Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Sixth Month Challenge - the Wrong Tree?

Around the time that Reddit opened entry for this year's nursery stock contest, I decided to challenge myself to see whether, during the period of the contest, I could create a bonsai from one of the cuttings I'd propagated but hadn't yet started working on. I confess that I was a bit impulsive in announcing my plan before I'd looked for candidates for this challenge. Once I looked through my trees I realised that the ones most suitable for this project were deciduous, so I couldn't use them for a winter challenge.

In the end I felt my only option was to try to create a literati bonsai from one of my Ficus burtt-davyi cuttings.

My chosen candidate was growing so vigorously that it had sent a root into the neighbouring pot. This was how it was growing at the beginning of April - the two trees moved into a clear container for the photo as it was the only way to keep them upright.

April 2018

After cutting the problem root and removing a few dead branches on the lower trunk, the tree was still unable to stand upright without support.

April 2018

Clearly a bigger pot was required.

As we were headed into winter I repotted the tree very carefully, making sure not to disturb any roots.

Then I did a little wiring, leaving an unwanted apex and several excess branches as insurance in case overaggressive styling killed the ones I wanted.

First styling - April 2018

A month later everything was looking good. The roots were growing into the new soil:

May 2018

The tree was showing no signs of die back, so I removed the unwanted branches.

Second styling - May 2018

However it was already showing signs that it might want to be something different as all the new growth was lower down the trunk.

Now, a month later, those buds are growing well and I'm starting to rethink my plans for this tree's future.

June 2018

Perhaps I'll remove the top and try to root it as a smaller literati. For now I'll just let it grow.

Happily one of the trees I bought for the Reddit contest is showing a lot more promise and I've entered the competition. But I'll discuss that one when the competition is over.

And perhaps I'll make another attempt with one of my propagated trees in spring.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

A New Front for my "Big" Elm

Ever since I bought my "big" elm in December 2017, I've been pondering the way forward.

December 2017 - as purchased

From the moment I laid eyes on my tree I was aware that it had many flaws which I would have to deal with but at a cost of $30, I was up for the challenge. However, before cutting anything, I was determined to see what suggestions I could get from other members of the bonsai community rather than rushing into a decision I would come to regret.

That's probably just as well because nobody approved of the idea I proposed in my earlier post:

Virtual pruning - December 2017

I received an interesting suggestion from someone whose opinion I asked on Facebook. He didn't like the lower trunk and felt I should air layer the top to create a smaller tree. This was his vision:

Virtual styling by Andrew Legg

No doubt I could have created a nice little tree that way, but I'd bought the tree for its size so, after giving it a lot of thought, I decided against the air layer. But my uncertainty over what to do with the tree remained.

The breakthrough came yesterday, when I took it to my club's meeting for the second time. The plan was for one of the members to do a little carving to get rid of the ugly bulge at the base of the first branch, while retaining the original front and all existing branches.

That was before another member started looking at the tree from all angles. He suggested a better front, one which I hadn't contemplated before because of this ugly root crossing the trunk:

I'd actually considered removing that root when I bought the tree, but had been advised against it. Now I was persuaded that it had to go. Luckily the hollow left behind was a lot shallower than I'd feared it would be.

Here is the tree showing its new front after the root was removed.

New front - June 2018

With the change of front, the problem branch is now pointing too far backward to be moved by wiring. Instead one of the men at my club will help me to graft a new branch in a more suitable position, approximately where we put the piece of loose wire for this photo:

June 2018 - wire shows where new branch will be grafted

The plan for the next few months is pretty simple:

  1. Move the tree to a larger pot at the end of August (late winter). The slant will be adjusted slightly as per the tilt in the photo above and the soil level will be raised to help improve the nebari.
  2. Carve away a little dead wood to tidy up some of the old scars, most of which are now facing the back of the tree.
  3. Wait for one of the branches to grow long enough to be used for grafting.
The problem branch will remain in place until the graft has taken.