What to do with the bush; trimming and disease control

Six trees. I’ll be brief (tough for me in text form I know, but if you meet me in person I am actually very quiet and of few words). I’ll try to be informative at the same time. I also need to warn you; there are no pretty “after” shots either. I apologize to my Instagram buddies as there’ll be no photogenically acceptable posts forthcoming. Not to mention the light was terrible for this photoset. Sorry. Let’s start with….. 20130928-154404.jpg A very bushy ficus salicaria. I would say it’s filled in well. 20130928-154807.jpg The pic above was from this post which was published on August 16 2013. This bushiness is very typical behavior for a willow leaf ficus. It can be daunting. 20130929-141223.jpg This pic below shows an area I had to shave: 20130929-141559.jpg In that little band (about 1/4 inch thick and a little more than an inch wide) there were more than 30 shoots. Inconceivable. Can you imagine if the Japanese had this species a hundred years ago? In a way I’m kinda glad that we have it now because it’s up to us to figure it out. And we growers and artists in Florida are at the forefront. One of those artists is Ed Trout. He is touring the country this year giving demos and leading workshops. If he is close by your town, and you get the chance, go see him. I highly recommend it. This is one of his trees: 20130930-091707.jpg And here is the man himself: 20130930-091822.jpg Always a smile, a joke and a kind word. He is one of the true gentleman of bonsai (unlike me, I’m gruff and taciturn at best) He will be at Wigert’s Bonsai’s open house this year (November 2-3 www.wigertsbonsai.com) And I am excited to say, one of the headliners for the 2014 Bonsai Societies of Florida annual convention, alongside Peter Warren and Enrique Castano. More on that as we get closer but mark the calendar; May 23-26 2014. So here’s the tree with all of the unnecessary growth pruned away (like a bikini wax almost). 20130930-102639.jpg Then a topiary trim except for this apex branch- 20130930-102947.jpg And these back buds- 20130930-103115.jpg The new branches are too young to wire, so that’s it. 20130930-103248.jpg There’s a definite improvement but it’s not pretty. This is the theme of the post. Next tree is the ficus triangular from this post 20130930-103601.jpg The progress on this tree is the improved health, the wire has set the main branches (which I removed about a month ago) and the shorter internodes. When last you saw it it looked like so- 20130930-143828.jpg You may think I’ve let it go, but no, I’m letting it grow……get it, go….grow…? Waka waka!! Seriously though, I’m not sure how winter will treat this tree here in Orlando so I’m being a bit cautious with it. An abundance of leaf surface area will make for better transpiration (the process that ultimately leads to water usage, which is something I’m concerned about in this shallow pot. Shallow pots don’t drain as well as deep pots. Don’t believe me? Look up “perched water table” in containers). And more leave surface area means better photosynthesis, how a plant makes food (and you thought you were “feeding” it with fertilizer. Nope. Think of fertilizer loosely like vitamins). Lookie here! 20130930-145006.jpg Them’s look like fruit. They ain’t …um, they’re not. Those are ficus flower bodies. The unmentionable bits are inside this little hole on the end: 20130930-145315.jpg And it takes a specialized wasp with a long, thin, thingy to pollinate it. I don’t think those wasps live in Orlando. They might though, every thing else is an import. Even Walt Disney was from Chicago. The next tree, or trees, are Chinese elms from this post. 20130930-150831.jpg 20130930-150917.jpg I do believe these trees have stopped growing mostly. 20130930-151159.jpg A quick trim- 20130930-151328.jpg Yes, I think it’s time to sacrifice the, uh, sacrifice branch. And after a quick trim- 20130930-151548.jpg Now for a (partial) failure report. The juniper from this post. How we left it: 20130930-152314.jpg How it is today: 20130930-152506.jpg Two dead branches. The top is growing well though. When I wrote the original post I had warned that the bark and cambium were “slippery” in the summer in Florida. And that wiring and moving branches was sometimes risky. I proved my point I guess. I didn’t kill the whole branch back to the trunk; these two secondary branches are the dead ones- 20130930-153042.jpg 20130930-153154.jpg But this third one is healthy and growing: 20130930-153259.jpg You could say it’s the main branch even. The rest of the tree is pushing growth too- 20130930-153522.jpg The only thing to do is….snip! 20130930-153653.jpg On to the last tree! This is the ilex from Walmart (this post) What has gone before… 20130930-155145.jpg And now- 20130930-155244.jpg Whoa! Don’t you ever trim that bush. It’s like a 1970’s…….never mind, I won’t go there. Let’s talk fungus on ilex vomitoria. One of the biggest contributors to black spot fungus on ilex is reduced air flow. 20131001-095327.jpg The canopy on this little tree is just too dense (like me, sometimes). The ilex will almost self-prune itself when the canopy is this thick, which the brown tipped leaves represent. The leaves with the black spots on them are, duh, black spot disease. I use this product 20131001-131940.jpg normally, with this active ingredient- 20131001-132055.jpg But I couldn’t find it so I got this one- 20131001-132234.jpg Which has the same active fungicide: 20131001-132440.jpg Just not as high a percentage. First, trimming (it’s not very healthy to touch a recently sprayed plant. And it makes your tacos taste funny) and then spraying. Half trimmed: 20131001-134017.jpg And all the way trimmed. Side view: 20131001-134257.jpg And the front: 20131001-134450.jpg I tipped all the branches except the apex (again) 20131001-135331.jpg And that’s all. A totally un-glamorous post on maintenance that no one hardly ever shows in these progression pieces. I hope it was informative. And the last bit of advice: Keep those bushes trimmed, ya hear?

Hackberry, ilex, Brazilian Raintree and potato.

We have, for your viewing pleasure, four trees that have progressed well and need a little showing off.
These three:
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And this one:
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I hope you guys appreciate the links I’m about to provide. Doing the research into my archives took me longer than the actual work on the trees (at least it seems that way).
I’ll start with the hackberry.
You first saw it in this post.
I’ve worked it several times this year already and last time you saw it was here. And it looked like this:
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That was at the end of May, what has become of said fair celtis?
Today:
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Filled in again, right?
I swear the thing starts to grow two days after I trim it.
I’ve had a serious discussion with my friend Bobby about using hackberry as a beginner tree over ficus or elm.
They are seriously forgiving if you screw up. Wait a month and it’s a new tree.
There is either a touch of fungus or the branch was just being shaded too much but there is some dieback here-
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I’m not worried about it too much, I’ll solve the lack of sun problem in a minute and the fungus problem can be easily taken care of if it spreads.
The maintenance tasks I need to perform here are just a trim and wire removal.
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The pic above makes the job look daunting but if you stick with the basic pruning techniques (take off the ups, downs, multiple and opposite, and those buds growing underneath and in the crotches then it’s quick work.)
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This branch is buggin’ me now but will be shortened come spring.
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And now the two sides and back.
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It should fill in one more time before leaf drop in December (I did say December, come join us for our foliage festival. Brown is the color scheme). Maybe I’ll get some color this year (probably not).
Next, I’ll work on the one ilex I haven’t removed the wire on or trimmed yet.
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All the other ilex vomitoria have been taken care of (no, I haven’t posted on all of them so you didn’t miss anything).
This tree was first seen (I think) in this post.
It has grown into a really nice, natural looking tree (as you will see, you might have guessed that I already did the work and am writing this days later).
This is how you saw it last-
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Right, rear, left views:
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Again, I remove the wire-
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Which really doesn’t change the look:
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But it does give a good starting point.
Again, looking at the canopy, you might be daunted-
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You might even be tempted to hedge trim it-
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Which is a valid technique, just not now.
I think a little refinement is called for.
Clip!
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Whoops, couldn’t help myself.
That’s ok, it was too tall anyway.
One step in refining a tree is equalizing the leaf sizes.
Too big:
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Better-
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All done.
What do you think?
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Needs something, right?
I was once told (sneeringly, granted, but that’s just how some people are in the culture of bonsai) that one should never show a bonsai, in a show or even in a photograph, without moss.
Obviously, I don’t hold to that little bit of dogma, I could care less because I’m interested in the tree more than anything. You could even pot it in a kitty litter sandbox and, if the tree is good, I don’t care.
But sometimes you just have to dress things up a bit.
Just to show that you can.
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Not bad.
The next tree is just a before (from this post) .
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And how it is now with leaves and a little trim.
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The great thing about Brazilian Raintrees are, as they get older, the trunks will flatten out more and more and even get bigger.
Even a modest one like this will be a great tree in time.
On to the potato ilex.
The update on this tree was requested by a fellow redditor “amethystrockstar” (whom I thank, I wasn’t going to work on the tree this year again)
I first showed the tree in this post
And left it looking like…..I’ll leave the progression until the end. It’ll be way more dramatic that way.
The second post was here.
It had definitely made progress at that point (you’ll have to wait until the end to see).
Here it is today:
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Sorry, enjoying a beverage, this is thirsty work.
Sláinte!
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Ok, I admit it, it’s just water.
I’m out of beer (send six packs, please! No light beer though).
Obligatory front, rear, side, side before shots:
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This was the sketch I did for the tree:
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Let’s get on with it already then, jeez!
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I noticed a little structural fault on the right that needs some simplifying.
I’m not sure why I kept it (maybe I should re-read the first post) but it’s time to remedy it.
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That looks better.
The ilex gets few pests (has to do with the high caffeine content in the leaves) but one it does get is called a leaf miner.
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This is typically how the damage looks.
I don’t worry too much about them, I just pluck the leaf off. If you want to prevent it, the best time to spray is when new growth is happening, that’s when certain flies plant the eggs in the tender new growth.
There is a predator of leaf miners called a blue tit.
No, really…..it’s a European bird that lives on European hollies.
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a blue tit in Florida. I might import some but it’s probably too warm for blue tits.
Anyway, onward and upward (I don’t think I can get any lower).
A tip on refinement; there are always branches we leave on a tree that don’t belong. As new branches grow, get rid of them.
This branch is too thick
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And there are replacements all around. So…goodbye
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There’s some photographic prowess for you, I focused the camera on a branch that isn’t even there anymore.
Trimmed:
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Wire?
Sure!
A little here-
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A little there-
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A lot on this branch-
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And…
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Am I done?
No…do you see it?
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A great tool to use when styling your trees is a viewfinder on a digital camera.
The eye gets “used” to the tree you’re styling at that particular time and by removing yourself one step, you can see flaws and out of place branches easier.
How’s this?
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The way artists used to do this was to look at a piece of work and squint.
It serves the same purpose.
I think the left branch needs one more bit of pruning.
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Ok. Now the progressions-
First styling:
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After the second styling and first potting:
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And today:
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At the next repotting hopefully I’ll be able to reduce the root in the front a bit.
Or I could just only show the tree with moss and hide it (oops, did I just give away a secret?).
Moss hides all kinds of flaws.
Don’t forget to send beer.

Little ilex from Walmart

How many of my readers out there take the time, when going to a box store like Lowes or The Home Depot, to glance at the landscaping material in hopes of finding a bonsai diamond in the rough?
I do it every time myself.
The tree today I think came from Walmart.
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It was in 3 gallon nursery container and I think I put it into this training pot last year.
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I pruned it hard then, to the trunk line, and let it grow.
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I didn’t put too much thought into the planting position. Either that or I was deranged at the time.
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Which seems to be a theme here recently. Too many Stephen King books.
I had put this tree up for sale at Kawa Bonsai Societies Joy of Bonsai show in January 2013 and I was surprised that no one bought it. I think I only had $50 on it at the time.
Needless to say, it’s not for sale now.
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Can you see the trunk?
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I know, it looks like a dog turd with a Pom Pom on top.
Just wait and see
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This was the “front”
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Three cuts. I’ll make this tree with three cuts (some minor pruning cuts too, but those don’t count).
Let us commence
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Kinda thick, huh?
First cut
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Second cut
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And third cut
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Now, I did cut the first branch back, so if you want to count that, you can. But I won’t. It messes up my narrative.
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And here you go
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Great little sumo with superior movement, right?
You guys know what’s coming next: this isn’t an Adam’s Art and Bonsai blogpost without wire.
And, believe it or not, only two pieces of wire.
One:
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Who says that ilex schillings have brittle branches?
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This little, delicate branch is the new leader.
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Don’t even breathe on it.
And the second wire
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As I spin the tree
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you’ll see the two pruning scars where I first made some cuts two years ago
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Those won’t heal. But that’s ok, it makes the tree look older.
So now we have the tree in the pot showing the wrong front. What to do?
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I don’t repot ilex in the summer; only late winter through spring.
I can move it in the pot though.
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Pick it up and squash it back in
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I think I’ll also clean the top soil off and refresh it with new mix.
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Oh, don’t forget tying it in place; children and cats you know.
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Let’s talk seasonality. It is early August in Florida. I have 4 or 5 months growing time until the tree goes dormant for winter.
I can expect one or two pruning sessions,at least, on this tree.
In Orlando, I don’t have to worry about freezing with an ilex. It can withstand any temp Orlando can drop down to. Except for new growth.
New growth will definitely freeze.
So, for me, there won’t be any pruning past the end of November.
Keep that in mind when pruning your cold hardy trees.
A sketch
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The back
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Left side
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Right side
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And…. Ta Da…the front
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I may or may not try to remove the odd feature on the front that looks like a root. I think it gives it a little character.
Some fertilizer, lots of sun and this tree will be a sweet little tree next year by repot time.
I’ll post an update. If I don’t sell it.

Some Refinement Tips on a Yaupon Holly Yamadori

This is that update I had promised in the last post on this big Yamadori yaupon
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Here’s a much better pic of it
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The original post was here.
And this is how we left it, all alone on the bench
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Dramatically lit, ain’t it?
So, the dealio with this post, besides trimming it, will be a discussion on ramification and achieving it with this tree. Or, to be honest, bush.
Left side
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Right side
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Back
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So why did I point out that the dwarf yaupon holly is a bush. The ilex vomitoria is a tree. The ilex vomitoria “schillings” is a dwarf cultivar that is prized for its compact nature, small leaves and short internodes. A bush.
Which are all traits sought after in bonsai.
But, as with all trees with these traits, its too easy to simply topiary trim it to give it an appearance of a bonsai. Trim it like a bush, if you will.
Don’t get me wrong, it is perfectly ok to use topiary trimming as a developmental tool, it increases ramification in the short run. I use it myself.
In the long run it causes dieback of interior branching, causes odd taper and knobs, and ultimately weakens the tree.
I treat an ilex as a perpetual growth engine. As long as the tree is growing with new branches and new wood it won’t have areas of dieback. If you are just trimming the tips (of any tree for that matter) the branches just get too woody to carry water and nutrients and that branch will die.
How does this apply to this tree?
Not much actually, as just about all the branches are young. But I needed to explain why this tree will look like it will at the end of the post.
Here are some establishing shots
Right side
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Left side
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Uh oh!
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This tree is ruined! The wire is cutting in! Oh no!
I will say this again,
“If you don’t have wire scars on your trees then you’re not using enough wire”
If all a person has to say about your trees is that the wires are cutting in or that the bark is scarred then they’re not really looking at the tree. They’re just trying to find fault to bolster their own little ego.
Speaking of little egos sucking the life
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Some ilex plants will throw up suckers from the roots. It’s best to remove them as they do pull energy away from the top of the tree.
Now, lets start the clock and see how long it takes me to finish this tree.
Screenshot
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4:58pm.
First I perform a partial defoliation
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removing the interior leaves; to make it easier to see and also to unwire the tree. It also allows for better airflow and more light to those secondary branches I do keep.
Here is a leaf affected by leaf miner
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I only found one on the tree but if its a serious problem use a systemic insecticide to kill them. They are literally within the tissue of the leaf and a topical insecticide or oil spray just won’t touch them.

This new branch is growing up
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I can utilize it if I trim here
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Now it will grow horizontally.
In this mid summer trimming is important to leave the growing tips on all the branches I’m keeping.

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I’ve learned that, on an ilex, once you trim the tip it begins to become brittle and hard to wire and bend.
One side down
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There are many new branches to work with
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Some I’ll be able to wire
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Some I won’t because they’re still too green
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Let’s talk about wiring and cutting back a branch.
This sketch shows a long thin branch
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We wire it out and give it movement
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The movement, with the twists and curves, tricks the eye into believing that the tree is older. Young things are straight, old things are gnarled and crooked.
To give more age, we need taper. A tree goes from fat to thin.
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So you cut it and grow it out again.
Then rewire
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And so forth
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Until you get a truly old looking branch
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What stage is this tree at?
It’s still in the first stage actually.
Here we are, the bush is trimmed
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Up close
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I need just a little wire. Not too much at the moment.
Left Side view
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Right side
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Click here for a 3D view if you’re on Instagram.
And the front
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It’s coming along well, considering this is only the first seasons growth and the first trimming.
Look for an update around November or so.
And how did I do on time?
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An hour and a half. Not bad considering I was photographing it at the same time.

Mid spring trimming tutorial

Since it’s raining and I can’t go carve my neea from the previous post I’ll write up a quick article on these two ilex.
I haven’t shown any work on them yet but the principles here are for the creation of age in the small branches
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They’re nice little trees.
Ilex vomitoria “schillings” are perfect for this style; which I shall call “Tree Style”.
They are not stylized Asian trees but have a more natural feel to them.
If they were growing in the wild these trees would be in the open (straight trunk, big rounded canopy), and fairly old (thick trunk and spreading nebari).
The goal with the wiring and pruning it to give the branching twists and turns which are indicative of old trees.
I recently read that Dan Robinson calls this process of giving the young branches as many gnarled and tortured movements as “giving them baby bends”.
He didn’t use this terminology when he was through Florida a while back but he did show us and explain why it happens in nature.
The older the tree the more it has to use gravity to get water high into the canopy.
A branch grows up and then down an up again (it is air pressure and surface tension that brings water up; the branch growing down is using gravity to move the water more efficiently) and then it’s shaded by an upper branch so it has to go right or left etc.
The older the tree, the more twists and dog legs and back tracks.
And that’s what I’m trying here, since the trees aren’t that impressive.
First tree before trimming
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And after trimming
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I could defoliate the tree if I wanted but I’m not too concerned with leaf size yet.
It’s time to remove some wire
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That cutting in is not the end of the world. It will add to the gnarly-ish-ness.
On a tree this small I find it exceedingly difficult to (as is my want) unwrap the wire.
If you are watching me you will probably see me doing this:
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using my scissors as a prying tool.
You should use needle-nose pliers or Jin pliers
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like thus.
I just tend to use the tool in hand. Classic “Do as I say and not as I do”. I know.

This is an example of a more than right angled branch.
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And the tree all wired up
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It has a nice, airy feeling now. You can almost see the birds and butterflies flying through the branches……
Next is this artistically and dramatically potted ilex
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I really like the base on this one and the structure is unique. Very unconventional.
It’s grown a lot since the first pruning
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I styled these in January and I’ve let them both grow out.
I have lots to work with. I’ve removed the inside leaves to show you the new branches
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Which are here, here, here, here, here
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To achieve my twisty, turny branching I will use wiring
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And clip and grow
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Which will give me a branch like this
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And the combination of the two will give me some nice branching.
And the finished result:
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A few more years and they will be even sweeter.

Spring maintenance on 5 ilex bonsai. Yes, more ilex, sorry

Okay, I admit it, I have an ilex problem. I collect ilex bonsai the same way that some people collect Hummel figurines, baseball cards, comic books or cats. Or even ex-husbands.
What can I say? they have small leaves, quick growth, they’re able to be kept in a small pot, cold hardy in my area, and just so darn cute.
I had thought to break this post into five different posts about each tree but I don’t want to torture you with so many little stories, so I’ll just hit on the important parts of each tree.

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This is our cast of characters.
Let me introduce them to you.
I’ve exhibited this one before. It was in the BSF show 2 or 3 years ago.

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This one in the nice porcelain pot is in its 2nd year of a rejuve. I’ll talk more about that later.

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This one is a hollow trunked ilex in a handmade pot. One of my favorite. It’s a really natural looking tree.

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This one is about done with the rejuve process, time for a new pot and some wire.

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And this exposed root style tree needs a rejuve. It didn’t get much growth at all last year.

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So you’re asking “what the hell is a rejuve?” Right?
As I tell each trees story I’ll explain the “rejuve” process as I’ve come to develop it for the ilex. And why it’s necessary.

First tree:

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It’s about a foot tall, really good taper…

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It’s in a beautiful subtlety glazed Taiko Earth pot by Rob Addonizio. It needs a repotting and some branch work.
Mainly here..

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That branch is too thick with no taper.

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Snip..wire…bend.

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I cut it back (blue arrow) and wired a secondary branch into its old spot (red arrow). As your tree ages, it’s important that this process is done regularly. Taper is the one of the things that give age to a tree. By cutting back and re-growing taper is achieved.

Now the roots

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Pretty healthy looking, I haven’t had any health issues with this tree. It’s been 2 years since I’ve repotted and you can tell by the matting in some spots. Not as bad as the “old ilex” in the previous post by any means.
It’s always best to clean the pot, especially making sure the screen on the drain holes is clean.

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Cool. It still says “Hold for Adam”.

I’m gonna save all the finished “glamor” shots ’til the end.

Next..

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It’s important to understand that we don’t need to be repotting our trees every year. Each time you do it some vigor is sapped away from the tree. The soil in this pic above is not showing too many roots (an ilex roots will fill the pot)

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In late summer I restyled the branches
And cut out the older, over lignified branches and replaced them with younger ones that I let grow long.
This is important with ilex; as the branch becomes more woody and stiff, it loses its capacity to move water and nutrients. And the result is that branch withering and dying.
This is the first step in the rejuve process. Let it grow unrestricted.

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Fertilize, fresh top coat of soil, and let it be this year except pruning.
Next….

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This ilex is one of my favorite: I did not repot last year so that’s definitely on the slate today.
First, clean the moss off the trunk

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There was a nice moss layer on the soil but something removed it. I haven’t caught the beast in the act yet so I don’t know exactly what it is , but it must be faster than the cats, that’s all I have to say.
Maybe it’s the children?

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If you look close you will see the fine roots on the soil surface. This happens from keeping moss on the tree. And this is why moss is a good thing on the soil surface, especially on little trees. It allows the tree to utilize the entire soil mass where, without moss, the first 1/4-1/2 inch is wasted space.
But we don’t want moss on the trunk so a toothbrush and some water and…

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Brush brush brush brush brush brush. It’s not easy. Put some elbow grease in it man!
Here’s a tip:

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If you’re re-using the same pot, (which requires cleaning, installing new tie downs etc) while preparing the old pot and the trees roots are naked, put the tree in a pan of water so the roots don’t dry out.
And you get a cool photoshop opportunity too…

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Kinda looks like a painting, no?
Do you need another tip?

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I don’t like fertilizer on the soil surface, it cakes up and just looks bad. I mean, who wants to see poop on the lawn?
Just tap the pot a bit and the fertilizer will disappear. That’s also why I prefer granular poop to the poop cakes.

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It’s magic!

Next tree…

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This tree is at the end of the rejuve. Last year, I repotted it into a slightly larger pot with better drainage, let it grow without much trimming, and made sure that it stayed fertilized. It has a lot of flowers so it must be happy.

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And the leaves are a terrifically dark green. Coming out of winter that’s a plus.

Before trimming:

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I’m going to have to remove most of the flowers (I can hear it now “NO! Not the FLOWERS!) as I can’t wire around them.
After:

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And a new pot…err, an old pot.
This is an old Korean pot that either is dirty or has patina.

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It looks good wet (and oiled up for a show) but wait until you see it dry.

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Still wet.

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Trees roots.
Tree in pot:

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And the dry pot

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What do you think? Patina?
Next tree…

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Last year I watched this tree just sit. It got very little growth (which can sometimes be a blessing here in Florida, but not in this case. ) and as you see

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No flowers or new growth. Time for a rejuve.
First step is a bigger pot

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The roots aren’t rotting, which is good. But they didn’t fill the pot either.

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This is one of my oldest ilex. I got it at Walmart as a $3.98 landscape tree in a one gallon pot.

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This is it’s home for the next 2 years or so.
Now for after shots…

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Ooooo!

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Ahhhh!

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Oh yeah!

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Sweet!

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Oo la la!!
Group shot!
All together now!

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Enough fooling around! Back to the bench! Only about a hundred more to repot…….

Four updates: four ilex, one male, one old, one potato, one pig

These will be quick updates as I did little to them but repot so…….
The first tree is the male ilex vomitoria from this post (clicketh hither)
It was time for a new pot.
If you remember, this is not the dwarf (schillings) but just the male (a holly is dioecious. Meaning there are male and female plants. They both have flowers but only the female can make fruit.
In this case, the male is also smaller in stature than the female.

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Next we have the “old ilex” from these posts (part 1, part 2 )
If you recall, I up-potted the tree (slip potted) to increase vigor and increase growth. I recently removed all the wire and added one thin piece back (I think)

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The root pad is still like a brick; to remedy this I took some small wedge cuts out of it:

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And you end up with this

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I don’t have the pot I want so another training pot will have to do

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It’s a mica pot, which used to be cheap but are now more expensive than ceramic. The allure of the mica was the supposed insulating properties, the dark color keeps the roots warmer in the winter and the thick walls keep the roots cooler in the summer. And they don’t break.

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The tree is coming along well I think.

Next is the potato
(this post)
It’s grown this winter so much that this will be the second thinning

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I also have a touch of black spot fungus on it. To control it I use Bayer Advanced Systemic fungicide.

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At this stage (and at this time of the year) I am removing the bigger leaves and those close to the branch crotches and bases. This will let the light in to stimulate more branching and it will also let more air in (which should help with the fungus)

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I can wire some branches but most (the red ones) are just too “green” (I know, the red ones are the green ones. I don’t make up the terms.) and wire will just crush them. I can get a few though.
And I must address the soil.

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The mix it’s in is heavy on perlite. Which is good for drainage but is ugly as sin (I don’t know how some people like to use pumice. It’s as ugly as perlite)

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And this oxalis must be eradicated. It’s worse than artillery fern.
This tree was collected out of the landscape and it still has the dirt it was growing in stuck inside the roots.

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This must be washed out as it also contributes to the fungus problem. An ilex is a drought tolerant plant and must have very well draining (read that as coarse) soil if it’s in a bonsai pot. It is one of those plants that give off an oil (like pine and juniper) from the fallen foliage that combines with soil particles and makes them aqua phobic. Which means that water and the oily soil particles don’t mix. This increases the oxygen in the root area (scientist think this, at least)

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That’s better.
I also recut the big roots to better facilitate putting the tree into the bonsai pot.

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I think I got the placement right. Maybe I should have reread the previous post.

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I can always change it next year.
You can see the branches I wired. I’ll have to wait a month or so for the rest.
Am I done yet?
No. One more I think…
The story of the wiring,carving and weeding of this one is here. And the stories of two other trees as well. Triple prizes!

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Tree…meet your new pot.
A little root work

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Plunk it into the new pot

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Well, not really plunk. We must have respect for the trees. Place gently and reverently into its new home. Uh huh.
The leaves have filled in well since the trimming and wiring. I may try to enter it in a show.
Still kinda young branching but I have a few months.

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Side view.

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Eagle’s-eye view.
As you might have guessed, I have a fondness for ilex vomitoria. Schillings dwarf in particular.
Most people think they are only good for one style- oak tree- but as you see, all four of these are different.

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Wait until you see the cascade, flattop and bunjin I’m working on.

A tale of three bonsai trees

Here are the three trees

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Ilex vomitoria “schillings”

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Bursera simaruba. Gumbo limbo

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Bougainvillea. Not sure which variety yet.
Lets start with my favorite, the ilex:

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This is the side view. This view shows off nicely all the weeds I’ve been cultivating.
I hate to tell you this, and most experienced bonsa-ists will agree with me when I say it, but the tool that is best suited for weed pulling is….the tweezer.

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Chopsticks are very useful as well; if you’re dexterous enough.

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Many weeds require that the entire root system be removed. Or you don’t really accomplish much.

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The weed will just grow back.
I weed, then remove the top layer of soil in case there are weed seeds present

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I fertilize now (it is early November in Florida. I am cutting the ilex back so I want some growth before winter. I will have to protect the new growth until it hardens off though) as well.

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Then I put a fresh coat of bonsai soil on top and add my pre-emergent weed preventer.
Time to do some carving.

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Just about all of that has died back. The reason why: there were too many cuts done in the same area at the same time and the flow of sap was impeded by those cuts. Simple reason. It would have been better if I had either cut one or two a season and left the others branches to speed the healing process or if I left a stub and didn’t make a flush cut. Then I would have left the route that the sap flows open.
The ilex is similar to the azalea in the case that, when doing significant cuts, it’s best to be conservative in so doing.
It’s also similar in the case that new branches must be grown occasionally as the old ones will become so woody that the sap flow is diminished, and the branch slowly withers. (I discuss this a bit in this post)

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You can see how rotten the wood was. I just scraped it out with my scissors.

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There’s the front. If you look closely you’ll see several wounds that need addressing.
In fact

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That’s a scissor coming through from the back.

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My goal in this carving is, first, make it aesthetically pleasing, second, make it believable and third, to make it last.
To achieve the first two I must ensure that I accomplish the last.
This entails making a route for the water to drain.

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Like so.
What’s surprising is the extent that the living bark still there.

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Like here.
Carving done; let’s get to wiring.
Here is a tip that, after helping out in some workshops recently, most people don’t know about.
This is an unadulterated bit of the tree

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When the teacher tells you to clean it up, do it like this:

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Leave the growing tips but remove the interior leaves. This makes it easier to wire. Way easier. Trust me.
Next, wire.

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Before applying the wire. Note the naked interior.

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Wire every branch.

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Front, back, and side and side.
I plan on using a wood hardener on this tree. I have a big one I carved and experimented on but the wood just continues to deteriorate. One brand of wood hardener is called MinWax. It’s kinda like a resin that penetrates the pores of the wood and harden into a solid, non-decaying substance.

Next tree is the gumbo limbo

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I quote “I can do this tree in one cut”

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First though, the base. This will obviously be a bunjin tree. Or literati if you prefer.
A small digression, if you would. I’ve been in bonsai a while. I read a lot. When I first started people used the word “mame” for a small tree. Now they use shohin. Fine. It’s more correct in Japanese. Maybe.
This year, the hip word is “chuhin”. I’ve read it ,but no one, until this year, has ever used it in my hearing.
So when we say literati or bunjin (or, bunjin-gi, as it should be) I smile a bit.
Digression done. Sorry if you’re offended dude. Really.
Gumbo limbo: in French “chat chapeau” in Spanish “el gato in a sombrero”.
Sorry.
Bursera simaruba. It is in the same family as frankincense and myrrh. It’s a very neat tree whereas it will root as a cutting at any size.
There was a tree on the island of St. John, about a 5 inch trunk, that broke off about 5 feet from the base in a hurricane in 1995. The bottom re-sprouted quickly. The top landed upright, touching the rocky ground. It dod nothing for about 9 months until the rainy season and then put down roots.
The early settlers would cut down trunks and use them for fence posts. Which would quickly root into the ground and start growing.
The resinous sap is used in everything from incense to an anti-inflammatory used to treat gout.
It was also the principal wood used by the wood carvers that carved carousel horses.
In bonsai, it is not uncommon for an artist, while trudging through the coastal marshes in search of buttonwood, to cut an interesting branch off a tree and bring it back to root and grow.
The common names are varied. Some just call it turpentine tree or, my favorite is “the tourist tree”.

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Why? There bark is red …..
and peeling.
As you can see.
My one cut:

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And some wire

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Elegant and simple.
Next tree is one I got from my friend Tony down in Cape Coral.
A spectacular shohin (or chuhin- hee hee) tree with great character and very sexy movement.

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It looks to me it might be a bit of side root off a larger tree.

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Very unique shape. The front is deadwood that will need to be dressed and then treated with a wood hardener.
First, though, lookie what I found:

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Bag worms. There were three.
Tony, check your trees!
These suckers will girdle a branch and kill it.

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In the details you can see the deadwood deterioration quite clearly.
On a bougie it’s usually sufficient just to use a wire brush to clean it up.

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But I cheated, my carving tool was already out for the ilex so…..grrrrr..
Now, the pot it was in did not have very good drainage and it was totally unsuitable for the style (sorry Tony)

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Plus I have this nice Taiko Earth oval pot (Rob Addonizio) on hand. I’m not really repotting here. I’m replanting. The new pot is slightly larger than the previous one and I’m not raking the roots at all.

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Isn’t that a sweet pot? Check out Rob’s blog here.
Some new soil

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And some wire

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And there it is.
What have we learned about these three trees? They all grow in Florida quite easily. They make great bonsai trees. They have odd characteristics that lend themselves to be either despised or loved.
And what links them together in a tale?
Not much except that I worked on them on the same day.
Well, there is a rich historical drama I could weave about the discovery of Florida and the New World. Where common men became as kings and kings were destroyed. But I won’t here. That’s a long story.
Maybe, if we have time to sit and have some beers, I’ll tell it. Cheers!

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Ilex prep work

This post will show some mechanics of how I reduce a landscape nursery grown plant ( in this case an ilex vomitoria ” shillings). I am processing these for an upcoming workshop in Cincinnati.
First we begin with the stock plant:

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It was in a seven gallon container and stood about 2 1/2-3 feet tall.
The goal is to put it into an 8″ wide bulb pan that is 5 inches deep.
The timing of this operation is critical; learn about the species you are working on and it will tell you when to do this. For the ilex this can be done in early spring until the end of spring.
This photo shows a sign I have been looking for:

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The stems are turning red. This tells me that the new spring growth is imminent.
I like to take advantage of seasonal growth to kickstart whatever work I am doing on a particular tree.
An example; on my deciduous trees I will not make major cuts in the winter. The reason is,they will sit until the spring comes along and then start to callous over. People do it all the time though and it won’t kill the tree. But it takes longer for it to heal.
Learn about the species you are working on: the development will be quicker and healthier.
Any way, back to my ilex.
First the saw:

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And violá

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And then some pruning:

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Next we will address the base of the tree.
I know,from working on ilex in the past, that the basal root flare (the nebari) will be buried quite deep. And there is no casual chopstick method to unearth it.
So, using scissors,concave cutters,root hook, strong jets of water and much sweat and cursing we get this:
Before

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And after

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I have exposed about an inch of trunk and a good flare.
Next we reduce the roots to fit into the pot.

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Make sure the large roots that go straight down are trimmed as though you are going to put them right into a bonsai pot now, even though it’s going into a training pot (it is better to give the tree only one shock and recover from it than 2 shocks and not).
Here is the fit:

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Notice the amazing amount of feeder roots even though I removed about 80% of the root ball. This species is considered a xeriscape plant and can survive prolonged droughts in the ground. But not in a bonsai pot. Water it!
When I place a plant in a pot after I have root pruned it I always tie it in with wire. I have four children and cats. Any bumping now will set back any new root growth.
I am using the “standard” Florida bonsai mix of red lava rock, calcined clay and pine bark. I have sifted to 1/8 of an inch.
Temperature has a great deal of influence on root growth. I will need to protect these trees (now that I have done this)from temps below 45 Fahrenheit. Conversely , I will not do this when temps get above 90. That is generally when roots have a summer dormancy.
Here is the prepped tree:

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And some others:

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I have not done any styling beyond the initial haircut and removing some branches. These are for a workshop in June and will be filled in nicely by then.
It would not hurt to style them at this time.
I always fertilize after potting. I don’t use a harsh fertilizer though. I prefer Milorganite® to anything. It is provided to us through the generous deposits of the fine citizens of Milwaukee.
But use what you have had success with in the past.

Nursery shopping

My brother-in-law Steve and myself went to a nursery to pick through hundreds of ilex vomitoria “shillings” for an upcoming workshop I’m doing in June.

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Here he is lost in the sea of green.
Ilex are one of my favorite species for bonsai; they have small leaves, live well in pot culture, bud back well and are cold hardy.

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They get fat trunks and have awesome taper. Like the sumo I am demonstrating on here.
They can get leaf miners, snow scale and aphids (on new growth).
The worst problem is black spot fungus. But that is easily controlled with a fungicide.

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A hollow trunk shohin and an exposed root ilex.