Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Ginseng Ficus - creating movement and taper

It's still early in the growing season in South Africa so my Ginseng Ficus has hardly changed since it received its last chop in July.

July 2018

Although I said at the time that my next step was repotting and root work, that thick straight leader has been bothering me for a while now, so today I decided to do something about it. Just one chop for now:

September 2018 - after the chop

The new leader is going to need quite a bit of fattening up, but the position is much better.

Now I really am planning to remove the fat horizontal root on the left side:

Offending root to be cut back to the green line

I'm hoping to do that at a workshop in about ten days' time.

This guy may be a Ginseng Ficus, but I'm determined that he'll look like a proper bonsai one day.

You can see photos of the full progression of this tree here.

Saturday, 8 September 2018

The Shrinking Juniper

One of the trees I bought in April as a candidate for Reddit's nursery stock contest was a rather large Juniper Mint Julep. I've already discussed its first styling in an earlier post.

As it was winter in South Africa, the tree has grown very little since then. I hadn't done any further work on it either - until today, when I decided to take it to my club's meeting for some "expert" advice.

April 2018

I wasn't expecting to do much more than remove the unwanted branches that I'd left uncut in April for fear of removing too much in one go and killing the tree. But Junipers are outside my comfort zone so I was looking for confirmation that it was safe to cut them now. With the benefit of hindsight I'm starting to wonder if I'd have been better off if I'd stuck to my original plan and removed those branches at home.

Instead, when the tree went up for critique, everyone seemed to have different ideas, and people soon started bending branches into different positions. One member even shortened the leader (which I was trying to thicken) without asking if I was happy for him to do so.

By this time the tree was already looking quite different from its appearance in the above picture and I was no longer sure where I was headed, so when today's speaker asked if I wanted him to turn it into a dramatic tree,  I agreed. On one condition - that he wouldn't kill my tree.

Before I knew it all the branches were gone and the leader was pulled downwards, leaving me with this:

September 2018

Is there enough left to keep it alive? If it was a Ficus I'd say yes, but with a Juniper I'm not sure.

Plans for the future are a repot as well as carving and bending the jin. For now, however, my major concern is the tree's survival.

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Mulberry Air Layer's First Spring

When I wrote about my first mulberry air layer in February 2016 I received a little criticism for wasting my time on air layering such a skinny tree when I could probably have got the same result by growing a cutting. With the benefit of hindsight my critics were probably right, though I learned a few lessons that proved helpful for my second attempt. Most important was the realisation that working too close to the ground becomes tricky when severing the air layer from the parent tree. While that wasn't too much of a problem with such a skinny tree, it would have been a major issue with a thicker one.

Happily, after removing that air layer, the bottom of the parent tree continued to grow strongly in its inappropriate location, so in November 2017 I decided to see if I could propagate a better tree. Using my favoured tourniquet method, I wrapped a piece of wire around the trunk about four feet above the ground and made my parcel there.

Fast forward to February 2018 when I decided my air layer was ready to lead its own life, separate from the parent tree. That's when things got difficult. With my limited strength I found it really hard to saw through the tree, a job complicated by the fact that the parent tree is so close to a wall that I could only saw from one side rather than working towards the middle from both sides. It was a battle, but I did it.

Once I'd removed the air layer I was distressed to see that the root ball was a lot smaller than I expected and that, due to bad positioning of my soil parcel, most of the roots were growing below the tourniquet, something I felt sure would cause styling problems later on - if the tree survived.

But my first concern was getting it through the winter and, due to its size, I was unable to put it in my greenhouse as I'd done with the previous air layer two years earlier. Perhaps I should have covered it with frost cloth, but in the end the only protection I gave it was a position against the side of the house where I hoped it wouldn't get too cold.

Perhaps if we'd had a colder winter it wouldn't have made it, but I was lucky. And after an unusually warm August it's already covered in leaves... and some fruit.

August 2018

For this summer my plan it to let it grow as much as possible, pruning only what's necessary to restrict it to a manageable size. When the time comes to cut it back to a more appropriate size, however, I feel certain that I'm going to need a lot of help.

Lower trunk with drink can to show size

A final note for my critics - I know that this tree doesn't have the features one would normally look for when trying to create bonsai from an air layer, but sometimes one has to work with what's available.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

My Juniper is Half Dead

The internet is full of stories of dead Juniper mallsai, many of them victims of the mistaken belief that they can be kept indoors. This is not one of those stories. I found a way to kill half my tree even though it was living outside.

Despite my reluctance to work with conifers, I currently have three Junipers in my collection - two small Juniper Procumbens Nana which I tend to neglect and a much larger Juniper Mint Julep which I foolishly bought as a candidate for Reddit's nursery stock competition though that tree was totally unsuitable for use as "instant" bonsai.

My younger Procumbens Nana is a tree which I propagated from a cutting when I entered my club's new talent competition a few years ago.

April 2018 - unstyled

Until recently I'd never done any work on it at all. Then in April I saw a lovely little Juniper bonsai on Reddit. When I heard that it had been styled without wiring I was inspired to see if I could create a small Juniper bonsai the same way.

Unfortunately when I examined my tree I discovered that its structure was totally unsuited to clip and grow, so I did a little pruning and some relatively heavy wiring. Then, extremely embarrassed by the result, I returned the tree to its home, determined that I was not going to write about the mistakes I'd made.

April 2018 - after bad styling

Over the course of winter I noticed some browning on the foliage and after a while it became obvious that something had gone horribly wrong. As you can see here, one side of the tree had died.

August 2018 - half dead

Luckily the other side is still alive and showing signs of new growth.

August 2018 - new growth on surviving trunk

Today I removed most of the dead trunk, leaving a little behind for a possible jin, while leaving the other side untouched aside from removing the wire.

August 2018 - cut back

So what went wrong?

Looking at the base of the dead trunk, there is a ring where the bark looks different from the rest. I suspect that while wiring it I accidentally stripped the bark and cambium, cutting off all life support to that trunk.

So now what?

Perhaps I'll let it grow back for a year or two before trying again. Or perhaps I'll finally accept that I'm not a Juniper person and put it on my club's raffle.

Monday, 20 August 2018

Willow Leaf Ficus - 18 Months Later

When last I wrote about my willow leaf ficus, I was undecided on the way forward.

February 2017

Although that long branch was never part of my plan for the tree's future, I was unwilling to cut it off and let it go to waste. One of my readers suggested I keep it and turn the tree into a cascade, but I wasn't too keen on the idea.

After giving it a bit of thought, I decided the best way forward was to air layer that branch the following spring, and with that plan in mind I wired some movement into it shortly after the previous post was written.

Aside from a little pruning I did nothing further until November 2017.

November 2017 - before the chop

By then I was impatient to start work on the tree, so I abandoned the idea of the air layer, cut that branch off and planted it as a cutting instead. Happily it rooted.

November 2017 - after the chop

Shortly after that I took the tree along to a meeting to discuss its future.

I'd just started giving it a trim when I was called away. When I returned a few minutes later it had received an unexpected and rather severe haircut.

After repotting and changing the angle, this was what was left:

November 2017 - pruned and repotted

Since then I've just let it grow. This is what it looks like today:

August 2018

Here's a 360° view:



Now it's time for decisions. All that new growth has given me a lot of options.

I'm seriously considering going for a shorter tree, but I'm undecided where to make the next chop.

Perhaps it's time to take it to another workshop.

Saturday, 4 August 2018

My Flea Market Find

After several weeks of searching for a candidate succulent to create a mame bonsai, I was starting to think that I wasn't going to find what I was looking for. Sure there were lots of tiny succulents available at all the nurseries and supermarkets, but the foliage was far too bit to create a convincing tree.

Then last Sunday I was at a flea market when I came across a table full of tiny succulents. Most of them had relatively large leaves, but then I spotted this baby:

Sedum - July 2018

It's actually far smaller than it appears here (if you're viewing this post on a computer monitor, anyway) - the pot is a mere 2 inches square.

According to the seller, it's some type of Sedum, but he didn't know which and I haven't been able to identify it yet.

Now I'm really glad I decided not to chop the variegated Portulacaria I bought a few weeks ago. It's huge compared to the Sedum:

Portulacaria and Sedum - July 2018

Meanwhile, despite the fact that it's still winter here, the Portulacaria is already budding all over the place.

I can't wait to see what these little guys do when summer arrives.

Saturday, 21 July 2018

Ginseng Ficus gets a chop

It's been five years since I started growing out my first Ginseng Ficus.

In November 2017 I felt it had finally fattened up enough to shorten the trunk and start developing branches.

A week ago I decided it was time for the second chop.

July 2018 - before pruning

At the time I bought the tree the graft ensured that there was only one possible front. After five years of healing, however, that was no longer the case. After examining the base of the tree, I realised that there was a better front.

old front
new front

Unfortunately the tree is planted too low in the pot for the photos to show the difference accurately, but the gap between the two trunks is much less obvious from the new front.

July 2018 - after pruning and change of front

Next step is to repot the tree and carve away some of that long root that is just visible on the left side. That will have to wait until spring though.

You can see photos of the full progression of this tree here.