Welcome to my bonsai blog!

Welcome to my bonsai blog!

Look around! Use the Search box, browse the Archive, and leave comments. Click on any picture to enlarge it.
I would be honored to have you follow my posts. There are two ways to do that.
-- If you have your own blog, use Join this site
to have notifications of my posts sent to your blog's reading list.
-- If you don't have a blog,
use Follow by Email: new-post alerts will be sent to your email address. Pictures aren't included; that's just how Blogger does it. For the pictures you come here!
Fora and vendors that I can recommend from experience are listed in the right sidebar.
For more about the ads, and just why I enabled them, please see "About the ads," below.
"And the LORD God made ... trees that were pleasing to the eye ..." Gen. 2:9, New International Version.

"Bonsai isn't just something I do; it's part of what I am." Remark to my wife and daughter.

Friday, October 19, 2012

"... the greatest danger to a bonsai ..."

     "Sometimes, the greatest danger to a bonsai is the human taking care of it."

I overheard Ryan Neill say that, at the 2011 Mid-America Show. I don't know what prompted him to say it, but the statement really got my attention! As I walked on I was asking myself how often that might apply to me.

In my last post, I said that there is a story that goes with the tree I used in my styling demonstration at the Ft. Wayne Bonsai Club's Fall Show. That story is of how the tree survived the danger it was put into by the ignorance of the human caring for it.

Sometime before 1997 -- I can't be any more exact -- I bought two small Black Hills spruce, Picea glauca densata, at my favorite garden center. The trees were young, just whips with trunks about pencil thick; my plan was to grow them on for several years and then start styling them into bonsai.

December 2009. Still in the oil-drain pan, but the drainage holes were bigger.
I was still a beginner in many areas, including soil and soil dynamics. Mistake number one was to use a plastic oil-drain pan as a growing container for one of the spruces; a flexible container means the soil can shift, and that can break feeder roots. Mistake number two was to make drain holes only 1/8-inch across (about 3 mm) and only make six or eight of them. Mistake number three was to use a mix that had been sifted thru a mesh smaller than 1/64 of an inch (about 1/2-mm;) the fine dust was removed, but the mix was still much too fine for anything except a bald cypress or a bog plant.

The oil-drain pan did have the virtues of being fairly shallow, and exposing a lot of soil surface to the air. And I put the second tree into a 1-gal. Rootmaker®. That much I did right.

I lost the spruce in the Rootmaker after a couple of years; I don't remember the circumstances. The tree in the oil-drain pan hung on -- against great odds, I now know. But it didn't grow much taller, it put on girth very slowly, and it couldn't sustain branches on the lower two-thirds of the trunk. Too many of its resources were going into simply staying alive.

Liverworts in a lab at Ohio State University.
As time went by I learned more: for example, that the presence of liverworts on the soil surface means the soil is very poorly drained. I removed the liverworts from the spruce's soil and, shortly after, got out my drill and enlarged the drainage holes to 1/4-inch across. Some time later, I took a utility knife and enlarged the drainage holes even more. That all helped some.

You may have noticed that I haven't said anything about repotting it. By the time I realized that repotting was critically needed, I wasn't sure I wanted to keep the tree: it still wasn't much more than a whip, with a tuft of branches at the top, and one branch lower down. I wasn't sure I could ever make a presentable bonsai out of it, no matter how much I learned. It might be best to discard it, learn from my mistakes, and move on. But it didn't seem right to discard it without trying to salvage it: I had bought it of my own free will, and by doing so assumed some responsibility for that piece of the natural world. I also didn't want the embarrassment of admitting that I'd ruined what might have become a perfectly good bonsai!

A year after repotting. Guy wires stabilized it while the roots re-established.
In the spring of 2010 I finally repotted it, into a rigid container with good bottom drainage, and a mix that was fresh and a good deal coarser to begin with. The root system had become fairly one-sided, and had never filled the old container in well over ten years. But it was reasonably healthy, in spite of the vile soil it had endured before I started wising up.

The "Bigfoot" root, blue arrows.
The tree perked up noticeably after being repotted, and by the end of the season I was sure that it would survive. In the spring of 2011 I was able to start pinching it to promote compactness.

I began thinking about its eventual styling. The trunk, I was glad to see, had developed good taper; there were plenty of branches at the top, at least; and the bark on the lower half of the trunk was starting to plate nicely. An extra-thick surface root (that I christened "Bigfoot,") had developed on the side that would make the best front, but I hoped to incorporate that into my design. The spruce wasn't suitable for anything except a bunjin, but I hoped to make a decent bunjin out of it.

In the spring of 2012 I removed the guy wires; they were no longer needed. I first intended to style the tree at the 2012 Cherry Blossom Festival in May, but family responsibilities kept me from attending the Festival. I decided to save the styling for a demonstration at the club's Fall Show.

And I'm going to save the account of the styling, and the pictures, for my next post. Look for it in a couple of days. This one is long enough already!

But one more picture first.

April 2012. Guy wires removed. "Bigfoot" is visible at the base of the tree.

:-)  :-)  :-)

No comments:

Post a Comment