August 2008 Newsletter
Bring Your Best Trees to August Meeting for Pre-Exhibition Review
By Ken Fuentes
This is an important month for the Conejo Valley Bonsai Society. Our Annual Bonsai Exhibition at the Gardens of the World is the best event available to us for marketing the club and adding new members. Our goal is to share this fantastic hobby with both the novice and the expert. But regardless of their level of expertise, in order for us to be successful, our final product must meet the highest standard in quality possible. That means that the trees that are approved for the show must be manicured, and the containers and top soil need to be properly cleaned.
It is easy for even the oldest established clubs to drop the ball in these areas, so it would be a great accomplishment for us to meet this standard. If we stay organized and have a plan, we can eliminate having trees brought to the show at the last minute that do not meet this standard. I would like all members who have material that they feel is worthy of putting in the show to make this a top priority this year.
Jim Barrett will be critiquing these trees in September, but I would like to take a first look at these trees at the August meeting so we have a 30-day head start on refining those trees that will make it into the show. Just as a reminder and to review what was discussed at our June meeting, any tree that has not been approved by the club will not be shown at the exhibition.
This will be our 5th Annual Bonsai Exhibition, and I encourage every member to participate to the best of your ability and make this our best show to date.
Demonstration for Education, Not To Show Off Skills
By David E. Whiteside
Somewhere along the bonsai demonstration circuit, Roy Nagatoshi had an insight: Doing demonstrations on his own material wasn’t very educational. People don’t come to such demonstrations so much to learn as “to see what this guy can do,” he says. So now he likes to use attendees’ trees to yield a better learning experience.
At the July Conejo Valley Bonsai Society meeting, Nagatoshi worked on five member-owned specimens: two boxwoods, two junipers, and one pine forest (see Photo 1, left).
First up was a large prostrate, or creeping, juniper (Juniperusprostrata) owned by Deborah (Debbie) Ervin, chair of our Program Committee. (Note: although Juniperus prostrata is well known by that name throughout the U.S. bonsai community and in home gardening centers, this name is not accepted in scientific circles. The accepted scientific name is Junipe-rus horizontalis.) “There is something wonderful in this tree,” Nagatoshi observed. “First the girth—it looks much older than it really is.” And in addition to the trunk’s diameter, he observed, it twists naturally so that it becomes the main component that moves from right to left, then back to the right and back to the left (see Photo 2, below).
Still, the tree can be made much better. For example, “the last part is too straight and has no taper,” Nagatoshi observed. In addition, he recommended replacing the natural creeping juniper foliage with shimpaku juniper foliage by grafting one shimpaku to the main branch and another to the apex. (Shimpa-ku is the common name in Japanese; the scientific name is Juniperus chinensis var. sargentii.)
Nagatoshi, who is a widely recognized expert both on shim-paku and on grafting, recommended a technique known as approach grafting. In this method, the scion (“a living shoot or twig of a plant used for grafting to a stock”—Encarta Dictionary) consists of an entire living plant complete with its root ball (often in a small, plastic pot). Once the graft has taken, the scion’s root ball is cut off.
To prepare Debbie’s prostrate juniper for this operation, Nagatoshi told her to let the tree grow wild into the coming winter to help it establish a good, strong root system. Then she should hard prune everything except the first branch and apex, which he said to leave unpruned to maintain their vigor.
The time to initiate the graft is in December or January, and great care must be taken to stabilize the scions and their root balls until the following October. At that time, the wires that have been holding the scions in place can be removed—but the root balls re-main attached. Those aren’t removed until the following March—more than a year after the graft was initiated.
Next, Nagatoshi turned his attention to another piece of material from Debbie’s collection, a forest grouping of Italian stone pine (Pi-nus pinea). This fast-growing pine is a popular living Christmas tree item, so it often is possible to buy them in the post-holiday sales season for very few dollars, Nagatoshi explained (and Debbie con-firmed).
Nagatoshi’s take on the forest planting was that it had become too overgrown, especially the apexes — perhaps the downside of this fast growing cies. The growth tends to reduce trunk per while also weakening lower branches. He immediately dead-headed all the
tops and the long branches (see Photo 3, page 3). To help regain control over this group’s development, he advised Debbie that she could prune again when the weather cools off this fall, perhaps as early as October. He told her to cut the branches back to short shoots about ¼ inch to ½ inch in length with a few needles; normally this would be done in late December or early January, but this is a special situation so he suggested doing it sooner.
Now our demonstrator turned his attention to a pair of Japanese boxwoods (Buxusmicrophylla), also known as Littleleaf boxwood. These trees were familiar to some members—they were collected in February 2007 by Shig Hayashi during a CVBS trip to collect ma-terial from an area of the Oaks Mall’s landscaping that mall managers were planning to remove in preparation for a major expansion. They granted us permission to collect anything we wanted from the area slated for construction.
First, Nagatoshi examined the larger of Shig’s two boxes, which he observed has a wonderful base that splits into two major trunks low enough that it can be developed as a twin-trunk bonsai (see Photo 4, page 3). He pointed out that each trunk then splits into multiple branches, so to get an apex he’ll have to remove all but one branch on each of the trunks. The finished tree will be about half the height of the original.
But first he had to pick the front based on the rootage and shape of the base, while also trying to find a set of limbs that have similar movement. With this major surgery done, Nagatoshi advised Shig to let it grow “wild” for a new top and structure to develop, a process that he estimates will take about four years to completion.
Shig’s second boxwood “looks like an anaconda getting ready to attack,” Nagatoshi joked. To begin what he estimates will be another four- or five-year project, he kept the most vigorous of this tree’s trunks while using part of the other as Jin. The finished tree will be shorter and squatter—about two-thirds its current height (see Photo 5, page 4).
Finally, Nagatoshi wrapped up his demonstration with an exami-nation of a large California juniper (Juniperus californica), a beautiful tree with abundant potential that CVBS President Ken Fuentes said he purchased for $375 (see Photo 6, page 4). Nagatoshi made two suggestions for Ken: 1.) Be more aggressive about removing sucker branches that tend to pop out at the bases of limbs; 2.) Let it grow wild to produce a strong root system.
California junipers, he explained, naturally have sparse root systems, so this natural tendency needs to be managed. And then, once the tree is strong enough, graft shimpaku scions to the California rootstock. “With shimpaku foliage, the root system will be-come much larger,” Nagatoshi explained, adding: “It will change the whole character of the tree.”
Barrett’s Bonsai Tips
By Jim Barrett
Ah! Good old summer.
Between the heat and the not-so-good-water, most maples (at least mine) look pretty tired. If your maples are healthy, consider leaf pruning them toward the end of this month. Remove every leaf—large, small, healthy or shriveled. Leaving some or pruning in stages only makes the tree try to survive on what is left. I don’t recommend leaf pruning red or lace-leaf varieties.
If you candle pruned your black pines in June or July, you should have many new shoots appearing at the base of the cut-off candles. Selectively remove those shoots that are growing vertically off horizontal branches, leaving one or two side shoots and one for the new terminal of each branch. What you want to promote is a fine network of twigs.
On vertical branches in the upper areas and the top of the tree, remove the center candles, leaving one, two, or three side shoots. On more mature trees and more intricate networks of twigs and branches, leave fewer new shoots.
In October or November, you will want to remove some of the new growth you left this summer. More about this next month.
Think about rotating your trees—especially if they are displayed against a wall or fence. Turning them periodically will even out the growth and may prevent die back.
Some trees are entering a semi-dormant period now and, for this rea-son, seem to need less water. Don’t think that something is wrong unless the tree shows signs of distress. Heat buildup in soil above 80 or 90 degrees tends to slow growth. This is natural. Do not water if the soil is still wet. It takes practice and knowledge of your plants’ needs to keep them healthy and happy.
Fortunately, most plants survive most mistakes. If you fertilize this month, do so sparingly. I recommend a very diluted liquid fer-tilizer low in nitrogen if you must fertilize.
Spraying fungicide to control powdery mildew or needle cast may also kill beneficial fungi present in soils. It’s not a bad idea to cover soil surfaces with plastic or a portable shield to keep drips and spray off of the soil.
Wire that was put on earlier this winter or spring should be checked, especially on deciduous trees. Remove all wire and reapply it only on those branches that do not hold their position and shape. No repotting except emergency repotting until this fall.
The Power of One for GSBF Convention
By David E. Whiteside
When the Golden State Bonsai Federation’s 31st annual convention opens October 29 in Modesto, GSBF President Ted Matson hopes to see a lot of new faces under a program he initiated this year called “The Power of One.” The idea is for each GSBF member club to pay the registration fee for one member who might not ordinarily at-tend the convention. If you have not been to a GSBF convention before, now is your opportunity to have the Conejo Valley Bonsai Society help you get there this year. Please let President Ken Fuentes know you are interested so you will be considered in the selection process (details to be announced).
Remember, the convention is a great opportunity to learn from the experts in many venues: workshops, seminars, demonstrations, critiques of trees in the exhibit, and many informal conversations with both professionals and advanced amateurs.
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