New Material For Bonsai Part II

In a recent trip to the southern part of Finland much time was spent exploring the ditches of forest roads and tracks. The ditches have to be maintained to allow for water run off and snow placed there by the ploughs. These ditches were abundant with small trees both deciduous and coniferous and had been cut by machinery, but had survived. The average height of the trees is approximately 30cm with many having potential as bonsai due to their characteristics; deformity and compact foliage – a ‘smorgasbord’ for any bonsai collector. But my search was for Betula nana (Scrub birch) and Betula pendula (Silver birch) shown below.

Betula nana (Scrub birch)
Betula pendula (Silver birch)

When we look at these two specimens one may say ‘What is there here to get excited about – this is not potential bonsai material’ but, my viewpoint is that one has to look for possibilities that may be there for example. Moreover, such specimens have substantial growth and their characteristics can be developed with further training.

Betula nana is/was a ditch excavating machine’s victim simply discarded. On examination it was found that this specimen still had a good root ball intact, its robust trunk base has the possibility to be divided into 2 or 3 plants. There are 6 healthy young branches that can be used to aid a potential design including the three main trunks although they are badly scarred, which arguably does add character. This plant (2 metres tall) was placed in a box with new soil added, then covered with hessian to act as a barrier against freezing. No pruning has been done as it needs to recover from its ordeal.

Betula pendula was also a casualty from machinery onslaught, that had caused severe splitting at the apex, which had to be bound with tape to prevent attack from disease and frost. As was the damaged lower branch as shown below.


This specimen was rescued not just for the movement in its trunk, but because there are several nodes still able to produce new shoots in the coming spring. This plant was given the same treatment as Betula nana.

Some may argue ‘why go to all this bother when there are many bonsai available on the market’ and yes you have a valid point of view. But purchasing bonsai costs money, a tree with an average age of 8 to 10 years can cost anywhere from 60 to 150 euros even more depending on the species. Furthermore, one does not know if there are any hidden infectious problems that may arise, be it from your environment or that from whence it came. In addition, do you have the knowledge to care for it or them? Obtaining specimens either from seed or from other sources does have much the same risks, but plant research and caring for them is a learning curve broadening your experience as a horticulturist furthermore, they are free.

Another specimen rescued from the scrap heap is this ‘Cherry’ or Prunus. There was no information as to its actual order, but this will be determined in the spring/summer of 2017 when it begins to produce flowers.


This tree was given the same treatment as the other two specimens described above. Meaning new container, soil and left un-pruned. The trunk had little movement, which has now been corrected by the use of a clamp and wire and the branches have been given their first shaping, but will need further adjustment at a later period.

We now turn to specimens that are unable to survive in cold conditions – these are temperate/tropical and in the next image we see 3 Ficus ginseng that are under full spectrum lighting. The image has been change to monochrome to remove the very strong magenta colour and to give a better definition.


The tree on the left (32cm tall) is approximately 7 years old, which is estimated by the circumference of its trunk. The tree in the centre (42cm tall) is a cutting that was taken from the tree on the left. The cutting about 10cm long was taken in February 2016, placed in a rich soil mixture and planted in a large container to allow for root-run. The cuttings on the right (8cm tall) were taken from the tree in the centre.

The tree on the left and the cuttings on the right of the image do not remain under full spectrum lighting, there are placed under CFL lights (Compact fluorescent light); CFL lighting and its potential is discussed in the article ‘Lighting for Bonsai’. The reason why these same subjects are kept under different conditions is to determine not only the efficiency of full spectrum lighting regarding the growth rate. But to monitor any side effects including disease or fungal problems that may occur. Nonetheless, when we compare the 7 year old tree against the ‘yearling’ (Tree in the centre) we see a big difference in such a short space of time and Ficus ginseng can be quite prolific in its growth if given the right conditions.

The image below courtesy of is a 1000 year old Ficus ginseng that resides at Crespi in Italy.


To conclude this article, a final thought is given. The skills required for every-day life once learned come naturally for example, a carpenter, chef or musician. But for pastimes and hobbies including bonsai, such information can easily be forgotten if not used regularly. Moreover, it is said that as the ageing process catches up with us we tend to forget what we learned recently. To solve this a piece of paper is used to write down what actions were taken when caring for trees in my collection; this is then logged on a computer. These notes are beneficial as they are a record or history of your bonsai’s development that you can refer to at any point. Until next time, BW, N.

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