The Cycle Continues: Japanese Maple 2018

A one-year update on this thread.

This maple is getting close to “show-ready” again. It went to the 2012 US National Bonsai Exhibition, and since that time, I have been working to improve the base, correct some structural flaws, and heal a couple pruning scars left by correcting said structural flaws. Here is a shot in late November just before leaf-fall.

And here it is leafless a few days later:

Several branches are thickening and need to be replaced with finer shoots. Where would you prune the branch below:

Below is the after shot. The goal is to prune back to a bifurcated pair of about the same size.

One area of very slow progress has been this thread graft which has languished for both of the last two growing seasons it has been knitting. This may be due to the fact that the scion split at the entrance hole and was attached by no more than a toothpick’s width. Fortunately it managed to live, but unfortunately it has been very slow.

In the photo below, notice how the scion was positioned with a bud very close to the exit hole? That was quite deliberate and may provide something to prune back to in the future.

It’s about 18″ long now, and firmly enough attached that I decided to wire some movement into it. Maybe by next year, it will be ready to separate. Part of the wiring was to angle the tip up toward the light and encourage it to gain strength.

After the first round of pruning, some wire was added to move a few wayward branches into position.

I stopped here and brushed it with Lime Sulfur to lighten and even out the tones:

Often when I get to this point, I find it helpful to take a photo of the tree and work on the areas that jump out as needing attention. What do you see in the shot below:

Here are the areas that jumped out to me:

And here is the shot after those areas were addressed:

A few steps closer to a showable tree.

Here is a 10-year old throwback shot to 2008:

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all. Thanks for reading along this year. More to come in 2019!


Zelkova Air-Layer continues

In early July, this tree’s primary branches were wired. Interestingly, since they were wired up and out, so each had a place in the sunshine, the tree responded with rapid growth. In about 3 weeks, it became necessary to remove the wires.

Branch selection:

Wired on 7/14:

3 weeks later:

Wires removed, and the primary branches were shortened…significantly:

We should have enough growing season remaining to make 2 more rounds of growing and clipping…

Zelkova shohin candidate air-layer

This post covers work done over the course of several years; a direction I have been trying to take this blog over time, and will continue to do. It may mean fewer posts, but showing the cause-effect of our employed techniques over a long period of time is a very effective way to demonstrate and learn.

This is the last piece of a zelkova remaining from an old bonsai I received from a friend almost 15 years ago, and have since sold, but not before making several layers from it.  This one happens to be rather flawed in several ways.  First, the roots were very uneven, a portion of the trunk was dead, it only had 2 main branches emerging from the trunk chop…and worst of all, the trunk was too tall to be shohin.  Here is the original parent tree, and the layer from a cutting which is the subject of today’s post.


Mid-June 2017:

Shohin bonsai may be 8″ tall from the soil line to the top of the tree.  Currently, the trunk of this zelkova is 6″ tall to the chop, which would only leave 2″ for the canopy.  It would make for a very unusual bonsai.  Since the roots are bad, a good solution would be to air-layer it again, and work to establish a better, radial root system a bit higher up on the trunk; shortening the trunk, and allowing more room to develop a canopy within the 8″ height limit.

Problem is, I know part of the trunk is dead, and I wanted to make the layer around a perimeter of all-living trunk.  Can you spot any dead portions?

How about now?

So here is the cross-section I can use and hope for a full-radial nebari.  Worst case, this is the current back:

Using a sharp grafting knife, I cut away a ring of bark, cambium, and xylem:

Added a thick piece of aluminum wire to encourage roots to grow out instead of straight down:

Then affixed a new container around the layer:

The container will be filled with chopped sphagnum moss, soaked in a 10x diluted solution of Dip N Grow, and some fine akadama:

The work for now is finished.

And now we wait for roots.  2 months actually…and here it is in mid-August:

And so far, roots are appearing all the way around the container.  So are the Biogold fertilizer cakes!

That’s a good sign, but doesn’t mean a radial root system just yet.

It’s growing well up top too, so in another month or so, we can talk separation.

In Mid-September 2017, I decided to make the separation.  It is always nerve-racking, and my concern is that roots found their way up into the container, instead of out from the top of the cut.

First step, cut it back hard to take some of the demand from the newly-formed root system, but leaving some green to keep it moving:

Then unpot to make it easier to find the seaparation between the original soil level and the new root system:

Commit, and cut:

Carefully, find the original wire tourniquet and nibble away at the base to get a little closer:

Finally, I set the intact rootball into a pot:

And packed some soil into the voids:

If it survives, in the spring I can bare-root and sort out the roots for the all-important radial nebari.  Here is a shot from the end of October.  The green leaves are encouraging that the tree is still alive.

Fast forward 8 months to May 2018 and it’s alive, but barely. I decided to delay the repotting and let the tree just grow this year. Next spring, the root work can begin.

Clearly in this case, the front is defined by the back. After it had a few months to grow, in July 2018, I was also able to define some primary branches on the tree.

And add a little wire to keep them pointed straight out…

Not bad for a year’s work. Next spring we’ll tackle the roots.