Saturday, 29 September 2018

It's fat and ugly, but it's alive

The Ficus Carica truncheon cuttings which I planted in April were by far my most ambitious propagation attempt to date. An attempt made more complicated by my decision to plant them without using rooting hormone which, I've heard, may be carcinogenic. Instead I soaked them in a kelp solution and hoped for the best.

As we were heading into winter at the time, I knew a lot of patience would be required. Ficus Carica is a deciduous tree so I told myself there wasn't much prospect of visible growth for several months.

Strangely one of the thickest cuttings showed signs of budding early on so, when the weather got cold I moved that one into my greenhouse. With limited space, however, I was forced to put the other five in a less sheltered area, on the lower shelf of a metal stand which I cover with frost cloth on nights when the temperature drops below 5°C.

By mid-August many of my trees, my established Ficus Caricas included, were already turning green, but there were no signs of life from my truncheon cuttings. Well not until mid-September, when I finally noticed a couple of buds on the thickest cutting in the less sheltered area.

A couple of weeks later the growth on that one is looking promising, so I'm hopeful that root growth is at least as good.

Late September 2018

So far none of the others are showing signs of life, not even the one that was in the greenhouse. I fear I may have harmed that one by pampering it, exposing it to excessive heat when the weather started warming up.

I'm not giving up on any of them just yet though. I made that mistake with my previous attempt three years ago only to discover that one of the cuttings I'd just dug up was starting to root. I tried putting it back in soil, but it never recovered. I really regret that because it was a far more interesting cutting than any I got this time.

I'm a bit frustrated that the cutting which has rooted is the ugliest of the bunch - no taper and it even has an ugly crack at the base. But I'm impressed that I was able to root a cutting approximately the thickness of a soda can without using rooting hormone.

I'm not convinced this tree will ever have bonsai potential but if not, hopefully in time it will give me figs to eat, something none of my other Ficus Carica trees have done so far.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Ginseng Ficus - creating movement and taper

It's still early in the growing season in South Africa so my Ginseng Ficus has hardly changed since it received its last chop in July.

July 2018

Although I said at the time that my next step was repotting and root work, that thick straight leader has been bothering me for a while now, so today I decided to do something about it. Just one chop for now:

September 2018 - after the chop

The new leader is going to need quite a bit of fattening up, but the position is much better.

Now I really am planning to remove the fat horizontal root on the left side:

Offending root to be cut back to the green line

I'm hoping to do that at a workshop in about ten days' time.

This guy may be a Ginseng Ficus, but I'm determined that he'll look like a proper bonsai one day.

You can see photos of the full progression of this tree here.

Saturday, 8 September 2018

The Shrinking Juniper

One of the trees I bought in April as a candidate for Reddit's nursery stock contest was a rather large Juniper Mint Julep. I've already discussed its first styling in an earlier post.

As it was winter in South Africa, the tree has grown very little since then. I hadn't done any further work on it either - until today, when I decided to take it to my club's meeting for some "expert" advice.

April 2018

I wasn't expecting to do much more than remove the unwanted branches that I'd left uncut in April for fear of removing too much in one go and killing the tree. But Junipers are outside my comfort zone so I was looking for confirmation that it was safe to cut them now. With the benefit of hindsight I'm starting to wonder if I'd have been better off if I'd stuck to my original plan and removed those branches at home.

Instead, when the tree went up for critique, everyone seemed to have different ideas, and people soon started bending branches into different positions. One member even shortened the leader (which I was trying to thicken) without asking if I was happy for him to do so.

By this time the tree was already looking quite different from its appearance in the above picture and I was no longer sure where I was headed, so when today's speaker asked if I wanted him to turn it into a dramatic tree,  I agreed. On one condition - that he wouldn't kill my tree.

Before I knew it all the branches were gone and the leader was pulled downwards, leaving me with this:

September 2018

Is there enough left to keep it alive? If it was a Ficus I'd say yes, but with a Juniper I'm not sure.

Plans for the future are a repot as well as carving and bending the jin. For now, however, my major concern is the tree's survival.

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Mulberry Air Layer's First Spring

When I wrote about my first mulberry air layer in February 2016 I received a little criticism for wasting my time on air layering such a skinny tree when I could probably have got the same result by growing a cutting. With the benefit of hindsight my critics were probably right, though I learned a few lessons that proved helpful for my second attempt. Most important was the realisation that working too close to the ground becomes tricky when severing the air layer from the parent tree. While that wasn't too much of a problem with such a skinny tree, it would have been a major issue with a thicker one.

Happily, after removing that air layer, the bottom of the parent tree continued to grow strongly in its inappropriate location, so in November 2017 I decided to see if I could propagate a better tree. Using my favoured tourniquet method, I wrapped a piece of wire around the trunk about four feet above the ground and made my parcel there.

Fast forward to February 2018 when I decided my air layer was ready to lead its own life, separate from the parent tree. That's when things got difficult. With my limited strength I found it really hard to saw through the tree, a job complicated by the fact that the parent tree is so close to a wall that I could only saw from one side rather than working towards the middle from both sides. It was a battle, but I did it.

Once I'd removed the air layer I was distressed to see that the root ball was a lot smaller than I expected and that, due to bad positioning of my soil parcel, most of the roots were growing below the tourniquet, something I felt sure would cause styling problems later on - if the tree survived.

But my first concern was getting it through the winter and, due to its size, I was unable to put it in my greenhouse as I'd done with the previous air layer two years earlier. Perhaps I should have covered it with frost cloth, but in the end the only protection I gave it was a position against the side of the house where I hoped it wouldn't get too cold.

Perhaps if we'd had a colder winter it wouldn't have made it, but I was lucky. And after an unusually warm August it's already covered in leaves... and some fruit.

August 2018

For this summer my plan it to let it grow as much as possible, pruning only what's necessary to restrict it to a manageable size. When the time comes to cut it back to a more appropriate size, however, I feel certain that I'm going to need a lot of help.

Lower trunk with drink can to show size

A final note for my critics - I know that this tree doesn't have the features one would normally look for when trying to create bonsai from an air layer, but sometimes one has to work with what's available.