Author Topic: Developing stock the right way  (Read 13293 times)

bwaynef

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Developing stock the right way
« on: April 06, 2010, 02:14 PM »
My parents did a good job of instilling in me that "Anything worth doing is worth doing right" and I took it to heart when my first boss would say "There's ain't but one way to do things: the right way!"

I've seen tons of pre-bonsai stock over the years that seems to have been neglected along the way.  That neglect could have come as a result of ignorance of proper technique/care, busy schedules, or the care would delay the owner's ability to have a sell-able product.  (This certainly isn't an exhaustive list.)  Whatever the cause of neglect, those trees tend to need work done to correct the neglect before the work of creating the bonsai can occur.

I'd like to start a discussion of the proper way to develop material for bonsai.  I'm a hobbyist grower with a (comparably) small collection so I can overlook the profit motive mentioned previously.  There also isn't much that can be done about busy schedules other than limiting what one undertakes to do (i.e. limiting the number and species that you work with, ...unless you're a professional w/ schedule & budget appropriate to the task).  

I'm most interested in Pines, Junipers, Maples and Azaleas so I'll be working within my schedule to develop said stock.  Everyone has their own likes and dislikes so I'd expect others to grow different species.

To make this worthwhile, its going to really help to get input from as many different folks/experiences as possible.  I'll be editing these initial posts for the duration of this thread to point to whatever comes up in the thread.  Please expound and contribute.  I will be.
« Last Edit: April 06, 2010, 04:02 PM by bwaynef »
 

bwaynef

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Re: Developing stock the right way
« Reply #1 on: April 06, 2010, 02:19 PM »
Pines:

Starting from seed:

Seedlings:
Air Layering:

Cuttings:

What other tips/tricks are out there for developing pine bonsai stock?  We've covered seed & air layers.    Refinements on the techniques mentioned above?  Have I missed any other resources?  What happens after you have a healthy well-rooted Pine-start?



Some other good general care resources for pines while I'm at it:
Brent's wonderful resources:

Chris details Pine care for when you get to that stage:

And MatsuBonsai's offering on decandling techniques:
« Last Edit: September 28, 2016, 09:12 AM by bwaynef »
 

bwaynef

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Re: Developing stock the right way
« Reply #2 on: April 06, 2010, 02:41 PM »
Maples:

Nursery Stock:

Seedling:

Seed:
  • I recall Al posting something to bT about growing his maple seedlings under some sort of screen placed very close to the soil to get interesting trunk movement.  I'll see what I can dig up.
  • I've also heard mention of treating Tridents and Japanese Maple 1 year old seedlings as cuttings and striking new roots their first (full) spring.  Done in sufficient numbers, the losses aren't insurmountable.

Field Growing:
  • Help me out.

There's also Dugzbonsai, but I'm not entirely sure that creates a superior product in the long run.  I'm not looking for novelties, although novel ideas are welcome.


« Last Edit: April 06, 2010, 03:05 PM by bwaynef »
 

bwaynef

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Re: Developing stock the right way
« Reply #3 on: April 06, 2010, 04:00 PM »
Juniper:

Seed:
  • I don't see much mention of this.  probably because...

Cuttings:
  • Most Junipers root relatively easily from cuttings.  Hormone + (partial) shade + adequate water == roots.
  • A japanese grower, in a French magazine has had success taking large shimpaku cuttings.  He essentially saws up a (perfectly good) shimpaku into sections with trunks 1" (or more) wide, plants them into fine grain akadama (almost looks like turface), wires them securely into the pot wrapping the wire OVER the cutting and around the pot (twisting the wire until secure), waters them from below, puts them on a dish of water covered w/ gravel so the pots aren't in standing water, and covers the whole shebang w/ double-lined plastic around a simple wooden frame (think greenhouse).  The claim being that if they're protected from freezing/cold and drying winds he'd likely guarantee 100% success even with large cuttings.  Notice I never mentioned rooting hormone.

Yamadori:


Anyone w/ personal experiences w/ any of these techniques (or others I've missed)?
« Last Edit: April 13, 2010, 09:13 AM by bwaynef »
 

bwaynef

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Re: Developing stock the right way
« Reply #4 on: April 06, 2010, 04:02 PM »
I'd like this to be more than a compilation of links.  I posted those to get us started.  What are your tips and tricks you use to develop the best bonsai stock?
 

meushi

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Re: Developing stock the right way
« Reply #5 on: April 06, 2010, 04:45 PM »
A japanese grower, in a French magazine has had success taking large shimpaku cuttings.  He essentially saws up a (perfectly good) shimpaku into sections with trunks 1" (or more) wide, plants them into fine grain akadama (almost looks like turface), wires them securely into the pot wrapping the wire OVER the cutting and around the pot (twisting the wire until secure), waters them from below, puts them on a dish of water covered w/ gravel so the pots aren't in standing water, and covers the whole shebang w/ double-lined plastic around a simple wooden frame (think greenhouse).  The claim being that if they're protected from freezing/cold and drying winds he'd likely guarantee 100% success even with large cuttings.  Notice I never mentioned rooting hormone.

Wayne,

You forgot two important details:

It is unsifted fine grain akadama, he claims that the akadama dust actually helps with the rooting.
No cut cleanup whatsoever, it is potted straight after being sawn
 

Keith

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Re: Developing stock the right way
« Reply #6 on: April 08, 2010, 04:36 PM »
A compilation of development articles is a great idea. Unfortunately, many of the techniques are closely guarded. Ive heard several references to Gremel junipers over the years, but Ive yet to see his technique in detail. The old World within Worlds website had some great pictures of developing pines in Japan, but all these development photos were "lost" when the website was relocated. BonsaiTalk had several good threads on development that are now gone.


Here are some additions to your Field Growing section:

http://www.bonsai4me.com/AdvTech/ATfieldgrowing.htm

http://www.evergreengardenworks.com/trunks.htm

http://www.evergreengardenworks.com/growfast.htm


Another useful link for development is www.bonsaifarm.tv    There are glimpses of Japanese techniques throughout the video series.

Look forward to seeing what you can dig up



 

John Kirby

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Re: Developing stock the right way
« Reply #7 on: April 13, 2010, 10:49 PM »
Jim Gremel freely teaches people to create the "Yamadori in a pot" trees, at workshops, at his home, about anywhere. I forst saw one of his workshops (I was ending and made the mistake of not signing up) and it was about as fun a workshop- using little Shimpaku cuttings and wiring the into contorted forms and the growing them on. But, it doesn't give you a tree in a demo or even within a few years. You have to either grow them up in big grow pots or in the ground for 10-15 years to get really nice trees. See the "Jim Gremel's Juniper" post by Boon under Shimapku below.
 

bwaynef

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Re: Developing stock the right way
« Reply #8 on: March 02, 2012, 02:36 PM »
I often see mention of planting trees on tiles, particularly when they're being planted in the ground.  How important is this with, say, JBP for creating nebari ...and how would one go about securing the tree to the tile?
 

Keith

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Re: Developing stock the right way
« Reply #9 on: May 07, 2014, 11:39 AM »
4 years later...  Appears to be one of the most viewed topics on this site, yet no one has added anything...

Jonas has some great development articles on his blog: http://bonsaitonight.com/

As does Peter Tea: http://peterteabonsai.wordpress.com/

There are some useful Japanese blogs out there, here is an old one I found:  http://itsunohika.at.webry.info/

Smoke (Al) has started a new post on growing tridents from seed over at the nuthouse.

Hopefully others can contribute to the "virtual library" of developing good material.
 

Leo in NE Illinois

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Re: Developing stock the right way
« Reply #10 on: May 07, 2014, 10:46 PM »
This thread is very valuable, thank you for starting it, and the bump it has gotten to bring it to the top of general discussion again. I missed this the first time or two.
 

Owen Reich

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Re: Developing stock the right way
« Reply #11 on: May 08, 2014, 08:01 AM »
It's difficult to flesh out a full developmental process for any species unless you have a goal in mind.  Like "I'd like 400 12'' tall princess persimmons".  It's possible to document that and explain it.

Wayne, don't forget air layering for maples.  I'll submit something to this in the future when I start developing larger numbers of a species and style. 

The concept of laying it all out there is nice for the end user who wants to do it on their own, but difficult for a grower to supply this without charging for it.  Jonas Dupich's blog www.bonsaitonight.com is one of the best resources for many of the techniques necessary to create bonsai from the four species you've mentioned.  It's not sequential information, but it's there.

My role in the bonsai machine is hopefully more of the last half of the battle once you've found a plant.  Nice thread idea  :)

Below is an article sans photos that I wrote for ABS Journal.  Perhaps it will help some people back-track from point-of-purchase to the starting phases.


Choosing Quality Bonsai Material

   One of the greatest challenges when getting involved with the creation, styling, and care of bonsai is acquiring suitable material.  It’s easy to get a plant and start cutting, but does it have the right characteristics to warrant years of care?  Sometimes students bring in material for workshops that has one desirable characteristic like a good base but no future as a good bonsai in my evaluation.  We do what we can and the rationale is explained.  Some professionals refuse to work on this material but have they or others before them properly educated those less experienced in how to select a good tree?  In an effort to help beginners as well as those who have been bitten by the bug and have a few dozen or hundred plants, laying out a basic framework for material selection will set you on the right path or help “thin your herd”.   Even owners of nice collections may have that B-team batch of bonsai that you keep for no real reason.  If your taste in bonsai and ability level permit, keeping bonsai that you don’t value as highly actually keeps you from working on your favorites and in turn, achieving your goals.  My stock hoarding started almost immediately after reading my first book.  Within a year, I had collected around 600 plants of species commonly used for bonsai ranging from rooted cuttings up to massive stumps.  It did not help that I had access to thousands of plants via the University of Georgia plant introduction trials.  It was only when I looked objectively at my collection that I chose the best 50 and liquidated the rest. That is when I became serious about growing bonsai to a higher quality standard.   There are a number of factors to consider when buying or collecting a plant for training.  Understanding each of them will ultimately yield a better collection for you and a more enjoyable experience.

   This topic is a broad one so please keep in mind the species you work with will all have different needs, limitations, and subtle quirks.  Individual technical ability level or the involvement of a bonsai professional will also come into play during your hunt.  Any plant you work with has a Latin name like Carpinus caroliniana.  A common name for this species is iron wood.  There are at least five other species with the same common name so learn the Latin version for all your plants to avoid confusion and gain access to a great deal of information about a plant that may not be covered properly in many bonsai-related resources.  If you do not enjoy training bonsai as much as you’d like, it’s possibly your material quality is off.  Stock plant quality could be considered subjective as one person’s goal may be a few pretty flowers while another might be trying to achieve higher levels of artistic expression.  There are some things that are relative like what is considered expensive or desirable.  However, the main ideas discussed below are universal to bonsai stock.

   The hardest thing to change on any plant with any degree of age to it is the trunk.  This means that a tree without an appealing trunk line from root base to a suitable apex is generally not worth training.  There are exceptions to this as branches can be relocated or regrown as a new top.  What can not be changed are trunks with exaggerated “S - Curves” or trunks with a variety of straight sections and awkward bends.  Graft unions that are poorly made can be a big issue as well.  A discrepancy between the color of mature bark of the understock and that of the scion material can be a major let-down in the future.  An appealing trunk line can be elusive for many species given the methods of production for plants destined for the garden.  Flaws in the trunk line and gradation of taper are hard to correct so consider the rarity of a given plant and pass it up if more are available.  This is why reputable bonsai nurseries are one of the best places to find species not native to your area.  These businesses act as a filter of sorts and the cost of a tree reflects this.  Non-native species can be found elsewhere; most of my oldest material has been found in the wild and from the front yards of old subdivisions in Nashville.  When a prospect is found, consider offering a rose bush or perhaps another service in trade when on the urban prowl.  Offering money almost always leads to issues.

   Good potential bonsai, sometimes known as “potensai”, also need to have pertinent branch structure for the style they will likely take on or the ability to produce branches in the future.  This article is not the place to elaborate on all the structural issues to watch out for so I direct you to Bonsai Techniques 1 and 2 by John Naka for excellent illustrations and definitions on the matter.  There are at least 50 books for beginners but most present the same information; many poorly.  Even Naka’s books have some outdated information and absolutes that may have been penned in that manner to avoid confusion.  At this time, information is not hard to come by.  The real question is whose do you trust?  In my opinion, you have to look at the results of someone’s work not just right away, but also after the dust settles on a project months later.  Many branch issues can be resolved via deletion of the unnecessary ones so keep that in mind when you find a complex plant.  Producers of stock suitable for bonsai training like Meehan’s Miniatures leave branches on their plants as options for future styles / sizes as part of the fun of training bonsai is cutting stuff off.  A multitude of branches is often better than too few as a healthy and well - grown plant will have a full canopy.

   Overall health of a plant is very important when investing your time, energy, and money in a bonsai.  This is another complex matter that goes past just absence of pests and diseases.  Are there smaller branches growing inside the canopy?  These internal shoots and leaves represent the future of a plant that will be or continue to be a bonsai.  Without them you have nothing to cut back to when something needs to be removed and maintain the current form.  What about the root system?  It could be a spiraling mess of thick roots or a brick of compacted soil.  This is often hard to evaluate so again, reputable bonsai suppliers are best as they know the history of root work on a given plant and you can avoid nasty surprises material for the landscape often provides like dead patches or under-hydrated material with all the roots in the bottom of a foot tall container. 

   What about styles?  Again, John Naka’s books clearly lay out the major styles of bonsai often pursued and a number of variations within each style category.  As a consumer, you may not know what style you are interested in creating when looking for material.  If you want a full-cascade bonsai, material with inflexible vertical growth will not work.  For this style, the first bend or two are crucial for pulling off a good bonsai. Root system shape and vigor again comes into play when choosing a plant as a container and / or angle change may not be possible.  My teacher, Keichi Fujikawa, is a second-generation bonsai master in Osaka, Japan.  He is an expert at finding the potential in a bonsai and practices what I consider “harmony” styling much of the time.  Working with what the tree has to offer is better for all those involved in the exchange versus imposing your will with rebar and chainsaws.  The Medieval torture weapons are only brought out when there is no other option to improve the material at hand and it will increase the aesthetic value.  In Japan, an auction may have two-thousand bonsai available and picking out the best ones to purchase is not a problem with a trained eye.  This is not yet the case in America, so we do the best with what we have; which we are doing quite well with in my opinion.  (Insert American bonsai photo here)   With every collection I visit, my appreciation for what has been accomplished so far and where we are going continues to improve.  It’s easy to gloss over the fact that we as Americans have not had a glut of resources to accomplish our goals.  Yet we are a community of inventors and innovators.  Just think about how many of the most important advances in modern society came from us.  My feeling is we have not fully adopted some of the time-tested processes that work well in Japan to create bonsai such as extreme specialization and checks and balances for those of us that teach, but when we do, we will progress even more quickly.   

   A matter very important to me when choosing material is genetics.  Often there are selections with desirable characteristics of a given species that are cultivated varieties selected by humans (aka cultivars) or naturally occurring varieties found in nature.  For conifers, foliage type and color is important.  Also, the location a cutting is taken from can influence the natural growth habit of a tree.  Choosing stock from species in a genus like Chamaecyparis that doesn’t produce many new shoots on old internal branches means selecting those that are full internally already.  A pitch pine (Pinus rigida) on the other hand, could look like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree and be full in a few years.  Some selections have the capability to “back-bud” even if the regular natural form does not.  For deciduous trees and broadleaf evergreens, leaf and fruit size are important.  Smaller leaved varieties produce thinner twigs.  Thus, branches need to be removed less often and replaced with others.  A small catch is that these varieties often grow far slower so the impatient among us should learn to graft.  Fruit size and color matter as the scale of fruit in relation to a given bonsai need to be at least somewhat in scale.  A miniature size bonsai can produce a full-size fruit if poked and prodded but this is merely a novelty and not what most of us are after. 
   
   A final matter even the most seasoned bonsai practitioner often doesn’t consider is the time variable.  How long will it take to get this piece of material to a state of development you’re happy with?  Do you have bonsai in training that don’t jive with your goals?  If the answer is longer than you want to wait, keep moving or check for the next raffle event.  One caveat would be production of material for future generations.  This is a really important part of raising the bar in our country.  Perhaps four or five projects could be set in motion and passed on to a motivated youngster.  When you purchase a bonsai that is already in a good container and has a well-developed structure, you are buying time and expertise.  Sometimes a mistake made early on will only show itself 20 years later.  My greatest source of frustration in the American bonsai scene is the lack of appreciation for quality material.  Disreputable bonsai suppliers sell what they call good bonsai to most often, beginners.  Just because something is called a pre-bonsai does not make it good.  Examine each potential like when you buy a house; hire an “inspector” or quiz the vendor on repairs and things not up to code.  Trees with glued on rocks and rooted cuttings smothered in wire are not synonymous with quality bonsai.  We are shooting for the appearance of maturity; not ability to pitch one into the trash can without making a mess.  An educated consumer is one that will not support the status quo and will hold out for better material.  The subtle differences in quality gained from careful attention to detail and good healthcare should be appreciated by consumers.  Pick a piece of material up and take it to the vendor.  Ask them how many years it took to grow it, how many times it has had the roots and branches worked on, and what fertilizers and other chemicals were applied to get it to market.  The answers may surprise you.  Now look at the price tag.  Could you do it for less?  Many bonsai growers and vendors pursue a career in this field because they truly love bonsai and the imbalance of cost and labor input to sales price is unfortunately considered “part of the deal”.  This should not be the case.

   While some of what has been written may come off a bit strong, I felt it needed to be said.  Bonsai professionals and vendors should be advocates for their clients and students.  As each of us advances in our understanding of the Art of Bonsai, time spent creating or refining a tree should not be in vain.  The pursuit is of course part of the fun but focusing on “keepers” is the point here.  An important part of making our own version of culturally important bonsai masterpieces is that they are passed on to future generations.  Lets leave them the best ones possible.  Take some time to evaluate your collection and enlist the services of a professional if the task is daunting.  If you are just getting started, take these points to heart and save yourself from some pain in the head and wallet.
 

Adair M

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Re: Developing stock the right way
« Reply #12 on: May 08, 2014, 09:39 AM »
Owen,

That's a very well thought out discussion of selecting appropriate bonsai material.  Too often poor material is chosen, and the enthusiast will hold the opinion that given enough time, any material can be transformed into a great bonsai.

I think part of the reason it is difficult for many to select quality material is we have so few really nice bonsai for the public to see.  Sure, there are some publicly displayed collections, but most of the really nice trees are held in private collections.  Even at bonsai retailers, the trees offered for sale are usually works in progress.  Most retailers do not have the time to dote over every detail that is required to develop trees to the highest level.  Even Boon says that his own trees get neglected!

Most of us when we start this hobby start with some sort of mallsai, and go from there.  The next phase is starting with raw nursery stock, and begin pruning and wiring.  Again, with raw material, it's hard to see the "finish line" that truly takes a decade or two achieve. 

As you know, I am a "Student of Boon", and taking his Intensive classes.  The great opportunity I get there is to work on trees that have been in training for decades, are already "finished", so I get to see the result of how bonsai techniques and culture have produced the form and refinement in these trees.  For instance, a JBP that has been detail wired, and candle pruned every year for the past 20 years will look a lot different than one that has never been wired/decandled before.

Owen, I think that you and the other young bucks that have had the opportunity to go to Japan, learn hands on the best techniques have a great opportunity to really accelerate the growth of bonsai appreciation here in the USA. And I believe that as you (and the others) begin to produce well started bonsai stock  for enthusiasts like myself to work with, the quality level of our "finished" trees will improve, too.
 

Judy

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Re: Developing stock the right way
« Reply #13 on: May 08, 2014, 10:31 AM »


I think part of the reason it is difficult for many to select quality material is we have so few really nice bonsai for the public to see. 

And I believe that as you (and the others) begin to produce well started bonsai stock  for enthusiasts like myself to work with, the quality level of our "finished" trees will improve, too.
Nail on the head.  I think that clubs that perpetuate the idea that mediocre material is acceptable as "good" are also part of the problem.
 I also think that there is far too little good material available, and it's difficult to find what is out there.  
 

Owen Reich

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Re: Developing stock the right way
« Reply #14 on: May 08, 2014, 05:39 PM »
I'm going to temporarily hijack this post....... (Sorry)

If people will support bonsai nurseries even more, they will answer your requests for better material. 

Good material is most often produced by dedicated growers or those with access to qualified help.

The discussion I had with a bonsai grower today in NY can be summarized in a few sentences:

In 1970, a young stock plant was purchased for seventy cents.  We sold it for twenty bucks after a few years of work.
In 2014 a young stock plant is purchased for about fifteen bucks.  After a few years of work, we'll sell if for twenty bucks.

If I tried to sell many of my bonsai for what they were worth, people would run.  The subtle details of why a bonsai I have is worth more are hard for many to understand. 

For many people, a twenty dollar tree is completely acceptable.  This is what they want and what they are willing to pay for.  The serious people search out help in acquiring material and improving their skills.  We cannot force the casual club member to improve.  We can encourage and educate.

As I said in the article above, people like me act as filters for better material.  We have to find it and as with this trip, cart it around New England for 3 weeks before it goes home.  Then we need to make sure it's healthy and add value to it.  Good bonsai are actually everywhere.  All you have to do is ask the right people.

I appreciate the notion of creating your own stock from scratch.  However, people could have better trees faster if they also supported the people trying to create bonsai for a living too.