Prepping a Bald Cypress

I have been stalking my trees for the last week or two. I knew with these consistent 70º F temperatures it was only a matter or time before another tree was ready for a repot. Once I saw green budding tips on one of my Bald Cypress, I knew it was time for some work.

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Here is the tree as purchased at the end of October 2013.  It had already dropped leaves but needed to get out of that nursery can. Usually that isn’t the ideal time for such work as you most always have to remove some root mass. The tree has stored a lot of energy in its root system to survive over the winter. If you remove too much or too aggressively you can severely degrade the tree’s health. Depending on the species and your climate, you can get away with it. I definitely can because it’s still 70-80ºF in October here and it can safely recover before cold weather sets in.

 

I pulled it out of the 5 gallon can and saw this mess.ImageThose big crossing roots are not good. I’ll take off as much as I feel comfortable with in order to leave some fine rooting and not stress it out too much.

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Ok, I took off a lot.

 

This guy went into a 13″ tub with no drainage whatsoever (on the right). It basically sat in a bowl of pine bark and potting soil cereal. Remember that post about having free draining soil and not keeping trees too wet? Not the bald cypress….they live in standing swamp water here in the Southeast US. This would not work out for any other species that I know is popular for bonsai.

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Fast forward to last night.

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It threw out tons of healthy roots in a very short amount of time! Those two thick roots in the third picture are still not ideal and have to be removed. My plan for this tree was to air-layer the top and make a raft out of the bottom 12″ so these roots won’t compromise my intended design.

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I used some general shears to remove those roots. For a raft, the tree will be potted horizontally as pictured. It needs more training before I go ahead and pot it that way. Right now, I’m focusing on the preparation needed for potting in a raft style within the next 2 years. Now, I want all my roots to be growing downward in this position. Once potted horizontally, new shoots will grow vertical and give the illusion of a fallen tree with the will to survive. It should be great in about 10 years. Patience is the key word here, remember? Anyway, back to last night’s work.

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The underside of the tree had an area that did not throw out any new roots. I need all I can get so I am trying a technique to encourage new root growth. I have shaved off the outer layer of bark, exposed the cambium, and applied rooting hormone.

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Once the hormone is applied, time to pot it up. I placed a board directly against the tree where the 2 thicker roots were removed. This will prevent any roots from growing in that direction, which will eventually be close to the soil line when it is planted horizontally. Most of my root growth will continue on the eventual downward facing side of the tree. Now, frequent feeding with plenty of water and sunshine will have this tree growing like crazy.

Be on the lookout for a future post in a couple months where I air layer the top portion of the tree. Also, more repotting on the way this weekend!

First Post, First Chinese Elm, First Repot of the Season

Well hello there guys.  Thanks for checking this out.  I plan to update this blog as I work on my trees, mainly for my own documentation and entertainment.  It might also be helpful for others who are just starting out with my most recent love obsession with the art of Bonsai.

I am most definitely not an expert as this will be my second year researching and working with trees.  If you want more quality information, seek out the multitude of great informational sites out there as well as forums. Read, read, read! There is so much information out there it is staggering.  Some of it is conflicting, so try to seek out other locals who you can learn from and see what works in your area.  A lot of the fun is trial and error so don’t sweat if you kill trees.  Stumps are the price of admission.

Your own experience will vary based on your climate, location, level of horticultural knowledge, species you choose to work with, etc.  I could write a book just about the basics, but it probably wouldn’t be that noteworthy or interesting.  Feel free to research it on your own and we can chat about it.

Ok….let’s get crackin.

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I received this Chinese Elm (Ulmus Parvifolia) late last Spring and have not touched it.  I picked it up as pictured from a friend on a forum for a great price.  It also came in this Iker pot which was probably worth more I paid for the tree.  There are a lot of nice folks interested in this art.  I have a feeling he just did me a solid since I am a newbie.  I’ll have to pay that forward in a few years.

I was leaving for work this morning and decided to check out my trees on the way out.  It has been a cold winter here in Southeast SC but Spring is rapidly approaching.  I was very surprised to see some buds beginning to swell along the branches of my tree. 

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This species is a vigorous grower and can tolerate a lot of treatment other trees can’t take.  It is also easy to grow in most climates and is a great choice for a beginner.  The time to repot your trees are right as buds are swelling and before they leaf out.  I have been extremely eager to get my hands dirty so I was pleased that I would have something to do tonight after my boys went to bed. First thing’s first, let’s get out everything you will need to repot a tree.

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Your new pot.  What?  That’s not a pot?! This tree is several years away from a fancy pot. This is a grow box.  I made this from pallets that I have scavenged from various places and broke down into usable planks. You can see a few more planks pictured behind the box. The metal screen is 1/4″ hardware cloth I bought from Lowe’s. A larger than needed growing container allows the tree to  grow a more full root system.  We need fine rooting and lots of them.  The roots should also spread radially from the base of the tree and are usually visible in a potted tree.  This is referred to as the nebari.

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You also need to have your soil components prepared and ready to go.  I am using a blend of 4 different products that I mix myself.  It is much cheaper to buy in bulk and mix your own but you need to know the likes and dislikes of the species you are working with.  Some prefer more damp conditions while others prefer drier conditions.  This is a general blend that I will use in varying percentages for all my trees.  From left to right: Pumice (Purchased as Dry Stall), Chopped Pine Bark (Purchased as Top Soil from Lowe’s), Oil Dri (Purchased from Advance Auto), and Turface MVP(Purchased from John Deere Landscaping.  Dad will be proud. Nothing runs like a Deere!) You might notice that only one of these products is organic and the rest are inorganic.  This is intended so that the soil does not retain too much moisture.  You want very free draining soil in uniform particle sizes that also allow the root system to receive oxygen.  All of these products have been sieved down to 1/8″.  I mix them in equal parts and come up with:

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Pencil for scale.  Sorry, I didn’t have a banana on hand

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I have placed a bottom layer of all purpose gravel in my box simply because my soil is in 1/8″ particles and my screen is 1/4″.  A lot of time and PBR went into sifting it out so I don’t want it to wash through the screen and lose it.  I have also threaded a piece of wire through the screen and up through the gravel/soil so that I can secure the tree to the pot.  You don’t want it to move around and disturb root development or fall out when you are moving your tree around

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I put a thin layer of my soil blend on the gravel and moved on to the interesting part…the tree!

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I removed the tree from the pot it was in and inspected the root system.  I have no idea when it was last repotted but the roots were in pretty good shape.  You repot once every 1-2 years for most trees in training.  Ideally, we don’t want any thick roots, downward growing roots, or roots that circle around the pot. 

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After using a chopstick to comb out the original soil I was able to see a few roots that are thicker than the rest of the fine, feeder roots.  I removed those with care not to remove too much of what I want to keep.

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You can also see a large knob directly under the base of the tree.  This also needs to come off so that the tree can sit as flat as possible and deeper to allow the roots to spread radially.

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After working down the bulge with my knob cutters, I have a flat bottom.  It looks like a lot of damage to the tree, but this species is very tough and you won’t even notice this when I repot it in another 2 years.

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Final look at the roots before it goes into the box.  It is critical to get the roots in a workable and healthy state before even attempting to style the tree.  If you don’t have a solid foundation to build upon, you are wasting your time.  A healthy root system will feed the canopy in a more efficient manner and look more pleasing when it matures.  Roots before shoots! (I stole that)Image

I placed the tree in the box, secured the wire around the base below the soil line, and filled in the gaps with soil.

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Here is a picture with a tape measure so you can get an idea of the scale.  Like I said earlier, this tree is decades away from finished. Now, a fertilizing routine will begin and I can expect a lot of good growth.  I will select the branches that I want to use in the final design later in the year and wire them after giving it a haircut.  Expect an update on this tree later on in the summer when it has leafed out.

 

I have several more trees to repot in the coming weeks.  Stay tuned!

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