Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Starting a Pyracantha Bonsai From Nursery Stock

A few days ago I found this Pyracantha at the nursery section of a nearby hardware store.

Pyracantha as purchased - January 2019

I shouldn't really be buying more trees, but my only Pyracantha died about a year ago, so I couldn't resist the temptation to replace it.

I was pretty sure I knew what I needed to do with this one, but I took it to a workshop on Saturday in the vain hope that I'd be told my plans were too drastic.

No such luck. It was never going to work as a twin trunk because one trunk had lots of movement while the other was dead straight.

Close-up showing two unmatched trunks

The straight one had to go. Two cuts and I was done.

January 2019 - after pruning

I was really sad to see all the berries go into the trash can, but sometimes the art of bonsai requires sacrifices.

Now I'll let the tree grow for a while before deciding on the next step. Perhaps in time I'll cut it even shorter.


Monday, 7 January 2019

My First Carving Attempt

When I bought my crab apple a few years ago it was about seven foot tall with no low branches, so it's taken a bit of effort to get it to where it is now.

January 2019 - before pruning

A lot of the tree had to be discarded at the time because repotting was a matter of urgency when I bought it, but there was enough left to allow me to do an air layer before I started developing this, the parent tree.

I'm ashamed to admit that since the air layer was removed, however, I've largely ignored both trees. That created a problem with this one because the top branch on the left was thicker than the lower branches and apex. I had to change something.

Two options presented themselves :

  1. change the planting angle and turn the thick branch into the new leader
  2. remove that branch
I opted for the latter.

January 2019 - after pruning

After the branch was removed I was left with an ugly bulge where it had been.

In the past I'd have asked for help with that bulge, but I recently bought a Dremel carving tool, so I decided this was the perfect opportunity to try it out.

Janurary 2019 -  after carving

Not a perfect job by any means, but for a first attempt, I'm reasonably happy. When I've got a bit more carving experience, I can still come back and improve on it.

For now I want the two side branches to thicken a little more before I shorten them, and the new leader and back branch need a lot of fattening up.


Thursday, 20 December 2018

A Pruning Adventure - an Update on my Reddit Contest Tree

I hate to confess that I've totally neglected my first lonicera, styled in November 2017, then changed a bit after receiving some bad advice. It's now totally overgrown and I need to start all over again.

After seeing how quickly such small trees can get out of control, I'm determined not to let the same thing happen to the lonicera I used for the Reddit nursery stock contest this year, so a few days ago I decided it was time to give it a haircut.

Lonicera - December 2018, before pruning

That's when the fun began.

While trimming some of the top foliage I suddenly became aware of a praying mantis hiding in the branches.


I immediately stopped what I was doing before he came to any harm.

After taking a few photos, it was time to get him out of the tree. Surprisingly I had no difficulty persuading him to climb onto my hand, and was even able to get a few more shots.


I then moved him to the safety of a tree I wasn't planning to work on.

Finally it was time to get back to my lonicera. After a little more work it looks like this:

Lonicera - December 2018, after pruning

That long dangling branch is a new one about two thirds of the way up the trunk which will fill a gap nicely. It needs to thicken up a bit before I prune it. I don't think that will take too long though, so I need to keep a close watch on it.

I'm not happy with the lowest branch on the left yet. Hopefully I'll get some back budding so that I can direct it in the direction I want it to grow. And I'm still considering shortening the tree a little more.

Now that the contest is over, however, I don't need to keep it looking tidy, so I can take my time making my decisions.

Thursday, 13 December 2018

How to Ruin a Bonsai Without Really Trying

The first tree to appear in my blog was this Ficus Natalensis which I grew from a cutting in 2007.

Ficus Natalensis - September 2015

As an overenthusiastic newbie I made a lot of mistakes with this one, but in 2010, when I moved it into a bonsai pot and put it on show for the first time, I was really proud of my little tree.

In recent years however I've been trying to correct some of my early mistakes, so in November 2015 I moved it back into a training pot.

The idea was right, but it was a plan poorly executed. After initially pruning too hard, undoing the good growth that took place during its first couple of months in the training pot, I went to the other extreme, forgetting to prune it at all.

December 2018 - unpruned

After a quick pruning, there's some resemblance to the tree it once was.

December 2018 - after pruning

All that new growth has done some good, fattening up the trunk and reducing the reverse taper I was so concerned about in 2016.

Reverse taper - August 2016

Improved base - December 2018

Unfortunately all that vigorous growth has created a new problem. Some of the lower branches weren't getting enough light, leading to significant die-back. The second branch appears to be dead.

Dead branch

The tree won't look right without it.

In one of my 2016 posts I said:
"At times I've contemplated giving this tree a whole new look but a part of me feels I should stick to the original plan to show how my sense of style has evolved over the years."
Now, without that branch, I'm starting to think that a total makeover may be the best way forward.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Barely Alive

An update on the shrinking Juniper.

When I last wrote about this tree I was already concerned about its survival after the harsh treatment it had received over the previous few months. My once healthy nursery tree had been reduced from this:

Juniper Mint Julep - March 2018, as purchased

to this:

First styling attempt - April 2018

and finally, at the hands of a member of my bonsai club, to this:

Second styling attempt - September 2018

Despite my concerns, on the advice of two experts, I eventually decided to move it from its nursery bag into a training pot - a move which required a significant amount of root pruning.

It's gone steadily downhill since then and now has only a little browning foliage left on its one remaining branch. After removing the wire and bandage, it looks like this:

Barely alive - December 2018

I have no doubt that many people would write it off as a lost cause at this stage, but right now it's still showing signs of life.

Strangely the most significant new growth is this small bud on an area I'd attempted to strip for future use as dead wood.

New growth

Obviously I didn't strip it very well!

I also discovered an even smaller bud lower down on the trunk.

If those buds actually develop into branches one day, it's likely to be years before I have anything to work with. But I'm amazed at this tree's will to live against all odds.

I hope it makes it.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

A Privet Full of Praying Mantises

Ever since I found my first praying mantis laying her eggs on one of my trees two summers ago, I've been hoping against hope that enough of them would move in to rid me of some of the pests that are an inescapable part of any bonsai grower's life.

Of course that's wishful thinking. It would require a huge army of these tiny carnivores to do that!

Still, I enjoy seeing them on my trees and having witnessed the eggs being laid and hatching as well as the sad death of the babies, murdered by ants, I'm hoping I'll one day have the privilege of seeing the mating process too.

After finding three of them on the same tree I thought yesterday might be the day, but every time I looked they were keeping their distance from each other.

While I waited (in vain), I decided to take some photos.


Shooting one was easy but I knew that it would take a little coaxing on my part to get them all into the same photo. Fortunately I've observed that they will usually climb to the top of the tree if I spray water on it. So that's what I did.

My first attempt brought two together and I thought things were about to get interesting when one jumped onto another, but the second one wasn't interested and moved to a safe distance. Perhaps they were both the same gender.

For a while, however, they stayed near enough for me to get a few close-ups.


Finally a second spray of water brought the third one out of hiding and I was able to capture all three in the same shot.


I haven't seen them today. I haven't watered yet though, so they may put in an appearance later.

When last I saw them one had moved to the olive tree next door. I hope by now the others have moved on too because my Privet is in desperate need of pruning.


Thursday, 29 November 2018

The Dominant Tree

One of the benefits of growing trees from cuttings is that they'll be genetically identical to the parent tree. This is particularly important if you're undertaking a fusion project and want all the trees you're fusing to have identical foliage and, if applicable, go dormant at the same time. Neither of these things are guaranteed if you're working with seedlings.

That's not to say that identical cuttings will behave in exactly the same way.

A couple of years ago I planted three almost identical Ficus Burtt-Davyi cuttings in one small pot. That pretty much guaranteed that their treatment would be identical - the same genes, identical watering and feeding. Only minimal light variation if one tree put another into shade.

None of them have ever been pruned.

Under the circumstances you'd think there would now be three very similar trees growing in their little pot. But somehow one tree has become dominant and is now more than twice the height of the other two, with branches as thick as the trunks of its two smaller siblings.

Three Ficus Burtt-Davyi cuttings in one pot

Yesterday, when I decided to separate them, I discovered that the two smaller ones had minimal roots while the big one had filled up the rest of the pot.

Large Ficus Burtt-Davyi aren't easy to come by where I live, so I'd like to see how much I can fatten up the dominant tree. I've moved it into a bigger pot, leaving the other two in small pots for now.

It will be interesting to see how the smaller ones develop now that they have room to grow.

Three Ficus Burtt-Davyi separated