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Monday, February 14, 2011

Creating a forest planting-part 2

 Happy Valentines Day.
Todays post will deal with finishing the work we started on the group of hackberries. I have to apologize  from the start for the lack of photo's along the way. Its a little hard to remember to stop and take photo's when you're bare rooting 27 trees by yourself. Some of the smaller ones are hidden behind the bigger ones but there are 27 of them in this photo.
The photo below shows the tools used in the process and the prepared pot.
From left to right the tools are; root hook, used for untangling and combing out roots, next is a root cutter used for cutting bigger roots, following that is a pair of shears for trimming the smaller roots. A branch cutter is next, followed by a potting trowel, used to tamp down the soil and to create an edge around the rim of the pot so the water doesn't just run off the pot. Then we have a couple of hemp brushes for cleaning and smoothing the soil surface. Above the rest are chopsticks for working the new soil into the roots. I like to use a different set of tools for work on the roots then I do for work in the tree. Working on roots can be tough on a cutting edge with all the soil your blades will encounter. By using separate tools I insure the tools I use on the branches etc are not damaged or dulled by the soil mix.
 I knew that I was going to have to reduce the root balls considerably in order to get all the trees in the pot. I literally bare rooted everything, combing and washing out all the existing soil and cut off a major portion of each rootball. I needed to keep enough roots to insure the health of the trees but also get enough soil and root removed to fit them in the pot.
The bigger trunked trees had all already been previously root pruned so I was able to reduce them very easily. They had no big heavy roots so it was just a matter of removing the soil and a good trimming back. This is more than enough root for this tree. Another objective of the root pruning was to get the root balls as flat as possible.

The smaller trees were treated the same way, bare rooted and cut back hard.

 There are not many photos of the root work because once I started on them I worked quickly to minimize the amount of time the roots were exposed. 

As each tree was bare rooted and trimmed I place it in a tub with a little water so the fine roots didn't dry out. Once I had all the root work done I started to place the trees in the pot. Again there are not many photos of this process, its really hard to remember to stop and take a photo and keep the trees in place at the same time.
The placement of trees in a forest planting can be a topic that generates much discussion. Some folks have specific "rules" they follow, others just put the trees in place wherever they feel like it. Personally I do it by instinct. I know its right for me when it feels right. I'll start with the biggest tree and pick a spot for it. All the others are placed based on that tree. A few guidelines are worth mentioning though. I think one of the most important things is to have a good variety of trunk sizes. Except for where they were clear cut and replanted you very rarely see forests with trees all the same size. Typically there are generations of trees growing in one area. The space between each trunk should vary as well, some trees should be closer, others further apart but try to avoid any kind of pattern.  Each tree is going to need its own space to grow in. The lower branches on the bigger trees are removed to make room for some of the shorter one to grow under them. 
Here I have placed the major trees in the pot. After quite a bit of trial and error I decided on this placement.

As each tree is put in place I use soil mix to hold it there. I'll first put a small mound of soil down where I want the tree and place the tree on the mound and work it down into the mix. Then I'll put more soil on top of the root ball and using the chopstick work it into the roots enough to keep the tree in place. I don't want to use too much mix at this point or it may become difficult to get the trees spaced correctly.

In the above photo most of the trees are in place. The ones on the outer edges lean outwards, while the ones towards the center of the forest are more upright. There is a variety of spaces between trunks, some right on top of each other others further away.  Here is a closer look at the spacing and orientation of the trunks.

Some frown on having any trunks that cross another, but that doesn't bother me. I think its more natural looking to let a trunk or two cross or lean. Below is another view from the left side of the planting.

 After spending about 45 minutes working soil mix into all the roots and insuring each tree was stable I watered the planting and covered the soil surface with decomposed granite. As the planting grows I'll add some moss in places to soften up the starkness of the soil and add to the naturalness of the scene.
Now I will let the planting settle and start to grow. This spring I'll let it grow unchecked until the end of March or so to let it regain strength and to generate more root growth. I'll lightly prune it then to avoid any branches growing too much and becoming out of proportion. Next spring I'll probably do some work on a few of the apexes and the branches. 
 Within a couple of years this planting will have a lush crown and quite a bit of ramification.  Hackberry leaves will reduce to about a 1/4 inch or less and will make a very believable and proportionate canopy.
They also ramify well so it will be a very attractive group in winter time with no leaves to hide the branching. By this time next year the roots will be growing into each other and they will start to function as one instead of individually for each tree. Within two years I'll need to transplant and I sholud be able to remove the entire planting from the pot as one unit.
I'll post some pictures in a month or so when this is fully leafed out.
I hope you all enjoyed this installment and maybe even become motivated to try your hand at a forest planting. 
As always I want to thank you for taking the time to read my blog and look forward to any questions or comments.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Creating a forest planting-part 1

 Todays project is going to be about preparing a group of trees for a forest planting.
 One advantage of forest plantings is that you can make use of trees that might otherwise be unsuitable for bonsai. Young trees, trees with defects such as no branching on one side or with poor nebari can all find a home for themselves in a forest planting. You can  use more developed trees as well.  It is important to have a large number of trees to choose from . They should have varying trunks sizes and heights. Many different kinds of trees can be used in forest plantings. Usually only one species is used, although if done carefully, mixed species can be used. Deciduous trees are more commonly used but conifers and broad leafed evergreens can also be used. There are no rules about the  proper number of trees to use,though usually it is an odd number and more than five trunks. Forest plantings are also very dramatic and  fascinating to people.
 The trees we are using are Celtis sinensis commonly called hackberries. They are similar to elms in many respects and are tough, forgiving trees. They are fast growing and develop good ramification in a short period of time. They easily reduce leaf size and lend themselves to cultivation as bonsai. One drawback is that they tend to lose some finer twigs over the winter, but these are easily replaced.
 The plan is to use 23-27 Hackberries of various sizes and ages planted together in an old Japanese pot. These are all cutting grown trees that range in age from 2 years to 10 years for the oldest tree.
Here are the trees and the pot before any work has been done.
 As you can see in the above image even these fairly undeveloped trees already have decent branching, although we will be cutting most of the existing ramification off. 

Before starting any work on the trees I get the pot prepared by washing it well and installing screen and wire clips in the drainage holes. The pot is an old Japanese one with a dark blue glaze. It is about 24" long by 15" wide by 1" deep.

 The next step will be to prepare the trees. The heights of all trees needs to be chosen and all of them trimmed. The trees need to  have varying heights with the number one tree having the biggest trunk and being the tallest. At this stage we are not too concerned with branching on the trees. We'll concern ourselves with creating new apexes. by pruning to a new branch or bud that can take over as the new top of the tree. Doing this not only gets the trees to the proper height by also creates and adds taper. In some cases we needed to use wire to bring a side branch up as a new apex. Our initial concern is going to be establishing trunk lines and getting all the trees into the pot. As the planting grows the branching will develop very quickly. In order to do this I fearlessly cut back not only the heights of the trees but most of their branches as well. Here are the trees after the initial  pruning and a little wiring. One note since these are fast growing trees the wire needs to be checked frequently to avoid scaring. 

Many of the smaller trees are hidden behind the taller cans, but all 27 trees are here. The trees range in height from 6-7 inches for the smallest ones up to 27 inches for the number one tree. Compared to the photo below they take up a lot less room now that they are pruned.

At this stage we are done for now. The next steps will be reducing the root balls and getting the trees placed and planted. That will be the focus of part two, in the next day or two.
 As always I welcome any thoughts or comments on todays project on on subjects you'd like to see in future posts.