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.