Trident maple Group planting

I’ve done some previous posts about starting a group planting but posting this year’s offer of seedlings https://shibuibonsai.com.au/?p=2338 prompted me to put together the group shown here.

I’ve found bonsai groups a great way to get a reasonably acceptable bonsai specimen in just a few years. No waiting for decades for the trunk to grow or branches to develop. Lots of trunks together help to provide the visual bulk and canopy so your group can look presentable relatively quickly.

Bonsai groups can be any size and have any number of trees but more trees together tends to look better sooner.

I’ve started here with the group pack shown in the previous post. Shibui Bonsai forest packs consist of a mix of trunk sizes. If you are finding your own seedlings try to get a similar range of trunk thicknesses – a few thicker ones and a range of thinner ones to fill out the forest. there’s around 20 trees in the forest pack but you don’t have to use all of them. Spares can be used for other projects.

As well as the seedlings you’ll need a tray. I use these nursery seedling trays because they are easy to get and a convenient size, durable and easy to get but any convenient container will do. For different sized groups consider an appropriate sized tray. Your container does not need to be as shallow as this. My older trident groups were established and grown on in much deeper polystyrene fruit boxes. Larger, deeper containers will allow your trees to grow and develop quicker if you want to speed up evolution.

Start by sorting an root pruning the seedlings if they have not already been done. tridents are really resilient and pruning thick roots short will help promote more finer and surface roots vital to good bonsai.

Some of the trees for this project after root pruning

The thickest, tallest tree becomes the focal point for the group. Usually placed around 1/3 from either left or right and just in front of the mid-line front to back. I’ve gone with a 1/3 left placement this time as shown.

Now add the other thicker trunks. This is where you can add your own creativity to the group but they will generally be towards the front and closer to the middle than the edges. It is easier if all your trees are relatively straight but if you have trunks with some movement you will also need to try to create harmony by arranging the bends so they look similar.

Pay particular attention to spacing. I’ve found this is particularly difficult as we seem to have a natural tendency to plant things equally spaced so I have to think carefully and force myself to put some trunks quite close together to create a random spacing within the group of trunks. intertwining roots of adjacent trees is no problem but if your trees have lots of roots don’t be frightened to cut roots on one side so you can get the trunks close.

Keep adding trunks with smaller ones mostly toward the outer edges and back. Thinner trunks at the rear helps build an impression of greater depth and size. If some of the trees have branches try to place those so the branches grow into spaces or out of the group. That won’t always be possible so keep branch cutters handy to remove any that are growing close to other trees.

Keep checking that you are not making rows of trees. It seems to be another human trait to line things up but nature is more random so if you see rows forming just move trunks a little to break up lines.

view from the front

Check from the side as well. Look for lines forming and check that all the trees are standing at a similar angle to create harmony. I often need to add more potting soil to prop up trees as they don’t have many roots for support yet.

view from the side

After I’m happy with placement and angles I trim the trunks to final height. Try to make the thickest focal tree the tallest then work out toward the edges, pruning each tree a little shorter so the overall outline will be a rounded dome. Don’t forget that your trees will always grow up so pruning shorter than required now can be a good thing.

After watering your group into the fresh soil do another check and reposition any trunks that have sagged or leaned over. Now put your new forest in a protected place to settle in. Check occasionally to make sure trunks have not fallen over. Just push any problems back into position and add some more potting mix if required.

Another trident group planting a few months after assembly.

I generally find some faults during the first year. Things I should have seen but didn’t. Spaces that don’t look great and trunks at odd angles that clash with the overall look. Any of these things can be corrected next spring when the group can be chopped into sections and re positioned or new trees added to enhance the composition.

The groups above have been assembled from relatively young trees but groups can be made from more mature trunks which will give an even better look sooner. Here’s a shohin (under 20cm) trident group I put together last winter with trees from the Shibui Bonsai sales tables.

If you would like to create a trident group from more advanced trunks talk to Neil to see what we have available that would suit. I’ve supplied larger trees for client group projects and I’m happy to select trees that I think would work well together.

Eventually your trident group could end up looking something like these.

Olives as bonsai

There has been lots of interest in olives as a commercial crop in this area because they love the conditions. Olives also make great bonsai.

Olives were first planted in North East Victoria over 100 years ago. They liked the climate and soils here so much they quickly spread as birds carried the seeds. Local councils, landowners and Landcare groups now recognize olives as an environmental weed in many areas. While that is not such good news for the native plants that feral olives compete with it is great news for us as bonsai growers because we have lots of wild grown olive stock to collect.

Olives are great for bonsai. They are generally really hardy and can survive short periods of dry that would kill many traditional bonsai favorites. They are very easy to transplant and can survive radical root reduction. Olives also have the ability to produce new buds on older wood and generally respond to trunk chops with masses of new shoots. On the down side olives are slow to grow so starting from seed or tiny seedlings will probably lead to frustration. Fortunately older trees are readily available as weeds in many places now so starting with well developed trunks is a much more viable option.

Our local Bonsai group has organised a number of ‘digs’ where members can help remove some of the ferals and get some good stock to develop future bonsai. I’d just like to share some of the trees I have obtained this way

Digging trees for bonsai is not always easy. Some of the best trunks are found on steep or inaccessible terrain. Some tools make the job easier. A shovel is usually the minimum tool kit for would be bonsai collectors but a crowbar may be required in rocky or harder soils. Pruning tools help reduce the mass to a manageable size. Many collectors find a chainsaw or battery powered reciprocating saw invaluable, especially for larger trees.

Mitch showing Tools of trade

Here are some photos of Albury Wodonga Bonsai club members digging feral olives

Rutherglen olive dig – November 2015
Club members at Allan’s Flat olive dig March 2017
Ian with a great olive from Rutherglen

As mentioned earlier olives can be chopped to bare wood and will soon produce new shoots. The trees shown below had some good surface roots but they will still survive with far fewer roots if necessary and it is not uncommon for collected olives to be ‘flat bottomed’ meaning the trunk bulge is cut horizontally through the widest part and the trunk planted as a virtual cutting. Surprisingly, most olives survive this rather drastic root pruning, even when there are no small roots left.

Some freshly collected olives

A few years later, with care and good pruning you could end up with something like this.

Shibui winter 2021 Seedling sale

We have plenty of self sown maple seedlings in the garden beds at Shibui Bonsai again this year. These have all grown without any help so I can supply them at reduced rates. these seedlings will only be available until they start to grow in spring or until sold out.

First up let’s deal with quarantine. We cannot send trees to either WA or Tasmania due to plant quarantine rules and before you start complaining it is best to remember those restrictions are there to protect you and your wonderful environment from a range of pests and diseases that we battle daily here in the Eastern Mainland.

Trident maple seedlings are supplied in a range of different sizes

Small: seedlings with trunks under 3mm thick only 50c each. These are still flexible so suit wiring and bending or as smaller trees in a group planting. Also useful for root grafting.

Medium: trunks 3-6mm diameter approx $1 each

Suit group plantings, growing on, threading through plates, fusion projects and more.

Large: trunks 6-10mm thick $2 each

Great for larger trunks in a group planting or to grow on for larger bonsai trunks in future.

There are a few trunks larger than 10mm. $5 each while they last. Please note that thicker does not always mean better. These will usually have a large trunk chop and may have less attractive roots than the smaller ones.

Forest packs $20. A mix of different sizes suitable to make your own group planting. Usually 3 large, 10 medium and 10 small trunks.

Bent trunks: While most of these feral seedlings are pretty straight some have bends. These bent ones could be better for approach grafts to roots or to grow small trunks with good low bends. Price as per trunk thickness above.

I am happy to select seedlings with specific characteristics if you let me know exactly what you require so the more info you can give me as to your plans the better I can tailor your order.

Japanese Maples: These are not as prolific so numbers are limited and most are smaller size than tridents above. All JM seedlings $1 each and you get whatever sizes come up.

Please don’t expect too much from these feral seedlings. They will be packed just as they come out of the garden as shown above so some have lots of roots, some have fewer but all should survive as tridents are really tough. Even those with just a very few roots have great survival rates. The roots are only trimmed roughly to fit in bundles. You can’t expect me to do detailed root work at those prices so that’s up to you when they arrive. Trunks will be chopped to fit into a 50-60 cm long pack. Further detailed pruning to size is also up to you.

Trees are sent bare root. I’ll bundle the trunks, wrap the roots in wet newspaper and wrap in a plastic bag to retain moisture. Trees will survive quite comfortably this way during delivery and for several weeks if necessary. On arrival please check and refresh root moisture if necessary. Trees can be stored in a cool place for a few weeks or even longer if you are not ready to pot up straight away. For longer term storage roots should be buried in damp soil, sand or sawdust until planting is possible.

Delivery: Please allow for the cost of delivery in addition to the tree price. Trees are sent direct to your mailing address via Auspost. Price depends on the size, weight and destination of the order so I’ll need to quote each package to give you the best price so please supply your delivery address or at very least a postcode when ordering so I can calculate a price for delivery. typical cost is likely to be: smaller packages under 1kg $15 regular mail or $20 express. More than 1 forest pack or larger numbers of individual trees could be $25 or $30 for delivery.

Email neil@shibuibonsai.com.au to place an order or to discuss your needs this season.

Digging 2021

The winter solstice has come and gone and that is a prompt for me to get into the grow beds and start digging the deciduous trees. I don’t think the trees mind when I dig. I just use the solstice as a reminder to get started or I won’t have enough time to dig the beds and do whatever repotting is required in the nursery before spring.

I usually start with the root over rock trees, just because I can’t wait to see what has happened under the soil and foil wrap. Opening these is always like Christmas.

Mulch scraped back and the trees have been loosened with a shovel
Closer look at some of the trunks

After cutting roots with a shovel I can lift the trees and shake the soil off the roots.

as they came out

To make them easier to handle the long roots and long branches are pruned roughly before making any further decisions.

after a rough trim top and bottom

Now comes the moment of truth. Unwrapping the foil will reveal how well the roots have developed over these rocks. these trees have been in this bed for just one year. Note that the aluminium foil wrap is starting to deteriorate. Some have split the foil as the roots and trunk expanded during the growing season. Roots have also penetrated through the foil in a couple of places.

roots escaping!

This is a good reason for checking every year. The closer to the surface the stronger trident roots grow. If this was left another year that escaped root would get huge and would distort the roots closer to the rock, possibly making this a dismal failure.

Now it is time to do some more detailed work on these trees. I assess the whole root/rock/trunk arrangement to find the best possible lines. At this stage I’m just looking for a trunk. branches come later.

from one side – nice possible trunk line, good roots.
This one also looks good from the other side.

I think the curving trunk looks far better than the straighter section so I’ll prune to remove the straight section. Pruning like this also gives some taper.

After final pruning

Now these are ready for potting and the start of the next phase – branches and ramification.

winter trimming – maples

It has been so long since I posted here. Life just seems to get in the way.

late autumn now at Shibui Bonsai and the leaves have dropped off trident maples. That means it is time to start the winter trimming. Some growers wait until later in winter or spring but an early start is good for me as winter and spring get really busy when I dig the field grown trees and start repotting in spring. I’ve also found that maples don’t bleed quite as much when cut soon after leaf drop.

My winter trim is aimed at refining already well ramified trees. I take out any long shoots, thin out crowded shoots and remove thick shoots from the ends of branches and near the apex.

Trident maple before and after trimming shoots. This one is around 35 years old. It has really well ramified branches. By the end of summer the new shoots are quite crowded and need thinning to allow room for next year’s shoots to get adequate space and sunlight.

This one is much younger. I had a few upright tridents so decided to develop one with more trunk character. The upper trunk of this one has been grown from just the first branch of a younger tree.I think the bends give it a unique character and I’m happy with progress so far. The branches of this one are still developing ramification so less thinning to do here. Emphasis is on pruning for direction and removing overly long internodes so the future ramification will be better.

Maple groups

Some people refer to these as forest style bonsai. Groups can look really great even when they are made up with quite young seedlings.

These groups were put together last winter from seedlings I dug from our garden beds. Already they have recovered and put on masses of new shoots and plenty of growth. Now they are ready for some detailed pruning to simplify the structure.

trident group 20-1 $200 (24 trunks)

Prices reflect a rate of around $10 per tree in the group.

trident group 20-4 $180

All these starter groups are in nursery seedling trays that measure 35cm x 29cm x 6cm and could be transferred to an appropriate sized ceramic tray next winter or allowed to develop a bit longer in the current tray.

This year I have also started a couple of Japanese maple groups. Only 2 available.

JM group 20-10 $100

Please see the groups catalogue on Shibui Bonsai catalogue page https://shibuibonsai.com.au/?page_id=215 or download the file below.

BSV February meeting

Bonsai Society of Victoria has invited me as guest speaker for the February meeting on Monday Feb 22. The topic is to be developing native plants as bonsai.

BSV members who would like to purchase trees from Shibui Bonsai can order as usual and I will bring them down to this meeting without the usual postage costs. Check out the catalogues to see what advanced field grown trees are still available this season. Shibui Bonsai also has plenty of smaller starters. If you are not exactly sure what you may want get in touch and we can talk about something that will suit your experience, needs and budget.

For those who are not members of BSV they welcome visitors to club meetings so you too can pick up orders and hear some of my thoughts and experiences developing and growing Aussie natives as bonsai.

If you are not able to attend the Monday evening meeting I may be able to manage a quick drop off on the way into Melbourne on Monday afternoon or on the way home via Yarra Glen on Tuesday morning.

email me: neil@shibuibonsai.com.au to discuss your bonsai stock needs and delivery options.

Field Grown Shimpaku Junipers

Slow to grow but first class as a bonsai specimen, advanced shimpaku are hard to find. These trees were grown in pots for 3-5 years to establish good roots and some low bends and twists in the trunks.Here are some photos of the process I use to get interesting trunks on shimpaku junipers.

Shimpaku cutting wired ready to bend
after bend and twist
potted up – note roots spread evenly to start good nebari
a tray of shimpaku whips. On the left wired and bent, on the right some ready for you to make your own.

The trees shown above will be ‘set’ in a couple of months and the wires removed before they scar the trunks. Next summer new long shoots will grow and they too will be wired and twisted to match the lower part. It can take 3-5 years to develop enough trunk with character. Some will be sold at that stage, others will then be transplanted into the grow beds where they will grow and thicken for another 5 years or more.

Junipers have a reputation for being difficult to transplant. In initial trials a number died but with experience and adapting techniques suggested by other growers survival rate of Shibui Bonsai shimpaku transplants are now much higher.

One of the frustrating attributes of junipers is that they take ages to show the signs of trauma. They can look fine for months after transplant then suddenly turn brown. Investigation shows the tree has no new roots and has been surviving, sometimes even growing, using resources stored in the trunk and branches. Here at Shibui Bonsai junipers are not offered for sale as freshly transplanted trees. I hold all transplanted junipers until after mid summer to make sure they have really survived the transplant process.

This year’s transplants have grown well through spring and are still looking healthy so I am confident they are well enough to offer them to you.

General bonsai wisdom says that junipers that have been recently transplanted should not then be subjected to more stress of pruning and styling so even though these trees have survived they should be allowed to continue to recover until at least next spring before any more major work.

Unlike deciduous trees where we can see the structure during winter junipers are densely branched evergreens so finding the bonsai among all that foliage can be challenging. These trees would make ideal candidates for workshop specimens.

The dense foliage also makes these difficult to photograph to show the internal structure. If there’s one you would like to see more of please feel free to ask for more photos and I will try to take some shots of particular features as far as it is possible.

All these junipers have long branches and trunks. They are still flexible enough to wind round to fit into a box for transport but most are still quite bulky so you should expect delivery costs to be up to $80 for some trees to some areas.

New Field grown stock

Pines and junipers can be tricky to transplant. From experience they can look healthy for months after transplant then suddenly decline and die because no new roots have grown. For this reason I am reluctant to sell freshly transplanted pines and junipers. i hold on to them until mid summer and I have seen plenty of healthy new growth showing good roots have developed after the transplant.

It is now time to show you the trees I have transplanted from the grow beds.

Start with Japanese Black pine. I dug 4 of these last winter. One I have decided to hold for further development and growth as it has an interesting trunk.

2 have already been snapped up by eager clients before I had the chance to show them.

That leaves just one field grown Japanese Black pine available from Shibui Bonsai this year.

JBP 20-2

JBP 20-2 is in a 30 cm orchid pot. You can see that new growth has been profuse and the trunk is stable in the pot indicating good root growth since transplant.

JBP 20-2

Nebari and trunk base on this one is very good.

JBP 20-2

There are several leaders to choose the best trunk line, some giving nice bends to the future trunk.

Most of the branches are quite young with plenty of healthy needles close to the trunk so it will be easy to prune and get new shoots suitable to build ramification and foliage pads.

Pines of this caliber do not come up every day. They are slow to develop. This one has spent several years in pots prior to planting in the grow bed then at least 5 years growing. List price is $300 from Shibui Bonsai nursery. As it is a larger tree please allow for post costs if you need delivery.

For more info or further photos of JBP 20-2 please email neil@shibuibonsai.com.au

Next up, Field grown Shimapku junipers……