Confused

Nigel Black

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I'll sum it up to begin with: I'm perplexed by the bonsai process.

Although I know how to prune, grow and generally work with plants. I'm really
unsure of the process itself. What steps in what order? When does one begin reducing
the root system and put a plant in a training pot, as opposed to growing a plant out?
Do I just take a plant of the size I want and reduce the top and roots, put it in a training pot
and beging the long process of styling, wiring etc? And when it comes to nursery stock I'm even more perplexed. I can't reduce a root bound plant too much without risking killing it.

Help?

Nigel
 

Gnome

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Nigel,

I think that part of the confusion arises out of the fact that there are so many routes to creating bonsai. By way of example you asked about root work. Consider a seedling or cutting, it has been said that the second year is the defining year with regard to creating a good nebari. It is important to get the tree off to a good start early in its life. In contrast consider a collected tree, it is generally suggested that such a tree be allowed three years to recover before any work begins.

Nursery plants are already accustomed to being confined in pots and can be worked more aggressively earlier in the creation process. Having said that, there are always differences in species that need to taken into consideration, so it is important to research each species you grow. Does this help at all?

Norm
 

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I think you always need to have a vision of where you are going. What helped me when I was first starting out was to go through a lot of books and magazines until I found a tree that represented (directionally) where I wanted to end up. I would make a xerox of the photo and bring it with me when I worked on the tree and it helped me set priorities.

Now I can look at a tree and see if it "speaks" to me and suggests a style. In some cases the vision is a long way away - i.e. I might see a tree that would make a perfect cascade but needs about 10 years of growth before it would be ready to move into a pot (because in my vision I imagine a thicker trunk). I might not want to undertake that project.

I agree with Gnome's points about species - for example you can do things with deciduous trees that you would never attempt with pines. I always push my deciduous trees hard before I put them in bonsai pots - for example I plane the bottoms of my trident maples to get the nebari to spread out and other trees would die if you did anything so dramatic.

I agree about nursery pots to bonsai pots being tough. I typically don't make the transition in one shot - I go from growing pot/nursery pot to oversize bonsai pot to final bonsai pot (at least a year between each step). Read up on transplanting (there have been two entire issues of Bonsai Today magazine dedicated to that single subject) and pay a lot of attention to watering and light exposure. I have transplanted huge junipers in my yard before and they will always die if I don't wrap them in burlap and keep them constantly watered for at least 6 months until I start to see new buds popping.
 

Nigel Black

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Thanks gents,

That helps some. Seedlings and cuttings are a little more clear cut. But nursery material is a real headache. I've got hundreds of containerized plants that were nursery stock that are in various states of what can only be loosely called "training". Some are top pruned with still root-bound root balls, others are top and bottom pruned. I suppose the real sticking point is this: If I top and bottom prune, and then put into a training pot I then fore go (sp?) the advantage of having a heavy root system in place to push the development of the plant. Do I choose to slow the plant down to put it in training, or do I choose training with a reduced growth rate?

The confusion for me is partly a result of having a strictly horticultural background, and all of the bonsai books that show plants being top and bottom pruned and put into a training pot, which seems to be an over simplification for the sake of getting an idea across.

Nigel
 

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Based on what you are describing, I think it comes down to the maturity of the starting material. Keeping a tree in a growing pot (or even in the soil) accelerates growth. When you are in the phases of tree development where you are working on the roots or the trunk (especially if you are cutting a tree back and have large scars to heal) the process will be accelerated by leaving the tree in a growing pot (or in the ground). Once you move to branches and ramification work, you are going to be more interested in SLOWING growth to get compact leaves and branches - then you want to move to a pot. Many books and magazine articles start off with good pre-bonsai materials - trees with good roots and trunks. Only in a few magazine articles do they show how to rapidly grow a trunk or a nebari (for example rapid development of trident maples) - and all of these articles show leaving the trees in big grow-out containers.
 

Nigel Black

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BN,

I think you are right on the point about the maturity of the starting material.
I've been re-reviewing the basics. I have gotten a bit sideways over the fact
that a lot of my material have develop overly large needles and leaves as a result
of top pruning having been greater than root pruning. Obviously it's easier to prune the top
of a plant more heavily without losing the plant than it is to prune the roots without a fatal
result. Yet there is nothing else for it at the stage of much of my material.

This is where patience enters the equation.

Nigel
 

Aloha31520

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Beginnings

I've probably been doing Bonsai since the 60's and my best experience was belonging to the Portland (OR) Bonsai Society. A wealth of experience and generosity. And books, books, books.
Unfortunately when I left Oregon in 2003 I had to divest myself of all my trees. Now living in an apt. I have no place to work. That's why I hang around these bonsai groups. Thanks for this one.
Old Bob
 

Gnome

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Nigel;

I was reading a couple of my favorite bonsai books and I would like to recommend them. They are Bonsai Techniques I & II by John Yoshio Naka. These are not widely available books, but if you can find copies they are priceless. The best way to describe them would be to say they are John Naka's lifetime series of notes from collecting, training, and keeping bonsai. John Naka is considered the father of American Bonsai, and the bonsai display area for the national bonsai collection at the national Arboretum is named after him. This morning I went to refer to a section on black pines, and I found myself reading through the book. It has extensive sections on training from naturally collected and nursery materials, including the advantages of keeping stock in the ground, putting it in a pot, etc. The books are really almost workbooks - they are extensively illustrated with almost more photos than words. I would highly recommend them.

- Greg
 

Vance Wood

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I think the books and publications are the best place for you to really get your head around the subject. A lot of the problems you have mentioned are due to timing and misinformation. Very often experienced horticulturalist have problems doing bonsai because much of what is done in bonsai seems contrary to what one learns just doing landscape material.

You are right about one thing, nursery material is a world unto itself in my opinion, and it is grossly misunderstood. The biggest problem is the root systems you are likely to encounter. To date this issue is not dealt with in any cogent way in any book I know of. Volumes can be found about collecting natural dwarfs and their cultivation, seedlings and their cultivation and general training techniques. However; when it comes to nursery stock there is a giant void dealing with the root systems this kind of material offers up to the bonsaiist attempting to utilize this kind of material. Lip service is paid the nursery tree just because it is becoming more the prime source for material in many locations, but for the most part what to do with it and how to reduce down a root system is an exercise in avoidence.
 
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Gnome

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Vance,

I agree that nursery material can sometimes offer difficulty. A few years ago I purchased two Azaleas that had been hanging around the nursery for a while. I saw potential trunk lines in both, unlike most Azaleas I have seen which often seem to be a mass of small shoots. Unfortunately when I began to re-pot them I found that they had been left in their previous pots far too long and had a square knot of roots that were very difficult to work with. I had a similar experience with two Eastern White Pines that I purchased. This was before I learned that they are not among the better species to work.

On the other hand I have purchased a Acer palmatum that had the beginnings of a perfectly radial nebari already formed, perhaps it was from a cutting as I could locate no graft. I wonder if certain species are more susceptible to these issues than others or is it simply chance?

Norm
 

Nigel Black

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Greg,

Thanks for the reply. I actually have both of those titles as well as many others
too numerous to mention.

Books might be part of the problem. Rarely if ever is the issue of how to handle
heavily rooted to root-bound nursery material ever addressed. This is my only real
hang-up. I can and have successfully worked seedlings and rooted cuttings. Even
young nursery material is not an issue. It's what to do and when to do it in regard to
mature and root bound nursery stock that is killing me. Or those plants rather. I lost two twelve
year old Chamcyparis thyoides 'glauca pendula' after working the tops, because I apparently
did too much too quickly when I worked on the root system. Same with several Picea glauca 'densata' I was given. It really hurt to lose plants that old and slow growing.

Oi.

And Vance is dead on about horticulturists. Having a degree and ten years nursery experience
has only helped with bonsai so much. It took a few years just to get my mind around the bonsai approach to pruning which is largely (although not entirely) contrary to what I was trained to do as a horticulturist. And it is still weird to switch modes when pruning plants that are not being 'bonsaied'. There are many other examples of this I can think of, this is just one.

Nigel
 
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