Category Archives: Plant Physiology

Emergency Repot

I recently watched a Bonsai Mirai video about post collection care with world renowned collector Randy Knight. He spoke frequently about his sawdust bed that he uses to heel in “danger trees.” I got the opportunity to try that myself as I came home to what I’m pretty sure was a great lizard chase by my dogs…

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Randy discusses that he uses coarse sawdust, not small particles. I happened to have a friend that uses a lathe and has been giving me black trash bags full of sawdust for awhile now.
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A couple of tips when using sawdust:

  • Make sure to wet it REALLY well. The first time you soak sawdust it absorbs a ton of water and has a hard time getting everywhere, so make sure to be liberal with the water you’re using.
  • Pack the sawdust in good and chopstick or poke around to get the sawdust into whatever root system is there.
  • Layer several inches of sawdust on top of what would be the rootball. This helps to keep any major fluctuations in water or temperature from the rootball.

Here are photos of me digging down and checking the moisture after watering for awhile.

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Packing in the sawdust for a final time.
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After packing and before adding another bag on top.
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After adding and wetting the top layer of sawdust.

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After securing the tree in, I went to further inspect the damage.
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I pulled out portions of the leftover root system to see how the roots were doing before the wild lizard chase. I was mostly pleased with what I saw.
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Plenty of capillary roots growing. Randy also mentioned that new roots almost never grow in the leftover field soil, but in the pumice immediately around the field soil.
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While I had to experience this sad destruction of my collected California Juniper, I’m glad I was able to see that I was having success with what I was doing. Hopefully I don’t have another casualty on my hands.

Why Topping Your Trees Is Harmful

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This is what your tree should never look like. This is the result of the abysmal practice of topping. Other names for topping include: heading, tipping, hat-racking, and rounding over. Besides the ugliness of the topped tree and the cost of having someone come do it every year, there are other reasons to not ever do this to your tree.

The International Society of Arboriculture states: “Topping is perhaps the most harmful tree pruning practice known. Yet, despite more than 25 years of literature and
seminars explaining its harmful effects, topping remains a common practice.”


There are several things that topping your tree does to harm your tree:

Stresses the tree – Making large cuts can remove more than 50% of the leaf bearing crown of the tree. In an effort to recover, the tree produces rapid growth of new leaves. As a result you leave a weak tree with large pruning cuts which provides a perfect situation for diseases and pests to attack the tree.

Decay – Correct pruning of a tree allows the tree to compartmentalize the wound and close it. Topping leaves no way to close the wound created by leaving no branches nearby to carry resources to the point of the cut.

Weak Limbs – Due to the stressful production of new branches after topping, the newly formed branches are much weaker than a properly formed branch. This increases the risk of breakage through windy conditions.

While topping is still commonly practiced, it is not necessary. If you need clearance from utility lines you can prune in a responsible way to satisfy clearance and still provide a way for the tree to heal itself. Proper planning of tree species and placement will help you to avoid these problems in the first place.

Fruitless Mulberry trees have a lifespan of 50 years, but generally only live for up to 25 years due to topping. Topping is much easier than properly pruning a large tree and provides yearly income for those performing it, but properly pruning your tree will result in a healthy tree for much longer.

Gopher Plant – Euphorbia Rigida

This plant has many names. I can be known commonly by Gopher plant, Milkweed, Gopher Spurge, Spurge, or Upright Myrtle Spurge. Incase that isn’t thorough enough, it has two scientific names as well: Euphorbia Rigida and Euphorbia Biglandulosa.

I recently had a client order 100 Euphorbia Rigida plant from me. I had to do some solid searching to be able to find them in Southern California. The color and growth habit of these intrigued me so I decided to do a bit more research on them. After learning that they self seed freely, are very drought tolerant, flower profusely, deter rodents, handle almost any soil, attract bees, and are being researched as a form of biofuel, I was floored that they aren’t being used more.

Xeriscaping and drought tolerant plants are being more popular for varying reasons. This plant fits in a category that few other plants do, the “What can I plant that I don’t have to water and keeps the weeds away and looks nice?” category. I have come to the conclusion that people only don’t have it because they don’t know about it.

This plant has a fast growth rate. The follower plant was grown from a cutting in just 2 years. It fits perfectly in USDA zones 7-10 and has no problems with the wild fluctuations that the High Desert typically deals with.

If you’re looking for a drought tolerant plant that thrives in the High Desert and fits perfectly into your xeriscaping project, look no further.

Fundamentals of Bonsai – Pruning

There are hundreds of questions on bonsai forums, at clubs, and across the globe about pruning. What to prune, when to prune, why we prune, which species can I prune now, how often do I prune, etc. I want to help clarify these questions.

 

I’ll start with explaining why we prune. There are 3 main reasons to prune:
  • Cleaning
  • Controlling Growth
  • Improving Structure
     We clean to improve airflow and allow sunlight to penetrate into the interior and lower branches. This is also a precursory action to wiring and styling the tree. Trying to wire a tree without cleaning it first can be miserable, especially when doing it on a needle juniper.  Cleaning consists pruning off weak interior growth with little to no ramification and  clearing any foliage in the crotches between the trunks and branches. This includes leggy branches that are not developing in the desired direction.
     Pruning is the way we control growth on our trees. This is how we tell the tree to direct more resources towards a specific branch or section of the tree. This helps to keep your branches a specific length or thickness and give them directional movement to draw interest. This is also the technique we use to gain width in certain branches and keep others from thickening too much. I will go into more detail later on how to do that.
Structural pruning is the way we improve taper, inverse swelling (taper), direct the line of the trunk and branching, and remove flawed or unnecessary branches. Being able to prune effectively is the foundation of successful bonsai practice and design.

 

Before we go pruning anything we need to step back and observe a few things about the tree we’re about to prune. We need to identify:
  1. What species is the tree?
  2. What is the tree’s current health?
  3. Did you repot the tree within the last few months?
  4. Why am I pruning?
  5. Is the ______(tree, branch, etc.) that I’m about to prune in refinement or development?
  6. What season are we in?
  7. What is the effect on the tree’s energy and health if we prune now?
1. Some species hold significant amounts of energy in certain parts of the tree. Junipers hold significant energy in the foliage. When someone interested in bonsai buys a juniper and then prunes a lot of the foliage off they frequently die, this is why. Pines hold their energy in the roots. Deciduous trees hold theirs throughout the tree. Other species have certain timing for an additional flush of growth (Japanese Black Pine) or timing to prune for flowers.
2. If the tree is not healthy, don’t do any work on it unless it involves solving the health issue.
3. If you recently repotted the tree you should avoid pruning so that the foliage mass can help restore the root system that you worked on.
4. The purpose of pruning can include any of the aforementioned reasons – improving structure, controlling and directing growth, or cleaning.
5. We need to understand the stages of bonsai. If you’re not sure what stage your tree is in do some research before.
6. What season we are in can be a great factor in determining if we can prune without damaging the health of our trees. With most coniferous, deciduous, and broadleaf evergreen species the seasons function in the same way. Winter is a period where the tree doesn’t metabolize freely and we often refer to it as dormancy. Spring is a period of heavy growth. There are several periods of using the trees resources to produce more growth, then gaining those resources back through photosynthesis. In Summer some trees can go into a Summer dormancy if the temperatures get above 90° regularly. If you are in a more mild climate your trees may not slow down growth completely. Fall is a time where the trees save energy and focus on thickening branches and roots to help with Winter hardiness.
7. An example of a bad time to prune would be in Spring right after your tree has pushed out a ton of new leaves. If you prune the branches off before the leaves have been able to form a cuticle (finish growing) and reaccumulate energy, then you’re weakening the tree by taking away its ability to gain energy back.
A generally safe bet is the prune in early Spring before buds pop open or additional candles / needles start growing.
I’d like to also state that you can operate outside of these general guidelines, and depending on how you care for your tree afterwards, you can prune at almost any time. However, I would not recommend pruning whenever you please without extensive knowledge and experience.

Why Your Yard Needs Mycorrhizal Fungi

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A mycorrhizal fungi is a symbiotic relationship between a plant and a fungi. This network of mycorrhiza can span miles and miles within one small cubic foot of soil.

Why Does This Matter?

This symbiotic relationship allows plants to draw nutrients and water that the root system itself would be incapable of. It also allows for the plant to resist disease and toxins. Mycorrhizal fungi can also be a great factor in drought tolerance, yield of fruit or flowers, prevention of soil compaction, ability to withstand the sowing process for seeds or transplantation, and overall microbial activity in the soil.

How Do I Encourage Mycorrhizal Relationships?

Here is a list of things that harm mycorrhizal relationships:

  • Erosion
  • Road and Home Construction
  • Leaving Soil Bare
  • Tillage
  • Fertilization
  • Fumigation
  • Chemical Treatment of Soil
  • Removal of Topsoil

These things can completely eliminate the mycorrhizal relationship in your soil.  This can leave plants in your landscape with a significant need for maintenance and upkeep.

You can add mycorrhizal fungi to your soil by using organic fertilizers that contain the correct fungi, or you can use a mycorrhizal inoculant such as those found at www.mycoapply.com .

Continued practices of not using chemicals, covering the bare ground that you can with mulch or other plants, and not tilling or leaving the soil to erode will keep the mycorrhizal fungi at home and not disturbed.

Having mycorrhizal fungi in your soil is the cure to a problem you didn’t know you had. These little guys will be personal caretakers for your plants so you can direct all your energy somewhere else.

 

Blackbrush Bonsai

I’ve been doing some searching recently for Mojave Desert native plants that would be serviceable for bonsai. Enter Coleogyne ramosissima. This bush has tiny leaves, flowers, is long-lived, and has awesome gnarled bark. While researching this bush I stumbled upon this website that had invaluable information: https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/shrub/colram/all.html 

Within the link it explains that these bushes typically grow in areas where caliche impedes deep roots, and that the majority of the root mass is below the plant within 4″ – 12″. This is a realistically collectable species. What is also great news is that these are everywhere and commonly bulldozed around where I live. Perfect, a trash tree has now become my treasure. Hopefully they’re easier to collect than the California Junipers that also fit that bill.

Here are a couple that I scouted out while I was looking for the best candidates to pick out for the next appropriate collecting time.

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Hopefully I’ll be able to grab a few good ones this next Spring or late Summer.

California Juniper Yamadori

Yamadori Post-Dig Care

To see the removal process I went through to get this baby out read my earlier blog post. I got the bagged California Juniper home and began unwrapping so fast that I forgot to take pictures of it happening…
I made sure to make the cuts clean to facilitate root growth once potted up. Make sure to do this on all of the large cuts you make to the roots. 

Here you can see all of the smaller roots coming out of the root ball.

I cut these clean off right at the edge of the soil. This is another place that roots will emerge. Typically these are ripped and not cleanly cut. Leaving them without a clean cut can be a major factor when the tree is trying to recover. 

Afterwards:
After that I cut back the long thick roots to better be able to fit this into a container. I made sure to do so without moving the root ball and shaking any more soil loose.

Here is the prepared container. I drilled holes in the bottom, and used several 2×6’s that I’ve “saved” from various burn piles.


Then after I strung wire through and laid the bottom layers of soil, I set the tree in to get it secure.

The purpose for using the wood to decrease the size of the box is so that there aren’t any large gaps of solely pumice. Pumice and the native soil are vastly different, so you would end up with large pockets of dry pumice and the root ball of soil would still be wet. Having a smaller area helps to keep them similar in water and oxygen balance. 
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As you can see here, I used the higher branches to secure the tree into the container. I did this because the soil and root ball weren’t held together well enough to use as a sole anchoring point.

After chopsticking the pumice in to fill the gaps I ended up with this. 
I then moved it to a better location in my garage on top of a heating mat to keep the root temperatures favorable for root growth.
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To use the new handy update on the iPhone I took these as well:
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Hopefully you’ll read the updated post on this tree when it begin pushing new growth. From all I can tell the dig was a success and should yield a healthy tree within the year.