Air layering an Arakawa Maple

First off, I changed the title of my blog from sikadelic’s bonsai blog to Gray St. Bonsai. Nuff’ said there. On to the work!

I used my trusty tailgate workbench again (my wife cleaned up the garage and I’m waiting for the kids to dirty it up before I add my mess).  The tools of the trade from left to right: a Ziploc bag and zip tie, long strand spaghum moss, plastic wrap, grafting knife, and a bucket of water. And oh yeah…the tree of course. 

Today I’m working on an Arakawa I purchased from Martin Sweeney. He’s a private seller who has some great stock and very considerate of his customers. It is a bit tall which actually drew me to the tree. It has a lot of options but is limited by the forking branches…hence my desire to layer one and start building a nice feminine figure (settle down).

The nebari will likely need some work but I haven’t reported it yet. I look forward to reporting it next year and seeing what’s under there. 

I bought this moss off Amazon for about 8 bucks. It came in a 1 pound bale which is a much better deal than buying a small amount from your local box store. 

I grabbed a few handfuls and threw it in my bucket of water to get nice and wet. 

Swim around in there a bit and check for stalks that can poke a hole through your bag and be a general pain in the ass. 

I used my grafting knife to make two rings about double the width of the branch I am working on. 

Scrape away the cambium and make sure to get down deep enough that it won’t grow together and heal itself. 

I got my bag where I wanted it and used the zip tie to hold it in place. By the way, those things are handy. I recommend having a few sizes on hand. They’re helpful for all sorts of things. 

I added the moss to the bag a little at a time to get a tight fit. Make sure to squeeze out the excess water. Once I had a good softball sized wad of moss around the cut, I wrapped it tightly with plastic wrap to hold everything in place. 

I left the top open so the moss can stay damp when it rains or I water it. I also poked holes around the bottom so it could drain. 

Now it’s off to the shade for a week or so before heading back out to the bench. I’ll give an update when I see some progress. 

A hard trim on a gnarly Arakawa Maple

I’ve had this tree for a few years and it’s been through the wringer. I had initially tried to air layer and thread graft the tree last year but it failed. It died back quite a bit resulting in a pretty gnarly appearance. To be honest, I didn’t think it would survive and left it alone aside from feeding and watering until this past weekend. 

It was growing very well and looked to enjoy the time off so I figured it was time to give its first real cut back to build a structure for the tree. 

This straight branch was an eyesore for me and I didn’t want to chop it all the way back. I didn’t have any wire strong enough to hold it so I improvised. 

I would like to get some buds to pop on the right side of the main trunk. I’ll feed it pretty heavy and hope for the best. I’ll also thin out the apex a bit later this year.

Korean Hornbeam Group

It was finally time to make a real purchase of a trained tree grown for bonsai purposes.  Until now, all of my trees have been nursery projects or collected trees.  I feel comfortable enough in my skills now to spend a bit of money and get something nice.  I scoured the usual online sources to see what was available in my price range before heading out to Bogan’s Bonsai.  We have our monthly study groups there and the owners could not be better people.  Besides, it is always better to support your local folks.

I was intentionally shopping for a hornbeam or maple and found this really nice 3 tree group planting.





This is a great start to a great piece and I am really excited to work on it.  As with anything, it is not without its flaws and needs a bit of improvement.  I will reduce the height a little bit and will need to improve the base unless there is something nice hiding below the soil line.

I will take it to the study group next weekend for a light trim and some wire.

A little work on an Arakawa Maple

I picked up this tree around mid-Spring of last year.  When it arrived it looked like this.


There are some things I really like about the tree but a couple improvements are definitely needed.  First off, the base is awesome.


I really like the bones I have with the twin trunk design but I have no taper and no movement.  Luckily that is something that can be fixed with some patience and a little work.

My first course of action is to get an air layer going on the top. This looks like a pretty good spot.


You may think I am crazy for choosing this place due to the big scar from an earlier chop, but years from now when the new tree is established, I can carve it out and make it a focal point.

Ok, let’s get started.

I scored the bark and put my bag in place.  I didn’t have a picture of this but I made sure to smear some rooting hormone all around the upper part of the wound.  Some say it isn’t needed but I always like to use it just to get that little extra help.  It makes me feel better at the very least.


I didn’t have any moss so I am trying something new and using pure vermiculite.  I had plenty on hand and I know it stays pretty damp so it should work fine. I soaked it in some water before applying it to the tree.


This part was a pain in the ass.  I had it all over my bench when I was finished, but alas, it was done. I put a bit of wire lightly around the top and wrapped it with saran wrap.


I added a layer of aluminium foil to keep the sun from cooking the fresh roots when they start poking out.


I went ahead and made a thread graft on my right trunk. Unfortunately, the small branch was already dead and I didn’t know. The tree suffered a bit through the cold weather and died back.


A month or so later I realized the branch was a goner. No worries!  I will just give it another try a bit lower down. I drilled a small hole through the center of the trunk section.


The tree was already in full leaf so I had to trim the existing leaves off to fit through the hole.  I trimmed the petioles (the piece that stem that connects the leaf to the branch) much closer than this picture shows.


I gently pushed it through the hole and covered the entrance and exit points with cut paste to hold in the moisture while it heals. These are pictures from my first failed graft since I can’t find the new ones. I followed the same exact process though.



All done!

I had not repotted this tree at all since I bought it and I noticed that the water wasn’t soaking in very well when I would water it.  I intentionally didn’t repot this year so I wouldn’t slow the tree down. I thought I would go ahead and slip pot it while it was in the garage for the graft.



I had a pond basket laying around so I popped it in there, backfilled with soil to fill in the gaps, and back out to the bench!


I would normally be giving it a haircut right now, but with the air layer and root graft in place I want to just let it grow as much as possible.

I know this post shows a lot of work and would be pushing the limits of the tree’s health if I did it all at once. Please remember that the air layer and new graft/slip pot was performed about 2 months apart.

We’ll check back in a couple of months and see how it is coming along!

Back to the drawing board


The last time I wrote about this tree was here. I just purchased this tree last year and had cut it back pretty far when repotted it from what I think was a 3gal nursery container. I let it grow freely all year without doing any additional work to it.

After getting another year under my belt and gaining more of a critical eye I can see I didnt do enough when I chopped it. I also made the mistake of letting it grow all year without trimming it a few times. Now I’m left with straight braning with no small shoots near the trunk. Just long, leggy, growth with no ramification gained. Shit.

I also don’t like the forking branches that are relatively similar in thickness. I need one to be more dominant than the other and right now it’s just uninteresting.  The tree only has 1 season of training so I’m not expecting a perfect tree at this point but I want it to get started on the right foot.

The one thing I DID do ended up terribly. I tried to wire a new leader vertically, but again, I waited too long and it was too thick. It snapped.


I covered it with cut paste but it didn’t recover.


Now several months later you can see the discoloration hinting that it’s dead around the wound.

A scratch confirms my suspicion. You can see it’s still alive a few inches up but there’s no coming back for this branch…it’s a goner.

Probably good news with the bad wire scars. I left on them on longer than I normally would have as not to disturb the healing process. Lesson learned.

My only option now is to rechop and start again with the left trunk. Truth be told, it was too long anyway.


I left a lot of branching on the right trunk to get some life into the branches and promote some back budding. It will all come off later once I pick a new leader. Im hoping to get one below the wound on the right trunk so I won’t have to look at that scar on the front. Oh well…time will tell. We’ll check back in once the buds really start pushing.

What to do with a dead tree?

I had collected what I was hoping would eventually be an awesome bonsai many moons from now. It was a beautiful Bald Cypress taken during my Swampathon 2014 post.


Long story short, it kicked the bucket.  I had hopes it would pull through but I never saw any buds when the rest of the collected trees were firing on all cylinders. I wasn’t sure why it happened and assumed it was just overstressed from collection. I felt really bad about losing it because it had a killer base with great potential.  On top of that I went in and removed it from the swamp causing its demise.  It may sound corny, but I felt bad about it.  I wanted to do something cool with it and not just throw it on the burn pile.  That would just be rude. Then a light bulb went off!

A lamp.  I could make a lamp…I think.

I went and pulled it from the container and looked it over.



I wanted to use as much of the width as possible.  I had envisioned sawing it off right above the root flare but it was just too damn wide.  It would have been too difficult to make a completely flat cut with a handsaw.



I decided to use my table saw like any self respecting Tim Taylor fan would…more power!! The blade height game me limitations on just how low I could cut it. It wasn’t ideal since I was losing a lot of the width, but it was the easiest way to do it. To be honest, a lot of planning didn’t go into this.  I just rolled with the punches.



Once I cut it, I could see it had a large interior wound most likely from some type of boring insect.  It went about 2-3 feet through the tree.  I’m not 100% sure if that was the cause of death but it sure made me feel a lot better about losing it.




Now I just need to drill out a channel through the whole trunk section to allow me to run wire through it.  The size of my bit (which I borrowed…Thanks Rick!) also limited the height of my finished lamp.  This was no problem as I wanted a small desktop size lamp anyway.




The next few pictures are pretty self explanatory. I screwed some adjustable feet on the bottom, taped the wiring to a piece of wire, and shoved it through.

9 10 11

Once I had the wiring through, I connected it to a lamp kit and used gorilla glue to secure the bulb socket to the top.  I would do this a bit differently next time as it foams up and looks messy.  Since this was just a prototype I didn’t worry about it very much.  Since it would be covered by the shade I just scraped off the excess and carried on.12 13 14


We’re pretty much done at this point.  Now to just get a shade and a bulb.


Ah, there we go! I was glad I was able to save a piece of this tree as a memory of the awesome trip.

30 Day Collection Update

It has been exactly one month since I collected 3 Bald Cypress and 1 Water Elm from the shores of Lake Marion here in South Carolina (see post here Since that was my first adventure collecting quality trees, I have been more anxious than my 3 & 5 year old on Christmas Eve.

It took about 2 weeks to see new growth on my first cypress. As I predicted, the first signs of life came from the tree with the most dense fine roots. It also happens to be my favorite with the large knee on the side so I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I saw it pushing new buds.





You can see that most of the new shoots are near the top of the tree but the first noticeable growth was seen at the base. These trees are very apical with their growing habits so no surprise there. In another month or two I will have lots of bright green new foliage. My plan for this fine gentlemen will be a formal upright styling. The chop will be made lower and a new leader chosen next Spring. Right now I just want it to gain strength and continue recovering.

I also have some good action on the second tree with the smaller knee at the base. It produced new buds about 5 or 6 days later than the first and has been also doing very well. I have some different ideas for styling this one. The more I look at it, the more I dislike the roots on each side of the base.


The roots separate from the trunk higher up than what I like and just generally don’t appeal to me. I haven’t decided exactly what to do yet, but I will most likely do some carving at the base to fix the roots. Maybe a small cave like opening or something….we’ll see. I have a lot of time to decide and I still haven’t decided on the front.

Well…unfortunately…the third tree is most likely dead. Maybe not completely dead yet, but the lack of new foliage doesn’t give me any hope.


It’s a damn shame too because I love the killer base of this tree/dead stump.  I will continue to care for it for another month or so and keep my fingers crossed. It was chopped and worked in the same manner as the other two so my only guess is that the tree didn’t have as much initial strength built up as the others. You win some and you lose some. I still have a cool idea for the dead trunk though. It involves a saw, shellac, lamp parts, and a nice ambiance. Pics to come if that happens.

The Water Elm is doing extremely well and showed growth as early as the first cypress. One note on the water elm, it isn’t actually an elm but a close relative.  Everybody just calls it a water elm because somebody decided to do that….who am I to argue?

I wasn’t expecting it to do as well as it has considering the condition of the roots when I got it home. It proves to be a tough species that I wish I had more of. If I had room, I would head back and collect a few more. Everything I have now will be packed in a U-Haul for a move to Indiana this November so I have to be pretty selective.




I plan to chop this guy again as well next Spring to a leader about half way up the tree. I really like the movement to the left and will continue building my tree in that direction and developing taper. Give it about 5 years and this tree will be a real looker.

I also received a beautiful Arakawa Maple from Martin Sweeney a couple of weeks ago. I may make a small post about it in a couple of weeks to brag about how awesome I think it is.