Now is the time of year for a brief excursion to see what potential material if any, is available and low and behold a 64cm 4 needle eastern white pine was on offer for under 15€ a bargain considering that most members of the white pine family usually have needles in bundles of 5, rarely in 3 or 4; hence these command a higher price.
Originally from eastern North America white pines can now be found world-wide mainly as a timber source due to their rapid growth. The white pine family subgenus Strobus has several varieties including the Nana, Aurea and Macopin groups. It prefers well-drained or sandy soils and humid climates, but can also grow in boggy areas and rocky highlands. It is said to be a hardy tree (zone 3) withstanding temperature around -30c, but this for mature trees young trees need to be protected against frost damage.
On young trees the bark is relatively smooth and grey in colour with branches spaced approximately every 10 to 15cm on the trunk with 5-6 branches appearing like spokes on a wagon wheel. And because of this branch configuration, the Monterey pine according to some purists is not a suitable candidate for bonsai.
But nothing ventured nothing gained, this ‘ugly duckling’ has been transferred to a wooden box to allow for root expansion, fertilised and the heavier branches were removed to encourage development of the thinner branches.
For some styling, pruning and wiring in one session can be done on some species, but applying the same directive to a 4 needle white pine can be deemed an act of ebullience as opposed to patience, because of the amount of stress the tree has to endure, requiring a longer period to recover. This white pine will have no further work done until the candles have developed however, in the meantime a potential design is suggested.
If we look at the tree we denote movement in the main trunk from soil level upwards, which can be enhanced by bending it down from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’. Then from point ‘B’ to point ‘C’ a second and third bend can be applied sending the trunk slightly to the back then forward and right bringing the apex back over the centre to avoid the ubiquitous ‘S’ shape. To achieve this directive the main trunk has to be wrapped in raffia with supporting wires added to the proposed bend’s outside radius, (red lines) then taped and the bending wires attached.
The last part of the exercise will be to prune in necessary and wire into position the side branches, as for the right hand secondary trunk’s position and styling this will be determined once the left side has been styled into position.
Further updates on this tree’s progress will be posted, until next time BW, N.
In the article ‘Wiring practices part 2B’ it was mentioned that the twin trunks of my mountain ash/rowan, Sorbus aucuparia were trying to fuse together, which would have spoilt the overall design. (image a) Hence a 3cm block of wood was wedged in place to keep them apart, purely as a temporary measure. (image b)
Having given some thought to the problem 2 options came to mind, (1) to use 4 heavy guy wires (red lines) to keep the trunks apart, but where to attach them – they cannot be attached to the plastic container, because (a) the amount of tension and force required would distort it. (b) The present angle is too acute and the wires would slip down as soon as tension is applied damaging the bark.
Alternatively build a large box around the container and attach the wires to that, this was also rejected, because to reduce the steep angle the wires would require a minimum extension of 45cm on either side resulting in an overall measurement of 135cm container 45 + 45 + 45. Moreover, using wires to keep the trunks apart creates tension in the length of the trunks as opposed to force centred at one small area, hence the decision was option (2) design and construct a small expansion clamp.
The following image shows the ‘new’ expansion clamp in situ, a device that can be adjusted by periodically turning the handles giving equal force to both trunks. Below this are two more images showing plan A & B followed by a tutorial on how to make this clamp
Expansion clamp construction
Before we begin the tutorial, Europe uses the metric system as are the dimensions given here however, there are countries that use the imperial format, the reason for this is because threaded bars have different threads for example, UNC (Unified National Coarse Thread) and UNF (Unified National Fine Thread) therefore, when making threads they have to correspond to the type of threaded bar being used.
The tools required for the project include: a drill press as it will give accurate alignment when drilling; if access to such is not available a cordless drill can be used, but ensure that all components are aligned properly and the drill bit is perpendicular to the worked object.
Drill bits 3mm for pilot holes and holes in the back plates, 4mm drill for the 4 x 5mm threaded bars, 5mm drill for the 6mm bars, 6mm drill for plate B. A file, Phillips (star pointed) screw driver, punch, ruler, marker, masking tape, hammer, vice, electrical tape, plastic shrink wrap (optional), hacksaw, 4mm & 6mm taps + holder.
Materials are: 30cm x 4mm x 3 cm aluminium flat bar, (steel can be used)
3 x 12cm x 5mm and 24 cm x 6mm threaded bar, soft rubber foam and adhesive,
2 x 6mm hexagonal threaded barrel nuts and 8 x 1.5 x 3mm bolts with nuts + washers. Note: (threaded bar is usually sold in 1metre lengths) all these materials are available from supermarkets and hardware stores.
Step 1. Cut the aluminium bar into two 12cm lengths and the remaining 6cm in half (3cm) and file away all rough edges. Tape the two 12cm lengths together ensuring they are properly aligned, measure, mark and centre punch the holes as shown above, then drill out the 4 holes using the 3mm pilot drill. Separate the 2 x 12cm bars and select one to be plate A the other to be plate B. Tape the 2 x 3cm back plates to plate B ensuring alignment is correct then measure mark and centre punch 4 holes and drill through using the 3mm pilot drill as shown below.
Separate plate B from the back plates making sure you mark which back plate is on the left and which is on the right and the way they were first fitted, this important because if they are incorrectly placed the holes will not be in unison and the plates when bolted on will be out of alignment.
Step 2. Re-assemble plates A and B and ensure alignment is correct which is easily attained by inserting the 3mm pilot drill into the holes, then tape them together. Using the 4mm drill bit, drill through the inner holes in both plates, with the 5mm drill repeat the process on the outer holes. Separate the two plates and on plate B only use the 6mm drill to widen the 2 outer holes, this is to allow the 6mm threaded bars to fit snugly and turn in the recess provided by the back plates.
Step 3. Using the 5mm tap carefully thread the inner holes in bars A and B, then cut one length of the 12 cm x 5mm threaded bars into 4 equal lengths (3cm) and file off all rough edges, test fit by screwing these bars into the holes of the plates to check for alignment if all is is fine remove and set aside. Using the 6mm tap cut a thread in the outer holes of bar A ensuring that the tap is straight and perpendicular, again this is important because if these threaded bars are out of alignment the clamp will not function properly.
Step 4. The 2 x 12cm x 6mm threaded bars need one end on each to be filed down so that the bar is able to turn easily without scarring the recess, regardless of whether one uses aluminium or steel. Remove any rough edges on the other end and insert it/them into the hexagonal barrel nuts so that the ends are flush with the outer surface of the nut.
Measure and mark the exact centre on the surface of the barrel nut and make an indentation with the punch, check the alignment, if it is out use another side of the nut. Wind some masking tape on the protruding end of the bar close to the barrel nut as this will stop it from turning when you drill through. Using the 3mm pilot drill carefully drill through the nut and inserted bar, change drill bit to the 4mm and widen the hole then repeat with the 5mm; remove all burs. Insert the 2 x 12cm x 5mm threaded bar into the barrel nuts and wind electrical tape around the bare threaded ends.
Step 5. Assembly, bolt on the back plates, insert the 4 x 3.5cm x 5mm bars or lugs into A and B ensuring they face in opposite directions, wind electrical tape over the threads and cover with shrink wrap, to stop any hard contacted with the trees’s bark. Shrink wrap although optional is perfect for this kind of project. Finally, cut some foam rubber and glue it using contact adhesive to the areas between the lugs as a cushion for the 2 trunks.
This expansion clamp was specifically designed for my Sorbus aucuparia having two trunks each 3.25 cm in diameter, but can be adapted for larger or thinner trunks by widening or closing the gap between blue lugs as the case may be. Of course new holes will have to drilled and tapped to accommodate any alterations.
The advantage of this clamp is that it is adjustable able to do more than a static block of wood can. The clamp will stay on the tree for a period of two more growing seasons, periodically turning the handles to increase the gap between the two trunks.
Regarding maintenance concerning the bare threaded bars, these were sprayed with WD40 and molybdenum grease was inserted into the back plate recesses to reduce wear and tear; alternatively petroleum jelly (vaseline) can be used if the former is not to hand.
You are free to use my design or in part thereof should you wish to make this clamp, the materials aluminium flat bar, hexagonal barrel nuts, 5mm and 6mm threaded bars cost under 20€; the 3mm bolts, nuts, and washers had been purchased previously. (1,50€) Naturally making only one clamp does leave surplus material, but fret not, it can be used for other projects for example, bending clamps as described in the article ‘Making bonsai clamps’. (8th October 2016) Until next time, BW, N.
“When wiring bonsai always apply ‘new’ wire not ‘used’ because (a) used wire has lost its original properties and is inadequate (b) re-using old used wire is seen as a niggardly practice”
Well the bonsai outlets would say that for obvious reasons, but what if you are a student existing on a pitiful grant. A pensioner whose allowance does not keep pace with inflation or someone having a career change, where finance has to be kept under strict control. Moreover, claiming that wire once used will loose its properties is incorrect as many bonsai enthusiasts regardless of their financial status, use reclaimed wire because it is more cost effective especially if their collection is large.
In the last century (1970 to late 1980s) an abundance of wire (copper/aluminium) was available, reclaimed from old telecommunication systems, industrial electrical wiring complexes, house-hold appliances and many other sources. But with the advancement in technology and the digital age, sources have dwindled, yet there is still sufficient to be had providing one knows where to look for example, scrap yards, recycling plants and from those whom reclaim wire for re-sale.
Reclaiming wire can be an arduous process as the core/s has/have to be stripped from the coating, achieved either by fire or manually. But using fire as a method of removal especially from old Polyvinyl chloride cables, (PVC) harmful quantities of dioxins a group of highly toxic chemicals are emitted, which if inhaled can have serious repercussions to one’s health. Moreover, it is not advisable to do this if ones neighbours are in close proximity and to avoid repercussions, it is far better to do it manually which is safer and relatively easier.
But surely stripping wire is a long tedious process? To the novice it may seem the case however, equipment is available from simple ‘hand’ operated home-made devices to motorised machines, here are a few examples to give you some idea.
Usually a single flexible cylindrical strand of copper or coated aluminium, is formed by drawing the metal through a hole in a die or draw plate and is available in various sizes expressed as gauges. This single solid strand or core consists of one piece of metal that provides mechanical ruggedness and because its surface area is less than multi-core wire, exposure to corrosives and the environment is reduced.
Wire produced via this manufacturing process has what is called ‘shape memory’ and what happens within the material at the nanoscale of atoms and molecules is different from what is occurring on the surface. Therefore, if a piece of wire is bent around a branch the internal crystalline structure is deformed and will remain in its given shape.
Shape memory alloys including copper and aluminium are able to change between two solid crystalline states referred to as ‘austenite’ and ‘martensite’, at low temperatures they are in the form of ‘martensite’ and easy to bend, but when subjected to high temperatures they become ‘austenite’; making the material harder. Therefore, when preparing reclaimed wire for bonsai, the annealing process is needed to change the crystalline structure prompting the object to revert back to its original state.
Copper and aluminium wire have different temperatures that change their crystalline state which has to be controlled to maintain their ‘martensite’ properties for example.
The melting point of copper is 1083 degrees centigrade but, the annealing temperature is between 700 to 800C. Copper is a good heat conductor and as we are only concerned with this metal in wire form, the process of annealing happens once it glows red. The wire is then removed from the heat source and allowed to cool naturally returning to its ‘martensite’ state and is easily bent into a new shape.
“What if we choose to cool the wire quickly, what happens?”
Quenching red hot wire immediately in water, the molecules can retain an ‘austenite’ state making the wire brittle. If the wire is allowed to cool (300 to 400 C) then doused in water it will still retain its malleability, but can be slightly harder. However, much depends on the gauge, thin wire cools quickly as oppose to thick. Therefore, experimentation and using a temperature probe will assist in deciding when to quench the gauge/s you are annealing.
Annealing copper can be achieved several times and as we are only concerned with bonsai wire, rigid control of the process is not mandatory. Nonetheless, constant annealing does have its adverse effect, because the crystalline structure (nanoscale of atoms and molecules) will eventually degrade with oxidation being the most obvious sign.
Aluminium has a melting point of 450 – 560 centigrade although much depends on what additional elements have been added to the alloy to make it harder. Generally speaking, the annealing temperature is between 300 to 350 C for approximately 20 minutes, after which the wire is allowed to cool (approximately 150 C) then immersed in water to retain its ‘martensite’ properties. But as stated before a thinner gauge heats up more quickly than a thicker gauge as does the cooling down.
Moreover, if the temperature of the annealing process is too high, it can cause not only the destruction of the coating applied during original manufacture, but create an ‘austenite’ state making the wire brittle hence, care has to be taken to avoid over heating. Annealing aluminium wire can be done many times, but like copper it will degrade over time.
Heat sources for annealing
These will be discussed momentarily, but first a relevant question. “Is the wire straightened before annealing or after?” Bent or kinked wire is difficult to straighten, especially if held in a shaped position for some time exposed to the elements and attempting to straighten it in this cold state, would not be met with much success.
In addition, when wiring bonsai especially large specimens, long lengths (over a metre) are used, which could be problematic because to anneal properly, the heat source has to be large enough to accommodate its entire length. Far better to fold or coil the wire to reduce the length, then anneal and straighten after; which will be discussed shortly.
There are several heat sources for annealing including, an open fire in the back yard/garden, a barbecue, propane gas torch, kiln or small forge and the domestic oven. However, not everyone has the freedom to choose their preferred heat source, because of (a) environmental restrictions and (b) source and the cost.
Apart from an open fire or propane gas as used by many, another option is an old barbecue one with a working temperature gauge attached. A small one coupled with a bag of briquettes or coals is ideal for annealing copper. Stack the wire heaviest gauge on the bottom building up the pile with smaller gauges on the top. Once the required temperature is reached place the stack on the coals, close the lid and wait; periodically checking for the colour red. You will also need a container of water in situ for cooling.
Aluminium having a lower temperature can be annealed in a domestic oven. Pre-heat the oven to its maximum (normally 350 centigrade) then prepare a baking tray by lining it with 2 sheets of aluminium foil to stop any unwanted residue from contaminating it’s surface. With the temperature reached put the tray in the oven for 20 minutes then remove and allow to cool down, after 10 to 15 minutes put the wire in water to quench it.
If one needs to know more regarding the annealing of alloys, there are several sites on the internet providing more information, this article is only an introduction to annealing.
Straitening the wire
Straightening annealed wire can be achieved by various methods, the easiest form being a cordless drill and piece of wood. To a jig with rollers where the wire is threaded through, to more elaborate expensive machines. (http://subec.se/products/)
Here are a few ‘youtube’ videos where one can see the ease of straightening wire.
As the above information indicates there are several options for straightening wire, the drill and piece of wood being the simplest and cheapest method especially with small gauges. (1 to 2.5mm) But as the gauges increase (3 to 6mm) straightening becomes more difficult due to the tension and force required.
Having given this conundrum considerable thought, the plan at some point is to design and make a simple jig where all gauges (1 to 6mm) can be straightened relatively easy. However, with ‘simplicity’ being the watchword it will have to be cost effective and easy to construct with just a few basic tools. In the meantime a little more research is required. Until next time, BW, N.
In part 2 ‘A’ we discussed when to wire both coniferous, deciduous and young trees grown from seed in their first year. Other topics were the techniques to bend heavy branches including ‘V’ notching and what happens to the xylem when severe compression and tension are applied. In this discussion we look at an actual wiring project.
When attempting to wire any part of a tree it is advisable to test the resistance of the section in question, because this gives an approximation of what gauge to use. This is achieved by supporting the tree at the base then gently bending it to the right, left, forward and back for a few minutes thus, making the xylem more pliable. The wire is wound around the branch (not the branch around the wire) normally at a 45° angle starting from the bottom going upwards. However, all trees are different some grow quicker than others hence the wire coils may be closer or further apart depending on what one is trying to achieve. The image shown below is an example of how a tree can be wired.
Wiring older trees
Trees that are 3 to 4 years will have lignified and the heartwood will have hardened, thus bending requires a little more thought and preparation. The candidate for this experiment has a diameter of approximately 15mm at soil level, a 7/8mm diameter tip or apex and is approximately 150cm in height, which would be normal for a deciduous sapling of this age, but for our purposes it has been reduced to 24cm.
The sample tree (below) is uninteresting due to the lack of movement therefore, we are going to apply bends to the right, left, to the back and front and fan out the branches so that they will eventually come close to the trunk to give a 3D appearance. (the 3 small grey squares represent back branches that will be reconfigured later)
No doubt the critics will say this directive is incorrect, branches should not be near the trunk as it mars the viewer’s eyeline taking away the emphasis of the trunk which is considered the most important factor in bonsai. Nonetheless, the argument here is between something that has a look of realism as opposed to one of reality.
To explain further after the Chinese introduced the art of bonsai (originally named Penjing also known as Penzai) to the Japanese in the 7th century, the latter produced specimens in their own style. (Zen buddhist) Where focus of attention was centred on a tree’s trunk and branches were not permitted to cross it, but this created a flat 2D image unacceptable to western bonsai enthusiasts because it did not represent reality. A tree as it grows will produce branches radiating the entire circumference; a natural phenomenon.
Furthermore, the American horticulturist, teacher, author, and master bonsai cultivator John Yoshio Naka considered to be the founding father of western style bonsai stated that in order to create a natural look as would be found in nature,”don’t turn your tree into a bonsai – turn your bonsai into a tree.”
Our specimen tree has undergone the flexibility test and has been securely wired starting with the heaviest gauge then moving down through the sizes as we work up the tree. The gauges used are shown below.
The following image a rough drawn sketch gives an indication of how the specimen would appear after the wiring process is completed showing the back branches marked as ‘Bb’. All the fine branches were wired using 1.5mm and 1mm gauge accordingly.
To create a natural look the branches were bent down to give the impression of age and the thinner branches fanned out and levelled to enhance the foliage. At this stage the trunk is still visible (a to b) however, as the tree grows and develops more shoots and leaves, these will come across the trunk, (c) and at the apex the trunk will hardly be visible.
This example is for a deciduous tree that arguably have straighter trunks often with gentle curves, but there are exceptions as in ‘wind swept’ (Fukinagashi) ‘twin trunk’ (Sokan) ‘multiple trunk’ (Kabudachi) or even Literati (Bunjingi) styles. But regardless of the species, the wiring process is the same, the only major difference is that deciduous are wired in the autumn after leaf fall when it is easier to visualise shape and form; whereas conifers being ‘evergreen’ require more patience when wiring to avoid trapping the needles.
Wiring mature trees
Many trees 8 years and upwards can be found in some unusual places including, derelict industrial sites, garden hedgerows as well as from the wild. Many will have interesting forms that have been shaped by the forces of nature, the only task remaining is pruning and wiring the branches.
However, if a potential specimen is found with a 4 to 6cm diameter trunk at ground level, its height will probably be in excess of 2m and applying bends using the heaviest gauge wire (6mm) is extremely difficult, especially if the tree is deciduous because of the denseness of the cellular structure. The only way to create shape (referred to as movement) is to use the techniques mentioned earlier ‘V’ notching etc, but there is an easier approach achieved by reducing the tree’s height to a node or bud that when grows will form the new apex.
The tree pictured above is a twin trunk (Sokan) rowan or mountain ash Sorbus aucuparia rescued from a derelict industrial site due for refurbishment, its original height was over 2m but reduced to 70cm allowing new leaders (1 for each trunk) to grow; height now is 90cm. In spring the branches will be pruned back to encourage new growth. (The temporary padded block of wood ‘green circle’ is to keep the two trunks separated, a new clamp is being designed to facilitate this purpose)
As stated before conifers have more flexibility and can be wired once the proposed section has been tested, if the area once wired fails to hold its shape even after applying the heavy bending technique shown below we can resort to using guy wires as opposed to ‘V’ notching or other applications.
But when using guy wires we have to remember that creating a force in one direction leads to an opposing force, in part one of this article there is an image of a Scots pine and to save you time looking for it, it is repeated below.
This ‘goose neck’ pine has 4 main guy wires attached to both tree and box equalising the tension applied, the top section 5. has been wired in the normal way, but is held down with looping wire 6. to the branch below. The black patches are pieces of felt used to protect the bark from the wire.
Wiring trees can be easy or complicated depending on your approach, the task itself regardless of size just requires a little fore thought and patience. Because at the end of the day it is you who must be satisfied; you are the artist. Until next time when part III of this article (new wire as opposed to reclaimed) is published. BW, N.
Wiring practices is an important subject that requires detailed explanation to make the message clear and precise and considering the amount of pages required, (10-12) which in reality is too long for a single post, (5 pages max) it will be divided into 2 sections A & B. apologies for any disappointment caused, but it is imperative that what is written covers the topic thoroughly especially for the beginner.
In part 1. a discussion was held on climate zones and the temperatures that effect the fauna endemic to those regions in addition, shrubs or trees from warmer climes can be cultivated in colder regions providing they are kept in warm temperatures during the winter months. Also discussed was the difference between softwood (conifers) and hardwood (deciduous) and how their cellular structure differs in the amount of flexibility within a particular species; Scots pine Pinus sylvestris a conifer very pliable and a Japanese maple Acer palmatum extremely rigid.
Bending or pre-stressing
Continuing on from part 1., a tree pre-stresses its trunk and branches quite naturally as it has to combat the forces of nature, more than 90% of a tree’s cells are long thin- walled tubes closely packed together, arranged along the direction of the trunk or branch.
Their function is to transport the nutrients and water from the leaves (Phloem) and roots (Sapwood) respectively. They also provide support because, no matter which way a trunk or branch is bent, the internal forces always act parallel to the cells and are able to adapt to tension and compression. In addition, because the cells are hollow, the tree’s trunk and branches can be thicker as opposed to it being a solid mass.
However, when bending the cellular structure of the xylem becomes disrupted meaning the outer radius of the bend will be in tension whilst the inner radius is held in compression. With conifers this is not so much of a problem but with deciduous, the chances are that the branch will either snap at the weakest point or actually break away from the trunk if not supported.
In addition, if a bend is too severe, the cortex may splinter or break resulting in damage to the phloem and a damaged phloem is not just open to attack from Lepidoptera and Fungi, it can disrupt the movement of nutrients. Therefore any bending should be done in stages to eradicate such problems and this can take several growing seasons depending on the species.
Another point worth considering when shaping a tree, is the container in which it is kept. Applying minor bends to a tree in a pot is not too much of a problem as the root ball should stay undisrupted if wired in. But for heavy or serious bends the tree should be moved to a wooden box and wired down for stability. If one recalls the Scots pine image shown in part 1. one denotes that the container is a wooden box and the advantage of using a wooden box is that any supporting guy wires are easily attached, which is not really feasible if using a clay or plastic container.
Bending thicker branches requires a more careful approach due to the amount of tension being created to the outside radius. To create such a bend the following method usually suffices.
wet raffia is tightly wrapped around the bending section making sure the area either side of it is also protected
tape a length of heavy gauge wire to what will become the outer radius of the bend to protect the bark, cortex and phloem from splitting
wrap the entire area in rubber tape
select the correct gauge of wire and apply it to the proposed bending area
carefully bend the limb or branch into position and use guy wire if necessary
Often when bending thick branches some practitioners resort to other methods when wire alone is insufficient to hold the desired shape. These include Heat – using a heat gun or gas burner to soften the cellular structure on the intended area. Splitting – cutting the branch in two halves and reducing the heart wood, these are then joined together and the bend is made. Channeling or grooving – cutting a groove or channel into the branch to remove the heart wood, thus resistance is reduced allowing the branch to be shaped. Such methods should only be carried out by professionals because such surgical practice requires much after care to maintain the tree’s health and eradicate potential disease.
Another simpler method when bending branches is the ‘V’ notching technique as shown below: Small angle cuts A, B & C an inverted ‘V’ are made in the branch into the heart wood but not beyond, these ‘V’s cuts are then closed as the branch is bent down using guy wires attached to the container preferably wooden.
However, this practice does require some thought prior to undertaking because, any wounds not closed completely will have difficulty in healing, which can cause the disruption of nutrients and moisture not only to the wound, but to other areas moreover, wounds are susceptible to attack from disease. But some disagree, it is said that a conifer’s natural defence system will heal the wounds via it’s resin or sap and there is a logical argument here. Trees do have the ability to heal wounds and some species are more resilient than others nevertheless, it only takes one pathogen carrying insect or fungal spore to infest a wound.
How then do we protect such wounds? With the more intense methods mentioned above, cut pastes and various elastic and rubber tapes are available to facilitate repair. With ‘V’ notching the same can be used but most horticulturalists simply apply ‘vaseline’ (petroleum jelly) to the wounded area.
Generally speaking these are relatively slow growing often with rough bark and can be wired and left for a considerable length of time 3 to 5 years or more depending on the species and any wire marks are hardly visible. But there are conifers with smoother bark for example, common juniper, juniperus communis noble fir, Abies proceraand larch Larix spp. Thus, it pays to be vigilant and check any wire applications periodically especially with young trees and those with smooth bark. Another important factor when wiring conifers is to avoid trapping the needles because not only is it unsightly it prohibits them from functioning properly.
Deciduous varieties (although some have rough bark oak Quercus spp. willow Salix spp. and black poplar Populus nigra) most have relatively smooth bark and any wire applied if not checked will cause unsightly indentations that are difficult to eradicate, hence the specimen becomes useless as a bonsai due to its ugly appearance; so why does this happen to deciduous species and not so much to conifers?
A conifer being ‘evergreen’ slows down its activity in the colder months but still needs to transport moisture to the leaves (needles) for without it they would wither and die, thus a conifer does not become dormant in the true sense of the word and when spring arrives normal activity is resumed.
Deciduous in autumn shed their leaves, hence there is little need to pump quantities of moisture, thus the tree slows down and dormancy begins. In spring new activity commences with a growth surge referred to as ‘sap-rising’, as regeneration of new foliage and growth is the plant’s main focus. Therefore, deciduous trees should not be wired during ‘sap-rising’ and any wire applied the previous autumn must be removed.
When then can wiring begin?
The general consensus is that conifers can be wired after the growth surge from midsummer to early autumn as most new growth will have been made which may require wiring to retain potential shape. Any damage or slight mishaps made during this time will heal more quickly as the plant is getting ready for the coming colder period.
Deciduous species should be wired into shape during the late autumn when the tree has shed its leaves and the potential design is more visible as this period allows the branches to set. However, they can be wired during the summer months but, any wiring must be checked on a regular basis to avoid indentation.
Wiring saplings grown from seeds
Arguably for the novice one of the easiest plants to grow from seed as potential bonsai apart from Citrus spp. lemon, orange and lime is the pomegranate Punica granatum. Pomegranate seeds do not require stratification and can be sown straight from the fruit, providing any pulp residue has been removed to avoid the threat of fungal pathogens.
After 4 to 6 weeks they will sprout depending on cultivation conditions and after the cotyledon (embryonic leaves) have matured the plant produces pairs of leaves at intervals that are opposite, glossy, narrow and oblong and once large enough to handle, they can be transplanted into 14cm diameter pots, a size needed due to vigorous root growth.
Once the plant reaches 12 to 15cm in height the stem starts to lignify (become woody) at the base, but is still ‘green’ towards the top and it is at this stage the plant can be wired. For a tree of this size, you will need approximately a 40cm length of 1mm diameter aluminium wire. Thread wire the up from the base of the pot staying close to the stem and put a bend or tag in the wire on the pots underside to stop it from moving as shown below.
Gently wind the wire up the stem using loose wider coils, if the wire is too tight indentations will appear quite quickly (within 2 -3 weeks) and will have to be removed. As the diagram shows the wire protrudes higher than the plant’s apex, do not cut the wire because as the plant grows the extra length can be used for continued wiring as opposed to using a second piece of wire. Once the plant has attained the desired height and the shape has set, the top of the leading stem can be removed and the wire cut accordingly.
Young pomegranate saplings are quite delicate in their first few months of growth, thus care must be taken when manipulating them. Hence it might be prudent to draw a quick sketch of the intended shape or design and then apply just one set of bends as opposed to continuously bending the plant. Wiring very young trees or shrubs can be considered as a useful addition to one’s learning curve, because it is a stepping stone to more mature trees, nevertheless one has to be careful with relatively ‘green’ material.
The image below depicts a pomegranate an example of what can be attained in a short space of time 3 years, with the basic shape achieved within the first year. Obviously the tree requires further work before it can become a potential bonsai. So until next time when we continue with ‘part B’, BW, N.
Learned bonsai practitioners have their own approach to wiring and regardless of the implementation, it will conform to the ascetics of bonsai. But for the beginner wiring trees can be discerning due to the mistakes often made – errors that are difficult to rectify, thus questions continue to arise.
Arguably the best way to educate those new to the art is via actual wiring demonstrations, but this is not always possible especially if a bonsai workshop where one can attend is not in your area. Hence, they resort to online research to find the required information, which in many cases is not comprehensive in its entirety.
This web site (taigabonzai.com) does contain articles on this subject for example, (‘Styling, Wiring and Pruning’ posted March 20th 2016) and (‘The problems with bending or shaping’ posted January 2nd 2017). Nevertheless, those new to this ‘living art’ have yet to conduct adequate research to find the answers they are seeking. In truth, there is a wealth of information available in text form and in audio visual, it just takes time to read or view.
Arguably, part of the problem is that the beginner eager to get started fails to comprehend the needs of a particular specimen. This article (in three parts) will give a more in depth explanation on the problems when wiring, but first in order to know where we are going we have to know from whence we came; understanding basic horticulture and arboriculture.
The first factor we should consider are climate zones as these have great bearing on how plants react to changes in temperature for example, Northern Europe (Scandinavia). Here temperatures vary from −6°c to −30°c during December, January and February although in recent years they have risen to an average of −6°c to −15°c due to climate change. Summers can be from +10°c to +30°c thus, the range is quite extensive and all endemic flora are adaptable to these changes. This consensus would apply to countries found in the southern hemisphere; New Zealand and Argentina.
Europe (Oceanic) is milder due to the Gulf Steam’s influence making it milder and wetter in comparison to other areas of the same latitude around the world. Winters are milder and summers are cooler with temperatures ranging from 0ºc to +8°c and +22ºc to +24°c respectively and most flora can withstand the variation. But there are instances where extremes to weather patterns abound; the most damaging is sudden severe frost.
In the Mediterranean region (a temperate zone) generally speaking, temperatures average from 3ºc to 13ºc in the coldest months to 20ºc to 25ºc in the warmer months. But as stated the worlds climate is changing, thus the temperatures given for the 3 climate zones are only an approximation. Nonetheless, in the Mediterranean flora is not subjected to extreme variations hence, many species retain their foliage throughout the seasons.
Common species endemic to this region and used in bonsai include, Citrus sp. (Orange & Lemon), Punica granatum (Pomegranate), Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair tree) and varieties of Ficus. These species if kept in colder climes can be placed outside during the summer months (June, July & August) but, are returned to warm environments during the colder months.
However, it should be noted that these species can lose their foliage once returned to an indoor environment, the reason for this phenomenon is the change from an outdoor temperature fluctuation to one that is constant, but they do re-foliate in 2 to 3 weeks.
Researching your tree or shrub’s attributes and well being is important regardless if taken from the wild, store bought, cultivated from a cutting, grafted or from seed, it pays to gain the knowledge. Because this basic information is the learning curve for the further development of your potential specimen/s.
The second factor is the type of tree coniferous or deciduous the former an ‘evergreen’ with permanent foliage and the latter a deciduous a broad flat leaf tree that sheds it’s leaves in autumn, hence the two distinct forms. But there are a few exceptions to this rule where a species can be both coniferous and deciduous for example, the larch and tamarack Larix spp. and the pond cypress Taxodium ascend which do have cones and needles but shed them each year and these are known as deciduous conifers.
Both coniferous and deciduous trees can be defined either as softwood or hardwood, softwoods (coniferous) cedar, cypress, juniper, larch, kauri, pine, spruce and yew have extreme flexibility and are predominantly used in construction. Whereas hardwood (deciduous) apple, beech, cumaru, hickory, maple, oak, teak and walnut have dense cellular structures hence they are less flexible. These hardwoods have many uses including furniture, axe handles, butcher’s blocks and decking for boats.
Conifers can be shaped relatively easily for example, a Scots pine Pinus sylvestris having a 3cm trunk can be gradually coxed into a desired position. However, the wiring used be they guy wires or that which is applied to the appropriate section must stay in place for some considerable time (3 years or more) to allow the tree to conform to its new shape as shown below.
Deciduous can be problematic for example, a Japanese maple with a 1cm trunk will more than likely break because of it’s dense cellular structure, hence hardwood species are normally wired into some form of design in their first year of growth and as soon as the plant conforms to the new shape, which can happen in a short space of time (3 to 6 weeks) the wire is then removed.
The image below is the remains of a Japanese maple used for air-layering, what is left is a reduced stump 1cm diameter (white arrow) and a branch on the left (yellow arrow) which has been loosely wired to create movement and will become the new trunk. The gauge of wire is 2mm with the branch being the same in diameter, using a heavier gauge wire has 2 purposes, (a) it does not create indentations in the bark and (b) it can be left on for a longer period. The foliage bottom right is sacrificial but left to grow to allow the trunk to gain girth.
In part 2 the discussion will continue with images and explanations on bending and shaping, the various methods used, how to pre-stress a branch or limb and when and how to wire. Until next time, B.W, N.
Sitting in my plant room with a cup of coffee I realised the new acquisitions (cuttings and air layered plants) would need additional lighting through the dark winter months, but due to the lack of space this was going to be a problem. Looking at the present setup (illustrated below) there is an unused area (Orange circle) that could be utilised if a shelf or rack could be fitted and still allow the light to filter down to the pants below.
This full spectrum lighting set up is adjustable and can be raised or lowered depending on the requirement. Tubes ‘A’ slide up and down inside tubes ‘B’ and are locked into place by the twist clamps ‘C’ in addition, the light fixture can also be raised or lowered as it hangs on adjustable chains.
Most kitchen units above the sink where the crockery is kept has wire racks but, rather than vandalised mine, the search began for one that would suit my needs. Many were of the wrong size and shape and rather expensive nonetheless, perseverance paid off as one suiting my dimensions was found for very little money. (7€)
The problem is to find a way of fitting a rack without drilling holes in tubes ‘A’ and ‘B’ because, this would destroy their telescopic sliding ability. The first thought was to use pipe clamps but this was rejected because, they are basically loose fitting and over tightening could damage the outer tubes ‘B’. The solution came from a boat suppliers who had hard plastic oarlocks of various sizes with pre-drilled fixing holes (red arrows) including 2.5cm inside diameter which were a good tight fit as the ‘B’ tubes were of the same dimensions.
After the rack had been cut to size scrap aluminium angle left over from a previous project was cut to fit each corner, each was drilled and riveted including a small hole at the top of the upright to take the chain. A piece of flat aluminium bar was then bolted to the angle upright then a further 2 holes were drilled to take the oarlocks as shown below.
The rack was then fitted to the lighting stand and on its own was able to take weight due to the snug fit, but rather be safe than sorry 4 adjustable chains one at each corner of the rack and looped over the main cross bar for added strength.
It can be argued that this full spectrum lighting setup (90cm x 45cm) with a footprint of over a metre is quite small and such a perception would be correct, but in a restricted area one has to utilize the space to the best advantage. Another obvious problem is that by placing plants on the shelf the path of light is restricted, the solution is to arrange the plants so all receive equal share of light.
A full spectrum lighting stand can be made from wood, metal or hard plastic (ABS – Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) or adapted from a coat stand as this one was, it just takes a bit of working out the intended space and footprint. If someone has already constructed their own lighting stand, I would be glad to hear your comments. Until next time, BW, N.
Introduction: in most cases writing articles on bonsai normally follows the seasons as it affords those seeking information current for the time of year however, this is not always possible due to heavy work load and other commitments. This article was originally intended for September this year (2018) and is well overdue nonetheless, it may be of use to those residing in temperate zones where the weather remains clement.
For those in northern regions autumn is well and truly upon us and local nurseries or garden centres are selling their stock at reduced prices, hence it is time to hunt for those bargains. (See the article posted August 3rd 2017 Selecting material for bonsai part III)
Many trees and shrubs will show signs of fatigue or damage, but there are specimens that can be had at a good discount and having found many species over the years both coniferous and deciduous including, Picea, Abies, Ginkgo and Cotoneaster. But something different was needed to experiment with over the coming winter months, thus attention was focussed on the Japanese maple.
In July (2018) quite a few varieties of this species were available, but their cost (25 to 30€ each) did not warrant their condition; tall (80cm) straight and leggy, internodes 5cm apart with sun burnt or wind damaged foliage and saturated alkaline soil. Revisiting the store in late August 3 specimens remained and although their price had been reduced to 7€ each, they seemed beyond redemption. Nonetheless, not being one to shy away from an experiment or challenge they were purchased.
After examining the plants for any signs of disease and unwanted pests, they were placed in sheltered location away from direct sun and wind however, due to their overall condition there was no possibility of becoming potential bonsai. Mainly because the trunks and branches had lignified to a point where wiring to shape was impossible without causing severe damage. It can be argued that methods including, grooving, channeling, splitting and V notching exist in creating bends in trees, but with these young maples having trunks 1.5 to 2cm there is insufficient material to accommodate such practises.
Japanese maples are rather delicate unlike their more robust counterparts the trident maple A. buergerianum, ‘sugar maple’ A. saccharum, American ‘sycamore’ A. pseudoplatanus and ‘Norway’ maple A. platanoides, moreover, their root system is quite fragile and prone to attack from pathogens and nematodes hence, many are grafted onto hardy stock for example, A. palmatum.
Looking at these maples (1. Oridono nishiki 2. Orange dream 3. Butterfly) the plan was/is to air-layer them (often referred to as marcotting) and in so doing 3 separate plants could be had from each individual plant; the blue arrow shows one air layering success and red arrows show other air layering in process.
As these maples were grafted onto different stock, all air layering had to be above the grafted area in order for the new root system to develop and in so doing retain leaf colour and variation as shown below.
Basically when we air layer, we are just producing clones of the parent plant and in theory the process works – we get a replica, but there is always the chance of a mismatch hence, the new plant has little resemblance to the parent plant so what has happened? To fully comprehend the scientific process of cloning requires an in depth study, but it can be simplified here for the purposes of this article.
Scientists have been aware for some time that ‘clonal’ organisms known as regenerative are not always identical and some contend why this is the case. In brief the genomes of the cloned plant carry relatively high frequencies of new DNA sequence mutations that are not present in the genome of the parent or donor plant, despite the fact that they are derived from genetically identical founder cells, hence the reason for mismatch.
The air layering process on the three maple varieties has been completed and the stocks have been cut back hard below the graft and as the above images show; A. palmatum is resilient and recovers quite quickly sprouting new growth. These three plants will be allowed to recover and develop in an indoor environment under full spectrum lighting at room temperature 20c (68F) and watered with an acid solution. (7 litres of tap water with 1 level teaspoon of vinegar to reduce the alkalinity)
Another reason behind the experiment is to find out what varieties these A. palmatum root stocks are, because although (a) the growing mediums of all of these maples is the same and (b) the leaf design and structure are similar there is a difference in the colourisation as can be seen in the above images 2 green and 3 pale pink. The next article also this month will contain an update on ‘Lighting for bonsai’ so until next time, BW, N.
Many years ago, I interviewed an elderly gentleman for an article on preservation and on meeting him, he was busy in his workshop straightening a pile of nails. I enquired as to why he was doing this, his reply was “There are 2 reasons why I do this, a) because the nails can be used again it’s recycling which saves money and b) it keeps my mind active and hands busy.” The old gentleman’s viewpoint has stayed with me ever since and I try to adopt the same directive reusing items for other purposes.
Now to the question: “Is there a connection between a microwave oven and bonsai?”
Probably the first reaction to the question is “What is this person talking about, how can there be a connection, they are worlds apart.” But if you read on you will see that a connection between these two entities does exist.
What is the most used item for styling a tree, it is ‘wire’ – aluminium for deciduous and the more expensive copper for conifers. Such wire is usually imported from the far east via bonsai outlets in the west and sold by gauge (in increments) 1mm to 6mm and weight for example, 50g or 100g packs.
As we are aware wire in various thicknesses is required to create branch bending in order to maintain the desired shape. With small gauge wire (1 to 1.5 mm) there is a substantial amount in one package (50g) that can last a long time, but as the gauge increases the length decreases. Moreover, the initial cost of purchasing a large selection of wire and delivery can be expensive depending on the supplier.
If one is a trader in bonsai or an instructor the cost of wire usage can usually be passed onto the customer or club where workshops take place, but for the novice/student or solo artist offsetting the cost cannot be done. Some of my students whom are extremely enthusiastic are as poor as church mice and denying them access to my wire stock, is a set back in their learning curve; hence a way had be found to accommodate their needs.
The solution came a few weeks ago when my microwave oven decided to retire, it was moved to the workshop in the hope that a repair could be facilitated. But after doing some research the advice given was “do not under any circumstances tamper with a microwave oven”. Because it has (1) a high voltage capacitor which can give very nasty surprises and (2) a magnetron, which has cancer causing beryllium oxide coatings if damaged. Nonetheless, having an inquisitive mind I took the the appliance apart to see how it worked.
Inside the microwave is (3) a transformer with two large coils of reusable wire, which can be either all copper or a mixture of copper and aluminium, depending on the make, model and age.
These transformers are comprised of several heavy steel sections held together by seams that run the length of the transformer indicated by the red arrows, these need to be separated and to do this the tools required are a hammer and bolster or masonry chisel.
Put the transformer on a flat hard surface seam side facing up and break them, the transformer will come apart, tap out the steel sections that go through the coils, then separate the coils and clean them of any unwanted debris.
You now have wire that you can use for bonsai which at most will have cost you 30 minutes from stripping out to wire retrieval. There is other copper wire in a microwave but it is either too thin or braided to be of any use in bonsai. Of course a microwave oven is not the only source for wire, other electrical appliances a washing machine, dishwasher, refrigerator or air conditioner have transformers containing wire coils.
Another wire source is industrial electrical cable often coated in a polymer insulation which has to be removed, achieved either by manually stripping the cables through a jig or burnt off. But the latter causes problems because a) the coating produces smoke which contains halogens, dioxins and carbon monoxide that are hazardous to health. b) The wire has to be cleaned of any burnt residue and if copper, it may need to be re-annealed to make it pliable for use.
The microwave project was undertaken purely reclaim the copper/aluminium wire so that it could be used by my students during bonsai workshops, thus saving money and my own personal stock of wire. If you wish to try dismantling a microwave or other electrical appliance for its wire content, I urge you to err on the side of caution use gloves, face protection and tools that are insulated – be safe not sorry. Until next time, BW, N.
In the article ‘A teaspoon of vinegar’, a brief discussion focussed on the differences between rain water predominantly acid and what comes out of the household tap; a chemical cocktail and its effect on bonsai trees and shrubs. Hence it might be prudent to have a brief review of the chemicals found in rain and tap water.
RAIN WATER: having a pH range of 5 to 6 contains many types of nutrients and is free of salts and other harmful elements and although it absorbs atmospheric gases, it remains pure until it comes into contact with the soil. Thus, rain water becomes contaminated due to the chemicals and pollutants that are present. The major causes of this phenomena include factories, power plants, automobiles and low-flying military aircraft the latter a significant contributor to the damage of trees.
Such chemicals that include, sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitric oxide (NOx) become acids when they enter the air and react with water vapour. The result is sulphuric acid (H2SO4) and nitric acid (HNO3) which, can alter the pH range making it more acidic – a pH range of 3-4 for example. However, some tree species thrive in acidic conditions, Beech, Dogwood, Willow oak, Magnolia, Azalea, Holly, Birch, Pines and Rhododendrons as their soil conditions from where they originate are predominantly ericaceous. (acidic)
TAP WATER: with a pH range of 6.5 to 8.5 (depending on your particular region) contains various chemicals some thought to be beneficial, but series of tests conducted in recent times have cast doubt on this perspective for example.Fluoride (F) in drinking water began back in the 1940’s to assist in reducing tooth decay, but fluoride is a neurotoxin and endocrine disruptor, able to damage the thyroid gland, calcify the pineal gland and interfere with bone formation. The toxicity of fluoride is quite high and because of the risk to health many countries have banned water fluoridation.
Chlorine (CI): is a strong disinfectant added to drinking water as a purification technique, it is a reactive chemical that bonds with water, including the water in the stomach that produces poisonous hydrochloric acid. Excessive exposure to chlorine can cause cell damage and respiratory problems. Nevertheless, water companies continue to use it despite not being completely safe.
Other chemicals found in tap water are mercury (Hg) – a naturally occurring element usually a bi-product of mining and industrial practises. Arsenic (As) is used in a multitude of industrial processes and if improper disposal is not taken care of, environmental contamination is the result.
Lead (Pb) is a major toxin that still exists due to corroded piping systems and is extremely toxic especially to humans. PCBs or polychlorinated biphenyls, are chemicals used for industrial purposes such as insulation, machinery, oil, paints, adhesives, electronics and fluorescent lights. In 1979 PCBs were banned but, they are still found in land-fill sites where they continue to break down and pollute the environment.
In addition, other chemicals found in water supplies include, Perchlorate, (CI04) HCB or Pentachlorophenol (C6) and DDT (C14H9Cl5) (Dichloride-Phenyl-Trichloroethane) and all have detrimental effects to some degree. As do modern insecticides and herbicides including Glyphosate which, are highly toxic and a cause for concern as they break down in the soil and are transported to other areas via rain fall and by the wind.
VINEGAR: is an aqueous solution of acetic acid combined with other trace elements and is the result of a fermentation process using ethanol, various sugars and acetic acid bacteria. Some types of vinegar contain up to 20% acetic acid, but these are strictly for agricultural or cleaning purposes and not intended for human consumption.
Normal vinegar regardless of its colour or flavouring contains 4 to 7% acetic acid and 93 to 96% water and can be used in bonsai to counteract the chemical effects of tap water. The recommended dose to attain a pH range of 5 to 6 is 1 level teaspoon (1 ml) to 7 litres of water. After a period of time, the container will discolour with black streaks and sediment, this is the residue of acetic acid combatting the chemicals as shown below; but keep the container away from children and pets and do not consume.
Soil pH: in nature one can find areas where a variety of species both coniferous and deciduous grow together with some in close proximity and within this area the pH can change. This variation is due to a species leaf shed for example, the ground underneath conifers will be strewn with needles, which break down giving acidity to the soil, thus reducing the pH. Alternatively deciduous leaves decompose allowing the nutrients previously tied up in the leaves to be slowly released back into the soil where they can be reused, hence the pH rises.
There exist many soil types each having their own properties which, can be categorised into 3 sections; ericaceous (acidic) pH 3 to 6, neutral pH 6 to 7.5 and alkaline pH 7.5 to 8.5. Each soil type has their own type of living organisms classed as Acidophiles, Neutrophiles and Alkaliphiles respectively. Such organisms include archaea, bacteria, actinomycetes, fungi, algae, protozoa, and a wide range of insects; mites, nematodes, earthworms and ants. These consume, digest, and cycle nutrients all of which are important to the vitality of a soil composition.
Once the origin of your particular species has been established whether tropical, temperate or northern hemisphere, it is relatively simple to determine the pH range required by the plant. To assist you in this go to the Articles ‘The pH factor’ parts 1& 2 posted in April 2017 where you will find a chart showing the pH range for most bonsai species. In addition, there is a comprehensive description on soils and their composition.
DOES VINEGAR WORK?: in the article ‘The Colourful Maple‘ (September 3, 2017) my A. palmatum amoenum and the red spider mite Tetranychidae urticae was discussed. The plant was brought inside and placed under full spectrum light, but the change in temperature caused the plant to leaf-drop; new buds appeared but would not break into leaf. With the danger of frost over (May) the plant was moved outside where it was subjected to rain fall, in June the buds had broken and by July it was growing vigourously.
After some research, it was concluded that tap water is detrimental to a tree’s health and vitality, since then all my trees are given the vinegar solution; although the dosage is either reduced (half a teaspoon to 7 litres of water) or increased (1 and a half to 7 litres of water) depending on the species.
Further evidence to confirm this perception is with the Abies procera glauca prostrata or ‘Noble Fir’. This conifer requires acidic conditions in order to survive, it cannot tolerate water with a high pH. One of my students has this species and when it was given tap water, the needles turned brown; a sign of ill health. He now uses the vinegar solution.
Rain water is soft with a pH of 5 to 6 – suitable for most plants, if you have the means to collect it then there is no problem, but if not, you have to find a way to make hard tap water soft therefore, the suggestion is ‘A teaspoon of vinegar’ . Until next time, BW, N.