Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Post 246 Ficus root pruning and sacrificial branch removal

Here are a couple of Natalensis that I've been developing with sacrificial branches. Its time to take the sacrifice off one off and root prune both.


 This first one is one of three that I've been growing for about 3 years. You can see some pictures of them all in an earlier post (232) here.
They all started as small cuttings and I allowed a vertical sacrificial branch to develop on each. The idea was to develop a small tree with a large trunk in the shortest time.Here you can see the small tree developing close to the pot and then the scale of the sacrifice branch.

 Here is the point of union, at the 'back' of the future small tree.

 Here it is removed.

 From the front before starting the root work I did a little branch work and defoliation to reduce the dehydration risk. The style will be classic ficus architecture, certainly not an informal upright with dominant single tapering trunk.

 The first cut in reducing the roots.

 After a thorough root raking to see what was what.

 Cut back to rearrange and refine the roots for the next stage of growth. It had a really large root from the left which had to be removed. These things are tough and will have no problem with this amount of roots remaining.

 Re-potted and ready to go again. Still too soon for a bonsai pot. Perhaps in another 12 months.

 The second one is a tree featured in 'Bonsai Foundations'. It is a five year old Natalensis with a heavy sacrificial branch that I plan to keep for the time being. I use this tree in teaching and demonstration and so although the branch really should come off I'll leave it there with a minimum of foliage.

 Here it is root pruned back and foliage clipped to minimize dehydration.

 And then back in the same oversized pot for another year.


Sunday, 3 September 2017

Post 245 Root pruning season

Spring is here in Brisbane even though the nights are still getting down to 12ish, C. That means on the bonsai calendar that  its root pruning season. I started about mid August with all the deciduous trees, then my natives and now its the turn of the ficus.
Here are a couple of other trees I did in some of the earlier work.


 First up is a dwarf Hinoki that I acquired this year. Its been in a garden pot and I wanted to replace its growing media and set it at a different angle, both good reasons for a repot.

 Once out of the pot the highly organic material can be seen. It has grown pretty well in this material with good dispersed root penetration. But none the less my plan is for a much more granular open mix to replace it.

 This is about as much as I want to take off it this time.

 This is the replacement mix, one third diatomite, one third zeolite and one third mini bark (pre-composted).

 Repotted and ready to go for the coming season.

 Next up is another conifer; this one a blaauw juniper. Its been in this shallow pot for the year in my standard four part mix.

 Nice healthy root growth and fully penetrated throughout the mix. At this time of year I find it increasingly difficult to get moisture into the pots. With lots of root growth throughout the medium the spaces for water penetration are blocked up. As a result the trees produce a lot of fine feeder roots in the top 20 to 25mm of the pot further impeding flow. So the top 25 to 30mm gets wet when watering but not much gets further down. Another really good reason for root pruning and repotting.

 Pruned back and ready to go again.

 Back into the same pot in the three part open mix.

 This is an upended Swamp Cypress.It grew all summer in a shallow pan of water and was starting to push the tree up out of the pot. When you see the roots in the base you can see why. This is a tree that I'm planning a radical cutback and restyle starting with a reversal of viewing position so I'll set the tree back in the pot with this in mind.

From all that mass of roots back to this, a small tight block of fine feeders. Past experience says that the tree will relish this cutback and launch itself into the new season with a burst of growth.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Post 244 Transformation workshop

At my local bonsai club we are stepping up momentum for change in the traditional appearance of our bonsai. There has been a long held view by many that the default styling guidelines which have originated in conifer styling should apply to all genus (ie including broadleaf trees). I have explained and expanded on the flaws of this idea in detail in my book "Bonsai Foundations".


This is a picture from a local park of what I think is a Hoop Pine on the left and a Ficus on the right. These two trees could be no more different in their growth habit and are iconic exemplars of their genera and families. The triangular profile of the conifer contrasts with the rounded domed canopy of the broadleaf. The dominant single trunk and branch structure of the conifer is a world away from the divided trunk and complex branch structure of the broadleaf.

And yet given these fundamental differences the conifer shape has been the default styling for all bonsai, at least in my part of the world. Actually I think much of the Western bonsai world suffers the same problem. It is easy to see why and how this has happened but that is another story.

A recent step to address this imbalance has been to hold a Transformation Workshop for all those up to it. It is interesting that over the last year that we've been talking about this there are many folks who once looked at their trees with pride, now really just want them changed or out. The following tree (a Clerodendrum hetrophyllum) is one of those.
In recent times it has been highly regarded and awarded. But in reality it is a formalized black pine surrogate, clipped to the point of being a Niwaki, a Japanese garden tree or sometimes called 'cloud tree'. The garden trees of Japan are cute and whimsical but they are more topiary than bonsai and the model should not be taken as a bonsai style.
The typical characteristics of trees styled this way are a dominant single trunk, an inadequate number of  horizontal topiarised branch pads and a bobble headed canopy/apex structure.


This was the tree before the work began. It was about 300mm high.

 Afterwards the pads have been disrupted to incorporate division and separation of secondary branches. The gaps between the branch structures have been closed and the bobble headed apex pulled apart, to simplify and lighten. In the coming growing season the task will be to rebuild an apex comprising a divided trunk-line and more upward and outward fine branches forming a rounded canopy. This is day one in the transformation of a 15 year old tree. Given another year and it really will have broadleaf integrity and look like an aged tree in miniature, not a conifer surrogate or garden curiosity.
Disruption seems to be a byword for our times. Who would have though the idea would play out in the local bonsai scene too.

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Saturday, 29 July 2017

Post 243 Air layering of a Coastal Tea Tree

I've been working on air layering off the top of this Coastal Tea Tree for many months. I probably made a start on the actual layer too late in the summer and as it is nearly spring again I though I'd have a look and see what was happening. A scratch of the surface showed some fine roots.



I used a pot fitted around the branch to hold potting media. I like this approach as it allows regular watering and monitoring. As soon as I removed the pot there was a good show of roots, all around the pot.
This looked good but past experience warned to check the cut site before separating the layer.


Investigation revealed a single root had grown from a position about 60mm above the layer ring and all the roots in the pot has come from this point. It produced quite a mass of fine roots and was obviously doing well. I am keen to have a good annular distribution of many roots from around the layer ring cut, not just the one spot. So the only thing to do was to cut off the root and go again.


Here is the layer cut site cleaned up again. I thought the tree might have bridged the gap but that wasn't the case. I made a series of vertical cuts through the callus to initiate a further sealing response and hopefully roots.


All boxed up again and ready for the coming warmer weather. I've been working on the future tree and it is looking really good. A very naturally styled small tree. Give it a couple of months and fingers crossed it will get there this time.