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

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! 🙂

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:

juniper trunk line

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.

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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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Washington Hawthorne

Last year I picked up an unmarked tree from my local bonsai nursery. It was very cheap and potted in a 4 inch square. The root spread was interesting and it had a great display of fall colors, something not so common in Southern California. All things considered I decided it would be a fun tree to pick up.

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Fall colors, nice smooth grey bark

The fall colors were equally spectacular this year. Depending on sun exposure you get anything from a deep red to a vibrant yellow and everything in between.

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Nebari Shot

I decided to plant the bugger in the ground and let it grow freely the entire season

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Spring 2016

The tree grew extremely well. I’d say even faster than my trident which was planted in the ground too. Roots established quickly and as soon as runners began the tree took off. After a full season it was at least 5 feet tall. (no shots before cutting unfortunately) The tree put on over a quarter inch of thickness and started developing fissures in the bark.

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I dug out the tree, cut off all long shoots and did a major root pruning. Dug it out and put it in a box. I think this tree has really good potential as a shohin – kifu sized bonsai with a very elegant image. The foliage reduces well and ramification can be had easily. The fall color is a great treat too. The plan is to create primary branching from (hopefully) good back-budding and perhaps allowing the roots to escape in the ground for successive stages of thickening.

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Let me know what you think. I still don’t have an image for this tree would appreciate any suggestions or virts. Thanks for taking a look and have a great day!

Clump Japanese Maple

About 2 years ago I acquired a “forest” planting of Japanese maples. The health was questionable but it looked like a nice planting at a reasonable price. At the time the planting was composed of 2 main groupings with 8 trunks. The tree was planted in a dense mucky soil and from information I found online I thought it would be best to immediately repot it…..only that it was past bud break. Being ignorant in repotting practices I bare-rooted and repotted the tree in April. For Southern California that’s about 2 months after the ideal repotting window. What health it had began to decline further and for the remainder of the growing season I had unsightly and weak foliage.

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2015 Late Spring

Thankfully the tree did not kick the bucket. This is a photo early on after repotting but the tree was looking pretty grim by November. Being more knowledgeable the following year I repotted the tree during the appropriate window. Additionally I chose to separate the forest planting. With poor branching and not the most convincing arrangement it would never look really good. The planting was separated into 3 groups: the clump, main tree, and a small but well ramified tree. Here is the clump after a really solid growing season without any significant problems:

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2017

The tree was repotted last week and underwent a basic styling. Trunks were positioned with guy wires and the twigs wired out. All coarse growth and branching was pruned off. I am hoping for good ramification and branching this next season so that I can really begin getting this tree into shape.

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2017 post styling

There are actually 5 trunks in the group instead of 4 when originally purchased. The 5th trunk appeared over the last year and I decided to keep it. The lateral buds should give me branching to play with and help it fit in with the other trunks. The base is fused together well and the nebari is developing well with currently hidden, but nice radial roots. I think over the next few years it will start looking pretty nice. I may allow some whips to grow so that I can approach graft them where needed and rework some of the apexes which have larger internodes. Let me know what you think!

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Root over rock elm

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1-2 year old Chinese elm

My neighbor has 2 large chinese elm trees in their front yard. Some years more than others, seeds will fall into my yard and root themselves in various places. Last year I dug out one of these donor elm seedlings, approximately 1 year old, and planted in a small nursery can. The tree grew unrestricted for the entire year over doubling in size.

The tree was significantly pruned back (the previous shoots being at least 3 feet tall or so) and the roots were slightly pruned leaving most of the lateral roots. My initial plans were to let it thicken up and develop it as a broom style tree but I wanted to do something different. The tree was secured to the rock using raffia and seram wrap then planted in the ground. I’m hoping it lives and if so, the roots were secured tightly enough to the rock to prevent separation. Will post updates in spring and will check the roots next year if it lives!

Thanks for taking a look and subscribe for more projects to be posted in the coming weeks!