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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Repotting from A to Z

It's just about that time of year for most people to start thinking about the upcoming repotting season. Here in Los Angeles we've been at it for 2 months already! I figure now is a good time to do a comprehensive post on repotting.
First things first you should have everything you need at hand before starting. There's nothing worse then having a tree out of the pot and not finding your screen for the holes, or that your don't have enough soil mix, etc..
What we have above is premixed soil-more on the mix later- a sieve and scoop,a bamboo brush, wire cutters, pliers, hose for protecting roots from tie wires, a trowel, scissors, root cutter and a chop stick. Not pictured are tie wires and screens for the drain holes but more on that in a bit .
The tree we're going to work on today is a San Jose Juniper then I've been working on for about 7-8 years from a 15 gallon sized plant. It's been repotted a number of times so it has a good root system. Here it is before any work.
 And after a quick trim.

Ok so I have everything ready and have decided I'm going to put this in a little shallower pot. So before I do anything to the tree I want to prepare my pot. First I wash it out. Next I cut some wire screen to cover the drainage holes. Then I prepare the clips to hold the screen in. The photos below show this process step by step.

Start with a piece of wire several inches long.

 Bend to form a S shape.
 Bend one leg over one end leaving a little tab. Do the same on the other side.
 Make sure the space between legs is the same as the size of the hole. Its important that the legs rest against the wall of the pot so the screen doesn't get pulled out while tying the tree in later.
 Bend the legs down so so have two legs, with the tabs flat.
 Put though screen then through drain hole. Note the wire is right on the edge of the pot.
 From inside the pot.
 Next we're going to put in the tie wires. I always use two wires.
 The wires get place through the bottom of the pot up through the drain holes and screen. Again it is important that the wire be on the wall of the pot.
 I put the wires in so that one side is longer then the other. I do the same with the second wire making sure that the long side is opposite the short side of the first wire.

Now the pot is ready. Before I can take the tree out I cut the tie wires and
I use a repotting sickle to loosen the tree from the sides of the pot.
 Once loosened the tree is gently pulled from the pot disturbing the roots as little as possible.
 As can be seen below the root ball is still intact.
 If I were using the same pot I would remove the tree and cover the roots with wet towels while preparing the pot.

Next using a chop stick I remove some of the old soil from the top of the rootball. This is important because it removes old crusted fertilizer, old compacted soil etc.. Also if there are a lot of fine roots on the top of the rootball that means I can probably take a little more from the bottom.

After cleaning the top I start to gently comb out the sides of the rootball then the bottom. As you can see there are lots of nice healthy roots hanging from the sides but not too many straight down from the bottom.
 After trimming the long roots we are left with a perfect rootball. Relatively small, flat and filled with healthy fine feeder roots. This is the result of several proper transplants.
As you can see the new pot is considerably shallower then the old one.
 I place the tree in the pot to be sure it'll fit and have room for new soil.

Then I remove the tree, put a layer of soil in the bottom of the pot and a mound in the center. The reason for the mound is that there is a little depression right under the trunk from removing the old nursery soil. 
Even though we screen the soil when we make itI like to screen one more time just before I use it.
 I place the tree on top of the mound of soil and really work it down by pushing and twisting side to side to make sure the soil fills any voids there may be.
Next I check it's position in the pot making sure it is the way I want it to be.
 I check again that there is room all around for new soil and the position one final time.
Next is tying the tie into the pot. I use number 2 aluminum wire and place them as described earlier.
Always make sure that each wire is tied to itself not the other wire. This way when you pull the slack out you are tightening the wire. I take the long end of a wire , bring it across the front of the rootball and tie it to the short end of the same wire.

Then I do the same thing on the opposite side. I pull the slack out of the wires relax the pressure a bit a twist them together until tight. Releasing the pressure when twisting lessens the chance of breaking the wire .
 You'll notice that there are two pieces of wire sticking up on both sides and opposite ends of the rootball. Cut one off and attach it to the wire on the other side of the pot so it looks like the picture below.

Then take those two wires pull them across the rootball and tie to each other.

 Do the same on the other end. The result is that your rootball is firmly tied into the pot on all four sides as shown below.

Now add soil and work in with a chop stick being sure to fill any voids. 

After the soil is worked in finish by going around the edges with a trowel is insure there is a lip to catch the water all around the pot. If there is no lip because of too much soil a lot of water just runs over the edge.

There should be absolutely no movement if  the tying was done correctly.
Now water thoroughly including the foliage. Water until the water is coming out of the bottom of the pot, clear, as fast as you're putting it in. When the water is clear it means any leftover dust is flushed out.

And that is how you repot a bonsai.
A word about soil mixes- there are a jillion mixes used for bonsai. Everyone has to find their favorite based on local product availability, need for water retention or drainage  and a bunch of other factors. For me on my conifer bonsai I use the following- 1 part small akadama, 1 part large akadama, 2 parts lava rock and two parts washed pumice- this works for me very well.
Here is the tree after it's haircut and repotting.
I hope that you all find this post useful. As always I welcome any comments or suggestions for future posts. Until next time.....

Friday, January 31, 2014

San Jose Juniper Styling

Today I'm going to work on an old San Jose Juniper that I traded someone some bonsai services for in  2011. When I first received it, it was in dire need of repotting and pruning. It had been at least 10 years since its last repotting. To top it all off it also had spider mites. But I knew there was a nice tree in there so I decided to make the trade.
I don't have any pictures from that period but it was treated for the mites, pruned and repotted into good bonsai soil. Then it was allowed to just grow mostly unchecked since then.
Here is the tree just prior to the start of this work. You can see the natural shari on the lower left part of the trunk.

Here it is from the other side-it is not so easy to see but there is also some nice deadwood on this side. The deadwood will become a major feature of the bonsai.

As you can see from the next shot a lot of the branching is straight as an arrow and about pencil thickness, this is going to have to be dealt with.

I cleaned up the deadwood a little and cut off and jinned one major branch that I knew would not be used. I created new shari where old branches had been cut and the sap had started to withdraw. I think this will help people see the trunk and live and dead wood better. I also lime sulphured the old and new deadwood to make it stand out a little. Here are some shoots of a couple possible fronts.

Because the branches were so old and brittle I had to use a lot of raffia in order to bend and place the branches without breaking them.

After wrapping and wiring the branching was able to be moved into appropriate places.
They were lowered and then held in place with guy wires.

After all the wiring and placing of branches excess foliage was trimmed and some of the secondary branches were put into place. 
Here is the result of this phase of the work. I think that we're well on the way to creating a really nice bonsai from this.
For the rest of this season the tree will be fertilized and allowed to grow out a little. Probably in late April or early May I'll do another slight trimming and wiring of some of the tertiary branching.
Thanks for reading my posts. I look forward to any comments, questions or suggestions.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Work on a large Hackberry

First of all I'd like to wish everyone a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year filled with happy, healthy little trees.
Todays post is about the initial work on a large hackberry (Celtis sinensis) for a client.
This is a large tree that needs lots of work to become a bonsai.
Here it is before any work.

You can see that there is no refinement, long branches with no ramification and too many trunks.
The first step is to reduce the number of trunks and cut back all the branches in preparation to building a new more refined branch structure.
Here it is after the extra trunks are removed.

The next step is to start the work of reducing and disguising the large cuts left from the trunk removals. Here I've started to reduce the cuts and carve them so that they will either eventually heal over or be turned into a feature of the design by creating hollow trunks.
This is after the initial carving work. Back of tree.

Tentative front

 Now comes the fun part- repotting this monster. It is so heavy that we needed to use an engine hoist to lift it out of the pot and to work on the roots.

Here is the new pot sitting on the old pot. It's quite a bit smaller and a lot lighter.
The rootball before reduction.
And after the root work.
As you can see it has been reduced quite a bit. This tree had a very good compact root system with almost no heavy roots.
And here it is in it's new pot. This is the end of the work for now. This year will be all about  starting to develop a nicely ramified branch structure and refining the carving and large cuts.
Back of tree.
And the new front.

I hope that everyone enjoyed todays post. As always I welcome any comments.