In fall 2016 I received a gift from a friend of mine, a bhut jolokia pepper plant, also known as “ghost pepper”. It was about 40 cm high, grown in a hydroponic system that resulted in a very dense root system, growing very vigorously. My idea was to transform this pepper plant into a bonsai, into a so called “bonchi”. I reduced the height of the plant to about 15 cm and cut all the leaves, branches and fruits. Only the trunk remained, prepared to grow new branches in the desired positions. After hard pruning the pepper, I reppoted it into a small green glazed bonsai pot that I have bought some time ago. You can see in the image below how the plant looked after finishing the pruning and reppoting in fall of 2016.
Over the winter I kept the plant indoors in a room with direct sun and temperatures that did not drop below 20C. The pepper responded well to pruning and reppoting. In only a few weeks new growth started developing on the trunk. I took good care making sure that the soil never dried out. I continuously fertilized it every other week with liquid fertilizer (NKP 6-5-6). By spring 2017 I had to prune back the new branches as those grew quite long. Also in early spring of 2017, the leaves were too many on the plant and light could not reach the trunk anymore. So, I considered to partially defoliate the entire plant, leaving only the small leaves untouched. As the days became longer, warmer and with more sunshine, the plant started growing very fast. It also developed many flowers that I manually pollinated using Q-tips. Due to direct sunlight, fertilization and continuous watering, the plant developed a dense branch structure with long new shoots filled with many peppers. By August 2017 the plant looked like in the image below. Due to long growth and many peppers it was necessary to wire the tree to the pot, otherwise risking it to fall over.
The white spots that are visible on the leaves are because few day prior to taking this picture I sprayed the plant with fungicide. I do such treatments at least once a month to prevent diseases. When I potted the three in the green pot, I saw long roots that I did not prune back at that time. It was back then when I decided that at the next reppoting of the three I will do a root over rock project and take advantage of the long roots. The time has come and in the followings I will present all the steps that I performed for this project. First thing was to collect all the peppers from the three. The bhut jolokia is the 7th hottest pepper in the world according to the Scoville scale. It is more or less comestible as it gives stomach ache even when consuming small amounts of the fruits.
The harvest from only this small three was a dish plate full of peppers. Not all of them reached complete maturity so I had to collect them green. However, I will expose those to direct sunlight and they will turn orange, just like the rest of them. The oldest fruits will be dried to collect the seeds to germinate them in early spring next year. After harvesting the peppers, I pruned back the three quite hard and also cut all the big leaves to let the light to enter and reach the trunk.
I removed the wire that kept the three in vertical position and proceeded to the actual reppoting process. When getting out the tree from the pot, it was quite root bounded on the bottom side as expected due to the excessive growth that I spoke about earlier. The entire root system came out of the pot like a brick as you can see in the image below. On one hand, this is good because for the root over rock project I needed long roots to cover the future rock, but on the other hand untangling and combing them without breaking the fine feeder roots is quite a challenging process.
However, I started gently removing the old soil and combing the roots in a radial shape. I gave them a good wash with fresh water and combed it again, placing the roots properly to emphasize and to get an image of how those will settle over the rock.
There are many fine feeder roots all over but there are also some long thicker ones that will be useful to cover the rock. I also removed feeder roots that were growing in wrong directions or too close to the main trunk. Unfortunately, as you can see in the image below, the bark of the three on the bottom side rot away because a lot of lime was deposited on it as I water my trees with tap water. This held back moisture and kept the bark wet all the time. I cleaned the lime away together with the bark. In the future I will periodically perform washing with vinegar diluted in water to make sure this will not happen again. I hope that in time, new bark will form and slowly the reverse taper will disappear.
The rock that I have selected to use is a mountain rock that has a hollow exactly where the bottom of the trunk is positioned in the image below. This helps a lot to find the proper position for the tree. The thicker roots will be placed into their final position along the rock in all directions. To keep them in place, I tied them with natural raffia. The benefit of using this instead of artificial raffia is that in time it rots away not cutting into the roots when those will thicken. I placed all the roots in the position ensuring that all are growing their feeders downwards to the bottom of the pot under the rock.
After fixing the roots with raffia, I wrapped around the rock and the roots transparent plastic material used for kitchen purposes. This creates a cavity that I will fill up with fine sand to ensure that all the roots that covered the rock will be keep moist and in the same time it will prevent them to grow to the sides, forcing them to develop downwards. After wrapping the roots, I potted it into a bigger pot making sure that soil fills all the gaps under and around the rock. The soil composition that I use is the same for all my trees. I spoke about how I drill my pots and how I mix my soil in an earlier post that you can read here.
After filling the pot with soil and fixing the tree in the correct position using thin wires, I filled up the wrapper with fine sand. Using a chopping stick I worked it around the wrapper to make sure that it fills all the gaps on the lower sides of the rock. Using water also helped a lot as the sand easily flows into the right position. Finally, a good watering ensured that the sand is in place and moist and the soil on the outside of the wrapper is also wet and ready to accommodate the roots.
In a few months I will gently remove the plastic wrapper and the fine sand, but only after I will see vigorous growth on the branches. This will tell me that new roots are also developing in the soil so I will be sure that the removal of the wrapper and of the sand will not harm the tree. When removing the sand I will also cut away all the fine feeder roots that will eventually grow in the visible sides of the rock. This will promote only the roots inside the soil to develop. At this moment half of the rock is inside the soil. The goal is that in time I will lift the rock over the soil entirely. However I will keep you updated with future posts.
In 2015 I bought from a local nursery a ficus plant with three trunks grown in the same pot. At the moment, the idea was to interweave the trunks and fuse them together to form one tall plant as room decoration. On the way of fusing, something went wrong as the trunks did grow unevenly. Hence, it was impossible to continue the same project because there were no more trunks to fuse. In the picture below you can see the interweave trunks. However, this plant grew vigorously for the past 2 – 3 years and I have decided that the only remaining possibility is to airlayer the tree exactly at the highest fusing point of the former trunks.
On YouTube or on Google there are several methods for air layering, mainly all being based on using sphagnum moss as wet coating. Many methods are based on cutting the bark around the three for a height of few centimeters. Many such procedures failed because the tree rooted only on one side or not rooted at all. I think that if you create a “custom made” root system, it is highly important to start the right way. Cleaning a section of the bark around the tree can result in uneven roots. One method to control the roots for a certain position of growth is to clean off the bark of the tree only in the points where you are interested in promoting new roots. In the same time, using such a technique one can obtain a nice nebari evenly distributed around the tree.
As it follows I will present step by step how I did the airlayering of this ficus tree. First thing to be done is to moist sphagnum moss in tap water (or rain water if available) for at least half an hour before starting to airlayer. If you moist too much moss, it is not a problem. You can use the rest of the moss to distribute it evenly on soil’s surface. This will eventually give new living moss if proper care is considered by misting it several times a day.
For airlayering I have considered to use the point of the trunk where the last fusing happened. It is strange how after fusing, practically only one trunk grew continuously and the other two faced lack of energy and had a very slow development compared to the other one.
Using a drill, of course not fixed in a drilling machine but driven by hand, I performed few holes in the bark, around the tree. The depth of the holes is dictated by the thickness of the bark. However care should be considered to not penetrate the tree too deep to damage it. Doing so, you will be able to control the new roots to grow only from the holes performed with the drill. creating the holes around the tree at the same height will ensure that the nebari will have the same plane of development.
I have drilled one hole directly in the point where two trunks fused. This hole had to be deep enough to penetrate the bark that is quite thick. This hole was drilled deeper than the other ones from the surface of the trunk. You can compare yourself the holes from the picture below.
The holes performed by hand were all powdered with rooting hormone for woody plants. This was bought from a local nursery. I personally use for powdering with rooting hormone a brush used by makeup artists. This helps in a correct and even settling of the powder in the holes. To increase the speed of the the rooting process zip ties are used to strangle the trunks. This will slow down the energy coming from the leaves to reach the roots in the pot and will force new roots to emerge from the holes drilled in the trunk. Mainly this is the motivation of using these zip ties.
The last step is to fasten a transparent plastic bag around the holes and fill it up with the sphagnum moss moistened earlier. I closed up the bag as strong as possible to stop the humidity from inside the bag to evaporate. From time to time I put some water on the upper part of the plastic bag and it slowly finds it way inside keeping the moss moist all the time.
As soon as the new roots will develop, the transparent plastic bag will help to see the actual new growth. More, this helps to decide when the new roots are sufficient to perform the separation of the new rooted tree from the old trunk and pot it into new soil. I will keep this topic updated when this moment will come.
In spring 2015 I have started a ficus benjamina forest using few thin cuttings from a tree bought from a local nursery. I treated the cuttings with rooting hormone in powder form. At that moment I have used a soil based more on flower soil mix, bought from the same nursery, so not the best solution. I had many problems with it such as mold, smell and slow development. However the cuttings started rooting even in those vicious conditions. The first picture taken back in 2015 at the very beginnings of the forest details the dimension of the cuttings.
A small traditional Romanian clay house was added just as theme for the project. The ceramic tray housing the forest was placed on a sunny windowsill where in the afternoon the leaves receive direct sunlight. In spring 2016, the forest was replanted and the soil was replaced with a clay based one, using grit mixed with flower potting mix in a ratio on 7-3. The position of the trees was also changed, placing the clay house in the middle, to be surrounded. Regular liquid fertilizer was applied and some pebbles of slow release fertilizer were added. The forest was left on the same windowsill to grow. The new soils mix that allowed better drainage, hence often fertilization, helped the forest to grow much faster. In fact, in early summer 2017 it became mandatory to do radical changes of the forest as it did not fit any more in the oval tray where it started growing.
In the picture above the result of 2 years of growing the forest can be seen, reaching a quite dense ramification with a large amount of leaves. At this moment I have decided that for healthy future development I had to divide the trees from one to two forests in two different ceramic trays. As I had no intention of trimming the roots because these would have more than enough space to spread in the new trays, one day before repotting, I watered well the forest. By this I increased the chances of success when getting the roots out of the soil. As I tend to use the same soil composition as the one from 2016 in both trays, I mixed the fresh soil with some of the old soil. I did this to make sure the new soil will have remains of the bacteria needed by the trees that was already established in the old soil.
I did comb out only the surface soil from the roots, leaving the rest that is fixed by the feeders in place. Working with wet soil also increased the chance of success when replanting the trees. Usually this maneuver is quite stressful for any tree. I had the misfortune with other ficus projects that were not successful due to too much trimming of the roots.
After preparing the new soil and the new ceramic trays with holes and draining screens, I have placed the trees in the desired positions and started filling with soil. Using a chopping stick, I have worked the soil around the trees to ensure no air pockets remain close to the feeder roots. Step by step I have filled the trays up to the top. When finished I gave it a good watering, making sure that everything is properly wet. For one tray I have kept the clay house as theme and for the second one I have used a tin soldier placed on a rock, like a warrior inside the forest.