American elm root-cutting restyle/repot

This write up wasn’t going to happen, but then I posted (on my various social media platforms) this pic:
Now, you’d think that people (and you Kaya) would focus on the bloody thumb, but no, NOOOO, they wanted to see the blurry tree in the background. Damn bonsai obsessed people.
Well, guys and gals, here it is:
It is an American elm (ulmus americana). I’m not sure if it’s what they call the Florida elm (which would just add “floridana” to the end of its binomial nomenclature, turning it into a, um..trinomial name, I guess) because the main distinction is…..there isn’t one.
It’s the same tree but, considering that there is a sizable population in Florida that hasn’t been affected by Dutch elm disease, it’s more and more called the Florida elm. Maybe the beetle that transmits the disease doesn’t like the smell of margaritas and key lime pie.
Anywho, it’s on the bench to be repotted and trimmed/wired.
It’s a tit-bit-nipply this morning, which calls for a fire to warm my bones, I think.
I’ll tell you what, this is such an educational blog, I learned a lesson this morning already. I shall now share my newfound knowledge with the world:
Acetone fumes are a little more rapidly explosive than gasoline when used as an accelerant in the process of lighting a fire.
There’s a word that describes the sound. It is “WHOOOSH!!!”
The hair was getting too long on my arm anyway, my wife was threatening to braid it…..wait, I was just informed, by the over-the-shoulder reader (or, as she prefers to be called, the wife) that my arm hair was fine, it’s in…other places , where the hair is too long.
There will be no fire there, I guarantee.
This is the current front.
This is a root cutting, which means that, at one point, this belonged to a larger tree but was cut off to fit that larger tree into a smaller bonsai pot. Elm’s roots will regrow from the chopped off point. I do have several posts on the subject if you’re really interested.
The problem with root cuttings is their will to grow. From the cut end you’ll get way too many new branches (which is measured as “at least three but as many as 27”. If you have more than 27 then it’s called “super duper way too many”.)
I made the decision to allow three branches to grow from the end and I’m getting what “they” are now calling (in a snooty continental accent) “inverse taper”.
I’ll deal with that later. First, I can’t get the damn tree out of the pot.
Maybe some pushing from below?
Nope, you’d think a chopstick up the butt would move it.
It would move me.
Let me introduce you to the new pot.
This unique piece is made of a highly refined, Italian clay (and, in fact, the pot was made in Italy). The clay body’s name is roughly translated as “baked earth”. The red color is the result of the high iron content found in the earth from which it was mined.
The techniques that were used in the making of this vessel predate every civilization that is existent now. It’s truly an example of traditional methods and craftsmanship.
This specific pot was customized for bonsai use (most pots like this have a mass produced elán) complete with hand drilled tie-down-wire holes and a hand chipped, artistic, leading edge.

The pot has, to sweeten its value, a patina that really shows its use and age, a detail much prized by many bonsai practitioners.
And with that, I’m ready to place the tree into the new pot.
I had said that the front was here.
The problem is that all the branching goes in the wrong direction (except the apex, the blue arrow)
If I turn it around, and use some wire, I think I can just get it to work.
Yes, looks promising.
I’ll need to remove the, now offensive, third appendage.
Some additional trimming.
Some wire.
And you now have an uncle named Robert, often called Bob.
Ok, it is just an old terra cotta pot I chipped into a semi-aesthetic shape but I think it works, along with changing the front and rewiring the structure.
I did lose some ramification in the restyling but it’ll grow back quickly. It’s an elm after all. And the taper will be improved.
And I think, if I ever display it, I’ll use the old pot as the stand.
That’ll annoy some people for sure.

Posted in branch placement, progression, redesign | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Trident maple pre-spring maintenance

This tree is new to the blog but old to me. I’ve had it for about 7 or eight years, but I don’t think I’ve posted it anywhere on the world wide interwebs.
It’s a trident maple (Acer buergerianum), native to east China and Taiwan, and naturalized on bonsai enthusiast’s benches all over the world.
For some reason, I didn’t get a full frontal before shot. Maybe I’m being mysterious. Or maybe I was just delirious.
Too much meds?
Anyway, my plans with the tree are…
Redressing the big trunk chops wound.
The top that was cut off is the subject of this here blogpost on thread grafting. I had actually rooted it as a cutting and then thread grafted more roots on it. Cool project, I should update it.
I’ll be pruning buds and cutting back hard some of the branches.
There will be a repot.
And I’ll toy with the idea of thread grafting some roots on this tree, but decide not to because my drill is missing…
Time to play with some sharp objects.
That big trunk chop wound was covered with the putty like cut paste at the time of the chopping.
I’ve scraped off about a third of the putty in the pic above. The green line is the edge of the callous, the red double line shows the putty.
The next pic shows the putty all cleaned off.
There’s little rot at all, a little towards the bottom of the wound.
Next step, recut the edge of the callous.
This will stimulate the tree into closing the wound further.
Then a fresh application of putty.
Good for another two years. If I had been more diligent in the care of this wound, it might be closed by now. But, truth be told, I had become bored with the tree. It’s care is almost like following a scheduled maintenance routine: do this in March, this is April, this in June etc…..
Which brings me to the next task: pruning.
There are some, more experienced bonsai-ists out there who are wondering why I didn’t prune this earlier in the winter (it is February now). I’ve seen people up north pruning in late December on these.
Remember, I’m in Florida. The timing of the work I do will be different than yours (except you, and you, and especially you, yeah…you. You know who you are).
If I had pruned this mid winter it would be in full leaf now, weakened from being awoken too early from its winter nap, and it might just fizzle out in the summer. I have to be really careful with my deciduous trees, it’s too warm in the winter. Florida doesn’t like them it seems; example, our red maples only grow half as tall as ones I’ve seen up north, and they’re short lived.
I don’t want my trident to be short lived. So I wait until the cusp of spring (which is February here) to prune.
My advice, find a club, find some club members with good trees (not just the big mouths or the ones who wants
to be helpful, find the club members who’s trees look like the ones you see in the Internet) and find out what soil they use, when they repot, or prune, and how. The ones with the best trees tend to be (not always, one can buy a tree, after all) the ones who have figured out the climate they, and you, live in.
So, we have a branch.
A trident maple branch.
What’s amazing, and annoying, is the profusion of new buds that occur at the nodes.
The buds are the pointy, arrow shaped thingies on the branch.
They become so numerous and grow any and every way that one could, by pruning alone, create a curly cue branch.
If you don’t get rid of the multiple buds on the node, they will swell the node and cause an ugly knot that’s difficult to fix. Most of the time you have to prune back to the next node.
Keep only two buds per node.
Here’s the top.
The strongest shoots tend to grow here. You need to cut those shoots back to where the nodes are closest.
In this case, where the red circle is. The reason is, within the white bracket, no new buds will grow. We want short internodes to give us more choices and, therefore, more ramification.
If you go back to the pic of the top of the tree, you’ll see that I need to cut back a lot of these shoots.
It’s actually “Snip x 47”.
Here are some side views that show the pruning.

Next step is a repot.
This is the pot I’m using. I know, it might look better in an oval pot.
But I’m trying this rectangular one. I think it will work.
To the repot!
I call this song, “The repotting ragtime blues”
Maybe I’ll do a YouTube video.
Nice form.
I could make dreads out of these.
If you don’t like my chosen pot, I have this one.
I thought not.
Now’s a good time to talk about the history of the tree.
It was a field grown tree and, even though it had a mat under it to train the roots horizontally, the mat was not up to the task. Some of the roots grew sideways, some just punched through the mat.
This is the back of the tree, the roots went straight down.
When I lifted it from the ground I had to cut the roots in the back to a nub.
This would be a great time to do a few thread grafts…..where is my drill? Dammit Andrew, where did you put it? Teenagers! Oh well, next year then…
And this is the back of the tree, you can’t see it unless you’re a nosy S.O.B.
The roots are much more palatable in the front. They behaved better than the back roots.
The lesson we learn is to use a material that is less root permeable than a fabric mat.
The front roots look even better in some soil, potted up.
And here we go, the big reveal!
Wait, stop! There’s something not quite right.
It’s too long here, and lacking in taper.
No mercy.
Ah, that’s better.
If you remember from the past three posts, you don’t fertilize a newly repotted deciduous tree (in the ramification stage) in the early spring, until you have the first flush of growth harden off.
The reason is that all the work you just did removing the long, bud-less shoots will be for naught because fertilizer now will just push fast growth and you’ll be back to the beginning. It’s controlled growth we want now.
For the next post I could do a tool maintenance theme, anyone interested in that?
If not, I have a big elm to work on. I got it from Paul Pikel.

Posted in maintenance, refine, roots | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

This tree will bug a lot of people

You might have seen this tree before.
If you’re a follower of the blog you’ll remember that it made an appearance in this post here. That post was about patience, developmental steps, and beer.
This was but one of three trees I worked on in the post.
Here’s how it was left then.
I said that the last post on this winged elm (ulmus alatta) was one where the development was the main focus. I let the elm grow all year and now I think I have some branches that are in the right places and I can do a final cut. And it’s time for a nice pot too.
Look at all the branches I have to choose from.

I’m excited.
I’m cold too, gotta start a fire.
Ahhhhh, that’s good. I don’t have a chair to sit on anymore but I’m warm.
Okay, I’m going to go fast now, try to keep up.
I can cut back here for taper.
As well as here.
On the cut above, you will notice that I left a nub. The reason is horticultural: by leaving the nub, there’s a better chance of a new branch budding from around the base of that nub. The genetic information for new branching occurs at what is called the branch collar, or the base of the branch.
Like here.
Here we are all trimmed.
And now all wired.
You all are wondering about this one lower branch, right?
Actually, more than half of you (I’d hazard a guess) are wondering why the whole tree isn’t in the fire.
I’ll explain the story I see in this tree.
You see, the best trees have stories they tell. It’s art, after all.
Some trees story is simply “tree” or “tree in field”. And that’s not a bad thing.
And then some trees are pure design (think some of Kimura’s more wild sculptures) and don’t have a story. Those are the hardest trees to make work because there is no reference to nature for the viewers to relate to.
That’s called abstract art.
Artists like Dan Robinson and even Walter Paul are Naturalists.
Most Japanese stylists are Idealists or even Caricaturists.
I know I’m talking Art but bear with me, I do have a destination in view.
I have an eclectic approach to bonsai styling myself, I tend to let the tree tell me where it wants to go.
So what’s the story with this tree?
Consider this: it’s an elm, which usually grow like a broom (straight trunk and a full canopy, imagine, if you would, a giant like Paul Bunyan cutting the tree down and using it like a broom. Perhaps to clean up after
Babe, his Blue Ox). So now imagine that Babe, the Blue Ox, was wrestling with Paul (they liked to wrestle, that’s how the Grand Tetons were made, after all) and he gets thrown into the tree, breaking the main apex off in the scuffle (a broom style tree tends to have two apices, one more dominant than the other) and knocks the tree over.
Well, for some reason, Paul feels sorry for this tree and kinda pushes it back upright.
Kinda upright. He is a lumberjack, after all. Maybe it was too small to harvest. Or he thought it looked better leaning over like it is. We aren’t really sure why.
Now remember, Paul Bunyan was a big man. This full sized elm would be about the size of a large-sized bonsai to him. I might even be suggesting that maybe Paul was the first bonsai practitioner in America.
I mean, he created the Grand Canyon, The Mighty Mississippi and the Missouri rivers.
Niagara Falls? Yup, him.
I’d definitely say he could have done it.
He did work with trees and knew how and wasn’t afraid to trunk chop.
So maybe he was inventing a new style of tree, one that has been lost in the oral traditions where all the Tall Tales come from.
I’d call the style: Bunyan style.
Or maybe the Ruined Broom might be better.
Or maybe this tree was growing in an open field (hence the straight trunk) and was clipped by a tornado, ripping off the main apex and partially knocking it down. But since it was growing in an ideal spot, it recovered and started growing again.
Nah, Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox were roughhousing and knocked it over.
I like that story better.
Oh, why the little first branch?
Pure design, it fills the negative space breaks up the trunk line, and creates some interest and makes you ask “why”.
It has some good roots. This tree was an air layer originally.
And the finished tree.
You may not like it (like I said, probably half hate it) but I do. It’s not a cookie cutter tree and it’s not a soothing tree either.
It looks beat up and damaged and it plays on the subconscious and makes you feel just a little bit uncomfortable.
It makes you wonder why I made it, it makes you feel.
It might even grow on you, if you take the time to study it a bit more.
Ok, the next post is on a trident maple that was originally field grown.
See ya soon.

Posted in branch placement, rare finds, updates, wiring | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

Collected hackberry repot and revisit

Here’s the big tree I promised you in the last post.
I think I’m finally getting into the swing of things again too, this is a large tree (I won’t be doing any swinging anytime soon though, if you know what I mean, though this was a group effort).
We have before you, a celtis laevigata, or, a sugarberry, southern hackberry or just hackberry.
I first wrote about it here, which was one of the best posts I’ve ever written. There’s drama, pretty girls, intrigue, fascinating trees, and lots of smartass prose. Check it out, if for no other reason than to know what has come before.
This is how I left it, and at Epcot no less.
Since the ongoing theme of the last few posts has been repotting, you know what’s coming next. With a tree this big, I need to break out The Hook.
And, to the delight of some, I will be getting my hands dirty.
The tree definitely needed repotting, when I watered, the water would pool on top and it dried out faster than it should have. One thing to say about it, it surely has good roots.
You never know what you’re gonna find in a tree you get from someone else.
How does that saying go? Something about a splinter and a plank in you’re eye? This is definitely a plank.
Anyway, this hidden root is a good development.
I think an angle change is in order to show it off.
Nice, a little more dynamic.
In the last post I had already pointed out the need to trim some roots. At this angle it makes that need even more pressing.
Needs to be cut back at the line.
With a tree in this style it’s important that the roots have a smooth transition into the soil. It gives the tree a sense of gravitas and stability.
Sharp saw (much needed, this wood is dense)
And I get to sit back and have my brother-in-law Steve do the sawing while Evan and my wife hold the tree steady.
Bifurcating a root like this shouldn’t be done unless the tree has copious roots (a lot, many, like, mucho mondo roots).
Otherwise the surface root could just die.
Here’s how it looks, let me point out that it needs some carving.
Not only does this operation make the root look like it’s transitioning into the ground smoothly, but it essentially splits the root into two.
The root on the right in the front needs work too.
It looks like a ham bone I might throw to the cats to gnaw on.
Again, I wouldn’t do this unless there’s good roots below the cut.
Standing back and looking at the roots, you can see the improvements.
Standing way back, you can see a battle.
Looking from the side, there are two competing apices (that would be the plural of apex), even though the one on the right, which would be the rear one, is shorter.
The thicknesses of the two are too similar in size.
Where do I cut it?
Let me pot it first.
Since I’ll be asked, this mix…
…..contains red lava, pumice, expanded slate, some charcoal, calcined clay, and pine bark.
…..and done.
Ok, where do I cut it? What do you think Benjamin?
That is correct sir.
Now it’s time to go home. I’m exhausted from all that work.

I’m sure you’ve all read the article published recently saying that men who share excessive self-shot photos of themselves (Selfies) tend toward narcissistic psychopathy. It’s a good thing those two pics above were taken by Benjamin, right?
Anyway, the above surgery all took place at the last Central Florida Bonsai Club meeting, but I ran out of time and energy that night.
That was a Friday, on Sunday (it rained all day Saturday) I did the top work.
Good thing I repotted when I did, the buds are about to pop.
I must digress and mention how beautiful the sun was that day, these golden days are the why that we live in Florida. Here it is, the middle of January, and I’m out in short sleeves and basking in the sunshine, working on bonsai.
Getting back to the tree, you’re wondering where you start on a big bonsai like this. How do you even begin trimming it?
Simple. You go back to basics.
That means, this being a deciduous tree, you first remove any winter dieback.
A hackberry tends toward a little more dieback than some.
Next, trim any crossing branches, those growing in branch junctions or multiple twigs emerging from the same place. Those growing up or down, etc. You know the drill.
By practicing the basics, any tree will come into shape easier than you think.
I believe now is the time to address the trunk chop scar.
It’s kinda hard to miss, like an elephant in the room.
Or a big mouth. We all know how hard it is to ignore a bigmouth.
It won’t ever close (heal) so I’ll have to just deal with it.
I’ll drill out the middle down to the hambone root to provide a pathway for water to flow.
The red circles (with the arrows pointing to them) are pruning wounds that I will carve out to connect to the drain hole.
But not now. I’ll wait until August, after the tree has settled in the pot a bit.
With that explanation out of the way, time to prune.
The before:
And I’m done.
That’s shot is a little hard to see (not to mention the distraction that my daughter, in the bathrobe and Hello Kitty pajama pants provides. Just to give you the proper timeline, it was four in the afternoon when I took the picture. She had just turned thirteen a few days earlier and was practicing the privilege of teenager-hood by sleeping in, most of the afternoon)
This pic shows off the branching better.
What a tree!
Next one up is either an elm or a trident.
Which one do ya’ll want to see?

Posted in branch placement, redesign, roots, updates, wiring | Tagged , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Bonsai’s got a new pair of shoes!

I get a text from my wife, she says
“Your son bought something at a dining shop yesterday?!?!”
A dining shop? Of course I said,
“A what kind of shop?”
She said,
“Helzbergs diamond shop. He bought something for $239.60″
So let me explain how she knows this. We still have a joint account with my son and my wife works at the credit union we use and she is, like every mother, very protective of her son. Therefore she watches the account. In her defense, she has caught fraudulent charges on his debit card.
I then text my son.
“What did you buy Vanessa (his girlfriend) for your one year anniversary?”
He says,
“A ring”
Of course this was my wife’s fear. He is 18 and in his first year of college at UCF and she’s afraid that maybe he has a need for marriage. You get my drift?
So I ask him,
“An engagement ring?”
He says,
“No, like one of those valentines day special rings”
Phew!!! Good.
So I question the cost at $239.
He says,
“Yes sir. ”
That’s the very first time he has ever said that to me.
So I say, being the smartass that I am,
“That would buy a lot of tacos for lunch”
I guess I’m not the romantic type. My wife’s engagement ring was on special for $69.99.
He says,
I reply,
Which means, for those who are too old and not text linguists, “shaking my head”
He says,
I say (or text),
“Here I thought you loved tacos more than anything. I was so wrong, what else am I wrong about? Is my own life a lie? Oh woe is me!!”
He assures me that he has mucho dinero left in his account (he needs to buy a new computer for school) and that everything is going to be alright.
I say,
“Ah…that’s a goodly amount left for tacos. Did you get me anything?”
He says, in his very first born son way he has,
“Did you want anything? You never do.”
And I say, because ’tis the season,
The season? It is repotting time, full force.
Which brings us to today’s victims.

I’m going to start on this one first.

It doesn’t want to stay upright in this pot. Even when it was tied in.
Jeez, they say that your tree should tilt forward in the pot as though it’s bowing. This one is practically kowtowing. Supplicating, groveling, it’s unseemly even.
The pot I picked (I had two in mind) is an amorphously shaped piece by Paul Katich of Bellotta Pots.
The other one I had had in mind is a japanese production pot that had gotten broken and I, ah, furthered the breakage with my jin pliers.
But it’s too big really and it’s just not right.
Whereas the Bellotta pot, it is just right. Like a glass slipper or a bowl of porridge.
And the wire tie-down holes are in the perfect spot for proper bondage.
Look how cool it is!
Some root pruning….
The aforementioned bondage…
And this is how it’s supposed to be, upright and proud.
And it is bowing properly now.
And now…..damn, I forgot to dress the old wound.
It’s easier to do with the tree outside of the pot but I’m not going to take it out.
Now, there’s a slight problem with the operation I’m about to perform. I’m not allowed sharp objects yet. My wife is not only very protective of her children, she still is of me; she has removed my razors and carving knives from my reach so I don’t cut myself in my recuperative state; I’m on blood thinner meds and should I cut myself bad enough, I’ll be in trouble. At least that’s what they say.
Little does she know that one of my homemade shanks has fallen behind the table out here in The Nook….
It’s a little rusty, but I can sharpen it.
First, a little work on the stone.
Then some polishing on my diamond card.
That looks sharp enough.
What I am doing, risking an emergency room visit and the wrath of my wife and all, is to help the tree close that wound.
You see, if a tree doesn’t close a cut within two years, it will stop healing. We deal with that by re-wounding the cut (by taking a very sharp blade and carving a little bit off the inside edge of it) then it begins to heal again.
Like so.

I’m going to cover the wound with some putty style cut sealer.

On to the second tree.
On which I’ll dress the wound first, like the thoughtful and deliberate bonsai practitioner I should be.

This time I will use a wound sealer my wife lovingly refers to as “snot paste”.
That done, this is the pot I’ve chosen.
This one was made by my bud Rob Addonizio of Taiko Earth.
I’ve shown you the repotting procedure in the previous couple of posts so I won’t repeat myself.
Ready for some elm trees? I have three more I repotted that I’ll share as well.
The first elm I worked on, all fancied up like a centerfold.
Next, a weird exposed root elm, I bought it on the side of the road actually. Sometimes it pays to stop.
The second tree I worked on, in its new pot.
A windswept elm in another crescent pot I had lying around.
And my favorite little elm, in its fancy blue pot.
I still have many more trees to pot or repot so don’t worry, you’ll see more posts. I usually put what I’m doing that day on Instagram and Facebook if you’d like to get that sneak peek.
In fact, I have two photosets ready for me to edit and write the blogposts on, I’m just so busy outside in the nursery that I run out of time to blog on what I’m doing.
Stay tuned, I’ll have another post soon on a big hackberry.
In the meantime, back to work Adam!

Posted in Horticulture and growing, refine, roots | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

A slightly neglected Chinese elm

This post begins inside and ends up outside. Opposite of the last post I guess.
Must mean I’m making progress.
Here’s the little tree.
It a very modest Chinese elm. It began life a an s-curve and I chopped it. Kinda like this:
Like I said, it’s very modest. The root base is very average.
And I’ve neglected it a little.
You can see how much it’s grown since I wired it.
My plan today is to unwire, trim and rewire, and repot.
Whoa?! Repot? I say that because the keen eyed readers in the audience probably saw the emergent and even emerged leaves on the tree.
That’s a no no, ain’t it? Repotting a deciduous tree with leaves on it?
Here’s a secret you won’t see in any book: you have, with a chinese elm specifically, a much greater leeway in your repotting times, than with most other deciduous trees. One could repot with it fully leafed out for a month even.
The reason is that this is a near tropical tree (why it can thrive here in Florida). In many places in Florida, or if you protect it from the cold up North, it doesn’t even drop it’s leaves.
If the tree is in full leaf it’s best if you defoliate it, it will help the tree acclimate better. When a tree puts out its first leaves it puts out new roots too. By defoliating when repotting the already leafed-out chinese elm, you will stimulate more root growth and ease it into the stress of the repot.
Getting back to my tree, I first remove the wire.
Yeah, that’s a lot of wire on a little tree. You should know that, since I do bonsai, I have a bit of an obsessive nature. And if you’ve read the blog, you also know that I like to wire. The reason is this:
The movement of those branches is from the wiring.
The ramification is from applied trimming. That lesson is in this post.
Don’t be alarmed if you have some branch dieback after winter, it’s normal.
This branch is dead to the red line (or arc or parabola or whatever you’d like to call it. Is it a ray….?)
And, for those who are too lazy to click on the ramification link, here’s a quick lesson for you.
I cut at the red line for movement, which the lovely turquoise line shows, and also for taper, which the orange brackets show, the main branch is thicker than the side branch.
Here’s the before:
And after trimming.
Dramatic lighting courtesy of the TV.
Now it’s time to venture outside.
I need to pick a pot.
I’m fond of the pot shape it’s in even though it’s not right technically.
Let’s see what I can find…..
One of these maybe.
This one?
Maybe this one?
This one….yes.

A pot I bought way back in 2009 and have been looking for the right tree since.

A beautiful Taiko Earth creation. Look at that color, glaze, and texture.
Prep the pot.
Prime the pot.
And now we can root prune.
Notice the white roots?
An elm doesn’t have white roots. Those are from weeds.
It’s the best and easiest time, when repotting, to really be thorough with your weeding.
Get the whole thing.
Sorry about the pasty, hairy leg. I’ve been housebound lately.
So…using just a chopstick, I comb out the roots.
And using a sharp pair of shears (I don’t have a special pair of “root shears”. Some people do. I just don’t see the need.)
Then I gently nestle the tree into the pot, and then tie it in brutally.
I say that because many people put some kind of soft covering on the tie-down wires. In all the years I’ve been doing this I’ve never had damage from tie-down wires.
Even when I cinch it down.
I back fill soil and chopstick it in.
Looks good to me.
Then I put a pre-emergent weed treatment on and then a handful of….
Nope. The little black granular stuff in the cup is fertilizer.
This is the last lesson of this post: when repotting a deciduous tree that is in branch development stage, fertilizer at that time will result in long internodes and giant leaves. We are controlling growth at this point. So no ferts, ya’ dig.
Wait until you have three sets of leaves, trim back to one set, then fertilize for the season.
I ended up only putting two wires back on, most of the shaping was done with scissor discipline.
Ready for the glamour shot?
I like its new pot, it’s classy now.
Ok, I lied about lessons, one last one.
Pots don’t die.
It’s better too have many pots to choose from than not the right one.
So find a good pot dealer with good stock from all over the world, good prices and good varieties.
It’s repotting season, time to get busy!

Posted in branch placement, refine, roots | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

A willow leaf ficus to help me get back into the game

I’m starting small.
How’s this?
I’m outside and working on trees again.
Well, one small tree, to begin with.
It’s a willow leaf ficus (ficus salicaria or nerifolia, salicaria etc..) I’ve had for about ten years or so. When I got it it had maybe half the girth it does now.
I need to remove the wire and do some trimming.
If’n you look real close, you’ll see some wire biting.
Perfecto! Just enough.
Let’s take a look at the nebari (root spread) and I’ll rant a little about trends and fashion.
Here’s my humble trees nebari.


Now, except for one root, I like the nebari. It’s natural looking with roots radiating the full 360 degrees around the trunk. They’re not artificially uniform either.
Now (here’s where I might get in trouble) this is a pic by my friend, Mark Fields, an excellent bonsai artist and teacher who is in Japan as we speak.
It seems that this “look” is becoming fashionable, kinda like how high waisted shorts on women are coming into style.
Here’s a close up.
It doesn’t look very natural to me. In fact, it looks like poured concrete or melted plastic. The purpose of the nebari is to make the tree appear to be grabbing or clutching strongly into the earth. To give the tree stability.
This melted look, to me, makes the tree appear to be made of clay and someone splattered it onto the ground. It’s the opposite of strength and stability. It looks like it could fall over at any moment.
In fact, if this were a real tree in the ground and a tree surgeon (they call them arborists nowadays) were to look at it they’d say that the tree was unhealthy and in danger of falling over because the soil it is growing in is too shallow and the roots don’t go deep enough. Dare I say it but, an exaggerated and even grotesque looking root system like this one is glorifying an example of an unhealthy tree just waiting for a violent enough windstorm to knock it over.
Ok, rant over. I’m a little grumpy from my convalescence. Sorry.
Back to my tree.


Since this is a bunjin style (or literati as many people call it. Which means that it is a free form, no rules style of tree) and it is in a round pot, the front of the tree is kinda around one of the above views.
First order of business, remove the wire.
I’m sure I puzzled a few people when I made the statement earlier (Perfecto! Just enough) when I noticed that the wire was biting into the branches.
One will hear from many bonsai enthusiasts that it’s a serious breach of bonsai etiquette to allow the wire to bite into your trees. In fact, second to the tree having reverse (inverse, obverse) taper in the trunk line, wire cutting is the second most evil sin one can commit when growing bonsai.
So why am I so excited about these wire marks?
Wiring a tree helps us to position a limb where we want or need it for the artistic design we are trying to achieve.
The mechanism that makes the process of wiring useful is simple: the growth and lignification of a branch over time. The wire holds said branch in place and, when the branch hardens off, the wire comes off.
I work with ficus and ficus limbs tend to not want to stay where you’ve wired them, unless you’ve allowed the wire to cut in (to a small degree).
So, the small bit of wire cutting I’ve allowed should be just enough to ensure that the main branches stay put.
Let’s see how this branch holds.
I’ll let you know if it’s still holding a week from next Tuesday.
I need to trim every branch tip on this tree. Now’s not the best time to do it though. It is mid January here in the F. L. A. Which means winter, and tropical trees in winter don’t grow much, unless, one has a greenhouse.
I, thanks to Dave, Paul, Steve, Guaracha, and Mark, do.
Since the tree has been outside in the couple of cold spells we’ve had, it’s dormant.
I’m going to trim all the tips……damn, it’s starting to rain.
We must move this operation inside.
Back to it then, righty-o.
I’m going to make a mess on the carpet.
My wife said to go ahead so…,
Now’s a good time to point out the root I don’t like.
What I’ll do when I repot in the spring is maybe either remove it.
Or split it.
Which is what I’ll probably do.
But that’s several months away.
Here’s the tree all trimmed.
What now? I dump gobs of organic fertilizer on the soil surface, water it in well, and I put it in the greenhouse.
The temp inside is about 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit higher than outside, which should start pushing growth tomorrow rather that in late March, which is what would happen if I left it outside.
And even though it is a bunjin, I prefer this view best.
That’s the last tropical I need to worry about, next post I start the work on my deciduous trees.
A sweet little elm, in fact.
See you soon.

Posted in progression | Tagged , , , , | 15 Comments