Design and Critique #9 – Chinese Elm

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Masculine vs Feminine:

This tree is very feminine in many ways. The delicate branching with movement complements the movement in the slender trunks. A rounded canopy is the crowning feminine characteristic that pulls everything together.

Design:

The trunks all fill their own space that is designated for them. This is an easy thing to venture off from with multi-trunked trees or forests. The pad formation seems to be more distinct on the left side. I’m not sure if that was intentional or part of the development of the tree.

Comments:

I would love a pot that is a bit more shallow and feminine to fit the feeling of the tree. The pot being a bit oversized might have to do with it being displayed constantly and not being able to have a huge amount of personal attention.

I’m not really a fan of the stone it is shown with or how close it is displayed to the tree.

I think a few of the branches when viewed up close look unnatural in the ways they bend.

Next Up:

Larch

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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.

California Collection Checkup

It is time to do a cleanup of the California Juniper that I collected. My goal here is to remove all the dead foliage to be able to identify any changes in the healthy foliage, and provide better aeration and mist penetration for the remaining foliage.

Here are 4 photos of different portions of the tree before the cleanup. IMG_4396IMG_4397IMG_4398IMG_4399

Here are a few before and after photos side by side:

After doing this initial clean up I went back and removed small pieces that I missed. I identified a few places that might be turning yellow around the tree. I’ll keep a look out for those portions in the coming weeks.

Here’s the beauty after I was done.
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Soon it’ll be time to move outdoors and get some shade!

 

Design and Critique #8 – Flowering Plum

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Focus:

The focus of this tree is the trunk and the flowers. These two features are so stunning that they overwhelm the display. This takes your attention off of any flaws that might exist.

Branching and Silhouette:

While the branching and ramification leave much to be desired, the silhouette still holds an asymmetrical shape with 3 dimensional aspects.

Comments:

I’m not 100% sure on the size of the stand. I feel it is a bit oversized which takes away from the feminine aspects of the tree. I also feel the pot color fits much better with the purple leaves of a purple-leaf plum (exact species not listed) but it doesn’t mesh as well with the light pink flowers. I do love the companion plant choice. Fantastic tree overall.

Next Up:

Chinese Elm

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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.

 

Chinese Elm Repot

This is my favorite little tree I have at the moment. I’ve been excited for this repot as it’ll finally put the tree into a pot that is correctly sized. The constricted environment that it will provide will increase ramification and give it a smaller leaf size.

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Started by cutting the wires on the bottom in the middle, then making a flush cut to make sure they aren’t jagged when I drag them through the root mass.
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This little guy grew pretty vigorously for 1 year after a repot.
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Raked out the roots to see what I really had to work with.
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I put some soil in and tried to get a better idea of what would fit in the pot.
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I prepped the pot with the drain screen and wire ready to take in the tree. img_3290
I’m going to cut the two wires at an angle and fish them through the main portion of the roots or the ‘shin’ of the tree. You then bend them over once they’re through the shin and use that as a means to anchor the tree down.
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As you can see here, the wires become buried and hidden in the rootball.
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I then piled up the Akadama and chopsticked it in.
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I used Akadama as I can use this to be able to scale the roots and branches to get them finer and finer. For a deciduous tree in refinement this is how you can get the most fine ramification.
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Then the topdressing. This is to help keep the moisture even throughout the Akadama and help with moisture loss on the top portion of the soil.
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From the top down. Obviously it is going to get some pruning before the Spring comes in.

It made it through one night of sub 32° weather that I missed, but has leafed out without too many issues.

 

How To Prune Fruit Trees

Some people choose not to prune their fruit trees. If you do choose to do so the main benefit is easier harvesting. There are two main things to address when pruning fruit trees: pruning for structure, and pruning to remove potential problems.

Structural pruning in fruit trees leads to 3 generally accepted systems: Central Leader, Open Center, and Modified Leader. I recommend using both the central leader and open center layouts for almost all fruit. Occasionally the modified leader can be necessary for very heavily branched fruit trees. I’ll focus on the Central Leader and Open Center methods.

Central Leader: This method allows for a strong central trunk and branches that grow horizontally off the trunk. This is great for apples and pears as they have heavy fruit.

Things to look for when pruning: Not having two branches near each other on the same side of the trunk. You’d ideally want a branch on the right, left, then back/front as you progress up the tree. This allows for balance of the tree.

Open Center: This is also known as the vase method. No central trunk is formed here. Instead you have several large branches the shoot out away from the center which allows for and airy center with plenty of space for sunlight to penetrate. This is recommended for: quinces, crabapples, plums, cherries, peaches, nectarines, and apricots.

Things to look for when pruning: Making sure there is an even distribution so that the tree isn’t too heavy on one side. Keep any vertical growing branches short as they are very vigorous.

Dead and Diseased: The next major reason to prune is to remove dead, diseased, suckers, weak, or overly strong branches. Below I have a series of photos with branches that are either crossing, rubbing each other, growing towards the center, or diseased. Other branches that are growing directly vertical (also known as ‘water sprouts’) or with a very acute angle from the branch it emerges from (less than 45°) need to be removed as well.

If you choose not to prune your fruit trees regularly, dead and diseased branches should still be removed immediately. Suckers as well should be removed from the graft union at the bottom of the tree.

If you have more questions about pruning fruit trees leave a comment below and I’d love to help coach you through the pruning process.