Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Is my Ficus Fusion Project Dying?

The tree as it looks today (front view)

Everything was going so well with the Fusion Project which I've been developing from a bunch of Ficus Natalensis cuttings over the last four and a half years.

I was finally happy with the way the trunk was fusing and had started some styling work.

In the period up to January 2020 I took it to a couple of meetings looking for advice.

January 2020 - before pruning

A few people felt that the first branch (the thick one, above the cutting I've planted to try to widen the trunk) should be removed, but I didn't like that idea and chose to shorten it instead. I also felt the tree was getting rather top heavy, so I cut it back to a new leader.

January 2020 - after pruning

For a while everything seemed fine but the first signs of trouble appeared sometime in March, shortly before lockdown. I have a photo showing serious die-back which was taken on 27 March. That was the day I decided to remove the dead leaves, but leave the branches intact in case some of them survived.

At the time I thought that a badly executed cut had killed the top and I wasn't too concerned about it as the tree was taller than I wanted it to be anyway. I was unaware of any further problems after that.

A couple of weeks ago, when the first signs of winter appeared, I moved the tree into my greenhouse.

Then this morning, I noticed a whole new section of dying leaves.

Best case scenario here is that I'm going to have a much shorter tree than I'd planned. To be honest I'd be quite happy with that.

But right now I'm terrified that this is just the beginning of the problem and that the tree is dying. And right now, with the Covid-19 pandemic in full swing, I'm unable to take the tree anywhere to ask for advice.

If anyone reading this can offer me some assistance, it will be most welcome. I've put a lot of effort into creating this tree and I'd hate to lose it.

The tree as it looks today (back view)

Monday, 18 May 2020

There's a tree hiding inside that mess

When I visit my various online bonsai groups lately I see everyone's trees getting tons of love during lockdown. Sadly mine aren't among them.

For me the social side of belonging to a bonsai club has always been almost as important as the trees themselves, and now that club meetings have been removed from my life for the foreseeable future, I'm struggling for motivation. So much so that, aside from watering my trees and providing winter protection where necessary, I've done very little work on them over the last few weeks. It's much easier to go online and read about other people's trees.

That's not okay though. It's time to get back to work.

I finally made an attempt with my Ficus Salicaria (willow leaf Ficus).

More weeds than tree - May 2020

Poor little thing has been seriously neglected. Can you even see that there's an almost decent tree hiding inside that mess?

After a little time spent pulling weeds, here it is.

Sadly it hasn't changed very much since I last wrote about it in August 2018. That's what happens when you have too many trees and don't give them the attention they deserve!

It needs a proper pruning, but first I'm planning to give it a little time to recover from the shock of my digging around in the soil. That disturbance isn't ideal as we're headed into winter, but it had to be done.

I also need a little time to think about my next move.

I'm pretty sure I'll be bringing the height down though - probably to the thickest branch growing upwards on the left side of the tree. Maybe in time I'll go even lower because I like my trees short and fat.

But for now there's a lot of other work to be done. I've got many trees with similar weeds that need to be removed.

Sunday, 12 April 2020

Ficus Pumila Bonsai Failure

I was really proud when I created a mame bonsai from a Ficus Pumila cutting a few years ago. So much so that I even put it on show once. At the time it looked something like this:

November 2015 (with apple to show the size)

Growth was a little sparse, but I hoped for improvement in the years to come.

Unfortunately it's been all downhill since then. By April 2018 the leader had died and it had deteriorated to this:

April 2018 - after some damaged branches had been removed

With too many trees to care for I never got around to trying any of the options I referred to in my April 2018 update.

Instead it's largely been left to do its only thing. When I checked up on it a few days ago, it was seriously overgrown, with long branches which had rooted themselves into the pots of the Bougainvillea and succulent standing beside it.

After separation the Bougainvillea has two new Ficus Pumila plants growing in its pot.

The one of the right has grown up the trunk of the Bougainvillea and the two appear to have fused together.

As it's autumn in South Africa I don't want to do any repotting now, so I'll have to sort this mess out in spring.

And then there's the overgrown Ficus Pumila (no longer worthy of the name bonsai).

After shortening the long branches, a problem becomes visible.

The extent of the problem is much more obvious from the back.

The twisty trunk I worked so hard to create is dead. All the growth is coming from the first inch of the trunk.

Again I'll wait until spring before making any final decisions, but I think that this is a lost cause as bonsai. I'll probably give the plant away and keep the pot.

I still have to work out whether I can do anything with the two larger Ficus Pumila plants that appeared in the April 2018 update.

Fortunately the tiny Ficus Burtt-Davyi that appeared in that post is showing a lot more promise.

Friday, 10 April 2020

Mango Tree - an Update

In August 2017 I wrote a post about unsuitable material for bonsai. Most of the trees I discussed in that post were trees I'd grown from seed, in some cases hoping to turn them into bonsai. As I said at the time, however, I had no delusions that I could ever bonsai a mango tree, but I couldn't resist the temptation to grow my own mangoes.

By the time I wrote that post my mango tree was seven years old and was flowering for the first time.

Mango flower buds - August 2017 

I was thrilled, but also a little bit disappointed when I read that it was best for the health of the tree to remove the first season's flowers. I really didn't want to do it.

In the end the decision was taken out of my hands as a really heavy hail storm did the job for me.

My tree grew very little for the rest of that summer and in spring of 2018 there wasn't a trace of a flower anywhere.

Finally in spring of 2019 it started flowering again so I moved it into my greenhouse - near the door, so that it had decent exposure to sun and wind, but was protected from hail.

It worked. Over the last few months it's had three green mangoes dangling from its branches.

I'd pretty much given up hope of them ripening though as the stems they were dangling from looked like they were dying, but a couple of weeks ago they started turning orange.

Tree with 3 mangoes - April 2020

I'm not convinced they'll be edible, but when they look ready I'm planning to cut them open just in case.

Update: The day after I published this post one of the smaller mangoes fell off the tree. Although it was probably the smallest mango I've ever had, the inside was no worse than the mangoes I buy from stores. It tasted fine.

Perhaps the fruit would have grown better in a bigger pot. If I can find a suitable pot at home, maybe I'll slip it into a bigger pot once the rest of the fruit comes off.

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

A Huge Juniper Transformed

Last Saturday I decided to attend a meeting at Midway Bonsai Society after hearing that a young member of Eastern Bonsai Society (EBS)  - the club I've been a member of for 12 years - would be doing a demonstration on a huge juniper.

Shaundre Craukamp may only be 19, but he already has a lot of bonsai experience, having joined his first club at the age of 10. After that club closed, he moved to EBS when he was 14. A year later he won the EBS and regional new talent competitions. Later that year he went on to win the national competition, becoming the youngest South African to do so.

The trees used for those competitions were nursery stock- Juniper Procumbens Nana, a little smaller than the one he's seen working on in an earlier post (he's the guy in black). Unlike the one in that post, however, competition trees have had no previous styling.

The tree he worked on this time was a collected tree - Juniper Chinensis - belonging to Jonathan Cain, a member of Midway.

Shaundre started by doing a little carving on some of the dead wood at the bottom. (There was far too much to be done in one session.)

He chose to do the carving by hand.

Then he moved on to the apex.

As everything up there was long and straight, and growing away from the trunk, a lot of bending was required - too much to be done at once without putting excessive strain on the tree, but enough to show the direction in which the tree will be developed.

First he split the area he wanted to bend, then he applied tape to prevent the branch breaking when he bent it.

After wiring the branch and adding some guy wires, he was able to pull it down in the direction he wants it to grow. I believe it will be brought closer to the trunk when it's had time to heal.

This was already a big improvement, but the branch coming up from the bend looked out of place, so he removed it, leaving a stub which will be used as a jin.

He then bent one of the lower branches up to create a new apex.

He marked a few areas that will need carving, including the marked branch, which is currently far too long and thick.

After all the small branches had been wired (with help from Jonathan and his wife Denise) and re-positioned the tree looked like this.

Shaundre will be paying Midway another visit next spring to do further work on this tree.