Buttonwood Buyers Beware!

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In this blogpost I will show y’all how I got here. Hopefully. I do tend to ramble and digress.
The tale actually began at the 2007 BSF convention at the Morikami. It was the second day and this guy pulls up in a U-haul truck and parks in a spot under a tree. He starts unloading buttonwood out of the back. His prices are amazing; he’s undercutting everyone. I kinda mosy over and look. My good friend Mike Cartrett warns me against buying them. I guess the guy had just collected them and they weren’t established yet. Mike gets 6 or 7 of them. And warns me again “if you get one leave it alone for a year”
I wish I had pictures of it then. It was planted in a drip pan with holes drilled into it for drainage. I’m glad I didn’t take everyone’s advice and not get one (they certainly were all getting one, or three) because it is obvious that this tree has a special quality to it.
The advice given to me was “Put it in the shade and forget about it”
I didn’t follow it. I washed off the mucky soil it was in and, believe it or not, the tree was screwed to a pressure treated 2×4! And to add insult to injury,there were only three roots, each only about a half inch long. Small,white, spaghetti looking things. I looked up at the sky and prayed to the bonsai gods, “please…”.
I did what I know how to do; put it in a training pot with good bonsai soil. I watered and fertilized. I then let it grow for a year before I started fooling with it.
That’s what kills more bonsai than anything, trying to rush a tree. My philosophy is, if you have enough trees to work on, then you will have the patience to just let a tree grow. Every day it is allowed to grow it is also storing excess sugar reserves. It’s these reserves that give the tree the energy it needs to regrow what we have cut off. Too much work on a tree and the vigor will wane. Let it grow man.
At my place it might take three years to get a tree into a bonsai pot (because it usually has to wait in line). But, I do that by design. I think my trees are healthier by letting them grow.

The next step was putting it into a bonsai pot. I did this at a NoNaMe Bonsai study group meeting where Mary Madison was our guest. I love Mary, her knowledge and stories are not to be ignored. She still goes and collects in the Keys and the swamps and I won’t tell you her age but it’s at least twice mine. She can out collect anyone too. With a smile.

I put it in this pot and styled it.

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The observant will observe that what was the obverse side is now the reverse side.

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Let’s take a stroll around this tree

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Twisty,eh?
I have this pot for it.

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It is round. It’s handmade. It is “sea foam green” so it kinda goes with the whole buttonwood theme. Maybe.
I like it because it will drain well and the color is subtle.

To digress, there are near scientifically aesthetic reasons for choosing pots for our trees. The shape and size of the feet, if it has feet, the shape of the lip or the texture of the glaze. If you wish to learn the minutiae please do.
This tree is a buttonwood. Which means expressionistic. I like this tree/pot combo, until, that is, I find a better pot. If you disagree feel free to comment.

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Good roots

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I can comb these ones out.

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All trimmed to fit into the pot.
It looks like burnt driftwood here.

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I will continue to stress the need for tying your trees in. Especially
buttonwoods. Double wires.

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Before wire

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And after

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Let’s talk lime sulfur.

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This is what I use. I actually got it from Bonsai World when they were still in business. But you can find it in many independent garden centers or online.
There are several threads online about the legality and availability of lime sulfur in the US.

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This is from the manufacturer. The EPA has found lime sulfur to be practically harmless environmentally (duration of instance, lasting toxicity, cumulative exposure etc.). They just required current manufacturers to resubmit specific formulations for review. Most smaller manufacturers did not want to bother because it’s not a popular fungicide anymore.
They won’t ship to those states shown above because some counties within those states (or all of California) have not completed their own analyses or deem it to be “bad”. It is not “illegal” as you might be first led to believe.

First we prep the wood.

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Using a wire brush ( say this out loud “wire brush… Because it works”. Say it until you get the joke) clean the branch using strokes going with the grain.

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And there ya’ go. Sometimes a wire brush (‘cuz it works) is all you need to make a piece of deadwood (Jin) look aged.

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It is orange. I suggest using disposable apparatus when working with lime sulfur. It will mess things up.
Don’t be surprised at the smell. It smells like burrito night the next day.
I suggest you cover your work area and cover the soil as well.

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Paint it on liberally , making sure to not paint the live veins (just aesthetically. It’s ugly) and keep applying until you are sure you have good coverage.
Some people say to apply on wet wood, and vice/versa. I did both and the absorption is the same.

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It goes on green,oddly.

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It takes a day or two to take full effect with the bleaching. It kills the fungus and prevents more fungus from building up.

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Some people don’t like too bright a white and will add India ink to it the dull it. I don’t put too many coats on myself.
I actually don’t use lime sulfur much, I usually like a natural wood color.

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Sometimes it’s needed though.

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These images are two days after the original application of the lime sulfur.

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I think the white jin and green leaves both complement the pot well.

About adamaskwhy

Visual artist specializing in bonsai, mostly.
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