TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES
There are many methods used to keep Bonsai looking like Bonsai. Some of the more common ones are covered here. But first a look at tools.
Scissors - It is a good idea to have at least two pairs of scissors. A long pair with fine tips will be useful for trimming small branches while a heavier pair with thicker blades and larger handles will be useful for trimming roots. Having separate tools for these two areas will help to prevent the spread of any disease.
Concave Branch Cutters - Available in several different sizes, the cutting head is curved so that when cutting branches a slightly hollowed out wound is produced. This shaped cut is ideally shaped to heal with a good chance of minimum scarring. Straight edged tools would leave the wound flat and resultant healing would produce a slight bump. They are widely used for general ranch cutting work but ar only suitable for removing small branches flush to the trunk.They are designed to be used from the side of the cut and are sometimes referred to as side cutters.
Knob cutters - Available in several different sizes they are similar to the concave cutters but go one step further and produces a spherical cut. They are designed to be used end on to a cut and get their name from their main use removing knobs or stubs of branches flush to the trunk. They are also useful for nibbling away chunks of wood prior to carving.
Wire cutters - Cutters with very strong tips are needed for removing wire from trees with the minimum of damage. Conventional wire cutters can be used in most cases but they must be a quality pair that would cost as much as custom made Japanese cutters anyway.
Pliers - are designed with flat blades that are used for removing
bark from jins. A cut is made through the bark around the base of
the jin using a knife or branch cutters and then the jin pliers
are used to squash the bark which seperates it from the wood beneath.
pliers can then be used to crush the end of the jin and grasp
fibres that when stripped away will give a natural looking finish
Cutters - At repotting it is sometimes necessary, particularly
with yamadori stock, to reduce large roots. Root cutters are designed
like knob cutters but with flat blades and a much thicker blade
that will stand up to the added wear and tear experienced in amongst
the root ball
refers to the removal of branches that are usually too thick to
be removed with scissors. This is not always the case in very small
trees but works as a general idea of what tool to use when. Pruning
is usually carried out in the winter when sap flow has all but stopped.
Cuts should be sealed to prevent drying out of the wound. Japanese
sealants come in two forms, a silicon based wound sealant that comes
in a tube that is used for sealing od small cuts and cut paste that
is a putty material that is used to seal larger wounds and the edges
of jins and sharis. Both are best applied liberally as thiclk layers
are easier to remove at a later date.
Pinching is carried out on most species when the new growth is still very soft. It is done on deciduous and coniferous species with the intention of inducing back-budding in order to create more branches to grow before the space between leaves becomes too great. As its name suggests pinching is done with finger and thumb, usually with the fleshy parts. If finger nails need to be used then scissors would be a better option. Pinching is most effective on coniferous species, especially Juniper and Spruce in order to form closely bunched pads of foliage. It is carried out in spring and early summer. Pine is also pinched but since pines respond in different ways to different amounts of shoot removal, it would be foolish to attempt to generalise. (See Pines for more details)
By trimming I mean the removal of fairly new growth that has not has not yet hardened off but is too thick to pinch off. The obvious question here is "Why let growth get too long in the first place?" The simple answer is that some trees, notably Chinese Elm need to put on some growth so that the dormant buds at the base end of the branch have time to form. Removing the growth sooner will not produce back budding and will more than likely result in a dormant branch that will probably die back in the winter. This does not apply in all cases. Maples for instance are pinched back as soon as two leaves have appeared as the new buds have already formed in the leaf axils. Check the species guide for your trees requirements. If it is not covered it means I've not had time to write it yet but feel free to e-mail me.
Root pruning is the process by which we allow a tree to remain in a pot of a given size without it becoming root-bound. It is usually only carried out once a year at most, just before growth begins. It can be compared to the trimming and pinching above ground in that it has much the same effect. When a root is cut, the new growth will divide into two smaller, finer roots. Common-sense is the most important factor in carrying out this operation. Never root-prune a tree that looks sick unless you are certain that the problem lies in the roots themselves. Never leave a trees roots exposed to the elements for longer than you have to. Prepare the pot and mix the soil before working on the tree so that it can return to its home as quickly as possible. Having said that, don't be tempted to rush the job and just give the roots a quick trim.Comb out the roots carefully. Cut back any thicker roots that have little or no fine roots coming from them and remove any roots that are growing downwards from below the trunk. The aim is to achieve a system of fine roots radiating out from the base of the trunk. You'll know a good root system when you see one because it will have a beauty all its own.
Defoliation is a technique carried out on certain deciduous species, notably maples, to induce a second flush of leaves usually prior to showing. Removing all the leaves from a tree makes it think that it is spring all over again. It will produce a new, hopefully more plentiful supply of buds that will result in a balanced set of smaller leaves. This technique is not recommended for beginners. The timing is crucial and it should not be attempted on a tree that has been re-potted in the same year and should not be done every year. Some would argue that it does a tree good and creates vigour but this is often mistaken for the trees desperate fight for survival. Approach with care and seek expert advice if unsure.
Fertilisers can be broadly split into two types. Chemical
and Organic. Chemical simply means man-made and organic signifies
that the contents are of a natural origin such as blood, fish and
bone or rape seed. The common link between them is the way that
all fertilisers are classified in terms of their content of three
vital ingredients. They are Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium.
This is referred to as the N:P:K ratio and appears on the side of
the box as, for example 10:10:10. This ratio also gives an idea
of the concentration when mixed to manufacturers recommendations.
A ratio of 20:20:20 would be twice as strong. These are examples
of balanced fertilisers, i.e. they have roughly equal amounts of
each component in the mixture. Bonsai, because they are confined
in a pot with varying levels of water and sometimes inadequate drainage,
are best fed with a weaker dose than recommended.
For outdoor trees in general. Feed with balanced fertiliser from spring until mid summer.
Do not feed during August.
Feed with high Potassium / Low Nitrogen during September and October.
Do not start feeding deciduous trees until the first leaves have hardened off. Then start feeding gently.
Feed conifers from the beginning of April
For indoor trees Feed with a balanced fertiliser all year round. Weekly during spring and summer, fortnightly during autumn and winter.
TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES - An outline of the basic requirements
THE CHINESE ELM - Everybody starts here, some home truths
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS - A whimsical look at some common problems
BONSAI CALENDAR - What to do and when to do it
STYLING - DEVELOPING THE EYE - Slightly more advanced but essential
5 MINUTE RAFT PLANTING - A simple project
THE ILLUSION OF BONSAI - More food for thought
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