Friday, June 2, 2017

Make my garden tree a bonsai

My friend Lucy Ravitch is an amazing math teacher. She has written books for children on math. She posts a video on ideas to teach children math every Thursday (this is the latest one Anywho, She told me that she was looking to get rid of one of her landscape trees. Like any good bonsai lover dreams of yamadori bonsai filled my head.

This is the tree in question. My daughter is standing underneath it. This is a strawberry tree, Arbutus Unedo. It is a European tree that grows mostly in the Mediterranean. The best feature of this tree is the reddish-orange fruit and fragrant bell-shaped flowers it has from late fall to winter. It also has a very beautiful flakey bark, and to top it off I love the menthol-like scent it has. Yes, I love this tree.

An added plus is that because it was designed as a topiary tree it has amazing curvy branches.

A few negatives are the reverse taper of the trunk, not all the large branches are at the bottom, and the branches are too long.

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I started the air layer with a gardening saw. I cut two rings to mark the top and bottom edges of where I am going to remove the bark.

I used a flat gouge to remove the bark. It came off easy, a little too easy. It has very delicate bark. I used my fingers to remove the rest of the bark.

I coated the top edge of the cut with rooting hormone.

After, I soaked sphagnum moss in water. I cut a heavy duty trash bag to size. The trash bag will hold the sphagnum in place. I squeezed most of the water out of the sphagnum moss and placed it in the bag. I use zip ties to hold everything up.

air layer for bonsai

air layer for bonsai

I am worried that the air layer will not take. I promised to remove the tree by August even if the layer does not take. Also, I have never seen this tree, so I am worried about back budding. I saw a picture of Graham Potter with a huge strawberry tree that was shaped into a bonsai, so I believe that it is possible. Wish me luck. Cheers.

Update 07/31/2017
I went to chop the tree down. I checked the wound for roots. No roots to be seen anywhere. In fact, the tree had a callus forming on the exposed wood. The callus was slimey and spongey.  I was a little disappointed but not surprised.

I decided to move to plan B. I would remove the tree and try to plant it in a pot. It was easy to remove the tree as it had no tap root and all the big thick roots were on the surface. I used a pick to dig a trench around the trunk. When I had dug the trench and cut the branch like roots I used the top of the tree as leverage to sway the tree loose. it took two tugs and a push and the tree was free. I pruned all the branches and took the trunk home. There I used a hand saw to remove about 4 feet of trunk.

I made some clean cuts to the bigger roots. Then buried the roots in a compost, sand, and pumice blend.

Do I think the tree will take? I am hoping so. I will put it in semi shade and water like normal.