Pushing Spring

by Terry Davis

Weird weather, it’s mid March, and it’s in the 70’s. If you live in Minnesnowta, that makes you cringe. You feel like a golf ball that’s being tee’d up.

Detail of grafts image by Terry Davis

In the Graft and Collusion Department, I learned to wrap the scions I graft in Parafilm. It’s a soft, polyethylene film I used to use a lot in the laboratory; so maybe I have a shot at it this year. You can buy a 2”-wide roll on Amazon. That got me into a grafting knife, cost of $50, which got me into a set of Japanese water stones to sharpen it, at $130, and a strop, $25, so although there is no snow on the ground, there’s definitely a snowball going on here. Boy, howdy, those things are sharp! Me, not so much, according to my wife, the Keeper of the Exchequer.

Mike Hagedorn agrees that putting a little bit of damp sphagnum at the base of the graft is a good idea. Oh, well… next time

Being retired, I theoretically have some time to practice what I have preached on bud-pinching. I decided that, since timing never really works out, I would triage it, and put the trees that tend to get the longest internodes first in line. In my case, this means my Korean Maples, a Japonicum, and a rough-bark Arakawa Japanese maple. Not to mention the Bloodgood hybrids and the dissectum. Bloodgood itself is too coarse to mess with. The dissectum, that thing keeps me awake at night. I can hear the rumblings from the greenhouse as the shoots go sprinting for the walls. The eruption of Eyjafjallajokull has nothing on those buds. (Gotcha with that one, hie thee to Wikipedia.) Another trick I usel is to put some of them on the floor of the greenhouse, which slows them down a few weeks and spreads out the work because I have too many maples. Maybe I can begin to get them under control. Discipline, discipline, woof, woof, woof! I really have to talk myself into it.

Seigen maple with grafts and turnbuckle –moved image by Terry Davis

I have noticed where adventitious buds tend to pop out on my Japanese maples, and it’s not just anywhere. If you look carefully on the trunks and stems, you will see faint corky lines, in rings, that mark the remains of old terminal bud scars. This is where they pop out, as well as at the base of current branches. With Yatsubusa maples, this can create a mess, long-term, with lots of scarring building up where you have to rub these out. Dennis Makashima warned me that this is the the story with Yatsubusas. Another benefit of having bud-pinched that poor maple all its life is that the distances between all the old bud scars is less, and you don’t end up with barren stretches of trunk or branches that shall remain childless forever. Well, maybe long after I am dead, they will start to look like hell, but just now, they are delightful.

Otherwise, on maples, branches tend to pop out where I graft them on. I use approach grafts and standard grafts which are all shallow. I tried thread grafts a couple times, and in the long-term, they killed the tree, I think they carried verticillium wilt into the heartwood… I don’t need branch that badly. Speaking of maples, you need to pay some attention to the article on Black Twig Disease posted on Mike Hagedorn’s Blog, “Crataegus”, which is excellent.

I am greatly enjoying the oriental spruce I got many years ago from Evergreen Nurseries in California. It has beautiful, short, thick, green needles and is a very dark green. The contrast with the light-green new growth is wonderful. I have some “yatsubusa” Ezo spruce I got a few years ago with short, thick dark green needles. Friends, I have seen the species they call “Ezo Spruce” (Picea yezoensis and Glennhii), and they look nothing like this. I suspect we have another oriental here. Anyhoo, it is finally shaping up into a bonsai, having had curves wired-in years ago. Other than the gorgeous foliage, the other neat thing the P. orientalis has branches everywhere. It seems not to have read the conifer rule book. It is still a little sparse on top, see photo, but it is better sparse on top than on the bottom, as this will grow in. Lower branches, not so much. This is something a lot of folks don’t grasp: if you want good ramification on the lower branches, as well as good progression of branch diameter, you have to pretty much build the tree from the ground up.

Oriental spruce bonsai-to-be image by Terry Davis

Further anyhooing, I turned up one at Home Depot last year, but it was a telephone pole, “too stiff to bend”. So this year, I bent it: I cut a wedge out of the trunk on the inside of the proposed bend. I put a fastening point at the bottom of the pot by passing a very heavy copper wire through two of the drainage holes, then twisting them into a loop on the side of the pot. I used small turnbuckles to pull the bend in, alternating them, and eventually pulled the gap I had made shut. Looks pretty good, so far. I tried the Japanese technique of running parallel wires in a loop and twisting them turnbuckle style. This burned through a lot of wire, and moved the trunk very little. The turnbuckles are easier. I think the folks recommending the technique are selling wire, as you will need to repeat it a bunch to get much movement. I gave up after eight of ‘em, and went to Home Depot for turnbuckles. They are with the rope. I pinned the root ball down on the far side of the pot with a block of wood jacked down. The whole thing looks like the proposed St. Croix River Bridge at the moment; lots of engineering.

Next I tried this with a Hinoki cypress, but this time I fed the lower fastening wire up through the drain holes, through the soil, emerging halfway between the rim of the pot and the base of the tree. This seemed to work better, but the Hinoki is less elastic, and some bark cracked on the outside of the bend. The spruce was more elastic, and even bent a little a along the lower trunk, so the bend is less angular. I am a little concerned about how the bends will take, as the reaction wood it needs is on the inside of the bend in conifers , so the wedge is sort of defeating the purpose. I am contemplating drilling a hole down through the trunk, starting above the bend, and burying a long screw through the bend, just like a pin in a broken ankle.