You can style a Spekboom bonsai just about any time. The nice thing about them is, they’ll keep on growing right through winter with the right conditions.
So it’s winter now, and the only things I’ve got that are growing are my Spekbooms and (to a very slight degree) my Rubber trees. One thing I’ve come to understand about the Spekboom (Portulacaria afra, or Dwarf jade) is that all it needs to grow is some heat and light, with minimal water and a little fertiflizer. I’ve had these guys both in my house and my new shipping shed (which I fondly call the Shipping Department), since they won’t take but a light freeze and I don’t like to take chances. Yes, I’ve also schlepped them back outside when the temperatures have gotten back above freezing, and that does help. But the growth just hasn’t stopped.
This tree put on a good bit of heft this year, and it’s a nice looking little specimen. The base is now 3/4″ across, and it stands 10-1/2″ tall. And you can see that this tree has grown with nice, gentle trunk curvature and good taper. So it’s on its way. But it does need some branch styling.
The main issues with the branching on this tree are two-fold: one, they’re all trying to grow upward (and that’s a bonsai no-no); and two, since Spekboom produces opposite leaves and hence branches, there are the inevitable bar-branches that have to get removed.
In this shot, the first two branches are wired and repositioned.
Continuing higher, the next two branches are wired and brought downward, with some movement introduced as with the first two.
You may notice that the wiring is somewhat “loose” on this tree. Spekboom is not like most of the trees you’ll wire in your bonsi endeavors; their growth is quite tender, meaning you can shape the branches but they can snap if you overdo it, and you’ll inevitably knock off some leaves and smaller shoots. You’ll see proof positive of this principle in that small shoot lying on the soil surface. The loose wiring is just a way of being as careful as I can.
In this shot I’ve wired the next two branches, plus I’ve removed a bar branch that emerged from the trunk behind that semi-front-facing branch I wanted to keep.
Getting closer to the top now. If you study this progression of photos, you’ll likely be struck by the opening up of the interior of the tree. This is a principle of bonsai design that is often neglected in the pursuit of ramification and dense foliage masses on our trees. Remember John Naka’s observation that bonsai should have spaces for the birds to fly through. In the wild, large trees are not large hedge bushes. There are indeed spaces for the birds to fly through, and our ability to see a suitable amount of the trunk and branch superstructure lends to the believability of our trees. I’ve advanced the design of this tree very nicely, just by keeping to this principle.
Now I’m just about to the top of this specimen, and with the light fading for today I’ll have to put off completing my work until tomorrow. I’ll update this blog once I’ve finished. You may be surprised by what I do, so do tune back in.
Here’s the answer. If you look closely at the photo above, you’ll notice that there is a loss of taper in the very top of the tree. The cure for this is to cut back to restore the taper, and that’s what I’ve done here. I’ve also added some trunk movement right at the very top, which will become more important as the apex resumes its growth.
With the reduction at the top, I then had two branches just below that were a bit long so I trimmed them back. Now I’ve got a good working silhouette!
Let me know what you think.