About this blog

Incoming BYTES
contains highly variable subject matter including commentary on the mundane, the extraordinary and even controversial issues. At Incoming BYTES
we want YOU to think...if you dare...


Friday, May 18, 2012

Special Techniques in Bonsai: Grumpy Update

The Delusion Continues:  Create Old Bonsai from New

Remember Grumpy? 
        Once upon a time, along a poor and dusty roadside  far away, a sapling, admittedly a skinny orphan,  grew lazily by the wayside, sneezing heartily from the dust.   
Few branches he had,  for he was but a poor sapling, indeed, born in soil naught but unkind, sharp pebbles and sorry, salty road dust. 
 In spite of his poor start in life and being blessed with few branches and sparse roots, he remained eternally hopeful, dreamed of greater things and stood proudly, waving happily at passers-by.

He was finally chosen by little more than fortuitous luck, rescued he was,  carefully lifted and taken to a strange land by a lowly woodsman seeking to rescue such an imperfect tree.  
Rather than being freed, he was bound firmly to a venerable piece of silvered  wood named Grumpy, and  planted somewhat strangely in a pot.

He was not unhappy, for the new soil was good, the water delicious, and he was not alone. There were others to befriend;  curious, small trees that lived contentedly in pots big and small.
 His lot in live was to wait  five years through snow, rain, storm and sunshine to learn his destiny. 

At first, he stubbornly refused to grow up, the young always expecting more out of life and being rather impatient. The other trees whispered about it regularly among themselves, he duly noted. 
 As time went on,  he accepted his fate,  settled in and began to grow as one with Grumpy, who clung miraculously and silently to the outside of the pot.  They watched  the world go by  for the longest time as they surprisingly grew ever closer together, until it seemed they must be one.

"Oh, what shall we call you? the master asked, one day as he watered the soil carefully and nonchalantly spoke to chickadees flying past.
"You  mean me?....
  Alas, I have no name", the little tree offered bravely, " for I was but a seed dropped by a sparrow in the wind." 
" ---But I had nothing, no hope, no heart, and no life! Grumpy spoke up suddenly, yawning. 
" You bravely gave me your friendship, your heart and a new life too",  , ----"so I must share my name with you, dear friend, for Grumpy I was without a heart, without  life itself until we became one." 

"Then Grumpy shall you be" the master said, smiling wisely. 
"We shall give you a suitable new home immediately!"

And that is how our friend Grumpy the Bonsai  came to be....

 Remember?   You might even want to revisit
Bonsai: Specialized Techniques Creating Unique Trees

We originally rescued our little hero, the spindly white spruce sapling free of branches and little crown  --from along a roadside and certain doom. It was fitted it into a groove carved in a trunk-shaped, silvered piece of driftwood, and the live root system was planted in a deep pot of  rich, free-draining soil.  
You'll recall small wooden blocks and wire were used  to retain the tree in the groove until growth of new wood filled  the space. It took a few years.  That makes sense, doesn't it?  If a live trunk is not retained in the desired position adequately, expansion from new growth can actually push the live trunk out of place.  

As you can see, Grumpy's new trunk  had to be mounted outside of the pot for several growing seasons  to prevent contact with potting  soil while  the tree came back to health --and the spindly trunk expanded. It seemed to take forever, but it was only 5 short years!
 The tree crown is coming into it's own and is as healthy as a weed.  Good thing, too.   It needs to be healthy, because Grumpy's next operation is a major challenge!  He has to be tough and in good condition!

  In this photo, notice the live sapwood and trunk have now pretty much filled the groove, securing the trunk in place.  Additional growth will continue to occur in the narrow visible live strip as the tree grows, but even though future expansion of girth will take place outside of the groove the live trunk will  now remain locked in place.

You can see Grumpy's face on the left side on the lower half of this photo. Pretty cool dude, isn't he?                                                              
Adequate development of the root system and improvement  took several years because the sapling chosen was really a rescue tree from very poor roadside soil--not ideal, and  perhaps a bit stunted and too spindly for the job.  The root system was minimal and poorly suited with a single, long taproot.

In the spring it was time to prepare Grumpy for his new life.  A major operation was necessary which involved pruning of the tap root, branch pruning, trunk preparation,  and finally,  re-potting and securing into a much shallower training pot.  
  •  The tree is removed from the deep  training pot and carefully prepared to fit into a shallow, simple  training pot . 
  •  The long tap root must be reduced (pruned off)  substantially to allow the fine, healthy  root growth already developed to be arranged directly under the pseudo-trunk.  New growth of  fine feeder rootlets will quickly replace any large roots  or tap root  removed.
  • The old soil  is soaked and washed off of the roots rather than just broken off dry,   to minimize damage to the delicate feeder rootlets. Pruning is completed, and the newly-prepared root mass is protected with wet peat moss so it will not dry out while other preparations are being made.
  • The  new trunk is treated with lime sulphur to preserve the deadwood. A solution is mixed and  applied with a suitable paintbrush. Lime sulphur  is excellent for this purpose,  preventing mould and decay, and smells terrible --but does not negatively affect live trees.   
  • Surprise!  *I followed the instructions on the  product, there's a first to be sure! Two coats are applied, paying particular attention to the bottom of the driftwood piece which will be in constant  contact with damp potting soil and mosses.  
  • When the lime sulphur is dry, the tree is established in the new pot and supported with plastic-coated guy wires to hold the trunk securely in position.  ( I use #14 copper wire.)  The root system is arranged directly underneath the large new trunk. With time and growth, the enlarged root system will eventually support the tree without help. 
  • New,  free-draining potting soil  is tamped firmly around the roots to eliminate air pockets and ensure excellent growth will continue. 
  • Several varieties of moss are added to the surface of the soil  immediately to replicate the natural symbiotic environment of the  Boreal forest and minimize  moisture loss. The soil  is thoroughly soaked and will be watered carefully each day.  The recovering tree will be kept out of direct sunlight for a week or so to minimize stress. 
  • The crown ( top) must be  reduced  (pruned) to compensate for  the reduction of the tap root thereby reducing excessive demands on the downsized root system.  Branches and twigs not needed for the final design are carefully removed first.  
  •  Minor  branch  wiring is also conducted where branches need to be adjusted as they grow, only because the timing for growth was correct to do so. Normally one would try to avoid  repotting, extensive pruning  and wiring a tree all at the same time to minimize stress,  but Grumpy was strong and healthy, growing very rapidly. 
Now Grumpy needs needs serious time out  to rest and adapt to all of the new changes. The design of the crown is not finalized by any means. Additional branches will be removed over several  seasons to facilitate the final design- depending on the success of the new growth.
All of the remaining branches will be left intact for a couple of growing seasons to ensure the health of the tree, thickening of the trunk and stabilizing of the root structure.

Introducing:  Grumpy the Bonsai
The lime sulphur coating changes colour as it dries and will end up almost waterproof.  It becomes a pleasing shade of light silver-gray.
Now Grumpy gets to put in a lot of camping  time on the benches  to grow, develop a much larger root system. The crown will fill out, hopefully where required.

Certain branches are also wired   and temporarily but slightly over-bent for rapid spring growth.
 I use brightly coloured plastic-coated wire that is quite noticeable to ensure the wire is not forgotten and will be removed when necessary.
Some of those wired branches too, may eventually  be removed  in the design process, but only long after the tree is fully recovered** from this stressful day .  

We are one.  
Grumpy is smiling, complete with bold heart and trunk.  He gets to schmooze for a very long life.

Is that incoming I hear?

**Note:  Avoiding instructions may not have been the only problem we have run into.
          Since Grumpy was re-potted, an undetermined,  wide-spread major event occurred that affected a large majority of conifers, primarily White Spruce and Balsam Fir trees in Northwestern Ontario.  Major needle drop, bleaching,  browning,and drying occurred erratically within sometimes as little as  two or three days; some areas were untouched --at times  adjacent trees  were badly damaged while  some are totally unscathed.
Sadly, our bonsai collection of indigenous species was not exempt from this serious problem. 
 Grumpy suffered some minor browning damage, but at this date, looks like he should survive.  We shall keep you updated.   
Many  trees both in our collection and out in the wilds will not be so fortunate, some are already developing new buds and will grow, others appear to have  dried up completely --and are unlikely to recover. 
The cause of this damage is unknown at this time but correctly or not,  has been attributed by foresters to the early, unusual spring weather we  so enjoyed earlier this year!  


  1. Very interesting and well done. Very cool Raymond.

    1. Thanks, Mike! It will take a number of years for the crown of this tree to develop properly but if if survives for a few dozen years it could eventually be quite spectacular. It's what you call a 'long term hobby'. Thanks for dropping in! ~R

  2. I don't think I have the patience needed for bonsai growing. I'll never be a master like you.

    1. haha, Glory, this advanced technique is probably the longest-running technique used in Bonsai. The pseudo-trunk is only an enhanced technique to use allow us to unusual wood forms and imitate 'age'. You really don't need to use that technique at all.
      You would be surprised, once you get one little tree started, and it lives, and you prune it a bit,and it grows some more. You prune it again and have to wait for it, so you get another one to play with meantime. If you want some FAST bonsai, grow trident Caragana ('bean bushes' ) or a little peach sprout, apple tree, lemon or orange tree, or a succulent like a jade plant -- something like it that grows quickly. It really takes very little patience, and can be AWESOME. Some of the non-poisonous Sumac varieties make fantastic little quick-growing bonsai 'forests' in a pot that keep you busy pruning--and they're easy to maintain. I think you would really enjoy it. Find a baby maple (6" high) and put it into a small pot, and watch it develop, prune off long sprouts, extra branches, and guess what, you have a bonsai.
      I am NOT a master by any means--I just love it as an extension to gardening and have been at it for a while. It really is an art form, an expression of creativit. I like it a lot, and you will too! Thanks for commenting, bonsai is not difficult at all! ":) ~R

  3. Great one RK....Grumpy is quite handsome now. Well worth the effort and how happy he is now. Great pass time. A good thing to tinker and putter around with. You will have to keep us updated on Grumpy's progress. Have a great weekend and work with the eclipse's energies Sunday...Blessings... VK

    1. Welcome back, Vk, thank you for visiting Grumpy, this unique little tree is a long-term development project if he survives, and should become even more handsome as the crown fills out.
      Bonsai is one of the means I have to connect with nature and it really is a fascinating hobby. Each tree is so different. Interestingly, they seem to have character too, although that may not be a popular opinion.
      I think the damaging event mentioned in the bottom note may have had more to do with that recent series of solar flares or other phenomenon we do not yet understand. Clearly we do need the energy nature can give us to reconstitute ourselves as well as our growing things. The effects of the eclipse on Sunday should be interesting. Thank you for your kind comments, and blessings to you too! ~R

  4. This is the first I have heard of the tree blight. What an oddity. You will need to pardon my skepticism.

    I love what you did with the little tree. Do you have one in jade or another succulent? I would love to see one of those...might even be enough for me to try my hand at it. I love succulents.

    1. Hi, Red, thanks for dropping in! Yes, that 'blight' or whatever is very, very strange when two trees 4 feet apart react completely differently, one looks like it's dying, the other is still fine--same white spruce, same age, planted the same day originally. Something other than 'unusual weather' did that. Trees affected were principally white spruce and balsam fir.

      About JADE plants, they are EASY to grow and design as bonsai. GREAT starting plant. Take a jade plant twig, plant it in some nice soil standing up. Two leaves maximum. When it begins to grow, wait until there is another stalk and two more leaves, and clip it off where the new stalk sprouted. It will start to grow a new one within a few days. Now let that one grow, but keep pruning every time you get more than one set of leaves on new growth. The trunk will get much thicker. When the stalk is strong, and there are two sets of leaves growing from the same leaf joint, clip one off. Let the new stalk grow until IT gets leaves, then clip IT in turn. Eventually, after several stalks have been pruned off, you can let TWO sets of leaves grow, to branched out, forming a 'y'. Prune those unequally or similarly, for your own unique design every time you have two sets of leaves vertically, one after the other, (interstitial spacing) and always prune off immediately at the joint of the leaves, ie, don't leave any stalk without leaves.
      I will grow one and do an update on it. If you have a jade plant already, you can start right away, why not, you'll just need to borrow one 2" clipping with a healthy leaf or 2 on it. Bury it vertically almost to the leaves to start and water it--and away you go! You probably already know not to over-water cactii and succulents, it is necessary to let them 'dry out' judiciously. They begin to look dryish and even a bit wrinkled when they need to store some water again. That's the only caveat,Do NOT water every day because the roots will decay. Don't water your new clipping much until it is clearly growing.
      Take pictures , I would like to see your project too! Hint: start in a small-sized pot, 4" maximum. My last one was started in a 2" pot. It looks bigger and older in a smaller pot, we've even done them in 1" pots. Have fun--you'll love bonsai, it's a great hobby. Have a wonderful day!
      ":) ~R

  5. Wow, this is amazing! I had no idea that you were the Supreme Master of trees. Very nice!

    1. Hi, CYW, I had no idea I was the Supreme Master of trees either, that is too funny and a surprise to me too, being a Jack of all Trades but Master of none.
      I do, however, diddle and experiment with bonsai for fun, and some turn out surprisingly well! Thank you so much for the kind comments! ":) ~R

  6. What a journey for Grumpy, and you nurtured him along every step of the way.. Such a wonderful journey too.. Amazing to see his development .. And you made the journey so very interesting too Raymond.. You have Green Fingers and A Golden Heart.
    Thank you for adding your thoughts to my posts Raymond, I much appreciate your comments.. Blessings in all you do with Nature , Mother Earth truly has a great Friend in you..~Sue

    1. Hi Sue,thank you for your kind observations and compliments. Being a green thumb gardener at heart makes 'creating a bonsai' much easier since Mother Nature does it all for us anyway!
      I continue to be fascinated by your blog posts and the amazing insight you offer. It too, is a growing process that involves Mother Earth. Thank you for visiting! ":) ~R

  7. Holy guacamole! You are a wizard indeed. You both deserve a medal. What a story. And here I thought I had a way with plants.

    Could this be called Fifty Shades of Bonzai?

    Just kidding....So much information and so little lifetime.

  8. Hi Sharon, welcome to Incoming Bytes! It could be called a Million shades of Bonsai, the art form and possibilities demonstrated by Grumpy are endless, but the gardening techniques and growth caused by Mother Nature are also universal. Yes, SO little lifetime to do this stuff in. If you love growing things, try bonsai, you'll love it! Start one little tree in a pot, and you'll want two, then three....haha...Thanks for the kind comments! ":) ~R

  9. Love love love it. I enjoyed the story and the detail about the rescue of both of these trees.

    1. Hi Storm! Glad you liked it! With Mother Nature, there is always hope isn't there! This particular tree project can run on for a century or more with luck....I must be an optimist? ":))
      Thank you for the wonderful comments and have a great day! ":) ~R

  10. Hi Raymond,

    I love this story!!! I myself have not merely a "black" thumb, but a Jet Black Thumb of Doom which destroys all green things in its path. I know, I know: it's a gift. I just went to IKEA the other day and bought some fake plants. The Husband saw them in my car the next day, and (not realizing they were fake) said with a bit of urgency, "MOV, you'd better bring your new plants in before they die!"

    That's right: I even kill fake plants.

    best (unless you're a plant, then that kinda goes without saying),

    1. Thanks for visiting and the wonderful compliments, MOV.
      I bet your black thumb just loves your plants to death by watering them too much. Most people DO water their houseplants too much which translates as suffocation, mayhem and h.p.murder. Or they do not water enough.

      For the fake plants, you'll have to use fake water of course- once a week, or when the fake soil feels dry.
      I can see you'll have to be trained by a qualified tree or experienced houseplant.
      Best to you, MOV and as long as I don't get watered too much by any Jet Black Thumb of Doom, it's' great to see you! ":)) ~R

  11. Wow wow. I didn't even know you could do that. This would make a great analogy :). Angie

    1. Hi Angie! Yes,a great analogy, hm....it is something like putting on the new man isn't it, refreshing the soul? Thanks for commenting, nice to see you! ":) ~R


Comments are always appreciated ! No SPAM allowed.