Bark features of container grown vs. ground grown trees.

Jason

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Vance Wood posted this on another thread:

"The quest for the "Instant Bonsai" is the root of all the problems. Many just beginning the hobby/art don't want to hear that it takes usually ten years to develop a decent bonsai from raw material. These individuals are then flooded with a plethora of advise from buying expensive pre-bonsai they can neither afford or have the tools to take care of, to collecting Yamadori and the like. Many are told to plant things in the ground not realizing this practice will give you a fat-ass trunk with a featureless bark, leaving the problem of developing a good bark.

There are quick ways of doing a lot of things but for every short cut there is a down side in development somewhere else. I am not Pooh-poohing these practices, I am Pooh-poohing the tendency to accept the speedy over the patient as a sacrament in lieu of good sense and care. Then in the end the grower has a bonsai that falls short of what they expected, replete with an abundance of faults that can be linked back to some short cut taken at some earlier date. So in short form: There is a lack of good resources about bonsai mostly because those things that should be practiced are looked upon as doing it the hard way and receive not much more than criticism.

Been there done that!"


I just read the above post and realized I'm one of those individuals plunking things in the ground for "fat ass" trunks so I was just wondering if someone could address the differences in bark features of container vs. ground grown material. What would be the differences in them and why would there be differences? Are all species affected or just pines? I guess I'd never thought hard about this as an issue.
 

buddhamonk

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I think of it this way - to get a 2 inch trunk in a container tree it takes longer therefore the bark will look older. Basically, while you can gain size in the ground, you won't gain bark quality which only comes with time.
 

Stan Kengai

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Jason, in fast-growing techniques, the plant's trunks are expanding too quickly to form mature bark. This is true for most all bonsai species, but is more evident in "scale" barked plants, like pine, oak, sweetgum, etc. Some plants grown in the ground may get mature bark, but it will be "large" and out of scale for the bonsai. The only way to get mature, small bark is to grow plants slowly (i.e. in a pot, in our case) for many years.

I personally don't mind immature or out-of-scale bark, and think that it can often be overlooked on an otherwise nice tree. However, when you see a bonsai with mature, in-scale bark, it is a wonder to behold. Bark, imho, is what often makes the difference between a great bonsai and a masterpiece.

Stan
 

Brian Van Fleet

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I'm with you Jason, In the ground is to develop those trunks and root spreads. The texture will be larger, thinner, and immature, but like branches, bark will develop just fine once it's in a pot.
 

donkey

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I read in a book that if you wrap the bark in damp moss for a year or to it ages the bark. So i tried it with a hawthorn i was planning on planting back out in the wild. It certainly seemed to make the bark more gnarly after a year than the other hawthorn i had as a control. May have been just coincidence. Does anyone else know of this technique does it really work or maybe only on certain trees ?
 

Vance Wood

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There is an article in Bonsai Today, obviously a back issue from many years ago, concerning the cultivation of JBP using colanders. The artist who wrote this article mentioned this phenomenon. The problem, as I have come to recognize it, is with the proportions of the flakiness of the bark. A tree, in this case a Pine, grown out in the field will produce a bark that looks larger in proportions to the rest of the tree when cut down into a bonsai.

I agree, sometimes this does not create an issue except with smaller bonsai, with the larger trees probably not. The point is in reality, it has been said at times that a container grown Pine will not produce a mature looking bark. It is my argument that it will in about the same amount of time it takes to grow a mature looking bark on a field grown tree or a Yamadori. Of course different species of Pine produce different forms of bark, some good, some not so good. JBP grows some of the best bark, White Pine some of the worst, taking the most time.

I have not tried wrapping the trunk with moss. I have heard it works but I cannot judge it from experience.
 
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There is an article in Bonsai Today, obviously a back issue from many years ago, concerning the cultivation of JBP using colanders. The artist who wrote this article mentioned this phenomenon. The problem, as I have come to recognize it, is with the proportions of the flakiness of the bark. A tree, in this case a Pine, grown out in the field will produce a bark that looks larger in proportions to the rest of the tree when cut down into a bonsai.

I agree, sometimes this does not create an issue except with smaller bonsai, with the larger trees probably not. The point is in reality, it has been said at times that a container grown Pine will not produce a mature looking bark. It is my argument that it will in about the same amount of time it takes to grow a mature looking bark on a field grown tree or a Yamadori. Of course different species of Pine produce different forms of bark, some good, some not so good. JBP grows some of the best bark, White Pine some of the worst, taking the most time.

I have not tried wrapping the trunk with moss. I have heard it works but I cannot judge it from experience.

Vance,
curious question... would not the larger scale bark, even on a smaller tree, be benificial in making the needle size appear much smaller ???
My personal opinion as far as bark size, would probally depend greatly as to whether or not the overall style of the tree complimented it.
By this I mean, the larger the bark, to me at least, portrays a much more rugged appearance, to which the style must compliment.
I personally have seen some awesome very large bark on a very small tree and I have to say it did give it some balls so to speak !!! :)
 

Vance Wood

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Vance,
curious question... would not the larger scale bark, even on a smaller tree, be benificial in making the needle size appear much smaller ???
My personal opinion as far as bark size, would probally depend greatly as to whether or not the overall style of the tree complimented it.
By this I mean, the larger the bark, to me at least, portrays a much more rugged appearance, to which the style must compliment.
I personally have seen some awesome very large bark on a very small tree and I have to say it did give it some balls so to speak !!! :)

What ever floats your boat. In the case of Victrina's Mugo on another thread the process of putting this particular tree (with a really great bark texture due to container growth for many years) would be runined if it were to be placed in the ground at this point to thicken the trunk.
 
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vance,
I wasn't not necessarily disagreeing with you here... I was merely pointing out where there might be some exceptions to your rule...
 

Vance Wood

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vance,
I wasn't not necessarily disagreeing with you here... I was merely pointing out where there might be some exceptions to your rule...

I'm not suggesting that this is a rule and I know you were not disagreeing with me. It is however something else to consider.
 

Shima

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I used to spend time with Muranaka-san, the elder, in the 80's. I once asked him how the bark was so good on the young black pines which were growing in the ground, (sand.) He said, "no fertilizer."
 

Vance Wood

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I used to spend time with Muranaka-san, the elder, in the 80's. I once asked him how the bark was so good on the young black pines which were growing in the ground, (sand.) He said, "no fertilizer."

This also begs another question. The idea of placing in the ground, as it is taught today, is to force growth that expands the trunk. Placing a tree in the ground and not fertilizing says to me that you are hindering the kind of growth planting in the ground is supposed to stimulate. So it could be said that there are good sides and bad sides depending which method you choose to use to develop a tree. Again I am not saying that it is not a good thing to grow a tree in the ground I am simply pointing out that there is a down side to the practice. I'm not saying that growing in a pot is bad, just simply point out that there is a down side to this as well. I do know this for a fact however; the larger the trunk the longer it will take to form a bark once in a container. I have a largish Mugo grown in one of my training planters that now has a trunk as large as my forearm and the bark is just now starting to form flakes in spots.
 

rock

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Good discussion. location may have much to do with it as well. I have no hard evidence but I know when Kenji Miyata saw my pines his estimate for their age was 10 to 15 years off. Thought they were older. He said conditions were such that the so-cal climate aged the trees faster than he was used to in Japan. He thought I was pulling his leg, and of course I was very pleased.

Also all my pines started around 20 years ago have similar bark , some still in ground, some in boxes and some in finished pots almost all the way. Just wish I could go back in time and tell myself to just leave them in the ground, those ones are awesome, most of the others...uh ...not so much.
o and Id also tell me to buy google

Rock out
 

Jason

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This is a good discussion. For my part, I haven't been doing this long enough to really see the differences in the bark with the different growing methods. I'd have to grow something with a decent sized trunk completely in a pot to even comment (10-20 years?). I know other people have done it both ways, so I appreciate the input. I would imagine theres lots of species variation.

It seems that even when your growing for trunk diameter, some species seem to benefit less from being in the ground. I know Brent Walston mentioned, somewhere, that japanese quince don't seem to benefit much from being grown in the ground. Smoke seems to do some trident development in pots (but he also benefits from a very long growing season and he starts with stumps not sticks). Any other species people know of that doesn't benefit from time in the ground?

Besides quick development of trunk diameter, part of the attraction of ground growing is that it's easier. I can have 100 pre-bonsai in the ground on tiles. All I have to do is periodically walk by and do some pruning and maybe occasionally dig them and do root work. But because I don't have to water them regularly, and really don't fertilize them that often, theres very little work (just some weeding). I also get less attrition from watering mistakes, and they evolve much quicker. I've never regretted planting anything in the ground for development. I have regretted digging it up for placement in a pot too early. I do think some of my stuff probably needs more root refinement when it's ground grown (I'm noticing root reduction takes some time). However, since I have some budget constraints and I work full time, this seems like my only shot at ever having a nice collection (without mortgaging my house).

I will say that while I've been waiting for all these trees to mature, I have seen the value in purchasing some pre-grown material (to work on refinement skills). When I buy it now I'm willing to spend more, since I have some concept of how long the trunk development phase takes.
 
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Vance Wood

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There is also another thing to consider about bark. Even with in the same species the ability to form bark can vary greatly from the species to its cultivars. Concerning Mugos, I find that the species, sometimes called Montana Pine, forms a really nice bark while the cultivar Pumilio forms a good bark very slowly. The Tyrolean cultivar is somewhere between the two. Some of the dwarf cultivars are pretty good as evidenced by Victinia's tree, the Valley Cushion as shown by Angle3 has a way to go, not saying it is not a good tree; it is a very good tree. It looks more like Pumilio in the bark department. Of all the Pines used in bonsai the Japanese Black Pine is unarguably the best in the bark category.
 

Attila Soos

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When considering the nature of the bark on a tree in the ground, versus the tree in a pot, it helps if we actually look at the mechanics of the whole process.

Let's take the black pine. Also, let's consider a time frame of ten years.
How many growth rings will the pine will have after 10 years of growing in the ground. Ten, of course. Same if the tree grows in a pot.
So, what is the difference?

The growth rings are thicker in the ground.
But the bark on the tree in the pot is just as old, as the bark on the tree in the ground.

The cambium produces one layer of wood in the inside, and one layer of bark in the outside. When growing in the ground, the layer of bark is thicker than the layer of bark on a tree that grows in the pot. But both trees have ten layers of bark.

When and how does bark become mature? When the water from its layers evaporates, the bark becomes dry, and breaks into scales, stripes, ridges, ect. - depending on the species.
So, the bark in the pot, due to being thinner than the bark in the ground, dries out faster, and breaks up earlier. The bark in the ground is thicker, so it will take a few more years to dry out and break up. But eventually, it will. Also, the scales will be somewhat larger, due to its thickness and larger trunk circumference.

All this leads me to conclude, that although trees growing in pots will develop cracked bark earlier, the trees that grow in the ground and are later planted into bonsai pots, will eventually catch up, and have bark that is just as good. In the early years, the trees grown in pots will have a head start, regarding the quality of bark. But after a few years, the garden-grown trees will have their bark just as dry, and therefore, will start to crack. Also, as the growth slows down significantly, the new layers of bark will be just as thin as in the case of the pot-grown trees, and the scales become just as small.

So, I think that the benefits of growing in the ground vastly outweigh the shortcomings. In the short term, it has a younger looking bark, but in the long terms, it will catch up and becomes just as good.
 
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Attila Soos

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Also, we have to consider that it is very easy to slow down a tree that grows in the ground. Frequent pruning is the best tool. You can prune often or rarely, if at all. So, the control is in our hand. If pruned frequently, the upper part of the tree will grow slower, resulting in a thinner and older-looking bark. The roots, although they will also slow down to a degree, they will still grow unimpeded, resulting in a larger nebari. So, we have plenty of control over the growth rate.

I have fantastic looking bark on black pines grown for landscaping purposes.
 
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Jason

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When considering the nature of the bark on a tree in the ground, versus the tree in a pot, it helps if we actually look at the mechanics of the whole process.

Let's take the black pine. Also, let's consider a time frame of ten years.
How many growth rings will the pine will have after 10 years of growing in the ground. Ten, of course. Same if the tree grows in a pot.
So, what is the difference?

The growth rings are thicker in the ground.
But the bark on the tree in the pot is just as old, as the bark on the tree in the ground.

The cambium produces one layer of wood in the inside, and one layer of bark in the outside. When growing in the ground, the layer of bark is thicker than the layer of bark on a tree that grows in the pot. But both trees have ten layers of bark.

When and how does bark become mature? When the water from its layers evaporates, the bark becomes dry, and breaks into scales, stripes, ridges, ect. - depending on the species.
So, the bark in the pot, due to being thinner than the bark in the ground, dries out faster, and breaks up earlier. The bark in the ground is thicker, so it will take a few more years to dry out and break up. But eventually, it will. Also, the scales will be somewhat larger, due to its thickness and larger trunk circumference.

All this leads me to conclude, that although trees growing in pots will develop cracked bark earlier, the trees that grow in the ground and are later planted into bonsai pots, will eventually catch up, and have bark that is just as good. In the early years, the trees grown in pots will have a head start, regarding the quality of bark. But after a few years, the garden-grown trees will have their bark just as dry, and therefore, will start to crack. Also, as the growth slows down significantly, the new layers of bark will be just as thin as in the case of the pot-grown trees, and the scales become just as small.

So, I think that the benefits of growing in the ground vastly outweigh the shortcomings. In the short term, it has a younger looking bark, but in the long terms, it will catch up and becomes just as good.

Thats about the best explanation I've heard. Thanks.
 

tanlu

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I want thank everyone for all your helpful information! This was the kind of thread I've been looking for!

I read in an article by Colin Lewis saying that pines that experience longer intervals (5 to 10 years, as opposed to 4 years) between repotting will also speed up the aging process. Masahiko Kimura says in another article that shading the bark will also allow it to age more quickly. He shows convincing photos black pine and white pine in nature to prove it. Here's an non-bonsai article I found that says the opposite! http://natureinfocus.wordpress.com/2011/11/13/tree-bark-patterns-textures-part-7/

I wondered what all of you have to say or have experienced regarding this?

Theo
 

Vance Wood

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I want thank everyone for all your helpful information! This was the kind of thread I've been looking for!

I read in an article by Colin Lewis saying that pines that experience longer intervals (5 to 10 years, as opposed to 4 years) between repotting will also speed up the aging process. Masahiko Kimura says in another article that shading the bark will also allow it to age more quickly. He shows convincing photos black pine and white pine in nature to prove it. Here's an non-bonsai article I found that says the opposite! http://natureinfocus.wordpress.com/2011/11/13/tree-bark-patterns-textures-part-7/

I wondered what all of you have to say or have experienced regarding this?

Theo

Having never been mobbed by a Restaurant I cannot reply to that or even understand how this applies to bonsai but that's just me.

As to the issue of bark. I know from experience that containerized trees form a bark that is old looking and more in proportion to the size of the tree even though those grown in the ground do form really good bark. The problem is whether the bark from the field is preferable to that from the pot. It is kind of a subjective issue where often preferences are taken as fact and opinions are taken as proof. There is also another issue and that is one of species. Most who come to this issue use Japanese Black Pine as their bench mark. About the only tree I know of, in vogue as a bonsai today, that even comes close to a JBP is the American Ponderosa Pine. You cannot expect a Scots, Mugho, or any other species to come close, regardless of where or how it was cultivated. But; the JBP leaves a little to be desired in the way of foliage and ramification issues.
 

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