weather was extremely dry, so I felt a bit foolish when I said I wanted to protect it from the possibility of excess rain. But I feel vindicated now because it's been raining almost continuously for nearly five days. Slow persistent rain which is showing no sign of abating. Grey skies have become the norm and I've almost forgotten what the sun looks like! That's not normal weather where I live, but it happens every now and then.

I've seen what damage that kind of weather can do to a tree in this state.

Years ago I defoliated a similar Schefflera. That was back in the days when I still tried to grow some of my trees indoors. Keeping it inside shouldn't have been a problem. Scheffleras are very tolerant.  I kept my big one in a very dark room for years before I realised the error of my ways and moved it outside. My problem was that I lost patience. When it was progressing too slowly on a sunny windowsill, I decided to move it outside.

As luck would have it, a few days later we were hit by the kind of weather we're experiencing now. Too much water for a tree without leaves! In a few days it was dead.

Had I left this one exposed to the elements, it would probably have died too.

Saturday, 24 August 2019

Two Weeks Without Drainage

I can't believe it's been four months since my last post.

Okay, I guess the fact that it's winter in South Africa counts as an excuse of sorts because I haven't been working on my trees that much. Not even the last couple of weeks when I should have been busy repotting them as spring is definitely in the air. Unfortunately I've repotted very few, partly due to the fact that procrastination is one of my big weaknesses, but technology problems have played a big part too. I was unwilling to get my hands dirty while waiting for tech assistance that never arrived!

Just about the only time I've worked on my trees lately has been at workshops.

One of the trees I felt had to be repotted urgently was the fig truncheon cutting which I struggled to keep alive through a heatwave last summer. Two weeks ago it was just starting to get its first leaves so I took it to a club meeting where I could get some help lifting it out of the two pots it was living in.

I bought a few pots from the club's shop and quickly repotted the tree into one of them before the meeting started.

It's been sitting in the shade since then, looking reasonably happy, and I was planning to move it back into the sun in the next few days.

August 2019 - showing early spring growth

And then I made a discovery which forced me to change my plans.

Among the items I was packing for today's workshop were training pots for repotting some of my other trees. I was horrified to find that one of the larger pots I'd bought two weeks ago had no drainage holes. That brought the horrible realisation that the pot I'd planted my fig tree in might not have any holes either.

My fears were soon confirmed. My poor tree has spent the last two weeks in soggy soil. What's more once I removed it from the pot, I discovered that the soil was really smelly.

I've now moved the tree into a better pot with clean soil, but I'm very worried about the possibility of root rot. This tree may still be fat and ugly (though not as bad as when I first wrote about it) but it's not a tree I want to lose.

It's back in the shade for now, and I've been advised to water it with a fungicide (which I still have to buy) and hopefully that will help it to pull through. For now, however, I've got a few nervous weeks ahead of me.

You can see a full progression of this tree (including future updates) here.

Monday, 22 April 2019

This Little Juniper Survived

Some sloppy wiring a year ago reduced my healthy little Juniper Procumbens Nana to half a tree.

August 2018

Thankfully eight months later it has made a good recovery.

April 2019 - too straight

It was still looking very straight and ugly though, so yesterday I decided to make another attempt at styling it.

I struggle with thick wire, especially on little trees,so I decided I wasn't going to risk that again. I don't want to kill what's left of the tree!

After an unsuccessful attempt to put some movement into the tree using thin wire doubled up, I decided to try something different. Instead of using a guy wire, however, I pulled the apex to the right and slightly forward using a humble cable tie - a trick I picked up at last Saturday's club meeting.

April 2019 - not so straight any more

Much better!

Unfortunately even the minimal wiring I attempted caused a little damage to the bark.

Damaged bark at base and a new bud a little higher up

Hopefully it's not bad enough to do any long term damage.

I'll probably wait another year before I prune it. If I'm lucky some of the new buds on the trunk with grow and give me a couple of extra branches to work with.

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Life without roots - the cutting that refuses to die

About 18 months ago I removed a one centimetre thick branch from one of my Acacias. As I so often do when I prune my trees, I decided to see if I could that branch to root.

All summer long it was covered in foliage, leading me to believe my effort had been successful. Then one day I accidentally pulled it out of its pot. There were no roots!

I put it back in the pot and continued to treat it as I had before. It went dormant for the winter, then produced a few new leaves in spring, and its "life" went on as before.

This morning, as I was moving some of my little trees around in search of items for my club's raffle table, it got hooked onto another tree and came out of the pot again. Still no roots.

I took it along to this afternoon's meeting and gave it to an acacia lover who seemed keen to see if he could get it to root. I hope he has better luck with it than I did.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Straight From the Nursery

I always photograph new trees as soon as I get them home so that I have a record of their humble beginnings.

Sadly when I took photos of my latest purchase I was in for a nasty surprise. Two of these little guys staring straight at the camera.

I must confess that by the time I finished getting close ups I felt a little guilty about squashing them, but I couldn't allow them to stay there, sucking the life out of my trees.

Monday, 18 March 2019

Positive Results from a Trunk Chop

When I did my most recent air layer on a member of my Ficus Ingens family, I was hoping it would stimulate new growth lower down the trunk. As long as the air layer was attached to the parent tree, however, that never happened.

That's why, despite knowing that Ficus Ingens are tough trees, when I separated them in February I was a bit concerned about the survival of the parent tree which had been reduced to a bare stump. I ended my previous post posing the question :
"After it's stubborn refusal to produce any low branches, will this finally shock it into cooperating, or will it kill the tree?"
 Happily it did the former. The stump is alive and well, with lots of new branches all along the trunk:

In fact in several places the growth pattern of this species led to multiple branches sprouting from one spot.

I had to thin those out or they would have caused ugly bulges on the trunk as they thickened.

After a quick tidy up, the tree looks like this:

There are new buds sprouting near the top of the tree, so I should be able to keep it to its current height - if I choose to do so.

The lowest branch is still there. As the second photo was taken from the opposite side, it's hiding behind the trunk. I'm not making any styling decisions now, but once I see how the tree develops I may remove that branch.

A full progression as well as future updates for this tree can be found here.

The new tree I propagated from the top is doing well too.

It has a couple of new branches along the straight part of the trunk and there are already a few roots growing out of holes in the pond basket.

Pretty good for six weeks' growth!

Saturday, 9 March 2019

How to Kill a Juniper

Browsing through the Reddit bonsai group there are always a lot of posts from newbies with their first tree, and that tree is often a Juniper. Sadly many are led to believe that it's okay to keep their Juniper indoors. The truth is that's the easiest way to kill it. The bad news is that Junipers stay green for months while they're dying, and by the time the owner realises their tree is sick, it's usually already long dead.

I was lucky. I've never made that particular mistake. But that's not to say I've never killed a Juniper.

I've already written a few posts about the Juniper Mint Julep I bought as a candidate for Reddit's nursery stock contest in March 2018.

As purchased - March 2018

Having seen many people on Reddit advising first time Juniper growers not to do too much work at once, I tried to be gentle with my tree and though I removed a lot of the top, I left a couple of unwanted low branches to avoid shocking the tree too much.

April 2018

It made it through the Southern hemisphere winter without any trouble.

My big mistake was taking it to a club meeting in September 2018. I didn't even plan for it to go on the table for critique, just to enquire from an expert whether it was safe to remove those low branches. Unfortunately some of the members had other ideas, and I came home with this:

September 2018

I was really disappointed with this new styling and felt it was no longer "my" tree. And I was extremely concerned about its survival. The suggestion that I repot it immediately sounded like a bad idea, and I decided against it.

Perhaps at that stage it still stood a chance of surviving, though it would have been a long time before it grew branches that I would  have been happy to work with. Unfortunately, when discussing the tree with another experienced grower a few weeks later, I was told it was okay to repot it, so I did. The root pruning involved was the last straw, and by December 2018 it had lost all its foliage, though I found signs of hope in the form of one tiny green bud growing from the section that was intended to be used as dead wood.

Signs of hope - December 2018

And my hopes were finally dashed when that bud died a few weeks ago.

If I ever buy another Juniper (unlikely), I'll definitely take my advice from Reddit and stick to the principle of one insult per season. Perhaps they can survive more, but there are bound to be problems along the way.

That was certainly the case with a Juniper I worked on when I attended a beginner's course back in 2007. The tree was pruned, wired and planted in a bonsai pot, all over the period of two days. It survived, but the top died and a makeover was required within months. It's been restyled a few times since then, but to this day I'm not happy with that tree and I'm determined to find it a new home one day. If I can get a little money for it, I'll probably spend it on another ficus!