Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Hidden Threats

With so many trees in my collection it's not always possible to give them the attention they deserve and I often miss threats lurking hidden behind their foliage. I recently noticed that one of my trees had half its leaves stripped off, but I have no idea what creature was responsible.

Today, while watering my trees, I was lucky enough to notice one of these threats hidden in plain sight.


When I first spotted this arrangement of "branches" on one of my younger trees, I thought that there was a thin twig growing across a dead branch, but on closer inspection I realised that the thicker "branch" was in fact a caterpillar. Of course he had to go.

The photographer in me wouldn't let him go without one more shot, seen here on a bamboo cane I use for moving creatures I don't want to touch.


I don't believe in killing anything bigger than an ant, so when I was done I moved him into a pot full of weeds. Hopefully he'll be happy to stay there and won't find his way back onto my trees.

Monday, 20 March 2017

An Entire Growing Season Wasted

It's been a year now since I last mentioned my fig tree, so I thought it was time for a quick update. Sadly things haven't quite gone to plan.

It was doing really well in spring, but the leader was getting far too long.

October 2016 - before pruning

I decided to shorten it so that I could get some ramification.

October 2016 - after pruning

The tree responded well. Within weeks there were lots of new branches developing more or less where I wanted them.

New growth - November 2016

Then disaster struck. Four days after the photo above was taken we were hit my a massive hail storm and all that lovely new growth was ripped off, leaving this:

November 2016 - after the hail

It's now four months since that storm and sadly the tree hasn't replaced those branches. After some lesser hail late last year, it's looking worse than ever.

March 2017

With winter approaching it appears that the entire growing season has been wasted. I guess all I can do now is wait to see how it responds next spring.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Clip and Grow Ficus - the Third Chop and Beyond

This little Ficus Natalensis has far exceeded my expectations in terms of the progress it made this summer. When I wrote about its second chop back in September, I was expecting to let it grow unchecked for the rest of the season.

August 2016 - after the second chop

However when I saw how much it had grown by December 2016, I reconsidered my decision.

December 2016 - before pruning

While I knew that the new leader still needed to thicken more, I followed my mentor's advice and cut it back to the third branch to allow it and the two branches growing from it to develop in better proportion. As the leaves were looking rather ragged due to hail damage, I decided to defoliate the tree at the same time.

December 2016 - after pruning and defoliation

It soon filled out again.

February 2017 - before pruning

A few days ago when I brought it inside to get a  photo for this post,  I realised that the branch on the right was becoming too dominant so I shortened that one.

February 2017 - after pruning

And that I expect will be the last work I do on it for quite some time. Hopefully now the branches will thicken in better proportion.

The two bottom branches on the left will probably be removed at a later date as there is no branch to balance the composition on the right hand side. With the frame that is starting to develop higher up, I suspect that once the tree fattens up, it won't need branches so low down anyway.

The root cutting has finally decided it wants to become another tree.

February 2017 - base of trunk and root cutting

With winter approaching I've decided to leave it with its parent tree until early next summer, so the move to a larger pot will have to wait.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

It's wet, wet, wet

The drought is finally over in my part of the country. Instead we've had so much rain that it's causing problems of its own - severe flooding in parts has even lead to loss of life.

We've had rain every day for the past week. Some days the rain has fallen for the entire day and the ground is so saturated that it can no longer absorb all the water that keeps on falling. These two holes in our garden have been full of water for a large part of the week.


At one time I had trees fattening up in those holes and I'm really grateful they're not there right now because all that water would probably have lead to root rot. Thankfully my trees are sitting on a cement floor with a slight slope which allows the excess rain water to drain away but I still worry about a few which seem to have developed minor drainage problems.

The wet weather has prevented me from doing much of the work I wanted to get done this week. This little Ficus Burtt-Davyi which put in an appearance in my last post was pruned several days ago. Since then he's been waiting around for me to repot him at a more appropriate angle so that I could see what wiring was required.


Finally today I got tired of waiting, so I did the job in the kitchen.


I wired the two thickest branches, but the others can wait until they fatten up a bit. I'll decide at a later stage which, if either, of the two lowest branches to keep. For now I'm hoping they'll help create a bit more taper.

I've got a few more trees in the kitchen waiting for minor pruning but I really need to spend some time outside so that I can see which trees are in most urgent need of attention.

I'm grateful for the rain but enough is enough already. It's time it headed off to another part of the country where the drought is still a serious problem. Unfortunately the weather forecast suggests that's not going to happen just yet.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Giving in to Temptation - my new Ficus Burtt-Davyi

I love going to nurseries to see what trees are available, but with so many trees in my collection I'm not really looking to buy more. I certainly wasn't planning to buy one when I went to a bonsai show at a nearby nursery this afternoon. But sometimes I can't avoid temptation, and today was one of those days.

Most of the trees that were for sale there didn't really appeal to me, but when I saw a few rows of little Ficus Burtt-Davyi for sale, I had to take a closer look. As I've already got a couple of small ones (nowhere near being bonsai yet) and have propagated several more from cuttings, most of the trees for sale didn't seem worth spending money on. Then I spotted one which vaguely tempted me - a sort of exposed root style tree with a relatively thick trunk and a second one which I assume started out as an aerial root but was now close to half the thickness of the original trunk. It seemed a bit top heavy though, so I went on looking.

I nearly missed this one which had its card blocking the view of the trunk. This was what I first saw.


I'm not sure what made me move that card aside, but when I did, I discovered this:


Now it had my attention. None of my trees have bases like that.

On closer inspection I decided this was (approximately) the grower's intended front because this way the leader is growing towards the viewer:


That pretty much blocks off the view of one root though, and it also has a distinct lean to the right at the moment which doesn't feel quite right. I'm still thinking about how I'm going to deal with it because that leader may be a little thick to bend. I may even go for a slightly shorter tree which will help to deal with the lean and the straightness of the leader. Some of the lower branches will probably have to go too.

I'm not rushing into anything though. For now I'm planning to tidy up some of the dead wood at the points where it's been chopped in the past and may remove some excess branches where there are several growing too close together. Hopefully that will help with back-budding lower on the leader.

It will probably take a while before I establish exactly where this one is headed, but it should make a much more interesting tree than the little one beside it in this photo - a tree I got off the raffle table as a young cutting a few years ago.


Here's a 360° view.



Before I commit to a way forward, any suggestions on future styling would be welcome.

Friday, 10 February 2017

To Cut or Not to Cut?

For some reason the willow leaf Ficus (Ficus Nerifolia) seems really hard to come by in my city. I searched long and hard before I eventually found a bonsai nursery which had one. Yes, only one!

It was really small and quite ugly, with terrible nebari, but it was that or nothing, so I bought it.

That was back in August 2011. At the time it looked like this:

As purchased - August 2011

A couple of weeks later I did a little pruning and wiring and repotted it, burying the ugly roots.

August 2011 - first attempt at styling

With hindsight it would have been better to simply let it grow for a while but I guess I was impatient to turn it into a proper bonsai. And yet five years later it's not there yet. Not even close.

I'm not sure why I've paid this tree so little attention over the years. My photographic records seem to be rather sparse, suggesting I haven't done much work on it. I only remember that at some stage I decided to get rid of the fat ugly roots. When I removed them I planted four root cuttings, three of which survived. But I'll save those for another post.

Stuck away at the back of my greenhouse in its tiny pot, my tree developed quite slowly but by June 2015 it was starting to develop a frame which I could build on.

June 2015

Then one day I noticed a bit of die-back (the lowest branch on the right) so I changed its position in the greenhouse and went on ignoring it.

A couple of days ago I was looking for a tree to work on and noticed that one side of the tree had really shot up.

February 2017

I brought it inside that night planning to cut back the long branches. One problem - I wanted to keep the cuttings and didn't have time to plant them. So I waited.

Next day I prepared two small pots of soil for the cuttings. I was ready to go. But some niggling doubt seemed to be holding me back. Late that night, when I had planned to work on my tree, I came online and read a few articles about willow leaf Ficus instead.

When I went to bed that night I was still thinking about my tree. And that's when it struck me that shortening those branches might not be the best thing to do right now. Well not the longest one anyway.

What I'm considering doing is shortening the thinner of the two branches to keep it in proportion for future use, and letting the one on the far left grow as a sacrifice branch. Of course if the left side thickens up too much it may ruin the framework of the tree, but if necessary I can always find a different style option later. It just feels really stupid not to take advantage of its current vigour which is offering me a great opportunity to let it develop into a fatter tree.

One more thing - it's time it went into a bigger pot!

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Still Struggling with my Three-in-One Ficus

When I conceived my plan to fuse three different colour varieties of Ficus Benjamina about a decade ago I had no idea what complications this gimmicky project had in store for me.

While the trunks have fused well enough to confuse some people, differences in the growth habits of the three varieties have resulted in some branches growing more vigorously than others.

Working around that has been a constant battle, further complicated by the fact that I got carried away with what was meant to be minor pruning in late 2015. After that I made the mistake of letting the tree grow largely unchecked for over a year.

February 2017 - before styling

Had the dark-leaved branches (the most vigorous) been near the bottom of the tree, that might have worked out alright. Unfortunately all those branches were high up and as a result they had become disproportionately thick and had also created some nasty reverse taper and a massive bulge high up on the trunk.

Although it's another setback in the tree's progress I decided those branches had to go.

The old leader was contributing to the problem too so, with a better option having presented itself, I removed that as well. I also decided that the lowest branch didn't fit in with my future plans for the design of the tree.

Here it is after another major pruning and some wiring.

February 2017 - after styling

Right now the new leader needs to fatten up a bit, but hopefully I'll pay enough attention to keep the vigorous top growth under control this time.

And hopefully today's work will stimulate some back-budding because the tree really needs a couple of extra branches on the right side to get things properly balanced.