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

Monday, 12 November 2018

Seven Months in the Creation of a Lonicera Bonsai - my Reddit Competition Tree

When I entered Reddit's Nursery Stock Contest back in autumn, I knew that it was going to be a lot more challenging for me than it was for my Northern hemisphere friends because I would have very little of the growing season to work with.

Under the circumstances I'd probably have been better off working with a Juniper than the Lonicera which became my competition tree, and I did buy one. The wrong one! I shouldn't have bought that tree for a number of reasons:

  1. I don't enjoy working with Junipers
  2. I knew nothing about Juniper Mint Julep until after I'd bought the tree, when a little research led me to believe that the species isn't regarded as good bonsai material
  3. The tree I bought was far bigger than the material I like to work with.
The Lonicera I finally entered in the competition had none of those problems. It has tiny leaves which are well suited to bonsai - even mame trees. But in the summer months it's essential to prune regularly or a little one like mine will soon grow totally out of control.

I bought my tree on a cold rainy day in April. A day so miserable I had the entire nursery to myself. Even the staff were reluctant to offer any assistance.

I must have been quite a sight, bent down close to the ground to examine the trees using one hand while I clung onto my umbrella with the other. I stayed well away from the big trees that day.

My purchase looked like this:

Lonicera as purchased, 6 April 2018

I decided to take things slowly, rather than cutting off anything I would regret, so after an initial pruning it looked like this:

First pruning, 6 April

I tied a couple of loose wires around trunks I was considering removing.

A few days later I was feeling more daring and reduced the tree to a very basic frame.

Second pruning, 11 April

Unfortunately some of the branches were still longer than I'd have liked them to be, but I didn't want to kill them by leaving them devoid of foliage.

By early May the tree was pushing out a little new growth, giving me hope that I'd be able to improve on the styling over the next few months.

New growth, 3 May

And by the middle of June it was really overgrown:

Overgrown, 19 June

Time to tidy up:

19 June

I still wasn't getting the back budding I really wanted though, so that left branch in particular was way too long and bare.

July was a slow month with only minimal signs of new growth, so I did nothing.

21 July

Then in August I finally felt there was enough growth lower down to let me shorten some of the branches.

After heavy pruning  - 17 August

Spring growth was pretty good:

21 September

With the benefit of hindsight, maybe I shouldn't have removed so much before submitting my final photo for the contest.

Final contest photo - 21 September

Still, I'm not too unhappy with the outcome given the constraints I was working under.

The contest is over, but the journey continues.

The little guy is growing well.

6 November

I was far less aggressive with my latest pruning because my emphasis has changed. Now I need to fatten up the branches I plan to keep.

6 November - after pruning

That shouldn't take long though. Not on such a tiny tree. As it stands today, the little guy is a mere 11cm tall. And in a few months time I may reduce the height a little further.