There Should be Dryads Here

It is raining for over a week so I went to the forest last week to check whether the mushroom season has started. It has not, but it keeps raining still so I will check once a week from now on, and I hope I will manage to get some boletes at some point. We ate already all that I picked a few years ago so we need to re-fill the pantry.

I did not take the camera with me, and I did not encounter many things worth taking pictures of anyway. But I did take a picture of my favorite beech tree with my phone.

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It is not particularly huge, but it is not small either. It managed to keep the ground around itself clear of undergrowth for decades and I always stop by when going to that part of the forest. It has beautiful roots and all in all, is full of character. One can imagine this to be one of those trees that dryads inhabit and protect.

Bonsai for Beginners – Part 10 – Money Tree

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You have seen my money tree Crassula ovata before. It is probably my oldest bonsai tree, now somewhere near 60 years old and it is still healthy and it still grows strong. This is how it looked this spring before pruning.

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Money tree is probably the best tree for anyone who wants to begin growing bonsai or having just a few of them without spending a lot of time with care. It is extremely easy to propagate – virtually any cutting of any size, including a single leaf, can take root and grow into a new plant. It grows reasonably fast, but not extremely fast – a few cm to a dm a year – and it makes nice, thick trunks in just a few years. It is not very flexible regarding shapes and it cannot be formed by the use of a wire but it can be formed by simple pruning into interesting informal shapes nevertheless.

Money trees are extremely low-maintenance. They survive severe neglect, not being watered for weeks on end. They can survive both in direct sun and in half-shade (although shade makes them spindly and unseemly). Aphids and other common pests leave them alone, and birds and rodents too. They are not choosy about substrate either and they need not be re-planted for years without suffering. Probably the only thing that can reliably kill money trees is a combination of wet and cold – but they can survive a dry cold of around 10°C without a problem.

Here is my tree after pruning.

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The tree was cut back a lot and thus it looks a bit unseemly right now but that will be rectified in a month or so. When cutting money trees the cuts do not need to be treated in any way – another plus – because the cut piece will dry and fall off at the closest pair of leaves/buds on its own, leaving a clean and closed surface behind it.

And here is a bucket of pruned offcuts.

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Each of the offcuts could be grown into a new tree if I desired to do so. Indeed I have in the past used some of these off-cuts to grow new plants and one of them I gave to one of my friends. That is how I learned its only weakness – his mother was watering the plant too zealously when he was away and it succumbed to root rot. But I have kept some of the pieces that I have cut off in the past and I composed them into a nice little bonsai forest, about 10 years old now.

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This demonstrates another specific need for money trees- deeper pots. They do not make strong structural roots like true trees so they need a bit of depth to anchor them properly.

The best routine for money trees: in the summer put outdoors in full sun, out of the wind and rain, and water regularly when the weather is warm. Do not water when the weather is cold and rainy. When temperatures drop to ~10°C at night, move indoors, into a light but cool-ish place, and do not water at all or at the most once-twice a month a bit of splash. In the spring cut back strongly to promote new growth. If kept indoors all year round, the best would be a south-facing window and the plant needs to be turned twice a week at about 90° to prevent it from bending towards the window. Use substrate for succulents and deeper pots with big enough drainage holes. With just a bit of care, you can have a plant that will look well for decades and won’t die on you if you need to go on a business trip and leave it alone for a few days.

Bonsai for Beginners – Part 9 – Larch

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I hope to have the spoons to write at least a few posts about bonsai trees again and today I will write a bit about one genus that I consider very suitable for beginners – larches. Among coniferous trees, larches have several huge advantages.

  1. They are deciduous and create brachyblasts with terminal buds that can almost always grow into twigs/branches for several years, thus they are one of the very few conifers that can be scaled back significantly and kept at a small size for decades with minimal effort.
  2. The roots tend to grow very fast in length but they also respond very well to cutting back, branching out from the cut, and above it.
  3. The seeds germinate reasonably reliably and can be collected from grown trees. Seedlings sprout everywhere around a grown tree, being a de-facto weed in nearby gardens.
  4. Larches are very sturdy and can survive adverse conditions like frost or short drought reasonably well. They can also survive slightly rougher handling than other trees and have a reasonably large time window when they can be re-potted safely.
  5. They create very dramatic and dynamic shapes even without the use of a wire. Two of my three larch trees were never wired.
  6. They need porous and airy substrate but if put into a well-drained pot they will tolerate almost anything except maybe wet heavy clay.

You have already seen one of my larch trees in the past. And today I have made pictures of the rest and I will write something about how to care for them.

First, the tree that was in the previous post, how it looks this year before re-poting.

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As you can see, it has grown slightly bigger, but not that much considering it’s been six years. And it is flowering again, showing that it is indeed a mature tree and not just a few years old seedling. But it had to be put in a slightly bigger pot because there is a limit to how much back the crown can be cut – new twigs can only sprout from brachyblasts, they cannot be cut back beyond them, and the roots must be of adequate size for the crown to prosper. So with a larch tree, either start with an oversized pot or expect to increase pot size every few years ever so slightly. The base of the trunk has visible roots and is covered with moss and lichen – as it should be.

The next tree demonstrates the sturdiness of larches.

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Initially, it was very similar to the first tree (and they both are from seeds planted in the same year). But two years ago, most of this tree’s crown has not survived dry summer followed by a tough winter. But it bounced back remarkably from a lower branch and as you can see, it has acquired quite a character in just two years. To help the tree to recover its strengths, I have put it into a slightly larger and deeper pot and I will continue to do so for another year/two depending on how it fares. But it looks quite well and the dead wood is now part of the composition. And the tree has now a genuine story behind it – it was not my deliberate destruction that created it but nature itself. Such dead wood is oftentimes part of a composition of a bonsai tree and it needs to be preserved. I am soaking it once/twice a year with an antifungal polysulfidic sulfur solution. It will slowly preserve and also somewhat bleach the wood. If I decide I do not like the dead branch, it can be cut and it will heal in a year or two.

And the best for last.

First, a picture from 2003, shortly (several years) after I acquired the tree.

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Originally, the tree grew near railroad tracks, on a rocky slope, in an orientation that was turned about 90° CCW to how it is in this picture. It was cut down at least four times – you can see where the trunk suddenly ends (cut 1), then there is one dead branch (cut 2), a living branch that suddenly ends (cut 3), and a thinner branch that overgrew all the rest from under until it too was cut. It was clear to me that the tree will ultimately be destroyed so I poached it from its location with a clear conscience and re-planted it in my garden. Because it grew in a rocky location, I could not get a nice rootball with it, just two long thin roots and a stump of the main root that I had to cut. That was the beginning of several years-long journey of restoring the tree’s roots. Each year I have cut back the roots a bit so they branch out, treating the cuts with crushed charcoal, and as it developed thinner roots nearer and nearer the trunk, I have slowly shortened the stump of the main root until it was completely gone. After about five years or so the tree could be planted in a pot, originally as you see it above.

The tree also had an unseemly hollow in the trunk where the original first tip was cut and that had to be filled. I treated the hollow with fungicide, then with a bit of resin I glued in a piece of cork and waited for several years too. The tree developed a callus over the cork and the trunk healed and developed nice bark. And now, after two decades, it is a pride of my collection. It is also the only tree that prompted me to give it a name – The Reclining Dragon.

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As you can see, I have in the end completely changed the direction in which the tree grows, and instead of a windswept informal standing style it has a windswept semi-cascade style. A tree like this should be grown in a different pot according to Japanese bonsai rules but I like the way it looks now. I am searching for a suitably big stone to make a pot even better suiting its dramatic looks.

It is flowering this year too, so it is now covered in beautiful teensy red (female) and yellow (male) cones.

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If you wish to start growing bonsai trees, you cannot go wrong with larch if they prosper in your climate. The one major downside they have is that they are susceptible to being infested with aphids, especially wooly aphids. But they respond well to being treated with insecticides.

Coppice Harvest

I wrote previously that I am trying to use my needlessly big garden to grow firewood in a coppice. It would be a great success if not for water voles who are a sworn enemy of anyone growing any trees for any purpose. However, these last few days were warm-ish for winter and thus I had the opportunity to not be an utterly useless lump of meat for a few days – I cut down the coppiced/pollarded trees and sorted most of the wood into piles. Twigs for the shredder, thinner trunks for growing beans in the summer and being cut into firewood afterwards, and thicker and/or crooked trunks to be cut into logs right away.

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It looks more than it really is, the volume will be significantly reduced once the twigs go through the shredder. I estimate it to be approximately 10-15% of my yearly use of firewood. Blast the voles, without them, it would be probably around 50%. They even destroyed multiple of my established 3-5-year-old trees, so the coppice did not in fact grow bigger since 2019 at all and it is entirely due to voles. They destroyed approx 70% of the planted hornbeams, and nearly 100% of the poplars this area of my garden is not wet enough for the willows to prosper so it is still useless land that needs to be mown and is of no real use to anybody. I have started to plant local maples, ashes, birches, and hazels instead of the poplars but those get often destroyed by voles too and they do not grow even remotely as fast. Fuck the little fuckers. Did I say I hate water voles? I hate water voles.

But the work made me feel well. I really needed to go outside and do something during daylight.

Bonsai Tree – I Still Do Not Understand You My Persimmon

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Last year my Persimmon tree did not branch out and it also took a veeery long time to shed leaves. When it did shed the leaves, I decided to overwinter it in a cooler, darker spot than last year in the hope that I will get better control over when it starts to grow. I did not. Saturday I noticed that it has started to sprout new twigs. That is very early and very inconvenient because I had no potting substrate prepared and due to the extreme weather I could not prepare any for a few days. But today I finally got around to replanting the tree.

Maybe what keeps this tree dormant is not only cold but relative dryness and cold? I do not know. It has wintered, it has survived, but I still have no clue whatsoever what is optimal for it where I live.

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Here you can see it in a bucket of water when I am washing out old substrate from the roots. The roots looked very healthy and were not overgrown. I might not need to re-plant the tree every year.

As you can see. last year there has only grown one twig, very upright and very long. And it did not start to grow from the apical bud right below the cut, but from one a bit lower. That has made the trunk shape in that place a bit awkward. Luckily this spring the tree started to branch out at the main stem, from the buds under the previous year’s cut. Go figure.

I have removed the whole of last year’s growth on the main stem and I did not touch the secondary stem at all. I will leave the secondary stem to grow this year uninterrupted. that should make it stronger and thicker. And next year I will cut it back a lot. On the main stem now are two budding twigs which I hope will become a suitable base for a nice crown.

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Here it is replanted, being watered for the first time in the new substrate.

I made a cutting from the top of last year’s growth where the twig was soft and not very woody yet, I slathered some root stimulator on the wound and put the twig in water to find out if this plant can be propagated this way. Putting a cutting directly in water is the simplest way, but not all trees take root this way – some are more finicky in this regard. We shall see, the worst-case scenario is no harm, the best-case scenario is another persimmon to play with.

Dangers of Park Maintenance

On Friday I took my father for a medical check-up, and whilst I was waiting, I took a walk in the nearby park. It is not a particularly big park, so it was in fact several walks back and forth. And during that time I have spotted this stump uprooted stump.

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It looks like it happened very recently, possibly (probably?) during the first big windstorm that hit our region on Thursday. But this tree was not broken, it was uprooted, and that is not something that happens very easily to deep-rooting tree like linden (probably Tilia cordata, it is hard to be exact with a stump). But in this case, the wind was only the final straw that broke the camel’s back.

You may remember my late cherry tree and how I explained that I have felled it because it was infested with heartwood-eating fungus. And that is the case of this one too, only here the fungus is visibly far more spread. The white-ish color in the middle is the wood that has been infested by the fungus. No healthy hardwood that I remember from the top of my head has this color and texture. When split along the grain, white mycelium fibers would be more clearly visible, and under a microscope, one could probably also see that the wood is much more porous than is normal.

The wood is still hard, when dried and struck it would probably give a nice thunk!  and might be possible to work it into something beautiful, but its strength was severely compromised. Which is visible on the root-side of the stump.

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Several thick main roots have white-ish color to them and they are broken in a way that healthy wood just does not break.

Luckily this tree did not kill anyone, although there was a severely mangled park bench in the direction of its fall. But trees like this do occasionally kill people in urban areas. What can be done to prevent that?

Well, look at another picture from the same park.

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That is not poo at the base of this tree, that is a fungus fruiting body. I am not a mycologist and the fruiting body is far too much decomposed for me to even guess the species, but almost certainly is not a mycorrhizal fungus, those do not grow this close to the trunk. To me as a former dendrologist, this is most probably a wood-eating fungus and only a mycologist can ascertain otherwise.

Oak trees are not very susceptible to heartwood rot, so this might be sapwood fungus. In that case, the tree will wither and die within a few years, still standing and relatively strong. If it is heartwood rot, the tree should be felled immediately before its structural integrity is so impaired that a sneeze fells it. If unsure, the safest course of action would be to fell the tree before it endangers a nearby parking lot and an entrance to the school.

I had a similar experience at our local building supply store. At the border of their fenced-off outdoor storage was growing a huge, beautiful red-leaved beech tree. But during sewage renovations, its roots were damaged and I predicted then, that the tree will not survive for very long. A few years later I have noticed fungal fruiting bodies at the base of the trunk and I have said to the store owner that the tree should be felled asap before it becomes a hazard. The law in CZ does not allow to fell such big trees willy-nilly, not even on private property, but the tree was felled within a year so his application went through and somebody had to look at the tree before approving it. And when I have seen the stump, I knew that my advice was correct – it was similar to that of the linden tree stump at the beginning of this article. It did not look like healthy beech wood at all.

And that is what should be done to prevent such trees from killing people. Every park should be assessed at least twice a year by either a mycologist or a dendrologist (at best both). Fungal fruiting bodies are often transitory and there is a finite window when the infestation is visible on the outside of an otherwise apparently healthy tree which is, in fact, a ticking time bomb. And just because the fruiting body is not on the trunk but on the ground still does not mean it is not dangerous.

Near the very probably sick oak tree was this stump

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It is too oak stump, and you can see that it seems to be decomposing more on the outside. That is usual for oak trees, the heartwood normally lasts longer. But it is not a guarantee. As a side note, I would love to come by and lop off the burl on the right side, there is some seriously beautiful wood in there I am sure.

Speaking of beautiful wood, look at the burls on this oak tree.

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Pity that park maintenance is usually not done by very savvy people and I know from first-hand experience that most of these trees when they reach the end of their lives end up as firewood, despite there often being really beautiful specimens. A friend of mine has witnessed a burl worth probably over a hundred € being tossed into a wood chipper. It made me nearly cry when I heard about it.

And look at this sycamore tree.

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Under that bark is some top-notch curly maple unless I am mistaken. And I do not think I am.

We as a society do not pay nearly enough attention to park trees. Not when they live and not when they die. I think they deserve more, in life as well as after that, even if it never were an issue of human safety. Which they are.

Bonsai Tree – Taking Things Slow

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My persimmon tree got me worried this spring again. It looked perfectly healthy when I was repotting it, but I had to trim a lot of roots in order to promote good growth – the main root was a bit too much as a carrot. But it had plenty of lateral roots too, so I did not think cutting it will be a problem. I have also trimmed most of the last years’ growth in order to promote the tree to branch out a bit.

The roots did not support splitting the plant into two, but that is not a problem, I will be happy to have bonsai with two trunks. But the tree, again, did stubbornly did not grow. Outdoors was everything green already and growing like mad, and this one did nothing. It was indoors the whole time, so I do not understand how it could be so heavily influenced by weather (this spring was delayed by more than a month), but possibly it was.

I was fretting and checking the tree regularly. Both twigs were still springy and the bark was fresh-looking, there were no obvious signs of the tree dying. Just no growth.

Last week I have put the tree in the greenhouse, in the hope that the warmth and high humidity will wake it up already. And it might have worked.

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Well, the tree is growing, but it seems unwilling to branch out. Maybe persimmons are plants with strong apical dominance. We shall see whether I will persuade it to branch out or not.

On the right, you see a new addition to my plants collection, a mango grown from seed. My aunt gave me mango fruit in the fall, which I, unfortunately, could not eat because I was seriously revolted by the smell. It was not spoiled, it just smelled unpleasant to me, like raw peaches (to which I am allergic). At least my parents found the smell pleasant and the taste too. And the stone went straight into substrate afterward. It looks promising and might make a passable bonsai too. And it seems to grow much faster than the persimmon since it is a tropical plant and does not have a real need for wintering.

Merry Holymas

Merry whatever you celebrate. I personally would not mind a little war on Christmas, I hate the holiday and everything it officially stands for (hint- it does not stand for love and family, that is most people’s personal addition). But I love the winter solstice and the promise of longer days and shorter nights again. We had an extremely warm bud muddy and gloomy fall so far, but today, finally, winter has begun for real – we had our first real snowfall of this year.  That has cheered me up ever so slightly.

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I might have to dust off the snow of the bonsai trees, if it gets wet, it could break them.