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Improving our Bonsai - Summary 


Author - Mark Higgins

Over the past few months there has been three articles presented addressing some of the characteristics of an old and mature tree and how these can be applied to Bonsai.

The intention has been to expand the original notes left by Hirotoshi Saito and I must admit just writing these articles has certainly kept the Bonsai buzz going for me.
But wait, there's more, and before we even consider tackling what makes a tree beautiful it would be appropriate to recap the aspects of age and maturity and the possible solutions for improvement.

Can be improved by grafting and air layering the trunk.
Branches growing directly above a root will impact on the development of the root and can be used as a tool or can work against the grower if not kept in check.
A much better Nebari can be achieved from cuttings and growing trees in the ground for a period of time before focusing on the trunk line and branches.

Taper on the trunk and branches.
A valuable characteristic to establish age - what looks better a tapered trunk or a telegraph pole ?
Taper can be improved by pruning the apex and replacing it with a side branch or allowing a new shoot to develop which can continue the height of the tree.
The same applies to branches and taper must extend into the branch structure, don't forget that the branch spacing needs to decrease as branches ascend the trunk.

Curve Lines must be tapered on trunk and branches.
Curve lines must decrease in size as they ascend the trunk and the same can be said for the curves extending into the branches. Reshape as required to improve curve taper.

Minor branches should have softer curves.
A fine network of branches must be developed.
This can be achieved through leaf pruning, pruning minor branches back to two or three buds and pinching out buds on new growth.
A fine network of branches is one of the best characteristics of age.
The Apex needs to be rounded.
A pointy apex indicates an immature tree whereas a rounded apex signifies maturity and age.
The last point and one which has not been previously covered is Bark.

Bark on the trunk and branches must look mature.
Bark is something we have little control over and it is only time that develops that chunky bark texture that is seen on a lot of trees and does so much for the tree in establishing the perception of age.
Over the years there has been a few suggestions on how to improve the bark texture from allowing wire to cut into the bark and then removing and rewiring it in the opposite direction, to taking a hammer to the bark to bruise it and cause it to crack and swell.
I am not in favor of either of these and believe it is best to allow the tree 's bark to develop of its own accord.
It probably helps to understand how bark is formed and quite simply it is closely linked to the annual growth rings on a tree. While internally the Xylem develops into the heartwood of the tree, the outer layer of cells in the Phloem are continually forced outward with each new layer of cells developed in the cambium.
Depending on the elasticity of the cells, mature bark texture can remain relatively smooth or develop into something very chunky such a found on a black pine. The cracks we see in bark are formed as the outer layer of the phloem splits and cracks with age and the increasing diameter of the tree.
Sometimes a textured bark can be developed or improved a lot quicker on the side of a tree that has been placed close to a wall but it does have an adverse impact on the tree in that :


  • an even amount of light does not reach all the branches and if left against the wall for too long the back branches will weaken,


  • you will find the branch structure and position can change as the tree will lean away from the wall seeking the light


Young trees that are grown very quickly in order to increase the trunk diameter as fast as possible tend to have smoother bark than trees that are grown more slowly.
The best solution to develop a pleasing bark texture is to just have patience and in time the bark will form as the tree increases in age and trunk girth.
The characteristics of age are around us all the time, all we need to do is just look at the trees growing in our own backyards and start to compare the old trees to young ones so that we can clearly identify the differences between the two.
Take the time to do it and you will be richly rewarded with an improvement in your styling.

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