Friday, 29 May 2015

the birds and the bees

Slowly we are building up the bonsai collection here to offer more seasonal interest and to include some of the more unusual species.

The seasonal interest can come from spring foliage colour, flowers, fruits, autumn colour, a fine winter image etc but many of these trees need a little more work than the standard run of the mill species.

One tree I wanted for many years was an oriental bittersweet to add that splash of intense autumn / winter colour when the yellow pod opens to expose the bright red fruit in the center. On a visit to Saruyama Towers one day I found, and was able to aquire, two ! 

Thanks to Peters advice it became apparent to get fruit the tree needs pollinating from a male of the species so one of these was procured as well....Now it all fell to timing - - the main tree is a beautiful large cascade and it started flowering weeks ago - the male though seemed to totally refuse to open any of the forming small green flowers...unbelievable ! a lady ready and the bloke doesn't want to play ball.  I even put the trees together, entwining the two to see if the male would wake up....yesterday I saw the first male flowers open so now it is fingers crossed that the female flowers are still viable and havent been open too long

the small leaves are the female tree so ive put it under the males (there are two now, one in a small pot and one trained as a climber over the entrance gate to the bonsai area)

I hope this little fella has been saving his energy as there are 5-600 female flowers all very ripe and waiting ! 

At least it is easy to tell the two sexes apart

Only time will tell if i've been successful - if so the green berries will form at the base of each flower, if not they just drop off and that's it for another year. 

While doing a bit of online research I found this link and it is the same tree 2 years before  undergoing a spray fertilisation....

Hopefully the tree likes it with a real male as I fancy taking it to Noelanders in Jan 2016

Monday, 4 May 2015

food for thought

For every one of our prized bonsai trees there is a bug, beast or pest that would love to eat them. Very few of them will kill a bonsai in a short period of time, but they will weaken the tree, set back a seasons growth or damage important branches that may be essential in the design. Attacks on conifers can cause inner foliage to be lost and this can be a problem on species that don't freely make new inner growth.

Here are some of the pests I've seen on bonsai during my travels, garden and nursery visits and sometimes here on the trees in the garden. Obviously we can't be blind to the fact flying and crawling pests may find our trees tasty and they can appear at any time. Regular inspection helps you understand what may or may not have set up home on your trees, although sometimes the pests are out of sight or very well hidden so a tree seeming sluggish, weak or slow to grow may be the clue you need.



Here is the basic aphid - known as greenfly, black fly etc but can be orange, brown, red or white as well. A vigorous breeder that soon swamps soft new tips and leaves as spring growth occurs. They pierce the soft tissue and suck the sap - secondary problems are the residue they leave behind - it ends up attracting a black sooty mould that further weakens the tree. A tell tale sign of aphids as well as the creatures themselves is lots of ants on the tree - they like the sticky excretion and will farm / protect the aphids to keep the supply plentiful

sooty mould

Ladybirds eat aphids but in my observations the aphid can out breed the best efforts of a ladybird

There are many sprays and treatments ranging from water jets, soapy water, through to contact killing pesticides and systemic treatments that enter the tree and kill the aphid when it sucks the sap.

We often hear of trees having wooly aphids as white fluffy blobs are spotted in the foliage. On the underside of beech tree leaves is the only place I've seen the wooly aphid - it is usually a totally different pest mis-interpreted as the wooly 

You need to look under the leaves to find these and also spray under the leaves if you are using a contact killing spray.


These white fluffy blobs are not wooly aphids but the pine bark adelgid. I see these all the time on Scots Pine bonsai - especially if they are kept too shaded or too protected . They spread very quickly through the needles and newly growing candles - they are sap suckers and weaken the tree and certainly effect back budding too. Needles discolour and drop prematurely and the tree turns a tired colour - loosing its vibrance. Contact sprays work best with washing up liquid and a little warm water to get through the waxy coating. Systemic sprays work from the inside of the tree but often the old fluffy husk needs washing off with a jet of water

This is a more unusual species of adelgid - that colonises spruce and hemlock - different species but same type of pest

Juniper scale insects

Like the adelgid I see these tiny white spots on junipers kept too protected from the elements - dark shade net, poly tunnels, over protection and poor airflow all can contribute to a weaker tree and I believe a weaker tree more susceptible to insect attacks. Sun or at least bright light, and excellent airflow reduce the likeleyhood of a tree becoming covered in these little pests

The hard shell protects the insect underneath so a systemic pesticide is usually the most effective treatment. They often appear as tiny white dots on the scales of chinensis type junipers - often 1mm or just over. A large outbreak will eventually cause browning of the foliage. 

I've seen a much larger scale insect on chinese elms and hornbeams too - these get to 5mm across, usually dark brown. Effected trees will drop branches and will die back a lot if the pests are ignored


Pine sawfly Lavae

I only had one single larvae in the garden here and luckily it was spotted as the newly purchased Scots Pine was carried from the car to the bench. I have seen larger numbers of them on pine bonsai at a nursery in the past where lots of bonsai pines were in relatively close proximity to commercial plantations so I think this is a pest you are more likely to buy in than have in high numbers in the average garden. They are incredibly voracious - chewing off rows and rows of needles virtually daily and if allowed to go unchecked they will cause branch dieback once all the needles are gone. Easy to find - they wiggle about a lot and the pine shoots become stripped of needles

Vine beetle

This is an important one to spot - it is the feeding of the beetle stage of vine weevils. The adults eat leaves, then they lay eggs in the pot that become the root eating weevils. One adult lays about 10 eggs so it doesnt take long to become a problem. Trees slow right down on growth, lack in vigour and often end up with a poor colour. As we bring in so many trees from many places to the garden I treat everything with a systemic vine weevil killer. If you can kill the beetle while it is eating the leaves you wont get the grubs eating the roots - to me thats the best way to protect against these damaging pests.

The adult beetle

The root eating grub

Garden center material can be full of grubs - some nurseries also seem to have high numbers of grubs in the pots so I regularly treat all the new stock arriving in my garden. To get the most from a systemic treatment we make up a deep bath of pesticide and submerge the entire pot. This saturates the soil and penetrates all parts of the rootball. It kills on contact and continues to give 3-4 months protection systemically. The same stuff kills off the sap suckers too

It may cost £20 to make up the dip but it treats every tree here - after every pot up to 24" is dipped I use the left over liquid poured onto the larger pots. 

At least we know the trees living here and leaving here are as pest free as we can manage

Most caterpillars are loners and do very little damage to bonsai - eating holes in a few leaves etc
There is one that seems to reach epidemic levels though and it rolls itself up in the leaves 

They seem to love Azaleas and will eat into flower buds too, causing the bloom to abort or be misshaped. I've seen them bunch up larch foliage, pine needles and roll up a great many different leaves. The small brown moth lays the eggs at the base of the tree and the hatched grubs crawl up into the foliage to feed. If you spray the trees in late summer with water in the evening the moths will be disturbed and start flying about - its a good way to see if they are around.  

There are other pests like spruce mites, spider mites and no end of others but in my travels they appear to be very rare and unusual - this post is about the common ones so people know what they are seeing if a bonsai gets a pest attack. 

I know there are many ways to treat pests, I need effective and long lasting solutions so tend to rely on systemic / contact combination products - these will usually work long enough to kill the adults and the hatching grubs from any eggs that have been layed. We need this type of product due to the amount of trees that may be here at times, and in the long term we use a lot less chemical in the garden

Friday, 1 May 2015

Maple work begins

 Spring has well and truly arrived and the maples leafed out a good few weeks ago. I keep all the acers here fully outdoors all winter, on the benches as this keeps them dormant as long as possible so they don't become a problem leafing out while the weather is still too cold. We all know the basic first task of letting the first pair of leaves open and then get in and nip out the emerging extension shoot before it gets too long. This is fairly standard to keep the internodes short and to direct energy to weaker inner shoots.

The tree above was fully defoliated last year as it had developed all the growth on the branch ends and very little inner growth. This had actually occurred in Japan as the tree was imported winter 2013 but it was overdue a repot and had got a bit weak. Following an excellent repotting at my supplier the tree stayed healthy so I added it too our stock here soon after. Mid summer 2014 I removed every leaf which triggered buds everywhere including all over the trunk which was handy as I want to add more branches to the future design. This is not a thing to do too often on a Palmatum, and I only hold total defoliation back for specific trees that need rebuilding from the inside.

Starting 3 weeks ago the centre shoots were pinched out each day as the tree responded to the warm weather and sunny days. I only do this to the strong vigorous areas and let the weak inner shoots extend if they have the energy to do so.

This is just the first part of the spring maple work as the precious inner buds and weak shoots need light or they will be shaded out and die off but we can't just chop off the outer leaves or the tree responds as if defoliated and opens more buds. 

 We cut of one leaf from every outer and strong pair

By doing this half the leaves are removed from the outer canopy, halving the shading and increasing light penetration to the inner tree

Doing this is nothing but a benefit to the tree and doesn't effect the overall image either

Here is a spare branch showing pre pruning

And now one of every two leaves are pruned off

This allows more light in to the inner and lower parts of the tree

Later in the year the tree may still appear too shaded as the leaves harden off and inner growth strengthens. There is one further string to our bow to continue letting in more light and that is to cut each remaining leaf in half. This still will not trigger the dormant buds to open ( we don't want them triggered) but it will let the maximum amount of light into the tree......

Remember we are improving the winter image, we don't really worry about the tree in summer and it is fine to have it covered in half leaves by late summer. Maples in spring are lovely but soon after become a big mop of leaves and turn into shapeless domes that then loose all inner shoots and look rubbish in winter. A little pruning and thinning now ensures a fantastic winter image tree to enjoy. 

Subtle changes that improve the health and quality of the tree but it doesn't ruin the overal enjoyment of a maple in leaf. This is the perfect time to do any wiring needed too, so a few branches were wired and guyed as required 

This stunning mid sized tree is available for sale