In 1977 a group of Bonsai enthusiasts, led by Ken Moncrief and Frank Maddocks, decided to meet to share their enjoyment of Bonsai. Trees from Swindon Bonsai Society have also been exhibited at the Chelsea Flower Show, Gardeners World Live and other major RHS shows. The aim is to promote the hobby of Bonsai growing in every way.
It is important to stay on top of pests and diseases that may affect your bonsai to ensure they remain healthy and thrive as opposed to survive. Check them daily for any ill health signs like wilting leaves, yellowing leaves, dead twigs or branches and look for pests like mites, aphids and mealy bug. If you are unsure take a photo and send this to a bonsai club or bonsai forum like wee trees and they will be able to help identify the problem.
Mealy bug_1 - YouTube
Mealy bug_2 - YouTube
Mealy bug_3 - YouTube
Pests like mealy bug can affect the vigour and health of your bonsai so it is important to treat the pests as soon as possible. This could be by hand removal using a cotton bud dipped in mentholated spirits or by cocktail stick. You otherwise can use chemical controls but always read the labels first. For more information on mealy bug visit the Royal Horticultural Society website – Mealybug
Ulmus procera (English Elm) owned by current owner since 1969
Examples of species used as Outdoor deciduous bonsai trees in the UK You can try to bonsai any tree species, some are easier than others and many people start with deciduous tree species when looking for a bonsai tree to keep outside in the UK. You can use native species like Oak and Elm or look at more ornamental species like Maple. Whatever you choose you will have fun learning the techniques for that species.
Maple (Acer) – and a wide variety of maples make excellent bonsai particularly the Japanese maple, Acer palmatum and some of the cultivars.
Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum ‘Kiyohime’)
Mountain Maple (Acer palmatum)
Acer palmatum (Japanese maple)
Birch (Betula) – not widely used as bonsai but there have been some good examples of Silver birch, Betula pendula as bonsai.
Hornbeam (Carpinus) – commonly used as bonsai and particularly the Korean hornbeam, Carpinus turczaninowii as this has a smaller leaf size already than the european hornbeam Carpinus betulus.
Further to giving a few talks this year on Ficus and in particular Ficus microcarpa ‘Retusa’ (Tiger bark fig) which I have grown now for over 12 years as bonsai in the UK I thought I would share some of the information I have learnt and follow so here goes. How you keep your bonsai trees will vary as everyone has different conditions in which to keep their trees but this is my experience and it has been a fun and rewarding journey so far.
Re-potting & soil changing
I tend to re-pot every 2-3 years for my tropical Ficus as they like to be quite set in the pots. I re-pot when the Ficus are actively growing and when it is warm, in early summer and leave off liquid feeding for 4-6 weeks after re-potting. I have also found they have long stringy roots initially and it takes time to develop a fibrous root pad in comparison to broadleaf bonsai. I use a soil mix of 50% organic including sphagnum moss, bark, sandy soil and akadama and 50% inorganic made up of fuji grit and pumice. I also add a slow release fertiliser into the soil mix, which lasts up to around 6 months. During a repot I will do a full soil change and wash the roots off at the same time as well as scrub the bark around the trunk with a toothbrush to clean off any moss or algae. If I have purchased a new Ficus to add to my collection, I will tend to spend the first few years developing roots as they tend to have limited root pad development when you first buy them and then start to develop the branches and crown once I know I have a firm root base to work from.
At the time of re-potting I will also prune the roots, taking off any damaged roots, trimming all the roots back and selecting those to develop a better nebari and root pad where possible. I tend to remove less than one third of the overall roots at this stage but it does depend on how established the Ficus is and how much root their is to start with. I prefer to grow my Ficus in deeper pots as this allows for greater moisture regulation and temperature as well as growth for where I keep my bonsai in a heated conservatory during the colder months. You can use shallow pots as these allow greater root flare as roots disperse over wider area but they do dry out quicker. Many Ficus for bonsai are produced by air layering in their native climate so often will need time to develop a good root system.
Defoliating ( leaf cutting )
I find my Ficus bonsai trees grow very well so there is lots of practice for pruning and shaping and I prune nearly every two weeks during the very active growing season and monthly when they start to slow down. I prune all year but timing varies on the rate of growth and how I am developing each tree. I tend on each pruning to aim for leaf reduction and I do this by pruning back each shoot back to two leaves. If I want to restructure, improve bud position, improve density of canopy then I defoliate. You can defoliate at least once in a season in the UK or possibly twice to aid with leaf reduction but it does depend on how healthy your Ficus are. If they are very healthy then you should get growth within 2 weeks of defoliation and within 4-6 weeks a fully set of developed leaves again. I will also defoliate to tackle a pest infestation or recover a sickly tree but will provide more aftercare to aid with bud development by raising the humidity levels by misting daily.
3rd Place – Taiwanese Fig
I do not tend to wire my Ficus as I have found that it does leave wire marks as my trees grow so quickly and also I get lots of branch die back. Therefore I use guys instead of wire and position branches with guys and tend to do most of my development through pruning and not wiring. I use a combination of string and cable ties and thread the string through plastic tube or mesh to prevent any marks on the branches. I leave the guys in place until they go slack and then the branch should be set in the position required. If it is not quite then you can adjust the guys and leave in situ until placement is set to how you want it. Just be careful to check then regularly to avoid any potential for them cutting into the branch.
All the pruning I do is with sharp scissors, I do not pinch the Ficus as they produce a white sap, which can cover your hands, and tearing the leaf stalks does not leave a clean cut and often can damage the bud behind. I clean all my tools after working on my Ficus to reduce the spread of any pests and diseases and where possible in between working on different trees.
I will hard prune for restructuring a crown only when the Ficus are healthy. I tend to do more larger branch removal during the warmer weather, as the callous growth is better when the trees are more active. It does depend on the final image you are looking to create as to how much you may need to prune a tree and I have found it is sometimes better to reduce a Ficus down slowly as opposed to making large branch removals as these take a longer time to callous over in the UK climate.
I have air layered Ficus and they will produce aerial roots very easily with the use of sphagnum moss in a plastic bag. It can be a slow process as in the UK we have a short season where it is warm and trying to get the higher humidity helps the process. I have also tried fusing trunks to improve stem thickness as well as create trees with large trunks from a group of saplings. I have grafted in branches easily on Ficus as well, they are very adaptable and fuse branches together well too.
Normal feeding regimes applies and will vary with each different tree species and the more you feed the more they grow and healthier they are. Avoid feeding for 2-3 months of the year to allow false dormancy as Ficus are evergreen and shed their leaves all year round but retain the majority so you will always have a green canopy to enjoy unless you defoliate. I tend to liquid feed at each watering and have slow release in pots. I use Tomorite or seaweed as a liquid feed in general but reduce down the concentration from what is recommended on the bottle to provide a lower but regular feed when watering.
Watering is more crucial for the tropical trees as the trees tend to dry out quicker in a warmer environment so they will need more frequent watering. I tend to keep mine moist but not saturated and water every day during spring and autumn, twice daily in summer when it gets very warm and around once or twice a week in the winter if they have slowed down during the false dormancy. I have found mine do not like to dry out, but like good aeration in soil / pot and do well with a pumice layer in the bottom of the bonsai pots as well as being placed on a pumice or grit tray.
Great club night last night with guest speaker Paul Eslinger who came to talk on Azaleas. Our club members also brought in their Azalea bonsai to get some hands on advice from Paul about how to develop them further.
Bonsai display by John Trott of Mendip Bonsai Studio at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show 2019
Congratulations John Trott for yet another fantastic award winning bonsai display at this years RHS Flower Show at Hampton Court. A wonderful selection of bonsai tree species with flowering Azaleas as well as deciduous and coniferous tree species on display.
Blackmore Vale Bonsai Group hosted their annual show and it was a well attended event and supported by many other local bonsai clubs. Congratulations to Staverton Bonsai Group who were the winners of the best society display at the show. Best tree in show was won by Ian Duff after a tie break and Ian also won the Shield for the best Blackmore Vale Bonsai Group members’ tree. Look out for next years show on the 28th June 2020.
Reg and Graham volunteered to man the display at the Stratton Festival this year in Grange Drive, Swindon. A warm day and a big crowd took in the small and not so small trees. Many taking notes about Reg’s Open Garden on the 27th July and also details of the next ‘Winter Image’ Bonsai show to be held by the Swindon club on the 23rd Feb 2020.
It’s that time of year again for Jeff and Reg’s open gardens. Jeff is an RHS judge for fruit, flowers and Veg and Reg is an RHS judge for bonsai also known for the many Gold medal displays at the Chelsea Flower show. A unique opportunity to wander the gardens and get up close to the magnificent trees.