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"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 8, 2021

Reworking a Ponderosa's Apex

      Regular readers have seen pictures of this tree before. It's a ponderosa pine, Pinus ponderosa, collected by Andy Smith in 2017. I bought it from Andy in August 2019 and styled it with his assistance. It was repotted in the spring of 2020, and grew well for the rest of that year and into this one. Here's a picture after repotting. Please forgive the cluttered background in some of the pictures.

For a size reference: I'm just over 6 feet tall, or 184-185 cm.

Notice where's the tree's apex is, and how the trunkline sweeps around in a single arc, similar to a letter "C" or a "(" parenthesis sign. I was never very happy with that simple arc. It was too plain, too regular for my taste, even with the movement just above the base; too much like a "stick-figure" tree. 

I spent many hours studying the tree, trying to decide what I could do increase the visual interest of the trunk. The tree is about 45 years old (estimated) and perhaps my most valued. You can see its girth in the picture. Most of the trunk could not be changed without using techniques with which I am not familiar enough, and I had no wish to take a chance on ruining its image. I finally concluded that a change in the direction of the apex would increase the visual interest as I wanted, would enhance the tree's image, and was within my skills. A little consultation with a professional helped me decide.

Over the last several months of subscribing to Bonsai Mirai Live, I have learned a good deal about the annual phases of growth in temperate-zone plants. As I described in an earlier post (you can see that post here), a temperate-zone tree such as a ponderosa spends the first part of the growing season producing foliage to supply itself with metabolic fuel. Then, at a certain point in the season, production of new foliage shuts down and the tree's resources start to be directed into production of new vascular tissue, including sapwood and root tissue.

In pines, the start of this transition is signaled by the shedding of three-year-old needles. The vascular-growth phase is also the second-best time of year for major structural work on a temperate-zone tree, so the shedding of old needles signals the start of this work window in a pine. My ponderosas started shedding old needles in mid-September.

My goal, as I said, was to introduce a change of direction in the upper trunk and orient the apex to the left. This picture shows the upper part of the tree after the old wire had been removed. Some of the branches had relaxed a little, but not a lot; they had been wired for two years.

In spite of the angle of the picture, the apex was still oriented to the right.

One of the top branches had to be removed and an old branch stump cut off before the change could be made. 

A single slanting cut took off the unneeded branch and the old stub.
Cut paste was applied due to the size of the cut.

New copper wire was put on and the bend was made just above the new cut. I made the bend as severe as I could without risking a break - severe enough that a few small tears opened in the bark of what was now the outside of the curve. That was actually OK; they will heal (with a little cut paste to help), and they told me when to stop bending. Several of the top branchlets had to be rolled so that their former undersides wouldn't become their upper sides and be exposed to direct sunlight to which they were not acclimated.

The new apical structure will need a few years to fill in well.

The tree is due for repotting next spring. At that time, its planting angle will be be adjusted and the front rotated to show more of the base. I can't be exactly sure of the new planting angle and new front until I actually repot the tree, but the next picture gives you a pretty good idea of what each will be.

Finished for now. I like this movement and image better.

The orange arrow shows the new apex. As it develops and fills in, I will probably introduce a small movement back to the right, at the very top. I'm going to do what I can to encourage a new bud to break near the base of the branch to the right of the apical area (yellow arrow). If that happens I'll be able to shorten that branch. Adjustments to various other branches will also be needed, given how much of a change I've made in the tree's overall design and character.

Bill Valavanis and Ryan Neil have both recommended that I move this tree out of a rectangular pot; possibly into a round, possibly into an oval if I decide to include that little top fillip I mentioned. I have a large mica oval that will serve until I can find an appropriate ceramic pot for this tree.

For now, I'm giving it a good regimen of several kinds of solid fertilizer, to be sure it has a good supply of nutritional "building blocks" as it recovers from all the pruning, wiring, twisting and general manhandling I did to it!

:-)  :-)  :-)

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