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Autumn pruning – end of 2018 season – part I

Autumn pruning – end of 2018 season – part I

As the cold days of November reached us, the trees drop their leaves and slightly enter into winter dormancy. The temperatures are not yet at freezing point so it is a good time to do structural pruning and wiring where it is necessary. It is up to your to do this operation now, or in spring just before bud break. Personally, I choose to prune now because I own about 90 trees at this moment. My philosophy is to perform deciduous pruning now, before freezing temperatures are reached because the trees are still able to seal the wounds after pruning. However, if you do this too late in winter, the trees will suffer frost on the cutting locations and they will suffer dye back on the branches. The second option, to prune in spring is legitimate, but it leaves you a small window of maybe 1-2 weeks just before bud break. It depends on how fast the warm days of Spring will get installed. For me, as I have to prune 90 trees, in Spring it is quite difficult to sync my activities with the warm temperatures if I only have a window of 1-2 weeks. So I choose to prune now to make sure that the work is done in proper timing with the outdoor temperatures.

It is also important in this case to ensure a winter protection to your trees that will not cause damage to the trees. I will shelter all the trees that had a difficult year in 2018, or those that will be repotted in Spring and all the shohin ones in an unheated basement. There, the temperatures varies between -1 and 8C. All the larger trees that had strong growth in 2018 and that have larger containers will be left outside. However, these too will be placed on the ground level and grouped. Smaller trees with medium containers will be placed in the middle of the group and towards the sides of the group will be placed the trees with large containers. Around them I will have a 50 cm high plastic foil just like a fence to weep the cold wind away of reaching directly the edges of the containers.

Mainly all the trees were structurally pruned. This means that the branches developed in 2018 were now cut back to the desired length. A misconception is that you always have to prune back to 2 buds. Yes, it is true if you are in refinements with the trees. I am now in development phase, so if I cut back to two, I will obtain in 2019 bush-like trees instead of nice branching. So, pruning to 6-8 buds now and wiring into shape and position will give me the secondary branching. In 2019 probably in May or June I will start pruning back to 2 buds, to start the refinement phase.

All the pictures below are before/after shots of this November’s pruning. You can as well see in my older posts of 2018 how these trees looked in Summer of 2018.

So let’s start with the Carpinus species.

This tree was collected in 2016 in Autumn. It is a large one and it is highly vigorous. In 2019 in Spring I will repot it and it will enter in refinement with the next pruning in Summer.

Another Carpinus collected in 2016 Autumn with very nice branching that will also be reported in Spring.

A semi-raft Caprinus collected in 2018.

A feminine movement Carpinus collected in 2018.

This tree had an interesting growth that facilitated the wind blown style, so this is what it became:

A lovely small semi-raft grown Carpinus, highly vigorous and evenly branched around the main trunk.

The Carpinus with awesome nebari, very nice side branching and trunk movement.

My beautiful raft Carpinus. Awesome growth this year and good looking branching so far.


Hope you find my work inspiring and thanks for your visit.

Ficus Benjamina – Root over rock –

Ficus Benjamina – Root over rock –

I have some Ficus Benjamina cuttings that rooted in water mixed with some liquid rooting hormone. For a long time I was thinking about what new design should I approach with these in order to do something different. As I visited Greece this summer, I collected some interesting stones that inspired me for this project, so I started building my design as soon as I returned. So, the new project was established: root over rock of Ficus Benjamina. Usually, all the bonsai masters all over USA and Japan teach that root over rock projects start with adding wet sphagnum moss around the roots till these are established and reach the soil. However, I have a different approach. As usual, we learn from mistakes or from coincidences. I have a root over rock project with a Lonicera tree. At that moment, the rock was too large and the roots of the tiny tree did not reach the soil. I was in a hurry to leave so after I fixed the tree to the rock, I wrapped the rock with the small roots with an old t-shirt that I watered just enough to keep the roots wet. The idea was to continue the next day the work with sphagnum moss. Next day I was busy again, and then the next day thesame … so the tiny tree’s roots on the rock remained wrapped with the t-shirt. I just added water daily to make sure that the roots are wet. In a few weeks, I saw an increasing vigor and the tree started developing new foliage  and normally new roots. By the middle of summer all the roots reached the ground and due to the t-shirt that was tight to the rock, these ran in the close proximity of the rock, following its shape. Today they look awesome, these are thick, shaped just like the rock and again, due to the t-shirt it did not develop any feeder roots, tempted just to grow fast down to the ground. This is how I developed my approach and I will share it with you all as follows.

The rocks that I have collected have many crevasses and these look just perfect for such a project. 

These are the rocks that I have collected. They are pretty tall, so I had to fix them to the pots. In the pictures below, you can see the slim pots that I considered to use in order to put the accent over the tall rocks and their future trees.

In order to fix the rocks to the pot, I found the best place in the pot that advantages the design. I drilled two holes that will allow the wire to pass via the bottom of the pot and the lower side of the rock to make sure there is a strong bond between the ceramics and the rock.

In the same way, I drilled a hole in the rock and cut away the bottom side of the spikes of the rock to ensure a straight contact surface between the pot and the rock.

After fixing the rock to the pot, it looks like in the pictures below. Now you can understand why I chose a slim pot and why tying it strongly to the pot is mandatory.

In the same way, I fixed the second rock to the second pot. There are several good reasons why you have to make sure that the rock is not moving, the roots can grow with no danger of braking and when building the upper part of the design you will have a good and solid base to work.

The next step was to fix the trees to the rocks. For this, I use natural rope because it will keep the tree in position for a period of time till it will develop new roots to establish the position and in a few months it will rot away. Using a chopping stick I also arranged the roots in the desired places. When placing them, always think of the way where these will grow as the roots are tempted always to grow downwards and try to find the shortest path to the soil.

I added the new soil and the roots that were long enough, I placed them already to reach the surface of the soil. I know that as soon as I will start watering the trees, the roots will find their way into the soil. If you push them down into the soil there is always a risk to harm them with the force you use to push them in.

In the end, I added parts of another old t-shirt, tie it with the same natural rope and add some soil mix in the areas where the distance between the rock and the textile remained too big. In case you consider that the textile will dry out too fast, you can use a plastic transparent bag or kitchen wrapping plastic to create a closed environment that will retain the water. However, you have to leave the upper part opened to be able to water and to allow oxygen circulation.

I hope that by Spring of 2019 I will be able to remove the textile and give you all an update on the two Ficus designs. Normally, by then, the roots should have reached the ground already. Just as last mention, I already stated this in other posts. I do not like using sphagnum moss because it tangles between the roots, it never rots away and it encourages developing feeder roots close to the rock and not pushing the elongation of the roots down into the soil.

This is my approach that I found to work quite fine, so be my guest and try it on your own.

Thanks for the visit,

Progression of collected trees of 2018

Progression of collected trees of 2018

At the moment I own about 70+ trees that mainly are deciduous collected in 2017 and 2018. As it was exposed in my previous posts, I own several tropical ones as well. However many of the deciduous ones collected this year responded well for the collection and re-establishing process. I usually organize one shooting in each season for each tree and in case I do some major work on them I shoot that operation as well. As follows, I will present the progression of some of the trees that developed nicely over the spring and summer of 2018.

My largest Carpinus in April, then May (before and after), pruned back to two leaves and in July

Another Carpinus that grew well this year and I think I will repot it by next spring. The pictures are taken in April, then May (before and after), pruned back to two leaves and in July.

A flat Carpinus that just loves the new soil, still pictured in April, then May (before and after), pruned back to two leaves and in July.

As they call it in France, “le pièce de résistance”, my raft Carpinus in the wood box. Pictures are taken in April and July. This was not pruned at all this spring.

I bought from a local nursery in June 3 Junipers to be styled in shohin cascade bonsai. After the first prune and reduction of nursery soil, these responded well developing new growth. In spring 2019 I will repot them into their ceramic containers. The pictures were taken in June and July.

I will end my post today with a tree that I collected in spring this year from my father’s garden. In fact it is a grape tree that seems to grow just lovely and it already has grapes on it.

Hope you enjoyed visiting my blog and hope to see you back soon.



Airlayer separation – Ficus Benjamina

Airlayer separation – Ficus Benjamina

In August 2017 I started a new project airlayering a ficus benjamina in the post entitled Ficus benjamina airlayering based on a technique that I read about somewhere on the internet. I let the tree develop for about 10 months and then in May 2018 I decided that it is time to do the separation. Looking at the root system that was developing inside the bag in the airlayer, I considered that there were enough feeders to be able to supply the tree after separation, taking into account that I was planning to do a preliminary structural pruning as well, so a large quantity of the foliage was to be removed from the canopy.

As it can be seen in the picture above, there was a large number of leaves that I intentionally left on the canopy because the principle is simple: many leaves are photosynthesizing carrying sugars down to the roots right in the layer under the bark. As the bark is interrupted, the sugars cannot reach the roots in the soil of the tree, but these will promote creation of new roots at the point where the bark is interrupted. So, the more leaves that move sugars on the tree, the faster the roots in the layered region will grow. I wrapped the bag of sphagnum moss in aluminium foil just to prevent the light from penetrating it and disturbing the roots development because as we know, roots are photo-phobic plant parts.

After removing the plastic bag and started moving around the moss, I found many roots that where keeping the moss together compact.

Overall, the tree and its new root systems looked like this. To be honest, I was glad to find many roots there that I knew will be more than enough to sustain the separated tree, but disappointing was when I realized that the moss cannot be removed to comb out nicely the roots. When I insisted on removing the moss, I observed that the roots were so tangled in it that the risk of damaging them was inevitable.

So I cleaned out as much moss as I could without damaging the new fragile root system, and perform under-cut of the thick useless remaining trunk. The problem is that I knew at that moment that I will have to pot the tree with the moss package and with the roots chaotically tangled inside it. Another disadvantage of the moss is that it is a sterile moss and the instructions on the bag with which I bought it claims that it is treated to not rot. So I know that it will stay there close to the tree for a long time. Unfortunately, I had already done another airlayering on a Bougainvillea tree using sphagnum moss. However, I will never use it again for this purpose, and instead I will use a plastic container filled with flower potting soil that I know I am able to remove and place the new roots in proper positions.

The final product of the potting and pruning for preliminary stilling is depicted in the picture above. I did not do any wiring nor serious pruning to shape the tree in its final position. I pruned it just to give a preliminary architecture and leave enough leaves to help the new roots to establish in the new soil. Because in the middle of the pot, right under the tree there is the moss and around it towards the edge of the container is my classical bonsai soil mix, is another drawback because practically in the pot there are regions with different water uptake and different drying coefficients. This will make the watering process a little difficult but, it is as it is.

This entire process of separation took place in May 2018, as already said before. In July 2018, the tree was already getting into shape pushing new growth and letting me know for sure that the root system is working and developing new roots as well.

This is the way the tree looked in July 2018. I am planning on pruning it and wiring it in the end of August, starting of September and then let it grow over the winter till March 2019 when I will start pruning it back harder to work on the ramification more.

Hope this helps you and thanks for your visit!

Ficus forest spring pruning

Ficus forest spring pruning

This post is actually a progression of my forest projects that I started to present last year here: Ficus forest project – progression

As day light already lasts for at last 15-16 hours I considered it’s time to prune my ficus benjamina forests to promote back budding. For this process, I had a proactive approach as from last fall till now I continuously fertilized these trees to increase their strength – and in the same time preparing them for the heavy prune that I will show in this post. Simultaneos, I needed to clean the soil surface because as ficus trees grow, they drop the covers of the new leaves and these rot on the soil surface. In time, it creates an ugly black layer of dead material that, if kept indoors, it will mold, smell ugly and promote fungal issues.

Comparing to the pictures from the post I indicated in the begining you can see that there is quite some growth at this time.

Here is a closeup of the surface soil that is quite ugly and full of dirt and dead material from one season of growth.

Here is the second forest that I created last year. If you concentrate on the soil surface, you can see that here the black material is more aggressive and obvious. This tree as well had a very serious and vigorous growth for one season.

However, both forests are too large already and their branches overlap creating a barrier for the light reaching the lower branches. For this reason, as seen in the pictures, the development of the top of the canopy is more aggressive than of the bottom’s. This must be corrected by pruning now, on one hand, and by future back pruning of the top branches to encourage lower one’s development. Also, the height that the trees reached is over the one that I have envisioned so they will need to be reduced.

Hard pruning combined with partial defoliation was the approach that I did for these trees. For ficus trees, it is important to prune back in this case to 2 or 3 leaves to encourage ramification. A very important issue to consider is that not all the leaves will back bud, there are some that never back bud. A strategy to make sure you cut back to leaves that bud out is to let them start budding. I achieved this by fertilizing them as I already mentioned and letting the branches grow out. On any species of trees, a rule of thumb to promote back bud is to leave it grow long. If you do so, you can see when and where you have to prune, as back to the trunk as possible but always to an already existing bud that will ramify your tree. I cleaned the soil surface back to the clear clay particles that the trees are planted in. Now it remains to continue fertilizing, watering and keeping the trees in sunny condition.

If until now I left the trees to grow wild just to gather strength, from now on I will be more careful about ensuring its growth on the bottom branches and slower growth on the upper ones. This does not mean that I will prune back as soon as new branches appear on the top of the canopy, but I will decrease their growing power by cutting of leaves on these branches. This method ensures the energy distribution of the branches that have more leaves that those with fewer ones.

Hope this helps you and thanks for the visit!