Bonsai for Beginners – Part 6 – Where to get your first tree

Previus post.

Where you should get your first tree, and what kind of tree should it be, depends on where you live, where you want to keep it and what experience you have. I am living in a temperate climate and therefore my personal experience is limited to the plants that grow around here plus some subtropical and tropical plants that I grow indoors. I also have very limited – and universally negative – experience with Australian flora, so, unfortunately, I cannot give too much info about that. But whatever I write here should be applicable throughout Eurasia and North America.

So first thing first – where you should get your first tree? If you have indoor plants, you should first look whether you have a suitable plant already that could perhaps be converted to bonsai. There is plenty of commonly grown indoor potted plants that are also suitable bonsai species. Two of my most impressive and valuable trees were converted from 40 years old plants that my mother grew.

If you have a garden and want to have an outdoor bonsai, then I would recommend using local species or some decorative species that you might already have. You can either try and take a twig and plant it – many species take root easily – or look around your garden for a seedling that started to grow where it should not have, perhaps too close to a hedge or similar.

Such plants have a huge advantage over anything that you buy in that you can be reasonably sure that they can prosper in the environment you can provide for them and you might already know how to care for them.

Do not buy anything that has “bonsai” in the name. Neither a good expensive tree nor one of the mass-produced cheap ones in supermarkets. In the first case, you probably would not be able to take proper care of the tree yet, and in the second case you would not be buying a bonsai but a crippled plant that can become one in a few years at the best, or will die soon no matter what you do at worst. The cheapo “bonsai” from supermarkets can be a good source of twig cuttings for your own planting though, sometimes it is the only way to get your hands on certain species. And absolutely never buy “bonsai kit”. There is no such thing as bonsai seeds. Those are ordinary tree seeds in fancy packaging and without proper care will, therefore, grow into ordinary trees – if they germinate at all.

Do not poach trees in the forest or on someone else’s property. There are environmentally friendly and IMO morally OK ways to do it – for example trees that grow near train tracks or roads and are periodically cut down for maintenance because they are a weed – but it is still illegal and you should not do it without the permission of the property owner. And then there is, of course, the morally reprehensible poaching in parks and mountain forests. In Japan poaching of trees for commerce has lead to significant environmental damage in mountainous areas for example. Yup, the Japanese are not above commercializing their heritage and destroying their environment in due course. And to poach a tree without it dying requires a lot of experience, take my word for it.

If you lack suitable species at home and cannot find anything in your garden and therefore must buy something, then buy plants of suitable species at your local gardening store. Look for plants that do not have overtly visible scars from grafting and are healthy and with a bit of luck, you can find a tree that can be converted into a bonsai within one-two years.

And here a very short and incomplete list of species/genera, in three categories. The taxa are listed in no particular order from the top of my head. I only write about species/genera that I have personal experience with or can reasonably extrapolate to from closely related taxa. And because English tree nomenclature is a complete nonsensical mess, I will only use Latin names.

  1. Ideal for a beginner:
    Indoor – Myrthus communis, Hibiscus sp., Laurus nobilis, Fuchsia sp., Crassula ovata, Serissa foetida, Adonium obesum, Punica granatum
    Outdoor – Acer sp., Betula sp., Larix sp.,  Ulmus sp., Taxus sp., Ligustrum sp., Buxus sp., Carpinus sp., Tilia sp.
  2. Not ideal, but still suitable with caveats:
    Indoor – Ficus sp., Euphorbia milli, Portulacaria afra, Olea europaea
    Outdoor – Juniperus sp., Thuja sp. Cupressus sp., Chamaecyparis sp., Thujopsis sp., Pinus sp., Fagus sp. Malus sp., Prunus sp., Illex sp. Cedrus sp., Tamarix sp., Crataegus sp.,
  3. Not suitable for a beginner at all:
    Indoor – Podocarpus sp., Eucalyptus sp., Annona sp., Citrus sp., Camelia sp., Cuphea hissopifolia
    Outdoor – Picea sp., Fraxinus sp., Salix sp., Populus sp. Vitis vinifera, Forsythia sp., Corylus sp., Visteria sp., Calluna vulgaris, Vaccinium sp., Azalea sp., Rhododendron sp., Sambucus sp., Hedera helix

Each of these taxa may get their own extra article in due course. I will start with some of the most suitable ones.

Tree Tuesday

A frosting of fungus ©voyager, all rights reserved

I found a few nature made pieces of wood art the other day while I was walking with Jack that I thought I’d share today. I’d prefer to share your tree photos, though, so now that it’s springtime, why not take your camera for a walk and grab some pictures of your local trees in bud or bloom. I think all of us would like to see the progress of spring in your part of the world, and I love reader submissions. Really, I do. Don’t be shy, our address is over there in the sidebar, underneath the colourful percolating head where it says email here.

Wormwood ©voyager, all rights reserved

A Tiered Garden ©voyager, all rights reserved

Bonsai Tree – Well, Thats Officialy Weird…

Previous Post.

Today, the terminal bud started definitively growing. There is no longer any doubt that it is alive and that last years’ growth did not go down the drain. Persimmon seeds are rare, so I am a bit fussier about this tree than I am for example about pomegranates or hibiscuses. So these last two weeks I was worried that the terminal bud is dead.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

However, I did not worry that the tree itself is dead. Because it did, in fact, begin to grow just one day after my last post. Only it did not start to grow at the tip. It sprouted a second trunk near the base. Which grows slowly, but steadily, ever since. This week the leaves started to get bigger and I have started to turn the plant 90° clockwise daily in order to achieve straight growth.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

However, this is not something that I expected. From pictures on the internet I have assumed that Diospyros kaki are small to medium-sized trees with strong apical dominance, akin to apples or pear trees. But this type of growth, where new suckers start growing at the root base and outpace in growth the main stem is usually the domain of shrubs and bushes, like the common hazel Corylus avellana. And even there it usually does not happen during the second year already, it usually takes a few years to establish the main stem first.

I can only speculate about the cause, so here goes: The root-trimming stopped the inhibition of one of the two buds at the base of cotyledons. Those remained underground in this plant, unlike for example in apple, where they rise above the ground. And since cotyledons are modified leaves, they have buds at their base, only those are usually extremely inhibited and do not start growing unless the main stem is damaged.

This gives me some information about the plant.

First, I will see next year what the root system looks like, but this might mean I will get multiple plants out of this, or one plant with multiple stems. Or that it will be very difficult to get bonsai out of this plant at all because the plant has insufficient apical dominance for that.

Second and more important – it means this species should be strong enough to handle even severe trimming and should be able to start growing even from older wood from extremely inhibited buds. That is, in fact, a very good property in a bonsai tree, because those might need to be scaled back occasionally by trimming several years old branches.

So while this was really unexpected and it is a bit weird, It is not bad news and it makes me hopeful that it will go well. We’ll see how the growth pattern develops from now on, I won’t interfere with the trees shape for at least a year at all.

Tree Tuesday

David Milarch with clones of 3,000-year-old redwoods. Courtesy Archangel Ancient Tree Archive

David Milarch is a man on a mission, and his goals are ambitious. He is trying to save the Ancient Giant Redwoods and, in the process, save the planet.

Years of droughts and shifting temperatures have already driven these evergreen giants out of some coastal zones they once inhabited. The trees can live for as long as 2,000 to 3,000 years, but some scientists think, the way things are going, that they could disappear from California in a fraction of that time.

Milarch spends his days tracking down the heartiest coast redwood specimens he can find, cloning them in his own lab, and then planting them in carefully chosen plots where they can thrive, hopefully for millennia. One site is a new experimental bed in San Francisco’s Presidio, part of the U.S. National Park system. Milarch’s goal is both to strengthen the coast redwood gene pool with clones of the strongest individuals, and to store loads of climate-change-causing carbon—more than 1,000 tons per acre of redwoods, more than any other kind of forest in the world. It’s a complicated mission with a simple philosophy: Save the big trees, and they’ll save us.

Milarch is well qualified for the mission as are his two sons, both of whom assist him with the project and the foundation.

If you strike up a conversation with Milarch, you’ll get his life story inside of 10 minutes—from his motorcycle gang days in Detroit to the revelation that set him on his current path, involving a near-death experience, angels, and a disembodied voice that dictated a plan he wrote down in the wee hours of the morning. When he woke up fully the next day, he says, “There was an eight-page outline on that legal pad. It was the outline for this project.”
The angel who tapped Milarch for this mission seems to have picked the right person—not only is he an able tree-vangelist, but he is a third-generation shade-tree grower. His sons Jake and Jared, both of whom work for Archangel, make up the fourth. So he knows all the secrets of getting balky arborial species to reach their potential by locating the healthiest specimens, clipping and propagating them, and then nurturing delicate new trees.

Jake Milarch of the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive packs up saplings that were sent to Oregon for planting. Courtesy Archangel Ancient Tree Archive

It’s a long, complicated process that involves cloning and Milarch manages it all with an eye to the future. The saplings are nurtured with compost and drip-fed water when dry, and in time, Milarch plans to plant underbrush species that will not dominate the young trees. He also plans to selectively thin the trees as they grow, allowing the most dominant to take over.

It isn’t a cure-all for climate change, but it is an important part of the answer.

As University College London earth scientists Mark Maslin and Simon Lewis point out in The Conversation, reforestation is hardly a magic bullet against climate change. It can take centuries, even millennia, to have its effect, and that’s time the climate problem does not have. Some of the land areas earmarked for reforestation in the Science study may end up too hot for forests by the time people get around to planting them. “Reforestation,” Maslin and Lewis write, “should be thought of as one solution to climate change among many.”
Even if champion trees aren’t an answer by themselves, Milarch is determined to see them at least become part of the answer. If there’s anything worth being downright messianic about, he figures, it’s creating eternal groves of thousand-year-old, self-replicating giants that could benefit all humankind. “We have a list of the 100 most important trees to clone. We have our marching orders. We know where we need to go,” Milarch says. “I raise my hand every morning and I say, ‘Use me.’”

I don’t believe in angels, but whatever it was that sent Milarch on his quest, I’m thankful for it. If you’d like to know more about this vital project please visit The Archangel Ancient Tree Archive Website.

 

Story via: Atlas Obscura

 

Bonsai for Beginners – Part 5 – Last Bit of Tree Physiology (possibly)

Previous post.

You didnae thunk I was done, didya?

I talked about the influence of apical dominance on tree buds, I talked about types of growth, but I did not talk about tree buds themselves. So let’s do that now.

Not all tree buds are created equal. As written in the last article, in some trees the buds are just small leaf-precursors bunched up together, in some trees they are covered by modified leaves to protect them during winter and in some trees they contain thus hidden precursors to whole twigs. However, there is more, much more, to them than even that.

You have probably noted that most buds form at the base of leaves and needles, but that is not the only place where they form. They can occasionally also form on injuries, from the meristematic tissue, just like roots can in some plants. And while the buds that form at leaf bases, but do not develop because they are inhibited by apical dominance sometimes may lose their ability to grow altogether, but in many trees, they can be re-activated and start growing under the right conditions. In some trees, buds can even form on roots, and that is where suckers come from – and those can be pretty annoying.

As a beginner, you are best off with plants that have at least one of these two properties – either forming meristemic buds on injuries or waking inhibited buds. They are both godsent. Plants without these properties can be grown as bonsai, and indeed are grown as bonsai, but they require often specific approach and advanced techniques.

The reason for this is simple – contrary to what I found to be a popular belief, bonsai do not grow slowly and keep their shape. They do grow slower than they would normally, but this is achieved in part by cutting the roots and by cutting the twigs. When you stop pruning your bonsai, in a few years you get a huge mess (which many people find out when they buy the mass-produced little trees sold as bonsai in supermarkets). And when you plant it in free soil and stop pruning, in a few years you get a normal-sized tree. This means that bonsai get bigger each year, but you once they reach the size you want, you need to keep them near that size for a long time. And that means occasionally having to cut back to older wood, removing twigs and branches and growing new ones in their stead. In some plants, this can only be achieved by grafting.

That is, unfortunately, another strike against coniferous trees, especially pines and spruces. I have seen what seemed like a revived old-tree bud sprout from a spruce trunk, but it is a rare occurrence that I think happens only under very exceptional circumstances. On a pine that cannot happen at all.

That is still not all. There is more to tree buds than that.

Many trees are grown as bonsai not for the beauty of their foliage, but for their blossoms. But trees often require special conditions in order to form blossoming buds. Sometimes it is given by the age of the tree, sometimes by the position of a tree-bud on the twig, sometimes by both and some more like the temperature in winter etc. This issue is quite species-specific and cannot be summed up succinctly.

So for a beginner, the best option is trees that can grow back from older wood and that are not grown for their flowers but for their leaves/needles. That does not mean however that you should avoid other plants altogether, it only means that once you start seeing any success with those, you are no longer a beginner.

Next, I will write where to get your first tree and write a short list of species/genera suitable for beginners. Later on, I will write about each of those in more detail.

Bonsai Tree – Wake up Already Dammit!

Previous post.

The persimmon tree did not change leaves color at all in the fall, which is a bad sign, but eventually, they fell off and did not dry on the plant, which is a good sign. I have stored it together with my citruses and other subtropic plants at 10-15°C, but about a month ago I have re-potted it together with my Ulmus parvifolia bonsai because those both started to grow already due to the abnormally warm winter.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

During that, the plant had very nice and healthy roots. The main root was not overly long and it was not carrot-like at all, which is the worst that can happen. As you can see, it had nice and bushy side-roots on the whole length, an ideal situation. So I have cut off half of the main root and the cut was, again healthy-looking, white and wet. I covered the cut with lots of charcoal and I planted the tree in a wider and shallower pot than it was before

Lastly, I moved it into my room to be able to better control the substrate humidity to avoid root rot. I have expected the tree to wake up in the warmer room and start growing, but so far nothing and it is making me anxious. After all, my Ulmus parvifolia grow like mad despite being in the coldest room in the house.

And today I realized that I need not try and cope with that anxiety alone, so here you have it, now you can be anxious too. Ain’t I grand?

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

The terminal bud is still bright green and the top leaf is soft to touch and that is a good sign.

But it does not grow, dammit. Maybe this tree reacts to daytime length before it starts growth?

Bonsai for Beginners – Part 4 – Another Bit of Tree Physiology

Previous part.

This bit is, alas, often not discussed in bonsai literature as much in detail as it should too. Some books mention it in passing, some do not mention it at all. The talk is about types of tree growth. (note – the used terminology is my own, I have long since forgotten the official technical terms and anyway I am too lazy to search for them in foreign language)

There are three basic types that every bonsaist needs to be aware of, and it is vital to know which type each of your plants has because they determine what kind of care they require to get turned into a bonsai and survive the procedure.

1 – Continuous growth.

This does not mean that the plant grows continuously throughout the year, although usually when a plant does grow the whole year, it has this type of growth. But the growth might slow down or stop completely in certain conditions, like drought or cold or insufficient daylength. However, when the growth slows or stops, it does so without any apparent change in the plant’s physiology. No special structures develop, the plant just stops growing and when the conditions get right again, it continues. The “buds” are simply a bundle of small leaves/needles bunched up together.

In temperate regions, typical representatives of this type of growth are some evergreen conifers, like junipers or thujas. It is most typical for many subtropic trees – citruses, olives, and hibiscus. And of course tropical plants and succulents, like a ficus and money tree. This type of growth have mostly evergreens, although there are deciduous plants with it – for example, russian olive (Eleagnus angustifolia) and fig tree (Ficus carica), but they are the exception, not the rule.

2 – Continuous growth with a hibernating stage.

During the season, these plants just grow like the first type, adding leaves to their twigs continuously and growing in length. But when the conditions start to signal the end of the growing season, not only do they stop growing, they create specialized wintering buds. These buds then contain a relatively undifferentiated beginning of the next twig. When the hibernation ends, the buds shed their protective layers (modified leaves) and from them emerge twigs that again start to grow in length and adding leaves as much as they can manage.

This type of growth is typical for deciduous trees in temperate regions, like willows, poplars, maples, hazels and many more. I am not aware of any evergreen with this type, maybe holy (Illex sp.).

3 – Growth in spurts.

Some trees take the hibernation stage to the next level. The wintering buds do not contain just the beginning of a new twig, but a complete one with non-differentiated buds. At the beginning of the growing season these whole twigs emerge from the buds, they stretch in lengths and gain girth, but they do not add any new leaves or buds – the number of those has been determined previous year already.

This is typical for firs, pines, spruces and many other coniferous trees of temperate regions. From the top of my head, I only can remember one deciduous tree with this growth type – beech (Fagus sp.).

For a beginner, types 1 and 2 are the best option. Those are comparatively easy to manage, they mostly heal easily from pruning and the pruning itself can be often done at almost any time of the year or in wide enough window not to need to fuss about it too much.

Type 3 is difficult, and thus alas another point against pines. These types of trees cannot have twigs trimmed just anytime and anywhere, they often require being cut during very specific time otherwise the next year’s buds will form where you do not want them.

The worse in this regard are spruces, whose growth is nearly completely unmanageable. That is why you won’t see many very old spruce bonsai trees. More on that later.

Bonsai for Beginners – Part 3 – Basics of Tree Physiology

Previous part.

Of those many books that I have read about the art of growing bonsai trees, only one goes sufficiently in-depth about this issue. Unfortunately, that one book is probably only available in Czech. I will not go too much into depth here, just the basics for your own research should you wish it.

The distinction between a tree and a bush/shrub is not clear-cut, but there are properties that some plants have that make them definitively shrubs – like roses – or definitively trees – like spruces. A rose, no matter how big and old will be unruly and bushy. Spruce, no matter how small, will be a tree, with a definitive main stem.

The most important factor in this is the absence or presence (and strength) of so-called apical dominance. In plants with strong apical dominance, the main stem produces hormones that regulate and/or inhibit the growth of secondary branches. That is the reason why spruces almost invariably have one upright stem with comparatively thin branches – they have very strong apical dominance like most conifers do. Roses, on the other hand, do not have apical dominance worth speaking of. They continuously sprout new twigs from the base of the stem near the roots. Common hazel is somewhere in between – at the start it has strong apical dominance, but the bigger the main stem gets the smaller inhibiting influence it has, it slows its growth and inevitably suckers start to sprout from the base even when the main stem is perfectly healthy and strong.

Apical dominance applies to roots too. Some plants tend to grow long, thing, non-branching roots, some have bushy ones.

It also changes during each season – in many plants with leaves the hormones are produced by the leaves, thus the more leaves there are on the branch/stem, the more it inhibits those below it. That can be used to your advantage for certain species – more on that when talking about them.

For a beginner, plants with strong apical dominance should be avoided, especially fast-growing ones. Many such plants when cut do not branch out but simply the bud nearest to the cut continues as the main stem. Some might even die. Best are plants with some apical dominance, but not a very strong one. But also not so weak as to tend to sprout suckers each season.

That, unfortunately, means that for a beginner or a small-scale grower, the most iconic of all bonsai trees – pines – are not suitable, as well as most of the coniferous trees overall. They are the most difficult to manage and to form, and some of them are downright snowflakes. Best suited are leafy plants, with moderate growth rate.

I will go into more detail when talking about specific species in due course.

Tree Tuesday

Today’s tree story is about another victim of the cult of Greed. Developers, building artificial islands for luxury resorts, are buying mature coconut trees from farmers, but their removal and relocation has many people worried.

Kaashidhoo is one of the largest of the 1,192 islands that make up the Maldives archipelago, but unlike many other islands, it does not teem with sunbathing Europeans. Its broad dirt roads are often deserted, flanked by pink Maldivian roses, mango-orange impatiens, and papaya and banana plants. The main occupation of the islanders is cultivating coconut and other tropical produce that can be sold in Malé, the Maldivian capital.
But lately, the local economy has been thrown out of balance. Crater-like holes have begun to appear across the island, some filled with dry leaves and others left as barren pits. These bald patches are the places where mature coconut trees used to stand tall. In the last year, Kaashidhoo farmers have sold hundreds of trees to new luxury resorts on nearby artificial islands.

While some locals are grateful for the newfound income—$20 to $100 for each tree—others worry that beach erosion has intensified since the trees started getting uprooted. They see this as a fragile ecosystem threatened by the proliferation of luxury resorts. “It’s a huge issue,” says Ibrahim Naeem, Director General of the Maldives Environmental Protection Agency. “Importing coconut palm trees is prohibited in the Maldives, so they have to rely on residential islands.”

As time has gone on, environmental changes have set in.

Yet as the year went by, and more coconut trees disappeared, Jameel says that many locals grew concerned. Coral islands like Kaashidhoo are highly dynamic, constantly adjusting and dancing to the idiosyncrasies of wind, tides, and relentless waves. “Everyone has observed far more erosion around the beaches. That’s what we end up talking about most of the time,” Jameel says. In response, she joined a non-governmental organization called Young Leaders, to spread awareness about environmental issues on the island.

Also, once these areas are developed, locals are encouraged to stay away, and many of the benefits that they were promised from development have never materialized. Environmental groups are now co-ordinating campaigns to strengthen and enforce the laws, and they’re using the #mvtreegrab. I usually forget to Twitter, but today I will, and I’ll add that hashtag. There are plenty of pretty pictures with the story, so go have a look… if you can stomach another bad news story.

story via: Atlas Obscura

Plum Trees in Bloom

Our Monday flowers from Nightjar are bursting with brilliant raindrops.

Trees here have definitely started to bud. No, wait. I mean, bloom. They started to bloom. This is our plum tree. It’s a little too soon and I’m worried because there are still not that many bees around. We’ll see how it goes. Meanwhile, flowers with raindrops always give me some inspiration, even though macro photography in low light is always a challenge.

©Nightjar, all rights reserved

©Nightjar, all rights reserved

©Nightjar, all rights reserved

©Nightjar, all rights reserved

Tree Tuesday

These photos of grass trees were taken by the friend of a friend who lives in Australia. She tells me,

 While driving through the bushfire zone 12kms from the caravan park, I was delighted to see signs of regrowth…. (grass trees) are already sprouting green in the landscape that was so devastated just 6 weeks ago.

… you can read all about them at bushheritage.org.au. They are also a protected species and very expensive to buy from specialist nurseries – I’ve always wanted to have one in my garden! Best of all, grass trees are very resilient and able to survive any bushfire.

©Ozzie, all rights reserved

©Ozzie, all rights reserved