Monday, 25 February 2019

The Art of Growing Miniature Bonsai

At their most recent meeting one of my bonsai clubs (I now belong to two) had a fascinating speaker, Hennie Reyneke, who is well known for his mame trees.

Hennie holding a little Ficus Burtt-Davyi

I've seen his trees before and was delighted to get the opportunity to see how he creates his little masterpieces.

Of course, as is the case with bigger trees, creating good mame takes time, but seeing tiny cuttings transformed into the skeleton on which future bonsai will be built was really inspiring and made me feel a little bit guilty about some of the cuttings I've thrown away lately. I do however still have a lot of small rooted cuttings that I can play with and having already started trying to downsize some of my own trees, I feel certain that this is the right way for me to go.

Here is a close up of Hennie pruning one tiny tree:

Another being wired:

And the same tree after a little pruning:

As with all trees, it is important that everything is in proportion for miniatures, so you should choose species with leaves which are able to reduce well. Flowers and fruit must be naturally small as their size cannot be reduced. Big flowers and fruit on a tiny tree will look wrong!

Some of the species that Hennie recommended for miniatures are Maples, Celtis, Ficus, Cotoneaster, Pyracantha, Buxus and Lonicera, as well as conifers like Juniper Procumbens Nana.

A little literati

If you've got the patience to do so, growing from seed is a good way to grow mame bonsai because you can create taper and balance without the scarring caused by heavy cuts. Hennie also mentioned that fig varieties develop a thick buttress base if grown from seed. I have no immediate plans for trying that though as I've managed to grow ficuses with nice bases from cuttings, root cuttings and air layers. I'm really happy with the base of the Ficus Natalensis in the last photo in this post. That little tree was grown from a root cutting.

Miniature bonsai can of course also be created from small collected trees or nursery stock.

It is important to prune your little trees regularly to keep them in shape (something I'm often guilty of forgetting) and they should be repotted once a year, removing heavy roots to encourage the development of a fine root system.

One of the most difficult aspects of caring for miniatures is seeing that they are watered correctly. A good way to avoid them drying out is to stand the little pots in a shallow tray with damp river sand or gravel, providing humidity for your little trees. However over watering will lead to root rot, so drainage is just as important as it is with larger trees.

One of the styles I've never tried growing is root over rock. I've always felt that the rocks will make them too heavy for me too handle. However Hennie showed us a miniature root over rock Ficus, so I guess I no longer have an excuse not to try this style.

Friday, 15 February 2019

I don't usually grow trees from seed but...

When the seeds grew roots while they were still inside the grapefruit, I couldn't bring myself to kill them.

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Tall and Straight with No Low Branches

The saga of my family of Ficus Ingens continues.

In 2012 I bought my first Ficus Ingens - very ordinary nursery stock, approximately 3 foot tall and straight as a pole. I've already discussed the first 2 successful air layers as well as the air layering blunder which, despite my doubts, had a happy ending. I sold that particular tree at my club's annual show, but still have the rest of the family.

The parent tree has made some progress, though I'm still not happy with the branch structure, so I've made a few changes recently. The smallest one is doing well too, though it has a bad case of wire bite after I tried to put some movement into the trunk and, as I so often do, left the wire on far too long.

Unfortunately the tallest tree refuses to cooperate. After the second air layer I was left with a long straight tree with a thin new leader.

January 2017

That was two years ago.

The top has grown vigorously since then, but the tree has stubbornly refused to produce even one low branch. It's bonsai potential that way is nil.

In November I decided that the only option was another air layer.

Air layer, February 2019, just before I removed it

This time I layered the tree just below the clump of branches growing really close together. This, I hoped, would finally stimulate some lower growth. That never happened.

The layer has rooted well though.

Root ball, just before I removed the layer

Last week I decided it was time to separate the top and bottom.

The new tree in it's own pot

As the new tree has so many low branches I decided to remove the long straight section before it gave me another problem tree.

February 2019 - after pruning

Now I'll let it grow for a while before deciding on my next step. There are way too many branches there to keep them all, unless I try to fuse some to the trunk later on. Possibly I'll grow a multi-trunk tree.

I'm pretty happy with my summer's work, but I'm a bit concerned for the future of the base:

Base - February 2019

After it's stubborn refusal to produce any low branches, will this finally shock it into cooperating, or will it kill the tree? I'd hate to lose it.