Bonsai For Beginners

Hello again

I’m sorry it’s been a while since the last Newsletter I have been quite busy with my repotting and setting up for the Home Show.
It was very nice to meet a few of you there.
The small stand we had there proved very popular and I spent a lot of time explaining the fundamentals of bonsai to anyone that showed an interest.
The large maple that is now over 100 years old was quite a draw card; it was looking its very best with a new pot and a flush of fresh green foliage.

One of the biggest misunderstandings people seemed to have was in the plants used for bonsai.
Most seemed to think that only certain types of plant could be used, or there was some form of genetic modification carried out on the tree.
A lot of people were surprised to learn that almost any tree can be used for bonsai.
In following that theme through I have decided to dedicate this newsletter to propagating new bonsai stock; in particular my favourite method air-layering.


Air-layering has several advantages

• You can choose stock that displays desirable traits i.e. small leaves, good ramification, colour or size.
• Your new plant will be an exact genetic copy of the parent material (unlike seed)
• You can produce a large tree quite quickly.
• You can begin trimming and even wiring while you are taking the cutting.
• You can reduce the size of existing trees and produce a second plant.
• You can create several plants from one tree.
• Air-layering can be used to shorten a trunk and create a new root spread.

For deciduous trees, air-layering should be carried out in late spring just as the new leaf growth is beginning to harden off. Evergreens should be left until a little later.

There are two methods of air-layering, the most common and in my opinion the best is ring-barking. The alternative method to ring barking is the tourniquet.

The tourniquet method is suitable for species that are unable to cope with removing a complete ring of bark.
A piece of wire is wrapped tightly around the branch below the proposed rooting site, as the branch grows the tourniquet bites into the bark and then the cambium layer. This slowly interrupts the flow of nutrients from the roots and stimulates new root growth from above the wound. The tourniquet method however is slower to work and more vigorous species can bridge the gap resulting in failure to root.

We will deal with the ring barking method.
This can be carried out on branches up to approximately 5cm thick.
First decide where you would like your roots to develop on your new tree.
If a multiple trunk bonsai is envisaged, your first cut would be close under existing forking.
If a single trunk is the object, assess the amount of space desired between root and first branch. Then make the top cut at that point.
Use a sharp knife or razor to make two ring cuts in the bark. The distance between the top and bottom cuts should be at least 2 times the diameter of the branch being layered. Peel away the bark to reveal the cambium layer beneath. The cambium should look green and soft. If it is possible try to make the point of ring-barking just below an old leaf node.

Some books will ask you to leave a strip of bark between you top and bottom cut. In some cases this will allow the parent plant to feed your cutting and reduce the chances of new roots developing, so I would recommend removing the bark from the entire circumference. For this reason also, the ring barking must be wide enough to prevent the two sections from bridging the gap as they heal.

Dust the area to be rooted with rooting hormone.
Take two handfuls of sphagnum moss and saturate it in water. The dry sphagnum moss will reduce in volume considerably when wet so make sure you soak enough to cover your ring barked area completely. Secure a sheet of polythene film around and below your lower cut. I like to use bubble wrap but any polythene will be fine. I have been told by some friends, Pam and Adrian that there are now clip on pots that are also suitable for this.

Pam and Adrian also sent me
this fantastic photo of their
crab apple in flower which
I must get onto the website
Photo page.

Back to Air-layering

Pack the wound area with wet moss, draw up the film around the moss and secure well above the top cut. Make sure to have close contact over the moss to inhibit evaporation. A small hole to facilitate watering or alternatively you can untie the top to water.

Whilst waiting for the air-layering to root, ensure the moss is kept wet. After anything between 3 weeks and 3 months depending on the species, white roots will be seen growing inside the bag. Allow the bag to completely fill with roots, ensuring they stay wet at all times. When the roots have matured and turned brown the layering can be removed from the parent tree. Remove the polythene but leave the moss and root ball intact. The roots can be very easily damaged at this stage.

Pot your new tree in well drained bonsai mix and tie in place to prevent it from rocking about and damaging the new root growth. It may also pay to trim back some top growth if the tree is not in a dormant stage. Keep your tree in a shady spot and mist regularly until it is established.

Trees suitable for this method of propagation are

• Acers (red leaved varieties can be slow to root)
• Azaleas
• Berberis
• Buxus
• Camellia
• Carpinus
• Cornus
• Cotoneaster
• Cryptomeria
• Ginko
• Hedera
• Jasminium
• Juniperus
• Morus
• Magnolia Stellata
• Myrtus
• Parthenocissus
• Prunus
• Pyracantha
• Rhododendrons
• Syringa
• Tamarix
• Ulmus

Most woody trees and shrubs that back-bud readily produce adventurous buds from old wood can be air-layered with a good chance of success so give it a go. It’s a great way to increase your collection quickly.

I have started a photo sequence on air-layering which I will add to as to roots start to develop.

Air-layering photos

If this link does not work copy and paste this url into your browser

For those of you in the Auckland region I have just finished repotting some fantastic trees at a private garden called Totara Waters. These gardens are open to the public and well worth a look now that the weather is meant to be warming up. Have a look at the link.

Totara Waters Gardens

Heres the url if the link does not work