Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Homemade Bonsai Fertilizer

I obtained a fertilizer recipe from John, who heads our bonsai study group. For the most part I followed this recipe, but I did make a couple changes that I'll explain below. The original recipe from John is available here.

After donning my rubber gloves, I incorportated the following in a bucket:


  • 4 cups bone meal
  • 4 cups cottonseed meal
  • 1 cup baking flour
  • 3 cups fish emulsion
  • 2 cups liquid seaweed

Next, after mixing well, I took my 14" PVC pipe (1" inner diameter) and began sqeezing the sludge into the pipe. I found it was most effective to sqeeze the muck into long, narrow shapes before shoving it in. With the dowel rod (1" diameter), I packed the stuff down to fit as much fertilizer as I could into the pipe.

Then I forced the sludge out of one end by pushing hard on the dowel rod. I have to say that sometimes it really took all I had to force that stuff out. Perhaps I was packing too hard, but I wanted to ensure that the muck wouldn't break apart after coming out. I need firm cakes that will not crumble up after one or two waterings. Whenever 2-3" of stuff came out the pipe, I'd break it off gently and set it down on my screen drying rack.

This batch seemed to make a fair amount of fertilizer to start with next spring. I'll probably make at least one more batch before then.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Bonsai Sites I Like

I enjoy exploring the web and finding sites related to bonsai. I especially like when I find sites in other countries, seeing people in far away places engaged in learning or teaching or just sharing what they've experienced as it related to this hobby/art form.

Here are a couple recent finds:

Bonsai Gallery of Walter Pall
Walter Pall is in Germany, and his site is full of great images of his work. I'm amazed that he could have so much stuff, and also have time to capture it all in photos. I particularly like his emphasis on a tree appearing natural and not overly refined.

My Bonsai
This is a site set up by Croatian bonsai enthusiasts Marija Hajdić and Andrija Zokić. I have spent some time in Southeast Europe (Bulgaria), so it is a lot of fun to see bonsai growing in popularity in that region of the world. This pair seem to focus mainly on olives, and the majority of their specimins seem to be yamadori (trees collected from the wild). You'll notice some images/videos of a Walter Pall workshop.

Bonsai Farm TV
This Australian site sells stuff, but I'm mainly interested in it because of the videos that are free and easy to download. While the quality might not be perfect, the clips give me a view of Asian approaches to pottery and tree development that I might otherwise never get to see.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Betula Nigra Update

Early May 2009
Late May 2009

Privet: How to Shape It?

I obtained this privet from a group dig in the fall of 2007. It has been growing in a box ever since then, with a root trimming and trunk reduction in spring 2009. I am still trying to decide where to go with its shape.

Originally I thought I would get rid of the heavy central trunk entirely and allow the smaller side branch to become the leader. However, now I'm second-guessing that plan. I now wonder if I should keep at least a couple inches of this large central trunk to provide a more realistic taper from base to trunk.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Elm Is Sick!

April 18, 2009. This elm that I repotted about 40 days ago has some kind of insect damage. At least, I think it's insect damage. I saw some very tiny black things on this tree and my seju elm about 8 days ago. I blew them off with a stream of water. Now I'm wondering if these are some type of eggs.

Of course, it could also be disease. I really don't usually have health issues with my trees. I suppose I've been lucky until now. But the point is that I'm not sure what it is, nor do I know how to treat it!
I learned after visiting the county extension office that this is a gall caused by a mite. It may be in the eriophye category, but I don't remember exactly what type she said it was. She did mention several times that it resembles the nipple gall which often affects hackberries.
My plan now is to innoculate those plants that may be susceptible by spraying them with an insecticidal soap. Around late June I will leaf prune the elm and spray it with the soap. I hope that this works.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Acer Palmatum (Uknown Species)

Acer palmatum (species unknown)

March 28: I dug this Japanese maple (species unknown) out of our flowerbed. This actually came from a cutting of a tree I’d bought my mother for Mother’s Day, perhaps in 2002 or 2003. It grew well, but slowly, in a pot until I put it into the flowerbed in spring 2006. I placed a tile underneath it hoping to keep the roots from pushing downward too far. I should have tied it to the tile because it seems to have pushed up from it a couple inches. It has not seemed to thicken by much.

I did very little branch or foliage maintenance, and so there is the occasional awkward-looking spot here and there. I pruned it as I repotted it, and I hope it will grow well into the shape I’ve tried to give it.

I have tried to provide two ways to view this tree. I tried to keep in mind the idea that a really good tree doesn’t necessarily have a single ‘front’. I like the idea of trying to make the tree viewable from any point.

I hope to post pictures in the fall showing some progress with this tree. We’ll see.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Repotting Lonicera

Lonicera (honeysuckle, unknown species)

This Lonicera was obtained in fall 2006 during a dig with my local bonsai club in a forest that had been zoned for clearing near a cemetery. I liked the bark on this plant, but never saw one with such a heavy-looking trunk that made it worth digging up.

March 8, 2009: Dug up the Lonicera that had been growing in my Limerick Community Garden plot. The forecast said rain today and off and on for most of the rest of the week. I decided to go dig the tree up now because I’ve heard that repotting when a tree has already been watered is not desirable. I still haven’t learned exactly why. Perhaps it is more stressful for the tree because so much water is lost in root and branch pruning.

This tree’s root ball was incredibly heavy! It hadn’t grown very deeply into the ground, but had many fine hairs and they held a lot of dirt. I set it into the back seat of the car and drove it home. It sat with it’s root ball exposed for about 25 minutes while I prepared to pot it up.

I spent a long time just spraying the root ball with a steady stream of water to loosen up and remove the mud as best I could. The roots were mostly flowing out laterally, but some were very thick and needed to be cut back fairly hard for the tree to fit into the large wooden box I’d prepared (approximately 16" wide and 8" deep).

The top was cut back to about 2-2.5 feet (61-76 cm) tall. The trunk is approximately 3 inches wide, with one obvious main trunk going straight up. The other trunks are of various smaller sizes, some seeming to graft onto the larger trunk.

I used Turface as soil and nothing else. The particles were small--those falling through the small sifter (the size of typical window screening).

It took extra effort to be sure the soil was getting in between and underneath some root systems in the tree.

One worry is that because the branches are hollow, those I trimmed might allow water to enter them and rot the branches out. However, many of the current branches might not be wanted anyway, in the long run.

I just love to study this trunk. The rough yellowish bark is so warm, yet tough. It has a nice twisted look, too. I would like if I could learn more about hollowing out sections of a trunk to enhance it's appearance.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Acer Buergeranum (Tall)

John gave me this trident maple in summer 2008. It hasn’t changed much since that time. It never really shot up and required much maintenance for the rest of the year.

In fall 2008 I put the tree on the ground and heaped mulch up over the pot along with a number of my other trees.

On February 21, 2009, at the first Louisville Bonsai Study Group at John’s, I repotted it into a square wooden box (approximately 12” wide x 4” deep). John helped me a lot, showing me a reliable method for tying trees down into the pot so that they are more secure and cannot be removed or tipped over. That had often been a problem area for me, and I believe that since that day I’ve been getting better at repotting.

I did little to this tree’s roots—perhaps just a little cutting back of very large roots. It has been in training for a while, so there was not a lot of major work to be done.
My soil is about ½ Turface, ¼ pine bark and ¼ chicken grit.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Betula Nigra

I obtained this river birch from a big box store in spring 2006 for $10 US in spring 2006. I set it into a large wooden box, set it in a bare spot of the courtyard at home and left it alone. In spring 2008 I cut the main trunk back, allowing a thin branch to take over as the leader. I also potted it into a smaller plastic box closer to the size of a training pot.


This spring I decided to go ahead and cut out the dead stump a bit to clean it up. I also cut back the leader and clipped the existing branches a bit. My hope is that I can start developing the branches now. I'm not sure I'm going for any strict style. Will try to develop a sketch of a plan.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Repotting Ulmus of Unknown Species

I obtained this elm from Grant Line Nursery in the spring of 2006. It was then only the girth of a pencil at the trunk. The tree was about 9 inches tall from trunk to the tip of the foliage.

In spring 2007 I put the tree into a flower bed at my home and let it grow one season. The following spring I had to move it to the community garden bed since letting it grow freely made the flower bed look a bit too wild.

On March 6 2009 I dug up the tree and wrapped the root ball in plastic bags. The next day I washed off all the dirt from the roots, pruned the very thick roots and potted it into a square wooden training pot (approximately 4” deep, 12” wide).

I’m still not certain about how to shape the top. I know I have three solid branches low on the trunk, one or two of which I hope to keep. As for the top, it has interesting curves, but I’m not sure about the taper. I’m now trying to figure out whether I should chop a little above those three low branches and re-grow, or if I can salvage the upper portion by finding a convincing front view.

The roots are not great, either. Not sure what to do there.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Repotting Ulmus Parvifolia 'Seju'

Ulmus parvifolia ‘Seju’

I obtained this Seju elm from Hollander’s Tiny Tree Farm in southern Indiana (recently closed) in early spring 2006. I potted it in a plastic pot and just let it grow. In spring 2008 I planted it out in a new raised bed I’d created at a community garden because it had reverse taper. I believe that the trunk thickened by about 1 cm. The reverse taper is still there, but now it depends on from which angle you view it.

On Feb. 28 I dug up the tree from the community garden plot, potting it up in a square wooden box made from scrap wood (approximately 4 inches deep and 12 inches wide). It was a challenge to clear the dirt from the roots. I know that some simply use a root hook and their fingers to remove all the mud from field-grown trees. I have no patience for this and opt for running water. Usually I use the outdoor hose to wash all the old soil from the roots, but that faucet is still turned off. I dragged it into the house and used the detachable showerhead to clean it up and see the roots better, causing a mess.
It was VERY cold as well, which made the whole event a bit harder. I did minor pruning, but thought I might wait a week or two before making big styling decisions. I think it has potential.

The first two pictures below show an angle that reduces the appearance of reverse taper. The second two pictures show the taper more clearly.