Early Spring in Virginia

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:06 am by Julian Adams

SEASONAL TIPS>  The seasons are easy to deal with, it’s the transitions that make life interesting.  We are right in the middle of the winter to spring transition.  This is the most threatening seasonal transition due to the possibility for late freezes to damage bonsai which have budded out a little too soon. Those who have a small number of bonsai can usually provide emergency safety by taking early emerging plants in to the safety of the home when an unusual freeze threatens. Those with a large number of plants have a much larger problem.  The best way to avoid this situation is to delay emergence from dormancy as long as possible. I try to do this by shading the pot from direct sun and by trying to not provide an encouraging amount of water. This works most years.  When a late freeze threatens, I use overhead watering with a sprinkler to warm the bonsai. Spaying with water from about 6-8 AM (when the temperature dips to the lowest point) may cover the trees with ice but provides protection if the temperature is not too low.     The early emerging trees are already breaking out.  Quinces, tridents, and crab apples are showing leaves already and others have fat buds. Transplanting time for most deciduous plants is almost past. If you have deciduous trees that need repotting, hurry as the opportunity for safe repotting is disappearing. Pines are not yet showing white root tips but after the recent rains, any warm weather at all will start their bud extension. White root tips are the first indicator that it is time to repot pines.  Bud movement is the next indicator.  Once the buds approach the candle stage, the window of opportunity for potting pines has passed.    Most seeds for growing bonsai plants should be planted at this time.  Be sure to protect them from hungry birds, squirrels, and chipmunks.  Seedlings and cuttings from prior years may be ready for transplanting to individual pots.  Don’t leave them together so long that they cannot be safely separated.    Air layers can be applied to most species suitable for bonsai at this time.  Roots seem to form more easily on air layers applied during the cooler weather of spring than an those applied in warmer weather.  Although I have no scientific proof, my observation is that root production (in general) is much stronger in spring and fall than in the heat of summer.    Most insect pests won’t become active until new growth is abundant.  One exception is the pine adelgid.  This annoying insect is a serious threat to the appearance and health of five needle pines.  It is a tiny fuzzy white sucking bug which is very difficult to eliminate.  Even when eliminated, it often is reintroduced from our local white pines.  The fuzzy white coat protects the insect from insecticides.  The most effective control is to use a Volck oil spray with Malathion added to the oil spray.  Simultaneous application of a granular systemic boosts the chance that one of the chemicals will penetrate the defensive covering of the adelgid.   Don’t neglect watering as spring approaches.  With the longer and warmer days, the evergreens’ water consumption will increase dramatically.  While keeping the green plants hydrated, take care to not over water the deciduous plants which have not yet leafed out.  Keep those dormant as long as possible.   Much pruning of pines should have been done a few weeks ago.  A second look to see that things are as desired would be prudent. Any additional energy redistribution by selective bud removal can be also done now.     Now is the time for final pruning of deciduous bonsai. Pruning cuts can be safely made at the exact spot where one wishes for the best design result. New growth that will start in a week or two will speed healing. Often the flow of sap at this time of year makes the use of cut paste difficult. If the roots of the plant are a bit on the dry side, the sap flow is reduced and application of cut paste is facilitated.   There is little time left to apply wire to the bonsai before the buds open and new growth makes wiring much more difficult.  Be sure to mark fast growing deciduous bonsai which have been wired so that one is reminded to check for wire marking during the growing season. I use bright colored cocktail toothpicks for this purpose.  They are available at “dollar” stores for very little cost. It is very easy to neglect wire hidden under a foliage canopy.  Wire marks that may result from neglect may spoil the winter appearance of the bonsai for many years.

   Be prepared to apply micronutrients to the bonsai as soon as the buds start to open. The need for the trace elements varies from species to species and is highly dependent on the soil mix in which they are planted.  Those who grow pines, especially Zuisho, in a mostly Turface mix will likely find the use of a micronutrient supplement at bud break necessary for maintaining the best plant health.  I use Micromax each spring on all my trees except the junipers.  I have had no bad results and the Zuisho, Japanese maples, and zelkovas have all done much better since I began using Micromax nearly twenty years ago.


ADAMS’ BONSAI HAPPENINGS>  The first year of retirement and full time bonsai farming has come and gone.  I’m not sure where the time went but it was a fast moving year.  Most of the retirement transition tasks are out of the way so I hope this will allow me to spend time on things of interest to me and the family instead of things of interest to the IRS, EPA, lawyers, insurance companies, and the like. I am constantly irritated by the amount of effort needed to provide the information required by the government for the purpose of making sure that I live according to their regulations. It’s no wonder that many of our jobs are now done in other countries where such regulatory machinery is of a more modest size.   When the bureaucratic work is done, the bonsai work keeps me busy all the time.  The approach of spring is probably the busiest time in the bonsai year.  During the winter, over 90 Zuisho pines were wired for shape and marked for the location of cuttings, air layers, and grafts.  Over the last few days, all of the air layers were put in place and the grafts were done. Air layers on Zuisho are done in a conventional way.  With luck, the layers put on at this time will have enough roots to survive by the middle of September. The success rate depends on a number of factors, e.g. summer temperatures, rainfall, and humidity.  The yield last year was a bit less than normal, probably due to the high temperatures and limited rainfall and humidity.  If roots are not formed by September, there is little chance of the layer surviving into the following summer, even still attached to the mother plant.  Success with layers and cuttings has increased the number of plants I have available to the point that I am selling a few.     As the Zuisho are providing more plants through cuttings and layers, they are all being grown with the intent of becoming bonsai.  This means that shaping of trunks and limbs and design limb selection is going on simultaneously with the propagation. Where a design branch is needed and none is present, branches are grafted.  I am using a modified approach grafting technique.  An appropriate branch on the plant is chosen to become the new limb. It is left attached to the tree but is bent to reach the spot where the graft is to take place. A slot, slightly smaller than the limb to be grafted on, is cut in the trunk at the desired position.  Next the bark is shaved from the branch to be grafted on and it is fitted into the slot such that the cambium of the branch touches the cambium of the trunk at the top and bottom of the slot. Plastic tape is then used to bind the branch and trunk tightly together so that there can be no movement at the graft location. The branch remains attached to the tree so that it is fed as usual until the graft has taken. In most cases, the grafts are mechanically stable after one year. Over the next year the graft is gradually weaned from its original branch by cutting through the feeding branch (behind the graft) with a series of ever deeper cuts. The feeding branch is normally able to be cut through entirely by at the end of the second year.  The feeding side of the newly grafted limb is then cut flush with the trunk and cut paste is applied. This method has been very effective for me.   A large crop of beauty berries were potted up in individual pots. I love the brightly colored fruits these plants have in fall. They make very attractive small bonsai. Repotting of most of the deciduous plants is done.  Pines are not showing white root tips yet but I have transplanted some anyway.  Fourteen Scots pines were dug last week from the field and potted in bonsai soil.  One of these was an old one with a large trunk.  I hope it survives the transition to life in a pot.  It will be the last or next to last of these for another 15 years.  The rest were thin trunk with literati shapes.  I’ll not know whether they are survivors until mid summer.  In the next couple of weeks last year’s pine seedlings and year before last’s’ Zuisho cuttings will need to be individually potted.  To keep things interesting, I have seeds of several pine types and deciduous plants as well to plant soon. 



Early February in Virginia

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:50 pm by Julian Adams

OBSERVATIONS>  Just as the first daffodil bloomed beside the studio, winter finally arrived.  A few more days of the warm weather and many plants would certainly have emerged from dormancy.  Hopefully, the cold will now be severe enough and last long enough to keep things safely asleep until the proper time for emergence. 
TIPS AND TECHNIQUES>  Now that spring is getting close, there is little time remaining to get prepared.  Wiring of pines should be close to completion.  Trees that are to be repotted should be clearly identified.  Pots, soil, and other repotting supplies should be on hand and ready for use.  Tools should be cleaned and oiled.  Don’t forget to keep the evergreens watered as needed but be careful not to water on a day when the temperatures will drop much below freezing.  A freshly watered pot is much more likely to break if the freeze is substantial. 
BONSAI SURFING>  The net has developed into a powerful tool for many purposes.  It offers bonsai fans an unbelievable array of resources. There are commercial bonsai sites, organizational sites (ABS, BCI, local clubs, NBF, WBFF, & others), photo galleries, discussion forums, horticultural information, and more.  Much of this information is in English but there is even more in other languages.  Many of the foreign language sites can be translated into passable English by the computer in just a few seconds.  Using Google can lead one to answers for almost any bonsai question.  (It’s good for those impossible crosswords clues too.)  The primary caution is to consider the source of the information one receives.  Sometimes the info is locale specific or just not correct.  Appearing in print or on the computer screen does not automatically confer truth upon a statement.  Some one has said “it is not what we don’t know that is the problem, it is what we do know but is incorrect that is the problem”.   
ADAMS BONSAI HAPPENINGS>   Except for a lost day caused by a defective kerosene heater, I have been spending most of my time in the studio.  Over seventy Zuishos have been wired and marked for layering, cuttings, or grafting as the appropriate season arrives.  A fair amount of thought is required. The wiring done and foliage chosen for removal (for layering or cuttings) will largely determine the future bonsai quality of each plant.  Good thinking now means that the layers and cuttings can be done quickly at the proper time with minimal danger of removing the wrong limb or twig. 
   While watering on warmer days, things are given a good inspection.  Bench tops which shade the plants from the low winter sun have had their restraints tightened where severe winds had loosened them.  Plants yanked out of their pots by deer and other vermin have been put back in their pots.  Young cuttings that have heaved out by freezing have been replanted. 
   Last year’s dwarf persimmon seedlings have been transplanted into individual pots.  It’s a bit early to do this for most seedlings but the persimmons seem to get a very early start each spring and do not appreciate transplanting once growth has started.  They make very long tap roots and cannot be left successfully for more than one year in the germinating pot.  Pines and other seedlings and cuttings from last year will be moved to individual pots a little closer to the arrival of spring. 


Mid January in Virgina

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:40 pm by Julian Adams

SEASONAL TIPS>  We have passed the winter solstice and the days are starting to lengthen again.  Since warmth lags behind the day length, we are just beginning the coldest time of the year.  While we have had a little cold interspersed with lots of warm, major winter cold should settle in about the middle of January in our area.  This means that spring is on the way and bonsai growers should leave the holiday whirl behind and get the winter chores done. 

   This is the time of year for major involvement with pines.  There is no better time for wiring, whether for basic design creation or for refinement of an existing design.  Wiring is intimidating to many but in reality is a real joy if approached with the proper attitude.  I think of wiring as a puzzle to be solved.  The prize for solving the puzzle is a neatly wired tree with branches and twigs placed exactly where one wishes.  The result can be stunning and very satisfying.  The best way to become skilled at wiring is to do a lot of it.  If an obvious mistake is made, take the wire off and do that part again.  Over time, the number of mistakes will diminish and perhaps almost disappear. 
   Remember to wire the fine twigs too.  One of the most common failings of North American bonsai artists is to not do the finish wiring of the fine twigs.  If wiring of the branch tips is not done, fine bonsai may be left with an unfinished appearance. 
   Pines bend nicely but do not appreciate being bent first one direction and then the other.  Decide where the limb should be and put it there.  Don’t apply wire and then move the branch back and forth between several positions.  This will require visualization of how the branch will look in its final position.  However, this will help avoid unwanted (possibly fatal) cambium damage caused by indecision in branch placement. 
   It is not always best to follow rules but here are a couple of general suggestions that make the work a little easier.  First clean the tree of old needles and any other trash that may be in the foliage.  Foliage and branches that are certain to be of no use should be removed at this time as well.  Starting at the top of the tree and working toward the bottom will leave the tree totally clean and ready for.  Spreading a cloth over the soil at the base of the trunk (somewhat like a barber’s cloth) will make it very easy to remove the dropped needles and other debris.  Once the tree has been cleaned, wire from the bottom upward, finishing with the apex.  After the wiring is complete, needles on the bottom of the branches should be removed to give definition to the branch.  I favor cutting with sharp scissors rather than plucking to avoid accidental bud removal or other trauma to the twigs.
   Another critical technique for good results with Scots and five needle pines is removal of heavy buds and excess foliage to equalize strength throughout the tree.  This is best done as soon as wiring is finished. If there is no wiring to be done on a particular tree, now is the time to equalize the strength.  Exactly how much foliage and which buds to remove is a matter of judgment and experience.  Over time, one develops a feel for what is needed.  Fortunately, it is unusual to remove enough to seriously damage the tree.  In general, multiple small buds are preferred to single large buds.  Large buds will be more numerous in the upper and outer portions of the tree than in lower and inner areas.  Large buds are usually removed in the upper and outer portions if they are accompanied by a smaller secondary bud or useful small buds close by on the same branch.  More thought should be given to what is removed in weaker portions of the tree (usually lower and inner parts).  Aggressive action in weaker areas may not have happy results.  A good way to decide what to remove is to visualize the quantity and extension of foliage that would result from a group of buds if they were left undisturbed.  Multiple buds will give a larger quantity of foliage extensions.  A large bud will give long extension of its foliage.  If one would be unhappy with the foliage that would result from a bud, it should be removed.  A side benefit of removing large terminal buds is that strength is then shifted to smaller interior buds on that branch that might otherwise wither. 
   Areas where the foliage mass is much more dense than other areas on the tree should be thinned at this time as well.  In the same manner that overly large buds are removed, excess foliage mass should be removed to force the tree to deliver resources to weaker areas. 
   Repotting pines is best done in years when severe wiring and pruning has not been done.  If the wiring and pruning is minimal, it should be safe to repot just before the buds start to move in early spring.
   Speaking of repotting, make sure that supplies of pots, potting soil, etc. are at hand for the spring rush.  It will be here sooner than you think. 
   The unusually warm weather has many things thinking about starting to grow.  Some of the street flowering cherries are blooming here.  The danger is that plants will fill with sap, start to push buds and then get hammered by sudden severe cold.  I have few suggestions of how to deal with this beyond lots of prayer.  The only thing that I am doing is keeping the pots shaded so that they are protected from extra warming by the sun. 



Posted in Uncategorized at 10:01 am by Julian Adams

  Two weeks in Japan, one week of head cold, the Christmas rush, and a family trip to Costa Rica for Christmas week has given me ample time to get behind.  Still, I am only mildly panicked about the approach of spring.  The warm weather has made some of the chores a good bit more palatable. 
   All of the rough pruning of stock growing in the ground has been done.  Two full truck loads of trimmings were composted in the woods.  The rough pruning gets rid of all the excess growth that will clearly not be wanted for the next growing season.  Some of it is sacrificial branches that have gotten too big to allow further growth.  Some of it is undesirable extra length on possible design branches.  When the rough pruning is done, the cuts are made several buds out from the desired final cut.  A one or two inch stub is left when the large sacrificials are removed.  This diverts the tree’s support to the remaining buds for the rest of the winter.  Any die back at the cut due to drying out can be removed without affecting the intended design when final pruning is done in early spring.  It might be a bit more time efficient if the pruning was done in one step.  I prefer the two step process because it helps me grow better stock.  With the confusing overgrowth removed, it is much easier to see the possibilities of each plant and to make more subtle adjustments to the growth of each.  It is also much easier to physically get to each one when most of the long wild growth is removed.  When final pruning is done in about six weeks, the cuts will be made at the desired spot with great care to make clean wounds and to protect them with cut paste as needed.
   Much root pruning was done last year so there is less than usual to do his year.  Regular root pruning is an absolute necessity if prebonsai grown in the ground are to have root structures suitable for high quality bonsai. This is a good time to do this chore.  It should not be done once the buds have started to move. 
   Now that I have more or less figured out how to use my new SLR digital camera, I have been doing a much better job of taking pictures of my trees and the things that I am doing to them.  I have written a lengthy article on taking pictures of bonsai which will appear as a three part series beginning in the next issue of International Bonsai magazine.  The speed and ease of seeing the results of picture taking with the digital camera makes the process fun rather than a chore.  If the result is not good enough, one just adjusts the camera and takes another shot.  Not only will my historical record of the trees be greatly improved but I will have access to a much greater library of images to use in my teaching presentations.  A good picture is always better than a lot of talk! 
   My inventory of soil mix was getting too low for comfort so last Saturday was devoted to that nasty chore.  700 pounds of Turface, 100 pounds of crushed granite, and a half bale of peat were lifted, sifted, lifted, mixed, lifted, and placed in barrels.  The result was more than 150 gallons of soil mix and loss of the ability to stand up straight.  My fear is that this may not be enough to get through the potting and air layering season. 
   The satsuki bonsai which I brought back from Japan are looking good so far.  The mild weather has afforded the opportunity to put them outside a couple of days a week to enjoy sunshine and some air movement. 
   I hope to dig several more Scots pines from the field this spring.  More seedlings need to be planted to train for future years as the supply of mature plants is rapidly dwindling. 
   The deer have been very hard on my azaleas this year.  The worst damage seems to be by young bucks.  They eat a lot and tend to stomp on the ones they don’t eat.  It is very disheartening to have an entire year’s apex growth removed by these eating machines.  Thus far, the rabbits have been steering clear of the bonsai this winter.  I don’t know whether it is my being around more or the presence of large hawks and a couple of great horned owls.