Bonsai Bulletin
The President shows the Way

Colin Lewis returned to treat us to one of his "Do it now" evenings. On these evenings we all learn something and the audience enjoy watching some of our members being treated to a very objective critique of their tree before being handed to tools and told "Do it now!". This Presidential invitation (or is it a command) causes us to be bolder in working on the tree than we probably would have been left to our own devices.

First up was a Cedar which had originally been owned by the late Roy S. It had a thick lower trunk with a group of thin branches emerging in an upward direction. Colin admitted that there was no instant solution. Deciding that fewer branches and the introduction of different levels was needed Colin opted to start the work himself. The removal of two of the branches gave an improved look. Colin carried out a sample of the wiring that was needed to give the differing levels. "Do it now " time came and the owner had to continue wiring to the delight of the audience who clearly thought he had been let off lightly by Colin doing the pruning.

Colin reviewed two junipers. He selected a Juniper in a black plastic pot as being a representative of the number of Junipers that had been brought to the evening. The second tree was one he said he had seen before only to be told that he had originally owned it. In reviewing these trees Colin gave a lot of general advice about the development of Junipers. Not all Junipers can produce adult growth and San Juan is such a variety so the first job was to get rid of the adult growth and use juvenile growth since a mixture of both leads to a poor image. Speaking about the growth patterns of junipers, Colin explained that juvenile growth can be caused by poor roots in a pot, heavy feeding or drastic pruning.

Growth can appear from any break in a branch as long as there is growth further down the branch. Juvenile growth should be pinched in the same year as it is growing. If pinching is taken back into the previous years growth then that will die. The owner of this tree was able to go away from the meeting with some good advice. He spoke of two other types of growth. Dense growth has lots of shoots all growing at the same rate but extensive growth shoots need to be cut back individually or removed as they can quickly become dominant. After finger pruning a water spray avoids the tips of the foliage from turning brown. Cut marks on branches and trunk never heal properly or callus over. It is important to keep the underside of foliage pads clear because although the growth will not develop it will absorb energy which would be better going elsewhere.

Moving quickly on to the other trees brought by members, Colin gave suggestions for the development of each tree commenting that he did not want to come again to a meeting and see that the work had not been carried out. He picked out one tree that he considered was the best of the evening for potential. It was a lonicera nitada having a short thick trunk about four inches high and having four thinner vertical branches rising to a height of ten inches. Colin liked the thick shaped trunk with good all round surface roots. A "do it now" invitation and a saw was given to your Editor for him to reduce his tree to top of trunk level. This exercise was much appreciated by the audience who offered much advice from the back benches. A beneficial evening with something for everyone in the way of advice, encouragement and bonsai education from Colin with his usual style of plain speaking and good humour.


Privet makes a good bonsai
by Peter

I put down the bonsai magazine that I had been reading and reflected on the fact that most of the plants that seemed ideally suited to bonsai were not common in the United Kingdom. Why did we not have those plants that seemed to manufacture dense root balls like lightning, leaves that reduced in size very quickly, could stand any amount of pruning and still come up strong and healthy, would back bud to an embarrassing degree on old wood and survive cold and frost ?

I looked out of my window and saw the usual silver birch (ready to drop a branch at the most inopportune moment), boring old privets, cypress trees that grew faster than the eye could see and long and lanky Scots pines which look like literati from birth and would take years to develop foliage pads.

At this point I looked again at that boring old privet. It never complained if I cut it back and I had to admit that it had been neglected on more than one occasion as regards watering. I had not paid much attention to the size of the leaves but, after trimming, I recall that the replacements were indeed smaller than those that I had cut off. Over the years I had chopped off branches and in due course I would notice that a replacement had appeared near the original and what was more other branches had helped to thicken up what had started out as a pretty spindly hedge. I also recall with shame that on one occasion several root balls had been inadvertently left out during a period of severe frost and still they survived and burst into life in the following spring.

Feeling rather like a young man who had ignored for years the pimply girl next door with her hair in pigtails, her teeth in a brace and all wrapped up in her school uniform and suddenly found that she had turned into a most attractive lady I resolved to get better acquainted with Ligistrum ovalifolium.

The privet is one of the olive family and rather to my surprise I found that it was not an old inhabitant of these islands. They started coming into the UK in the middle of the last century from Japan and the Himalayan parts of China. in the 1850s. I was amazed when I started to look at the privet hedges that abound in the UK. Most of them were put in when the houses were first erected and as the average age of a house in England is over 50 years the privets are well established. Although no individual trunk is of large diameter the branches frequently intertwine at the base and over years meld together and can produce huge trunks similar in size to acer palmatum.

It is extremely unlikely that such a trunk will have branches in the appropriate place for a bonsai but the plant so readily produces adventitious buds that there is every likelihood of something appearing in the area desired. Given half a chance these buds take off and the thing to watch for then is that the branches are not left to grow straight and uninteresting. It pays to bend them when they are still young and whippy A glance at any suburban hedge will show you the effects of pruning regularly. The ramification on the top and front of such hedges is remarkable. In bonsai all we have to do is follow that example and nip off the tips of the shoots

The plant is classified as semi- evergreen so there is always foliage on the branches. Every spring the new growth will emerge where the old leaf was and the old leaf will fall off. If left to themselves the first set of leaves will be a bit too long but at every leaf axil you will be able to see the next bud already in position. I am still experimenting with leaf defoliation.

In May 1995 I finally plucked up sufficient courage to completely defoliate an entire shrub that I had planted in the garden. I had hoped that it would be like a maple and that the new leaves would appear fairly soon but I was to be disappointed The tree did not seem to like this treatment and it was not until October that the leaves were replaced. This summer of 1995 had been exceptionally hot and dry for the UK and it is possible that the plant may not have received as much moisture as it normally would have received. I shall try again another year and see what happens

The replacement leaves are very much smaller. The buds are opposite each other and this means that one of them must be rubbed out as soon as possible otherwise two branches will develop from the same spot and that will lead to an unsightly bulge and handlebar branches. The plant has a peculiar habit of producing a growth point right on top of the Junction of the Y fork formed where a secondary branch has turned off from the main branch or a tertiary branch from the secondary. As we do not want any growth going upwards (or downwards) these buds should be rubbed out. Some of the privets in my collection have a rather unique way of reacting to the first frost. Initially only one side of the leaf will turn brown . This means that for a short time I have two tone leaves with one half green and the other dark brown. Eventually the entire leaf will turn dark and stay on until the new growth in the spring.

When I dug up my first plants from a very neglected hedgerow few of them had a dense root mass, but by boring holes in the trunk at the places I wanted roots to appear and the application of hormone powder into the holes new roots appeared. Root growth was very quick and root pruning every year is desirable otherwise the plant will soon get pot bound. Another good feature is that the roots are not big and heavy. I also have been able to improve the appearance of a trunk with inverse taper by making a new rooting system much higher up the trunk. I cut round the entire trunk at the level I desired, hammered in wire, dusted with rooting powder and then covered the scar with earth. Within one season I had a mass of fine roots growing in the right place.

Editor : This article will be concluded in the next issue


Next Meeting. 10th April 2001.

Feeding, watering & growing medium
Reg Bolton

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Copyright & copy; 2001, Surrey Heath Bonsai Society.