Thursday, 6 July 2017

Deconstructed Ficus Pumila - six months later

In December 2016 I decided to see if I could turn my Ficus Pumila houseplant into bonsai material.

After trimming off all the excess growth and dividing up the root ball I was left with these seven small plants:

Deconstructed plant - December 2016

At that stage I simply left them to grow, and six months later they have put out a mass of new growth:

Deconstructed plant - six months later

Until this week the only work I'd done was to wire the leader of the cascading plant in an upright direction.

Cascading - December 2016

The same plant wired upright - July 2017

Hopefully that will help to thicken the trunk eventually though Ficus Pumila doesn't seen to thicken easily.

As trunk development is my major goal right now I still haven't done any pruning of substance, merely cutting off a few dead twigs and one small branch that was growing across itself. I also tried to untangle the branches but as they’re far too thin for wiring I’m sure they’ll soon get tangled up again.

I'm reasonably happy with that one's progress. I'm less happy with this one:

December 2016

It had put out a lot of new growth too:

July 2017 - before pruning

Sadly when I starting digging around underneath all that foliage I discovered that one major branch had died. To make matters worse, while cutting that off, one of the thinner branches got caught in the back of my branch cutter - a mistake I’ve now made several times. Will I ever learn?

In the end I cut this one back pretty hard as most of the new growth was in unwanted areas.

July 2017 - after pruning

Time to let it grow again and see what options it offers me.

Ficus Pumila has a tendency to ground layer itself. Some of the remaining plants are already doing that, which means they'll probably have to be deconstructed again if they're ever going to be bonsai. As I’ve got so many trees to take care of I didn’t have time to have a proper look at those right now. I suspect some may be looking for new homes in spring.

Turning these into bonsai isn't going to be as easy as I'd hoped. I like small trees but I’m starting to think these may be a bit too small.


Thursday, 22 June 2017

Last Cut of the Season

After my last post about my Clip and Grow Ficus I thought I was done for the season. After six months of solid growth and minimal pruning it was time to let the new branches fatten up. But things don't always work out quite as planned.

One of my Reddit readers suggested that I wire some movement into the new branches while they were still young and flexible. As I'm gradually overcoming my aversion to wiring my trees, I decided to follow his advice.

After wiring it, I took the tree to a club meeting for feedback. One of the senior members suggested that I remove the lower branches that have been bothering me for so long. Another wanted to know what I was planning to do with the top, which was looking rather two dimensional. I decided it was time to deal with both issues.

Since that meeting I've removed those branches and trimmed the sharp bends at the two chop sites so that the movement in the trunk now looks a lot more natural. And by twisting the newly wired leader I was able to create a back branch, giving the tree a much more three dimensional appearance.

This is how it looks today:

June 2017

And now it really is time for it to have a rest.

The next move will be to repot it in spring. It's time to remove the root cutting as well as the roots growing around the rim of the pot:

Root cutting (right) and messy roots

Monday, 12 June 2017

One little Bougainvillea - three options

Over the years I haven't had a lot of success with flowering trees.

One of my early purchases was a Bougainvillea "Smarty Pants", a variety which doesn't have thorns. Soon after I bought it I took it to a workshop and came away quite happy with the styling that was done. Unfortunately, being inexperienced in transporting trees it didn't enter my mind that the tree might topple over in the car - the outcome was that one or two branches snapped off before I even had time to take a photo of my newly styled tree.

I've been battling with that tree ever since, primarily because I later discovered that I'd chosen a tree with a really bad root system. All is not lost however because I've propagated a few cuttings from it over the years.

I started this one from a thickish cutting three or four years ago.

Front - June 2017

Above is my front and below is what I've always regarded as the back:

Back - June 2017

On Saturday I took it along to a club meeting, keen to get some suggestions for its future.

I received three very different suggestions and have created a rough virtual of each option using Photoshop.

Virtual 1

This is fairly close to what I had in mind, though the back has become the front and I hadn't planned on removing the second branch on the right hand side. Although the leader is coming forward from this side I'm not too keen to have that huge scar facing forward and the right hand side looks rather bare.

Virtual 2

I'm not sure I've got the slant quite right here. This is supposed to be a semi-cascade. I'm not sure whether the tree's root system will support this style but may look into this option when I repot the tree in spring.

Virtual 3

This one is supposed to be a windswept tree. Are Bougainvilleas really suited to this style? Based on this virtual I'm not totally convinced.

Right now I've got a lot to think about but I won't be cutting anything until my little tree loses its bracts (flowers). I think a slight change of slant may be a good idea, but probably not as drastic as what's shown in virtual 2 or 3. I'm also considering a change of front to minimise the gap between the two trunks.

Here's a 360° view which may show better angles than in my unedited photos.



All suggestions are welcome.

Which option would you choose for this tree?

Monday, 29 May 2017

Transforming a Giant Juniper

About four times a year the various bonsai clubs in my province get together for a day of talks and demonstrations. It's a great opportunity to meet some new bonsai enthusiasts and learn some new techniques. The most recent of these meetings took place on the first Saturday of May.

Among the speakers was Org Exley of Pretoria Bonsai Kai who brought along this massive Juniper Chinensis.

Juniper Chinensis - before

When I saw the tree I assumed that Org was planning to create a literati bonsai but I soon discovered that he had other ideas. This is an illustration he showed us before he started work.


On a tree of that size this was not going to be an easy undertaking. Simple wiring was not going to be enough to get any significant bends into a tree that was far from flexible.

Org showing how far the tree would bend

In order to add flexibility and create the two trunks shown in his illustration it was necessary to split almost the entire trunk.

Here's a shot of the carving - a long and difficult process during which the centre of the trunk was hollowed out.


Sawdust was flying everywhere.


Eventually the carving was done and he now had two much more flexible trunks to work with.


At this stage the tree was taken outside for wiring as the meeting moved on to another topic. Unfortunately there was too much work to do in the time remaining so the last I saw of the tree was this view, wrapped in raffia with a lot of wire applied.


Org kindly agreed to send me a photo of the completed styling. This is what it looks like right now.


I hope he'll bring it along to another meeting when it's had time to recover from its ordeal.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Return of the Mantis

The day after she laid her eggs my praying mantis was nowhere to be found. Having read that lady mantises don't live long after they lay their eggs, I feared I might never see her again. Still, every morning when I went out to water my trees I searched her stand in the hope that I'd find her.

Then yesterday she was back.


Once more she came out of hiding after getting a soaking from my hosepipe. Instead of fetching my camera this time I made a brief attempt to coax her into climbing on my hand (something I'd seen done on a YouTube video) but she simply ignored me. A little later, however, I noticed that she wanted to climb onto a leaf which was just out of her reach so I filled the gap with my hand and she was quite happy to use it as a bridge as she quickly moved across to her chosen destination.

I'm quite amazed to see how tame she is - so different from the lizards that live in my bonsai area. They run for cover as soon as they see me.

I spent most of the afternoon indoors but before closing up for the night I went to look for her. Much to my disappointment she'd vanished again. Then late last night I discovered her on a wall inside the house. She'd obviously found her way onto one of the frost-sensitive trees which I bring indoors at night when the weather gets chilly (*) and once inside she'd gone exploring. By the time I found her she was some distance from the nearest tree and the chance of her finding her way back to safety on her own seemed slim. Clearly it was up to me to rescue her.

I went outside to fetch a little tree from her stand and it didn't take too much effort to coax her onto that tree. Then I returned the tree to its home, leaving her safely in the area I usually see her, fully aware that she would go wandering again. Sure enough this morning I couldn't find her.

I just hope she chooses her destinations more wisely from now on.


(*) As I said in a previous post, moving trees in and out of the house every day is NOT recommended unless you're able to do it without exposing them to extreme changes in temperature. It only works for me because our winters are relatively mild and my house isn't heated.


Linking up with Camera CrittersSaturday Critters and Macro Monday 2

Camera Critters

Saturday, 13 May 2017

My Bonsai Friend - the Praying Mantis

A few days ago I mentioned the white stuff I found on one of my trees. Had I first seen it as it appears in that post, I imagine I'd have been really concerned and rushed to remove it. Fortunately that was not the case.

The story begins in late March. I was watering my trees when a rather wet praying mantis appeared seemingly from nowhere, jumping from one of my trees onto the metal stand below in an attempt to escape the water streaming out of my hosepipe.

In years gone by I'd have tried to relocate the little creature to a part of the garden where there are no bonsai, but I recently discovered that the praying mantis is a carnivore which preys on the pests that harm our trees. Under the circumstances I wanted her to stay so I did my best not to disturb her any further. Of course I also wanted to see if I could get a decent photo and she kindly posed for me, even walking towards the camera at one stage, enabling me to shoot from a better angle. Even the light from my camera's flash didn't seem to bother her.

March 2017

I saw her three more times over the next few days, then she seemed to disappear and I thought I'd seen the last of her. Then about a week ago she was back in one of the trees close to where I'd first seen her. She seemed to have grown a lot fatter, a fact which first made me suspect that she was a female. An online search for photos of praying mantises convinced me that I was right.

For several days after that I saw her hanging in the same tree, then one day I couldn't see her anywhere. Next day, however, I found her on a different tree with that patch of white "stuff" behind her.

May 2017 - laying her eggs

Although I'd never seen pictures of an ootheca (egg sac) before I was confident that I was witnessing my little friend laying eggs.

I immediately went to fetch my camera. After gently moving the tree onto a nearly table I was lucky enough to get some decent photos and even some video footage.



Once she was done laying her eggs she slowly climbed out of the tree onto the table. She seemed weak and I felt she was rather vulnerable there but luckily I was able to coax her into another tree and return her to the area she'd made her home.

The bad news is, I've read that once she's laid her eggs, Mama Mantis hasn't got long to live. I'm really going to miss her.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

What's this white stuff on my bonsai tree?


This is what I found on one of my little trees today. It's about a centimetre long with a spongy texture.

Close-up

I've a confession to make. I already know the answer to my question, but I'm curious to see how many people can identify this "stuff" and what they'd do if they came across something like this on one of their trees.

All will be revealed in a few days time.