Central Virginia Bonsai Society
Lynchburg, Virginia
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Items below from the March 10, 2022, CVBS Newsletter
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IT’S SPRING….ALMOST> Ready or not, things are starting to emerge from their winter dormancy. As usual, I am not quite ready for warm weather so I have been trying to keep things from growing. In spite of my efforts, leaves are showing on euonymus, cotoneaster, maples, Chinese quince, and chojubai. Extending the dormant period is done by keeping the plants as cold as possible, out of direct sun, and watered as little as possible. Eventually warm air and longer daylight hours always overcome my efforts and growth begins.
With the beginning of new growth, our plants become vulnerable to frosts and hard freezes if they occur. Dealing with freezes during this vulnerable period is easier if one has a limited number of plants. The greater the number which require protecting, the more difficulty there is in giving protection when needed. Jeremiah McKinney has a great system. He puts his plants on a farm wagon in early spring. If a freeze is likely, he backs the wagon into the safety of his garage until the freeze danger passes. It makes me wish for a big wagon and a garage for the purpose.
It is almost too late for winter bonsai work. Most wiring and pruning should be finished. Now is a perfect time to make finish pruning cuts on deciduous plants. With growth starting, healing will begin almost immediately. I use semi-waterproof carpenter’s glue to seal deciduous pruning cuts. Elmers, Titebond, and Gorilla products have all worked well for this purpose. Just cover the wound with a thin coat of glue out to and covering the exposed cambium. When it dries, the glue becomes clear but provides a slightly flexible covering which excludes insects and disease while allowing the surface of the wound to remain hydrated by the normal presence of sap. As healing takes place, the callous formed to cover the wound will push the film of dried glue off of the healed area. The only down-side of this technique seems to be that the glue changes from clear to milky white during extended periods of rain. When the rainy weather ends, the glue dries and become clear again. One application seems to work nicely for several years. In some quarters, much is made of the “bleeding” of sap. In my experience, I have not found sap “bleeding” to be an issue of concern. A possible exception is sap from pine wounds which is sticky and persistent. This can cause undesired cosmetic problems on the bark of pines. To help avoid this problem with pines I seal the larger wounds with normal bonsai cut paste.
Wiring, repotting, and pruning the plants in pots is almost done. I have some pruning of ground plants (which usually come out a little bit slower than the potted trees) yet to do, a few air layers need to be done, and accents need to be separated into individual pots. It’s good to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Repotting the trident bonsai was very easy. They grow so many roots that annual repotting is a necessity. I learned the hard way that the difficulty in removing a trident from its pot greatly increases when they are repotted less frequently than every year.
When one has waited too long for repotting, a Sawzall is a wonderful help in getting a stubborn tree out of its pot. Having a second person to hold things steady is helpful but the removal can be done by a single person if care is exercised. The powered reciprocating blade makes quick work of the roots at the edge of the pot allowing the bonsai to be released from the restraining lip of the pot. Most are variable speed and thus give better control. I wish I had realized the value of this power tool many years ago.
Allowing moss to grow on the surface of the soil in bonsai pots is not recommended. A covering of moss makes it difficult to notice if the soil is dry. Additionally, moss covering gives a hiding place for certain insect pests and their eggs. Moss is typically applied to the surface for brief periods of exhibition but is removed after the period of exhibition. In spite of my best efforts, moss tends to show up in my pots and tries to spread across the soil surface. The tendency of moss to grow on the lower trunk of the bonsai is particularly troublesome. The gradual spread of the moss is seldom noticed but often results in obscured nebari and moss-covered bark on the lower trunk. Bonsai with rough bark can be damaged substantially as the added moisture and growth activity of the moss lead to accelerated deterioration of the lower bark. This is unsightly and may give the appearance of reverse taper of the trunk. Part of my winter attention to each bonsai is to thoroughly clean away all traces of moss. This is done with gentle scrubbing of the affected areas with a small brush. Care must be taken to not abrade or remove the bark. Until one is familiar with the process, it is best to start with a nylon brush. Progress to a brass brush if the nylon is ineffective. If the brass is not quite enough, try a steel brush. Sets of these brushes are available for very little cost at auto parts stores where they are sold for detailing wheels and other automotive parts. Trunks and nebari are much more impressive to see after moss is removed.
I am very pleased with the improvement in refinement achieved with my trees this year. Spending enough time on the bonsai greatly improves their appearance. Having a good basic structure is a long-term process that should be addressed every year. Achieving excellent refinement is a shorter term process which involves detail wiring and judicious pruning. This is mostly dormant season work as the danger of damage to tender new growth is eliminated during this season. As I spend less time creating new material for others, I am having more time to spend on my own collection and I think it shows!