The meeting took place in June and, although the sap was flowing, we decided to learn all we could from Tak, and did some heavy styling work and some needle thinning. A more ideal time for branch removal is in the winter when the tree is dormant, and needles typically get removed in the fall so the tree can use them over summer for photosynthesis. Doing the work now will not kill the tree, but it will weaken it more than if the work was done in the fall and winter.
The meeting kicked off with a white pine. Tak removed the apex and fashioned a new one out of a branch to improve the trees taper. He then demonstrated needle removal, which on white pines is done by trimming the needles with scissors. Plucking them by hand can harm the bark at the base of the needles, and that is where we hope new buds will form. The needles are cut back to 1/16th of an inch to open up the tree. Later the small stubs that remain will fall off leaving a clean appearance.
The next tree that was worked on was a semi cascade. Not many changes were made to it’s design, but it was re-secured in its pot. When you held the tree, you were able to move it back and forth by a half an inch, and that wiggle room is enough to cause damage to tender new roots. To fix this without repotting the tree, a thicker wire was threaded up through the pots drainage holes, and secured in a loop over top of the trees base. The wire was tightened after plastic mesh was inserted next to the bark to prevent the wire from damaging the trunk.
While all this was happening work started on a semi cascade. In the pictures below you can see how it looked after thinning to create a layered effect. The overhead picture shows the fan shape you should try to achieve through branch development. The picture is not great, but note how the secondary branches come off the trunk in an alternating left, right, left pattern and decrease in size as they progress from the trunk outwards and from primary branch, to secondary and to tertiary.
After the branches were thinned, the dentistry tools were brought out. “Time to clean the tree’s teeth” was declared, which caught everyones attention. In reality, the sharp tools were very effective for cleaning up the roots and deadwood on the tree. You should consider getting some of these tools for the next time you detail your tree.
There were some big tree transformations up next, where major branches were removed and the trunks and main branches were wired. With pre-bonsai material, it is important to inspect the roots and establish a pleasing trunk line early, while the tree is still flexible. It is also important to find each place where there is more than one branch emerging from the trunk, then make a design choice and only keep one of them and the leader. If they all are left on the tree, the branches will create a section of reverse taper in the trunk which is undesirable and difficult to correct later.
There are several other reasons why you should take these steps to develop pre-bonsai material. Exposing the roots helps reveal any portion of the trunk that might be buried in the soil. You can also see the shape of the roots and decide what style of tree would make best use of them. Bending the trunk while it is flexible, gives you the most most control over the trunk line. The thicker it becomes, the less control you will have. The two things that are the most difficult to change in established bonsai are the trunk line and the roots, so that is why it is so important to work on them early. Here are some examples to close off this entry.
Establishing the trunk line
Branch removal and major thinning