I just recently picked up an ilex schillings from a friend. His current situation is forcing him to cut back on his bonsai collection and I helped him out.
Here is the before from the front.
It has a good trunk and base that is
coming up from the soil line naturally.
This is where I will deviate from the normal routine a bit. Most people will wire it and then pot it.
But, my experience with ilex tells me to trim the roots first. Then wire.
The reason: an ilex has amazingly brittle branches. This is why some people don’t use them in bonsai.
I have learned that if you trim the roots, then wire, it will allow you to bend the branches more easily. My theory is that this releases the hydraulic pressure, thus making the branches more limber. Just my theory. But it works.
Being that it is June, I do not feel comfortable doing a severe root pruning so basically I will just be “planting” the tree in a slightly bigger pot for one year until it has recovered a bit.
Like so. The pot is a Mica pot from Korea. Which are not available in the US anymore. They are superb horticulturally here in Florida. Big drain holes, well insulated and not that bad to look at. The pot it was in is a Taiko Earth pot, one of Rob Addonizio’s early works.
A note on ilex and branch bending; the branch on the left is skinnier that the one on the right. It actually looks like the wire on the left branch is too big and on the right is too small. The wire size is correct on both.
The left branch is older, and therefore more “lignified” or woody than the right, therefore making it harder to bend.
This is a cross section of new and old branches. The green represents the fluid capacity for transporting water and nutrients etc. The tan is the “woody” part. This is why new branches are easier to bend. This is also why branches die. As they get older they are not able to transport that fluid as well with this less capacity. This is why we prune out old branches periodically and use new ones.(There isn’t such a thing as a finished bonsai). It is our job to understand the horticultural mechanics of a particular tree we are working so as to continue its life. This principle also applies to other trees as well.
This pic illustrates several principles:
First, if you are observant when you bend you will see when the stress is just enough. An ilex will tolerate this crack.
Second, if I had looped the wire on the bend site the pressure of the wire will have prevented the crack to begin with.
Third, you can see how bad the old wire is embedded in the branch. This will not strangle the branch as you might think. The tree will self- graft and as soon as it meets it will heal over.
Then filled it in with a coarse, well draining soil. Mostly red lava rock. This coarseness will facilitate quicker growth. I also fertilized with my favorite fertilizer (milorganite) and put a pre- emergent weed blocker ( the yellow granules) on it. This is a handy thing when you live in Florida.
I will post some updates in a couple of months and next year.