Lockdown bonsai.

Spring is normally a time of nature’s new arrivals, trees waking up from their winter dormancy, garden centres full of spring planting, new lambs in the fields, Easter holidays and a feel good factor.

This year things have been different. Most of the world has been put into LOCKDOWN. So we have to stay at home, we cannot go to the garden centre, like most other retail premises they are closed. We cannot go to Bonsai meetings or events.

It is a challenge but it hasn’t been all bad, I’ve learned some new skills, on line shopping, patiently waiting to order stuff on the phone, and not going at jobs like a bull at a gate after my wife kindly tells me to pace myself.(I suspect that is so that I can be out of her way for some time on more days).

So what have I been doing to occupy myself, we can still walk the dog but only once a day, I painted the garden fence, painted the garage, painted indoors and generally tidied around the garden etc.

AH I ALMOST FORGOT ABOUT BONSAI. You can spend a bit of time on bonsai in springtime, and I have been.

Now my understanding of spring and what nature does can vary quite a bit. I was brought up with a saying ” Ne’re cast a clout til Mays oot” translated this means “Never disgard your winter clothes until the end of May” (It’s a wee bit chilly up north)

Conversely spring sometimes surprises us, this year spring came a little early, then had a bit of a wetter and colder period followed by a dry warm spell.

I had some deciduous trees which started bud swelling in February hence needing to be repotted. So I’m out there in my big coat, hat and scarf repotting this Acer Kyohime which is always a bit early but this year was earlier still. I had a bit of a sweat on but couldn’t bring myself to take my hat and coat of. After all it was only February!

So shortly after repotting, with new buds all over, nature threw a low ball and it turned cold and wet with the risk of frosts so the tree needed protection. Now I don’t have a greenhouse (and I thought about a coat but I was still wearing it ) so each evening I put the tree into a shed and took it out again the following day.

As new growth has appeared I have controlled it by nipping out the extending foliage.

I keep a record of when I have repotted trees which is really useful especially with older trees which don’t need frequent repotting. The Kyohime had last been repotted in 2016

and I was happy to remove about one third of the root mass by taking off any roots which were winding around.

Another tree which came to life in February was this Lilac which had last been repotted in 2017. Just as in the case of the Kyohime this one also had to be protected from the risk of frosts after repotting.

During repotting I again removed about one third of the root mass, which is possible when the root system is vigorous.

Here it is today in mid April already displaying its miniature flower heads.

This year I have again undertaken repotting some of an ex members trees for his widow. I collected three of them during the week before LOCKDOWN was implemented, sorted them out but have not returned them yet.

One of the three, this Scots Pine was styled as a literati during autumn last year in accordance with one of the suggestions made by John Hanby at a club demo night. I wanted to have a look at its roots and had decided that this spring would be okay. So mid March saw me working on this in better weather but still in my big coat.

Imagine my surprise when I removed it from the planter it has been in for the past ten years and found large pieces of broken pot embedded in its root system which was long and straggly.

Using broken pot is not something I have ever done and I would always recommend a good open soil mix which promotes healthy root development.

Just as I thought that I could stay indoors and leave my coat off I noticed that it was time to do a bit of work on this Acer.

This is a tree which I bought at a club bring and buy. I gave it to one of my sisters who unfortunately dropped it last December and broke the pot and a couple of branches leaving it in a bit of a mess as you can see in the picture here.

I knew that something quite drastic would need to be done!!

I had read an article on thread grafting and thought that was a possibility but this is something I have never done so I needed some advice.

Ian, the club chair is really up on acers and I decided to run my thinking past him. Should I remove the branches from the trunk and if so the best time to do that.

Here it is in March with its few badly placed remaining branches, it really is in a mess.

It is difficult to see but the new growth had sprouted and the leaves had opened fully and started to extend and I decided to bite the bullet.( I took a deep breath, opened my coat as I was a bit hot under the collar but it was still too early to take it off it’s only March)

With concave cutters I removed all of the branches except the the one at the top where there was already some long leggy soft growth.

My intention is to allow the growth at the top to extend this year for use as thread grafts. I intend to feed heavily and hope that the tree may respond by putting out new shoots around the now bare trunk which will hopefully limit the need for too many grafts.

Only time will tell how successful this project will be. I will let you know one way or another.

April has been a lot warmer and by the middle of the month I have finished the repotting for the year and wondering how to fill more of my time, (I’d taken off my big coat in exchange for a fleece jacket).

Earlier in the past week I remembered a pine sat in the corner of the garden which I had bought from a well known garden centre and nursery last year and I thought I could get it into a training pot.

When I bought this plant I checked where I thought the root system was on the trunk as you should always do. I could see roots quite close to the surface of the compost and thought ‘great’

I was so disappointed when I cleared the compost to find that the trunk reached the bottom of the pot and that the roots had grown upwards from the base of the trunk to just below the surface of the compost. Not what I wanted in my plan for a shohin.

So what did I do?   I threw my hat on the ground in a bit of a strop.

Now I have heard that we have to stay in LOCKDOWN for at least three more weeks!!!

I’ll need to find some other interesting things to keep myself from boredom. Feeding, and pinching where appropriate etc .

On a personal note I like a few cereals or a bit of porridge during the part of the year when I need my big coat, and just as I need to be fed to stay healthy so do my trees.

As you should avoid fertilising trees for about six weeks after root pruning I will commence feeding those I worked on in February soon. Firstly with half strength feed such as liquid seaweed or Chempac number 2 which is high in nitrogen, before moving to my preferred feeding regime with a combination of Naruka and liquid seaweed.

You have to be patient to grow bonsai , just as we are being asked to do at the present time due to Coronavirus.

So stay at home and stay safe while you admire those little trees outside. And it will soon be time for me to ‘ Cast me clout’