Wednesday, 26 April 2017

My Air Layering Blunder - 3 months later

In January I wrote about the bad mistake I made removing the air layer from a Ficus Ingens. I was quite concerned about the new tree's ability to survive after I accidentally removed most of the roots. Happily there was just enough root left to keep it alive and it's now full of foliage.

Ficus Ingens air layer - April 2017

It's never going to be a beauty with its two leaders, but in time I'll probably do another air layer to remove the leader growing to the right. Do I need another tree? No, but I can always sell off some of the excess when I decide which of my trees I like best.

The news isn't as good regarding the little stub which had most of the roots. It was looking promising in February, when I took this photo.

Stub with new bud - February 2017

Unfortunately that little bud at the base never developed into anything. Perhaps something else will still develop but I fear it may be suffering from root rot given the fact that I planted both in one pot and I've had to water according to the requirements of the tree which has foliage.

Of course the important part was always the parent tree. After removing the air layer all that was left was a thin leader with a few leaves.

Parent tree - January 2017

I'm reasonably happy with it's growth over the last three months.

Parent tree - April 2017

Sadly there are no signs of new branches lower down, but hopefully when I prune the tree it will stimulate new growth where I want it. With winter rapidly approaching, however, I have no plans to prune it any time soon.



Thursday, 13 April 2017

A Tree with Dramatic Curves - 19 Months Later

Shortly after I started my blog I wrote about a little Acacia Burkei which started life as mallsai. Over a period of four years its trunkline had been changed dramatically, but it had little branching.

Some of my readers were very critical of the lack of branches and with the benefit of hindsight I probably did remove too many. Regardless, what's done is done, and I had no choice but to move forward with what was left.

September 2015

Over the last 19 months I've largely allowed this tree to do its own thing, letting the branches grow long, resulting in some significant thickening to the trunk.

March 2017 - before pruning

When I have pruned however, I've cut back hard because this tree has nasty thorns and in the limited space I have to keep it, it tends to get caught up in my other trees. My March pruning was particularly dramatic.

March 2017 - after pruning

I hadn't planned to prune it again before winter, but its growth over the past month was strong, and some of the upward growth was unnecessary.

April 2017 - before trim

While I was trying to organise my greenhouse ahead of winter, I decided to give it one more minor trim.

April 2017 - after trim

Here's a 360° view:



Ideally I'd like one or two more branches between the first and second branch.

After the March pruning the tree put out one new branch here:

Unwanted new growth

Unfortunately it was in an unsuitable position, so I was forced to remove it. However it gives me hope that a better option will present itself next summer.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

What kind of worm is this?

When I finished watering my trees a little while ago I noticed a worm crawling along the rim of one of my pots. He was long and thin and at first glance I assumed he was an earthworm.


Then I realised that what appeared to be a large piece of soil at one end was in fact his head.


I wanted a clearer shot but he started moving into a position where his head was hidden, so I moved him onto a brick where he was more visible. The lighter background showed off his stripes a lot better too.


Aside from his strange appearance  something I found odd was that his length seemed to be variable. When I first noticed him he was fairly short, then, while I fetched my camera, he stretched himself out along the pot. After I moved him onto the brick he contracted again.

I have no idea whether he could do harm to my trees so I'm hoping somebody will be able to identify him for me.

I'll update this post if and when I get more information about him.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Ending Summer on a Positive Note

When I took my Schotia Brachypetala to my bonsai club for help with its initial trunk chop back in 2012 one of the senior members told me it was a slow grower and that I should plant it in the ground. As I was happy with the thickness of the trunk, I chose not to follow his advice. Based on how it has developed since then, I have no regrets.

I don't think it's so much a case of this tree growing slowly as that it needs a push every now and then to get it going. It certainly responds well every time I prune it. So perhaps it was a mistake to leave it to do its own thing for most of this summer.

At the beginning of March I decided it was time to rewire it as the old wires were starting to bite.

March 2017 - before pruning

While I was at it, I decided to give it a quick haircut. Mostly that just consisted of reducing the groups of compound leaves to pairs, but I think I pruned one branch at the time. Despite the fact that I kept the work to a minimum it ended up looking quite naked.

March 2017 - after pruning

Not for long though. Once more the haircut stimulated a lot of new growth, and a mere 17 days later I was happy to see lots of new buds developing in the large gap between the top branch and the apex.

New buds - March 2017

Two weeks later everything has filled in nicely apart from the lowest branch on the left which has suffered a little die-back.

April 2017

I suspect that branch may not be getting enough light, so perhaps I need to turn that side towards the sun.

With winter approaching I won't be working on this tree any more for a while. When spring comes around however, it will be time for a repot. The only surface root it has at the moment is badly positioned and will probably have to go, so I really hope I can find some better roots hidden below the soil.

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.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

A Year Spent Watching a Trident Maple Grow

At some stages in a tree's development it's best to do nothing other than leave it to grow. Such was the situation with the Trident Maple I first discussed in my post Building a Trunk in late 2015.

It was unfortunate that I was forced to repot that tree at the time that I cut the trunk back because I'm sure that the heavy root pruning I did back then has slowed its development somewhat. Still it's grown a lot since I picked my new leader - the lower of the two options I discussed in that post. The thin flimsy leader  has thickened substantially and now extends about three feet above the chop site. I also have a branch where there was little more than a bud when that post was written. This is what it looked like after a year of unrestrained growth.

January 2017- before trim and wiring

I won't even think about shortening that leader for at least another year as it's not thick enough yet. Besides I'd like to fatten up the trunk a bit more too.

When I brought it inside today, the photo above was all I had planned but on closer inspection I decided it was time to position the side branch properly while it's still young and flexible. At the same time I shortened the branch because, for now, my main focus is on thickening the leader. I don't want that branch to fatten up too much until I start developing other branches either because I'd hate it to grow out of proportion to the rest of the tree.

Branch pruned and wired. The leader was left intact.

Just when I thought that I was done I realised that I needed to clean away the moss growing up the base of the trunk. In so doing I discovered that the base is actually somewhat thicker than I realised. Rotating the tree I also found that the base looks better from what I thought was the back of the tree, while the rest of the tree doesn't really suffer from a change of front.

New front. The section below the wire was hidden by the moss.

I'll need to change the slant when I repot it because it's now leaning slightly backwards, but that's only a minor issue. I'll also have to remove the root marked with an arrow in the photo below.

View of base from old and new fronts.

As it's already late in the growing season I'm planning to leave dealing with both of those issues until spring when I'll probably move the tree into a bigger pot.

I've been battling with this tree for years now, but at last I feel like it's starting to show some promise. It still has a long way to go though.

Friday, 27 January 2017

My Purple Maple


Just a teaser for an upcoming post.

When I came across a link to an advert for "sky blue maple seeds" on Reddit, I thought it might be fun to turn one of my own trees purple just to show that those trees aren't that rare - with a bit of computer manipulation.

Aside from the colouration and slightly artistic edit, this is what my tree looked like before I pruned it a few days ago. Once I've managed to sort through all my old photos, its life history will be revealed.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

An Air Layering Blunder

During my time growing bonsai I've propagated a number of trees by air layering unwanted sections off the ones I already own, and most of them have been done using the tourniquet method. It usually works very well, and the air layer I first mentioned in my post about my family of Ficus Ingens proved to be no exception. Well not until the time came to separate the top from the parent tree anyway.

Last week everything was looking good to go.

Air layer with a decent amount of roots

Once I'd made the first cut, severing the two halves of the tree, I noticed that the roots were coming from two points - one just above the tourniquet and the other quite a bit further down the trunk. Not ideal positioning if I wanted to create a decent root system in the future. So, assuming that most of the roots were coming from above the tourniquet, I made my next cut just below the wire. Bad mistake.

To my horror I found I now had a small tree with very little root growth and a stub of trunk with lots of roots.

I planted both in the wide, shallow pot I'd prepared, then realising how unsteady the little tree was, I made some holes in the side of the pot to tie it in place without disturbing the roots again.

Two sections in one pot. The arrow shows the stub which has most of the roots.

Here's the new tree, defoliated to reduce the stress on the tiny remaining root ball.


All I can do now is wait to see whether either section survives.

A week later the new tree is showing no signs of dying, so I'm hopeful that all is not lost. As for the stub, who knows? Some species of Ficus can be propagated from root cuttings. I'm just not sure whether Ficus Ingens is one of them.

Whatever happens my top priority for the immediate future is the parent tree.


All I had was one branch which I've wired upwards as a new leader. The trunk is rather long and straight so, depending on what develops, I may opt for a shorter tree later on.

I'm really impatient for it to produce some branches lower down so that I can start working out a plan for its future.