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.


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.


As the healthy trees are putting out new growths, I figured it’s a good time to defoliate the trees to allow it to put through another set of growths. Which will add one more season of ramification, and hopefully produce smaller leaves. I decided to defoliate my larches first. I basically pulled out all hardened leaves, forcing the tree to put out a new set of leaves. This opens up the canopy and allows light to reach the inner parts of the tree, to produce back-budding and new growth.

I also worked on my berry bush, it’s ramifying quite nicely, squeezing in another round of ramification will make it look more impressive. I left the very small leaves intact, the larger hardened leaves are all taken out. I’m now leaving it in full sun to help its new buds pop.

Larch Repot and Pruning

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.

Literati Larch

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.

Larch with Moss

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.

Larch After Defoliage

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.

Literati Larch Wired

This tree has gone through a lot of abuse this season. I’ll be letting it sit on the branch to recover.

Larch Forest

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.

Larch Forest