Spring is just about over, and that means certain bonsai chores need doing. It’s a pretty sure bet that a lot of wire applied in winter-spring is cutting in about now, so going around removing wire is a task that tends to occupy a part of your time over the course of two to four weeks depending on species and how rapid the growth has been. I always get some wire marks, no matter how closely I watch things. As long as the marks aren’t too deep, they grow out in a couple of seasons.
Another chore is initial training of certain trees that are intended to go out as partly or fully trained specimens. This bald cypress is a good example. It was collected in February of this year and direct-potted into this very nice Byron Myrick oval. Since then it’s grown like cypresses do – tall and fast, with strong apical dominance. In fact, the top has been strong at the expense of the lower branches. I can’t afford to let this go on or the lower branches will weaken and possibly die. So I have to restore the balance of growth.
About 15 minutes later, here’s what I ended up with. The lone apical shoot has thickened very well; I do need to let it continue to run this year. Next spring I’ll do some work on the original chop so that as the callus tissue swells I won’t get a reserve taper. Meanwhile, I’ll continue pinching the growth in the upper reaches of the tree while allowing the lower branches to run and thicken.
Here’s a shot of the sweetgum forest I first put together last month. I only lost two of the smaller trees, which I’ve since replaced. The remainder have budded back out, so I’ll let them grow out the rest of 2015 and then start doing some refinement pruning in 2016.
Finally, here’s a water oak I collected back in Winter 2014. I don’t recall why I collected it; I usually only look for trees with a trunk line already established, that only require building a branch structure and a new apex. But no matter, it found its way here and lived and grew, so I owed it to the tree to go ahead and do the developmental work needed to get it on its way to becoming a bonsai. Besides, I love oak bonsai and have quite a few in the ground fattening up. Nothing wrong with one already in a nursery pot.
This next step is a challenge for many new bonsai enthusiasts. Beginning with the tree above, what do you do? The most common tendency (mistake) is to try and wire a tree structure with the shoots that have regrown following collection/chop. This is the fast and easy – but wrong – approach.
Building a bonsai from the ground up requires, first of all, a vision of the future tree. We’re all familiar with certain principles of bonsai: trunk tapering from soil level to apex; trunk movement that suggests the normal vicissitudes of a tree struggling to grow against all odds; and a branch structure that makes both horticultural as well as artistic sense. Starting with the tree above, it might be hard to see where to begin this process. The photo at left is intended to show the right (and painstaking) second step in getting from ho-hum collected trunk to the eventual proper design. It just took courage in cutting, which is often a big stumbling block. (I think you may be able to see the carving I did after selecting my new leader. As the new leader grows and the cut begins to heal over, I should get a nice smooth transition.)
Here’s a rule of thumb that will never lead you astray: when chopping a trunk or branch that has no/little taper or that ceases to be interesting, measure the diameter at the base and then measure out three diameters from the originating point (plus or minus a little bit). That’s where you make your cut. If you look closely at this photo, you’ll see that the original trunk measures roughly three basal diameters to the new leader that emerges from it, and that that leader is roughly three basal diameters in length to the point where it’s been cut, and I’ve wired up a new leader which I’ll let run for the remainder of the 2015 growing season. And next year? You guessed it: it gets cut back to three basal diameters in length.
What about a branch structure? At some point I’ll be selecting appropriate shoots to wire into position. I don’t have to create the entire trunk structure before doing this, just the base of the tree. Once I get this right, the rest should fall into place.
Stay tuned for updates.