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.


Thursday, 4 May 2017

There's a Caterpillar on my Ficus Tree

With winter well and truly on the way I've already started protecting some of my more sensitive trees. As my greenhouse is too small for my requirements that gets a bit tricky. Some trees have to be moved out of it during the day so that I'm able to get inside to water the rest. I even bring a few trees into the kitchen at night because I've nowhere else to keep them.

Warning: For most people this isn't a good way to do things. I'm fortunate to live in a fairly mild climate and my house isn't heated, so my trees don't experience extreme changes in temperature when I move them around.

Moving my trees has one benefit though - I tend to examine them a bit more closely than I do during the summer months when they spend most of their time on one spot. That's how I happened to notice this little guy on one of my Ficuses a few days ago.



Luckily I noticed him while he was still quite small - less than an inch long. He'd already eaten about half a leaf, so I hate to think what damage he might have done to a relatively small tree if I hadn't noticed him until he was fully grown.



Once I'd done taking photos I removed the damaged leaf and put him into a bin with the weeds and some fallen leaves I've been clearing up. Hopefully he didn't find his way back onto my trees.



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.