Hinoki Cypress Progression

It’s been a bit overdue for a post so here’s an update on a project I’ve had in the works for a few years. I’ve been busy but more good stuff to come in the future!

Hinoki cypress progression

In 2014 I purchased a young clump Hinoki cypress which at the time had 4 trunks.

This is one of my first trees from my early bonsai career and I lacked a lot of horticultural knowledge to keep the tree healthy and vision to give it direction.

Here was the first, and maybe my first ever styling of a bonsai tree. Some basic branch selection was done and the trunks were spaced using a bamboo stick:

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I soon removed the 4th trunk seen in the photo. At the time due to a lot of misinformed second hand knowledge I was convinced the nursery soil it was in was the bane of the bonsai world and I needed to change it asap. Having sat in a nursery can for perhaps all it’s life the root ball was a block of cement. I opted for a slip pot where I worked the outer roots and planted it in a large container with coarse substrate.

What ensued was a sick and weak tree for the next 2 years. Water, seeking the path of least resistance, freely flowed through the outer rim of new coarse soil while no percolation occurred in the more dense center. The lack of air and fresh water resulted in a weak root system and an equally weak tree. It wasn’t until the roots colonized the outer rim of soil that it began to perk up again.

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4th trunk removed, yellowing foliage
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Health improving by late 2015

During the 2015-2016 growing season I experiment with approach grafting. Hinokis are notorious for their lack of back budding on old wood and all my lower growth was very leggy and unusable.

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Branches selected for approach grafting

I neglected the approach graft process but overall it was unsuccessful. Some graft unions did merge but I had unsightly bulging branches crossing the trunk. Overall it was poorly executed and did not improve the tree. I decided to remove all grafts and lower branches and building the tree in a new direction.

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Second styling fall 2016

The tree received a rough preliminary styling positioning the trunks and primary branches. I mistakenly cut off one too many branches in the back resulting in one bare spot that I will remedy with grafting. Fortunately it is minor and out of sight.

The tree was repotted during the spring of next year and allowed to grow freely over the next several months. At this time the original block of roots were completely replaced with a new dense root system growing in a coarse inorganic mix (lava, DE, pumice). It grew very well and gained lots of vigor. A second wiring and pruning was done later.

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Summer 2017

Foliage pads will be defined over the next several years and the aforementioned bare spot will be fixed by grafting. Surprisingly over the past 3 and a half years the trunks have began putting on some girth. Since this tree is still very young in it’s development stage I tend to let it grow freely most of the season with only doing refinement work once a year. I’d like to let the trunks thicken more before I really begin stunting the branches through more aggressive work.

Thanks for taking a look and subscribe for future updates!

Have an awesome day!

Julian

Utah Juniper

A few months ago I received a yamadori Utah juniper from my time at the Hidden Gardens. It’s been growing well in the warm Southern California climate with new growth tips showing all over the foliage.

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As a collected tree it’s abundant with character. A sizable hollow is found in the center of the trunk and natural shari lines are present along many branches. The extremely fine growth lines on the deadwood indicate a great age too.

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For all the character this tree has there are still some flaws. As common with many yamadori this tree lacks good branch placement and structure. Most of the foliage sits on leggy branches leading the eye away from the key features of the trunk.

In order to compact the tree and give me more design options, I’ve decided to graft this tree. But rather than grafting the much finer shimpaku or itoigawa foliage I intend to graft the native Utah juniper foliage. The larger and coarse foliage will be slightly out of place on a smaller tree but in turn I’ll get to keep the beautiful icy-blue color which for me is one of the best features of the tree.

In February I will repot the tree to expose buried nebari and will begin approach grafting whips of foliage lower on the trunk.

I do not have a design envisioned for this tree yet but will upload a virt when I do.

Thank for taking a look.

Nandina Bamboo and Summer Update

Last year I dug out an old nandina bamboo from a home undergoing construction. Nandina are seldom seen as bonsai. Trifoliate leaves and small trunks leave little to be desired. Atypical of most nandinas this specimen boasted thick corky bark and a sizable trunk. The reliable display of fall color in a Mediterranean climate SoCal was icing on the cake.

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Earlier in the year I brought the tree to a Will Baddeley workshop seen here. Over the summer the tree has grown extremely well. I thinned out unnecessary shoots only leaving ones to be developed as future primary branching. Branching is difficult to develop on nandinas due to their growth habit and trifoliate leaves.

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New growth is sent out as a stalk with leaf petioles wrapped around it. Internodes can easily run long here so I would not fertilize until growth has hardened. This stalk eventually lignifies and in time looks branch like.

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Trifoliate pattern of new growth

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I’m experimenting with branch development on this tree. My plan is to remove any lateral growth and base shoots and allow the stalks to grow out at least for 1-2 years. Without consistent pruning the tree will not prioritize branch growth and will continue to throw out new foliage near the base of all the shoots.

Before it completely lignifies I will cut it back and new growth should emerge from the petiole stubs. Updates to come in the future so subscribe to see it firsthand.

Interestingly this tree began throwing out a lot of mushrooms on the soil line. This is indicative of good soil and root health. When digging out the tree the root mass had a lot of mycelium so I can only assume these are the fruiting bodies from it. I took some macro photos of them you may find interesting:

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Summer has come to a close and autumn is upon us. I spent most of it by Chicago where I worked at Argonne National Lab. In that span I was afforded many professional opportunities, making great friends at it too. But more than just a job, working there presented me with an invaluable opportunity to reach out to the bonsai community. Living only 4 miles from the Hidden Gardens I commuted there by bike whenever I had the chance. Doing so enabled me to meet Jeff and talk to Owen providing me with insight and a sounding board for my professional bonsai ambitions.

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Hand carved Ben Oki repotting stick, parting gift from Jeff

Planning for the future is daunting and even more so intimidating with an “unconventional” career path in bonsai. I graduate in a year and will finish up my degree at UCR. In this time span I intend to find a foreign apprenticeship I can pursue after graduation. Bonsai means a lot to me. More than anything I just want to find a sustainable way so that I can practice and pursue this art for many years to come.

I will document my efforts on this blog in hopes that I’ll not only garner support but to provide something interesting for you to follow.

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My family cat, Sammy, recently passed away. At the age of 16 he’s been with me for over three quarters of my life. Although you can say he’s just a cat, it feels strange without him around and I miss him very much. It feels as if his passing marks the end of one stage of my life. I will respectfully move on and look ahead to the future.

 

Thanks for reading, Julian.

On a side note I have been getting into photography and now include a gallery section on my blog. Please check it out for high quality photographs.

 

Large Coast Live Oak and Labor Extortion at Kimura Nursery

I was recently offered a spot in a Will Baddeley workshop. Bob informed me that some space was open and in lieu of the workshop fee I could also trade in work. I didn’t have $200, but with the onset of spring break I did have time. With a few trees that could use carving as well as an opportunity to meet more members of the bonsai community I gladly accepted. I spent the last few days working at his nursery doing anything asked of me. If I could sum up the 15 or so hours of work in one word–deweeding.

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In seriousness it was good to spend some time outside and I enjoyed talking to Audrey and Bob. I will be attending the Sunday April 16th workshop and look forward to meeting those there.

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Great weather on the days I came

 

Updated picture, see rest of post for progression!

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Anyhow on to the tree. Winter of 2015 I picked up a large coast live oak from Barry Altshule. I visited his home and was able to get first pick before he brought the trees to that year’s GSBF Convention. It had good character, gnarly deadwood, and decent taper. All in all it looked like an interesting tree and I picked it up.

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As seen in the picture, the whole front of the tree died off at some point. The heath of the tree as purchased wasn’t the best either and lacked a lot of foliage. .This was caused by borers of which were still in the tree! In the successive growing season I had to treat the tree with a systemic as well as physically removing the borers and treating the points of entry. After a year and a half of strong growth I can confidently say that the borers are gone and the tree is healthy.

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Tons of character on the wood. These trees were collected and the slow growth with subsequent weathering produced gorgeous deadwood.

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There was also significant dieback at the top of the tree as seen by the “L” shaped line. Despite the tree’s character and nice deadwood there were many design challenges. For one the tree lacked good primary branching not to mention the awkward transition to the apex as well as random bulges on the back. The tree was fed well to prepare for the major repotting.

Oaks being a semi-evergreen tree hold their leaves year round. This makes repotting difficult and many have reported losing their trees post repot. I was advised to defoliate the tree prior to repotting as to avoid transpiration loss and presumably a weak or dead tree.

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The tree responded well and leafed out 1-2 weeks later. The top chop would be carved and and some preliminary wiring was done. In retrospect I should have cut back the front branch at this time to get better budding closer to the tree. But given that it was weak and had borers I feared the front of the tree dying and losing the bridge of live tissue between the top cut and the main deadwood.

Anyhow here is the tree several months later having pruned unnecessary branching as well as wiring some primary branching in place. As far as cut-backs for oaks the best time is mid-late winter right before the buds start swelling, and right after peak summer temperatures when (at least for coast live oaks) begin a second strong flush.

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Spring 2016

I missed the window to do cut backs on the larger primary branches due to my concerns of dieback. Due to my impatience I cut back the front branch with poor timing. It did throw out one tiny bud, but it was burned up in the heat. Fortunately I was able to get some side primary branching going.

Here is a shot of the branch structure developed at this time:

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Late spring 2016

With several months of strong growth primary branches thickened substantially.

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Summer 2016

From my brief experience, coast live oaks develop SUPER fast in Socal. All the branching in this photo was developed from scratch.

At this point development was done for the year and I fed the tree aggressively to prepare for the big cut-backs to be done

I cut the tree back some time in late January. Just before the tree starts sending up sugars so food would not be allocated to branches that would be thrown away.

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Exposed

A few weeks later

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Fast forward nearly 2 months later it it became a head of green.

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Yes leaves and outer nodes are monstrous, but the node length for the first few pairs are short and usable. I tried out these dried hard balls of composted chicken poo and turns out they had much more nitrogen than I anticipated. Thankfully it was slow release so my initial growth didn’t come out with poor internodal length.

Unfortunately I did not get buds directly on the big branches I cut back. I did however get plenty of buds near it and opted to approach graft branching in place. My top side branch was removed entirely and will allow an adjacent shoot to fill in the space.

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It’s a bit chaotic but I will be allowing the new growth to grow unrestricted until late summer when I do the cut backs. This will help me thicken my primary branches and give strong back budding when I do the cuts.

On the tree I did a total of 3 approach grafts. One in the front and 2 in the back. Unfortunately the front stub is dead but the cambium behind it bridging the gap between the top chop and front deadwood is alive and strong. Meaning graftable.

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Cut is probably too deep

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Few dormant buds on my branch that should wake up after cut backs

Not the cleanest grafts but I have confidence in them. As long the cambium underneath is alive and strong the branch should eventually fuse as it thickens up. Least I’m counting on it.

Here is the finished tree post spring styling. Extensions will be cut back and after a year the basic form of the tree will be set! Hard to believe it has developed this much in under 2 years. It’s hard to see the form with all the leaves but I will post an update when I do my cut back later this year.

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Syringe is for the tree, not me

A quick before and after showcasing the current progress:

Thanks for taking a look and I hope you’ve the read. Feel to leave me any comments. Have a great day! 🙂

 

Here is a more updated picture of the tree from April:

It is healthy and developing well.

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Fall 2017:

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Windswept Kishu Shimpaku

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Before
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After

I acquired a new tree, a kishu shimpaku, from Bob Pressler discussed here. I had wired most of the tree during the recent Bonsai-a-thon but was unable to style it until now.

I’ve had a few major wiring projects this past winter but for the most part have little experience shaping junipers. That said this project proved particularly challenging and took me a fair amount of time to set on a design path and execute it.

My criteria for styling the tree was as follows:

  • Use as much of the tree as possible
  • No grafting
  • Good silhouette and structure not dependent on foliage

In short I wanted the best design possible utilizing the qualities of the tree. With that in mind I had several options. Semi-cascade and windswept were the obvious ones with literati if I wanted to get really creative. Literati required that I have a good trunk line and interesting movement. I’m not the best with virts but they do call me the MS paint master. Here are the main trunks highlighted:

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For literati I could remove and jin the larger lower trunk utilizing the top one. The trunk line seemed interesting enough but I lacked good branch options. Overall it would be a difficult design to pull off and would entail removing most of the tree. Plan scrapped!

I went back to drawing board. I wanted to do windswept but I was extremely cautious in doing so. Based off images of windswept bonsai and actual tree I found it crucial that the “windswept” quality be conveyed in every part of the tree–from the trunk line, branches, and the foliage.

Here is a nice article with images discussing this point: Bonsai Bark Windswept Critique

I was not confident in pulling it off so ultimately (at that time) I decided to run with semi-cascade. I began wiring out the lowest layer of branching and all looked good. Then I ran into a huge dilemma. Everything in the mid section was extremely leggy. I looked into folding the apex over itself or other hefty bends but new changes constantly led to new compromises. It was looking grim.

I then asked myself how could I utilize these leggy branches in my design? I recalled in many images of windswept trees branches oriented towards the wind would be swept back–not only lending interesting movement, but effectively shortening the branch. Here is an image uploaded by Boon with a juniper I stole from this Bonsai Bark article: http://bonsaibark.com/page/97/

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Image does not belong to me

I decided windswept would be the way to go and went on with the plan. In order to convey this image and to perpetuate the windswept quality throughout the whole tree I wired the tree with an imaginary wind in mind. In reference to images of my trees imagine a wind blowing from right to left. This means that any growth initiating towards the right, up, or down, would be swept back and consequently wired in the opposite direction. I tried to follow this pattern as much as possible throughout the entire tree to create better cohesion.

On a side note, the best times to wire junipers is generally in the winter. Because of the reduced flow of sap, bark is less turgid and constricts around the branch more tightly. Meaning that when wiring the bark is less inclined to split. In the below image the cambium of that branch split a good deal. It may not be necessary but I decided to treat it as a graft and put a little baggy on it to ensure I don’t lose the branch.

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Growth exiting right side is swept under the branch to the left
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Foliage is kept in same orientation throughout the entire tree
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Same idea as in first image

Because the lower large trunk was nearly horizontal I opted for an angle that at least to me, would provide more realistic movement. I used guy wires to maximize my bends on the large trunk while the larger wire and raffia proved sufficient in bringing the top trunk down. All growth on the right side of the tree, although minimal, was removed and jinned. Any super leggy branches were jinned as well and even wired with the same aforementioned movement.

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progress picture

I cleaned up the apex and jinned any excess branching. I still have trouble capturing depth in my pictures and the overlay of branching can create clutter on a flat image. Here are shots of the finished tree in different lighting.

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The back of tree needs to fill in and after more growth I can continue to refine the foliage. The mid section does look a bit chaotic but will look better in successive stages of refinement.

Next year I will begin work on the root ball to accommodate the angle change and maybe a new pot. I’m thinking of adding shari on the backside and should fit well with the windswept design. Here is a rough virt of what I have in mind.

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All in all I am satisfied with the styling but will listen to any suggestions or critique (hopefully not too negative) anyone has to offer. Working on this tree really tested my creativity and gave me lots of practice on styling junipers.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and if you are so inclined, you can subscribe too!

Update: Unfortunately this tree and all my other junipers faced a heavy spider mite infestation when I was working in Chicago over the summer. I am fortunate that branch die back was minimal but I did get some reverting to juvenile foliage.

I hope to do a second refinement in the winter but instead will allow the tree to grow freely for at least 1-2 years to rebuild strength. Health of the tree is always first.

Small Coast Live Oak

 

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Oak trees are characteristic of California. Abundant and easily found, they decorate the landscape from the highway shoulder to the beautiful canyons and hills. They’re long lived and stand with powerful trunks–it’s that same heft that weighs down their branches giving them qualities unique to themselves.

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Yet despite their seemingly rough appearance the grey bark and dense evergreen foliage lends some grace collectively producing an elegant, proud tree.

As a native tree they excel in my hot Mediterranean climate. Fed well and allowed to grow freely, it will even rival a trident maple in growth. Their foliage is easily reducible and branching can be highly ramified. Definitely one of my favorite trees, both in landscape and bonsai cultivation.

In 2015 I acquired a small coast live oak from Bob Pressler’s nursery (Kimura Nursery). It sat in a small nursery can and was nearly 5 feet tall. Although lacking good branching it had a nice trunk and rough grey barking.

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The tree was fed aggressively to prepare for the repotting and work to come in the following winter. At late winter/early spring I picked a line to do my trunk chop and cut away. Primary branches were left uncut so that they could undergo more thickening before developing secondary branching.

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As for the root mass I sawed the root ball in half and worked the outside. Being lazy I did not photograph this part.

The tree was allowed to recover and by early summer showed strong growth all over the tree. I did some preliminary cutbacks and guy wired all my primary branching into place.

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Early Summer 2016

As you see in the previous photos I had pretty good budding around my chop with buds occurring right up to the cut line. These shoots would become the future leader of my tree.

The tree was again allowed to recover, this time taking much longer considering that in a single season it had undergo 2 major traumas. Oaks typically have a second flush of growth by late summer but this tree had already expended its reserves and didn’t do much.

After removing excess shoots the top leader began growing very fast. I carved the top cut to allow for a smooth transition.

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By fall the tree began thickening a lot. All the carbohydrates and sugars produced by the foliage produce new wood as well as food for next year.

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Wound on top of tree is already halfway sealed–impressive given that the cut was made in the same year

Bark on the trunk began to split as a result of the strong growth. A good indicator that the tree was healthy.

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Several weeks ago I cut back all my primary branching and top leader halfway. I still need the top leader to thicken, but had I cut all my primary branching leaving the leader unchecked the tree would abandon the lower branches and put all the energy into the top growth.

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The wires there were propping up a plastic bag over the tree. I don’t know if it helps but I tend to think that the increased heat and humidity will give me better advantageous budding. In any case, advantageous budding indeed. Every single branch is covered in tiny buds–secondary branching no problem!

I came back from the 2017 bonsai-a-thon today (a post to come later) and purchased a pot from Dick Ryerson. The pot is a round with symmetrical groves. It features a cream glaze with some “dirty-ness” in the glaze. There is a spill of red with a hint of some blue on the side. Although slightly big for my tree it will work great as a beautiful pot to carry it through next several years.

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That’s the pot right in front of me!

I decided that the tree was healthy enough for a repot and given that the root mass in the colander was a similar size to the pot I would not have to do any major root pruning. To fit the tree I cleaned out the center core of the tree slightly–mostly dead roots, organics, and some live tap roots. The edges were very lightly trimmed and the gunky soil from the top of the root ball was raked off.

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The tree was then wired in with the bottom and edges with new soil. The tree is slightly mounded but it can’t be helped as I want to avoid overly working the root mass. As I continue development I will be able to sink it lower in the next year or two.

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As an added precaution the tree was bagged and will be covered for the next week or so to preserve humidity and ensure the new growth and buds aren’t overly affected by the repotting.

This growing season will be used to create secondary branching as well as to finish thickening the apex of the tree.

Here is a live oak developed by Eric Schrader that’s an extremely realistic representation of what my tree will look like in 5 years or so. His tree was inspiration for mine and I hope that in time it will look just as good if not better 😀

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Photo taken by Eric Schrader

I know its been awhile since my last post but I’ve been incredibly busy with school and other work. I hope you find my posts interesting and if so please leave a comment! A subscription is great too

Julian

Japanese Black Pine

I found an outstanding deal for a Japanese Black Pine earlier this summer. The base was well developed with barking, a good candidate for a shohin tree. Buds and shoots at the base was abundant and could be selected for future branching. I decandled strong top growth at this time and thinned the shoots at the base to direct more strength to what would become branches.

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Summer 2016

The long sacrifice branch was cut this fall

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Fall 2016

Temperatures have begun warming up and some of my elms have already begun swelling buds. For Southern California spring is almost here meaning a good time to repot my trees. Based off advice from others and what I’ve read I proceeded to repot this black pine. What I did was a half bare-root repot where only one side of the root ball is worked and replaced with new soil. Doing so allows the undisturbed side to maintain the vigor of the tree until roots in the new soil becomes established. In the following year or 2 you can than bare-root the other side of the root ball thus establishing the entire root mass in a more open “bonsai mix.” The foliage at this time is also a bit yellow. Because of the high amount of winter rains as well as the grass/moss that established on the surface this black pine has been receiving too much water. The color should reestablish to a dark green with better watering as well as feeding.

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The tree was then potted in a mix of scoria, pumic, diatomaceous earth, and some zeolite.

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The longest branch will take over as the new sacrifice and will remain for the next 3 years if not more. After the tree establishes itself I can begin successive stages of refinement and branch selection. I will need to read up on decandling practices as well as the decandling timing specific to my area. In time, this should be a pretty nice tree.

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