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.

pruning small tridents

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.