The Three Serpents

brewmeister83

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One of the tree species I've always wanted in my collection has been a burning bush/winged spindle (Euonymous alatus) because of their amazing fall display of bright salmon red to crimson leaves. I've always kept my eye out for one with a decent trunk, but being an understory plant the majority I've come across in the woods have been uninspiring, with fairly vertical, fairly straight branching with little to no character. As much as I wanted one to work on, I've always told myself to wait for one that would really catch my eye, passing by hundred if not thousands and not collecting one... until this spring.

I first discovered this tree about 8 months back on a piece of property my family had purchased earlier in 2017. At first, I didn't recognize it as a burning bush, because I'd never seen one with a trunk this big before! By my estimate, the tree had been planted back in the 60's or 70's given its size and the age of the house it was planted in front of. There were some flaws to the branching, a little bit of reverse taper here and there, and a couple nasty chainsaw cuts from where the previous homeowner had tried to prune it to make it presentable. But all things considered, as ugly and rough as it was, I saw enough potential to make me come back in the spring to collect it. So there I was, collecting my first and possibly only burning bush in the first week of May. The buds on the tree were just starting to extend, so even though I should have probably dug back in mid to late April (I was busy moving at that time and couldn't go out collecting), I knew this plant had a very good chance of surviving given that it is a tenaciously tough species around here.

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I started by cutting off the upper branching of this 5-6 meter monster, leaving enough length to help with leverage when I finally rocked the tree out of its hole (this length would later be reduced upon potting up). Grabbing my trusty all steel trenching shovel, I put my foot to it and went to drive it into the ground. *CLANK* I hit my first rock on the first shovel full. It was big, but luckily small enough I could lever it out with the shovel and roll it to the side. About an hour later (and no more big rocks luckily), I had finished the initial cutting-in around the entire tree and had severed many large roots radiating out from the trunk giving me a good indication as to the state of the still concealed nebari.
 

brewmeister83

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I then spent the next few hours widening and deepening the trench and finally undercutting to the center of the newly created rootball. Luckily the tree was growing in a relatively thin layer of organic soil with only a couple fist-sized rocks laying on top of a dense clay and silt subsoil. This caused the majority of the roots to grow radially outward from the trunk, and I only had to sever a few small downward roots before I could rock the tree free of its hole. From what I could see, I had lucked out with a complete nebari of radialy spread roots around the entire trunk! How pretty that nebari was still remained to be seen until I could get the tree back home and get the roots washed out and free of soil.

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brewmeister83

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It always surprises me how much smaller a tree looks in the landscape until you actually have to move it. After pulling it from its hole with a winch hooked to an adjacent hemlock tree, I realized there was no way it was fitting in my little Toyota. A quick call to my uncle, and I covered the roots with wet towels and raced to his house and back with a borrowed truck. From there the tree was winched up a makeshift ramp into the bed and the trunk wrapped in a blanket and tied into place so it couldn't move and was protected on the trip to my apartment.

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Upon arriving, it was hefted down into a wheelbarrow and carefully brought into the back yard where I started the process of cleaning the compacted loam and silt out of the roots. The whole process took a few hours, but at the end I was left with a nice flat root pad and a great view of the nebari I had not seen until this point. It will take several years to raise it in the pot so it is all visible, but my concern at this point was to make sure I could get all the roots covered so they would issue out new feeder tips from the cut ends and not die back.
 

brewmeister83

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At this point I selected the front and cut off all the excess on the upper branches, eliminating complete vertical, damaged, and unsightly branching that would never be used in the final design (if anyone wants to know my rationale for selecting the front I did I will be more than happy to explain it in a separate post). After wrapping the nebari in wet towels and rags, and evening fast approaching, I got to building the box this monster would be housed it for the next few years while it recovered and grew. I finally settled on a dimension of 3x4' made with scrap 1x8, with 1x2 bracing underneath the hardware cloth bottom (I like to use hardware cloth and/or screen to allow excellent drainage and aeration of the soil mass). After placing and wiring the tree into the box, and mixing up several buckets of a course mix of 75% inorganic/25% organic substrate, I had the tree nestled into its new home by 12:30 AM and was thoroughly watering the substrate till it ran clear. Total amount of substrate I estimated to be 7-7.5 cubic feet.

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brewmeister83

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Since the weather for the next couple weeks was forecast to be fairly sunny and dry with lower relative humidity, I went out the next morning and covered the tree with a clear plastic bag to increase humidity and help with bud formation. Since higher humidity and stagnant air can cause mold/fungal issues the trunk was sprayed down with a mild peroxide and water mixture and was observed on a regular basis to check for signs of disease.

What follows is a time table of the tree's recovery:

May 5th/6th - Tree collected, potted, and covered with humidity tent. Watered only as needed and given weekly 1/2 strength doses of fertilizer and root stimulant.

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May 11th - first signs of budding on trunk. Humidity tent removed, but trunk watered/misted 2-3 times daily to keep moisture levels high for bud formation.

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May 26th - all three trunks show very good to excellent bud back, trunk misting stopped at this point do to increase in storms/humid weather for fear of causing fungal issues on leaves.

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June 26th - all trunks sport 6-10" extensions of branches, multiple branches in each area allowing for greater choice of branch selection. Tree has survived collection and is growing well.

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There's a few spots on the front two trunks where no buds appeared, but that can be remedied in the future with thread grafting. All in all, I am pleased with the tree's progress so far.
 

brewmeister83

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If anyone is wondering where I got the name "The Tree Serpents" it has to do with a particular root feature combined with the tree trunks. When I first cleaned the roots out I noticed this large group of three roots that crossed over each other, you can see it easily in this pic:

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Initially, I thought about cutting it off and turning it into uro because it sat higher than the rest of the nebari and as a general rule, crossing roots are considered an ugly no-no in bonsai. The only reason I didn't cut it at the time was because there were many fine feeder roots coming from these three main roots and I felt for the time being it would be better for the tree's recovery. I could always go back and cut them later on after the tree had recovered. But the more I looked at them, the more I came to like their shape and contour as they lead up to the trunk, it visually gives all the branches an "S" movement when followed with the eye and grounds them to the soil surface instead of a vertical trunk base just shooting upwards, and ends up unifying them by giving each a visually similar movement. At least, that's how my eye interprets it. That, and it's a piece of wild material - wild trees usually have some wonky stuff that you have to bend the rules for anyway and it's chalked up to "having natural character"

As far as what this has to do with the name - I usually don't name my trees as I think it's rather presumptuous to name a piece of pre-bonsai stock. But the other day I was looking at this tree, and the twisted roots and tall trunks reminded me of how some snake species fight in the wild - coiled intertwined tails with necks reaching skyward:

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So in my mind, "The Three Serpents" just stuck, and it's now how I think of the tree every time I see it. I ran the name through google translate and it came up with 三人の蛇 (San-Ri no Hebi) Not sure how accurate that is, but it has a nice ring to it.
 

River's Edge

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Great job of writing up your collection process! tree looks to have a lot of potential. Glad it was you doing the work, the scale is beyond my energy levels these days.
Wishing the best as it moves forward!
 

brewmeister83

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Glad it was you doing the work, the scale is beyond my energy levels these days.
Wishing the best as it moves forward!
Thanks! I'll admit, I almost bit off more than I could chew with this one, Probably the only plant I'll ever collect this big - unless I come across something even better, but what are the chances of that in Northwest CT?. I know this is the Dai/Omono sub-forum, but in all honesty, this thing's going to end up as a Hachi-uye in all likelyhood! I currently have to use a pallet jack to lift and turn it so it gets decent sun exposure. Don't think they make bonsai turntables for pots this size o_O
 

jeanluc83

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Great job!

I have one that I've been working on for about 5 seasons now and I really like the species. Despite only having a single flush of growth I find that they develop rather quickly. The seasonal growth is very predictable and easy to work with.

The only thing I might have done is to cut back the big roots by another 25% or so. You got lots of fine roots and the big ones are not going to do anything for you other than keep it from fitting in a pot later on. But that can be done at the first repot.

Don't think they make bonsai turntables for pots this size o_O
I have even considered making a heavy duty turn table from a used car wheel bearing. I just haven't gotten around to it.
 

brewmeister83

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Out of curiosity, what is your inorganic?
Espoma soil perfector - expanded shale or slate IIRC - can get as many bags of it I want at the nursery 5 min up the road. Not super great on water retention or CEC, but that's what the organic (composted pine bark) is for. The vast majority of the particle size is in the 1/8-3/8" range, and about 2/3 to 3/4 of that falls within the 1/8-1/4" range. Takes no time to sift it all out and rinse it all down when less than a tenth of the bag is smaller than 1/8". Drains well and because of the bark I only have to water this behemoth about once a day, maybe twice if if it gets above 90F. Currently have a JWP in a 95/5% mix and it's loving it, holds just enough water to keep the roots moist in a terra cotta training pot, but drains so well the roots are never soggy.
 

jeanluc83

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Thanks, I'm always on the lookout for a good substrate that is cheep and available in my area. I have been wanting to try expanded shale for a while. There is another brand called Norlite but I don't know if they deal in small quantities.

A few years ago I picked up some bags of Dry Stall. It was good stuff but I have been told that it is not too easy get anymore.
 

brewmeister83

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Thanks, I'm always on the lookout for a good substrate that is cheep and available in my area. I have been wanting to try expanded shale for a while. There is another brand called Norlite but I don't know if they deal in small quantities.

A few years ago I picked up some bags of Dry Stall. It was good stuff but I have been told that it is not too easy get anymore.
Unfortunately the Espoma stuff is certified for organic gardening, so it's a little more than I would like. Been thinking of cutting it with some DE to offset costs. If it works real well I may try to find a non-organic certified version somewhere just so I'm not paying more for the word "organic" on a bag of rock. I looked for dry stall as well since I've wanted to incorporate pumice into my mix, local Agways around here used to carry it but have stopped - even talked to one guy about special ordering it but was told they don't even have it in the distribution centers for this region. IIRC it was around the same time all the west coast bonsai people started extolling its virtues for their collected pines and junipers, coincidence perhaps?

where exactly are you in CT Jeanluc? Litchfield Co., Fairfield, Hartford?
 
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jason biggs

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Excellent!! looks like one hell of a job you undertook there.
Probably left some of your dna in that hole... Chiropractor visit soon??
Those mambas are not fighting - they are romantically involved :)
 

brewmeister83

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Excellent!! looks like one hell of a job you undertook there.
Probably left some of your dna in that hole... Chiropractor visit soon??
Those mambas are not fighting - they are romantically involved :)

Nice, so I've got a love triangle going on here! Makes sense, this was the oldest/biggest plant on the property, the woodlands surrounding it was full of their "offspring" - guess they've been keeping "busy" over the last 40 years or so - giggidy! ;)

Did leave a little DNA in that hole: handle on my small hand spade broke halfway through undercutting the rootball, so I had to use my hands for the majority of excavation after that. The tree was already halfway out of the ground, and I wasn't about to stop because a tool failed me. Ended up ripping a good part of the nail off a couple fingers, several minor lacerations from sharp rocks in the soil, and to add insult to injury the first cut I made with a brand-new pruning saw nicked my thumb so I couldn't even grip with full strength in my dominant hand without fear of splitting the skin - once it got enough dirt ground into it it stopped bleeding - nature's band-aid. Took about 3-4 weeks for my hand to go back to normal after all that.

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Whole thing was the very deffinition of "an artist suffering for their art" or maybe just "stubborn stupidity," can't decide which at the moment :rolleyes:
But there's an old saying - "a boy's not a man 'till he's covered in mud, blood, sweat and tears" I definitely qualified for that on that day ;)
 

SU2

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Awesome job, and good-looking stock I think that can come out reallly nice!! Any updates? Imagine it's bushed-out quite well in the 5wks since that last pic ;D Am curious, how long do you let the shoots grow before you start thinning them (or do you just let each trunk get 20+ shoots if it wants?)

I love collecting stuff like this, have never found something so 'fit', the taper in that, both the material and your chosen trunk-line, should make for a pretty great tree in reasonable time if you grow it right (and based on substrate/box it seems there's no worries there!) When would you start intervening and 'adjusting' shoots on something like this (wiring, guy wires, weights...I use zip-ties on stuff that grows too-fast to make wiring practical!!) And re that box...I hope that bottom holds strong! Would suck to find unexpected tap-roots (sorry if you put something under the box to prevent that that I missed!) after thinking it were contained, and can't imagine that can be moved now that it's full (fwiw, my first large collection went into a similar setup, only it didn't even have a bottom just window-screen along the ground with 2" of lava rock beneath the substrate, it packed that box in the first year but escaped-root issues were very minimal :) )

Thanks for posting, am jealous that's great stock that will be a good specimen someday, was nice getting to see the details!!
 
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