Saturday, 24 February 2018

The Fusion Project

In August 2015 I decided to fuse some of my long, straight Ficus Natalensis cuttings together to create one larger tree.

In order to plant them close together a lot of root pruning was required. Some had fairly substantial roots, so I was able to keep a few of the thickest ones to grow as root cuttings. The two resulting trees are doing well, but I'll discuss those another time.

Once potted I bound the bases together with self-adhesive tape. I'm not sure why I didn't bind them higher up as well, but once done I had this as my starting point:

August 2015

The base looked like this:

August 2015 - detail

As the nights were still cold (August is the end of winter here) I put them back in my greenhouse and due to space constraints they remained there for the next couple of years.

By November 2016 they were growing strongly, but when I removed the tape they were showing no signs of fusing:

November 2016 - detail

I replaced the tape, adding more higher up on the trunk, but didn't think to add movement. Here they are in December 2016:

December 2016

Finally in May 2017 I realised my mistake and tried to wire some movement into them, but after wrapping thick wire around them I found I was unable to bend the wire as much as I wanted to, so I took them to a workshop where my mentor did the muscle work for me.

Wired - May 2017

And in spring 2017 I finally moved them out of the greenhouse into a sunnier spot.

When the wire started biting I removed it and got help in rewiring them to ensure the curves didn't bounce back to their original position. After the wire started biting a second time I decided it was no longer required. This photo was taken a few days ago, several weeks after the wire was removed.

February 2018

Close-up photos show good fusion in some places:

February 2018 - detail of lower trunk

However, in other parts there are still big gaps:

February 2018 - detail of upper trunk with gaps

I added extra tape to this area, so hopefully the gap will soon close.

February 2018 - gap taped

There are a couple of additional photos here. More photos will be added to that page as the tree develops.

Hopefully by next summer the trunk will have developed well enough for me to start thinking about branch selection.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

The Consequences of Over-Aggressive Pruning

Although I've been known to do a trunk chop from time to time (with mixed results), when I chop my trees I often err on the side of caution, cutting back to the lowest branch and waiting for back-budding before cutting back further. It slows the progress, but it's a safeguard against disaster.

When my succulent cuttings didn't sell in October 2017, however, I decided to throw caution to the wind with them, leaving only minimal foliage on one of the thinner cuttings and none at all on the rest of them. On the advice of a senior member of my club I'd done a similar chop on another thick succulent a few years back and, though the tree's recovery was slow, the result was satisfactory. I had no reason to suspect that things would turn out differently this time.

Perhaps October (late spring) wasn't the best time of year for this operation. Perhaps I did something else wrong. I just know that where the two thicker trees were concerned, things did not go to plan.

The thinner trees quickly produced masses of new growth everywhere, with only minimal die-back, allowing me to remove excess new buds within weeks.

November 2017 - not much to do on this pair

The first pair didn't need much work, but the one below was getting quite top heavy so I cut it back hard. I also removed the dead branch on the left.

November 2017 - before
November 2017 - after

The thicker trees were a lot slower to respond. By November they were showing signs of die-back on important branches, with little new growth high up and lots of tiny new buds at the base.

November 2017 - little new growth with nothing high up
Detail of the base of the above tree
November 2017 - little high growth and dying branch at base. New buds at
base not shown.

Perhaps if I'd removed some of the lowest buds I'd have got better growth higher up. Then again the trees might have died and, though they weren't trees I really wanted, I didn't want to take that chance. I hate killing trees.

By early January the thinner trees were doing really well.

January 2018
January 2018

Unfortunately, while the new buds at the base were growing strongly, the trunks of the two thicker trees had continued to decline. By now the thick branch at the base of this tree had deteriorated so badly that it snapped off with no effort, leaving a rotting hole which I attempted to carve away.

January 2018 - hole where branch had snapped off, before carving.

I was beginning to suspect that the entire trunk would be lost and developments over the past month make it seem my fears are justified.

February 2018 - carved hole, one month later.

The other one isn't looking much better, though there's no rot, so part of the trunk may survive.

January 2018

As I'm trying to cut down on the number of trees in my collection, I put the two thicker trees on my club's raffle table last Saturday. While they'll never be the trees I'd hoped they would be, in time someone may be able to develop them into decent clump style trees.

As for the remaining trees, I'm contemplating putting those on the raffle table too. Given their better condition I may do it in April, when my club is hosting an all day meeting attended by members of the other clubs in the region.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Which is the best front?

I thought I had my clip and grow Ficus Natalensis all sorted out. It's been hard work getting it to where it is without ever using wire, but over time it's filled out nicely. It's come a long way since this old photo from late 2015:

This summer I've been concentrating entirely on ramification, giving it only the occasional rough haircut to encourage as much back budding as possible. By this week it had grown so full that the trunk was hardly visible any more:

February 2018 - before pruning

Yesterday's club meeting was of a practical nature and we were asked to bring along trees for discussion or work, so I took the little guy along to see if I could get some new ideas that might improve it. I decided to allow the speaker to prune the tree, instructing him only that no wiring was allowed. He didn't do anything too drastic, or so I thought.

February 2018 - after pruning

Because the trunk had been hidden behind foliage for so long, it was only when I got home that I realised that this wasn't my front. My intended front currently looks like this, with a stick inserted to pull back some of the foliage that's still blocking the view:

February 2018 - current view of my intended front

Now I'm confused. His trunk line actually looks good, but there's an issue with the nebari. From my intended front, the tree has a fairly solid base, though the root on the left could do with a bit of thickening.

From his front, the trunk below the bend is rather straight and the roots aren't great. The left one is really weak and the thicker root on the right is badly positioned, meaning I might have to remove it in favour of the weaker one:

Still, that can be fixed. For now I'm considering raising the soil level to see if those roots fatten up. I hope they do, because I think the branch structure probably is better from his chosen front.

A little bit of wiring would have everything so much simpler!