Spring Coming Slowly, But the Work Must Go On

This year Spring has been dragging its feet. May is just around the corner, yet the temperature is still hanging around 2 degrees Celsius. As long as it doesn’t drop to freezing, the trees are all going onto the bench. I’ve moved all my trees from my porch to the backyard bench.

Some of the buds on the trees are swelling up and ready to pop. So, it’s also the perfect time for repotting and pruning.

Over the weekend, the TBS was having a weekend workshop. I took advantage of it, and did some work on my trees. Namely, I worked on this cherry. This cherry tree really have nothing much going for it, so I decided to experiment with bending and air-layering. When I brought the tree in, many people were doubting that the branches can be bent, but with some raffia, heavy wire, and some muscle, the tree is bent into shape. I also air-layered the trunk to separate it into another tree. Originally I was just going to trunk chop it, but why forgo an excellent chance to experiment?

Cherry Tree Wired and Air-Layered

I also brought along this huge apple tree to work on. I was looking at the tree in the morning, and decided to select a new front. So, out came the saw and chopped it to shape. When I brought it in, a senior member commented that the old front was better. But I know my trees best. 🙂

Apple Pruned and Wired

After I was done pulling up the new leader, and wiring the companion tree, it was obvious that this is the better front for the tree. I guess from his perspective, he was looking for “instant bonsai”. But I know well that I would rather spend the time to develop a better front, than to settle for a faster sub-optimal result.

I also repotted a few trees, since they were sitting in some pretty crappy medium that decomposed to dust. From left to right, they are the apple tree, larch, and cotoneaster. I had to prune the roots of the apple dramatically, since it was growing in a large colander and had plenty of roots. The larch went back into it’s own pot with new soil. The cotoneaster had the base of the root ball reduced dramatically. It had a few large roots that I took a saw to and reduced its height. In due time, the reduced height of the root ball would make it easier for the tree to fit into a pot.

I also decided on the front for my Hawthorne, I had to cut off the back side of the trunk as it was distracting the view. The cut was made behind the leader. As I cut more of these heavy trees, I’m getting better at finding the best angle to cut such that the scar is not visible, and creates a taper.

Of course, nothing goes to waste, the part that was removed from the plant is also potted up with some rooting hormone. The hope is that it’ll also develop into a new Hawthorne. The huge cutting is now sitting in a colander under the bench.

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Japanese Quince Bundle Graft

Year after year, I end up with more and more Japanese Quince cuttings that turned out to be seedlings. Originally I was thinking to start a forest planting, but these Quinces have leaves that are too big to look good in a forest planting. Waiting for them to thicken up is not really an alternative either, as I can have much better use of the bench space that these trees take up. I decided to tie them all together to make one big tree. All together I have 9 tree seedlings. You can see that the trees growing in the colanders (left of the picture) have a much finer root system than the one in the pot (right of the picture).

Just wrapping the trees together wouldn’t produce too big of a trunk, since these are all very thin trees. I’ve built a metal brace for them to wrap around.

Brace

If I were to do this again, I would wait for even more trees before doing the wrapping, so that I can wrap a bigger brace. I used some raffia to wrap the trees around the brace. I positioned all the roots to radiate out from the center of the trunk, to ensure they’ll eventually form a good nebari. I then proceeded to plant the tree into big colander with a very fine soil mix. Japanese Quinces grow very vigorously, by next year, this colander will be filled with roots.

Spring Pruning

The ground has warmed up enough for the trees to come out of the ground. The weather in the coming weeks are hovering above freezing, so it seems like a good idea to get them out of the ground and start working on some of them.

For the Japanese Maple, I left two sacrifice branches, and ensure all the nodes don’t have more than two branches coming out of them. This ensures that I won’t end up with reverse taper at those nodes.Japanese Maple After Pruning

These two larches also required some pruning, I left the top parts of these two trees intact until I see the buds swelling. I’ve killed more than my fair share of larches over the years, I don’t want this to be one of them.

Larch after Pruning

This literati larch have come a long way since I got it several years ago. I still remember the club president saying at the time that this is difficult to make into anything useful. Well, I’ve tried over the years, and I’m quite happy with the result. Last year I killed off the top, and this spring I stripped it to reveal the shari. I then further carve the deadwood, and also wired the branches in place. I can’t wait to see this tree leave out. I may contemplate repotting the tree to be slightly leaning to the right at around 7 to 10 degrees.

Then there’s the cotoneaster. I don’t really know what to make of this one. It certainly have a thick base, but not much going for it otherwise. I’ve pruned back a lot of the shoots that grew last year, let’s see what this tree brings this year.

Thread Grafting Honeysuckle

This honeysuckle always seems to sprout at the bottom, and at the top, but no where in between. It’s been a few years now, and I’ve given up waiting for it to back-bud at the right places. Last year, I positioned a branch to be thread grafted this spring.

These branches becomes awfully stiff, awfully fast, so I started bending them in position when they were first extending, else they would easily snap if I were to bend them now. I proceeded to drill a hole through the middle of the tree. I took care to drill the hole big enough so that the buds on the branch can be threaded through the hole without being knocked off. I further wrapped the buds with saran wrap such that the buds can slip through the hole.

I then applied cutting paste at both ends of the hole. The hope is that the branch would thicken up, and then merge with the cambium layer at both ends of the hole. The only thing left to do is to feed and water the tree to thicken it up.

Spring Is In The Air

This week has been an amazingly warm week, causing the Japanese Quince to start popping leaves. Out of all my trees, I’ve found that my Japanese Quinces are always the first to pop, even earlier than my Trident Maples. This year, I continue to work on this mother tree. Over the years, I’ve had a lot of cuttings of this tree, and they’re all growing very vigorously. Last year, I’ve plotted this tree into a shallow pot, to develop a thin layer of fine root system to support the tree. The tree took on the challenge and put out a lot of feeder roots in the heavily constrained pot. This time, I’ve found a better front of the tree, so I raked out the roots, and repotted it into the same pot with some fresh soil. The soil is also much finer grain than the last one I used. After repotting, I did some heavy pruning to each branch, basically leaving two buds, and removing the rest of the branches. This would allow each branch to ramify into finer and finer subdivisions. The only exception is the “top” tree which I want to allow to grow to thicken it up. I’m quite happy with the composition, the “top” tree can use some more back branching to make it less two dimensional. But since Japanese Quinces easily bud back, I’ll worry about branch placement after the trunk thickens up significantly. I’ve added a few Totoro figures to help lighten up the mood a bit for this photo shoot.

Japanese Quince Repotted, Pruned, and Wired

Dead of Winter. Repot a Jade.

There really isn’t much bonsai related activities here in Toronto, as all the trees are either in the ground, or in the porch overwintering. I can’t even remember how long this Jade has been growing in the pot, or when it was last repotted, but the soil seems quite old, so I decided to repot it.

Jade before repot

There’s a sacrifice branch that I’ve been growing for some time now, to thicken up the base of the tree. The sacrifice branch is however growing into the branches that I want to keep, so I decided to remove the sacrifice branch. I was surprised to find not much roots, perhaps I was keeping the soil too wet, and the roots were rotting away. I would need to keep these trees dryer going forward. After some pruning, the mother-and-child composition is much more obvious.

Jade after repot

Chinese Elm Over Rock

The Chinese Elms have been getting some burnt leaves over the summer. I’m guessing it could be that the soil is too fine, and isn’t providing sufficient aeration to the roots, and the trees weren’t getting enough moisture from the roots. Since Chinese Elms can be treated like tropical trees, I’ve decided to repot them to help with the roots development.

Chinese Elm Ready for Repot

I have a rock lying around for years, I couldn’t find a good tree to put on it, so I’ve decided to put this tree over the rock, to see how well it wraps around the rock. One thing I don’t like about Chinese Elms is that they tend to have one or two thick roots rather than developing a radial nebari around the base of the tree. Even though these are all started from cuttings, they still have one or two fat root(s). Luckily, the orientation of the roots aligns properly to the crevices of the rock. I wrapped the roots around the rock, and then tie the roots in place. The hope is that eventually the roots will develop around the roots and tightly wrap the rock. The larger grain soil and the colander as the pot will help the roots develop much faster than before. Over the next few years, I’ll gradually reduce soil level, forcing the roots to harden as it gets exposed to the sun.

Chinese Elm Over Rock