Deadwood confusion

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I have done some research on preserving deadwood on deciduous trees, and I'm seeing conflicting advice (no big surprise there). On the one hand, some folks seem to think that trees naturally protect themselves from truly "dead" deadwood by creating a barrier between the dead tissue and living tissue. This seems right to me. On the other hand, I have read that, unless the truly "dead" deadwood is removed, it will continue to infect the living tissue of the tree. This seems wrong to me.

This discrepancy would not pose a problem except for the fact that people in the second camp suggest applying a wood hardener to preserve the truly "dead" deadwood and prevent it from continuing to rot the living tissue. By contrast, if the people in the first camp are right, then wood hardener would seem superfluous because the living tissue would already protect itself from further rot, allowing the deadwood to naturally slough off the tree over time. Yet, people in the first camp still routinely advise applying wood hardener, in apparent contradiction to their own views on how tree chemistry works.

In addition, the first camp folks, if correct, would also seem to caution against carving or otherwise removing the deadwood because doing so (i.e., with a carving tool like a Dremel, say) would risk penetrating the natural barrier created by the tree to protect it from the rotting parts of the tree. Thus, carving out the deadwood would actually invite the very rot that, according to first camp folks, does not occur because of the natural barrier.

Thoughts on any of this? Am I just way off the mark? Is carving deadwood (1) a risk to the natural barrier between living and dead issue that, nonetheless, (2) is worth it because it improves the aesthetic of tree, despite the fact that (3) such carving necessitates the use of a wood hardener that would not otherwise be required because of the previously mentioned natural barrier?

Thanks for any input!
 

Wires_Guy_wires

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All can be true, depending on the type of tree. Some trees have super dense wood that forms a good barrier. Others have weaker wood that infects easily and soaks up a lot of moisture, creating the perfect breeding ground for fungi and bacteria.
Over time, all wood becomes weak.
It also depends on what's feeding off of that deadwood, some fungi are solely degenerators, in the sense that they don't attack or infect living wood. Other fungi do both, and some others only attack living wood.

So all things considered, I go with "do whatever floats your boat and accept the consequences as being part of the design or a reason why you'd practice a certain technique of preservation or carving.".
 

RKMcGinnis

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Not to get off topic but I’ve seen chicken of the woods mushroom growing on dead tissue of a living tree. I didn’t get it at first but then realized that part of the hallowing trunk was dead. That tree is living very well for the past five years. But also the mycelium of that mushroom also in a way has protected it from other invading microbes. Kind of cool. I would think that fearing the tree with deadwood well would help it provide a better barrier as well. If the tree isn’t doing so well I could see it becoming a problem.
 

rockm

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The issue isn't "infecting" living tissue, it is deadwood drawing in moisture into the interior of the tree's unexposed wood, setting it up for rot. Trees compartmentalize damage, that is they wall off injured tissue with new living tissue. That is what a callus is. There is a "callus ring" at the base of branches that is there to push new tissue if the branch is broken off.

The problem with that system is that exposed wood on trunks, branch stubs. etc. can be left exposed for a very long time--that callus ring can push new tissue only so far each year. If a branch stub or remnant is ten feet long--that callus won't ever heal the wound. The branch will rot off before that happens. Along the way the interior of that dead stub is a pathway into the tree's trunk, which is covered by living tissue. That means the moisture can cause interior rot to set in. SAme for deciduous bonsai.

Deciduous trees live in more humid air and less sun than those high altitude conifers that have massive amounts of deadwood. Sunlight at 8,000 feet is EXTREMELY strong, compared to air in the valley below which is filtered by a deep column of air, dust, etc. High intensity sunlight kills bacteria, etc. effectively. Alpine conifers' wood also has natural resin that protects it.

Most deciduous species grow in relative lowlands that get less intense sunlight and are more humid. Their wood rots fast and falls off quickly. Oak and some other species with extremely dense wood, like boxwood, can hold onto dead branches for hundreds of years, but that's because their wood is tough. Most deciduous species wood isn't durable for very long period. It's not really natural for most deciduous trees to have it...

Wood hardener temporarily slows the rot process. Eventually the wood beneath rots away, sometimes from behind the shell of wood hardener. Anyone who thinks wood hardener will preserve deciduous deadwood for more than a few years is in a fantasy world...

I'm not against deciduous trees having deadwood, but it is a temporary feature, not a permanent one as it is for conifers. Additionally, there is a danger of it becoming a problem for deciduous trees.
 

BrianBay9

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I'm not against deciduous trees having deadwood, but it is a temporary feature, not a permanent one as it is for conifers. Additionally, there is a danger of it becoming a problem for deciduous trees.

Unless of course you're going for a hollow-trunk deciduous bonsai. Then, rot away!
 

rockm

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Unless of course you're going for a hollow-trunk deciduous bonsai. Then, rot away
I've heard Japanese-trained bonsai instructors here in the U.S. say that hollowing out the trunk of deciduous bonsai is a death sentence. Sets up a lot of problems, rot from the interior. less cold hardiness. harbor for insects, etc. This person said his teachers in Japan NEVER hollowed out deciduous trees and shook their heads at pics of such...
 
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Thanks, all. Makes sense.

I guess I'm just nervous to remove deadwood. I'm imagining the deadwood on the photo below like plaque on a tooth. Best to get rid of it to prevent it from impacting the healthy part of the tree (assuming, as stated above, that if certain conditions are met the deadwood will, indeed, compromise the barrier between dead/living tissue).

Unless a personal is especially careful in its removal, though, it seems he/she threatens to remove more than the deadwood, actually cutting into the living tissue (or tooth, by analogy), which then risks even more infection down the road.

216256065_355425162879015_3064806361481094130_n.jpg
 

Forsoothe!

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Coating the deadwood doesn't protect the live wood from becoming "infected", it maintains the surface of the dead wood so that it doesn't continue to dry out and slough off and/or become infiltrated by organisms that eat dead wood. "Infected" is an inappropriate word in this context because dead wood can't become "infected" and the existing deadwood didn't necessarily die of disease. Most deadwood is the result of mechanical damage from storms, etc. Any exposed wood will dry out, and as it wears away via weather and organisms, et al, the wood deeper in the limb will dry out, too, but as long as there is some thickness of deadwood, the inner wood is protected from drying out. The exact thickness being an X factor. (Just another variable along with weather, species, time, etc.)
 

Shibui

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Trees can survive happily for many years even when completely hollow. The interior wood of trees does little for the living tree as all the life processes occur in the layers close to the bark.
Rot will continue to affect wood exposed to all the necessary elements but plants are usually able to prevent that rot moving to the living sections nearby so while the heartwood may rot the outer living section should continue to grow.

I don't think that wood preservers prevent decay from moving to live parts of the tree because the tree does that. Preservers just maintain the dead wood for longer.

Debate about dead wood on deciduous is another kettle entirely. Personally I see no reason for prohibiting it. It may not be popular for Japanese bonsai but bonsai has, and should, evolved over time. There are plenty of great examples of natural deciduous trees with dead wood and hollows and some great trees with these features bonsai coming out of Europe as growers gain the confidence to look outside previous accepted norms and to actually really look at their native species.
 

Leo in N E Illinois

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@One First Matter All - you are asking about the wrong product for your situation, which has taken you down a rabbit hole. That stump you imaged can be cut at a diagonal, carved a little and the wound can be healed over by your tree. (I forget what species it is, elm?) If you handle the wound correctly you will have NO DEADWOOD. Search "wound care" and how to cut a large diameter branch to heal smoothly.

Now if you want a deadwood feature, that is fine too.
Deadwood can be a design element, it can look great for quite a long while. Most of us can't keep a tree alive long enough for "rot from the inside out" to actually kill a tree. It takes multiple decades. I'm in my sixties, even if I want to I doubt I can live long enough for an elm the size of one the OP imaged to "rot from the inside out".

There are also different products to use on deadwood. Wood hardener is only the "last resort" not the first product to reach for.

Wood Preservatives - these are products like lime-sulfur. These products are used on wood that is largely intact. The lime-sulfur kills fungi and bleaches the wood to a light color. Used on newly created deadwood lime-sulfur can prevent rot fungi from getting a foothold for decades. Apply at least once every other year. For softer wood, can be applied as much as once every 6 months.

Wood Restorers - these are products like boiled linseed oil. Tung oil, camellia oil, essentially any oil a furniture restorer would use to bring out the shine on a fine piece of cabinetwork. Penetrol is a brand of penetrating oil for preserving outdoor wood of a house. This product will penetrate quite deep. For bonsai Linseed oil is good enough. For all bonsai boiled linseed oil and for pines a solution of pine pitch dissolved in a small amount turpentine, are used to restore the natural resin content to deadwood. Linseed oil can be used on any species of tree, has no real color. Coat the wood, let soak in. If the wood looks dry in 24 hours apply another coat. If wood looks "wet" after 24 hours, you've applied enough, in a couple days the wood will look dry and natural again. This resin, or oil content makes the wood water resistant an discourages rot. Apply in alternating years with lime sulfur. Don't apply if lime sulfur was used less than 6 months previous. Oil or resin can keep deadwood from becoming brittle. Linseed oil is available from any paint department of a home depot.

Wood Hardeners - these are really intended for use only AFTER rot has caused the wood to get soft. They are only used if the deadwood is a part of a design. If the deadwood is not important to the design of the tree, you are better off removing the soft wood, down to good wood and treat the good deadwood with lime sulfur to kill the rot fungi. Wood hardeners essentially create a shell of plastic. This can be used to keep a deadwood feature "a little while longer", maybe 5 years, maybe a decade, but eventually the rot will have to be cleared out and the tree redesigned without that particular deadwood feature.

Hope this clears up the issue.

You really need to be looking at how to cut a branch to allow it to heal over.
 
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That stump you imaged can be cut at a diagonal, carved a little and the wound can be healed over by your tree.

Thanks, @Leo in N E Illinois ! Initially, I considered cutting the stump at a diagonal, as you suggest, but I hesitated because the stump's diameter is pretty wide, even at the top (probably 3-4 inches). Do you think a diagonal cut across such a large surface area would heal before the heartwood begins to decay? I figure the exposed heartwood would begin to decay rather quickly, leaving me in the same predicament, but minus some tree height.

Also, the deadwood currently on the tree extends from the top of the stump and down about 7-8 inches from dieback. Will similar dieback occur if I create a diagonal chop?
 

Leo in N E Illinois

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If you have dieback down 7 or 8 inches, to get the tree to heal over, you need to cut that all off.

With out seeing the tree in person, I really can not tell you how to handle it. I suggest you get some hands on help. Get this tree to a bonsai club meeting, see what they say. Or you can ask one of the bonsai professionals, they can help. They will be up front, if they want to charge for their time or not. Most will give at least a brief lesson without charge. For the retail shops like Hidden Gardens, if you buy something, supplies, pots, potting media, whatever, chances are very good that they will walk you through what needs to be done without charge.

You are in Indiana. If you are in northern Indiana, near Gary, take your tree over to Hidden Gardens, Jeff or one of his employees look at it. They could give to guidance how to handle it. Willowbrook is the southwest suburbs of Chicago, its less than an hour drive from Gary.


If you are in the Indianapolis area there is an active bonsai club. Bogan's bonsai, again you can contact them. Or you can bring the tree to a Indianapolis club meeting and see what they suggest.

- Indianapolis Bonsai Club


Also

If you are in southern Indiana there is an active bonsai scene in Louisville KY.

 

Forsoothe!

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While you're at it, there's big doin's at Wellfield Gardens on the 31st.
 

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