Sunday, 27 September 2009


While i was getting rid of the moss and adding fresh top soil to some of my plants i noticed how good the roots were looking.

Both of these plants were repotted at the beginning of this year. One is a acer palmatum and the other is a citrus. The common factor is the batch of soil used and that both were extremely root bound in small pots. They both went into pots 200% larger - and into the same mix of akadama and organic material ( a little bark ).

Both species have managed to fill their pots in 9 months with fine roots. Towards the end of the year both of them have shown very vigorous growth - something i attribute to the well developed root system ( the ability to take in much more water and nutrients ).

Next year i have some more plants going into a similar soil mix. Hopefully the plants will do as well as these have.

So far the akadama shows no signs at all of collapse and seems good for another year at least.

Windybank visit

Ive been looking out for bonsai vendors nearby where i live.

I also needed some supplies for this years round of repotting and maintenance - so it was a chance to stock up and explore a new vendor.

On the weekend i drove my long suffering wife around to windybank bonsai to have a look around and buy some supplies. I found them friendly and relaxed.

They are quite easy to get to - i drove all the way from the north edge of London. Anyone in the greater London area could get there once or twice a year for vital ingredients. They are about 10 minutes off the M25 so easy to access for anyone coming around.

A nice range of trees - from very expensive specimens to some good started material.

Also on hand was a good selection of pots , soil , fertilisers and tools.

I got a couple of nice pots and some akadama. I also bought some fuji grit to experiment with - more about that later.

So far all my attempts to get a soil suitable for bonsai from hydroponic vendors have failed so i will be using akadama for the foreseeable future. Its well priced and the results are excellent.

I like.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Acorn Gathering

Its a good time of the year to go and gather some acorns. Got to get there early or the squirrels with munch them all.

I need another 2 oaks for the collection. Ive tried to select acorns from the trees with the smaller leaves - as i have noticed a huge variation in leaf size of wild tree and with some luck i will get a smaller one.

I noticed some strange "things" hanging off the oaks. Turns out to be Knopper gall - a pest to oak trees that arrived in the 60's. A gall wasp lays an egg in the acorns and the critters causes them to deform.

There is also a nice stand of Scots pines there so i may go back in the winter when the brambles have died down and see if there are any little ones i can gather.

I'm hoping the Scots pine i have develops this lovely orange bark.

Thursday, 20 August 2009


Not a very native or English plant - but it does have a long history of cultivation in England as orangeries were built and citrus ( and other exotic species ) were grown as a symbol of prestige. And lets not forget who likes marmalade the most. They are sold at most of the local nurseries with fruit on them and are very pretty little things. I bought this one cause it looked cute 3 years ago. They aren't locally grown stock either - but are grafts from dutch suppliers.

Quite hard to grow as well. The cold winter here can really set them back a long way - definitely a conservatory plant. They feed heavily during the summer so it gets full strength citrus fertiliser once a week.

The poor thing really didn't like the cold much - as u can tell from the color.

I took a bit of a risk and repotted it while it was dormant and in poor shape. Its in an Akadama and bark mix. It seems very comfortable in this soil and once the roots had made themselves at home it has gone a lovely deep green again and put out a lot of new growth.

As with most plants - it has taken many months to get comfortable in the new pot. Id estimate 6 months before it became really vigorous.

They are fantastic in a Gin & Tonic - well worth cultivating.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

BTA show.

Today i popped out to the BTA show. I found out about the show from a local Bonsai club - the Bonsai Group in Enfield. There were quite a few people about and a good number of people exhibiting. There was a nice selection from local nurseries and ceramics studios. Some good Hawthorn and Oaks starter material was available as well.

At the Bryan Albright stand i bought a lovely Scots pine. He had a few gathered examples from England and France available.

I have been wanting a good Scots pine for a while and its not something that the local nurseries in my area keep.

Ive been growing Mugo pines and Japanese Black pines for a while now so i feel I'm equipped to try out the local sort and learn their quirks.

Ive pinched a few candles and I'm going to spend a few days staring at this one now trying to find its shape. I need to do a lot of research into the quirks of the Scots variety of pines.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Oak Training - Part 1

Now that the giant shoot on top of the oak has been trimmed off i waited for the buds near the apex to swell and get growing again. This new side branch is going to be trained into the new apex.

While the new green shoot is nice and soft tie it up to a piece of the old trunk. I use a bit of very soft lead soldering wire for this. Be gentle - don't go straight up immediately - try to feel how stiff the little branch is and get an idea of how much it will yield without buckling.

This plant is very apically dominant . I was hoping that the trunk chop would direct a little growth lower but nothing is going on down below. Maybe defoliation would get the lower buds and branches going again. I have no experience defoliating Oaks - but i may experiment next year on this one as it is young and vigorous. Otherwise the heavy pruning on top and leaving the bottom unchecked should maintain the balance. This will be an interesting battle over the next few growing seasons.

On the bright side - the lower trunk growth is very good.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Field Maples update

The little trees are starting to perk up now. It’s been hard work - but persistence has kept them going. It seems that the misting and keeping them in sealed environments to reduce transpiration has helped.

I really didn't think this little two leafed plant would make it - but the crown is growing quite strongly now.

The larger of the maples is also growing quite strongly now - and there is plenty of summer left to fatten him up for the winter.

This capture is also valuable to me in that i have been wanting a few Field Maples for my collection.

It has also been very valuable practise for going plundering hedges for specimens. I will need to have the perfect soil ready in the shed for when the bigger trees are captured - i have a great solution for this which i will write about in the next few days. I will also look into having some sort of a bubble for the bigger ones to keep them humid while they get over the shock of being transplanted.

I have stopped misting the maples and taken them out from under the bubbles and they don't seem to be suffering for lack of moisture so i assume that they have grown enough of a root system to support them.

I still need to learn a lot about this species. I'm guessing from the the brutal hacking they receive in hedges that they can be pruned back very hard. I also suspect that they can be defoliated in June like Japanese Maples.

The other valuable piece of information is the timeline. I now know that it has taken the trees about 8 weeks to begin growing again after they were captured.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Field Maples

The two captured maples continue making progress. With the warmer weather (!) over the last few weeks I've put a bubble over the larger plant to keep it nice and humid and keep transpiration down to minimise stress on the plant.

Interestingly - the two chilli plants next to the field maple are the complimentary chilli seeds from Wahaca ( Mexican street food in Covent Garden ). I hatched them in the seed propagator along with the tomatoes. I put 2 in and both germinated. They start off growing quite slowly but seem to be accelerating rapidly now.

The smaller maple is looking a bit scrappy. It was captured as a tiny plant and it was quite a struggle to keep it going. The apex now has a fat bud growing - and the top 2 latent buds are under way as well. The little one is still living in the small seed propagator.

Oak Pruning

I decided to chop the trunk on the little Oak - I'd taken off the top but and it began to grow again on the buds near the apex. Hopefully this chop doesn't upset the plant too much.

The cut took away a lot of wood and leaves. I'm hoping it will put some effort into some of the lower branches and less focus on the apex bud. The cut is however placed nicely now for my new apex shoot to be trained.

Bear in mind that the oak throws single opposing leaf nodes unlike the parallel nodes of the maple family.

A lesson learned with the oak is that when its young ( and maybe older as well ) the apex growth is very vigorous so its prudent to pinch the top bud early in the season and retrain the apex shoot when convenient.

The chunk with my hand to show size - about 20cm.

The base of the trunk has shown some very good growth though - its close to doubled in diameter.

Monday, 18 May 2009

yet more progress

I’ve altered my fertiliser routine to every 10 days and I’m using balanced fertiliser now. I’ve given the fruiting plants some extra potassium to help them along while the flower and grow fruit.

The top shoot on the oak was over 40cm. I’ve pinched off the apex bud. I’m considering taking off a chunk of it - just not sure whether to do it now - or do it while its dormant. id like the plant to put its energy into growing some of the branches and not reaching for the stratosphere. I’ve spent a bit of time looking at the structure of the plant - unlike maples with their parallel buds the oak puts out alternating buds. I have to position the cut correctly for growing the new apex shoot and maybe two new top branches.

I’m really struggling with pomegranates. They are quite particular and difficult to grow. The potassium feed seems to be helping them a bit.

The leaf stalks on the little gathered field maples are starting to straighten out – I’m misting less now and they seem to be able to get almost enough moisture themselves from the soil. Both are still going and I hope they will start to grow again soon.

Monday, 4 May 2009

More Progress

The Oak continues to grow at a huge pace. The shoot at the apex now measures 29cm - and shows no sign of slowing down yet. I cant recollect having seen a shoot like this on an Oak before - it must be very happy where it is and with what its being fed. There is also some useful growth on the bole which i am more interested in right now than the giant shoot.

The captured field maples are doing ok - the larger one seems to be getting a grip on life - but the tiny one is still strugling. i continue to mist them as often as possible.

The sharp eyed observers will note that the poor little oak is surround by those pesky Japanese maples. tsk tsk.

Friday, 24 April 2009


The two captured Field Maples seem to have survived their first week of captivity. I still mist them with extremely dilute fertiliser whenever i walk by. They do still look a little droopy - but this is expected at this stage. I do hope that they perk up in the next few weeks.

The Oak is going well and has thrown gigantic new growth from the apex - currently 8cm and still going strong. It has also added a few millimeters to the diameter of the base of the trunk. If i am lucky i will get quite a bit more growth out of it this season. That top shoot has grown that 8cm since the 16th - today being the 24th - so during peak growth its doing 1cm per day. Wonder how long it can sustain that?

Over winter i may cut the Oak back a few nodes at the apex and train the top shoot as the new apex again. All depends on how thick it is and what the growth rate is this season.

The plan for the Oak is to reach a height of about 70cm once fully developed in an informal upright style. This will take a while.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Acer Campestre ( Field Maple )

A while a go i tried to grow some Field Maples from seed i gathered in a local park. i carefully collected these seeds and stored them all winter. i had them in with the tomatoes in the seed propagator - the tomatoes are looking great but there is no sign of little maples. i emptied out the seed trays and the seeds were still there - completely inert in the soil. I'll do some more research and try again next year.

Today was a lovely day in London - warm and sunny - if a little windy - so i decided that we should go for a stroll in the local park. there's a lovely path along a river through the woodlands that i like to walk along. and there in the mud on the side of the path - about to be slaughter by the municipal mower were a few maple hatching's. nature had succeeded where i had failed. i guess a squirrel had tucked them away there as a snack and forgotten about them. i tugged gingerly at them and the came cleanly out of the mud. problem solved - here were the two field maples i had been craving to fill up my collection. maybe one day i will get lucky and pull a big one out of an old hedge - but for now i am satisfied.

My personal preference is to grow my own plants from nursery material or gathered seeds. It doesn't lead to instant gratification - but you do become a good grower. I would like to gather a good hawthorn from an old hedge sometime - but that's another project for another day.

Luckily i had some John Innes No.2 soil based compost and a few pots handy. I was using this soil for the garlic and pumpkin crops this year - but its nice soil and its got some grit in it too - not just compost - so i will use it for the little maples too.

With a young plant like this its important to get it into some moist soil ASAP as once those cells get dry and die they never come back.

I'm misting them as often as i see them to keep them going during the trauma of being uprooted and moved. Until the roots have grown into the new soil they will get all their moisture from the misting. Ive added a very weak solution of foliar feed to the misting water - in this case some 30% strength miracle_gro.

Commercial growers of cuttings use a constant misting system in greenhouses. I cant seem to find out what they put in their water - but i assume the plants need some nutrients as they grow a root system.

This leads me to wonder again about the effectiveness of maxicrop. Opinions are divided on sea-based nutrients as a foliar feed - but there is some support for it as well. Id like to see some tests of the effectiveness performed as a controlled experiment on a large number of plants. Foliar feeds of seaweed based nutrients are commonly used in agriculture and their uptake is reasonably well understood.

But I'm so keen on these young plants that I'll throw everything into the fight to keep them going - so i will be applying a dilute foliar feed over the next few weeks as they establish themselves and setup a root system in their new environment.

Addendum - i did add a sprinkling of bone meal to the soil as well to help with the root growing process.

Saturday, 18 April 2009


Ive had a few problem plants, and this had led me to wonder what is causing this. Is it a nutrient problem or is there some unseen enemy that is attacking my plants?

The main symptom is a yellowing of the leaves and a loss of vigor. There are no visible insects on the plants - no scale or aphids. They are fertilised weekly with chempak.

I have 3 of these miniature pomegranates. The one pictured is particularely badly affected.

I suspect blackfly - because i can see them flying around the pots - not on the leaves though - but around the pot and soil.

My citrus also has some sticky residue on the leaves with no pests visible and this seems to be a symptom of blackfly. Ive searched the net and cant find an article on blackfly - all the articles seem to be cover greenfly, blackfly and aphids.

I dug up some soil that i was trying to grow some Chestnuts in and saw little white grubs in the soil - and there were blackflies buzzing around the pots.

I have sprayed all of them with Bayer Provado. Last year i had some scale and aphids and this product seem to sort them out very effectively. The label says that it does provide protection for some time after application as well.

As a check that it isn't a nutrient problem i have put some maxicrop on one of them.

I hope that this will go someway to restoring the plants to full strength.

Friday, 17 April 2009


Fertilisers used sofar this season.

miracid = miracle grow for azalea , camellia and rhododendron. i use this occasionally for the mugo pines and various fruit trees.

bonemeal - makes those roots jive. i add a little to the soil during repotting. potentially can make the soil a little alkaline when it decomposes.

chempak - high nitro ( no.2 ) - early season. i put this on everything. ( even the pitcher plant )
chempak - low nitro ( no.8 ) - mid to late season.

in theory chempak has all the other trace elements too - so i need nothing else - well thats what the package says.

ive wondered whether some form of biological fertiliser is needed too. i read about bio_gold and the various hard cakes that are used. opinions do seem to be divided over whats best - with good results being produced but those for and against.

maxicrop seaweed extract - this i am not sure about. it seems popular with gardeners and many hydroponics stores sell it too - but there is the controversial court case in New Zealand where they lost the case - where it was alleged to be useless. i have put some on one plant and im waiting to see how it behaves first.

if you are interested - this is where i began my research.
wikipedia stub.

some others that i have bought but not used.
bonsai fertiliser - generic balanced fertiliser.
citrus summer - i have a calamondin. and we need the little oranges for our gin & tonics. cant seem to find the exact nutritional requirements for citrus. buts its doing fine without it.
citrus winter - looks like low nitro from the label.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

English Oak - Part4

The little tree is coming on well with about 1mm of girth added to the base of the trunk.

I hadnt expected it so early on in the season - but the second flush of growth has begun. I'm glad that the apex is the strongest growth point at this stage as well.

I'm keeping this one on the chempak high nitro for another few weeks as im looking for a lot of growth this season.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

plants left behind.

Here is a photo of one of my oaks that i left behind in Australia when i move back to Europe. Its been in the ground for 3 years. Although the growth rate of Oaks is slow they are still capable of a few feet per year.

This young tree has survived drought and extreme cold. In fact it seems to have thrived in those conditions.

ah - back in those days i used to grow Morton Bay figs.

English Oak - part3

Here is another image a week later of the little oak.

Its doing very well - Im hoping the buds are going to form some nice small branches where they are.

Oaks usually have a second round of growth later in the season so I hope these branches will be in good shape by the end of the season as well.

With the amount of foliage and new branches I'm hoping it will put on some good girth on the bottom as well.

At the moment its on a weekly dilute ( about 75% strength ) feed of Chempak high nitro ( 25+15+15 ).

As you can see im using some normal aluminium wire to shape the heavy branches - but on the light delicate shoots im using lead soldering wire to encourage them in the right direction.

Monday, 23 March 2009

English Oak - part2

Here are a few more picture of the oak. The growth is rapid as it comes to life in spring again.

Ive selected the buds i want to develop and pinched the others. This young tree was very densely covered in buds so i had plenty of choice. Its very enjoyable growing like this - not needing to wire ( much ) or trim to get shape - but rather to rely on organic growth to get a nice shape developing.

Ive been giving it a little bit of high nitrogen fertiliser - chempack high nitro. the growth seems vigorous so far and im hoping for a big year from the little oak. As you can see in the background - the high nitro is giving rampant growth on the maples.

Im hoping the combination of increasing the number of limbs and the amount of foliage will increase the girth of the trunk quite a lot this year. Ive got some lead wire on the bas to keep track over the season.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Quercus Robur

The acorn that sprouted in my vegetable patch is comign along nicely. its a tough little tree. It had a good season last year and is positioned well this year from some good ramification. its enjoyable to grow from see and be able to shape the tree from the beginning.

ive begun to pinch off some of the buds on the trunk where i dont want new branches forming. The apex is in great shape to put out the next layer of branches and continue upwards. as you can see there are several buds up there that will have to go. il just rubbing them off early in the season so they dont get too much energy diverted into thier growth.

as you can see - i am spoilt for choice for buds right now. the tree feels like its moving towards a formal upright style.

Friday, 30 January 2009


While i was over in Singapore i had a chance to go and have a look at the chinese garden in Jurong Park where they have a large bonsai collection. Coming into this incredible heat fresh of the plane from sunny England was really hard and we struggle for hydration as all the kiosks int he park were closed durign the week. Do take somethign with to drink if u decide to wonder aroudn there durign the week.

An interesting rogue branch on this plant. It also appears to have been planted in Tesco's premium light kitty litter. I'd love to know what they use over there and where to get some. Sadly there was nobody arround i could interogate abotu the soils.

Il try to put up some more images at a later date. I'm planning on doing a gallery of inspiring plants.