Larches are usually one of the earliest trees to wake up from the long winter sleep. Therefore, they’re usually the first ones to repot and prune. Just when you begin to see the little green leaves beginning to pop out of the buds, is the prime time to repot and prune larches.
Last year’s larch forest didn’t do too well in the hot summer sun, three of the five trees fried in the sun, leaving me only two trees out of the forest. Of course, it’s not much of a forest with just two trees. So, I repotted the two trees into a smaller pot, and made a twin trunk composition instead. I think this little combination looks much more handsome than the forest. I’ll be keeping this tree under the bench for a few weeks for them to recover. I’ve noticed that larches need more time to recover from any root disturbance. I think the smaller tree needs the rest more than the larger tree, since the small tree didn’t put out much roots in the last growing season. I hope they both survive, it would really suck if I end up having a formal upright tree.
I also decided to work on my literati larch more this season. The literati looks too full, I wanted it to have a more weathered look.
The left side looks too heavy, and the top just looks weird… So, I started by taking off all the wires I left over winter, and then went on pruning, and wiring the tree.
I took off all the leaves from the top, this would kill off the top. I wanted to use the top as deadwood. I’ll just wait for the top to die off, then strip the bark. I also lighten up the left side, and wired the branches on the right into place. Hopefully I didn’t take out too many leaves. Given I didn’t disturb the roots at all, I have confidence that this tree will survive the ordeal. I just left this tree under full sun, and didn’t bother moving it into the shade. I think the full sun will help its remaining leaves develop.
After defoliating the larch last month, the larch is responding well by putting out new growths. These leaves are substantially smaller than the spring growths. The small leaves make the tree look more convincing as an old tree.
I repotted and styled a literati Larch a few months back (see here). The larch has since responded vigorously and put out a lot of leaves. In fact, the tree looks somewhat bushy, and detracts from its literati appearance.
During the June club meeting yesterday night, I learned that larches can be defoliated as well. Defoliation will stimulate more ramifications, with smaller leave size. Defoliating the tree also allowed me to take a closer look at the branching.
The main and secondary branch have obviously moved up since the last time I looked at it. I’m guessing it could be because of the tree’s natural tendency to reach upwards. This can be simply fixed by wiring the branches down again, to provide for a more aged character for the tree.
This tree has gone through a lot of abuse this season. I’ll be letting it sit on the branch to recover.
The workshop at the last Toronto Bonsai Society meeting was to create a larch forest. There were more demand than available workshop placements, so all interested participants put in their name to the lottery for a chance to win a spot in the workshop. Ricardo, Mike, and myself were the three lucky members who won a spot at the workshop. The larches were all donated by Larry, and the trees came in various sizes.
We each partnered with a seasoned club member. I partnered up with Mike R., he showed me some of his tricks in anchoring the trees in place. The number of trees in a forest planting should always be an odd number, and they should be arranged in an irregular manner, such that there will be movement among the trees. Just like any art work, one should also take advantage of both positive and negative space to add interest to the scene. Mike suggested to leave a plane of open space to the left of the pot, to suggest the idea of open space. I really like that idea, and I think it further adds to the movement of the whole composition. We first started with the bare rooting all the trees, this allowed us to inspect the roots, and to ensure the most pleasant nebari is exposed to the front. We then started arranging the trees into the pot, in the order of biggest to smallest. The biggest tree and the second biggest should balance each other, with the other remaining trees complementing the two bigger trees. Positioning the smaller trees towards the back of the pot also conveys depth of field. After we were happy with the arrangement, we proceeded to trim off the branches which ran into the adjacent tree, in nature, these branches would not have survived, so leaving them would seem abnormal. The final step is to fill in the pot with bonsai soil. Care is taken to use the chopstick to ensure the soil fills in all air gaps among the roots. For forest plantings, the soil is usually mounded a bit higher than the very shallow pot. This looks good, but presents some challenges in terms of watering, since the water will wash away the soil. Mike suggests to put some moss or cloth on the soil, to hold it in place. Since I didn’t have sufficient moss to perform that function, I opted for landscape fabric. It’s not pretty, but it’s functional. I also wondered whether the black landscape fabric will pick up more heat on a sunny day, thus maybe even help the roots develop further. For now, I will let the tree grow, and hopefully it will develop some nice roots. I am especially worried about the smallest tree, it really needs to put on more roots. Only time will tell whether they’ll all make it. But so far, they’ve been doing very well in full sun. There are small buds emerging from all five trees.
This larch wasn’t too impressive when I got it last summer. It was a tree with no lower branches, with a trunk that doesn’t have much movement. I spent some time last year to eventually bend the trunk with the help of a guy wire. Eventually, I was able to deform the trunk into some pretty interesting movement.
Larches are very springy trees, after releasing the guy wire, it bounced back substantially. Thankfully, it still kept much of the shape. Since there were no lower branches, and the trunk is long and narrow, it fits well into a literati style.
Literati looks best in a round pot, it extenuates the thin and skinny nature of the tree.
I’m actually quite impressed with how this tree turned out. The pot really brings a lot of character to the tree. Now I understand why people spend so much on pots…
In a few days, the buds started to come out!
The leaf nodes on the larch were already swelling, so I decided to repot it into a real bonsai pot. The first step is to take it out of the existing nursery pot. It was growing in some garden soil, as such, its root system wasn’t very impressive, even though the pot was very big. My guess is that the garden soil didn’t allow sufficient air to penetrate the soil, therefore, the roots didn’t expand as much as it could, compared to growing in bonsai soil in a colander.
Some of the roots were wrapping around the trunk. So I had to cut some of them off. I have to unwrap some of them to ensure they radiate away from the trunk, rather than wrapping the trunk. If I were to leave the roots wrapped around the trunk, as the tree grows the roots would eventually suffocate the tree.
After some tying down, I was able to position most of the roots reasonably well. The tree still looks very rough.
A few days later I had some time, so I took the tree in, and started pruning and styling it. This is going to be a formal upright. The upper branches were as thick (if not thicker) than the branches below. Therefore, I have to significantly reduce the foliage on the upper parts of the tree, while leaving significantly more foliage in the lower branches to help thicken the lower branches up. Also, thicker lower branches will contribute to tapering of the trunk.
I also wired up the branches in place. When I wired the pads, I ensure that they are not flat, but are turned slightly towards the front, such that the depth of the branches can be observed from the front. I purposefully left the lower left branch largely untouched. I’m hoping the tree will expend more energy there to make it significantly thicker than the upper branches. Once it has reached the desired thickness, I will trim off the long sacrificing branch, and only keep what will contribute to the final form of the tree. I am quite impressed with how this tree turned out. Given that I only bought it during the Spring show last year, this is quite an achievement for me.
A seasoned member of the club passed away recently, and his wife donated some trees to the club. Some of the higher quality ones will be sold, while the lesser quality ones are given out to budding members (yours truly). I ended up taking 3 larches home.
These two larches are very thin and twiggy. In hopes of developing a thicker trunk, I simply removed the wires, and planted them in the ground.
This other larch has a relatively larger trunk, so I’ll be keeping it in its pot until next Spring. The bottom branches are too far up the trunk. I see a future of this tree as a literati style. I decided to do away with the top branch and use some of the lower branch as the new leader pointing down. I’ll also use a branch on the right to counter-balance the composition. Potentially I might remove the right branch and just develop the new apex.
During next Spring, I’ll also be removing extraneous branches. I kept them for now because the tree doesn’t look particularly vigorous. I believe it’ll need all the branches to keep it alive. Hopefully after pruning and repotting next Spring, this tree will be revived.
Since I’m styling the above larch, I wanted to style my other larch which I bought previously at the club’s Spring show. I’m now very confident the tree will survive, since it has been growing very vigorously for the past few weeks.
The new apex was already selected the last time I gave it a pruning. This time, I pruned out all the excess branches, and wired all remaining branches downwards to give an illusion of old age. This will be a formal upright. The tree has all the branches in the right place. This is an excellent material for the formal upright style.