Bougainvillea: From climber to Bonsai, first steps.

A friend of mine is going to make alterations to his house which includes demolishing the garage. As my luck would have it, a relatively old Bougainvillea climber is growing on the side of the building and it was going to end up at the dump when building starts. I kindly offered to remove the plant for him. So today was the day, overcast with the odd light rain falling. Perfect conditions for the operation.

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The first part of the job was to take the plant down to stump level. This took about an hour as this Bougainvillea had a lot of quite large thorns. Once that was done, the stump was wiggled and I found that it had two large roots going to either side of the plant. One of the surprises was that the wood is quite soft and this extended to the roots. The spade went right through a two-inch thick root with one go at it.

One of the roots grew underneath the building and as it was quite close to the building, I decided to pull the stump over to the front. On the one hand this was a mistake as the large root tore in two which left it with quite a large wound (was going to have one anyway due to the cut), but on the other hand, it left me with a smaller plant now separated from the larger stump. Not bad, two plants for the price of one dig.

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I quickly cleared the area up and did not wrap the roots as I would normally do as it was a ten-minute drive to get home. At home, the two plants were placed in a bucket with water in which I dissolved some aspirin. Aspirin has the same active ingredient that is found in willow bark and this is said to be supporting root growth stimulation, just like hormone rooting powder.

From here I prepared two pots by adding drainage material (stones) at the bottom and then filled the rest with 1 part compost and two parts pumice. I also shortened the larger stump. More rooting hormone powder was applied, planted, watered and placed in a good, protected spot. The good old human attribute of patience will be applied while we await the outcome.

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Wiring in three phases.

I prefer to wire and shape trees in three stages. The first stage involves the trunk and larger branches. The second phase incorporates the secondary branches and the third is the fine wiring and placement of tertiary and finely developed, ramified branches / twigs with leaves or needles. Each phase lasts a minimum of a year and includes at least one growing season. This video shows some intermediate wiring.

Why? I do find that this way produces a better, more refined product and it gives the tree more time to adjust and recover from harsh bends. My gut instinct tells me that it might also be better for sap flow in especially Junipers compared to trees that undergo a full wiring, bending, cutting and sometimes even a full repot in one session. I do hope that this last scenario is not a common thing.

I might have to change this as I now live in a warmer climate with a longer growing season. Time and attention to growth patterns will tell.

Chamaecyparis progression

What to do on a wintry day with the wind howling outside, rain bucketing down and more to come judging by the Ruahine Ranges covered in dark, ominous looking clouds? One idea is to cuddle up and get a good book out, another to get a hearty soup on the go, but the one that I gravitated towards, was to work on a nursery stock, small Chamaecyparis obtusa standing on my Bonsai bench. It has been there for more than a year now, just waiting for a day like today.

The Chamaecyparis, also known as the Hinoki False Cypress, is native to Japan. It is a very slow growing tree and the nursery label on this little one states that it will grow to 60 cm high by 50 cm wide in 10 years. It has whorled branches of lovely dark green foliage and an upright habit with character and charm. Obviously not for long.

Before I start, here is some more information on the Hinoki Cypress. The foliage consists of evergreen, fine scale-like leaves, dark and shiny green above (adaxial) with glaucous margins between scales which form a distinct “x” shaped pattern beneath (abaxial). This species is monocious with small male reddish brown cones and slightly larger female flowers which are round and yellow-green in color. It bears fruit in late summer, but these are quite small. The bark is gray and scaly with long furrows of reddish brown inner bark which peels in long, narrow strips.

With this wind howling outside, I am going to let it influence my thinking and create a windswept (Fukinagashi) style shohin. I am sure that other styles will come to mind as I progress with this little tree.

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This is what I thought the front of the tree should be based on the Nebari.

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This is the view from the other side after a quick clean-up of the lower branches.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Nebari shows more prominent growth on the left hand side. This means that the tree could slant towards the right.

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With that in mind the leaves are removed from the smaller branch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The rest of the tree is cleaned-up by thinning out some of the foliage.

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At a slight slant to the right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This looks like a nice little tree already with the bark stripped off the smaller branch (Jinned) as well as a back branch and some other smaller branches.

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I could have stopped with the previous photo’s style, but wanted to style this in a Windswept style. Slightly more pronounced slant, more thinning and wired.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The final product, all potted up and kept in a sheltered place.

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The size is 16 cm by 10 cm by 10 cm. Now it will be fertilized and watered regularly.

Soil pH and Bonsai

Ask a room full of Bonsai artists about soil and you will probably get different perspectives from each and every one of them. Soil for Bonsai cultivation is widely discussed and opinions are easy to find. From those who can afford to import Akadama and other Japanese sourced mediums through to Cat litter soils and organic mixes, all serve a purpose. In the end it is probably better to talk about the “Growing Medium” rather than soil as some Bonsai trees grow in mixes that can hardly be classified as Soil when one goes with the “normal” definition of what soil is. Here in New Zealand we just refer to it as “dirt”, but that is probably not good English for what we use to grow our Bonsai in. One thing that is not very well considered when it comes to soil and soil types, is the pH of the soil for Bonsai.

Ph is a measure of the acidity and alkalinity of the soil and is expressed on a scale that goes from 0 to 14. ) is very acidic, 7 is neutral and 14 is very alkaline. Soil pH is largely determined by the type of rock or parent material that the soil originates from. Limestone for instance will produce soil that is more alkaline. Soils with a higher content of decomposing organic material normally lies on the acidic side.

The pH of the soil is important as it affects the control of the solubility of different minerals. Different minerals are available to plant roots at different pH levels. What is available and can dissolve at a low pH, will not be available at a high pH as the solubility of the mineral is effected. Soil pH also has an effect on soil structure and the activity of soil organisms.

Some plants do not have a big issue with pH levels, but others are very specific. In the satsuki-azalea-bonsaiBonsai world, Azaleas and Camellias could be a good example. These plants prefer a slightly acidic soil. Fruit trees also produce more fruit  in slightly acidic soil. This is not a major consideration for Bonsai artists as Fruiting Bonsai are not necessarily grown for its fruit. As a whole, pH is something to be kept in mind for Bonsai artists, especially for those pH specific trees, but our larger concern should be for the drainage capacity of the soil. Here-in lies another challenge. Due to the free-draining characteristics of most Bonsai soils, it is very easy for minerals to dissolve in the water and be washed out of the soil. It is therefore important to fertilize the trees and to ensure that a good mineral supply is available.

What do you water your trees with? Water you say. Yes, but not all water is created equally. Your water supply could contain different types of chemicals that can in turn be deposited in your Bonsai soil and over time, alter the pH of the soil. Areas where the air is highly polluted can acidify the rain water and this in turn can change the chemical composition of your soil. So, what to do?

Common sense and logic, although sometimes scarce, should prevail. Water your plants with what you have available. If it is rain water from an unpolluted source, you are winning Lotto. If it is town sourced, it could contain all sorts of things like fluoride. The main thing is to be aware of your water source and to act accordingly. Also know that regular watering will wash nutrients out, therefore fertilize and use mineral supplements. If you are worried or just inquisitive about the soil pH, get a digital tester or a testing kit and determine the pH. If there is a problem, it can be rectified by either a preventative strategy (like only use unpolluted rain water or do not use organic material in your growing medium) or use supplements that will get your soil to the ideal pH for the specific tree. My experience is that to not let pH become something that makes you lie awake at night, but to use the opportunity to get to know more about your tree, find out about its specific pH preferences and then adjust by either supplying minerals or changing your growing medium when needed.

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Images are open source and the last one is from http://www.exoplexity.org.

Sacrifice Branches

I currently have a few trees that do not look very refined. As a matter of fact, they look like shrubs and in some cases like Bonsai trees with one or two branches that were missed at the previous pruning. This is all done deliberately for very specific reasons. The sacrifice branch is a necessity in Bonsai growing.Sacrifice branches 008

Why do we need to do this? The main reason is to enhance growth in a specific area. The theory is that the branch that is allowed to just grow and increase in length will have more sap flowing through it, therefore more nutrients and in turn you get a much faster growth rate compared to regularly pruned branches. One specific case would be to thicken the main trunk. This could be either during the early years after a seed has germinated or a cutting has struck. The more side branches you have that can grow, the thicker the trunk will become. The leader is of importance here. Let this grow until you get to the desired thickness and then cut.

Another reason is to improve taper. If a branch or two are left on the trunk to grow out, the area below the branches will thicken more than the area above it. This leads to a thicker bottom half if the branches were left halfway up the trunk, compared to the top half of the tree.

Another reason for letting a sacrifice branch grow is to get a side branch to thicken in proportion to other branches. An example of this could be that a branch is needed lower down on a trunk and the branches above are all thicker than the lower one. The lower one is then left to grow until the desired thickness is attained and then it is cut back.

There are a few things to keep in mind when sacrifice branches are used. The first one is to remember that the sacrifice branch will create more shade than other branches and this could impact negatively on the growth patterns underneath this branch. A second point to remember is that sacrifice branches that are cut back, can leave quite large scars that will have to heal over time. For trunk thickening it could be best to use a branch at the back or in a place where the design of the tree will hide the scar. A third point to mention is that side branches will start to grow upwards. This growth needs to be controlled if the branch is suppose to be horizontal or even growing slightly downwards.

In the examples below, sacrifice branches were mainly used to thicken side branches to either fill a gap, create a new branch or to correct parallel branches.

Top left: There are two vertical branches parallel to each other growing from the main trunk as well as two bar-branches at the bottom.

Right: the one parallel vertical branch was removed and a new branch allowed to grow out at an angle, removing the parallel effect.

Bottom left: The sacrifice branch and the vertical branch in close up to compare the thickness. This is one season’s growth for this maple.

 

 

Pine Seedlings as Cuttings – Early work to get a killer Nebari.

In an earlier post (https://wordpress.com/post/bonsaiplace.net/515), I have written about imagethe germination of Pine seedlings. These seeds (planted on 26 January 2016) germinated very fast and are now large enough to change into cuttings. The reason why I do this is that it gets rid of the tap root early on and forces the seedling to grow new roots and the hope is that the new roots will develop radially for a really great nebari. That is theory.

I started off by making sure that I have all the tools needed to start the process. This included containers with seedling mix, a surgical blade, hormone rooting liquid as well as my trusty Rhizotonic.

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The first step is to wet the seedling mix in the container with the Rhizotonic solution. Rhizotonic is a dynamic, organic root stimulator and stress reliever (wonder whether it works for humans?). I use it for everything that is re-potted, yamadori that are planted and especially for plants where a lot of roots have to be cut.

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The next step is to very gently remove the seedlings from the original container. This phase needs to be accurate and quick as the seedlings cannot dry out during this time. The seedlings are placed on a cutting board and the tap roots are removed by cutting through the seedling where the stem and taproot meets. It is important that a very sharp blade is used as the stem cannot be bruised or crushed at this stage.

The seedlings are then handled by the leaves to further prevent bruising to the stem and it is placed in the rooting hormone. From here the seedlings are quickly planted in the seed raising soil. The seedlings are now watered in with the Rhizotonic solution and placed in a shady, but warm location. From here the seedlings will be sprayed with the Rhizotonic solution twice a day and if necessary even three times a day. Now the wait begins. The date today is 20 March 2016.

Tanuki – Cheating or Design Technique?

Wikipedia defines Tanuki Bonsai as a technique where a living tree is joined to an
interesting piece of deadwood to create a composite in the

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From: artofbonsai.org

driftwood style. It goes further to state that the deadwood usually has the form of a weathered tree trunk. The tree is attached to the deadwood by making use of screws, clamps or wire. Over time, the tree will grow into the channels created  and in so doing will disguise the fact that it is a separate entity.

In Japanese folklore, Tanuki, the Japanese raccoon-dog. are shape-changing tricksters. It is also known as Phoenix-grafts in the West. Personally, I think it is a good artistic technique to either enhance a piece of deadwood or a tree. There is no difference in attaching a tree to a rock compared to attaching a tree to a piece of deadwood. I had to try my hand at this. My experience is written up below.

A0B7514F-C852-4AA4-9296-EDDF2C729AC2I first had to find the right tree. I decided on a young Juniper with a lot of flexibility. The next project was to find a suitable, characterful piece of deadwood. I managed to get a piece on the beach. A note of warning is needed here. If driftwood from a beach is used, it is important to get rid of all salt on and in the wood. I submersed the wood for three weeks in fresh water and regularly changed the water as well as used a high pressure stream of water and scrubbing on it. It was then left in the sun for another week. The third component was a pot selected from my pot collection.

The first job on the pot was to get enough tie wires in place asA47DF033-8C01-4C66-9DDC-E2A8D839DB39 the deadwood and tree must be secured very firmly. It is wise to get a hardener on the deadwood. I treated it with lime sulphur as the bottom part will be in the wet soil. I have read that the end could also be placed on a solid object like a tile to minimise the part in contact with the soil. My first challenge was to drill extra holes in the pot. For the first time in my life, I had a pot which is so hard, that the drill bit did not even make an indentation on the pot. The tie wires therefore had to be attached through the drainage holes.

The next phase was to ensure a flat structure at the bottom of the deadwood to make it stand more solidly in the pot. This was done by simply determining the angle, marking the wood and using a handsaw to make the cut. Next I had to drill holes into the deadwood for the tie wires. Advice found was to use a router to create channels in the deadwood. This was not necessary on this piece as it had natural channels that could be used for the tree to be placed in snugly.

The tree was now prepared by  preparing the roots and cleaning up the trunk. It was put in place starting at the bottom and fixing it to the deadwood with non-reacting (copper) thin screws. I pre-drilled the tiny holes as the tree is very thin in places and did not want it to split. Branches which came in the way of this process were removed. I decided to leave the growth at the top as is as I did not want to stunt the growth too much at this stage. The whole idea is that the trunk fattens up to secure itself into the channels and adhere to the deadwood. Branches were wired and now the maintenance work of feeding and watering begins. No pruning will take place until the two entities become one (hopefully).

Cheating or a legitimate technique? You decide! I found a reference on bonsainut.com that mentioned that Masahiko Kimura designed Tanuki and it also mentioned that John Naka once threw one out of a display and told the owner to go and get a real Bonsai. I will update this post as the Tanuki showed here progresses.

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Seed Germination

During a conversation with Noel Plowman at the National Bonsai Convention and Show in New Zealand towards the end of 2015, Noel made the statement that it is hard to get good Pine genetic material in New Zealand. Most of the seedlings propagated for the forestry industry is genetically engineered to grow straight trunks with no bark. Both of these factors are not really what Bonsai growers want. We then talked about the thousands of very old Pine trees all over New Zealand, mostly growing on farmland. The photo below shows such a scene, complete with good old New Zealand dairy cows.

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This made me look at these trees in a different light and it did not take me long to go and scavenge on a farm (with the farmers permission) to find these original genetic material in seeds for propagation purposes. This I did knowing full well that I am germinating these seeds for the next generation and not myself. The main idea was to collect the cones from trees that show thick bark.

Cones collected, the next job was to get the seeds out of the cones. This basically ended up being a good solid shake of the cone and the seeds fell out. Quite a few seeds were harvested from each cone. The wings were removed from the seeds.

The next step was to find the viable seed. This is done by placing the seeds in a container with water. The seeds that sink are more viable and the ones that float, are discarded.

I left the seeds overnight and planted the viable seeds the following day. The seeds do have a pointy end and the seed is planted with this pointy end facing downwards. Now the long wait begins as it is known that these seeds can take a long time to germinate and that they do so in a haphazard way. I will update this post as the process unfolds.

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Planted and labelled. The long waiting game now starts.

 

The waiting is over. This was quick. Only three weeks from planting to germination.

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Defoliation

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It is a well-known fact that defoliating a Bonsai tree will enhance the growth of smaller leaves. I have also read that it allows more enhanced ramification as well. I have never tried this technique before, but am also in the process of designing and babying a small Zelkova Zelkova leavesinto something resembling a Shohin Bonsai. This tree was carved and repeatedly pruned until where it is today. A lot of time and work still lies ahead. One of the things that must be done now is to reduce the size of the leaves.

 

MatchesOut comes the researcher in me and I start to do what researchers do. First step is to Google the term “defoliation”. An interesting phenomenon is that a lot of information is available on the defoliation of Cannabis plants. I have not tried to “Bonsai” one of those, but it makes sense that people who do grow these plants, do. I have also found information on the defoliation of other “forage” plants. This is done to stimulate the growth of more leaves as it is used to either feed animals or people or in the first mentioned case, smoke it (maybe it is for medicinal purposes). It is also mentioned that it stimulates overall growth of the plant.

Back to Bonsai. As said, the main purpose of defoliation is to decrease the size of the new leaves. The definition is self explanatory. It is the stripping of leaves from the plant. As leaves are the main centre for photosynthesis (producing food for the plant), one must be careful that it is done at the right time of the year as well as on some deciduous trees only. Please take note, not all deciduous trees can be defoliated safely. The best time to carry this process out is after the new spring growth has hardened off. Mid-summer is good for this. This allows the plant enough time before autumn and winter to grow the new smaller leaves. One theory of why the  new leaves are smaller, is that due to the lack of food (less photosynthesis), less energy is available for the new growth. Another theory is that plant hormones (auxins) come into play and inhibit the growth rate of the new leaves. What better example do we have than some plants that can be grown from leaf cuttings for the actions of auxins in leaves and leaf stalks in evidence.

It is also mentioned that it is better to leave as much of the leaf stalk as you can when defoliating a tree. This also has to do with the action of auxins, but to me a more pressing reason would be that the bud at the base of the stalk is protected if the stalk is still in place. I found it easier to lift the leaf up and to cut it from underneath as the stalk is more visible from that angle on especially deeply indented leaves at the base.

It is also mentioned that defoliating a tree will lead to more intense autumn colours of the leaves. This is probably due to the fact that a much smaller space of time is left to produce food for the plant and that an accumulation of sugars in the leaves lead to these more intense colour changes.

Another positive addition could be that this process will also lead to good budding closer to the trunk as these areas will now also be exposed to more sunlight.

I have now done the deed. By the way, make sure that you have a lot of time available as this is a very time consuming task. This small tree took about an hour and a half to defoliate. Other Bonsai Blogs also have more information on this process. My intention with this blog is to start a photograph trail of the process. I will post new pictures as soon as the new leaves emerge until we get to Autumn.

Pohutukawa as Bonsai

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Root over rock as Bonsai

Metrosidorus excelsa, also known as the New Zealand Christmas tree and in Maori, Pohutukawa, is an interesting tree to style as Bonsai.

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This looks like two smaller trees, simulating a clump style Bonsai.


   
I have recently had the opportunity to photograph a few very old Pohutukawa trees in Mt Maunganui in New Zealand. I have no idea how old they are, but their form is quite distinctive when you study the trees in nature. From this I came to the conclusion that they are best suited for informal upright, clump style or root over rock style. They naturally grow aerial roots and form good bark on exposed roots. The red coloured flowers add to the spectacle. The three Bonsai photos are mainly from the http://www.nzbonsai.co.nz website and the http://www.bonsaiforbeginners.com site.

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Masses of aerial roots makes it perfect for a root over rock style.

The photos following from there are the photos of the trees growing in Mt Maunganui, New Zealand. The first group is typical of the clump style growth that a lot of these trees show.

The next group of trees shows why I think the Pohutukawa is excellent material for root over rock style.

Some of these trees are also seen in nature as examples of an informal upright style.

I have also noticed some branches hanging very low, almost to the point of being a cascade or a semi-cascade.

I have been growing cuttings of another form of Meterosidorus, namely the Metrosideros kermadecensis. This tree has smaller leaves than the excelsa which is great for Bonsai. All these varieties are frost sensitive and needs protection in cold climates.

 

 

 

Sphagnum Moss and Bonsai

Sphagnum moss is used in a variety of ways in conjunction with growing Bonsai. The main characteristic of Sphagnum that makes it useful to Bonsai growing is its ability to hold a lot of water. Sphagnum moss plants can hold 16–26 times as much water as their dry weight.sphagnum

Sphagnum also does not decay easily as it contains phenolic compounds in its cell walls. It therefore can be used in applications that can take a long time to complete. It does not break down as easily as other growing mediums. Sphagnum originating from peat bogs is known to aid in preservation of substances due to the phenols, but also due to the fact that it grows in an anaerobic environment. Less oxygen means less decay. It is a well-known fact that bones and the remains of living organisms that end up in peat bogs tend to be quite well-preserved after a long period of time.

These mosses can also acidify its surroundings. This is something to keep in mind when the moss is used as a growing medium or part of a growing medium. It is therefore advised that sphagnum moss is not used with plants that prefer a more alkaline environment.

It is also a natural antiseptic. Sphagnum Moss was used extensively during the World Wars in field dressings to pack out wounds and under bandages to keep wounds clean.

Harvesting these mosses is hard work. It also comes from areas that could be ecologically very sensitive. These facts can contribute to the fact that good quality sphagnum moss can be quite costly. There are environmental concerns about the sustainability of moss harvesting.

In Bonsai cultivation, Sphagnum moss is mostly used in conjunction with roots and root growing. It is a well-known fact that when trees are harvested from nature (Yamadori) that it is a good idea to pack wet sphagnum moss amongst the roots. The reason for this is obvious due to the water holding abilities of the moss. During a recent dig, I not only packed the moss amongst the roots, but also wrapped it in hessian before it went into a plastic bag for the trip home. This not only held the moss in place, but aided in keeping the moisture in. I am also at the moment experimenting with two similar trees, one with Sphagnum in the soil mix and the other with normal soil mix. The question to be answered is whether the one shows more and better root growth than the other one. More on the results in a future blog.

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Sphagnum moss is also used for air-layering. Again the moss is tightly packed around the wound created for the purpose of providing a medium for root growth. The water-holding capacity is again the main reason for using the moss. In this case it also helps to allow air flow through the medium which will aid in root growth as well.

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Root development in Bonsai

Tree_roots_cross_section-e1351581137309-1024x451It pays to know something about the anatomy and physiology of roots when it comes to developing the root system of Bonsai trees. It is said that a tree mimics its above ground growth to what happens with root growth below ground level. This might be true for trees in nature, but with Bonsai it could be quite different due to the fact that we prune the roots and the roots also have to grow in a confined space.

When a root is studied under a microscope it is clear that there partsofrootsare different tissue types present in different areas of the root. On the outside is an epidermis layer consisting of cells. To increase the surface area, and therefore the absorptive area of the root, extensions of these epidermal cells grow into the soil. These are the root hairs. The main job of the root hairs is to absorb water and nutrients. They are very small and fragile and normally breaks off when a plant is pulled from the soil. This is a very good reason to be gentle when a plant is uprooted and when soil is removed from the roots.Root(cross_section)

The next layer under the epidermis is the cortex. These cells are loosely spaced to allow for the movement of gasses and dissolved nutrients to the core of the root. The middle part (core or stele) of the root consists of the vascular tissues, the xylem and the phloem. The xylem particularly is of importance here as it is through this tissue that the water and nutrients are transported to the rest of the plant. Around the vascular tissue is another layer of cells, called the endodermis and underneath this is the pericycle.

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Lateral root growing from the pericycle.

This pericycle is of particular importance to the plant and Bonsai artists as this is where lateral roots originate from. The origin of the lateral roots is therefore situated deep inside the root structure and not like the branches or side shoots of the plant that originates from adventitious buds. The only reason for this that I can think of is that it provides better protection for the roots. It also means that the vascular tissue is in close contact with the lateral root.

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Apply rooting hormone to the cut roots.

If the root is studied externally the branching of roots can be seen as starting a little bit further back up the root and not right from the root tip. The same mechanism that applies to pruning above ground is also evident here. When the apical meristem (in the root tip) is removed, the pericycle is stimulated to grow more roots. This is also due to the influence or the lack of this influence, of plant hormones. This is the science  behind root pruning. When a root is pruned, more roots will grow from that area. It will help if rooting hormone is applied to the cut area as this will help to stimulate the pericycle to produce more roots. Ensure that the rooting hormone is applied evenly for an even spread of new roots. There is some evidence that when the rooting hormone is applied to only one side of a root, that more new roots will grow on that side. I will experiment with this and report back on findings.

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Air pruning.

The term air pruning has also been used in the propagation of plants. This method can be used for Bonsai as well, especially during the early phases of development where the emphasis is on the development of branches as well as the root system. It simply means planting the tree in a container with holes in it. The roots will grow to the edge of the container and either split or not grow any further.

Well-DrainedSoilsIt was mentioned earlier that the removal of the root tip (apical meristem) will stimulate the pericycle to grow more roots. This is also true when the apical meristem is damaged. Growing the tree in a soil medium with lots of granular particles can cause the root tip to split or damage it and this will in turn stimulate more lateral roots to grow.

Also of note here is that the majority of water and nutrients are absorbed through the root hairs. As these are usually in the vicinity of the root tip (directly behind it), it can be taken for granted that these root hairs will be removed or reduced when root pruning. The uptake of water and nutrients will therefore be compromised when root pruning takes place. Be vigilant. This is the reason why the tree should be watered well and placed in the shade after root pruning. Water loss through transpiration must be avoided. Factors that increase transpiration are heat, wind and leaf surface area. It is therefore a good idea to reduce the leaves after root pruning in the case of deciduous trees. This might be another reason for re-potting and root pruning in spring before the leaves are fully grown.

938277CE-FFB2-4BE6-B1C5-98D83AA77553As roots age, they undergo secondary growth or secondary thickening. This is basically when the softer tissue becomes woody and bark is formed. This happens faster with exposed roots. The main thing to remember here is that older roots that have gone through this process will not absorb water and nutrients. When root pruning, this needs to be taken into consideration. Always leave some of the younger, finer roots to provide the plant with water and nutrients.

Mycorrhizal fungus – Root friends

mycorrhizae-fungi

The white threads are Michorrizal fungi.

Mycorrhizal fungi occurs naturally in soil. They form a close symbiotic relationship with plant roots. They are called mycorrhizae ,from the Greek “mukés”, meaning fungus, and “rhiza,” meaning roots. Mycorrhizae are considered to be in a mutualistic relationship because both organisms benefit. The fungus receives the products of photosynthesis from the plant and is therefore does not need to find its own sources of energy. At the same time the fungus grows out into the soil and retrieves nutrients, especially phosphorus and nitrogen, and passes these back to the plant. It is usually seen as a network a very thin, white threads spread throughout the soil in close contact with roots.

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The root on the right has the fungus in close contact to enhance the absorptive area of the root. This means more nutrients and water can be absorbed than the root on the left.

However, in most soils that have been disturbed by residential construction, or intensive cropping practices with applications of fertilizers containing pesticides and other chemical products, the mycorrhizae content has considerably diminished, and has become insufficient to significantly enhance plant growth. Numerous experiments have shown that plants without mycorrhizae cannot cope as well with low mineral levels as those that have mycorrhizae.

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In a Bonsai pot, the soil is a very controlled environment. The Bonsai artist determines what goes into the soil, what it consists of and how much water is given.

When mycorrhizal fungi colonize the plant’s root system, they create a network that increases the plant’s capacity to absorb more water and nutrients such as phosphorus, copper and zinc. This process in turn enhances growth and favors rapid development of roots and plants. Where this fungus is present in soil, a much faster establishment rate of new roots is observed as well as a reduced water need of up to 30%. The reason for this is that the micorrhizae ensures a much larger surface area is available for the absorption of water and nutrients. The plants are healthier and grow faster.

There is also evidence that these fungi can also improve the structure of the soil. The threads grow through the growing medium and aggregates the soil. This allows for more air to move through the soil as well as enhancing drainage.

Back to Bonsai cultivation. As mentioned before, the soil in a Bonsai pot can be very sterile as it could consist of particles that do not necessarily contain living organisms or lots of organic matter. These could include valuable soil bacteria (nitrogen fixing bacteria) as well as michorrizal fungus. In the absence of these, it is important that the Bonsai artist allows for modsc_1936re (more frequent) fertilization to take place. Michorrizal fungus spores can be bought (I have not seen it in New Zealand yet), but a much less expensive way to inoculate your Bonsai soil with the spores is to use a bit of the original soil in the Bonsai pot at planting time. I find that this is especially important when I plant Pines and other conifers.

In summary: Most plants in nature live in a relationship with Micorrhizal fungi. Both organisms benefit from this relationship. Most Bonsai soils will not contain this fungus and by adding the fungus to Bonsai soil, the plant will establish faster, take up more nutrients and will need less water. Something to think about when it comes to transplanting time.

Nebari – The Root of the Matter

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These roots have grown over time, dropping of the side of a cliff.

No, we are not talking about the Nebari fictional alien race from the planet Farscape, but the Japanese term generally used to indicate the roots and specifically the root flare at the bottom of the trunk where the root region starts. It also indicates the visible surface roots.

Wikipedia refers to it as: “Also known as “buttressing”, nebari is the visible spread of roots above the growing medium at the base of a bonsai. Nebari help a bonsai seem grounded and well-anchored and make it look mature, akin to a full-sized tree.”

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My idea is to write three or so Blogs focusing on Nebari and the development of roots. There is no doubt in any Bonsai artist’s mind that the roots of a plant is where it all starts. Healthy roots = healthy plant (generally). A plant absorbs most of its water and nutrients from the soil through the roots. We therefore have to know something about soil and its water retention and draining properties. Not all soils are created equally. We also need to know something about the physiology and anatomy of roots. This knowledge will help us to understand many of the concepts around root pruning. This will come in later Blogs.

Autumn bonsai images 2014 (17)

A tree growing in a woodland area. These roots definitely add to the character of the tree and indicate that it has been there for a while.

Getting back to the Nebari, the main aim of establishing a root flair at the base of a tree is to indicate age. A wider base caused by a flaring just above the roots, helps to establish the taper of a tree. One way to develop taper is to increase the circumference of the tree at the base and to keep the top of the tree relatively thin. Young trees do not have a huge flair at the base, but older trees show this without fail. In saying that, there are trees that are used for Bonsai that do not show a big root flare. Junipers come to mind here.

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The roots are spread over a flat surface and tied to this surface.

There are multiple methods to improve the Nebari of a Bonsai tree. The first one is the continuous root pruning of downwards growing roots. For the health of the tree it is advised that this is done over time to enable the tree to grow new roots in the place of the removed roots. A second method is done through air layering. This is simply done through preparing the bottom of the trunk as one would for air layering and heaping up the soil or packing sphagnum moss around this area. Roots will over time establish themselves in that area. I have read about a method where a wire is bound tightly around the trunk just above the roots. The flow of nutrients will be impeded and that will cause new roots to grow from above the wire. I have not tried this method myself before and cannot comment on how successful it is. Other methods include drilling holes through flat tiles and tying the roots of the tree in a horizontal direction to the tile with wire through the drilled holes. It could also be done through grafting.

In the end, the Nebari plays a vital role in the aesthetics of the tree. It is crucial thfotolia_2553306_XSat some sort of Nebari be established as it indicates age, shows that the tree is balanced and sturdy and has been there for a long time.

The next Blog will address the science behind root development.

Swamp Cypress – Taxodium distichum

IMG_2943Two years ago this was a two and a half meter nursery tree. I chopped it down to about a meter at the nursery as I could not get it in my car. Then the journey began. It was potted in a Bonsai pot and left to grow, It had a light prune and a bit of a carve a year before and today it was time to revisit the shari and to get some wiring done. The buds are very fragile this time of year and great care has to be taken to not break them off.

The carving wasIMG_2945 done first. The original carving was done with very rudimentary tools. I now have a rotary carver as well as a router that I use for carving. I went deeper today and added a bit more detail to the top. Out came the burner to get rid of all the frilly bits. The bark and branches were protected by aluminium foil. It was finished off with a wire and then a nylon brush.

I used guy wires to pull the thicker branched down and then used 1 mm wire to wire and place the thinner branches. Now it has to rest and grow when Spring comes around again. I will also have to repot at a better time as I discovered that the soil was very wet. It is Winter in New Zealand now and it has been raining non-stop over the last 48 hours. These trees prefer a bit of a wetter soil, but this is just too wet at the moment.IMG_2947

This is a very easy tree to grow and it buds profusely in spring and carry on with this almost right through Summer. There are gaps on the left hand side that must be filled. I will keep an eye on any buds forming in that area like an expectant father. The top branches also must be shortened, but I will leave it as is for now as I need more buds and growth in that area to replace some of the existing branches. It has a soft foliage and contrasts well with other trees as the leaves are a very light green. These turn yellow-brown in Autumn.