Shaping Plants of All Sizes. Part one of a series

I was pruning a few bonsai trees for a client. This task allows plenty of time for pondering and I got to thinking about the number of ways I apply bonsai techniques to other pruning situations.

Pruning bonsai trees to maintain and enhance their shape

Pruning bonsai trees to maintain and enhance their shape

One of my first and most popular articles that I wrote some time ago is about “The Basics of Pruning”(click) which tells about ways in which the plant responds to different pruning actions such as cutting tips and removing side growth. Aside from the fact that I shape and maintain a lot of sculptured plants for clients, My wife Dekie and I enjoy plant shaping as a hobby. I periodically bring home old scraggly plants that nobody wants and we shape them up for our collection. We plan to use our collection for a decorative project in our back yard next spring. (the shoemaker’s children being barefoot applies here). Here’s a picture of Dekie working on a new acquisition:

Sweetie works on shaping a dwarf tree

Sweetie works on shaping a dwarf tree

Someone planted two Leyland cypress in our yard a number of years ago and they are too close together, too close to the property line, and a stupid choice for a small back yard. I was getting ready to take them out 6 years ago when someone told me that if you cut the top out of a Leyland cypress it would die. That didn’t sound right to me so I came home and cut the tops our of ours. That was six years ago. We’ve kept them pruned to the top of the neighbor’s eight foot fence. They ain’t died yet.

Shaping a Leyland cypress for strength, compactness, and size

Shaping a Leyland cypress for strength, compactness, and size

On one of my jobs we kept pruning a Hollywood juniper that was in a large pot. It finally got to the point that it needed to get out of the pot and in the ground so we put it in a place that needed a nice plant. I work on it about twice a year. We are working on turning this location into something nice. I will include that before this series is completed.

I've been pruning and shaping this Hollywood juniper for years

I’ve been pruning and shaping this Hollywood juniper for years

This dwarf cryptomeria has been in a put and used in a foundation planting for over three years. We will trim it this fall and it will begin a process of miniaturization.

A well shaped dwarf cryptomeria

A well shaped dwarf cryptomeria

In my work I really abhor the use of Leyland cypress and/or Bradford pear trees. They are over-used, space consuming, smelly, and problematic. They are famous for growing too rapidly and falling apart in storms. I am being kind here. I could say some bad things about these plants.
However, if these trees are shaped properly, they will serve well. I have told you above about the Leylands in my yard. Here is a Bradford pear that my friend Santos planted in his yard 15 years ago. He prunes and shapes it every year. I have seen this tree withstand snow storms that have torn other Bradford pears apart.

Shaping this Bradford pear has added strength and durability as well as beauty

Shaping this Bradford pear has added strength and durability as well as beauty

And today I’ll finish with a black pine that I plant years ago and have maintained faithfully. This is one of my favorites.

Japanese black pine. I've maintained it for ten years--don't know how old it was when I installed it.

Japanese black pine. I’ve maintained it for ten years–don’t know how old it was when I installed it.

Thanks for visiting Johntheplantman. As I have said, I am currently working on a full-color book on pruning techniques for ornamental plants. My wife and I are excited and we would love your suggestions and recommendations for what you would like to see in it. Leave a comment, if you please—John P. Schulz

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Drill Drainage Holes in Ceramic Containers to Create Classy Cheap Flower Pots Using this Technique…

It all started when I accidentally found a container that a potter friend had given me long ago. It is a beautiful bonsai dish—but the potter forgot to add holes for drainage. I showed it to my wife and she said, “Oooooh, that’s pretty. Can we get a hammer and chisel and put a hole in the bottom?”

How do you put drainage holes in a ceramic container?

How do you put drainage holes in a ceramic container?

“No,” I replied. “A hammer and chisel would only shatter it—but there is a tool that will drill a hole…”

“Is it a difficult or complicated job?”

“No,” I replied, “it’s so easy that even a girl could probably do it.”

About an hour later, after she started speaking to me again, we decided to make a trip to Home Depot to purchase a “glass and tile bit” to use with our DeWalt drill (hereafter, in redneck manner, referred to as “the DeWalt”). It took a bit of looking to find what we needed.

Looking for a glass and tile drill bit at Home Depot

Looking for a glass and tile drill bit at Home Depot

We found the bits that we needed in the Bosch display and I chose 3/8 and a ¼ inch bits to use for our project. I didn’t think we would use the ¼ inch bit and I proved to be correct.

1/4 and 3/8 inch Bosch glass and tile drill bits. Just what the doctor ordered

1/4 and 3/8 inch Bosch glass and tile drill bits. Just what the doctor ordered

We got together the necessary items for the job—the DeWalt, glass and tile bit, water, the container, and a piece of slate for the work surface. The water is to reduce the heat generated by the friction of the drill.

Drill, glass bit, water, and a container to drill a hole in

Drill, glass bit, water, and a container to drill a hole in

The glass and tile bit looks like this. Be careful when asking for help at the store because a lot of times the clerk will try to sell you a masonry bit which is a different item and won’t do the job.

vBosch glass and tile drill bit is a good item to use when creating neat flower pots.

Bosch glass and tile drill bit is a good item to use when creating neat flower pots.

The DeWalt has a “keyless chuck.” To use it, hold the drill as shown below and run the drill slowly while holding the black thingie. This will tighten the drill’s grip on the bit and things will work properly.

tightening a keyless chuck

tightening a keyless chuck

Pour some water in the container and start drilling. This is a slow process. You will need to put a bit of pressure on the drill to make it work but you don’t want to push too hard. If you try to go too fast the dish will crack.

Pour a little water over the surface to be drilled to keep it cool. Watch the pressure

Pour a little water over the surface to be drilled to keep it cool. Watch the pressure

When the hole begins to develop, it is advisable to have an assistant hold the container to keep it from spinning when the bit goes through.

Have your helper hold the container when the hole is almost done--it may catch and jerk

Have your helper hold the container when the hole is almost done–it may catch and jerk

And there it is—a nice clean drainage hole.

A nice clean drainage hole. YaY

A nice clean drainage hole. YaY

I think we should have two holes, don’t you?

bonsai dish with drainage ready to plant

bonsai dish with drainage ready to plant

Well, Sweetie really liked that one. She started gathering containers. “Look,” she said, “This bowl will make a wonderful pot for my geranium. All it needs is a drainage hole.”

Another container that needs a drainage hole

Another container that needs a drainage hole

And she went to work.

Next thing you know she'll probably be going to yard sales to look for old china dinner bowls to drill holes in

Next thing you know she’ll probably be going to yard sales to look for old china dinner bowls to drill holes in

I sometimes like to use clay saucers to make elf man gardens or to show off small bonsai trees. We drilled a hole in a clay saucer while we were at it.

Drill a hole in a clay saucer and use it for a dish garden

Drill a hole in a clay saucer and use it for a dish garden

I spent the rest of the afternoon watching Sweetie play. By the way, Sweetie’s name is Dekie Hicks and she runs Wheredepony Press and makes books for people who write them. She likes her bonsai trees, too and you may see some of them on her blog site: ponderingthepony.blogspot.com

I watched as she paid attention to the drainage in her “new” flower pot:

Rocks and pot shards added to enhance drainage.

Rocks and pot shards added to enhance drainage.

I watched some more as she potted up her new geranium

potting a geranium in the "new" pot.

potting a geranium in the “new” pot.

There’s the newly potted geranium and what I refer to as, “Happy wife, happy life.”

A fun afternoon playing in the yard

A fun afternoon playing in the yard

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

What Happened to My Pretty Christmas Plant?

For the past few years, at Christmas time, The Home Depot here in Rome, Georgia (and I assume elsewhere) has been stocking some impressive Christmas plants. These come in the form of well-grown and healthy rosemary and “Stone pine” plants. Here’s a picture of the display

Well grown plants with a Christmas tree shape on sale for the season

Well grown plants with a Christmas tree shape on sale for the season

To my way of thinking, these plants are a bargain in that they will perform well in outdoor planters for the winter, they will give a Christmas feeling to their location, and with care, they will live for years.  But…But…They will not maintain their shape for years.

The plants that we bought at Home Depot have been carefully shaped as they grew so that they would end up looking like a Christmas tree. This doesn’t mean that they will always grow in that shape—that is, not unless they are properly pruned to maintain their shape. The process uses the principles developed in the growing of Bonsai plants.

A few weeks ago, one of my clients—I’ll call her Susan because that’s her name—asked me, “What happened to my Christmas plants that I put on the front porch last year?” I went around front to check them out and this is what I saw:

After a year the stone pine had lost it's Christmas tree shape and had grown out of bounds

After a year the stone pine had lost it’s Christmas tree shape and had grown out of bounds

Here’s the analysis: 1.The dead that you see in the tree is a natural replacement of needles that we see in any pine tree. 2. the wild looking growth coming from the top of the plant is the natural growth of the plant. I told Susan that with cleaning and pruning the trees could be brought back into shape within a year but with Christmas approaching she made me a gift of them. I’m going to have fun with those trees. I’ll guarantee it.

I was given a couple more of those trees about three years ago and I stuck them in the back of my “plant hospital”. I had gotten one of them out some time around the first of September after three years of total neglect. The stone pine was about five feet tall and strung out all over the place. I’m going to make a wild topiary out of it, so I cut the tips and cleaned it up. A month and a half later the tips look like this

New growth coming out short and pretty a month or so after cutting

New growth coming out short and pretty a month or so after cutting

I’m sure that the stone pine has to be one of the most bonsai-friendly plants ever and I’m going to work on my collection and report back next Christmas.

In the meantime, if you’re interested, your assignment is to read the following suggested articles on pruning and start your own plant-shaping experiment. What plant will you start with? Let me know

Turn overgrown plants into nice topiaries

Pruning For Betty, Japanese Maples, Topiaries, and Bonsai

Pruning an overgrown topiary

And one of my most popular articles:

Pruning as an Art Form—The Basics of Pruning

 

Thanks for visiting John the Plant Man. Remember the next time you want a good read you need to try “REQUIEM FOR A REDNECK”, a kindle ebook from Amazon that features John the plant man with his Georgia mountain friends. It’s quite the adventure. Check it out, buy a copy, and tell ALL your friends about it.

Pruning for Betty. Japanese Maples, Topiaries and Bonsai

I got a text message the other day saying that the Japanese maples needed pruning. I had been expecting this so I shifted my schedule around, sharpened my Felco pruning shears, grabbed my camera and headed out.

Betty has been a special friend and client for a number of years. She has also been a landscaping mentor, teaching me to adhere to rather high standards of design, installation, and maintenance. I have been pruning her collection of Japanese maples for years—she must have twenty or more of them—and to my knowledge, no one but me has ever pruned any of them.

I had decided to do an article comprised of before and after pictures of the maples but things changed. Anyway, here is one of the before pictures.

I was thinking, "I've pruned this tree every year for a long time."

I was thinking, “I’ve pruned this tree every year for a long time.”

I worked on opening up the plant to show the lovely trunk and to allow light inside. When I got in there I found the rock work and mondo grass that we had planted years ago when the tree was small.

dissectum japanese maple after pruning

dissectum japanese maple after pruning

I’m not a purist, so if I’m wrong, tell me, but I think there are two main classes of Japanese maples—dissectum and palmatum.  They are named for the shape of their leaves.  Here is the leaf pattern of the dissectum.

This shows the leaf configuration for the "dissectum" Japanese maple

This shows the leaf configuration for the “dissectum” Japanese maple

The dissectum maples seem to be more weeping and not as tall in growth patterns. These plants are usually produced by grafting a piece of a dissectum plant onto the root stock of a palmatum plant. There are so many varieties of the Japanese maple that keeping up with their names is quite a task.  The palmatum plant usually grows taller and more like a regular maple tree except that the leaves are remarkably smaller and the trees seem to stay much smaller:

This is the leaf profile of a "palmatum" Japanese maple

This is the leaf profile of a “palmatum” Japanese maple

Pictured below is a palmatum maple that was pruned for years to encourage shape in the “finished tree. I’m not going to prune this tree any more unless it is to remove some sucker growth from the bottom or to remove a few low hanging pieces that might develop.

After years of shaping I'm going to back off on pruning this beautiful palmatum

After years of shaping I’m going to back off on pruning this beautiful palmatum

I was standing there admiring the large palmatum Japanese maple and trying to remember just how long ago it was that we first started working on it. That was when Betty came out and, with a big grin, handed me some pictures. One of them was of me pruning this tree in 1991.  Let’s see, 2013, subtract 1991—Wow, that’s 22 years! Check it out:

John the plant man pruning the palmatum tree in 1991

John the plant man pruning the palmatum tree in 1991

Well, this started me to thinking about some of the other pruning that I had done over the years. I decided to look around. Here’s a picture also dated 1991 showing me pruning a cameocyperus ‘Boulevard’ which is a wonderfully soft looking evergreen that is a bit difficult to grow.  I don’t know a common name for it other than “Boulevard.”

John Schulz starting a bonsai of a cameocyperus "boulevard" in 1991

John Schulz starting a bonsai of a cameocyperus “boulevard” in 1991

I took a nice picture of a bonsai collection arranged on an outside table. The tall plant in the center is the exact same Boulevard from the picture in 1991. To quote John Hartford, “My, oh my, how the time goes by.”

The Boulevard bonsai is the tall one in the center.

The Boulevard bonsai is the tall one in the center.

There are a lot of plants in this yard that are remarkable. I will include a couple that I enjoy. The first is a Japanese black pine that I have been pruning for probably ten years. This small garden shows off with a ground cover of a running sedum that I like quite a bit. It is bordered with nice rocks that hardly show any more.

Japanese pine ornamental topiary with sedum ground cover

Japanese pine ornamental topiary with sedum ground cover

The plant below is called a Torulosa juniper or a Hollywood juniper.  Its natural growth is sort of helter skelter and wild. We had this plant in a large urn for years and then decided to move it to the yard.

Hollywood Juniper or "torulosa" juniper pruned to topiary.

Hollywood Juniper or “torulosa” juniper pruned to topiary.

Thanks for visiting John The Plant Man.  Share it with your friends

Here are some related articles:

Pruning Japanese Maples. A how to do it article. Click here

Foundation planting with containers—another Betty project. Click here

And fixing a drainage problem with an ikebana flair. Click here

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

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Pruning a Japanese maple

Pruning a Japanese Maple

Japanese maples are special and as such they require special treatment.  They are such cute little trees when we plant them but after a while they get much larger.  It is a matter of personal preference as to whether the tree looks better in its natural state or whether it is more desirable to prune it.  I am generally of the latter opinion. Using modified bonsai techniques on a Japanese maple in its developmental stages makes for a beautiful, well shaped specimen when the tree gets larger. Here is a picture of a tree that I have neglected for a while:

Japanese maple needs shape and definition.  Time to prune

Japanese maple needs shape and definition. Time to prune

A wise old bonsai expert told me long ago that, “One should prune and shape the tree so that a bird can fly through it.” I try to follow that advice and I find it to be helpful for the overall long term health of the tree as well as from a design standpoint.

Looking at a Japanese maple trunk

I want to see the trunk

The trunk of the maple tree is usually very nice and I would like to see a bit of it on this specimen.  I look into the canopy and study the tree to see what should be removed.  All cuts are made carefully and followed by standing back to study the next move.

There are some larger limbs that I will remove to open up the tree canopy. These cuts are made one at the time.

Removing limbs to open up the canopy of the Japanese maple and to accentuate the trunk

Removing limbs to open up the canopy of the Japanese maple and to accentuate the trunk

A lot of small new growth needs to be removed.  Removing these will further open up the view of the trunk and the path of the bird.  It will also allow the trunk to gain strength by not having to share nutrients with the weak new growth.  Some of these twigs will be cut off and others will be just snapped off with a downward jerk.

removing small growth inside the maple canopy

removing small growth inside the maple canopy

When the thinning process is completed, I go through and carefully cut tips from the outer reaches of the tree.  This will encourage branching and a degree of miniaturization.  At this point the job is finished.

The pruned Japanese maple looks like this:

A well pruned Japanese maple

A well pruned Japanese maple

I have a story that lets you know when the job is finished.

My good friend and client, Betty, has about twenty Japanese maples in her yard.  I have been pruning and shaping them over a period of twenty five years.  One time I was shaping one of the trees and a visitor asked, “How do you know when you have cut enough?”

I thought for a few moments and answered, “I keep cutting until Betty is rolling in the driveway screaming. Then I know I have cut enough.”

Here are some related articles:

Creating a topiary,https://johntheplantman.com/2012/02/26/plant-in-the-wrong-place-make-a-topiary/

Tree forming, https://johntheplantman.com/2011/08/14/tree-forming-landscaping-from-the-inside-out/

The basics of pruning https://johntheplantman.com/2010/01/09/pruning-as-an-art-form-the-basics/

Want me to prune your Japanese maple? Contact me at wherdepony@bellsouth.net

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

Plant in the wrong place? Make a topiary

Mabel and I were talking about improvements that needed to be made in her beautiful back yard garden. She stopped and pointed, “John, that pretty cedar tree is in exactly the wrong place next to the walkway. I hate to say it, but I guess we need to take it out.”

Turn a small tree into a topiary. Study the tree before starting

Turn a small tree into a topiary. Study the tree before starting

I agreed that it was, indeed, a pretty little tree and we thought about it for a while. Finally, I said, “why don’t we turn a liability into an asset? Let’s make it a topiary.”   We decided that that would be a good idea and that we had nothing to lose. I studied the tree for a while and then made a very deliberate cut—taking off the top.

After studying the topiary project, cut the top out of the plant.

After studying the topiary project, cut the top out of the plant.

The next step was to carefully round the top out so that I could get an idea what the final shape would be.

cut the tips to round off the top of the topiary

cut the tips to round off the top of the topiary

I decided that the tree would make a nice two tiered topiary and then began cutting the lower limbs between what would be the upper and the lower levels of the finished product.

cut the lower limbs to form the lower tier of the topiary

cut the lower limbs to form the lower tier of the topiary

The next picture shows where to trim the tips of the limbs. When the tips are cut to shape, they will branch out and thicken up. This will cause the tier, with time, to turn into a full, well shaped mass of green. The cuts were made right above the thumbnail in the picture.

Trim the ends of the stems to round out the topiary and cause it to branch and thicken

Trim the ends of the stems to round out the topiary and cause it to branch and thicken

With a well-sharpened pair of shears, I patiently cut every tip, shaping as I went. I was looking first at the shape as I cut and secondly, with a picture in my head at the shape that the project would turn into after a year or so.

Cutting the tips from the new topiary

Cutting the tips from the new topiary

Here’s the project finished for the time being. As with any pruning or shaping project, it will never be finished.

The topiary project will never be finished, but here's a good start

The topiary project will never be finished, but here’s a good start

Further maintenance on the topiary will be to look at it as it grows and to cut the new growth as it grows out of bounds. Patience and meditation are required.

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

Tree forming-Landscaping from the inside out.

 

Using Bonsai techniques to prune and shape overgrown shrubs and trees in the landscape.

 I have always thought that a good landscape design should provide pleasing views from the inside out as well as just from the outside. A good landscape garden is a four dimensional “sculpture” that has height, depth, and width, but also has the elements of being viewed from inside. Another dimension has to do with the changing of the landscape sculpture with time.

 I have been studying two arborvitaes at the house on the mountain. They were cute little things when someone planted them there but over the years they had grown and were now blocking not only the pathway, but also the inside view of the garden from the window. I cut the tops out of the trees last year and continued studying. The arborvitaes were also inhibiting the growth and development of the Otto Luyken laurels at the base of the planting. Our choice was to either take out the trees or find another way to solve the problem. I chose “tree forming” Here are a couple of pictures of the initial problem: (I’ll start by showing the “before pics and finish the article with the “after” ones)

Overgrown arborvitae needs pruning because it blocks the view from inside

Overgrown arborvitae needs pruning because it blocks the view from inside

From the outside, one can see that the arborvitaes were taking over the walkway and the laurels. I next took the following pictures of the view from the inside:

view from inside blocked by overgrown shrubbery

view from inside blocked by overgrown shrubbery

The trees, including a large crape myrtle on the other side of the walkway were blocking the view of the distant mountain, and the arborvitae was blocking the side view of the flower beds.

can't see the flowers for the trees

can’t see the flowers for the trees

We started by cutting the lower limbs from the overgrown shrub, working our way up. One should proceed slowly with this because it is always possible to cut more limbs but not to put them back on.

begin the tree forming processs by cutting limbs from the bottom up

begin the tree forming processs by cutting limbs from the bottom up

The best way to get a good job in tree forming is to cut a little and then stand back and study the situation.

While pruning, stand back periodically to study the project

While pruning, stand back periodically to study the project

The plant now looks more like a tree. It no longer shades out the laurels and the view of the walkway. In a few months, we will trim the top to start the process of shaping it while it grows. I can envision it providing a canopy over the laurels and part of the walkway. If we keep the top cut, it will bush out and do just as the picture in my head dictates. We did the same to the arborvitae on the other side of the window.

turning a bush into a tree makes quite a difference

turning a bush into a tree makes quite a difference

We did some major surgery on a crape myrtle on the other side of the walk way that was also blocking the view and then we studied an overgrown yaupon tree further down the walkway.

We also need to shape up this yaupon holly tree, "before" picture

We also need to shape up this yaupon holly tree, “before” picture

When we finished shaping the yaupon tree, it looked like this:

Yaupon holly tree pruned to perfection

Yaupon holly tree pruned to perfection

The pruning had opened up the view of the walkway and made it much more open and pleasant.

The pruning process has opened up the view of the rock walkway and enhanced the comfort of walking through it.

The pruning process has opened up the view of the rock walkway and enhanced the comfort of walking through it.

It was now time to check out the “new view” from the inside of the house. Notice how we opened up the mountain vista from the big front window

The pruning has opened up the view of the mountain from the living room

The pruning has opened up the view of the mountain from the living room

And we can now see through the arborvitae to enjoy the flower beds on the walkway.

Now we can see the flower beds from inside the living room. It lets in a lot more light, too.

Now we can see the flower beds from inside the living room. It lets in a lot more light, too.

Keep in mind that you can use this tree form pruning  process on all sorts of trees and bushes. It really adds elegance to your landscape garden.

*******Related articles:

Pruning as an art form, the basics of pruning

Pruning and shaping an overgrown bonsai tree

How to start a bonsai

Renovating an overgrown landscape, part one

Renovating an overgrown landscape, part two

If you would like to have a landscaping consultation with John Schulz in the north Georgia area, you may send an email to, wherdepony@bellsouth.net

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As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

How to prune and reshape an overgrown bonsai tree

How to prune and reshape an overgrown bonsai tree

 I started a bonsai for Micky about twelve years ago by cutting up a dwarf procumbens juniper and potting it in a clay saucer. I think the last time I pruned it was about five years ago. It was one of those things I kept meaning to get around to and didn’t.  So, the other day, armed with my pruning shears, a pair of scissors, and a cup of Micky’s good coffee, I tackled the job. Here’s what the plant looked like:

neglected bonsai tree needs pruning

neglected bonsai tree needs pruning

The first step is to look inside and see what the trunk looks like. I was pleased to see that the lower portion of this trunk was covered with moss.  I looked for unwanted growth and dead stuff. I found it, too.

Study the trunk of the bonsai before pruning

Study the trunk of the bonsai before pruning

The only tools I needed were a pair of pruning shears for the woody parts and a pair of scissors to trim the soft growth.

necessary tools for pruning the bonsai tree

necessary tools for pruning the bonsai tree

It is important to keep unwanted side shoots off of the trunk. I spent some time studying and cutting any growth that wasn’t supposed to be there. Taking away this growth will help with trunk development and maintain the “theme” of the plant.

cutting unwanted side growth from the bonsai trunk

cutting unwanted side growth from the bonsai trunk

I used the scissors to trim the growth tips. This will encourage branching and dwarfing as the plant grows. If you need to know what happens to a plant after pruning, I will place a link on the basics of pruning at the bottom of this article.

trimming the tips of a juniper bonsai tree

trimming the tips of a juniper bonsai tree

It takes time and patience to clean the trunks properly. There were all sorts of unwanted stems and little dead thingies that needed to be removed.

Cleaning the bonsai tree trunk

Cleaning the bonsai tree trunk

As I proceeded, I found myself alternating between working on the lower trunks and the green “heads” at the top. Here is a section of the plant before trimming

Bonsai top growth before trimming

Bonsai top growth before trimming

And here is the same section after trimming:

same section of bonsai after trimming

same section of bonsai after trimming

A number of years ago, a spiritual bonsai expert who I then perceived as very old told me, “You must prune the tree so that a bird can fly through it.”  I have always remembered that and the advice has served me well. The plant was looking good, and I tried to keep turning it, viewing it from any possible angle and cutting and trimming anything that didn’t belong.

Examining the plant from all sides to find places I missed

Examining the plant from all sides to find places I missed

The thing I like most about a job like this is that, in order to do it properly, I have to leave all of the cares and pressures of the world behind and move into another world, becoming, as it were, a “little elf man” who carefully and patiently cares for a tree in his world. As I work on the bonsai tree, it becomes, in my mind, as big as a giant oak. To quote Billy Joel, “You may be right, I may be crazy. But it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for.”  Anyway, the bonsai came out looking rather nice and I had a good time. Here’s the finished project:

The bonsai trimming is finished--for now....

The bonsai trimming is finished–for now….

 

Here’s an article on how to start your own bonsai

Another article, “Pruning as an art form-the basics”

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 These articles are brought to you by John P. Schulz, author of the novel, Requiem for a Redneck .

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

Nathan and Rachel learn how to start a bonsai.

Nathan and Rachel learn how to start a bonsai.

Nathan wanted to know about the art of bonsai and his mother referred him to me.  I thought that the best thing I could do would be to show him how to start a bonsai tree for himself.  Nathan showed up on a nice Wednesday evening with his delightful friend Rachel.  They had been shopping at the Lavender Mountain Hardware nursery and had picked out some rather nice plants with which they would practice the art of bonsai.

Ready for lessons on "how to start a bonsai"

Ready for lessons on “how to start a bonsai”

I had also been shopping that day and picked up a Sergeant’s juniper that was left over from the year before and overgrown in its container.  Nathan and Rachel had brought a Japanese boxwood, an American boxwood, and a Juniper procumbens ‘nana’.  We had all experienced difficulty in finding some nice bonsai dishes, so I rounded up three “hypertuffa” concrete pots that I had made years ago. We had plenty of good, compost based potting soil.

My teaching experience from long ago had acquainted me with the three steps for teaching a concept:  “Tell them how to do it. Show them how to do it, and Let them do it.”  So I used the Sergeants juniper to demonstrate.  The first step is to study the plant, finding the main trunks.

Look at the plant. "There's a bonsai tree in there somewhere"

Look at the plant. “There’s a bonsai tree in there somewhere”

I explained that cutting the apical buds from the plant causes it to branch.  Information on what happens when you prune a plant may be found in my article on “pruning as an art form.  You may find this information on pruning if you CLICK HERE.

The first principle of bonsai, "If you cut off the apical buds, the plant will spread out"

The first principle of bonsai, “If you cut off the apical buds, the plant will spread out”

We cut the root ball in half for two reasons:

1.  To make the root ball fit the pot.

2.  To cut or “root prune” the root ball so that new roots will form.

root pruning the new bonsai candidate

root pruning the new bonsai candidate

The next step is to isolate the main trunks of the tree.  During this selection process, it is best to select an odd number of trunks which will form three or five levels of the plant.  This design concept is called “Ikebana” and isolates three levels which are representative of “Heaven, Man, and Earth.”  After isolating the main trunks, the lower growth is cut off to expose them.

cutting the side growth of the trunk for the new bonsai

cutting the side growth of the trunk for the new bonsai

We plop the plant with the exposed stems into its pot and study the tops.

Study the tops of the tree for possible Ikebani effect

Study the tops of the tree for possible Ikebani effect

After deciding on a direction for the tops of the plant to take, we prune the tips so that, with time, the plant will branch and grow out into a lovely tree.  The bonsai process is never finished.  This is basically how a bonsai tree is started.

carefully trimming the tops of the bonsai will promote branching and filling out.

carefully trimming the tops of the bonsai will promote branching and filling out.

It was time for Rachel and Nathan to practice by starting their own bonsai trees.  Rachel studied her own bonsai tree and we discussed which trunks and branches needed to be either cut off or saved.  She decided to shape the bonsai sort of like an oak tree growing on a mountain.  I told her that I once knew a man who could study an interesting tree in its native habitat and then go home and make an exact miniature of the tree as a bonsai. Rachel also isolated roots to be exposed and grow over rocks which would be inserted after planting.

Deciding what and where to cut for the finished bonsai.

Deciding what and where to cut for the finished bonsai.

Nathan began studying the trunk of his well chosen American boxwood.  I think that isolating and trimming on the tree trunk is the most important part of the project. He also looked at the tops of the stems to decide how to get the Ikebana effect on the finished bonsai.

Study the trunk for the bonsai.  Are there any roots that can be placed over a rock?

Study the trunk for the bonsai. Are there any roots that can be placed over a rock?

The evening proceeded with everyone talking and pointing and cutting and finally potting.  The plants were planted firmly in the pots, using good potting soil to fill in the spaces.  Rocks were added for interest.  Nathan and Rachel plan to find some nice moss to fill in between the rocks, creating a miniature nature scene

The bonsai project works out well

The bonsai project works out well

The procumbens Juniper was turned into a “cascade” bonsai and planted in a pot that was made by the brilliant potter, Jerry Jankovski.

a cascade bonsai from a dwarf trailing juniper (j. procumbens "nana")

a cascade bonsai from a dwarf trailing juniper (j. procumbens “nana”)

That was fun.  We all had a good time working with the plants.  Nathan and Rachel thanked Dekie and me for helping them.  We thanked them for a delightful, fun evening.  Here are the results:

Beautiful bonsai trees all potted and ready to go home

Beautiful bonsai trees all potted and ready to go home

Now, why don’t you start your own bonsai?  It’s easy and fun.

I will write another article on bonsai maintenance and trimming in the near future.

For related articles:

“The simple basics of pruning- Pruning as an art form”, CLICK HERE

“Zen and the art of Crape myrtle pruning”  CLICK HERE

“Summertime care for knockout roses”  CLICK HERE

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Would you like a consultation with johntheplantman in your yard?

Contact John Schulz BY EMAIL

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

Try “see inside the book”

 

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