Here is a little portulacaria afra for entertainment and educational purposes.
Now, I keep getting feedback from a certain portion of the bonsai community wondering why I keep doing these “beginner tree” posts.
They say “you won’t ever be respected unless you are doing serious and big trees!”
Or I’ll post an initial styling of a tree (and all that’s left is a stump with a few branches and I have to draw a picture to show what the tree might look like in a few years) and they tell me I have to show more developed trees because it’s the finished product that the “big” guys like to see.
My feeling on these critiques is two fold:
There seem to be many, many blogs out there where you see a beginning and an end and that’s it. Kinda like- “Hey! Look at what I did! I took a hundred year old cultivated bonsai and made it look pretty!”
Although I have been accused of making everything about me, it’s just not my style to show off like that.
Secondly, I believe that masterpieces are created not in the creative struggle of one major piece but rather in the perfection of technique on many minor pieces.
In that practice, true mastery is found. And then, when the BIG tree comes along, the artist makes the transformation of it look easy.
To put it in the visual artists language: those little pieces are called “studies”.
Musicians call them “licks” or “scales”.
By continually practicing these small things, your muscles “learn” what to do.
Working on little trees is also, believe it or not, more challenging than big trees.
The artist has just a short distance to create a story and build a tree. He has just a few branches to use. And it’s a lot more difficult to keep a smaller tree alive and healthy.
Ok, so now that I’ve alienated my peers, let’s talk dwarf jade.
This is a common thing to see at this time of the year-
This is the beginning of spring in Orlando and the new growth is just beginning.
The wrinkled leaves are just old growth that will dry up and fall off soon.
I’ll cut them off to make it easier to wire later.
This purplish color on the stem tells me that the new growth is imminent.
Studying the structure of the tree I feel that I need to change the front a little.
There are a few reasons to move the front.
The first is the base is thicker with this front.
The second reason: it turns the trunk enough so that the existent branches are in more usable positions.
Lastly (I didn’t want to say “thirdly”, this post seems to be turning into a narrative of numbered lists)
The movement of the tree is enhanced.
The yellow arrow shows a now usable branch and the red arrow shows the newly acquired directional flow of the trunk.
Repositioning the tree, I didn’t do a full repot, I just cut the tie-down wires and shifted the tree clockwise a bit.
Now it’s time for some wire.
You will notice that I didn’t use the recommended gauge wire (I’m using aluminum) for the thickness of the branch.
Usually one uses close to the same thickness wire as the branch when using aluminum wire.
With a dwarf jade (and this is the secret to wiring them without destroying the branch) you use the smallest gauge you need.
To know what that gauge might be, use the one inch bend test.
Take a length of wire and expose an inch or so. Push the tip onto the branch you want to bend. If the branch bends, that’s your size wire. If the wire bends, go bigger on your gauge.
I wire every branch.
And then begin to build the structure.
The branch above will be the main branch that the canopy will be built upon.
If this were a thicker branch I’d cut it here.
Now, it doesn’t look like much at the moment.
I have a good left side branch and some good back and right side branches.
But just a skinny little branch for the main top branch.
The trick-I didn’t trim it at all to encourage it to thicken.
I did prune some part of the side branches.
But not all, the turquoise arrow shows a smaller branch I left a growing tip on to encourage it to thicken.
When the main branch thickens (which might take all season) I’ll cut it at the point I showed earlier and then the branch will ramify….hopefully.
The portulacaria can fill in so thick that the canopy will look almost like an Afro.
The way this is done is to allow the branch to elongate to three sets of leaves and then prune to one, you’ll get two shoots off this point.
Allow them to do the same and prune the same and then you’ll have four.
Then, only allow it to elongate two sets and pinch back to one set.
Soon your canopy will fill in and you’ll be humming J5 songs as you water.
Ok, not quite like that.
More like this-
Aftercare: they are heavy feeders so use a regular fertilizer on a schedule.
If you are using bonsai soil (which you should) overwatering should not be a problem.
In the summer it rains everyday here in Florida and I don’t have rot problems.
And yes, they stay out in the full sun, outside.
This particular tree was given to me by my friend Aaron, but it is typical of one that could be had as a starter tree.
If you just apply some styling techniques and sound horticulture, there isn’t any reason why a similar tree couldn’t be made into a nice little bonsai tree.
In the next post maybe I’ll try to mollify some of my critics and work on that masterpiece bonsai.