Friday, 27 October 2017

To Graft or Not to Graft, that is the Question

I've never been too keen on the idea of grafting bits onto my trees. I like to work with the options they offer me, though sometimes it's a struggle.

A few months ago I was contemplating moving my best trident maple into a bonsai pot in time for this month's show, but my plans were changed when it was suggested that I graft some extra roots to improve on the rather unimpressive nebari. Reluctantly I agreed.

October 2017

I planned to take the tree to a workshop for assistance in early spring but due to unforeseen circumstances the job was never done though the tree was marked with lines where six of my trident maple seedlings should be attached to the trunk.

Trunk marked with blue lines where seedlings should be attached

My next opportunity to get the help I needed was at a workshop at the club show, but I wasn't happy for this major operation to be performed in such a busy environment so I postponed the "surgery" until next month.

Now I'm having second thoughts. For one thing I'm not happy to do root work on one of my best trees so late in the season. For another I'm still not totally convinced that I want to do the root graft at all. To me trees with a perfect spread of roots look unnatural.

A few days ago I brought the tree inside for a quick haircut and while I was at it I had a look at the roots. One thing was glaringly obvious - the soil level was too low. After I'd added soil one side looked better though the root on the other side was barely visible.

Soil level raised - one root is barely visible

Fortunately that problem can be dealt with quite easily by making a slight adjustment to the planting angle next time I repot the tree.

Soil level raised and slant altered

I may still change my mind again, but for now I'm not planning to do any root work this summer. Perhaps the extra soil will encourage more roots to grow naturally, and if I'm not happy with how it looks next spring, the root graft can be done then. But for now I'm hoping to let my tree live with its naturally imperfect nebari.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Taking My Succulents Back to Basics

So things didn't quite go as planned. Although I managed to  sell some trees at last weekend's show (my two best Junipers among them), none of my succulents sold. I think the lack of interest was due to the fact that they're so easy to propagate.

I briefly contemplated putting them on my club's raffle table next month, but I've decided not to give up that easily. Instead I cut them all back to a basic framework, leaving all but one totally devoid of foliage. One will need to be repotted at a different angle and the two in the last photo should probably be separated, but I'm not doing any of that right now.


before
after
before

after

before
after


before
after

It will be interesting to see what develops over the next 12 months. Maybe they'll be more desirable by then. Maybe a year from now I'll even want to keep some of them.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Unusual Displays from Last Year's Bonsai Show

With my bonsai club's show only days away, I realised that I still have a bunch of photos from last year's show that I was planning to write about.

Most of the trees weren't quirky, but the manner in which some of them were displayed was unusual.

Ficus with hippopotamus mother and child

Acacia forest with small hut and origami giraffe

Framed juniper procumbens nana rock planting

Junipers growing on a "mountain" - water feature

Juniper procumbens nana in a bathtub

There was also a Juniper in a rusty shovel which I wrote about at the time.

I can't wait to see what our members come up with this year.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Succulent cuttings - two years later

In November 2015 I wrote about the succulent cuttings I was trying to propagate from some broken branches I found in the garden. I should have written an update a long time ago, but with so many trees to take care of I've never given them much attention. Despite that, they're all growing well.

Cutting 1

November 2015

This was intended to be a windswept tree. Unfortunately all the thin branches have broken off and all new growth is going upwards. Clearly a lot of wiring would be needed to make a windswept tree out of this one. Given the brittle nature of this species, a better option would probably be to chop the major branches back and develop a smaller tree.


October 2017

Cutting 2

November 2015

The side branch died, but the rest is growing strongly. It's time to pick a leader.


October 2017


Cutting 3

November 2015

Lots of healthy growth, also going upwards. Another one which would probably need a lot of wiring in its existing form.


October 2017

Cutting 4

November 2015

This was two cuttings in one pot. It seems I picked a leader on the right hand cutting at some stage, but for the rest nature has taken its course.


November 2017

With our club show coming up this weekend, this is my one opportunity to sell some trees this year, and, given the fact that I haven't found time for them over the last two years, I'm probably going to sell all of these. They're all larger than I like to grow my trees and I have some smaller cuttings of the same species which I'm happier to work with.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Birth and Death in the Bonsai Garden

In May I first introduced the praying mantis which laid its eggs on one of my little trees. A few days later she paid a visit to our house, but I was able to return her to my bonsai area without any drama. Sadly she hasn't been seen since. I sometimes wonder whether she climbed onto one of the trees I took to workshop the next day and ended up living in someone else's garden.

Since then I've been waiting impatiently for her eggs to hatch and once the weather started warming up I made a point of watching the ootheca every day in the hope of spotting signs of life. A few days ago I finally saw the signs of activity I'd been hoping for.

I was able to get a couple of quick shots of one of the babies which had already wandered a few inches down the trunk of the tree.


Then I turned my attention to the ootheca and was lucky enough to record the hatching of these two little ones.



While my camera was recording I kept an eye on the activity down below. Some of the babies were wandering across the moss and I feared they would climb off the pot onto the metal table I'd moved the tree to, just as their mother had done shortly after laying her eggs.

A little while afterwards I discovered that I was not the only one who'd been watching them. A few ants appeared and were soon carrying away the motionless bodies of some of the babies.



I can only assume that they had attacked the poor defenceless newborns while my attention was focused elsewhere.

When I saw what was happening I wished there was something I could do to save some of them. Although I was successful in coaxing one baby onto my finger, my efforts were in vain as it quickly jumped back onto the "safety" of the leaf from which it had come, and shortly after that it vanished.

The last signs of life I saw came from this one which lay on the moss for several minutes with one leg twitching every now and again before one of the ants carried it away.



Finally, with a feeling of sorrow, I was forced to return the tree to its shelf.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Show Details

The show is over but our club meets at this venue on the second Saturday of every month. If you live in Joburg perhaps you'd like to pay us a visit and see if you'd like to join the club. It's a great way to learn.


Thursday, 21 September 2017

Facing My Fears

Spring is my favourite time of the year. I loving seeing my trees coming out of dormancy and being transformed into a sea of green, with lots of fresh young leaves free from the blemishes that our summer hailstorms will eventually create.

But it's also a time I fear because I've never become totally comfortable when it comes to repotting trees - especially not when it comes to downsizing from a training pot to a proper bonsai pot. I think a part of that stems from a workshop I attended early in my bonsai days.

One of our club members brought along a tree which was in serious trouble. One side looked reasonably healthy but the other side was dying. On close inspection it was discovered that the trouble came from the roots. There was a large air pocket in the soil which prevented some of the roots from getting the moisture they required. I'm not sure what became of that tree but it's haunted me ever since.

I had big plans for this spring though, but things haven't quite gone to plan. August (still officially winter) got off to a really warm start and around the middle of the month I pruned this newly acquired nursery tree and moved it from its black bag into a training pot.

Ligustrum Ibota - August 2017

It's slowly showing signs of new growth but most of the new buds aren't where I hoped they'd be. In fact the thin branch on the left now has no foliage at all and I fear I may lose it. But more about this tree in another post - when I have something to work with. For now I'm playing a waiting game.

Shortly after I potted this tree we were hit by a cold snap, so I decided to wait for the weather to warm up a bit before I continued my repotting efforts.

And then, just as the weather warmed up again, our landline and internet connection suddenly stopped working.

Okay, I hear you thinking, loss of technology should be the perfect opportunity to give my trees my full attention. But no, as I battled to get the problem fixed, I seemed to be constantly sitting at home waiting for repairmen who never arrived. I was afraid to get my hands dirty in case the doorbell rang at an inopportune moment. And every time the problem was fixed, I found myself playing catch-up with my online activities, so I still had little time for my trees. As a result, to date I've only managed to repot a handful of trees and, with most of my deciduous trees now covered in leaves, I fear many of those I'd planned to work on will be remaining in the same soil for another year.

One of the trees that topped my list of priorities however was one of my favourites - a little Ficus Natalensis which has appeared in several of my earlier posts. As I want to display this one at our club's annual show in mid-October it was essential that I get it into a bonsai pot as soon as possible. So a few days ago I finally plucked up the courage to move it.

Ficus Natalensis in training pot - September 2017

For the most part I'm fairly comfortable doing root work on ficuses, but once I got started on this one I became really nervous at the realisation of just how much root I had to remove before I could squeeze it into its tiny new home. And when I thought I was done it didn't look right. The tree wasn't quite straight in the pot and it seemed to be leaning slightly backwards. So I removed it from the pot and started over. It was only at the end of my second attempt that I realised it was sitting too high in the pot, so out it came once more. Getting it to the right level required yet more root pruning and I'm a bit concerned about some of the cuts I made.

While working on it I also removed most of the foliage in the hope of encouraging it to produce nice small leaves for the show.

Ficus Natalensis in bonsai pot - one day later

Since this photo was taken some of the remaining leaves have turned yellow and dropped off but thankfully the new buds are still looking healthy. Still, I won't be comfortable until it shows signs of new growth. Hopefully my concerns will prove to be unfounded, but it's in my nature to worry.