As autumn is now already here for some time now, the leaves of my carpinus shohin trees got brown marking the end of this season and telling me that they went dormant till spring. Because I like to take my time when I prune my trees, I start pruning them from autumn gaining also space inside my cold shelter where I house the trees till temperatures are above freezing in spring.
Methodically I started this year with my smallest trees. These were all collected in March 2017. One season growth already established the trees in the pots and also gave me quite impressive elongation of the thin branches.
The tools that I use are classical bonsai pruners such as concave, knob, scissors and classical garden pruning scissors for very thick branches.
The first tree that I pruned is a multiple trunk with a very nice taper. This tree was extremely vigorous this year and it was mandatory to prune it in the summer too, even if this a habit that should be avoided in the first year after collecting from the wild. In the first picture is the tree before pruning and the next ones are after pruning, a front and bird’s eye view.
The real shohin carpinus trees that I have are quite small, they have a height of about 12-15cm and a diameter after pruning of about 20cm.
The next tree is my favorite one. I found it close to a field that often was visited by sheep and I thing its size is given by these continuously eating its new fresh growth year after year.I had to use thick wire to move thick branches into their final position. It was very challenging because carpinus wood is very hard to bent and I ha to put a lot of effort into it. But finally the branches reached their right position.
The last carpinus shogin is the smallest of all. I pruned it back quite hard to try and create dense ramification close to the main trunk. Hope that next year it will bud back on the remaining branches as expected.
I apply to all the cut wounds healing and callusing paste by this ensuring that water with diseases will not enter in the cut places and also this will increase the callusing process.
In January 2016 I bough from a supermarket a Ficus Benjamina Variegata that looked more like a bush at that moment. The choice was based on its multiple trunks and the final idea was to fuse them into one think trunk. I took good care of it, keeping it over the winter on a sunny window sill, fertilize it every second week, never prune it and let it elongate as wild as it felt to do so. By late Spring 2016 it grew quite a lot and probably doubled its height. I considered it is time to start working on it, motivated also by the ambient temperatures that were already increasing. Longer days with an abundance of sunlight were at my disposal now, so I had all the necessary ingredients to start the process of fusing the trunks.
Preliminary I pruned back the Ficus, and removed closely all the leaves from the branches.At that time I did not have at my disposal natural raffia so I used instead of it used hemp cord. As you can see in the picture below, after finalizing pruning and warping the tree. Using hemp cord proved to be a bad idea. At the lower side of the trunks, due to higher humidity as the cord is close to the soil, this rotted fast. Even this was no problem, but it promoted rotting of the trunks.
By early spring 2017, only one trunk remained. The rest of the rotted away and I removed them as deep as possible from the soil. One interesting thing is that one trunk fused to this remaining one. Its base rotted and now it is still there sicked to the main trunk. Details about this are depicted later in this post, just roll it down.
I was not too satisfied with the progression of the tree over an entire year. In early summer 2017 the tree looked more like a stick with some branches and leaves here and there. Far away from any of the initial ideas that I had with this tree. I knew at the moment what I had to do in order to thicken the main trunk and the side branches. I had to place the tree outside and expose it to continuously changing weather conditions such as rain, wind, sunshine, warm and colder rays. Especially wind, because it moves the trunk and the branches helps a lot in a fast thickening of the wood as it tries to repose to bending.
I wired with copper wire the branches into the desired positions and covered the soil with natural fertilizer and then with moss to make sure that humidity is kept constant when keeping the tree in full sun. This process started in May 2017. The tree was watered every other day, excepting rainy days when it was not necessary.
Wiring the branches into their correct position gave a nice distribution of the leaves both to ensure forming levels of branches with leaves and also making sure that sunlight penetrates and reaches the trunk and the leaves from all sides. A top view of the tree proves this. Too long branches were pruned to keep a nice harmonic overall shape of the tree.
Thicker branches required doubling the wire to make sure that those will stay in the desired position. In the picture below one can observe that the top branches were bent to form lateral pads. To create the force and the tension in the wire required to bend them and to make sure that aggressive windy days will not move the branches in other position, doubling the wire has to start from the trunk creating few spirals around it and only after that to be wired around a specific branch.
As expected, by early fall (September 2017) the tree had a serious evolution. The trunk and the branches thickened a lot. The base of the trunk actually doubled its diameter. As it can be seen in the picture below, the process was so aggressive that the wires cut inside the wood, in some regions of the tree they were so deep that the actual bark of the tree was maybe 1mm higher than the wire. I know, the wires should have been removed much earlier to avoid scars in the bark. My experience with Ficus species proved that such scars are many times advantageous.
On Ficus species, such scars will heal in less than 6 months completely. The nice thing when healing is that on the surface of the bark a texture remains uneven due to those former scars and this by all means adds to the value of the tree and proves to compensate the simple bark present of Ficus species. So, to be honest, I left intentionally the wire there to bite in and create those scars. I always do so!
I was writing earlier about the fusion of a former complete trunk with the main trunk of the tree. In the picture below one can see where the old trunk was cut of as it was dead and rotting. It is fused to the main trunk, it has branches and leaves and lives very well. Even more, when I wrapped it for the first time with hemp cord, I passed between the two trunks a branch and now it is growing from that fusion point, as it can be seen in the picture below.
As the temperatures outside are quite low now, the tree was moved inside. I have removed all the wires of the tree in order to start the healing of the scars. However, branches that still were not in the desired position were rewired making sure the new wire is not inside the scars created by the former wires that held the branch through Summer. In the picture below, the pads formed are already visible on the Ficus tree. Of course there is much more work to do, but comparing the overall design of the tree now, with the moment at the beginning of Summer, one can say that a big step forward was made.
From the roots there are two new trunks that I intend to use to create a new lower level of the tree. I wired these too into the right position and trimmed some of the branches that were growing strait up. All that it remains now is to winter the tree inside, keep it warm, in sunny window sill and fertilize it with liquid fertilizer every two weeks. In 2018 I will move again the tree outside and repeat the experience from this year. Doing this, I think that in 2 or 3 years I will have a quite nice tree ready to be called bonsai by all means.
In spring 2017 I collected an abundance of species from the surrounding of Cluj Napoca. Nearly all the collected material survived and some of them grew quite vigorously through the 2017 season. I have lost an Oak, one Carpinus and one Field Maple. The remaining ones suffered some sunburn in mid August due to extremely high temperatures.
In the pictures below there is a huge Carpinus that I have found on a top of a rocky hill. After pruning it back heavily I was amazed by the structure of the tree. That was the moment when I decided that even if it is a big stub, I have to take it home, against my habit of orienting my developments in the region of shohin style. The pictures were taken just few minutes before starting to dig around it. Collecting the tree was a very time and effort consuming job to save as much root-ball as possible.
After potting the tree, it bud out quite slow. However, after it did, I applied a light dosage of fertilizer and it started to grow extremely fast and vigorously. The picture below was taken few days ago (October 2017). The tree was left to grow wild for the entire year to stabilize a new root-ball. It did and I know that because the drainage tray under it, in mid summer, was already full of feeder roots. I cut them back to motivate the tree to replace those with new ones inside the plastic pot that was placed into.
Another Carpinus collected in Spring 2017 is in the pictures below. This tree proved to be the most vigorous tree of all. Immediately after collecting and potting it, it started growing very vigorously. By end of spring, it had shoots with 5-10 leaves. Only because I realized that the tree is strong, I pushed the limits and pruned back the new shoots to two leaves. Normally, in the first year it is not recommended to do so because the tree needs the leaves to create sugars and carbohydrates to grow new roots and to prepare for winter dormancy. However, I new that this tree will be able to take a new pruning. It did, and now, in fall, it has new growth that is more than enough to prepare the tree for dormancy.
Still in the Carpinus Yamadori universe, I collected in Spring a shohin tree that was already “styled” by the sheep that feed with its leaves year after year. It has a nice short and quite thick trunk, movement in the branches and a dense ramification from thick to thin to thinnest. It grew very nicely over the spring and summer. In August however, it suffered sun burn, still visible in the last pictures. At that moment I thought that only the Sun was responsible for the burn. I know now as a fact that I had 50% of the quilt because I did not reduce the fertilizer quantity in the hot days. This made impossible the uptake of sufficient water by the roots to serve the transpiration at the leaves surface.
Still in Spring 2017, I collected two Fagus (Beech) Yamadori. Both are in the range of shohin stye with nice movement in the trunks and quite dense ramification. One of them (visible in the last picture) has a tendency of reverse taper. This did not stopped me to collect it. The plan is to work on the ramification of the tree for the next one or two years. In this time the tree will stabilize well in the pot and I will perform an airlayering in the area where the reverse taper stars. Using a thick copper wire around the cutting performed for the airlayer, I will promote a nice nebari that will complete the structure of the tree.
I am a fan of Acacia bonsai. I just love the trunks of Acacia trees how they look extremely aged due to the rugged bark. I collected a tree and potted it in a taller container as it had quite long thick roots. From the original structure (first picture) I had a die back of of one branch, and somehow I lost half of the canopy. At the moment I was disappointed. The problem was solved one evening when I tilted the tree and saw a new very nice angle that I was getting in this new position. So, when I will repot the tree, I will fix the new angle by the tree’s new position in shallow pot. I will probably repot this tree in the spring of 2019. The deadwood on the lower side of the trunk comes in addition to the tree’s overall value.
Walking the woods, I found a very nice Fern (Asplenium trichomanes) with small leaves. It already grows now for two years in this pot. I collected it with soil from around it, taking even some rocks and rotting leaves with this soil. It seems to be liking it in this pot. I keep the fern out of direct sunlight and I give it once in a while liquid fertilizer.
Starting spring I will continue such series with progression of these trees and also others that were not included in this post. Pruning, wiring, carving and repotting stories will continue the one I have started today.
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.