Friday, 26 January 2018

Back From the Dead

With so many trees to care for I have some which have been sitting in my bonsai area for years receiving little more attention than what is required to meet their need for food and water. It's for this reason that I've sold most of the Junipers which entered my life when I participated in my club's "New Talent" competition.

Among the other species which I'm becoming increasingly reluctant to work on are my succulents, among them a Portulacaria which has been with me longer than most of my other trees, and longer than I've been a member of my club.

When I first acquired it my plan was to create a cascade and I wired it accordingly. But I was forced to change that plan after a massive hail storm in late 2007 which, in addition to damaging what was then a small collection of trees, broke thirteen windows in our house. Remarkably all my trees survived.

Over the past ten years the Portulacaria has been to a couple of workshops and was taking shape quite nicely at one stage, but as my collection grew it found itself sitting neglected on the lower shelf in my greenhouse (where I'd put it to protect it from further hail damage). And so I failed to notice a Melaleuca seedling which planted itself in the same pot as the Portulacaria. By the time I noticed it, it was already towering over the little Portulacaria. Of course I knew it needed to be moved to its own pot but there was always something more important to take care of. And so it kept growing until I recently realised that it was now towering over me as well.

My first thought was to cut the Melaleuca back to a more convenient height (as I did with this one last year) and put the two trees back into my greenhouse until next spring before separating them, but when I gave it a bit more thought I realised that the wait would only make a really tricky job even more difficult. Although it was the wrong time of year (summer in South Africa) in the middle of December I decided that separating them was a risk I had to take.

December 2017

First I cut the Melaleuca back to half its height, then, with much trepidation I pulled the trees out of their little pot, anticipating a tough time trying to untangle their roots. I had no idea what lay in store for me! The Melaleuca roots were long, thick and inflexible, growing in circles around the inside of the pot. I had no choice but to remove most of them.

By the time I was able to separate the two trees, each was left with only a fairly small root ball.

Portulacaria straight after separation - December 2017

Succulents are tough so I was convinced that the Portulacaria would be fine but, despite having reduced the size of the Melaleuca so much, I was not too optimistic about its chance of survival.

Melaleuca straight after separation - December 2017

My fears only grew when, within a few days, all the old foliage started wilting.

A few weeks later all the foliage had turned brown and I could see no signs of new growth. I was convinced the tree was dead.

Melaleuca looking dead - January 2018

However, I'm never in a rush to throw away my dead trees just in case I'm wrong, so I decided to move it from its shady spot to the area where I've put some of my other dead trees - a spot in which it's been getting only a little morning sun and a rough sprinkling of water.

I hadn't given it much more thought until today when, while watering, I noticed a spot of green near the top of the tree. I felt sure it was my imagination, but on closer inspection I discovered this small cluster of leaves.

New buds - January 2018

There are also several smaller green buds forming lower down on the trunk. Clearly it's not dead after all.

Thankfully all I ever wanted was part of the trunk, so the loss of the branches isn't going to be a problem.

Now I need to find a more suitable spot where it can continue its recovery.

Photo progression of this tree as it recovers can be found here.

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