Saturday, 30 March 2019

Straight From the Nursery

I always photograph new trees as soon as I get them home so that I have a record of their humble beginnings.

Sadly when I took photos of my latest purchase I was in for a nasty surprise. Two of these little guys staring straight at the camera.

I must confess that by the time I finished getting close ups I felt a little guilty about squashing them, but I couldn't allow them to stay there, sucking the life out of my trees.

Monday, 18 March 2019

Positive Results from a Trunk Chop

When I did my most recent air layer on a member of my Ficus Ingens family, I was hoping it would stimulate new growth lower down the trunk. As long as the air layer was attached to the parent tree, however, that never happened.

That's why, despite knowing that Ficus Ingens are tough trees, when I separated them in February I was a bit concerned about the survival of the parent tree which had been reduced to a bare stump. I ended my previous post posing the question :
"After it's stubborn refusal to produce any low branches, will this finally shock it into cooperating, or will it kill the tree?"
 Happily it did the former. The stump is alive and well, with lots of new branches all along the trunk:

In fact in several places the growth pattern of this species led to multiple branches sprouting from one spot.

I had to thin those out or they would have caused ugly bulges on the trunk as they thickened.

After a quick tidy up, the tree looks like this:

There are new buds sprouting near the top of the tree, so I should be able to keep it to its current height - if I choose to do so.

The lowest branch is still there. As the second photo was taken from the opposite side, it's hiding behind the trunk. I'm not making any styling decisions now, but once I see how the tree develops I may remove that branch.

A full progression as well as future updates for this tree can be found here.

The new tree I propagated from the top is doing well too.

It has a couple of new branches along the straight part of the trunk and there are already a few roots growing out of holes in the pond basket.

Pretty good for six weeks' growth!

Saturday, 9 March 2019

How to Kill a Juniper

Browsing through the Reddit bonsai group there are always a lot of posts from newbies with their first tree, and that tree is often a Juniper. Sadly many are led to believe that it's okay to keep their Juniper indoors. The truth is that's the easiest way to kill it. The bad news is that Junipers stay green for months while they're dying, and by the time the owner realises their tree is sick, it's usually already long dead.

I was lucky. I've never made that particular mistake. But that's not to say I've never killed a Juniper.

I've already written a few posts about the Juniper Mint Julep I bought as a candidate for Reddit's nursery stock contest in March 2018.

As purchased - March 2018

Having seen many people on Reddit advising first time Juniper growers not to do too much work at once, I tried to be gentle with my tree and though I removed a lot of the top, I left a couple of unwanted low branches to avoid shocking the tree too much.

April 2018

It made it through the Southern hemisphere winter without any trouble.

My big mistake was taking it to a club meeting in September 2018. I didn't even plan for it to go on the table for critique, just to enquire from an expert whether it was safe to remove those low branches. Unfortunately some of the members had other ideas, and I came home with this:

September 2018

I was really disappointed with this new styling and felt it was no longer "my" tree. And I was extremely concerned about its survival. The suggestion that I repot it immediately sounded like a bad idea, and I decided against it.

Perhaps at that stage it still stood a chance of surviving, though it would have been a long time before it grew branches that I would  have been happy to work with. Unfortunately, when discussing the tree with another experienced grower a few weeks later, I was told it was okay to repot it, so I did. The root pruning involved was the last straw, and by December 2018 it had lost all its foliage, though I found signs of hope in the form of one tiny green bud growing from the section that was intended to be used as dead wood.

Signs of hope - December 2018

And my hopes were finally dashed when that bud died a few weeks ago.

If I ever buy another Juniper (unlikely), I'll definitely take my advice from Reddit and stick to the principle of one insult per season. Perhaps they can survive more, but there are bound to be problems along the way.

That was certainly the case with a Juniper I worked on when I attended a beginner's course back in 2007. The tree was pruned, wired and planted in a bonsai pot, all over the period of two days. It survived, but the top died and a makeover was required within months. It's been restyled a few times since then, but to this day I'm not happy with that tree and I'm determined to find it a new home one day. If I can get a little money for it, I'll probably spend it on another ficus!

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

The Second Ficus

Yesterday's post was all about the first of my two neglected ficuses, a tree which had benefited greatly from the development of a vigorous and totally unplanned sacrifice branch.

At the time I had not yet done anything to its sibling aside from removing a few dead branches. I've just finished working on that one - it received much harsher treatment than yesterday's tree because the trunk was long and straight with very little taper.

Ficus Natalensis - March 2019

I started by removing the top section, which left potential for something approximating a formal upright tree:

I contemplated stopping there. However I'm trying to focus on short fat trees rather than tall skinny ones, so I knew I wouldn't be happy with that in the long term.

In the end I stuck to my original plan and cut to the lowest branch, leaving what is currently a very ugly tree.

March 2019 - after the chop

No point in wiring that branch because I don't plan to use it as a leader. It's just a sacrifice branch which will be removed along with approximately half the trunk once I get growth where I really want it.

Both trees - March 2019

I can't wait to see what these trees look like a year from now.

Monday, 4 March 2019

The Benefit of Neglect

I hate to admit that the last time I worked on my two neglected ficuses was when I repotted them in November 2015. Because of time constraints only one ever made it into my previous blog post and once again that's the only one I've had time to work on so far. Coincidentally, for the moment it's the better tree.

In November 2015 that tree looked like this:

Ficus Natalensis - November 2015

A few sharp bends and hardly any taper!

Although my neglect means that the trees are no closer to being bonsai than they were three years ago, the move to bigger pots has allowed them to grow big and tall and their trunks have fattened up considerably. Unfortunately the top growth has blocked light from the lower part of the trees and as a result, both have lost some lower branches. The tree above also developed a massive low branch which grew upwards, reaching a height  twice that of the intended apex.

Same tree - March 2019

Under the circumstances I found myself having to treat it as nursery stock when I took it to a workshop on Saturday afternoon.

First I had to get both trees out of the greenhouse though, and that proved to be quite a mission as once again one had sent a root into the other one's pot and both had also sent roots through the slats of the shelf they were living on. To complicated matters further, the neighbouring orchid (a gift which I tend to ignore) had sent roots into both pots. That meant there were quite a lot of roots that had to be cut before I could move the trees.

Once at the workshop the first step was to remove that huge branch.

After removing the huge branch

The tree was already looking better but it was rather top heavy, with a leader growing in the wrong direction. The club member I was working with recommended I cut back to a new leader, advice I was happy to follow, as I'd already said in 2015 that "At a later stage I might reduce the height further".

March 2019 - after pruning

As it's still in the same pot, the change in the thickness of the trunk is pretty obvious.

I've left all the aerial roots for now as we're headed into winter. I'll decide whether to keep any of them when I repot the tree in spring - as long as I don't forget!!

As for the second tree, it looked like this when I removed it from the greenhouse:

Second tree - March 2019

I've removed a few dead branches so far and plan to cut it back to the lowest living branch, then wait for back budding before cutting in to a more suitable height. I'd like to make a short, fat little tree from this one.