Monday, 14 May 2018

Growing Big Trees from Small Cuttings

A member of Reddit's bonsai group recently asked me this question:

"What's the thickest you've ever got a tiny cutting up to? Guess I'm wondering what 10 years can do!"

The simple answer is that I made the decision early on  to restrict myself to trees and pots that I'm able to carry unassisted. As a small woman, that limits my ability to grow big trees. Still, some of them have reached a decent size over the years and if it hadn't been for some beginner's mistakes, they would have done even better.

Let's start at the beginning.

May 2018

My first Ficus Natalensis cutting serves as a good lesson in how NOT to grow a decent trunk. Yet I was once proud enough of this tree to publish an article about its early development at HubPages. That was long before I ever dreamed of starting my own blog.

I guess it works if you're new to bonsai and you're happy to grow a skinny little tree. Provided you're working with a fast growing species, that is!

After several years in a bonsai pot, this tree has been back in a training pot for over two years now but it's not making as much progress as I'd like. It doesn't help that I rarely think to rotate my trees. The back of this one was close to a wall and it now has quite a bit of die back on the lowest branches. I'll have to work on fixing that next summer.

9cm across the usable nebari (some roots are badly in need of pruning)
5cm just above the roots
Height 34 cm

Sometimes I'm tempted to give this one a total revamp, though probably not what I suggested a few months back. But when I think about it, I tell myself that I should stick to its original styling as a reminder of how I got started in bonsai.

This one is slightly more impressive.

May 2018

I'm guessing that it's approximately 9 years old, though I haven't had a chance to check all my old photos.

Most of the trunk growth occurred quite early in its life, before I made some styling choices I've come to regret. How I wish I'd never removed the lower branches. But what's done is done.

13cm across the nebari
6cm just above the roots
Height 41 cm

I'm seriously tempted to do an air layer here as I think there's good potential for a smaller tree using the top and I can make a short fat one with the bottom part.

The next one has mostly been allowed to grow unchecked.

May 2018

I'm not sure how old this one is, but it's younger than the other two.

Again I made one cut early on that I now regret. Other than that I've done little pruning, only shortening some branches from time to time. In my crowded bonsai area some of the lower branches haven't been getting enough light though and there's quite a bit of die back. That's not really an issue when it comes to styling because this tree has a trunk chop in its future - probably in the form of an air layer as early as next spring.

I recently discovered an aerial root at the bend which will make the trunk even more impressive when it fattens up.

Close view showing aerial root - May 2018

I'm not sure if I'll still be able to reposition it - I'll have to see about that when the air layer is done.

10-12cm across nebari - depending on final choice of front
6-7cm above roots - exclusing aerial root
Height 99cm

And then there's the easy way.

Fusion project detail - May 2018

If you don't want to wait years for a trunk to fatten up, fuse several cuttings to create one fat tree. My project is relatively small, but that's only because I couldn't cope with anything much bigger. If you've got lots of cuttings and can cope with big trees, the results can be really impressive.

6.5 cm across roots
Height 61cm

I'm sure this one could already have been quite a bit bigger if I hadn't left it in my greenhouse for two years. One summer outside has made a big difference.