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.

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