Disaster brings change

The top of one of my shimpaku junipers got more and more pale over the past month or so. I was pretty sure there was nothing I could do to halt this. Once a juniper starts to change colour like this it is way too late to reverse the problem so I just watched and waited to see what would happen.

Eventually it became obvious that the entire top of the tree was dying.

When something like this happens there’s no point throwing a tantrum. Nothing can reverse death. It is time to look at what I still have and what can be done to move forward.

Closer examination show that the lower branches are still healthy and growing well.

Even closer examination of the trunk reveals a hidden dead part. It is probably the result of damage from previous trunk bending but is hidden under bark so went unnoticed.

That dead patch just happens to be in the centre of the live part I have retained when making the shari on the trunk. Last time I widened the shari I have unknowingly removed the last live part connecting the lower trunk to the upper part. Of course the tree cannot live without a direct connection between roots and foliage for sap transport so the section of tree above the damaged part has slowly died.

What to do now?

I can now see 2 positives from this change. The dead part of the trunk has very nice random bends and twists and could make a really good jin. The remaining live part of the tree is now short enough to qualify for a shohin sized tree.

First step is to strip the dead foliage and bark from the dead part of the trunk.

So far so good. I may not keep all of that jin but it is an option for future styling.

The remaining tree now appears quite wide because of the reduction in height. The remaining branches will need to be shortened and/or relocated to fit in with the new size. I can see a couple of possible options but will continue to consider this tree’s restyling for a few weeks before making further changes.

Root on Rock shimpaku

I started this bonsai as an entry in an Ausbonsai shohin competition in 2016. You can follow the original development in this Ausbonsai thread but you will need to log in to view the pictures. – https://www.ausbonsai.com.au/forum/viewtopic.php?f=158&t=22305

Trees planted on rocks often don’t do well because the rocks act as a wick to suck moisture away from the roots. This tree is also in a very shallow pot and has no potting mix or soil. Just gravel in the tray. I think it has survived so well because the pot is actually a suiban – tray with no drain holes – so when it is watered th tray holds a small reservoir of moisture for long enough for the trees to get a good drink before the water evaporates.

All 3 trees have grown quite a bit over the last year or so and it is in need of a trim. i was not entirely happy with the original style but there was not enough on any of the trees to make changes. Now it is time for a restyle.

Currently all 3 trees flow in different directions and each tree also has several conflicting branch directions but now the trunks and branches have grown enough to allow some to be removed or converted to small jins.

after pruning and wiring

The top tree is now shorter to simplify the outline of the group as a whole and the others have been reduced in proportion. I’ve also redirected all the trees in a single common direction – hopefully that will convey a more consistent idea of wind and conditions in this landscape.

There’s not a lot left right now but if these trees continue to grow as they have it should not be long before they are full and bushy again.

I would like to develop at least 2 separate foliage pads on each of these trees as they grow to add some further complexity to the arrangement. The jins are still pretty thin so they may not actually last many years. I’ll still paint with lime sulphur and see what happens.

Collecting Banksia

Banksias are a great Australian native species for bonsai. Not only are they an iconic Aussie plant but they also respond well to bonsai culture and techniques.

Here at Shibui Bonsai I have been experimenting with timing and techniques for common banksia species. So far I have found that they can tolerate radical root reduction provided it is done at a suitable time of year. Some years ago I investigated this by root pruning a couple of seedlings of Banksia integrifolia each month to see how they reacted. Seedlings that were root pruned in October and November grew strongly afterward. Seedlings that were root pruned in the heat of summer – December, January and February also grew strongly afterward despite having active new shoots on the plants. Seedlings that I root pruned in March and April as temperatures dropped in Autumn responded poorly with no new shoots, some even dropping most remaining leaves. those plants did survive and, eventually, started to grow the following summer but were left well behind their siblings.

From those trials I concluded that banksias respond best to root pruning in warmer weather. Since then I’ve repotted my banksias in late spring or summer and have no trouble with the trees post repotting. I repot even when there is active growth on the trees.

Since then I have also tried growing banksias in the ground to increase growth rates with mixed success. It seems that banksias grow and thicken rapidly even when kept in containers. Ground growing reduces the amount of care and watering but does not significantly increase growth rates of the banksia species I’ve tried in my climate.

This year, after a trial last season, I collected self sown banksias. These come up through our garden beds from seed dropped by the larger trees we planted years ago. After a couple of years they get just a bit big for the head gardener to overlook and she starts to agitate for removal. I’m happy to oblige. All the banksias I collected this year came from beds that do not receive additional water so they have all survived on natural rainfall up to this stage. They are probably 3-5 years old.

Here’s one of these banksias. I’ve chosen this one only because I really cut back the roots on this one. Far more than usual just to see how it would respond. These banksias were pruned about 3 weeks before I intended to dig the trees. This is probably not strictly necessary as earlier trials showed that digging and pruning the top in one operation was also successful.

At the time I dug this one it had new shoots just starting to grow from dormant buds on the trunk. This one was dug on December 10th 2019. For a couple of days after daytime temperatures dropped to the low 30s C then rose again into the low 40s C the following week.

active growth at the time of digging

The ground was hard and dry at the time so it was tough going getting this one out. The fact they will tolerate severe root reduction is a bonus as the hole required can be smaller.

Out at last!
Plenty of roots.

I could have opted for a larger box to fit the mass of roots but, as mentioned above, I decided to test the response to severe root pruning at the time of transplant so I cut back the roots enough to fit into a 30 cm orchid pot.

after reducing the roots
potted up

You can see that this trunk is quite large and very tall. I do not usually tie plants into the pots but this one was too unstable to move so I’ve tied it tightly to the pot so it won’t topple over.

After an initial watering the trees were placed just under the nursery benches where they will get regular watering and afternoon shade.

It is now 2 months since this banksia was dug, pruned and potted. A couple of those fresh shoots shrivelled and died but the remainder have continued to grow slowly and are still alive.

Other similar banksias dug around the same time have also continued to grow. These are also in 30 cm orchid pots but had less roots removed at transplant.

Banksias can be rewarding plants as bonsai. I believe this trial shows that ground grown banksias are quite tolerant of transplant and corresponding root reduction, at least during the warmer months.