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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Ficus defoliation and wiring

There hasn't been much going on the past week, mostly watering. It was 105+ for a week or so until Friday when we had a 20 degree drop in temperature. Its been a really strange summer weather wise for us. Mostly cooler than normal which I didn't mind. It got hot a week or so ago but this morning I wore a flannel shirt while watering! Go figure.
Before we get to today's subject I want to announce our annual Dog Days of Summer Sale here at Kimura Nursery from now until Labor day.  Everything is 10-25% off with some items such as in-stock bamboo at 50% off. So come on in -just in time to stock up for fall transplanting or that new fall project tree.
Today I want to talk about defoliation, what is it, and why we do it. The tree I'll be using to demonstrate on is a Narrow Leaf Ficus that is about 15-16 years old from a cutting. The tree has some inherent problems as a bonsai; some I can work with, others I have to live with. The biggest problems are the two lower branches. These are known as bar branches and can be problematic - with so much of the tree's energy being pulled into one area, the likelihood of reverse taper is great. If I were to just cut one off it would be even worse than doing nothing. It would effectively ruin the tree as a bonsai. Luckily, the base below these two branches being is as big as it is cuts down on the possibility of that happening before I can do something to correct the problem. I am considering doing what is known as a thread graft above those two to help create taper in the trunk and as a possible future replacement for one of the bar branches. I'm also considering an approach graft instead. One of these will be the subject of a future blog if I do it.
Defoliation is removing (in this case) all of the leaves of a tree. It can be done on most healthy deciduous and broadleaf evergreen trees. The main benefit of defoliation is that it very often helps to increase ramification. It also helps reduce the size of the next crop of leaves. It allows air and light to penetrate to the interior of the tree and to stimulate those buds that create the new ramification. It also makes it much easier to wire. I have to stress though that it can be very taxing on a tree to defoliate it so it is imperative any tree that you do this to is healthy and growing vigorously.
Here is the tree before any of the work. As you can see the root base is impressive and gives the appearance of an old powerful tree.

You can really see the bar branches here, as well as a better shot of the nebari.

The trunk above the two branches doesn't have any taper from above them until about 2/3rds of the way up the tree, which is one reason I'm considering a graft . In this next image the wiring has started and the tree is completely defoliated. The wiring is time consuming because I'm wiring just about every branch and twig on the tree.

Here is a shot looking down from the top. There is a bunch of wire on this tree! Since we still have a couple of months of active growing here I'll start checking the wire in about 30 days and will keep an eye on it so it doesn't scar.

Another shot of the wiring detail.

This is what we have at the end of all of this phase of the work:

I expect that in 2-3 weeks the tree will be completely leafed out again. I'll post a follow-up picture then.
That's it for todays post. As usual, comments and suggestions are always welcome.
And don't forget the sale through Labor Day at Kimura Bonsai Nursery - come on by!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Making a big bend

Todays post is about making large trunk bends. The material is a 12-15 year old grafted Atlas Cedar. The height is 48" and the width of the base at the soil line is about 2 3/4". The area above the graft has a slight reverse taper which I hope to be able to hide.
Here is the tree before work started.

The first step is to prepare the trunk for bending. I begin by wrapping wet raffia  tightly around the trunk being careful to overlap each turn so that there are no gaps.

After the raffia wrapping, I placed three large wires parallel to each other on the trunk to give added support to the area to be bent.

I then add more raffia on top of the wires at the areas where there will be the most stress. A piece of rebar is then placed on the trunk being tied on at the place where we want the bend to be . Because of the thickness of the trunk we need the extra leverage provided by the rebar.

Using the bar for leverage I make the first bend. I do this slowly and carefully listening for any cracking sounds. This is one slight cracking noise just before I stopped but it should be no problem. Its not the first crack that is of concern but the second one right after the first.

At this stage I use a guy wire from the tree to the top of the pot to hold the trunk in this position. I removed the rebar to reposition it for the next bend.
Again using the leverage provided by the rebar  I slowly bring the trunk further down towards the ground.  Again taking my time and listening carefully for any sounds of cracking. At this stage I use a wire tied around the pot and to the trunk to hold the tree in position.

Now I will use the guy wire to pull the trunk even closer to the pot. After I get it into the  desired position I lightly trim and  wire all the branches, and position them . You can see the difference from the above picture.
This will be the new front of the tree when it is repotted next spring. For the next couple of months I will leave the tree to recover from the stress of being turned upside down. By next March I anticipate that the tree will be healthy enough for repotting. Other than water and fertilizing and light pinching I won't be doing much until then.
This same technique can be used on pines, junipers and other trees as well.
I hope you enjoyed todays post. Please feel free to leave any comments.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Saved from the dumpster...a couple of times

The subject of today's post has an interesting story. This is a 25 or so year old San Jose Juniper that was originally styled by me in a workshop with John Naka in the early 90's. Sometime around 2004 it developed root rot and over the next couple of years the tree's health severely declined. One by one, major branches died, the nebari was starting to rot and the foliage that was left looked terrible. By 2008 it was more dead than alive; I almost threw it away then, but just couldn't part with it because it made me think of John. So I took it out of it's bonsai pot, cut off the dead roots and put it in a training pot. Off into the not-for-sale area it went to recover, and - I hate to admit - was promptly forgotten about again.
The other day I was back in the NFS area and saw it on a bench. It was a pitiful sight; it had fallen over on it's side and was hanging out of the pot, the pot was full of weeds and there were a lot of areas where the bark was just falling off. I picked it up to finally throw it out when my assistant said "It's about time you did something with that tree." That stirred up enough guilt that I decided to take a look and see if there was anything I could do.

The first couple of pictures show the sorry shape it was in when we started.

Here you can see where roots have died, the bark is peeling and the tree is laying sideways .

Here you can see the branches that died back as the roots died back.

The next step was to get the tree standing back up in the pot, and get the dead loose bark removed.

After the trunk was cleaned up and all the dead bark removed, the life line was visible once again, and the natural sharis that occurred because of so many branches dying back turned out to be beautiful - a feature that will be highlighted in the future.

So - I wired all the branches and moved them into place. And here is the result. Height 32"

This is what  I intended to be the front. I took a couple more photos to show the other sides and noticed a much better view of the deadwood and the curves in the trunk.
After noticing this I decided to change the front and to bring what was the apex down and created a new back branch and apex as well as reducing the height by about 8 inches.
Seen from new front. Height 24"

So far so good. I'm very pleased with the results and excited about giving this tree a new lease on life. For the next couple of months I'll just water and fertilize to let it start to recover its strength. This spring I'll pot in back into a proper bonsai pot and start pinching and trimming to fill out the foliage masses. If it responds well I'll do some work on the deadwood next summer and really bring out what I feel is the most dramatic feature of this tree.
I hope you enjoyed today's post and as always I welcome comments and suggestions for future projects.
Be on the look out for the next post where we make some big bends on a fairly large trunk.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Good things come in small packages

Today's post is about doing a drastic top and bottom reduction on a Ficus nerifolia or Willow leaf Ficus.
These trees were growing in 5 gallon cans as future bonsai material. In January of 2005 we had a - for us - major freeze in Los Angeles, especially where we are located, in the San Fernando Valley. For several nights in a row we got down to the mid 20's for several hours overnight. Needless to say most every ficus, bougainvillea and other tropical plant froze, most to the roots. There were tens millions of dollars in losses between nursery stock and citrus in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. I told my assistant to throw away all the dead trees.  We had hundreds, ranging in size from 4" pots to 15 gallon cans - most of them were rotted to the root ball, but several dozen managed to stop rotting part way from the base of the trunk. My assistant decided it was going to be his mission to save these trees. He cut them back to solid wood on the trunks, repotted them and hid them in the back of the nursery. A couple of years later they were growing back like gang busters.
I am going to do a workshop at the Golden State Bonsai Federation Convention in 2011 and was looking for material to use when I thought of these. As ficus tends to do, these trees grew large roots called tubers and had very ugly nebari or root bases.
I decided that I would do a major pruning of the roots with the idea of developing good nebari and shohin sized trees. It should be noted that ficus is one of the few varieties that you can do this kind of work on at this time of year.
This photo shows  one of them before any work. The tree is 11" tall and is 1 1/2" wide at the soil line.
Notice the large root on the right side, this makes for a very poor nebari.
First thing I did was to start to cleaning away soil from around the base of the tree. What I discovered was another couple of inches of trunk below the soil line.
I continued cleaning the soil from the base until I found where the lowest set of roots flared out from the trunk. I cut all the roots above this area off.
Having gotten the roots trimmed back to where they would form a good nebari, it was time to decide where to make the cut on the trunk to reduce the height. Besides reducing the height, we want to add taper to these trunk lines. At this stage I'm not too worried about the branches - they will grow all over from the trunk in the next year. Here's the tree after making the trunk cut.
The dark area at the bottom of the trunk is the area that was buried under the soil. The tree is now 5" tall and 2 3/4" across the base at the soil line. These trees bud out well even from old wood. By the time the workshop takes place there will be plenty of branches all over the trunk to use in designing the future tree.
I hope you enjoyed today's post. I welcome any comments or suggestions for future subjects.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

First styling on a CA Juniper

I guess by now everyone realizes I have a fondness for CA Junipers. I think they are some of the finest wild material available for bonsai in this country. They usually have very dramatic deadwood, the result of hundreds of years growing in high desert mountains.  Because of the growing conditions they can  sometimes get some amazing shapes in the trunks. Very often the combination of weather and insects create unbelievably incredible sculptures of the trunks.
This juniper was collected in Lancaster, CA in January 2007. I planted it in this pot right away. For the last few years it has just  been watered and fertilized and pretty much nothing else. The tree has very  interesting natural deadwood. There are several things about this tree that make designing a bonsai from it difficult.
First off all the branches pretty much come from the same place on the trunk and are pretty small. They are going to have to be moved around to create the foliage pads.

Also the best view and inclination of the trunk doesn't show the lifeline at all.

After cleaning up the trunk I decided on this as the front.

It has interesting movement and balance, also the lifeline is clearly visible. I had to remove some of the jin at the top of the trunk some I could bring the apex forward , then I needed to wire every branch so that I could place them in position in such a way that they look like they are on different levels.

After wiring and positioning the branches I cleaned the life line and deadwood with water and here is the result. The upper right side will take a little while to fill in but all things considered I'm pleased with the results. This coming spring I will repot the tree into a rough textured round pot.
Here is the result after todays work.

I hope you enjoyed todays project. I welcome any comments or suggestions for future posts.

Friday, August 6, 2010

A walk through the nursery

Today I thought I'd post a few pictures of some of the trees I've been working on and  of some  the nursery. Our nursery hase about 3/4's of an acre devoted to bonsai and material for bonsai. We have material from 1 gallon size trees started from cuttings to 15 gallon and larger sized trees . We  also have hundreds of partially trained olives, elms, junipers, hackberry and more  that are ready to go into a bonsai pot, needing only some refinement to be a fine tree. There is  an amazing selection of world class California Juniper and many other specimen bonsai that really need to be seen in person to be truly appreciated. We grow Japanese Black Pines for landscape use as well.
Here are some recent bonsai's that I've worked on, the small juniper was not so recent I think that was in February.

California Juniper before


A couple of CA Junipers

A little Procumbins nana  juniper before

and after

And now for a partial tour of the nursery.
Part of the specimen bonsai area

More of the specimen area

Some of our material

More material, these are all CA Oaks

Partially trained hackberries

And we'll close with a shot of our  ever hungry koi.

I hope you enjoyed todays photo's and that they make you want to come visit and see more.  We are always happy to have visitors so if you are ever in the area stop by. In the coming weeks, after the weather starts to cool I plan on a few how-to photo essays for beginners.
Please feel free to leave any comments or suggestions.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Off with it's head

As the title suggests, today's post is about reducing the height of a Slant Style California Juniper. Before the work begins, the tree is 48" tall. It's just too tall - I think it'll be a much better tree if its a foot shorter and not nearly as full. The amount of green foliage seems out of line with how much of the tree is deadwood. The live part is the dark vein running up the trunk; all the white area is completely dead. This tree was collected in the Palmdale, CA area in 1993 and first styled in 1998.
Here are a couple of images before work started:


After a few minutes of consideration I made my decision.

Now it's time to thin out the foliage and remove what is unnecessary. Also, we will bend the new apex into position.

It is now a matter of continuing to remove unnecessary branches and foliage as well as wiring.

Here it is at the end of this phase of the work.

Now the height is 36" and the tree is much better for it.
I'm really pleased with the results and think that this is a major improvement of this tree.
Please feel free to leave any comments or make suggestions for future posts.