Saturday, 29 December 2012

Friendly Insecticides

I've been a medium/long term user of the Bayer Provado insecticides. I especially liked its safety around animals - as my cat will often be gardening with me. The cat also likes to help me prune the plants and uses them for shade.

Earlier this year (2012) I started to read up on alternatives as the connection between Neonicotinoids and bee colony collapse began to concern me.

I have used the Canna fertilisers for several years and they are very effective. I haven’t been able to get any of this off the shelf in the UK - although I will keep an eye out for it.

PS. I see that it is now available from merchants on Amazon so I will try it out next year.

I bought some of the SB plant invigorator on Amazon. Some background reading indicates that it's a foliar fertiliser and contains surfactants (soapy stuff). This seems to be similar to the good old soap or oil based sprays against insects.

I sprayed my citrus and maples at the beginning of the growing season as a trial to see how well it worked.

I also discovered some aphids on a Scots pine and using the SBPI cleared them up nicely - I hadn't sprayed the pines with anything this year.

My Calamondin has also not had scale or aphids this year - which is a first. Usually its covered with sticky sap and black gunk for the bugs. Perhaps the lack of insects dragging it down explains why it has done so well this year. The maples were clear.

My only concern with SBPI was that I went through most of a container of the ready to use mixture on a few larger bonsai. Its also quite expensive in that form.

The concentrate is well priced ( about £10 ) and will give me roughly 25 refills. This should give good coverage of a medium bonsai collection for a year.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Citrus thoughs

I was out at the benches fiddling with the pines and I spent some time pondering my citrus experiment. I’m starting to get the balance right with it. Last year there was virtually no growth and a massive crop of fruit - so it was in distress. This year there is massive growth and no fruit at all - so its happier. The leaves still aren’t green enough - so more nitrogen is needed - but its no longer in distress so its not fruiting anymore. Its getting fed 4 times a week and i just cant get enough in. I got some citrus specific feed for it which i will try for the rest of the summer to see if its foliage gets deep green.

I feel i am still missing something from its feeding routing. I will try some iron tonic later this month to see if it helps.

Still - the response to its new position with full day direct sun has been very positive. I continue to learn about the horticultural needs of my individual trees and improve them in the following seasons.

This year I made certain that the entire root system is drenched with every watering. Similarly when fertilizing I make sure that the entire root system is drenched and there is free flowing excess out of the drainage holes. I think that dry patches in the root system hurt me last season - so i am paying extra attention to the quality of my watering this season. The results are much improved this year.

The pines appreciate a similar approach to watering - but the maples aren’t doing as well this year. Could just be the weather ?

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Gratuitous Cat pictures

I set up a new sunny rack for the pines and citrus trees. The cat took up residence immediately.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Hail damage

Stupid weather. Just had a giant thunder storm over north London. Bet the people watching the soccer down the road weren’t pleased. It took a fair number of leaves of some maples and really smashed all the new growth on my Calamondin.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Herons visit

Last week i was down in Kent and made a detour past Herons. I got there quite late in the day - but they were kind enough to allow me a quick tour. I didn't have enough time to have a really detailed look - just took a few pictures and had a walk about. I'm sure I missed some bits.

A large selection of plants of all common bonsai species was available for sale. There was a good selection of natives as well.

Many interesting things lurked in this tunnel. I wish i had had a day to do a thorough inspection.

One of the best selections of larger pots i have seen. Perfect for my larger trees. Prices seemed reasonable. I didn’t get around to the dried goods - but i have no doubt that all the favourite consumables could be had.

The growing beds were extensive and well stocked with good looking material.

I was very impressed with the nursery. A must see for any London or southern growers. I will be back.


Sunday, 1 July 2012

Scots pine

I spent a few hours today working on my large Scots pine. Its very healthy and established in its new pot so I began with some of the heavy work. Several large branches were removed and the new growth was cut back and balanced - it was growing very strongly and had some huge candles which were cut back to a few pairs of needles - but some of the weaker areas are untouched. I don’t want to de-candle it at this stage as i still want some extension of the branch structure.

This tree is now down to its third level of ramification. Hoping that at the end of summer I’m in place for final layer. I’m maybe 35% of the way through the work on it for this season. All of the old wire is removed and its ready to be wired again.

I've spent the last 3 years looking at it and waiting for the right time to work - and now all I’ve done is refine the intrinsic shape of the tree - i haven’t imposed a design on it. Once its plucked and wired I’ll have another think about it - but for now I’m quite pleased with the direction its heading in.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Pine Trimmings

Due to being tired and overworked I delayed my pine work a few days. I find the work on these bigger trees to be very tiring. Also!!! - I got a new book i wanted to read it before I took on this pine. The benefits of working and being tired is being able to afford a few nice books. 

I am once again amazed at the vigour on this Scots pine. I think that I have most of my primary branch structure and foliage pads in position. There is still quite a bit of wiring and needle removal to be done though. I have finished the first rough trimming now. Once some of the bulky outer foliage was cleared I was surprised to see how much the adventurous buds close in to the trunk were growing. Picture is a bit dark - but its dark in there close to the trunk.

I seem to have also solved the problem of having a second region trying to become the dominant apex. I did a lot of needle thinning and bud removal in the area and now my preferred apex is stronger.

I had adjusted the position of the tree so that the back of it got plenty of good sun - the growth on the back was very weak and i was going to have to live with it. It seems to have recovered nicely now - I haven’t trimmed there at all - just wiring it a little later on in the year. Once I increase the number of needles out back the balance will return.

I need to clear out some of the old wiring in there and check that everything stays in place. There is some heavy work in there with raffia that will come out - and hopefully the underlying branch will be mostly unscathed. The other lite stuff is also biting in so I'd better hurry up and get it out.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Pine madness

Today I brought in the first of the larger pines for its annual pruning. Its gone completely bonkers and covered itself in 12" candles. This one was covered in flowers last year - this year there are 2 small ones - so I'm certain its no longer stressed. The watering and fertilser regime are working very well - the needle colour and vigour are fantastic.

I think the early hot start to the season certainly helped it along.

This will be the last year that this one is allowed to grow like this - I have the primary structure that I’m looking for - so next year is the full JBP candle removal and back budding.

This afternoon and tomorrow i will be trimming and wiring this one.

I think my timing for this is similar to the traditional time when the JBP's are done - so I'm getting better at it now.

Next up is the big Scots pine. It too has grown wildly and now looks like Don King's hair.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Beech follow up

The repotted beech is doing very well. It doesn’t seem to have even noticed being repotted. There is one very peculiar thing though - the beechs that were left outdoors in their pots to grow on have lovely red foliage - but the one that was repotted and kept under glass to recover has reverted to green leaves.

Here is the trunk now with leaves on it. Sorry about the poor lighting - London is under leaden skies.

Interestingly the beech seems to be budding out on trunk again below the main cut - so with a little carving and patience it wont look like an ugly trunk chop job.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

First Copper Beech

I decided to start working on one of the hedgerow beech trees that i bought 2 years ago - as the beech buds were all swelling up nicely. There were bought bare root - so i am certain that the roots can be taken back a long way. This image is after 2 years in some nice soil - living out on the lawn with regular water and fertiliser. I was a little surprised at the generous amount of root that had developed. It was pot bound after 2 years. 

This one is the least interesting of the trunks so i decided to use it first as a learning experience for working with beech trees. From most angles its about 2" thick somewhat above the ground level.

I removed all the long circling roots and blasted out most of the old soil with water. There were a few problematic thick roots which i cut back a little. That root to the left was just too far up to be kept and was later removed.

The soil mix used to grow this was quite good and i think i will use something close to it again in the future. Lots of coarse sand and horticultural grit - with plenty of perlite. The 3 beech trees grew on very well in this and created fantastic root systems full of fine feeder roots - hence the good growth rate of the trunks.

I created a soil mix based a bit on the work from the last few years. Pure biosorb was a bit hard to grow in. It required a lot of fertiliser and water. It is still primarily biosorb - but i have added finely graded fuji grit and akadama. There is also a heavy helping of pine bark in there. The soil mix is generously inoculated with rootgrow. I will begin fertilizing very soon with fish emulsion ( gave it a good drenching today ).

This beech will be kept under glass until it is in rude health.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Oak progress

This is my first Oak - discovered coming up amongst the tomato plants in the vegetable patch about 6 years ago - the work of a forgetful squirrel.

The next 4 Oaks are growing in containers out back - also from acorns. Nice little trunks on them already. I think i shall try for larger containers for them this year.

I think the warm March got it going a little early and a few late frosts really hurt it. I became concerned and brought it in under glass to help it out a little as we have had a few -4 ( friday 4 april  according to a local weather station ) nights lately. Under the more comfortable circumstance it has begun growing energetically.

I have done some light wiring - but they new shoots are very delicate and the leaves are brittle and will crack and break easily. I find the Oak is a bit easier to wire when its hardened off a little.

I have some black slime growing on the soil surface ( i call it pot snot ) so i will remove some of the top layer. There is also a lot of moss and it makes it hard to water.

This oak is rather pot bound now. The roots and soil are quite rot free so they will have to soldier on for another year. The soil mix is finely graded Akadama and fuji grit - and the Oak has loved it. The Oak is subjectively easier to grow than pines and is more tolerant of watering and fertilizer.

Here is the little Oak today. Once mother nature gives the signal it is one of the fastest growing trees i have ever seen.

There are probably 10 times as many growth points this year. I am hoping that this first flush of leaves will be smaller than last years.

A lot of wire is going to be used to tame this one.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Spring cleaning

Just a pretty picture of a Quince flower I took on a nice sunny day in the garden. Good enough for use as wallpaper even. I timed the shot to get it at a point when the sun was directly on the branch - but the background was in shadow - to get the high contrast. Simply nice direct sunlight and crisp focus.

I've tuned the layout of my blog for 1280 pixel width. I don't think many people are using less than that any more. Some older articles may have their layout disturbed.

Looks like the work situation will be better - so i will be able to come home every night. My dear wife has had to water for me for the last summer while i was away - did a damn fine job too.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Some thoughts on maple pruning

Sometimes when pruning a Japanese maple you can get some undesirable results. This one is the most annoying one where the two terminal buds both grow forwards parallel to each other.


Its a hard situation to recover from and usually you end up just having to cut back behind the bad node. If you allow the buds to grow on these parallel branches the foliage collides and makes an unsightly mess. Fixing this afterwards with wire is difficult as opening that join up to 90 degrees mostly results in splitting.

My aim with pruning this way is to set up the tree for good ramification after mid season defoliation or for the following years growth. Im trying to plan my growth more on my trees so taking care with the pruning is becoming very important. Selecting the correct point to cut back to so that the new growth goes where it is wanted is the prize.

It comes down to the timing of the final pre-defoliation cut backs. Sometimes I get over zealous and cut back too early. The soft stalk isn't woody ( lignified ) and dies right back to the node creating this problem. The node needs to have some wood between the buds to fork nicely.

I now don't bother with bud pinching or cutting back too early as I get these ugly nodes. Once the branches have hardened off I cut back a little - I try to leave at least 3 nodes on the branch early in the season. Sometimes when the tree is over zealous I do cut back big chunks. I certainly don't do any of the bud plucking with tweezers.

Usually the first growth branches will terminate with one of the ugly nodes when it runs out of puff. Its important to remove all these ugly terminal buds. Hopefully there are 4 or 5 nodes behind it to work with.

I can already see the new buds forming at the base of the current leaves - I'm going to wait a while longer until they are pushing out. When I cut I leave a nice long piece of stalk in front of those buds. This stalk can be trimmed back during the winter when its completely dead.

Hopefully I end up with a nice open V when the branch splits. The image below contains a nicely split branch - almost 90 degrees.There is a neat piece of dead stalk left that can be trimmed back later.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Scots Pine

This is my little Scots pine that I've been working on for the last 3 years. This year is going to be an important one as its near the size and shape that I want. The shape is simply how the tree expressed itself once I had wired it a little and got some ramification happening. Its very healthy now after being repotted 15 months ago and soon its ready for some pinching and wiring.

Its planted in pure biosorb - with a little pine bark to inspire the Mycorrhizal fungi - so it needs regular fertiliser to keep it happy. I'm still using Canna 3 times a week and I see no reason to change given the results. Once a month I give it a hit of fish emulsion - also to keep the root fungi happily fed and feed the other soil microbes.

The last few years this one has had a lot of flowers on it - I'm hoping not so much this year as they leave a nasty scar/bald-patch on the tree.

I also removed a lot of new buds from it as almost every needle has split and formed a new bud. My poor wife wasn't pleased when she discovered me using her cuticle cutters to remove buds - but they are almost the perfect tool for the job.

Monday, 19 March 2012

New Bonsai book


Authors :
Kunio Kobayashi
Kazuhiko Tajima

Published by PIE International

While I was going through Peter Warren's bonsai blog i saw that The Chief had published a book. I spoilt myself a little and ordered it off Amazon.

It's beautify photographed and presented showing various species at their best through the year. I was inspired by how many orange trees featured and will be carrying on with my Calamondin project knowing that I am not mad.

The book is half Japanese but the English sections are very nicely translated.

Well worth buying. The book contains many interesting species and not just the usual pine and juniper suspects. There are some magnolias ( one of my next targets ) and some good pomegranates and of course the citrus.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Oak buds are out!!

 I was out on the lawn today with the cat doing my daily check of all the trees when I noticed that the Oak was extending its buds.

I've cut it back quite a lot over the winter and done some light wiring to keep it all going in the right direction. With experience growing this species I'm learning the correct shape and size. Its important to match the size of the ramification and length of the nodes with the leaf size. I've also done a better job of aiming the new growth this year.

Really suffering with water stress on the maples after they were repotted. The new growth has been explosive and the poor trimmed roots just cant get enough water up. The terminal buds are aborting on a lot of branches - which leads to very ugly nodes later on. I took them outside and hosed them down to cool them off and give extra moisture. Almost like treating a recently collected tree. Shade and loads of water on the foliage.

Luckily the roots are growing almost as quickly as the foliage and the pot will be full of them soon - if not now already. This one seems to be throwing out big thick white roots - whereas the Deshojo roots are finer. A lot to learn about this subject. The pattern of drying on the Akadama is quite noticeably different to a month ago so the roots are spread much wider already.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Not just lawn ornaments

We made some asian food for dinner tonight. So i though I'd bring one of the trees in to make things look nice inside. We usually make a Japanese meal when the cherry blossoms are out - but I though that the fresh maples leaves needed to attention too - they aren't just good in autumn.

I hadn't trimmed this Deshojo or fiddled with it for display - its just as it is. Vibrant and Vigorous - and somewhat unruly. The colour is still lovely.

I do try to bring them into the home when I can. The average British home doesn't have any display space so I just stand them where I can. This is really the reward for the many years of careful cultivation.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Native ladybirds

While i was on the lawn with the cat today i saw some native bugs on my Scots pines. The red one is the native 7 spot ladybird. ( i think )

The tiny black one is a variety of the native 2 spot. The light was good and the bark on my Scots pine was looking very fine.

Love having them around to eat the nasty bugs.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Native decisions

My hawthorns are budding out now. They will do another year in pots ( or maybe the beds ) until I do anything more with them. They get some cutting back and basic training at this stage to stop anything really silly from happening. They are in much larger pots than the beech trees so I'm happy to let them go on another year further.

The beech's and oaks still show no signs of coming out of dormancy. I keep them lightly fed and don't let them dry out.

This is one of my copper beech trees that I bough at the hedging nursery 2 years ago and grew on in a pot. In mid winter I chopped it down to 1/3 of its height because the wind kept on blowing it over. I took it inside a few weeks ago and got all the leaves off it so that I could have a good look at what was going on.

I'm starting to think about getting this one into a bonsai pot. Trunk is ok thickness and it will continue to grow further - but I'm keen to play with the branches and ramification. As I don't know the behaviour of beech's that well this will be purely to learn more and not destined for greatness.

The lesson learned from the hedging nursery is that they can be completely bare root this time of the year without much damage and a high degree of success. 

This is my old green maple 33 days after being root pruned and put into that new pot. I think I'm getting the technique right now. I'm startled at the vigour - it's needing daily water now - its been cut back quite a lot already. The top is being kept back to 1 node and I'm letting the nice horizontal lateral branches develop. I think a defoliation mid season will give wonderful results late this year.

Here is where i bought that maple several years ago. I'm pleased with what I have done with the material that started at the checkout at the local M&S.