Last month I received a curious, lumpy envelope from Canada. Enjoying curious, lumpy packages, I opened it eagerly. When its contents were on my lap I remembered I’d sent a silly email to a Canadian fellow who was planning on attending a Seasonal Workshop with me. He’d asked how he could make a down payment on the class. I somewhat impishly suggested some alternative methods, such as a string of shells, gold bullion, wampum. This is what I received in the mail:
Until a couple of years ago, I’d never worked with Limber Pine, one of our North American white pines. It’s growing on me. Buds back well, nice short needle, strong. Has a nice name, Limber Pine, which comes more trippingly off the tongue than Loblolly Pine, for instance. And it has great deadwood features.
This Limber Pine was styled in a Seasonal Workshop a couple of weeks ago. It was collected by a student of mine, Steve Varland of Backcountry Bonsai, who was able to be in the Seasonal to help style it. Loads of fun!
Photo essay follows our journey with this tree-
Ponderosa is a controversial North American tree. Mostly the debates swirl around the long needles, and their size being a problem with bonsai. I’m of two minds with this. For one, Ponderosa ramifies rather well over time, and needle length comes down pretty good. My misgivings are that for very small trees, ponderosa foliage doesn’t seem well suited. But, for a modest sized tree and larger, we have a really rough and rugged, really quite exciting, pine character. It’s almost the ultimate pine, in terms of wild ‘piney’ feeling.
This ponderosa is modest in size, 26″. That’s enough size to get beyond the long needles, and then it’s also a bunjin, which is one of the best applications for the species. Needle size will also go down a lot over time.
Before I bought the tree, it had been left to grow for some years without any kind of management. Ponderosa will quickly revert to a strong primary bud and weaken anything on the interior when this happens. A few of the branches were really weak. But there were also small buds everywhere, waiting to push.
And that’s the background for this tree! I’ll fill in how we reset the energy and the styling in the photos:
My apprentice Bobby Curttright and I were looking forward to this all month! Long time friend Gary Wood came west to share his tree wizardry with us in a seminar last weekend. I always thought his last name was a karmic promise…
Gary’s knowledge of trees, their inner workings, and how they respond to stimuli including sharp bonsai implements is nothing short of encyclopedic. And he’s an inventive, nearly prophetic thinker. For one, his own observations had him almost ten years ahead of the research on the role of auxins and sugars in determining plant growth.
A dozen lucky folks from the Northwest converged on my studio for Gary’s fact-filled, humorous day.
I suppose that title needs a bit of explaining. About 4 1/2 years ago I grafted this Rocky Mountain Juniper (collected by Randy Knight) with some curious shimpaku foliage that I took a shine to. The shimpaku foliage was a bit coarser than we see normally, and I thought it would look good on a tree with a rugged, expressive character.
So that’s the backdrop for the Day of Yikes…
When a tree is grafted with an entirely different foliage type, some day, eventually, the original foliage needs to be cut off. Although with a bit of practice there’s little worry, really, it is still a bit exciting to finally (after years of waiting) yell out ‘Yikes!’ as you make that final pruning cut.
The tree did fine.
And this summer Bobby rewired it for the second time. The following is a series of photos from the last two years, from the Day of Yikes to about four minutes ago, when the last shot was taken.
Few plants come without a puzzling issue or two. For ‘Chojubai’ Dwarf Flowering Quince, the most serious issues are in the roots. Chojubai are strong plants that will normally extend 6” (to 18″) per growth surge. If this is not seen, then be on the alert.
A weak tree will not make typical extensions in the spring and might have a yellowish color. Some weak Chojubai are simply in soil that is too fine, are overwatered or underwatered, or are in pots that are too shallow, and those are easy to correct.
Otherwise the root zone of a Chojubai is susceptible to several problems that can weaken your tree. The first is a nematode, the second is a bacteria, and the third is a root gall, and they’re all separate but interrelated parts of the disease known as crown gall. It’s not frequent, but if you have a Chojubai, be on the alert for general weakness. I’ve been looking into this problem for a while, and my apprentice Bobby has been very helpful in discovering some of the links too, so I’d like to offer here what we’re doing now to tackle these root issues.
- In a quick summary, root lesion nematodes cause wounds in the Chojubai’s fine roots that provides an entry for a truly rascally bacteria, Agrobacterium tumefaciens, which causes crown gall. A wound from a root-pruning tool can also provide entry. The bacteria lives inside the root, and transfers part of its DNA to the DNA of plant cells, which, with cell division, cause the callus-like galls we see on the roots of affected plants. So the bacteria is very sneaky fella, and not too easy to get rid of!
If you see galls (Warty and friends) on the roots of Chojubai, try these treatments:
- Shift the tree into a bigger pot. If the weakened Chojubai is in fine soil, a small pot, compacted soil, or a shallow pot, definitely transfer it to a deeper, larger container or box with coarse pumice (1/3” + size) or similar on the bottom and sides surrounding the original soil mass. Let it grow freely, without overwatering it (algae and liverwort are the clues), while controlling the other issues.
- Control the root lesion nematode. There are nemacides specific for the control of nematodes, and these may be used. With a suggestion from a friend and a couple of tests I found that soaking the root ball in Zerotol at 1.25 oz / gal will kill the nematodes. This can be done while the tree is still in the pot.
- Control the bacteria. The problem with the bacteria is that it’s inside the root itself. Copper is effective for this bacteria, (the Japanese bonsai professionals use Streptomycin, but it’s puzzling to figure the proper concentration for plants since they are made for internal use with animals). I’ve been using Phyton 35, which is a systemic copper bactericide/fungicide. Be sure to read the label carefully—Phyton 35 requires a change in the water we mix it in to a pH of 5.5-6.5.
- Control the gall. Cut the gall away with pruners when repotting. It may take several repottings to get all the gall removed.
What seems to be important is to take care of this three-ring circus systematically. First knock out the nematode. Then go after the bacteria. And finally cut away the gall. Even if you’ve killed your nematode and the bacteria, you may still have the gall as the DNA from the bacteria will keep replicating with cell division. But if you’ve killed the nematode and are controlling the bacteria, a weakened Chojubai often shows a very rapid jump back into strong growth. I’ve seen new, large, strong leaves and even shoots on a totally stalled Chojubai in under two months with these treatments.
The nematode is often the primary culprit, which appear to think that Chojubai roots are like crack cocaine, chocolate, nirvana, or all three. They can knock down the root system of a quince quite rapidly, and then you see a weakened tree with a gimpy root system that does not have the typical vigor of Chojubai. Many other Rose family plants are particularly tasty to nematodes.
A few of the nematodes you can see without a loupe (I’ve seen some about ½” long, and look like glassy worms), others are nearly microscopic. If you find the gall you can assume you’ve got the bacteria. Prevention is best, such as being careful about sterilization of cuts, and controlling the nematode.
Hopefully you’ll never see galls on your tree, but if you do, try these remedies to bring your tree back to health!
A few older posts about ‘Chojubai’ Dwarf Flowering Quince:
…but not recently! We did this repotting at the end of March, 2014, and like the last couple of posts, I’m playing catch up with things that we did long ago…
The styling of this juniper was featured in a 2012 post: http://crataegus.com/2012/09/04/special-rocky-mountain-juniper-styling/
Enjoy the photos!