Worlds apart yet still connected

Many years ago, I interviewed an elderly gentleman for an article on preservation and on meeting him, he was busy in his workshop straightening a pile of nails. I enquired as to why he was doing this, his reply was “There are 2 reasons why I do this, a) because the nails can be used again it’s recycling which saves money and b) it keeps my mind active and hands busy.” The old gentleman’s viewpoint has stayed with me ever since and I try to adopt the same directive reusing items for other purposes.

Now to the question: “Is there a connection between a microwave oven and bonsai?”

Probably the first reaction to the question is “What is this person talking about, how can there be a connection, they are worlds apart.” But if you read on you will see that a connection between these two entities does exist.

What is the most used item for styling a tree, it is ‘wire’ – aluminium for deciduous and the more expensive copper for conifers. Such wire is usually imported from the far east via bonsai outlets in the west and sold by gauge (in increments) 1mm to 6mm and weight for example, 50g or 100g packs.

As we are aware wire in various thicknesses is required to create branch bending in order to maintain the desired shape. With small gauge wire (1 to 1.5 mm) there is a substantial amount in one package (50g) that can last a long time, but as the gauge increases the length decreases. Moreover, the initial cost of purchasing a large selection of wire and delivery can be expensive depending on the supplier.

If one is a trader in bonsai or an instructor the cost of wire usage can usually be passed onto the customer or club where workshops take place, but for the novice/student or solo artist offsetting the cost cannot be done. Some of my students whom are extremely enthusiastic are as poor as church mice and denying them access to my wire stock, is a set back in their learning curve; hence a way had be found to accommodate their needs.

The solution came a few weeks ago when my microwave oven decided to retire, it was moved to the workshop in the hope that a repair could be facilitated. But after doing some research the advice given was “do not under any circumstances tamper with a microwave oven”. Because it has (1) a high voltage capacitor which can give very nasty surprises and (2) a magnetron, which has cancer causing beryllium oxide coatings if damaged. Nonetheless, having an inquisitive mind I took the the appliance apart to see how it worked.

HVC and magnetron

Inside the microwave is (3) a transformer with two large coils of reusable wire, which can be either all copper or a mixture of copper and aluminium, depending on the make, model and age.

Transformer

These transformers are comprised of several heavy steel sections held together by seams that run the length of the transformer indicated by the red arrows, these need to be separated and to do this the tools required are a hammer and bolster or masonry chisel.

Put the transformer on a flat hard surface seam side facing up and break them, the transformer will come apart, tap out the steel sections that go through the coils, then separate the coils and clean them of any unwanted debris.

You now have wire that you can use for bonsai which at most will have cost you 30 minutes from stripping out to wire retrieval. There is other copper wire in a microwave but it is either too thin or braided to be of any use in bonsai. Of course a microwave oven is not the only source for wire, other electrical appliances a washing machine, dishwasher, refrigerator or air conditioner have transformers containing wire coils.

Another wire source is industrial electrical cable often coated in a polymer insulation which has to be removed, achieved either by manually stripping the cables through a jig or burnt off. But the latter causes problems because a) the coating produces smoke which contains halogens, dioxins and carbon monoxide that are hazardous to health. b) The wire has to be cleaned of any burnt residue and if copper, it may need to be re-annealed to make it pliable for use.

The microwave project was undertaken purely reclaim the copper/aluminium wire so that it could be used by my students during bonsai workshops, thus saving money and my own personal stock of wire. If you wish to try dismantling a microwave or other electrical appliance for its wire content, I urge you to err on the side of caution use gloves, face protection and tools that are insulated – be safe not sorry. Until next time, BW, N.

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A teaspoon of vinegar part 2.

In the article ‘A teaspoon of vinegar’, a brief discussion focussed on the differences between rain water predominantly acid and what comes out of the household tap; a chemical cocktail and its effect on bonsai trees and shrubs. Hence it might be prudent to have a brief review of the chemicals found in rain and tap water.

RAIN WATER: having a pH range of 5 to 6 contains many types of nutrients and is free of salts and other harmful elements and although it absorbs atmospheric gases, it remains pure until it comes into contact with the soil. Thus, rain water becomes contaminated due to the chemicals and pollutants that are present. The major causes of this phenomena include factories, power plants, automobiles and low-flying military aircraft the latter a significant contributor to the damage of trees.

Such chemicals that include, sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitric oxide (NOx) become acids when they enter the air and react with water vapour. The result is sulphuric acid (H2SO4) and nitric acid (HNO3) which, can alter the pH range making it more acidic – a pH range of 3-4 for example. However, some tree species thrive in acidic conditions, Beech, Dogwood, Willow oak, Magnolia, Azalea, Holly, Birch, Pines and Rhododendrons as their soil conditions from where they originate are predominantly ericaceous. (acidic)

TAP WATER: with a pH range of 6.5 to 8.5 (depending on your particular region) contains various chemicals some thought to be beneficial, but series of tests conducted in recent times have cast doubt on this perspective for example. Fluoride (F) in drinking water began back in the 1940’s to assist in reducing tooth decay, but fluoride is a neurotoxin and endocrine disruptor, able to damage the thyroid gland, calcify the pineal gland and interfere with bone formation. The toxicity of fluoride is quite high and because of the risk to health many countries have banned water fluoridation.

Chlorine (CI): is a strong disinfectant added to drinking water as a purification technique, it is a reactive chemical that bonds with water, including the water in the stomach that produces poisonous hydrochloric acid. Excessive exposure to chlorine can cause cell damage and respiratory problems. Nevertheless, water companies continue to use it despite not being completely safe.

Other chemicals found in tap water are mercury (Hg) – a naturally occurring element usually a bi-product of mining and industrial practises. Arsenic (As) is used in a multitude of industrial processes and if improper disposal is not taken care of, environmental contamination is the result.

Lead (Pb) is a major toxin that still exists due to corroded piping systems and is extremely toxic especially to humans. PCBs or polychlorinated biphenyls, are chemicals used for industrial purposes such as insulation, machinery, oil, paints, adhesives, electronics and fluorescent lights. In 1979 PCBs were banned but, they are still found in land-fill sites where they continue to break down and pollute the environment.

In addition, other chemicals found in water supplies include, Perchlorate, (CI04) HCB or Pentachlorophenol (C6) and DDT (C14H9Cl5) (Dichloride-Phenyl-Trichloroethane) and all have detrimental effects to some degree. As do modern insecticides and herbicides including Glyphosate which, are highly toxic and a cause for concern as they break down in the soil and are transported to other areas via rain fall and by the wind. 

VINEGAR: is an aqueous solution of acetic acid combined with other trace elements and is the result of a fermentation process using ethanol, various sugars and acetic acid bacteria. Some types of vinegar contain up to 20% acetic acid, but these are strictly for agricultural or cleaning purposes and not intended for human consumption.

Normal vinegar regardless of its colour or flavouring contains 4 to 7% acetic acid and 93 to 96% water and can be used in bonsai to counteract the chemical effects of tap water. The recommended dose to attain a pH range of 5 to 6 is 1 level teaspoon (1 ml) to 7 litres of water. After a period of time, the container will discolour with black streaks and sediment, this is the residue of acetic acid combatting the chemicals as shown below; but keep the container away from children and pets and do not consume.

Spray bottle

 

Soil pH: in nature one can find areas where a variety of species both coniferous and deciduous grow together with some in close proximity and within this area the pH can change. This variation is due to a species leaf shed for example, the ground underneath conifers will be strewn with needles, which break down giving acidity to the soil, thus reducing the pH. Alternatively deciduous leaves decompose allowing the nutrients previously tied up in the leaves to be slowly released back into the soil where they can be reused, hence the pH rises.

There exist many soil types each having their own properties which, can be categorised into 3 sections; ericaceous (acidic) pH 3 to 6, neutral pH 6 to 7.5 and alkaline pH 7.5 to 8.5. Each soil type has their own type of living organisms classed as Acidophiles, Neutrophiles and Alkaliphiles respectively. Such organisms include archaea, bacteria, actinomycetes, fungi, algae, protozoa, and a wide range of insects; mites, nematodes, earthworms and ants. These consume, digest, and cycle nutrients all of which are important to the vitality of a soil composition.

Once the origin of your particular species has been established whether tropical, temperate or northern hemisphere, it is relatively simple to determine the pH range required by the plant. To assist you in this go to the Articles ‘The pH factor’ parts 1& 2 posted in April 2017 where you will find a chart showing the pH range for most bonsai species. In addition, there is a comprehensive description on soils and their composition.

DOES VINEGAR WORK?: in the article ‘The Colourful Maple(September 3, 2017) my A. palmatum amoenum and the red spider mite Tetranychidae urticae was discussed. The plant was brought inside and placed under full spectrum light, but the change in temperature caused the plant to leaf-drop; new buds appeared but would not break into leaf. With the danger of frost over (May) the plant was moved outside where it was subjected to rain fall, in June the buds had broken and by July it was growing vigourously.

After some research, it was concluded that tap water is detrimental to a tree’s health and vitality, since then all my trees are given the vinegar solution; although the dosage is either reduced (half a teaspoon to 7 litres of water) or increased (1 and a half to 7 litres of water) depending on the species.

Further evidence to confirm this perception is with the Abies procera glauca prostrata or ‘Noble Fir’. This conifer requires acidic conditions in order to survive, it cannot tolerate water with a high pH. One of my students has this species and when it was given tap water, the needles turned brown; a sign of ill health. He now uses the vinegar solution.

Rain water is soft with a pH of 5 to 6 – suitable for most plants, if you have the means to collect it then there is no problem, but if not, you have to find a way to make hard tap water soft therefore, the suggestion is ‘A teaspoon of vinegar’ . Until next time, BW, N.

 

 

 

A Teaspoon of Vinegar

Hello to those whom have been following this site, first of all my sincere apologies for the long delay in adding posts, but one has to make a living and this year the work load has been hectic to say the least with another 4 months left before the much needed break is taken. Nonetheless, I am taking time out to write this new article as it may be of use to those having water problems.

As we are aware the majority of fauna that exist in the wild receive their moisture via rain fall, which is acidic and thus they are able to thrive quite well and bonsai are no exception. Those that reside in houses with gardens rain fall can be collected, but for some whom live in apartments this is not an option and the only water availlable is from the kitchen tap. This water although safe for humans to consume is full of disinfectants and various chemicals that leave a hard whitish residue on appliances it come into contact with – including ceramic bonsai pots. The extent or amount of chemicals and disinfectants in domestic water will vary depending on where in the world one resides.

The problem with using water from a domestic supply is that it has a detrimental effect on a bonsai tree’s ability to grow and maintain good health and if one has looked at the article on ‘pH soil requirement’ previously posted one can see the various acidic or alkaline requirements for various species. But having the correct soil medium for a plant is but one important factor the other is the water quality, giving a tree water containing disinfectants/chemicals is a sure way of giving it a slow death.

To eliviate this problem tap water can be used providing it has been treated with vinegar (The type is irrelevant) one level teaspoon of vinegar (1 mltr) to 7 litres of water and left to stand for 2 days.

This tap water problem was explained in detail to students who attend the beginners bonsai workshop prior to an up comming visit to a nursery to hunt for potential bargains for example, this Abies procera glauca prostrata known as the Noble Fir.

 

Noble fir

 

2 Noble firs were purchase as they showed signs of potential and were good candidates for design, the tree depicted above was given a basic design and one can see the new shoots developing after a short space of time. The student who purchased the other specimen brought it to the worshop but sadly much of the apex had turned brown, this was due to giving the tree water from the kitchen tap; Whereas the tree depicted above was/is only given water with the vinegar solution.

At this juncture I am conducting further experiments on my trees with regard to the ratio of vinegar and water to determine what solution is best for a particular species. Hence another post on this topic will be forthcomming. Untill next time, BW, N.

 

Sorbus aucuparia (Rowan or Mountain ash)

S. aucuparia is strongly connected to folklore, its tough but flexible wood has been used in construction and furniture making, its fruit in culinary creations, beverages, as a medicinal remedy and fodder for livestock. S. aucuparia is known by many other names for example, in old English as ‘cwic-beám’ or ‘quick beam’, in Irish ‘caorann’ due to the beauty of its berries. In Canada it is referred to as the ‘dogberry’ tree, the ‘Vogelbeerbaum’ (bird-berry tree) or Eberesche in German. The Welsh name is ‘criafol’ or ‘lamenting fruit’ (the red berries), which according to tradition are associated with the blood of Christ and that the cross was carved from the wood of this tree. But S. aucuparia is more commonly know as the ‘Rowan’ and/or ‘Amur mountain ash’ as it grows well at high altitudes. It is hardy can tolerate shade or full sun, drought and severe cold periods and grows in many different soil conditions, dry to damp, acidic, clay, sandy soil and wet peat, but it does not tolerate water logging or saline soil.

S. aucuparia a monoecious species is indigenous to most of northern Europe, Iceland, Russia, northern China, north America and Canada is one of the shortest-lived trees approximately 80 years. It can grow depending on altitude and terrain from 5 to 15m in height often in multiple trunk form, averaging 40cm diameter, cylindrical and slender. Its bark is yellowish grey when young becoming greyish black when mature, which eventually cracks and descales. The leaves are compound and pinnate having 4 to 9 pairs of leaflets arranged opposite one another along the stem or petiole with a terminal leaflet at the end. S. aucuparia is often confused with the common ash Fraxinus excelsior as the leaves of both species have similarity, but S. aucuparia and F. excelsior are not related they are entirely different species.

Image.1

From May to June large clusters appear which contain about 250 yellowish – white flowers that produce a rather unpleasant Trimethylamine odour reminiscent of bad fish. The fruit is in a green berry form averaging 8 to 10mm in diameter, which ripen from August to October turning to either orange or red in color.

Sorbus flowers and berries

 

Sorbus.1

 

Natural enemies – as with all flora S. aucuparia has its share of pests and disease and although the leaves are not actually palatable to insects, they can cause damage. Such pests include the apple fruit moth Argyresthia conjugella and the mountain-ash sawfly Hoplocampa alpina, the case-bearer moth Coleophora anatipennella and leaf miners of the genus Stigmella. Another harmful pest known to attack S. aucuparia is the Asian long-horn beetle Anoplophora glabripennis mentioned in the article ‘The colourful maple’ however, to date there have been no reported sightings of its presence. The rust fungus Gymnosporangium cornutum produces leaf galls that are unsightly, but the contagious disease ‘fire-blight’, a common problem in orchards containing apple, pears can destroy the plant.

Sorbus enemies

Fire blight disease

But one should not be deterred from using this species in bonsai as it is quite an attractive plant although its frond-like leaves are large and difficult to reduce, which deny it it the true bonsai appearence. In early spring 2015 this twin trunk S. aucuparia was rescued from a patch of wasteland being prepared for development. Its height over 2 metres was reduced (red circles) to retain movement in the two trunks and to give it a more squat robust appearance. (shown below)

S. aucuparia 2016.2017

The left image shows the tree in summer 2016 (the block of wood is there to keep the two trunks apart) and the right image depicts the tree in August 2017. As you can see some of the leaf lengths (yellow arrows) are smaller, achieved by pruning the first leaf back, but leaving a 1cm petiole to encourage a new leaf to sprout. Although S. aucuparia is considered a hardy species this particular specimen has endured some harsh treatment, 70% of the root ball removed as was most of its foliage with wiring to be done in October 2017. It is recovering, but needs time to fully recover and establish itself in its new training pot. Until next time BW, N.

The Colourful Maple

In the genus Acer there exist many varieties all of which produce a range of colour unsurpassed by most other tree species, be they the small to medium Japanese maples including the ‘trident’ maple Acer buergerianum, the ‘broad palmate leaf’ maple Acer palmatum shirasawanum; (‘Shirasawa’s’ maple or ‘full moon’ maple) and the serrated ‘red leaf’ maple Acer palmatum dissectum amoenum. To larger varieties including the ‘sugar maple’ Acer saccharum, the American ‘sycamore’ Acer pseudoplatanus and the ‘Norway’ maple Acer platanoides. The family Acer is extensive especially with Japanese varieties therefore, this discussion will be restricted to two – these being the ‘Norway’ maple and the serrated ‘red leaf’ maple.

The Norway maple A. platanoides can be found in eastern and central Europe, Scandinavia, Asia and Russia its range extends well above the arctic circle for example, TromsØ in Norway. It is a deciduous tree that when mature can reach heights from 20–30m, its trunk shallow grooved and grey-brown in colour attains a diameter of approximately 1.5m. The dark green palmate 5 lobed leaves are opposite to each other and are between 7–14cm long by 8–20cm across with the petiole 8–20cm long, which secretes a milky fluid when damaged or cut.

The flowers 15–30 yellow to green have 5 sepals and 5 petals 3–4mm and are arranged in a cluster with stalks that are proportionally longer, allowing them to form a flat or slightly convex head. Flowering begins in early spring before the new leaves emerge. The seeds are flat and disc shaped contained in a two-winged casing arrangement that when shed, rotate as they fall to the ground. The autumn colour is usually yellow to orange to red.

Acer platanoides leaf & seeds

Under ideal conditions Norway maples can live up to 250 years, but as they are often planted in urban areas for decorative and shade purposes this reduces their life expectancy, because if the root system is restricted they will intertwine eventually girdling and killing the tree. A. platanoides has become a popular species for bonsai in Europe and can be seen as medium to large bonsai sizes in a multitude of styles.

Natural enemiesA. platanoides is a hardy species although in some areas it is under threat from the Asian long-horn beetle Anoplophora glabripennis a large insect approximately 1.7 to 3.9cm with antennae twice its body length. Originally native to Japan, Korea and China it is now found in North America, Canada and in Europe; the UK, France, Austria, Italy and Germany. It is said that this pest arrived in the western hemisphere in wooden crates in egg form, which later hatched and multiplied.

This insect kills trees by eating its way through the trunk and to date has not only infected the maple, but other species including Aesculus, (Soapberry, Buckeye and Horse chestnut) Alder, Birch, Hornbeam, Beech, Ash, Prunus sp., Willow, Planes, Sorbus and some species of Poplar. Signs of attack are exit holes 1–2cm diameter, sawdust or ‘frass’, (insect excreta) sap oozing from exit holes, dead or dying branches and yellowing leaves. Insecticides such as imidacloprid, clothianidin and dinotefuran have been used to eradicate adult beetles and as trunk injections to target larvae.

 

Asian longhorn beetle

Other unwanted guests include a variety of lepidopterans that feed on its foliage. A. platanoides like most fauna does have its fair share of diseases, although they are more unsightly opposed to life threatening. Such diseases include the ‘powdery mildew’ Uncinula bicornis, and verticillium wilt caused caused by 6 species of this genus V. dahliae, V. albo-atrum, V. longisporum, V. nubilum, V. theobromae and V. tricorpus and White spot caused by the fungus phyllosticta. Shown below.

 

White spot on a maple

 

The serrated ‘red leaf’ maple Acer palmatum dissectum amoenum commonly referred to as the palmate maple is native to Japan, China, Korea, south eastern Russia and eastern Mongolia and many cultivars have been produced for their colouration and various leaf forms. This small tree or shrub when mature can attain heights of between 6 to 10m in single or multiple trunk form. Its leaves are palmate but serrated resembling a delicate ‘lace-like’ pattern with 7 to 9 pointed lobes, approximately 6 to12cm long with single serrated margins. The flowers cluster around a central stem, which bears a single flower that is first to develop, with five red or purple sepals and five whitish petals. The fruit consists of a pair of winged samaras (a winged nut or achene containing one seed) each being 20 to 25mm in length containing a 6 to 8mm seed.

A. palmatum amoenum is usually found at higher altitudes throughout Japan and South Korea and can be considered hardy, but is prone to perish in periods of drought, hence watering regularly is required. However, A. palmatum amoenum will not survive in soggy or wet conditions therefore the medium should be well drained in addition, fertilization is not necessary, but if applied should preferably be in a slow release form and used sparingly.

Natural enemies – As with other maple varieties it is susceptible to attack from pathogens and verticillium wilt as described above, it is also prone to attack from the common Gypsy moth Lymantria dispar. This insect is classified as a pest and is listed as one of the 100 most destructive invasive species known worldwide, because its voracious larvae can consume the leaves of over 500 species of trees, shrubs and plants.

 

Gypsy moth

 

Another unwanted pest briefly mentioned in the article ‘Selecting material for bonsai part III’ (Looking for bargains) is the ‘red spider’ mite Tetranychidae urticae, which includes approximately 1,200 species. These mini beasts live on the undersides of plant leaves spinning fine protective silk webs and causing damage by puncturing the plant cells to feed resulting in wilting, discoloured crumbling leaves. The image below shows an A. palmatum amoenum prior to ‘red spider’ attack, the whole left hand side of the plant and the mid to upper section of the right side was saturated with these pests.

 

Fire cracker before attack

To eradicate these mini beasts a number of approaches were used including tepid water and various insecticides all of which had little effect. Another solution was to use an aerosol spray called ‘Raid’ from SC Johnson that did kill the insects, but had an adverse affect on the plant insomuch that the residue from the spray penetrated the leaf pores causing them to wilt and die. A more serious problem was that it was causing die-back in the petioles and seeping back into the branches. The only solution was to cut out the infected wood, thus 75% of the tree was removed. (Red dotted areas)

The remaining part of the trunk and root system was thoroughly cleaned and repotted in fresh soil then placed in a shady position for the duration of the summer 2016. In October the same year the tree was brought inside where a constant temperature was maintained with no humidity and placed under a full spectrum lighting system. This A. palmatum amoenum showed no signs of life until late June 2017 when a few buds appeared, in late July it is starting to produce growth as depicted below, but will take some considerable time to fully recover.

fire cracker after

Arguably, the moral of the story is to check any plant you might acquire for signs of infection and if it is attacked by unwanted pests, try using horticulture soap or a diluted pyrol bug and larvae killer; it is a safer option as opposed to using aerosol insecticide sprays. However, when disease becomes a problem with the Acer genus there is not much we can do, because there is no remedy for fungi that cause canker disease for example.

Root Rot – is caused by the pathogen phytophthora, which attacks the root system and crown of many species of Japanese maple. A tree that is infected will show signs of discolouration, wilt, branch die-back, leaves falling prematurely and black or red sap oozing from the trunk. To prevent canker disease it is important to ensure that the medium in which the tree is planted has good irrigation.

Anthracnose – is a fungal disease that causes foliage distortion, stem die-back, cankers and girdling. The signs that a Acer is infected are black spots appearing on the leaves, which is caused by humidity and wet conditions. Any leaves infected by anthracnose must be removed and destroyed immediately, because there is no chemical treatment available. Although it is said that anthracnose can be prevented by applying a preventative fungal spray when new buds are about to break.

Leaf Spot – disease can be caused by various strains of fungi commonly known to attack plants and signs of infection are coloured spots on the leaves, as a result leaves may be discoloured and fall prematurely from the tree. Another form of spotting is ‘White-spot’ caused the fungus phyllosticta it is prevalent in humid and wet conditions. A preventative measure to ward of leaf spot is to make sure any and all unwanted dead or decaying debris is removed from the soil surface and to make sure that the soil medium has good drainage. Although leaf spot is not considered detrimental to the tree’s health it is annoying because its presence is ugly.

Powdery Mildew – is a powder-like fungal growth found on stems, buds and leaves, which can spread quite rapidly and does not need any moisture to grow and is prevalent in shaded areas having moderate temperatures. Signs of powdery mildew disease is easily visible as it causes leaf distortion. Some practitioners use Neem and horticultural oil to prevent powdery mildew attacking maples whereas others state that good care, maintenance and well-being are sufficient to keep this disease at bay.

Until next time BW, N.

Selecting material for bonsai part III (Looking for bargains – update)

As stated in the article posted August 3rd 2017 now is the time when the local nurseries or garden centres start selling their stock at reduced prices and thus many bargains can be had quite cheaply. Although a proportion of trees and shrubs will show signs of fatigue, hidden amongst them one can find some good specimens for example, the White spruce Picea abies (syn alba) discussed in the last post August 6th 2017. Here is another specimen a Ginkgo biloba commonly known as the ‘Maiden hair’ tree or 白果 (bái guǒ), ‘white fruit’, and 銀杏 (yínxìng), or ‘silver apricot’. Original price 35€ sale price 17,50€.

Ginkgo on sale

Hidden in this mass of foliage somewhere there is a potential bonsai waiting to reveal itself – I just had to find it. But first my apologies I forgot to video the work nonetheless, here is a written explanation of the process, which should suffice.

Removing some of the foliage exposed a twin trunk of equal height in a ‘Y’ formation, but the composition seemed unbalanced because one trunk was thinner than the other. To retain movement and perspective, the thinner trunk was cut back to a stump to add character rather than remove it entirely. The main reason being is that Ginkgo do not heal wounds like most deciduous broad leaf species the scars are always visible. The stump’s bark and cambium was removed and the bare wood treated with a water based black dye and lime sulphur to create a burnt silvery appearance. The long, straight, thick inner branches were cut back because wiring was impossible however, wire could be used on the leading shoot at the apex and thus was loosely wired into position.

The tree was removed from the pot to check the root ball condition, 30% of the roots were trimmed back, the old soil was replaced with a sand and grit based loam, then repotted in the same pot slanting to the right to create movement. The whole process including cleaning, re-potting, pruning and wiring took approximately 2.5 hours. The cuttings were saved and treated with rooting hormone powder and planted in the same soil composition as the main tree. These will be cultivated and then given away to other bonsai enthusiasts.

Ginkgo before and after

Ginkgo cuttins

G. biloba is the only living species in the division Ginkgophyta, all others being extinct and is one of the best-known examples of a living fossil, dating back 270 million years. G. biloba are dioecious meaning some trees are male and some female. Male trees produce small pollen cones each bearing two microsporangia spirally arranged around a central axis. Female plants do not produce cones, instead two ovules are formed at the end of a stalk and develop into seeds after pollination. These seeds approximately 1.5–2 cm long have a soft fleshy light yellow-brown outer layer called the sarcotesta, which although attractive to the eye, contains butyric acid that has the odour of vomit.

But arguably what makes this species an attraction in bonsai are its leaves, that are unique among seed producing plants. They are fan-shaped with veins radiating out into the leaf blade, sometimes splitting, but never cross connecting to form a network. They are a vivid green during the growing season turning to a deep saffron yellow in autumn. A good bargain and well worth the time and effort, until next time take care BW, N.

Selecting material for bonsai part III (Looking for bargains)

In the articles Collecting material for Bonsai I and II discussions on how and where to find potential material included. Unwanted plants from gardens, waste sites, areas designated for development, roadside ditches and of course the wild all of which require permission to obtain. Other sources are arboretums, which are great places to visit, but due to their vast acreage one needs the minimum of a day to see the vast variety of species. In addition, there are usually plants for sale that can be had for pennies such as this Balkan Chestnut Aesculus hippocastanum acquired for 4€. Obviously it has a long way to go before having any potential as a bonsai, but time and patience is the watchword.

Balkan chestnut. Turku

The garden centre – In spring garden centres start receiving new stock, a vast variety of flora ranging from ‘common-every-day plants’ to the exotic. Where according to some experts one can find a potential bonsai for the price of a shirt approximately 40€ to 60€. However, this new stock imported from other climes including temperate is usually rife with unwanted mini beasts, which if not eradicated can have a devastating effect other bonsai in one’s collection.

Evidence to support this claim goes back to the spring of last year (2016) when a Red Japanese maple Acer amoenum dissectum was obtained and unbeknown was affected by red spider mite Tetranychus urticae. Signs of the infestation was not visible when acquired, but in a few weeks the pests revealed themselves having made colonies not only on the red acer, but on other species in my collection. Removing these arachnids was time consuming, some plants were saved but others including the common lemon Citrus limon (L.) Osbeck and Pomegranate Punica granatum unfortunately had to be destroyed; not a decision taken lightly, hence one has become highly vigilant where pests and disease are concerned.

However, one should not be deterred by such a misfortune because, all plants regardless of their species are hosts to a multitude of mini beasts as is the soil in which they grow. It is part of life’s rich tapestry, it is just knowing the good from the bad. More information on pests and disease can be found in the article of the same name posted earlier.

Returning to the subject of the ‘Garden centre’ and what can be found as potential or pre-bonsai can reveal some pleasant surprises even a bargain. Because tucked away in some corner will be specimens that look past their shelf life so to speak, wilting foliage or decay giving an unsightly appearance, which most of the general public shy away from; hence they are reduced in price as shown in the following image.

Picea

The image shows a group of Picea just crammed together on a large display table and as we can see there is an obvious health problem determined by the brown areas or dead foliage. When young, Picea grow very quickly producing dense foliage. This dense foliage reduces the much needed light and air preventing inner bud or shoot development, thus die-back occurs. In natural circumstances Picea can grow to 35–55 m (115–180 ft) tall and the problem of light and air circulation is significantly reduced because, the foliage is less dense due to reduced growth rate and element onslaught; snow, ice, wind and rain. But in bonsai dense foliage is a requirement although much depends on the species concerned therefore, to solve the light and air problem the branches have to be thinned out to allow the weaker shoots and buds to develop.

Nonetheless, within this group of sorry looking plants there was a specimen that had potential, but to find it the plant needed scrutinization. On closer inspection the tree’s natural design was already there, a twin trunk formal upright and as both trunks stem from a single root it can be classed in the Sokan style. To the novice working on such a specimen may seem a daunting task meaning knowing what or which foliage parts to remove. But in actual fact it is a relatively easy process providing you examine the plant to determine its potential; what it has to offer from a design perspective and use this as a guideline.

Picea untouched

But before any work could be undertaken all debris and mini beasts residing within of which there were many including larvae, various caterpillars and arachnids had to be removed. Starting from the base going up, the roots (Nebari) were exposed and only small unwanted roots protruding upwards from the trunk’s base were moved. The main rootball was kept in tacked as was 60% of the original soil and the reason for this approach is because as the tree was about to go through a major change, the less stress applied, the better the chance of survival.

Much of the strong foliage was removed allowing the weaker branches to develop. These were wired into position using aluminium wire as opposed to copper as this is the first stage in its design. To add some character to the tree, both trunks were subjected to the jin technique and the smaller trunk was positioned slightly away from the main. The tree was re-potted and wired down in a temporary container a plastic seed tray with aluminium angle riveted to base to allow air circulation and holes drilled for drainage and. The whole process including cleaning, re-potting, pruning and wiring took approximately 4 hours.

Picea before & after

This Picea has gone through a drastic change and has a rather scant appearance, but given time will eventually reach its full potential as a bonsai. It was originally priced at 60€ but had been reduced to 20€ due to its ugly condition, which is arguably less than the price of a shirt – a bargain and such bargains can be found, all one has to do is look.

As an after thought one may ask ‘why did I not video the work‘ as seeing the practical process from beginning to end may help the novice who wishes to attempt the same. A good question, but in truth, the cleaning process had been completed before the concept of filming had crossed my mind; perhaps next time and until next time take care, BW, N.