Root over Rock

I’ve done some previous posts on how to start root over rock trees. Try these links to find a couple of articles on early ROR development Shibui Bonsai style. https://shibuibonsai.com.au/?p=1807 https://shibuibonsai.com.au/?p=188

Today as I was digging this year’s new ROR tridents from the grow beds I realised I have probably not followed up with subsequent care so this one adds some more second and third year info.

These root over rock tridents have now had a full year in the grow beds. Trunks have thickened well but what about those roots?

Unwrapped to check progress.

The roots on these 3 have a firm grip on the rocks and have thickened well.

There are many things that can go wrong during ROR development. Here are a couple.

The root marked with a blue line goes under the other roots. As it thickens it will lift the upper root away from the rock and leave an unwanted gap.

Here you can see the space that root has already made in just 1 year. I’ve wrapped this in foil again and fingers crossed the roots will fuse and stop pushing away. Much better to ensure that major roots don’t overlap when putting your ROR together right at the start.

This time the roots are not wrapped right round the rock so they don’t hold on well. The rock drops out if I don’t hold it carefully. As the roots thicken they’ll just push the rock out of the roots.

The reverse side of the same ROR. Some of the outer roots are still flexible enough to move so I’ll try to wrap them further round to try to grab the rock tight then wrap it again.

Now for pruning: Root over rock bonsai show a tree that’s grown in adverse circumstances – either on a mountain cliff or where erosion is severe. Trees in such areas are unlikely to grow tall and straight so I’m always looking for places to add bends and taper to the trunks. Here’s one that shows the initial pruning process.

Side 1: The trunk has some nice low curves but then splits into 2 thick trunks above. Roots look OK this side

reverse side: One strong dominant root on this side and look how straight and strong the upper part appears from this side.

I’ve selected the first side and pruned the entire rear part away. The front branch now adds another bend to the trunk as well as taper. That upper section is longer than I’d like. I’m hoping for new side shoots to grow after this pruning. Fingers crossed I will be able to chop back to one next year.

From the back: The cut will take a year or so to heal over. Cutting here may even slow the growth of that thick root and allow some others to catch up.

Bare root seedlings – winter supply only

It is winter again and that means bare root seedling time at Shibui Bonsai.

Those who have purchased before will note a price increase this year. It was just not worth the time to collect the smaller seedlings at the previous price of 50c each.

Growers in West Australia and Tasmania will be aware that state Quarantine laws prohibit us sending live trees and most seed to your states. While this can be frustrating for individuals, these regulations are to protect you from many of the pests and diseases we have to contend with here in the Eastern mainland states.

Most of these seedlings have never been pruned so trunks are usually tall and straight with few side branches. Roots have not been pruned. Some have good lateral roots, others just have the early tap root. Fortunately tridents grow new roots very well so the roots can be chopped really hard with full confidence they will grow new lateral roots.

All these seedlings will be sent bare root. Roots are wrapped in wet newspaper and a plastic bag to retain moisture during delivery. Trunks will be chopped to around 40cm long to facilitate packing. Bare root seedlings are only available while they are dormant through winter – usually July and August.

Smaller seedlings $1 each. Trunk thickness up to around 3mm thick. These are flexible enough to bend if you want to try to create twisted type trident trunks or plait them to fuse together. They are suitable as smaller trees in groups and ideal to thread through holes drilled in sheet metal to promote future nebari.

Medium $2 each. Trunks from 3mm to around 6mm thick. Great to thread though metal plates as the first stage of developing great nebari.

Large $5 each. Trunks around 6-10mm thick. Too thick to bend but these are a good start toward growing larger trunks in grow boxes or in the ground. Also good as focal trees in a group planting.

Forest packs $30 each. I select a range of trunk thickness that will suit a starter group planting. Typically a group pack will have 2 large trunks, 8 medium and 10 smaller tridents. These have been very popular so only available while stocks last.

Extra large POA. These are still ‘feral’ seedlings that have grown unnoticed behind sheds or hidden among garden plants so they’ve had a chance to get a bit thicker. Please be aware that these have never had any pruning or root work so roots may or may not be ideal for bonsai. Trunks may have little taper. Bigger is not always better for bonsai.

I can also select trident seedlings to various other criteria. If you want seedlings to approach graft roots on another tree then seedlings with a low bend work better. Seedlings with bends might suit your plans better than straight trunks or really skinny trunks that are still flexible enough to wire and bend extensively. Seedlings with long roots might be useful for root over rock bonsai. If you have a project let me know and I’ll try to offer advice and find the right seedlings that will suit you best.

Seedlings with low bends are good for approach grafting new roots onto existing trees.

Seedlings with existing bends. Some will have more bends while others will have gentle bends like these. Please specify small or medium size.

Japanese maples are much slower to grow. We still get good numbers of self sown seedlings growing in the garden beds but they typically only get to 3mm thick and around 10-15 cm tall in the first year. There are some Japanese maple seedlings a bit older and thicker but nowhere near as many as tridents. Small – under 3mm thick $2 and larger $5 each duet to numbers, ages and higher demand. Buyers should also note that the Japanese maple seedlings offered come from a wide variety of Japanese maple varieties. Some will have red summer leaves, some green. You may get some with brilliant red autumn leaves while others might be yellow and there’s no telling whether any will be strong growers or have long or short internodes.

I can also supply seed for those who enjoy the magic of germinating seeds and start bonsai from scratch. Japanese or trident maple seed: 10 seeds $3, 20 seeds $5, 50 seeds $10 or 100 seeds $20.

Japanese maples are notoriously variable when grown from seed. Cross pollination between different types in the garden also means there’s no way of knowing which seedings will look like the parent and which could be different but that’s one of the great things about growing from seed – there’s always the chance of growing a special type. Every new seedling is a new and unique cultivar because every seedling has a new combination of genes from each parent. Named cultivars cannot be grown from seed so don’t ask for seed from specific named Japanese maple varieties. If you are really determined to try to grow Japanese maples with specific traits, the best I can do is select seed from trees with broad characteristics such as red leaves, dwarf habit, etc but please be aware that these traits may or may not show up in all (or any?) of your seedlings.

As usual delivery will be through Aust post. I’m using express delivery this year as we experienced some delays with regular post last season. Packages under 1kg typically up to around 20 smaller seedlings are usually around $15. Allow around $20 for most orders but packs with more than 100 or some larger trunks are heavier and larger so delivery price can be higher. Post cost also depends on your location so please advise your postcode or address so I can calculate delivery price for your order.

email orders to: neil@shibuibonsai.com.au

Developing shohin bonsai

Occasionally my back reminds me I’m not as young as I once was. I can still do most things but the message is clear: think about downsizing the bonsai.

Large bonsai look spectacular. There’s no doubt where the eyes go at any bonsai show and it is usually backed up by the peoples choice votes. Bigger bonsai give us the potential to catch eyes with thick trunks and real ramification but the downside is the effort needed to move and repot such trees, not to mention the cost of large pots to suit them.

Smaller bonsai are more of a challenge. Harder to keep alive through summer as the tiny pots dry out so much quicker. Styling is also a challenge – giving the impression of an entire old tree in less than 25 cm is a real challenge.

I’ve finally worked out the techniques and care needed to keep these little guys alive and healthy and accepted the challenge to develop some real quality shohin bonsai. Shohin is a size classification in bonsai which is accepted as around 25cm tall (from rim of pot).

One of the downsides to shohin bonsai is that they are rarely shown as individual trees because they get lost among the larger trees on a show bench. Shohin sized bonsai are often shown as a collection of 5 or 7 trees on a multi- layer stand so that means having more small bonsai in order to be able to pick out enough in prime condition for a show.

Today I’m sharing some of the trees I’ve been developing for the Shibui Bonsai shohin stable.

I’m really enjoying the challenges that shohin bonsai pose – containing long shoots, styling well ramified branching is limited space, growing trunks with good taper in less than 20 cm, etc.

The next challenge is finding suitable pots. I’ve contacted several of our Aussie bonsai potters and asked them to design and make some pots for me to use with these and other developing shohin bonsai. I’ll let you know what turns up when they do.

Please note these trees are NOT FOR SALE. If you want to get on the small bonsai wagon I do have plenty of smaller trees with trunks with good potential to develop your own shohin but for now the trees I’ve shown today will stay on the Shibui Bonsai show benches.

Ballarat trip

I’ve just returned home after trip down to present a demonstration for the Ballarat Bonsai Society meeting as part of the AABC visiting tutor program.

It was great to see a good turnout of members from Ballarat and neighbouring clubs despite the cold, rainy winter weather. Thank you all for making the effort.

The topic for the evening was Group style bonsai so I explored both theory and practice of starting, designing and developing bonsai ‘forests’ but, as usual, topics ranged a little wider during the discussion and afterward in questions. I was too busy talking and showing to take photos but those who have access to Ballarat Bonsai newsletter will no doubt see a report and photos when the next edition comes out soon.

A big thank you to all the members who turned up and your participation in both the presentation and discussion afterward.

If your club would like to explore the possibility of a special presentation or workshops please contact me – neil@shibuibonsai.com.au

Catalogue update

As usual I’ve been so busy growing and selling trees that it has been a long time between catalogue updates.

I’ve finally done a quick stocktake, made time to update the files and upload them to the catalogue page.

Also, as usual, discerning buyers have picked out some of the best field grown trees. I’m looking forward to whatever new trees I can dig this winter but there’s still some great potential left on the Shibui Bonsai benches.

Check out the catalogues and see if there’s anything that looks like you could develop into a great future bonsai.

Don’t forget there’s always a few trees that don’t make it to the catalogues for one reason or another. If you are looking for something particular just email neil@shibuibonsai.com.au and let me know so I can check the tables.

Pre-Winter trim

The first maples are now bare here at Shibui Bonsai. That means it is time to start trimming. It always amazes me how many shoots have grown unnoticed inside the canopy and now need to be removed.

Here’s is an old Japanese maple.

I usually start with any long shoots, especially if there are long internodes.

It may seem counterproductive to cut shoots like this short but buds can only develop from nodes so those long internodes will prevent you developing really dense ramification. Remove long internodes wherever you find them.

Cut back until there’s only short internodes. If necessary cut the whole shoot off. New shoots will grow from the base

In earlier development stages we put lots of effort into creating branch density and more and more ramification. Eventually that changes as advanced bonsai like this one gradually become crowded with too many shoots. Attention now turns to maintaining branch structure by thinning out dense areas and removing shoots that have grown too thick.

Next target branches that are too thick. Thick branching is fine lower on the tree but shoots at the ends of branches and in the apex look far better if they are thinner.

Remove thicker shoots to leave thinner ones as replacements.

After trimming long shoots, removing thicker parts and thinning crowded areas

Old ficus for sale

Every year my back reminds me more and more to only work on smaller and lighter trees. This Port Jackson fig has been neglected for a few years as it is just a little big for me to handle alone.

Ficus rubiginosa

I started this bonsai from seed collected at Burnley school of horticulture gardens, Melbourne in the late 1980s. This bonsai was originally 2 seedlings planted with roots wrapped round each other as a twin trunk bonsai. They were then planted in larger post to grow on fast. It spent a few years in a polystyrene fruit box and grew fast. The growing seedlings have fused completely and as the trunks thickened the space between the 2 trunks has gradually closed up so the 2nd trunk is now a large lower branch on the right side.

Trunk diameter 20 cm

Asking price $3,300. Unfortunately this tree is just a little too big and too heavy to post so buyers will need to pick up in Yackandandah or arrange for transport.

All enquiries to email – neil@shibuibonsai.com.au

What do I do with it?

Lots of beginners struggle to decide what to do after selecting a starter.

One of the biggest problems is there’s always a range of options offered so it gets confusing. Different options is not surprising as there’s usually more than one way to achieve results with plants and for any individual tree there’s a range of possibilities depending what size and shape you are aiming for.

Let’s start with worst case scenario. A beginner has selected this trident maple seedling because it is cheap but now struggling to work out what to do next.

No wonder you cannot decide how to style this tree. There’s nothing to style. The best we can do for trees like this is to grow them on to get something that we can work with. Be realistic about timeframes. This will take at least 3 years to develop a simple mallsai type bonsai and 5-20 years to develop a show worthy trident bonsai.

Even at this stage there’s a range of options on how to grow on trees like this.

Some growers prefer to just plant the whole root ball into a larger container or in the garden and allow it to grow. This approach might achieve a fat trunk quicker but can take more years after a major trunk chop to grow a new leader and heal the large scar.

I prefer to start with some trunk reduction. Pruning early leaves smaller scars that heal quickly. It also encourages more shoots to grow and I’ve found that those extra leaders will still give me great trunk thickening but thickening is staggered along the trunk as each successive shoot adds more thickening. That means the trunks end up with even better taper right from the start. Extra leaders also gives me options when pruning later. I can prune for more or less taper and for more or less trunk bends. Any reduction in trunk thickening during the growing phase is more than made up in les years spent healing large chops and growing new leaders to match the stump that’s formed using the previous grow fast method above.

Hera are some photos of initial pruning for a couple of similar tridents. Both these already had side branches to cut back to but even if there’s no side shoots just chop the trunk at about the height you’ lime your first bend or branch to be eventually. The examples below are intended to develop as quite small shohin sized bonsai.

Note the change of angle for the second tree. Just because it has been planted vertical does not mean it must always stay that way. Always look for possible improvements from tilting your trees one way or another.

Next step is to check the roots. There are growers who feel that root pruning will slow growth and development. My theory is that nebari (surface roots) is a very important part of most bonsai. A thick trunk is great for bonsai but if the roots are tangled or malformed it won’t matter how thick or how good the trunk is. Layering a trunk is possible but that process adds several years to the development timeline. Growing good roots start as early as possible and regular root pruning promotes even better nebari. Even if regular root pruning does slow growth (and I’m not convinced it does) a few extra years will pay off when you don’t need to layer to improve the nebari later.

Plenty of good roots from just one year in the pot.

Start by uncovering the upper roots. Never cut through a root ball as in the next step unless you are sure there are good roots above your cut

Cut the lower half of root ball off then trim around the trunk. This removes most tangled roots and makes it easier to comb out the remaining soil.

After combing out the soil and tilting the trunk where I want it there’s one root too high on the left side.

Fortunately there are good roots just below so the higher root is removed to leave roots on a level plane.

Finally the freshly root pruned trees is potted up – at the new angle – ready for another year of growth. because I’m aiming to develop smaller, shohin sized bonsai I’ve used another smaller pot to restrict internode size. Feel free to use a larger pot if you’re aiming for larger sized bonsai.

Here are some more initial pruning for small bonsai using other species

New catalogues

A number of customers have pointed out that the old catalogues appeared to be out of date because they were titled 2020. Shibui Bonsai years are designed to fit in with tree seasons rather than our traditional calendar.

Field grown trees are dug from the grow beds in winter – That’s July and August here – then pruned and potted up. Some new dug trees may be available as bare root but as I have no control over your subsequent care and conditions bare root trees are not covered by the standard Shibui Bonsai guarantee.

Fresh potted trees are hard to pack and post with no roots to hold the soil together so I delay sales until the trees have started growing and have plenty of new roots in the pots. The tridents are generally ready to cope with mailing by December so that’s when the new catalogues are posted (provided I’ve managed to find the time and energy to take all the photos and compile the catalogue files). By that time i can be sure that the trees have recovered well from the trauma of transplant and the massive root reduction that entails so you can be assured of getting strong, healthy trees with the traditional Shibui Bonsai guarantee.

The catalogues on the catalogue pages are current right through to the following November but the later you are the less trees will still be available.

Good bonsai are not like many other retail goods – I can’t just get more from the factory to fill the shelves because bonsai growing is seasonal so we must learn to fit in with the annual and seasonal growth patterns. New trees are only added each year in December.

offerings of trident maples are good again this season but there were no Chinese Elms ready for sale this time.

The few pines and junipers I potted up have all been sold (provided they recover and grow well) before going in a catalogue.

I’ve only potted up 2 field grown Japanese maples – catalogue still in progress at this stage but should be posted soon.

There are also a few Prunus ‘Elvins’ from the grow beds along with a couple of feral plums collected locally. Catalogues will be up as soon as the weather allows me time to take photos and compile the catalogue so, if you are keen on great flowering bonsai, keep an eye out for that one soon.

Enjoy the new offerings.

Neil

Old bonsai for sale

One of the original members of our local bonsai society passed away last year. His widow has asked me to help sell off the last of their bonsai as she is downsizing and will not have space to keep these trees.

You now have the opportunity to own some Australian bonsai history at very realistic prices.

Trident maple, 1983 – $500

This trident maple is nearly 40 years old. A great opportunity to own an aged trident bonsai.

74cm tall (including pot), width 60cm

Moreton Bay fig, 1982 – $900

This is a superb example of twin trunk bonsai and has great ramification we expect to see in a bonsai close to 40 years old. Also note the great nebari.

65cm tall (including the pot), width 65cm.

Note that although this tree is labelled as Moreton Bay fig I am pretty sure it is actually Ficus rubiginosa – Port Jackson fig. Way back when these trees were being developed there was quite a lot of argument about fig ID and many PJ figs were misidentified simply because they lacked the rusty colored leaves. We now know that PJ figs come in many variants including green leaf like these 2 trees.

Moreton Bay fig, 1984 – $600

The almost horizontal right side trunk on this tree makes it a unique bonsai. I think the aerial roots at the front of the tree should go but I’ll leave that decision to the next owner.

55cm tall (including pot), width 60cm

WA fig, 1983 – $300

60cm tall (including pot), width 60cm

For more photos or info on any of these trees please email neil@shibuibonsai.com.au