Happy new year and I hope a good Christmas was had by all.
With the unusually warm weather we have had in December I have enjoyed being out in the garden pottering about and doing some bonsai winter pruning and styling jobs. I have been working on a Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) dug up as a sapling at Castle Howard a few years ago. I had roughly wired it last year but It had a branch that just did not look right, so I decided to remove it. Rather than remove it all I left some of the branch in situ and stripped the bark to make it into a Jin. However, I had previously wired the branch down and now as a Jin it did not look right, so I decided to bend it back upwards by steaming the now dead wood to render it pliable in order that I could bend it easily without breaking and for it to hold its new position.
This is a very easy and effective way of bending dead wood to almost any shape you want. I started by wrapping wet paper kitchen towels around the branch. I then covered this with kitchen baking foil. Using a gas blow torch I then carefully heated the foil until the wet paper towels started to steam under the foil. Using a gardening glove I kept testing to see if the branch was supple enough to bend. Using more heat I found that eventually I could bend the branch to where I wanted it to be. Holding it in the required position, I then removed the foil and paper towels to allow it to cool. When cooled the branch set in the required position. I will probably need to tear or even carve the branch to make it look like a natural feature of the tree and I will probably show the results in a future blog. Fig. 1 (upper right)
I mentioned last month that I had started to use a high pressure water spray to clean some of my trees.
These two pictures show the before and after difference on a large Japanese larch (Larix kaempferi [karamatsu in Japanese]) that I cleaned up whilst the tree was dormant.
The improvement is huge and I think that it will also be useful for cleaning pots and for bare rooting some trees prior to repotting.
January has been another mild but wet and windy month and some trees are starting to become a bit confused and showing signs of breaking their dormancy. The problem is though, that if buds start to move early and frosts appear the new leaves will almost certainly be severely bitten by the frost. If there are no hard frosts this winter then many more pests than usual will survive to feast on the new spring growth. Either way it will be important to keep a very close eye on any emerging new growth this year. I think that some aphids actually manage to over-winter inside the leaf buds and as a result they are ready to multiply and attack as soon as the buds open.
I have a Mame trident maple that is always one of the first of my bonsai trees to leaf. Being in such a small pot it needs repotting every year as the roots completely fill the pot very quickly. The leaves started to open mid-January and so I decided to repot it before it became too late. Although trident maples are fairly hardy I tend to keep it in a well-ventilated cold greenhouse for a couple of reasons. Firstly the roots can quite easily freeze and be damaged in such a small pot. Also the heavy wind and rain could easily cause serious damage to the wee tree.
Finally, at our January club meeting we had an excellent talk and demonstration from the talented bonsai potter Tony Remington. Tony and his partner Jules were excellent and all members really enjoyed the relaxed but informative evening that ensued. Tony brought along a portable potters wheel and demonstrated how he makes some of the different types of bonsai pots for which he has become well known. Jules set up a small area to display a variety of pots and provided members with the opportunity of purchasing any at a bit of a discounted price. It was fascinating to see how the crack-pots that Tony makes are produced and his distinctive artistic touches ensures that every pot is unique. We will certainly be asking Tony back again and I can recommend him to other clubs looking for good demonstrators and speakers.
Corin Tomlinson provided our club with an excellent talk and demonstration at our February meeting. We asked him to demonstrate a forest planting on a slab and he obliged by performing a very informative and entertaining planting of a Japanese Larch forest on a large slab. Already, some of the larch were starting to show signs of the green florets opening slightly on some of the trees, a sure sign that this year, spring is starting very early.
I have started to repot a number of my trees already. Many of my maples in particular are budding and in need of repotting. The first to show signs of bud swelling was a mamé trident maple that I re-potted in the new year. The next was my amure maples and more recently a katsura maple that I managed to re-pot about 10 days ago and which has now started to open its leaves.
I have a forest of Japanese larch, that I planted up in 2012 in a large pot that is in need of repotting as it is showing signs of pushing up roots.
Corin suggested that the best way to deal with repotting of groups of trees is to slide the planting off the slab/pot and cut about a two inch strip off around the full perimeter, also to remove any loose soil from the bottom and carefully rake off as much of the surface soil as possible without damaging the trees’ roots. So, weather permitting I will be having a go at this over the coming weekend.
Although it means that there will be a lot of re-potting work ahead I really look forward to the spring.
In particular I really enjoy seeing the fresh green new growth bursting from a dormant sleeping tree to totally rejuvenate the plant with fresh new leaves, ready for the long summer season ahead. There is nothing like the first flush of spring growth and vibrant colours, but don’t forget to keep a close watch out for the pests that love to eat those tender new leaves.
Like many bonsai growers, I have been particularly busy throughout March repotting trees. I find it useful to keep accurate records about previous repotting, restyling and other useful information for each of my bonsais. I use an iPad App, Bonsai Album. This is an application that I use to keep ongoing information and pictures about all the trees in my collection. One useful piece of information that I record is when I last repotted each tree together with any information about it needing repositioning at the next repotting or about future work needing to be done on the roots etc. Some of our members simply use a plant label to identify when their trees were last repotted which is fine. However, I find the app. provides me with the opportunity to keep much more detailed information that is also retained to look back on, about the tree’s history or past trends, for example. I can assure you that I am not on any commission for the Bonsai Album App. and there may be other, even better Apps out there, but this one I find really useful.
Our April club meeting will include the annual general meeting and election of a committee and club officers. I really do hope that we will have members prepared to serve again on the committee and for the other posts (including chairman if anyone would be interestedhope).
A club (or society) is only as good as its members and organising speakers, visits and other events, each of which takes quite a bit of time and effort, as do other duties, such as keeping the club’s finances in order, providing members with goods to purchase at reasonable prices to build and maintain their hobby, running the club library to help expand members’ knowledge, promoting the club’s activities to the local press, providing tea and biscuits at meetings and organising raffles to boost club funds to allow for more speakers, etc. Not to mention, of course developing and maintaining our club website and Facebook pages that hav been responsible for increasing our membership recently and spreading the word about bonsai generally. So, any club lives and dies on the co-operation, goodwill and efforts of its members. NELBS owes everything to the generosity, goodwill, camaraderie and enthusiasm of all involved and long may it continue.
Google Android: – this App is not yet available on Google Android Operating System.
Microsoft: – this App is not yet available on the Nokia MS Operating System.
Spring is my favourite time of the year, longer daylight hours, occasional warm sunshine and fresh green leaves bursting into life. It is also an important time to thoroughly spring clean any areas that are in need sprucing up after a long winter. One such area I have been cleaning is my netted bonsai growing area. This area has done an important job of protecting many of my best trees from the cold and often strong winter winds. Piles of dead leaves had accumulated that are often hiding places for pests and disease to harbour. Also, green algae had covered exposed surfaces including the protective netting. So I removed all the staging, swept up the leaves and detritus and then used a high pressure water washer, to blast clean the floor, staging and netting. After doing this the area was not only cleaner but it was visibly brighter and improved the light levels thereby improving growing conditions.
During April, I, along with nine other club members, attended a full day workshop at Corin Tomlinson’s Greenwood Gardens Bonsai Nursery. Many of us took our own tree to work on but some purchased trees from the nursery to style under the guidance of Corin. It was an excellent day enjoyed by us all improving our knowledge and the style of our trees.
I took with me a juniper that I had dug out of my garden many years ago. The tree had been left to grow for a couple of years and was in need of a good trim and rewiring. The front of the tree had been carved to provide an interesting feature upon which to focus. I was expecting to just trim the tree, wire the branches and accurately position them, however, Corin suggested a completely different front to the tree, jining some existing branches and pulling some branches down to make it into a semi-cascade style. I spent the full day restyling the tree under Corin’s occasional tuition and I am delighted with the end result. One of the key things that professional bonsai artists are really good at, is an ability to see the best style of tree that often has been missed by the tree owner. Thanks Corin.
I have just returned from a display of our club members’ trees at the Grimsby Garden Centre, aimed at promoting the art of bonsai to the general public.
It was a good display that attracted quite a bit of interest and positive comments from a large number of people.
Following our May bonsai club meeting we discussed displaying generally smaller trees than in previous years together with also some pre-bonsai material. The purpose of this we hoped would show the public how bonsai can often be created from reasonably cheap garden centre material. This resulted in an interesting, but still quite impressive bonsai display; it provided good opportunities to explain to people how the pre-bonsai material could be evolved into good looking trees without incurring the high cost often associated with bonsai trees.
Some members took the opportunity to buy some cheap material whilst at the nursery and turned it into potential bonsai trees quite quickly. They purchased two flowering potentillas for £3.99 each and two loniceras for £2.00 each of which were styled during the day to demonstrate how cheap and effective starting the hobby of bonsai can actually be. Two of our inexperienced members brought along two of their pre-bonsai trees and with the help of some of the experienced members wired and styled the trees during the day.
This all provided useful and interesting activities that attracted interest throughout the day. All in all it was a good day that attracted plenty of interest about the art of bonsai and hopefully may even result in some potentially new members being at our next club meeting.
Some images of the display are on our club Facebook page: STARTING HERE
May and June are when Satsuki Azelias flower and this has been a good year with some stunning flower displays. My large Satsuki started flowering in the middle of May and I removed all of the flowers on the 28th June. It would have been an even longer flowering period had it not been for all the rain we have had this June. I do try to protect the flowers from the rain by moving my trees into a summer house during rainy days. However, there have been so many rainy days just lately that I have not always managed to protect them. As you can see from the photos there are so many flowers that no leaves are visible. The second picture shows the tree (and leaves) after the removal of all the flowers.
It is important to remove all the flowers and the seed heads to stop the plant diverting energy into seed production. It took me several hours to remove all the flowers and an additional full day to carefully remove all the potential seed stalks entirely. This may sound like an excessive amount of time, and it is, but I removed a total of 2,110 flowers and seed stalks. It sounds a bit sad to count the number of flowers removed but it was something to do during a rather mundane (but important) task.
The tree has suffered by putting on such a fantastic display as the light and air circulation has been blocked by the large flowers. Many leaves have died and some areas of growth have become quite weak. It is therefore important to give the tree plenty of water, good sunlight and plenty of ventilation. It is also time to start feeding the tree again as new growth has already started to sprout from the areas around each flower base. With a good feeding and watering regime, the new growth will be quite rapid and in about two to three weeks time I will need to start the selective pruning process. If left much longer the tree will start to produce next years flowering buds and the pruning process will lead to buds being removed and the tree wasting energy, not to mention flowers.
In next month’s blog I will let you know how I get on with the pruning and show how the process is carried out.
Illness and work are the reason why I am late getting this month’s blog done. I had intended showing the process of pruning my large satsuki azalea but it will have to be the topic for next month as I have not yet done it.
So, this month I thought I would share the sad (probably) story of the mighty elm tree. In my front garden is an unusual survivor – a very large and very old elm tree. It has been estimated to be at least 150 years old. It is unusual because it appeared to have become resistant to the Dutch Elm Beetle. Dutch Elm Disease has totally devastated the elm tree population in the UK. However, this Wych elm (Ulmus glabra), has to date avoided being victim to the Dutch elm disease.
About 15 years ago a professional tree surgeon looked at the tree and found evidence of beetle infestation that he said was the Dutch Elm Beetle and predicted that the tree would be dead within six months. He was wrong as the tree was the picture of good health for many more years.
About five years ago the tree was totally infested with scale insect. The following year it had recovered and was as healthy as ever. Last year I noticed that a few branches on the West side of the tree died during the summer. The leaves turned brown and whole branches died off. This year more branches have died during the summer over several parts of the tree. Also the number of leaves on the tree this year has been much less than usual.
Our bonsai club treasurer, Paul Chaplin works for the local Council and is responsible for local trees. He has examined the tree but is unsure what is responsible for its decline. We cut off an affected branch to see if it had Dutch elm disease symptoms. Apparently infected branches develop small circles that can be seen on the branch cross section around the vascular system. Despite sectioning several branches we did not find any signs of circles or any other problems.
The Tree is not looking well as you will see from the photos with several branches dying. Has anyone any ideas what could be wrong? I have to say that I fear that the mighty elm has finally succumbed to the dreaded Dutch Elm Disease. I hope that I am wrong.
I said in my July 2016 blog that I would report on the pruning of my large Satsuki Azalea. I have finally carried out the annual pruning job, albeit a bit later than I would usually do this. The late pruning may well result in less flowers next year but this is not a problem as it will give the tree a rest and help it build up strength and vigour.
The first thing to consider is maintaining the correct overall shape whilst allowing sunlight to reach all branches without any branches covering others when viewed from above. Azaleas are basically shrubs that grow outwards more than upwards. This means that it is important not to take too much off the top of the tree as it will take a long time to grow back any height again.
You will see from the photo that usually three long shoots grow from around the previous flowering bud area. The pruning of this growth is different depending on what you are aiming to achieve. In young trees where you want to form spreading branches you choose the shoots growing in the correct direction and cut off any of the others, then cut any remaining shoots back to just two leaves. In my case with a mature tree I just wanted to maintain the existing shape. I therefore cut off any shoots growing outside of the required silhouette. I then cut all three shoots from each flowering point back to two leaves or if required, cut them off altogether. As I am late in pruning the tree this year I did leave some shoots on where they remained inside the required shape on each branch. This will allow some reduced flowering to take place next year.
Another point about pruning Satsuki Azaleas is that when they have different coloured flowers it is a good idea to try to not over prune areas that have the colours that you want to maintain or increase. One way of doing this is when the flowers are in full bloom to tie coloured cotton around the branches containing the different colours. This allows you to avoid over pruning the areas that you want to keep or increase.
After completing this years relatively light prune I treated the tree with a pest killer based on natural plant extracts that is particularly effective against spider mites. Spider mites seem to love my satsuki and it is a constant battle that this pest killer is helping me win. The pest killer (pictured) is a soluble oil based product that swamps and suffocates the mites. It is available from Kaizen Bonsai. Spider mites have become resistant to most commonly used chemicals and so this is one of the few ways left to avoid them overwintering on your trees and to kill them. The best way of preventing them on your trees is to regularly spray all susceptible trees all over with a fine water mist.
I will give the tree a Week or so to settle down and then start an Autumn feed regime to encourage the dormant flower buds to set. It also helps the tree to replace its leaves as the tree will shed most of last years leaves up to mid winter whilst also growing new leaves to maintain its evergreen nature.