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.
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.
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.
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
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:
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.
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/
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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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.
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.
The long sacrifice branch was cut this fall
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.
The tree was then potted in a mix of scoria, pumic, diatomaceous earth, and some zeolite.
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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