Plant a bonsai on a mountain side in a shallow dish

A friend gave my wife a beautiful small bonsai dish and then a few weeks later, the same friend presented me with a carefully-chosen small evergreen that was well shaped and only needed a touch up to become an excellent bonsai starter. The plant is chamaecyparis obtusa nana lutea

The dish was rather shallow and my friend suggested that I should get a deeper container for this beautiful (and expensive) plant. I decided to show off. Here are the pictures of me doing exactly that.

I like to use a good, porous potting soil for the process. I check out the plant to see how it will fit and to get a mental picture.

blog dwarf bonsai 1

I like to use a good, porous potting soil. The plant should like this just fine

I study the relationship of the plant to the container. I move it around and study the placement possibilities. The main rule I am following here is to “stay out of the center.” I get an idea of my direction with the project.

blog dwarf bonsai 2

Take lots of time studying the placement possibilities. Stay out of the center

Take the plant out of its container and study the root structure. This is the “soul of the plant” and sometimes that soul needs a bit of re-arranging. (I’m sure you can understand that).

blog dwarf bonsai 3

study the root ball to determine how you will modify it to fit the container

I carefully break up the root ball. Sometimes I have to use a hack saw or a knife to cut the bottom from the root ball but this one is easy. Pruning the roots of a plant adds strength to the plant by encouraging the remaining roots to branch out and develop more feeders.

blog dwarf bonsai 4

break up the bottom of the root ball so that it will fit in the container

After determining the placement of the plant, I place the soil around the root ball, packing it down firmly, and this gives me the basic shape for the “mountain.”

blog dwarf bonsai 5

Pile potting soil around the root ball and shape the mountain (sort of like with modelling clay)

I start to “build a mountainside” around the plant by adding well-chosen rocks which support the plant while they keep the soil in place. The rocks, in essence, increase the depth of the container in an attractive manner. At this point, I take care to make sure all roots are covered.

blog dwarf bonsai 6

continue to shape the mountain and add a rock or two if needed to hold the soil or stabilize the plant

Dekie and I keep a bucket of “neat rocks” that we have picked up here or there. Collecting rocks is fun. My next step in this project is to use a few of these to build “cliffs and mountainsides.” I make sure that everything fits tightly so it won’t fall out when the plant is moved.

blog dwarf bonsai 7

On a stable surface, pack the soil around the rocks and plant so that nothing moves.

I used to have to go to the aquarium department of a pet store to find the polished rocks, but I had spotted these flat, polished, black rocks in the Dollar Store one day. I bought them for just such an occasion as this. I start adding a stabilizing and attractive “ground cover” with the black rocks. As I work, I pack the soil over and over to make sure it will stand the test of time.

blog dwarf bonsai 8

add decorative roocks and perhaps a bit of gravel to paint a picture.

We cleaned off a prominent place on the patio for the mountain bonsai to live. After a couple of years of meditative pruning it should be a masterpiece.

blog dwarf bonsai 10 chamaecyparis obtusa nana lutea

The mountain bonsai looks good enough to earn a place of prominence.

And here’s a top view

blog dwarf bonsai 11

We named it “Betty.”

 

Other articles that pertain to this subject:

The basics of pruning-Pruning as an art form

A few years ago Dekie and I visited a bonsai show in Nashville at the Cheekwood gardens Here’s the story

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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

Trucking Buddies Stumble Upon a Bonsai Show

Dekie was studying the road atlas. She said, “Look, here’s a mention of what looks like a small botanical garden. Maybe it would be fun.” We had spent the night in Nashville on our way back to Georgia from the trip to Iowa—not because it was Nashville, but because it was a good place to stop. I’m always game for a garden and we went looking for it.

Heading South

Heading South

I’ll admit that we are a bit naïve and unaware at times. Neither of us knew that Cheekwood was a magnificent museum and garden on the U.S. National Register of Historical Places. I plan to write at least a couple of articles on this adventure. It was quite an experience for a Georgia boy and his sweetie. After paying a parking fee and another admission fee, we looked around and found that members of the Nashville Bonsai Society (or whatever they call themselves) were setting up a very nice show just for us.

A wonderful bonsai show was being set up just for us at Cheekwood

A wonderful bonsai show was being set up just for us at Cheekwood

My wife is intrigued with bonsai and I basically shape plants for a living so we were happy to walk through and study the beautiful trees. I love the way an old pine trunk looks after years of training:

This is probably a Japanese Black Pine

This bonsai is probably a Japanese Black Pine

One of the more tedious techniques for shaping the plants is wrapping and bending wire to get the desired shapes. Copper wire is heated to gain stiffness and is then wrapped carefully around trunks and limbs.

bonsai tree limbs wrapped with specially treated copper wire

bonsai tree limbs wrapped with specially treated copper wire

The bonsai process is totally detail oriented. At first glance we see and appreciate the overall shape of the tree. On closer inspection, though, we notice deeper and deeper layers of detail such as in this carefully formed and aged tree trunk.

A carefully sculptured and nurtured bonsai tree trunk

A carefully sculptured and nurtured bonsai tree trunk

We were enjoying the tree below when an “old guy” started telling us about it (to me “old guy” is my age or older and should usually be listened to and venerated). He told us that the tree had been found and transplanted from a nearby mountaintop by one of their members who had served as a bonsai apprentice in Japan. I asked him what it was like to be a bonsai apprentice and he replied, “There is little or no pay, they work you like a slave and they don’t feed you.” I remember the part about getting fed.

A wind swept tree from the top of a  mountain

A wind swept tree from the top of a mountain

Dekie is working on a juniper cascade at home and she was interested in the overall shape and size of this specimen.

A bonsai in the classic "cascade" shape

A bonsai in the classic “cascade” shape

I have decided that the next plant I purchase for myself will be a Hinoki cypress—which is really not a cypress but a “cameacyperus” or false cypress. Here is a picture of a bonsai Hinoki. I also like them when they are allowed to get big.

Hinoki cypress bonsai

Hinoki cypress bonsai

I was rather taken with this three-piece arrangement. The artist will spend quite a bit of time adjusting all three of the components to just the right placement and orientation.

bonsai arrangement on a formal stand

bonsai arrangement on a formal stand

A good thing to know is that these arrangements are NOT house plants and that they are NOT static. The plants are usually grown outside or in a greenhouse and moved inside the home only for short-term display.

bonsai arrangement on polished driftwood

bonsai arrangement on polished driftwood

You may wish to play around with bonsai. I wrote an article a few years ago that is rather popular. Click here for ‘how to start a bonsai’

Another popular article, click here for “Pruning as an art form, the basics of pruning”

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?

From Wikipedia on where the Cheek’s money came from:

”Christopher Cheek founded a wholesale grocery business in Nashville in the 1880s. His son, Leslie Cheek, joined him as a partner, and by 1915 was president of the family-owned company. Leslie’s wife, Mabel Wood, was a member of a prominent Clarksville, Tennessee, family. Meanwhile, Joel Cheek, Leslie’s cousin, had developed an acclaimed blend of coffee that was marketed through Nashville’s finest hotel, the Maxwell House Hotel. Cheek’s extended family, including Leslie and Mabel Cheek, were investors. In 1928, the Postum Cereals Company (now General Foods) purchasedMaxwell House‘s parent company, Cheek-Neal Coffee, for more than $40 million.[2]

Before and After—Revisiting the Sites of Articles Past

I think my adopted art form has five dimensions. There are the usual three—depth, width, and height. I like to add the dimension where you stand inside the creation and look at it from that viewpoint (I’m not sure, though, if that is a dimension or a perspective). The next dimension is that of time. If the plants don’t croak they grow and change the total feel of the project as time goes by. My main professional compensation other than making a modest living is to visit the projects after a period of time and enjoy the changes. This past week I said, “Wow” several times.

Several times this past week I found myself in the presence of sites that I have written articles about. Everything has changed—as gardening projects have a habit of doing. At any rate, here are some pictures of my visitations during the first week of December, 2013 and the links to the articles that tell about the inception of the projects.

I think one of the most significant projects was the Boys and Girls Club vegetable garden that we built in spring of 2009. Diane Harbin and Rome, Georgia’s Three Rivers Garden Club were the moving factors behind the project. After four years the garden needed a bit of physical reworking and maintenance. We tackled the job. Some of the timbers had rotted out, and there was a significant amount of weeds that needed removing as well as some irrigation concerns.  Jobs that are right down my alley. Here’s a picture of one of the main problems:

Weeds and a few rotted timbers in the garden

Weeds and a few rotted timbers in the garden

Here is a picture of this delightful garden after the clean up and rebuild.

Rome, Ga. Boys and Girls Club vegetable garden after clean up and repair

Rome, Ga. Boys and Girls Club vegetable garden after clean up and repair. December 2013

You may click to visit The Boys and Girls Club Vegetable Garden Project. The article was written Nov. 29, 2009

A year after the building of the vegetable garden it was added on to. Go to: The Garden Gets a Gazebo from May 9, 2010.

I started this blog series in 2009 and one of the first articles was about building a portable rock garden. I presented the finished rock garden to my future father-in-law for his birthday. He has kept it alive and asked me a couple of weeks ago to take it and shape it up. All I’m going to do is give it some light, fertilize and prune it, and it should be all right on its fifth birthday. Here’s the “how to” article: How to Build a Portable Rock Garden from Jan. 17, 2010. And here is a picture of the garden on December 8, 2013.

Portable rock garden from one of my first articles

Portable rock garden from one of my first articles

I have probably been gardening for Betty for thirty years or so. I took this picture of one of her bonsais on Dec. 7, 2013.  Then I remembered that I had written an article including this plant on August 13 of this year that contains a picture of me pruning this very same tree about 20 years ago. See if you can find me. Here is the article—Pruning For Betty from Aug. 13, 2013.

Betty's bonsai

Betty’s bonsai

Just yesterday I had to go see Mabel and I noticed a little cedar tree that I had pruned a year ago and that was doing well.  The article is Mabel’s Topiary from Feb 26, 2012

This tree started as a weed but then a weed is only a plant that's in the wrong place

This tree started as a weed but then a weed is only a plant that’s in the wrong place

And, Oh, over the years, Patricia’s landscape garden in Buckhead is looking better and better. We did some clean up work and pruning Dec. 6 and 7 2013 and I took the picture below. There are two articles that relate to this garden: Making Stepping Stones With Whiskey Barrel Rings from October 2, 2011 and part two of the project, Patricia’s Side Garden from October 9, 2011.

Patricia's shade garden with hand made stepping stones and pea gravel

Patricia’s shade garden with hand made stepping stones and pea gravel

 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.

Turn Overgrown Front Door Plants Into Nice Topiaries

Sylvia had asked me to deal with the plants by her front entrance some time ago. It seems that the blue point junipers were getting a bit out of hand. I like blue points but they take either a lot of room or a lot of care. There’s definitely not much room in this yard.

Overgrown junipers at the front entrance need tending to. (blue point juniper)

Overgrown junipers at the front entrance need tending to. (blue point juniper)

Randy and Sylvia live on Pear Street which is a tightly-built and tightly-planted gated community. The plantings are nice looking at the moment but, in my opinion, there are way too many plants for the area. I think that sooner or later someone will have to either shape or move a lot of the plant material. I definitely question the planting of a number of Bradford Pears.

Bradford Pear in the wrong place

Bradford Pear in the wrong place

Back to the job at hand, we discussed the design that we were looking for. I had told Sylvia that I could only do the job when I “felt like it” and was in the proper mood. The time was right. We decided that the tops of the pruned plants would be in line with the top of the brick pillar supports. I set my pruning shears down and stepped back to study it.

Determine where the top of the finished topiary will be in reference to the front porch.

Determine where the top of the finished topiary will be in reference to the front porch.

The first cut was major, after due deliberation we just went in and whacked off the top of the tree.

Start the topiary project  by cutting the top of the tree to the desired height.

Start the topiary project by cutting the top of the tree to the desired height.

After the top was gone, I chose a second level that was approximately one third of the distance from the top to the bottom. I started shaping to this part of the concept with my hand pruners. I love the Golden Mean.

Trim the tree to basic shape with hand pruners

Trim the tree to basic shape with hand pruners

We continued cutting until the basic shape became clear.

The topiaries begin to take shape.

The topiaries begin to take shape.

It was time to smooth up the cuts and to “polish” the topiary. The motor pruners are a perfect tool for the job. I always try to keep the blades well-sharpened.

polishing the topiary with motorized hedge trimmers.

polishing the topiary with motorized hedge trimmers.polishing the topiary with motorized hedge trimmers.

I stepped back to check on the progress. A little more tipping and touching up would finish the job. The client was happy and that is important to me.

The finished topiary project. The trees will now need to grow in over time.

The finished topiary project. The trees will now need to grow in over time.

The plants will need easy trimming two or three times a year. They should look really nice by this time next year. We are basically using a bonsai process to shape them and to keep them shaped. Try it on one of your plants—it’s fun.

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You may enjoy the article on pruning an overgrown bonsai

And here’s another article on tree-forming, landscaping from the inside-out.

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?

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?

Foundation planting with containers

 

Today’s article is about what I call a “Barbie Doll Garden.”  Here’s the story:

One of my favorite clients for a number of years is very easy to please as long as she gets ­exactly what she wants.  The problem is that I sometimes have to get really creative to reach that goal.  I spent a lot of time trying to get the entrance planting just right but she kept asking me to move this or change that.  Finally, in order to make the moving and changing easier, I got some nice clay pots and created a garden that can be moved around and changed easily.  I got tickled when I figured out that it was kind of like playing with a doll house and being able to change things easily and at will.

Containers in foundation planting for easy maintenance and change
Containers in foundation planting for easy maintenance and change

The planting is divided into three sections.  In this one by the drive, we installed a fieldstone border and added pea gravel for the “floor.  We set containers where we thought they should go and planted a combination of evergreen and flowering plants. The plants have been pruned to shape using bonsai techniques. Whenever Betty decides that something doesn’t look right, we can move it, prune it, or change the plant out for another one.  The next picture shows the end of the planting area which is framed with an arborvitae in a cast iron urn

containers in the foundation planting. Not the urn framing the end.
containers in the foundation planting. Note the urn framing the end.

The second section takes in a porch by the drive and curves around the corner to the main entrance.  I like the way pots of impatiens and caladiums flash their colors from an area behind the autumn ferns. We are able to move the accent plants around to get the placement just right.  As they say on the infomercials, “It really, really works.”

Containers of impatiens behind autumn ferns
Containers of impatiens behind autumn ferns

Permanent plantings of well shaped lorapetalum and dwarf nandina give a background for a bed of containers on the house side of the walkway to the front entrance.  We chose a combination of variegated cypress, dwarf procumbens juniper, dwarf yaupon, and frost proof gardenia for the perennial evergreens.  The bed is bordered with rock and has been filled and leveled with compost and cypress mulch for stability and levelling

cypress chips, rocks, and containers with shaped evergreens
cypress chips, rocks, and containers with shaped evergreens

We also left room to plant flowers.  I love the dragon wing begonias.  These are the most dependable begonias I ever worked with.  They can be used as bedding plants or in containers.  The begonias are replaced with pansies for the winter garden.

Bedding plants form a nice frame for the containerized evergreens.  I love the gardenia bloom
Bedding plants form a nice frame for the containerized evergreens. I love the gardenia bloom

To add balance for the planting at the end of the walkway, we added one more small bed around the cast iron horse head.  I selected three upright junipers and pruned them into an interesting topiary.  These plants will never be finished.  I have a picture in my head of each of the limbs having a flat top with rounded edges.  The final picture will take years.

Three carefully shaped topiaries in containers anchor the end of the stone walkway
Three carefully shaped topiaries in containers anchor the end of the stone walkway

To add color, I found a large dragon wing hanging basket and planted it in this terra cotta pot.  The plant had been root bound in the basket and it almost exploded when it received room for its roots and a goodly dose of liquid fertilizer.

Dragon wing begonia and procumbuns juniper in separate containers
Dragon wing begonia and procumbuns juniper in separate containers

I really like this garden.  I like the way it looks and I like the fact that when something doesn’t look right I can move it or easily change it.  When some of the plants become root bound or out of shape I can plant them in the yard and replace them with new ones.  I am planning to renovate my new wife’s back yard and I think that we will use the “Barbie Doll” concept for at least one or two sections. I love the aspect of being able to modify the scope and balance by easily moving or changing a plant here or there.

This is also a wonderful concept for someone who finds instant gratification a bit on the slow side.

Other articles relating to this topic:

How to start a bonsai

The basics of pruning

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?

If you would like a consultation with John Schulz, Landscape Artist, in your yard,Please contact me by email

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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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”

 

************

How to deal with mums

How to deal with mums:

Ruth Shaw asked,

What do I do with my Chrysanthemums when they quit blooming?

 

mums2

Garden mums custom grown for a late October wedding

I am writing this with the expectations of being able to refer people to my blog instead of answering it six times a day.  You can plant and grow mums in the garden outside.  Here’s how it works:

 

mums3

In mid November, this mum has seen its better days

A lot of beautiful mums were sold in the months of September and October.  Chrysanthemums are fun to watch and grow. There is a trigger for the blooms on most plants.  Crape myrtles bloom with the effects of temperature.  Azaleas bloom after their flower buds have gone through a period of cold followed by a period of warmth.  (This excludes the Encore azaleas which are different—more about these in a separate blog.).

Chrysanthemums respond to a phenomenon called “photoperiodism”. This means that their blooming is regulated by day length (photo=light + “period”).  Mums grown in an unregulated environment will bloom naturally in the fall.  They will develop their vegetative growth in the summer months and then form flower buds in August and September.  There are many different varieties that bloom earlier or later.  The professional growers will produce several of these varieties in order to extend the selling season.  For seasonal mums at the nursery, rooted cuttings are planted in pots somewhere around the first of July and are “pinched” to form branching until about August 15, timing depending on variety.  The fully branched plants are then grown out into the specimens that you see at nurseries, grocery stores, and flea markets.

Poinsettias also set their bloom by the number of hours of daylight/darkness.

Florist mums are grown differently.  Special and fancier varieties are grown in a greenhouse in which the light may be regulated.  This is commonly done by pulling a shade cloth over the plants at a certain time of day.  The production of florist mums is highly specialized and takes quite a bit of knowledge, talent, and educated labor.

Chrysanthemums are perennial plants and should grow and return anywhere south of the Mason Dixon line.  I’m not quite sure how far north they will survive, but they do will here in north Georgia and my mother grows them in Kingsport, Tennessee.

When your chrysanthemum quits blooming cut off the spent blooms.  Cut the tops of the plants down to 2/3 of the plant’s original size.  Keeping in mind that mums like lots and lots of light, prepare a space in the garden.  Due to photoperiodism, you will want to find a place that is not under or near a street light or other long burning outside lighting fixture.

Shake the pruned plant out of the pot and look at it.  Most growers will put two or three or more plants in the pot, depending on the pot size.  You may divide these if desired, or you may just choose to plant the entire plant as it comes from the pot.  If you wish to divide the plant, carefully slide a butcher knife between the individual plants and cut the root ball.

It is important that you break up the root ball of the plant so that the roots will grow out and into the soil instead of remaining in a tight ball that is caused by the flower pot.  Don’t be afraid to be a little rough with the roots.

The rest is easy, dig a hole, add some organic material, add a teaspoon, more or less of  Osmocote,  cover the roots, pack the dirt down, and water when needed.

For growing out the following spring, you should cut back the dead stems from the year before and watch the little plants grow.  Prune the plants around July 1 and then again around August 1-15.  This will encourage branching which will give you more blooms.  During active periods of growth, fertilize the plants every couple of weeks with a little liquid feed.  This will supplement the effects of the Osmocote.

I found out by accident one time that you should leave the dead stems all winter and remove them after the plant starts to grow again in the spring.  This seems to insulate the new shoots from the cold.

Florist mums that have spent their lives either inside a greenhouse or in another warm environment may not do as well as the garden mums.  If you take a plant out of the warm house and plant it outside in the winter time it won’t have time to become acclimated to the cold and will probably croak. These plants will probably do better if kept in a warm, bright window until spring.

By the way, did you know that you can bonsai a chrysanthemum?  I think there is a chrysanthemum bonsai society.  I’ve never done it, but I have seen some beautiful pictures.

Enjoy the planting

Grow it.

John P. Schulz

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