The Great Outdoors: Mt. Wilson

“This trail has been created for you – the city dweller – so that you might exchange, for a short time, the hectic scene of your urban life for the rugged beauty and freedom of adventure into the solitary wonderland of nature.”

– United States Forest Service

Its been long due for a post. If you’ll entertain me, I’ve decided to do something a bit different.

7 AM. Start. Class, research, study, socializing, networking, career, career planning, relationships, improve mandarin, learn Japanese, learn Spanish, work out (gym? cycle? climb?), aspirations, mindless streaming, mindless gaming, more study, eat. Stop. Despite achieving some, I am successful in none. Even if only temporary I sought an escape–an interlude from the chaos imposed by day to day life.

Memorial day weekend arrived and with more time on my hands I decided to set out on a hike. Although I’ve been afforded many hiking opportunities in the past, it had been at least 3-4 years since I went on something more substantial. For the route in question, perhaps 5 years since my last attempt. Of since I’ve gained a much greater appreciation of the outdoors. All things considered, I was eager to set out.

I would be hiking Mt. Wilson starting from the Gabrielino Trail and looping back on Mt. Wilson Trail. The route is approximately 15 miles round trip with 4,000 ft of elevation gain.

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I began my day at 5:00 AM, an unholy hour. While the sane, should they have the choice, was sleeping in I packed my gear and set out early to secure parking.

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But hey, the cat’s awake though!

I was heading to the Chantry Flats station. Despite getting there at 6:25 AM, 25 minutes after they open the gate, the parking lot was already completely filled. I was fortunate to find parking further down the road. Had I been enthusiastic enough I could of biked up there and locked it to the provided racks, bypassing the need for parking. I wasn’t too keen on stacking a difficult bike ride and hike together. Perhaps next time.

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I followed the Gabrielino Trail, a popular well traversed segment likely due to its creek-side pathing. Water running through the Santa Anita Wash created a lush understory and a diverse canopy of both deciduous and evergreen trees. White alders dominated the landscape with oaks mixed in.

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I also got a look at the nearby Sturtevant Falls. Even at 7 am there were still a fair amount of people at the falls. Speaks for its popularity.

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As the trail branched away from the creek the canopy transformed into groves of live oaks, one of my favorite species for bonsai cultivation and in its natural form. One oak in particular stood above the rest. The enormous trunk and boulder its’ roots grasped was a testament to it’s age–undoubtedly a centennial at minimum. It’s difficult to get a sense of scale but the boulder is at least 5-6 feet tall.

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Here are some shots for the remainder of the Gabrielino Trail.

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The Gabrielino trail led into Sturtevent Trail which would be taken to the summit. The gradual incline became steeper and steeper and white firs and big cone spruce would begin to take hold.

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The dense canopies restricted your field of vision but the latter half of this segment afforded expansive vistas.

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Soon after I reached the top. Instead of pristine alpine summit you’re met with paved roads and astronomical equipment. As a consolation prize you get to eat at a cafe.

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Of course, the trip wouldn’t count if I didn’t photograph the USGS marker.

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The views back down were nothing special but I did see many spectacular manzanitas–characterized by the striking contrast between their red bark and bleached deadwood. Highly sought after as bonsai, but are extremely difficult to collect and keep.

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All in all it was an enjoyable trip and I plan to do more in the future. I hope you’ve enjoyed my post and its off topic nature. Thanks for taking a look!

Bonus panorama shot:

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Carving workshop with Will Baddeley

Easter Sunday wasn’t spent in pious gatherings or church festivities but rather in the deafening whirling of 8-9 simultaneously running dremels. I came unprepared for the onset of woody carnage. Flying bits of wood, flying bits, and flying die grinders. Good thing I was wearing eye protection. This action was found in non other than a Will Baddeley workshop–a bonsai professional from the UK with a focus on carving. There were 9 participants with a wide arrange of material including olives, bald cypress, buttonwood, boxwood, and others.

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I neglected to take pictures of everyone’s’ trees but got a few good shots. For starters here are my own trees:

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Large nandina bamboo with corky bark
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Foliage tied down to clear space for carving

I dug out this nandina several months back. Considering how much foliage it has put out and that it was relatively secure in the pot (meaning new roots) I was confident that the tree could handle the stress of carving. I would be carving down all the middle trunks that failed to backbud post initial collection as well as a stub in the front where I had removed a low sub trunk. Will’s workshops are very hands on–meaning you do most of the work and he provides the direction.

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I really should of taken my time here and was fortunate I didn’t compromise the design. I went all out and grabbed a makita die grinder with a large 3/4s or 1 inch ball carbide and grinded away. All those mid sub trunks were obliterated but I quickly realized that I needed to leave some wood to do finer detail work on.

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I used this triangular bit to add in some channels and prepared the next region for carving by stripping the bark. The stub would become an uro with a lip and the outer region would be recessed more. A lot of Will’s advice emphasized depth. Meaning that instead of carving clear cut holes you should do them at angles to create shadows or pockets. Doing so created more realistic deadwood as opposed to a contrived flat image.

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Best shot I could get at the time but you can see it taking shape.

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Rough work in the back. Edges need to be worked and detail put in.

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Hollowing some small sub trunks on another side. A nice detail I added here myself is a spiraling piece of wood. Its in the upper middle part of the shot and was carved out from one of the larger sub trunks.

Some finished shots. The carving could be refined and use some detail work but for the most part its done. I will allow the tree to grow unrestricted the entire year with lots of fert. Next spring I will cut back the outer sub trunks more and select primary branching.

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Final shot
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Image is a bit flat but the carving here was the best on the entire tree in my opinion. The lip has lots of detail and character
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I realize that I didn’t clean up the bottom of the channels with the obvious drill bit holes. At the time the entire tree was covered in sawdust and details like that went unnoticed

Tree dos:

This is jujube I’ve actually had for quite a long time. It started out as a tree in my parent’s yard. They were going to throw it out so I took it and bonsai’d it. Meaning chopping off 90% of the tree. Although covered this tree has REALLY good nebari with nice thick spreading surface roots. I didn’t really do anything with it and just let it grow the past few years. Last year it sulked a bit from over-watering but overall seemed out. There was some dieback from the initial cutback and decided that I might as well bring it to the workshop since I had no other plans.

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Removing bark and prepping for carving
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Top hollowed
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Hard to see detail here but under Will’s advice I created lips on the outside and angled cuts to create depth
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Top prepped for detail work. Did not take a close shot of top after detail but its dark. I’ll stick it in later
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Final shot. Burned the wood a bit to add depth.

Plan is to feed heavily and allow for strong growth. I will use basic wiring and clip and grow to develop this tree. I plan to make the foliage weeping seeing how mature trees have overhanging foliage. If they live I’ll post updates in the summer. Should prove to be interesting projects for me to mess around with.

Anyhow enough of my trees and onto shots of the workshop and trees other people brought:

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Settling in the morning
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Safety talk
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Assessment of trees
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Work on a large olive. Neglected to photograph the tree but a lot of wood removed on this one
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Jamie’s bald cypress
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Hank’s olive
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Nelson’s buttonwood. Gnarly deadwood on this one
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Getting all up in there
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Detail work
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Bob’s boxwood
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Nelson’s buttonwood enjoying a wash and reprieve from carving

A group picture I stole. Hank took the shot. Missing Jamie and Jack if I  have that right?

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Well that’s it folks. If I find any good shots I’ll add them in. All in all I had a good time. It was nice talking to Nelson, Jamie, as well as meeting many new people. Was able to have a hand at my first serious carving attempt even if it wasn’t very good. Hope you enjoyed the read! These posts take quite some time to make so if you liked it a subscription is cool too.

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.

windswept kishu

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!

Bonsai-a-thon XXI: New friends and stories

Last weekend I was able to attend the 21st Bonsai-a-thon hosted at the Huntington Gardens. It was a good opportunity to meet members of the bonsai community and to check out some rad trees! I was only able to stay for a few hours Saturday and for the first half on Sunday. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the event for the time I was able to attend.

Meeting new people is my weak suit, so it was great for me make some bonsai friends.

Day 1:

I had missed the demonstrations in the morning but still was able to check out the displayed trees and vendors. The display was hosted by the Viet Bonsai Society for this years show and the quality of the trees were superb. I saw many familiar faces and vendors including Frank Yee, who has been very nice to me since I joined up with Santa Anita Bonsai Society and Barry Altshule who I grabbed a nice live oak from 2 years ago. No shots of vendors unfortunately but here are the trees:

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Jim Barrett elm donated to the Huntington Gardens
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Al Nelson coast live oak donated to gardens

During the first day I went to Dick Ryerson’s table and talked to him and Phil Hogan (correct me if I got his last name wrong). Dick shared an interesting story about a glaze with me. The so called “million dollar yellow.”

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A picture of the glaze I stole from the net

Glazes, or the finish put on pots, are a cumulation of chemistry, ingredients, and artistry. During the high firing process many metals or other components of the glaze oxidize changing in appearance and color. Variations are endless, but when done right you can make a pot of unrivaled character and beauty. For the same reason recipes for highly sought after glazes are often kept secret by the artist. For a particular pottist in China, that secrecy resulted in the recipe dying with him. To the Chinese government’s (or maybe a private company?) dismay, no one could reproduce the highly sought after yellow. Desperate to have the recipe again they offered $1,000,000 (yes, one million dollars) to anyone who could reproduce it. Potter Otto Heino and his wife would spend 15 years trying to reproduce the glaze, and was ultimately successful in doing so. Officials came to his home, confirmed that the glaze was indeed authentic, and paid him the 7 figure check. There was one caveat though–for as long as Heino was alive they could only buy the glaze from him, but would give the formula after his death.

The most amusing part comes next. Heino took that 7 figure sum, presumably an unheard of amount of money in the community he lived in, and deposited at this local bank. Word got around that Otto Heino had deposited a million dollars for “pot.” Yes…that kind of pot. Due to the misunderstanding the local police stormed into his home the following evening and tore up his place in search of the aforementioned “pot.” Goes to show how valuable “pot” can be.

I ended up buying a pot from Dick and put a nice small live oak in it. The tree in question is discussed in my previous post.

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Coast Live Oak in Ryerson pot

Day 2:

I was recommended by Dick and Phil to watch the Al Nelson’s demonstration on Sunday. Al’s an expert on developing live oak bonsai and was advised to talk to him. I arrived to the Huntington Gardens early Sunday morning with just that intention but ended up doing something entirely different.

One of the demonstrators was Bob Pressler. Bob’s a well known person in the local bonsai scene and owns Kimura Nursery in Northridge. I had just arrived at the demonstration room when Bob asked the onlookers for a volunteer. Surely, among the audience (most of whom are at least twice my age) had more experience with bonsai and was better suited to help out–but no one volunteered. I thought, “heck why not, it should be fun” and walked over to Bob’s table. For the next 3 hours I applied raffia and wire on a medium sized kishu juniper. Bob on the other hand was working on a bottle-brush (callistemon) tree.

Bob was donating the bottle-brush to the raffle while the kishu would be kept, only brought as a demonstration. As we were finishing up he turned over to me and asked, “do you know what we’re going to do with the tree?” Semi-cascade would be the obvious answer but Bob had mentioned he’d like to do something more interesting if possible, so I replied, “I don’t know.” He said, “you’re going to take it home.”

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Al Nelson, to be working on a group planting of pygmy cypress
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Lets take a look…
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“What have you done to my tree”

I never expected to participate in the demonstration, not to mention taking a tree home. Bob’s a pretty cool guy and I enjoyed talking to him. Working the tree as a “demonstrator” really enabled me to talk to other members of the bonsai community as well. I was approached by Helen Barrett and talked about cycling, bonsai, and her athletic feats. She later introduced me to her husband, Jim Barrett who makes awesome pots. All in all, it was a fun experience.

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This is the best shot of the tree I have for now. I will be styling it later this month and will post it up on my blog so be sure keep a look out.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my post and feel free to leave a comment. These posts really do take quite some time to make so a subscription would mean a lot.

Julian

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!