I don’t usually start digging the grow beds until July but a Shibui Bonsai customer has been keen to learn more by volunteering to help. Jim had a couple of days off work due to wet weather so we picked a dry day and got started a week early.
Jim is younger and enthusiastic. He started on the shovel and kept me so busy pruning that I did not get any photos of the actual dig.
In a few hours we managed to dig and do a rough top and root prune on most of the larger trident maples, some Japanese maples, a few crab apples and some of the first year tridents.
They have all been ‘heeled in’ to a spare patch where they can wait until I’m ready to do a final inspection to decide if they get potted for sale, put back in the grow beds for more growth or go on the scrap heap.
Still plenty of trees to do but I have all winter so I just do a few any time I can. The trees pictured are Prunus ‘Elvins’, Hawthorn and more crab apples with a couple of Seiju elms for good measure.
The trees in the picture were all chopped and root pruned last winter so nearly all of the 2m of growth shown has emerged through last summer.
Now that the leaves are dropping it’s time to get some trimming done. Maples tend to ‘bleed’ clear liquid when pruned closer to spring. Losing some juice from pruning cuts does not usually seem to hurt them but when I trim earlier in autumn there’s little, if any, bleeding so I prefer to trim as soon as the leaves drop.
There’s lots of small trident maples on the sales benches in 11 cm pots and these trees often drop leaves earlier than the larger trees so I’ve started with them. Here are some examples of how I trim the smaller trees.
The older bonsai are also trimmed now but it takes much longer due to the extra branch raminfication.
The trident maple shown above is still for sale. It is around 35 years old and is actually root over rock though the rock is small and the roots have spread to almost cover it.
Group plantings are also trimmed when leaves drop. This took quite a bit longer due to all the branches and having to select which parts to remove to stop branches becoming too thick and dominant. This one definitely NOT for sale at this stage.
For bonsai growers in the southern hemisphere, now is a great time to give your deciduous bonsai a good tidy up. For the northern cousins you’ll need to way a few months.
April means cooler nights here at Shibui Bonsai. The trees have begun to sense winter coming and some of the deciduous trees are putting on their autumn colours.
Zelkova seems to be one of the first species to colour and lose leaves in the autumn. It is also one of the last to leaf out in spring.
It was interesting to see the Japanese maple shown above still has some green leaves on the lower section where they are still protected from the changing temperatures and sun.
Deciduous autumn colour does not last very long. Each tree usually only has coloured leaves for a week or 2 before they fall but that short period can be spectacular.
Trees do not all seem to change at the same time. Some species make the change earlier and some seem to wait for even colder weather so having a range of species in your bonsai collection can extend the autumn colour period.
Even among the same species there’s quite a lot of difference. Some of my trident maples have already dropped leaves while others are still quite green and won’t change for another week or so.
Conditions seem to play a big part in timing and strength of autumn colour. Cold nights followed by bright sunny days seem to promote more intense colours in deciduous trees. The trees that are more exposed colour earlier and more intensely than those that are sheltered from either cold or sun.
Fortunately, the home of Shibui Bonsai in North East Victoria usually has just such autumn conditions so towns like Bright, Beechworth and Yackandandah are well known for spectacular autumn colour.
While most of us can’t manipulate the local climate we can choose species that are known to give better autumn colours, even in less than ideal conditions. Liquidambers are well known for strong autumn colours even in areas that don’t get ideal cool conditions so if you aspire to good deciduous colour in bonsai consider trying liquidamber.
Genetics also affect autumn colours. Within a single species some individuals produce different colours or timing so if you aspire to better autumn colours it’s a good idea to select your starting stock during the peak colour time in autumn. Look for individual trees that have stronger colours or a better display. All other things being equal that should give you trees that have the best potential for good autumn colour displays.
I’ve frequently noticed that trees in very shallow pots also change earlier. The trident forest pictured earlier is usually one of the first to show colour and is now almost bare while other tridents are still clothed in full colour. I guess this discrepancy is due to stresses. The shallow pots dry out more and possibly allow the roots to cool more than deeper containers.
We also know that damaged leaves do not produce the same colours as undamaged leaves. Maples are particularly prone to summer leaf damage in our hot, dry climate so to get the best autumn colour some growers defoliate damaged maples at the end of summer. Provided the new leaves have time to mature and you take care to prevent further scorching you should get a much better autumn show.
Summer is a great time to work on ficus and other sub tropical plants. They respond quickly and recover far better if pruned or root pruned while they are still actively growing.
This old ficus has been posted before. It is now a bit too large for me to manage comfortably so I’ve offered it for sale. Earlier in spring I gave this one a really hard trim as trimming had been neglected for a year or 2 and branches were becoming too long.
The tree has responded with masses of new shoots, some from the existing branches and more from the trunk. Now it is time to select best new shoots, thin out excess shoots and trim the good ones.
The dwarf green tree frog was not impressed that I removed all his cover but stayed put while I worked. Now safely back in the poly house.
The above tree (with or without the frog) is still available if you fancy owning an old, impressive trunk bonsai. Still priced at $3,300
For those who would rather invest some time instead of money Shibui Bonsai also has smaller starter Port Jackson figs. In just 30 years you could have something like the tree above for an investment of just $15 or $20.
I also repotted some starter root over rock ficus to check the roots. These trees were started just last year which shows how quickly ficus can grow.
The leaves have fallen so it is time to trim and prune the maples. There are quite a lot of small tridents being grown on at Shibui Bonsai. Over summer they are allowed to grow with only occasional rough trims to limit the height of the new shoots. Now it is time to look more closely and prune for direction and taper.
There is not just one way to create bonsai. Much will depend on what style you want to grow, how big the bonsai will be and how well it has grown. With most developing trees there are a number of legitimate alternatives when pruning for shape.
The original tree has a right angle bend at the top which will not give an attractive trunk line so I cut back to a lower shoot with better line. Now the trunk has a slight change of direction and better taper above that cut. That cut would be quite suitable to grow on as a larger sized bonsai. Further down the trunk is another suitable side shoot with good angle. The lower cut provides even better trunk bends and taper starting lower. It can now be grown on as a larger tree or as a possible shohin sized bonsai.
Those tridents will be allowed to grow again next summer. If all goes well some of the new shoots will be selected to develop beginning branches.
This time I am selecting carefully for shorter internodes. As this is intended to become a shohin sized maple bonsai pruning is rigorous. Any straight sections are removed. All long internodes are removed, even if they are growing in desirable locations and angles. Remember that buds can only grow from nodes so long internodes severely restrict ramification of branches. This is particularly important when aiming for smaller sized bonsai where everything must be reduced. The lowest branch on the right above curves up and out and still has a long internode. I have left it this year to strengthen and thicken the start of that branch. With luck some smaller side shoots will emerge from the nodes at the base. If they develop with shorter internodes I will cut back the stronger one next winter. If nothing emerges next summer the long internode will be chopped anyway and the branch developed the following year from new buds.
These photos show a small trident another year on from the previous example. You can see that branches have started to form. Again some shoots were allowed to grow long to thicken selected areas of branches or the trunk. Those thick shoots are now pruned right at the base. Again, long internodes are rigorously removed to give better structure to the developing branches. To save wiring, shoots growing in desirable directions are kept while those growing up or down are generally removed. I try to select thinner shoots further out on branches and near the apex to provide taper where possible. Development of this trident is advanced enough to think about finding a proper bonsai pot for the spring repot.
The black pines have been growing slower than usual after summer decandling. It is possible that is a response to less fertiliser than previous years. I am pleased to have small buds on these pines but I’ll try to feed more often through next winter and see if that makes a difference next summer.
Here are the clusters of buds that are growing after candle pruning in mid December (early summer here). Note that these summer buds do not have the bare ‘neck’ that the stronger spring candles have. Not having bare sections means I can have much more compact growth and better ramification. Needles should also be smaller on these smaller buds which will add to the impression of a mature tree.
Summer has proved to be a good time to repot banksias and a couple of the shibui bonsai banksias were due for it this year.
When I first started to grow banksias for bonsai they were not very successful. Most just lasted a year or two then suddenly died. Given that banksias have a reputation for being quite sensitive I just thought the genus was not suitable then I started to see some great banksia bonsai and gradually pieced together a couple of important facts about banksia bonsai. Continue reading →
Spreading basal roots, known by the Japanese term ‘nebari’ is considered very important for maple bonsai. Surface roots are prominent features of old maples, pines and elms so these features are also valued in bonsai of these species.
Nebari should, ideally, spread evenly all around the base of the tree, showing enough to give the tree the air of age and stability. Continue reading →
Leaf drop has been slow and erratic at Shibui Bonsai this year. Some of the maples still have leaves but many of the tridents are now bare. that gives the perfect opportunity to review ramification and make alterations. Continue reading →
I was fortunate to get a place with Tony Tickel at this year’s Bonsai week workshops. Thanks to the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection of Australia for making these bonsai activities possible. I think everyone who attended took home a lot of new information and ideas.
I finally decided to take an old black pine. I’ve had a couple of these trees since they were small seedlings but because I did not understand pine maintenance techniques properly they both gradually grew long, bare branches with foliage only at the tips. The trunks are thick and have mature bark which is highly desirable in pines. This one also has a large, spreading root mass so I thought it was worth taking some time and effort to try to resurrect it for bonsai.
I have spent the last 7 years forcing the foliage closer to the trunk to make the trees more compact. Pruning stimulated a few back buds on bare wood which were then nurtured until strong enough to remove the longer branches. I also resorted to grafting and inarching to get growth on other branches that had refused to bud.
Here is the tree before the workshop.
Black pine before
You can see that there was plenty of branches and foliage to choose from. The tree was well fed and healthy to cope with a major restyle.
black pine nebari
After checking several options we decided to try to keep the current front because the nebari on this side is far better than the other side.
There were several options for trunk lines and we have used a fairly standard informal upright trunk line with some jin and shari.
The first branch had a really nice shape but was far too heavy for the remainder of the tree so it was removed leaving a short jin.
The apex of the tree leaned too far forward and was an awkward shape so it was also jinned. Because the old main trunk was so strong it had thickened the trunk in that area giving a slight reverse taper to the new trunk so a small area of shari surrounds the jin to reduce the visual weight and maintain better visual taper.
After the worshop
Spring should see this pine grow strongly. I’ll begin my pine maintenance schedule with this one now to try to maintain density and promote inner buds – Early summer candle pruning and needle plucking followed by autumn thinning and more needle plucking should produce more even energy distribution and promote shorter growth and smaller needles.