My First Bonsai (Father's Day 2018) - Eastern Red Cedar - Comments?

Matt Jones

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Hi all,

For Father's Day, everyone left me alone (just the way I like it!) so I thought I would try a first bonsai. This is my first post here, so I hope the pix come out ok.

Yes, yes, I know that some here really don't like Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) as a bonsai. Nonetheless, this what I did so far.

Any comments/criticisms are welcome.

Thanks,

Matt


1. Tree from a local nursery ($17). I'm guessing about 2 yrs old, because the main trunk is about 3/4" thick.

2. The trunk has a nice curve as it leaves the roots, which I will attempt to exploit later.

3. After pruning/trimming, before wiring/shaping. I'm trimming small branch sprouts 1/3 of the way up the trunk. Also trimming lower sprouts on all branches so that the remaining sprouts/leaves are generally pointing upwards. I'm also cutting off numerous branches to provide a "spiral staircase" look to the final tree. I also finger-pinch some younger distal shoots to create a taper from bottom to top, and to encourage bushier future growth closer to the trunk.

4 & 5. Wiring the trunk. Begin wiring and shaping by anchoring two 3.5 mm wires deep into the soil near the roots, following the angle of the trunk. Wire the trunk in a spiral, using two parallel wires because I know I want to create strong bends in the straight trunk, so I need double wires to give strength that will hold the desired bended shape until the tree grows into that shape.

6 & 7. The final shaped tree after bending the wired trunk, viewed from the front of the final display angle. The trunk starts from the roots at an angle toward the back, then spirals gently around to the front, finally straightening to vertical. The idea is to tell the story that this"ancient" tree has survived a lot of shifting ground (angle of initial trunk), wind and storms (twisting midtrunk and sparse branches and foliage) but finally reached equilibrium with its environment and found the sun by stretching above the surrounding canopy (straight vertical upper segment).

Next steps:
- I watered it mildly after repotting in the original pot with the original soil. Wanna let it sit and recover for a month or so.
- But meanwhile (tomorrow?) use some sealant to seal the many wounds where I removed branches. I also did a little damage to a few small sections of the bark, exposing the cambium, during wiring (but not all the way around, thankfully) so I need to seal these bits too.
- Use thin wire to shape the direction of some lower branches and provide more "motion".
- Repot into a decent flat shallow bonsai pot with bonsai soil mix, arrange the root display as desired, secure it to the pot with wire, fertilize, etc.

The whole process only took about 1.5 hours. We'll see if it lives., and survives the winter (I live in Wisconsin, and plan to leave it outside during winter - any suggestions about protecting it from freezing/frost etc?).

I think the vertical segment at the top may be too tall, and am considering lopping it off about 1/5 down from the top. In fact, a jagged jin spire at the top could give the impression of a previous lightning-strike, and add more "ancient character". But I'll have to think about this over the coming months and years.

Thanks,

Matt
 

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AZbonsai

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Welcome to the site. Thats a lot of work for one day on these trees.
 

Matt Jones

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Thanks AZbonsai,

Anyone have any suggestions about the following:
- How long should I wait before repotting in a shallow bonsai pot?
- How long should I wait before lopping off the top (I think I've already decided to do this) and attempting to jin a spire? Is jin something that should not be attempted on a tree this young?
- Winter protection?

Thanks,

Matt
 

KiwiPlantGuy

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Thanks AZbonsai,

Anyone have any suggestions about the following:
- How long should I wait before repotting in a shallow bonsai pot?
- How long should I wait before lopping off the top (I think I've already decided to do this) and attempting to jin a spire? Is jin something that should not be attempted on a tree this young?
- Winter protection?

Thanks,

Matt
Hi Matt,
So you have shaped this nicely, so great start. Um, my thinking is that it seems like your tree has no trunk girth, so unless you grow this in ground, or large pot, you won’t get girth by chopping it. Even if you let all the branches grow for a year or three, you won’t achieve more than a stick with a few nice branches.
Sorry for being blunt, but doing a repot into bonsai soil mid summer or next spring, is only a tiny part of development, and a Jin would work after getting trunk girth achieved.
My 2 cents,
Charles
 

Matt Jones

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Hi Matt,
So you have shaped this nicely, so great start. Um, my thinking is that it seems like your tree has no trunk girth, so unless you grow this in ground, or large pot, you won’t get girth by chopping it. Even if you let all the branches grow for a year or three, you won’t achieve more than a stick with a few nice branches.
Sorry for being blunt, but doing a repot into bonsai soil mid summer or next spring, is only a tiny part of development, and a Jin would work after getting trunk girth achieved.
My 2 cents,
Charles
Hi Charles,

Thanks for your feedback. No worries about being blunt. I understand about the slim trunk girth, and needing to plant in the ground if I really want to develop girth. I've read many posts here saying similar things, although I would love it if someone could explain to me *why* ground planting gives more/faster girth. Is it just because you get deeper roots? Or is there something more magical about the earth? I'm not trying to get more girth by chopping or jinning, just trying to give it some more interesting shape and character. Given that this is my very first tree, I think I'll stay with the potting plan as is, just to see what will happen (plus, much less work). It'll be a useful learning experience for me to compare this first try with later efforts on different trees, perhaps some ground-planted ones. I know that this one will never be a show tree, but that's not my goal at present. Indeed, I'll be pretty chuffed if it survives till spring. And a "stick with a few nice branches" won't be the end of the world for me and my first bonsai. In twenty years I'll hopefully look at this one, still alive, and think "Aw, poor gal, so scrawny. But you were my *first* one, and I still love you!"

But to be clear: are you warning me to *not* try a jin without a much stronger trunk first?

Cheers,

Matt
 

K5ATG

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Trees that are planted in the ground can spread their roots out and can build a network of roots not possible in a pot or container . This allows them to bulk up faster.
 

KiwiPlantGuy

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Hi Charles,

Thanks for your feedback. No worries about being blunt. I understand about the slim trunk girth, and needing to plant in the ground if I really want to develop girth. I've read many posts here saying similar things, although I would love it if someone could explain to me *why* ground planting gives more/faster girth. Is it just because you get deeper roots? Or is there something more magical about the earth? I'm not trying to get more girth by chopping or jinning, just trying to give it some more interesting shape and character. Given that this is my very first tree, I think I'll stay with the potting plan as is, just to see what will happen (plus, much less work). It'll be a useful learning experience for me to compare this first try with later efforts on different trees, perhaps some ground-planted ones. I know that this one will never be a show tree, but that's not my goal at present. Indeed, I'll be pretty chuffed if it survives till spring. And a "stick with a few nice branches" won't be the end of the world for me and my first bonsai. In twenty years I'll hopefully look at this one, still alive, and think "Aw, poor gal, so scrawny. But you were my *first* one, and I still love you!"

But to be clear: are you warning me to *not* try a jin without a much stronger trunk first?

Cheers,

Matt
Hi Matt,
Re the jin. Let’s say you did the jin now, on a trunk girth of half inch. Then you let it grow freely on the ground for 5 years etc. Your girth gets better by say triple or bigger. The Jin of 1/2 inch never gets bigger, and maybe (I don’t know) the tree will engulf the wound (Jin) and disappears into insignificance.
So I have learnt this by others comments - to build girth on either deciduous or evergreen you let tree grow then chop, and do this 3 times, so your nice design won’t stay like this , as you had to chop to make a more realistic bonsai.
Hey, don’t doubt your own abilities and I am hoping that in 20 years time I will proud of my trees also. I am only 1 year in to this also. And, to kill many trees in your quest to understanding how, why etc, is what we all do from learning, and learning by your own experiences is way more concrete than a forum ( yes amazing website this is for info and learning ).
Charles

P.S. doing a Jin for practicing the procedure is another learning day.
 

Silentrunning

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Matt, you are likely going to get a large number of negative comments on ERC as bonsai. I am currently “wasting time” on about 50 of them. Most of them are planted in an old cow pasture bulking up the trunk. (I hope). Some are still out in the woods being tortured and others are being raised in pots to be living Christmas trees in a few years. It is true that there are a lot better candidates for bonsai than ERC, but don’t get discouraged. Bonsai is all about learning.
 

augustine

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Matt,
I think you did a great job, keep up the good work. I also like the idea of a deadwood top maybe you crush the top and pull the bark down with pliers BUT not this year. Leave it be the remainder of the season with plenty of sun, moderate amount of fertilizer and proper amount of water. You;ve done a lot of work, really too much in my opinion especially the out of season repotting. at a minimum a stressed tree is susceptible to disease and insect attack.

Repotting is best done earlier in the year, in my area it's the month of March. I would not repot the tree this year. (I'm not sure I would even do a full repot next year.)

Soil - you need a good permeable bonsai soil. The importance of good soil cannot be overemphasized.

Winter protection in WI? You definitely need it and I figure the best advice can be given by local bonsai growers - can you find a club?

Best regards,
 

coltranem

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Matt,
I am fairly new like yourself and the most important things is going out and doing. You will learn a lot more from this exercise than any YouTube video. Please consider taking classes and workshops too.

Now I don't know enough to tell you whether you removed too much or did too much work.

However given the current girth it seems your tree is too tall and the first branch is too far up the tree. Even the bends could be lower. The rule you will keep hearing is 6 to 1 on height to girth. On a learning tree you can probably go 12 to 1. So you are looking for a final height of 10 to 12 inches. This is something to think of next time and something to shoot for on this one in the future.
 

rockm

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Thanks AZbonsai,

Anyone have any suggestions about the following:
- How long should I wait before repotting in a shallow bonsai pot?
- How long should I wait before lopping off the top (I think I've already decided to do this) and attempting to jin a spire? Is jin something that should not be attempted on a tree this young?
- Winter protection?

Thanks,

Matt
Thanks AZbonsai,

Anyone have any suggestions about the following:
- How long should I wait before repotting in a shallow bonsai pot?
- How long should I wait before lopping off the top (I think I've already decided to do this) and attempting to jin a spire? Is jin something that should not be attempted on a tree this young?
- Winter protection?

Thanks,

Matt
You've been pretty aggressive in root and top pruning. You might as well lop off the top and create a jin now. It's not going to make much difference.

After that, I would simply leave this alone for a couple of years. I would also not get all that attached to it during that time. You've worked it pretty hard.

A shallow pot is a very very long way off for this tree--like five years. I would not do any more root work for at least a couple of years. Root pruning two years in a row can set a tree back severely--particularly an evergreen.
 

Vin

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I would say the tree is more like 5 or 6 years old. Even in the ground they won't bulk up that quickly. It took me 6 years to get mine in a shallow pot so don't be in a hurry. You did do a lot of work and shaped the trunk nicely. Let's hope it makes it.
 

Zach Smith

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Nothing wrong with practicing wiring on an ERC. In a couple of years it'll find its way to a neglected corner as you expand into more agreeable species. As someone else mentioned, ground growing thickens trunks faster because the roots can forage and the root system gets a lot bigger. But it will take at least three years to get strong growth on this specimen if you put it in the ground (first year sleeps, second year creeps, third year leaps). As a general rule.
 

River's Edge

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Matt,
I think you did a great job, keep up the good work. I also like the idea of a deadwood top maybe you crush the top and pull the bark down with pliers BUT not this year. Leave it be the remainder of the season with plenty of sun, moderate amount of fertilizer and proper amount of water. You;ve done a lot of work, really too much in my opinion especially the out of season repotting. at a minimum a stressed tree is susceptible to disease and insect attack.

Repotting is best done earlier in the year, in my area it's the month of March. I would not repot the tree this year. (I'm not sure I would even do a full repot next year.)

Soil - you need a good permeable bonsai soil. The importance of good soil cannot be overemphasized.

Winter protection in WI? You definitely need it and I figure the best advice can be given by local bonsai growers - can you find a club?

Best regards,
Find a local club, get a great reference book or two, continue to ask questions. But only ask if you want to learn and are prepared to listen. It is not necessary to repeat everyone else's mistakes.
Every time you sit down with a tree. Three questions, What should be done? When should it be done? Why am I doing it?
The reason i suggest the reference books is that they give you the overall so the bits and pieces fall into place. The club because local resources and climate are very important to Bonsai.
Two books i reccomend are David Degroot Principles of Design, and Peter Warren Bonsai. Both are more recent publications and have current information and advice.
 

TN_Jim

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Hey Matt,

I began last summer by wild collecting several of these. Like @Silentrunning, I still have several ( not ~50!!:cool:), have heard some folks call this sp. absolutely terrible bonsai material etc., and keep on pushing on with the ones (some with fantastic movement) that I have. While it may be a tricky or tough species, it is possible to make them into amazing trees, and it has been a great species to learn from.

However, I completely agree with the folks saying to slow down with it. You have pushed it hard out of the gate (I've done the same thing....and killed several). I would baby it as much as possible and overwinter it well...no more work at all till next year, and then only if it is very vigorous. Remember, these trees thrive in cedar glades (xeric) in virtually no soil, so with water less is definitely more with the soil mix it looks like you are working with.
 

rockm

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Hey Matt,

I began last summer by wild collecting several of these. Like @Silentrunning, I still have several ( not ~50!!:cool:), have heard some folks call this sp. absolutely terrible bonsai material etc., and keep on pushing on with the ones (some with fantastic movement) that I have. While it may be a tricky or tough species, it is possible to make them into amazing trees, and it has been a great species to learn from.

However, I completely agree with the folks saying to slow down with it. You have pushed it hard out of the gate (I've done the same thing....and killed several). I would baby it as much as possible and overwinter it well...no more work at all till next year, and then only if it is very vigorous. Remember, these trees thrive in cedar glades (xeric) in virtually no soil, so with water less is definitely more with the soil mix it looks like you are working with.
"While it may be a tricky or tough species, it is possible to make them into amazing trees..."

Not really. The vast VAST VAST majority of them are nothing special (show me eight amazing ERC bonsai...). The ugly truth is most are awful. They're not worth the time (and aren't really going to teach much of anything other than wiring) Other truly amazing species in the Southeast that are more easily collected and make excellent bonsai sit on the sidelines while you're wasting time with these. ;)
 

TN_Jim

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"While it may be a tricky or tough species, it is possible to make them into amazing trees..."

Not really. The vast VAST VAST majority of them are nothing special (show me eight amazing ERC bonsai...). The ugly truth is most are awful. They're not worth the time (and aren't really going to teach much of anything other than wiring) Other truly amazing species in the Southeast that are more easily collected and make excellent bonsai sit on the sidelines while you're wasting time with these. ;)
...well amazing may be a bit of a stretch, but there was that one!!!

to clarify, they have been good teachers in my first year...I'd say especially since they are so finicky...like starting running with weights on: keep it alive, what killed it, what killed it, what killed it, aah -its still alive, wiring, soil mixes, etc..

The thing is, at least for me, these are everywhere around me...throw a rock and you'll hit one. This, and because the ones I have collected having consistently been whacked back by the hwy dept = free and sustainable...good qualities in learning. While I have decided to stop collecting them completely, moving on to better species, i'm humbly keeping the ones I have with interesting trunks and troublesome foliage...even if hubris is feeding the white whaleo_O
 

rockm

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Sorry. I can never resist ribbing people about ERC. They CAN make good bonsai (if you graft shimpaku foliage to them--which kind of begs the question of why not just use the shimpaku ;-)), but mostly they're just confounding.
 

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The fact these along with a malus tree. One can deal with Apple cedar rust. It's a tree I want nothing to do with. Our local nursery won't even order them in. Because of all the Apple orchards around. They said they have not seen a case around these parts...but won't sell them for the very threat it can cause. But it's more than just Apple trees susceptible...quince and such as well. So be diligent on proactive treatment If you have any on your bench which could become effected by both in close proximity.
 
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