Bending with rebar

Sometimes wrapping a branch or trunk with wire doesn’t have enough holding power, and using rebar as an anchor point for guy-wires is more effective.

This is my Kiyozuru Itoigawa, purchased from Chikugo-en in L.A…which, from all I have been able to find, is the origin of the cultivar in the US. I bought it to have the cultivar, but wasn’t enamored with the trunk. It has a nice twist at the base, but then straightens out. The yellow line is the area where things get pretty dull.

It has been container-grown and according to Gary Ishii, it was 25-30 years old when I bought it. Growing slowly in a pot means the trunk is stiff with dense wood. Therefore, wiring the straight portion isn’t really an option.

Here is the tree before the work.

A peek into the tree revealing the straight section:

This left branch is on the spot where I want to start moving the trunk to the right, putting that branch to the outside of the bend:

Wrapping the trunk with raffia helps protect it from snapping in one spot. It will still crack, but instead of blowing out at one spot, it will distribute small fractures along the outside, reducing risk of long-term damage. Start below the bend, and go all the way to the top.

Next, I drove the rebar through the root ball down to the bottom of the pot, and attached it to the trunk at two points, protecting the trunk with some rubber pieces and tubing.

Next, I attached a block to the trunk, just below the branch that will become an outside branch. In effect, this block becomes the fulcrum, and the rebar is now attached to the tree in 3 places, plus through the root system and to the bottom of the pot. It is secure and stable.

Next up, I attached a guy-wire at the height of the trunk I want to be pulled the farthest to the right.

Next, I used my left hand to squeeze the branch toward the rebar, and used pliers with my right hand to twist the wire, taking up the slack. I repeated this several times. Notice how much the trunk moved by how much slack is twisted out to the right of the rebar.

Finally, I used another wood block to push the apex back to the left.

So here is the final result:

While it’s a bit hard to see through all the foliage, the trunk does have movement now in that straight section. I’ll probably leave the rig on the tree for the next 2 years, and then begin making branch selection and styling the tree. I’ll also like tilt the tree more to the right a bit more to further accentuate the trunk movement.

Here is a side-by-side, which illustrates the results better.

Repotting the Kiyozuru juniper

I purchased this at Chikugo-En-en back in July, and Gary Ishii told me it was repotted in December 2018. So I knew it probably wasn’t pot-bound, but the soil was heavy dirt and sand. This probably works well in LA’s dry climate, but here in Birmingham’s humid climate, I wanted to move it to something a bit coarser.

I am a little early in the year to repot, but will not be trimming any roots, nor completely bare-rooting it. I also plan to strike cuttings from this tree to propagate the cultivar, so I am leaving all the foliage intact. I wired a couple branches that were obscuring the trunk, but that’s about it.

Either front requires me to tilt the tree a bit…fortunately the same tilt works for both sides. I haven’t decided on a front yet, but am leaning more to one than the other. (Dad joke)…

Some pot options:

1. Very small Tokoname pot. This size could work as a show pot, but this tree isn’t ready for showing yet.

2. Deep rectangle vintage Japanese pot by Keizan. Great pot with a lot of age and patina. It makes the trunk look awfully small.

3. This Hokido is beautiful, and a bit shallow for growing out. Maybe some day.

4. 3rd Generation Yamaaki drum pot. Good clay and age, good depth. Not a special pot, but suitable for this phase in the tree’s development. Round pots are always good for an undecided front!

Soil combed out and wired in:

New soil worked in:

Front 1 above.

Front 2 below.

Do you have a preference?

A visit to Chikugo-En and the Elusive Kiyozuro

Gary Ishii’s Chikugo-en nursery is in Gardena, CA. He and his late father, Mas were featured in Bonsai Today #75 for their skilled grafting of Itoigawa and Kishu onto San Jose and Prostrata junipers. The large cascade juniper in the article is still prominently displayed, perfectly-manicured, in the front of the nursery.

When I arrived, he was on a ladder performing ‘mikiri’ (summer candle-cutting) on the entrance’s iconic Black Pine. He later showed me a photo of the tree when his father planted it 30 years ago, when the trunk was the size of a “half-dollar piece”:

Readers of this site are familiar with this series of posts that discuss characteristics of different types of Shimpaku junipers. They are always the most-frequently visited posts in the short history of this site.

During my research for those posts, I stumbled on another type of Shimpaku, ‘Kiyoruzo’. When it appears in searches, this elusive strain is always linked back to origins at Chikugo-En, and really nowhere else, that I have found. So when our family was on vacation in LA in late July, I had the opportunity to visit the nursery and began my hunt for the Kiyozuro Shimpaku.

Here are a few photos from yelp to give an idea of the nursery.

They do not allow photography inside the nursery, but Gary was very friendly, patient, and helpful. The nursery is compact, and packed with well-grown, and well-groomed trees; with the large majority comprised of junipers, olives, and black pines. Many of which were not for sale, or priced to not sell. He was rightly attached to several of the trees I inquired about, and we had light-hearted discussion about many of them.

But the search was on for this Kiyozuro. Gary did say it was becoming difficult to distinguish them from Itoigawa, as he had sold or lost track of most of them. From initial observation, the foliage was denser than Itoigawa, finer in texture, possibly “droopier”, and slightly lighter/paler in color. I also couldn’t find any juvenile foliage on them, which may prove to be the winning differentiator between it and Itoigawa. This will be a trait to watch.

I hadn’t come to the nursery planning to spend much on a tree, but had hoped to pick up a smaller Kiyozuro to grow out. However, he really only showed my 2 that were definitely Kiyozuro; a semi-cascade that he had plans for, and the one I ultimately paid an absolute fool’s ransom to acquire. he told me it was grafted to San Jose 20-25 years ago and showed me the graft union, which you can see is at the first bend just above the soil line. The San Jose bark is warty and darker and paler than the Kiyozuro, which appears to have a redder bark color than Itoigawa, closer in color to Shimpaku.

When I took it to the counter, Gary’s mother(?) immediately recognized it, and called it by name. This was impressive, since, save for the repotting date, it was unmarked!

Here is a shot I was permitted to take in the nursery of the Kiyozuro I bought. Gary’s daughter(?) was kind enough to set up a quick backdrop for the photos:

I was torn, because I’m not at all enamored with the trunk of this tree, or the price, but since I really wanted the cultivar, I went for it; and rationalized that I could layer off the top and make cuttings to do some dollar-cost averaging over time.

By contrast, here is an Itoigawa which was priced 10% less, with a larger and better-shaped trunk. I did carry it around for a while until I convinced myself I would be disappointed later if I didn’t end up with the Kiyozuru cultivar I went after from the beginning. An unsolicited peek into my psyche…my poor wife…who wisely chose to not join me on this little excursion.

While showing him photos of some of my trees, he made me go back to this Itoigawa, and told me he started this one! He also told me he buries the trunk up to that first curve until it roots, and that provides a better flared base. Walking through the nursery, it was clear he had done that. Hmmm….that solves several problems…I’ll return to that nugget later, no doubt.

Here are a few other Kiyozuru from the internet, all tracing back to Chikugo-en; 2 from BonsaiNut:

One from a vendor:

And one more Gary offered me back in 2014. Wish I would have jumped on this one back then!

And finally, a few shots of the Itoigawa (right) next to the Kiyozuru (left):

I’ll continue to evaluate this kiyozuro and update over time, along with some better comparison shots. It was dark last night when the tree finally arrived.