A friend on facebook reminded me of the date today and I thought it would be a good time to put a new post up on the blog. Plus we are socked in with a steady, drizzly rain today–can’t do too much outside. So I let the trees rest and report to you the latest work. I’m going to start off with this Douglas fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii, I collected in the Oregon Cascades somewhere around 2007, late winter/early  spring. It was wired in 2008 or so and I took the wire off in 2009 then let it rest for the last  four years. It probably would have languished on its rotting bench had it not been for a recent program I attended at the last Bonsai Society of Portland meeting in October. Ryan Neil of Bonsai Mirai (there’s a link to his website on my blogroll) and Scott Elser delivered a very informative and inspiring program on–you guessed it–Doug fir bonsai.

It was just the right thing at just the right time as this tree had really filled out and was shouting out for styling. (they ‘shout’ in a language of green ;-)) I’ll show you the photo I took before work began late last month, but before that I have images of the tree from its first styling in the fall of 2008:

Doug  fir before


I planted it in the nice cedar tub in 100% pumice of large particle size; interesting to note that I fertilized it with horse manure which was free for the taking. I’d also heard it makes excellent fertilizer as it’s fairly mild and can be used almost right out of the animal…what did I learn? The horses were fed clover hay and I had a difficult time eliminating the clover from the pot as the years rolled by 😉 Now I use Portland Rose Society organic fertilizer with mycorrhizae and no more clover! You can see from the photo that this was not a very old tree but it had a nice root base, some natural movement in the slant to the right and the top of the tree had been broken somehow which was the cause for its rather small stature–a towering 15″ tall with a trunk diameter of 3″ at the base. I guess this is what caught my eye and spoke to me that it might be a tree of interest later on. Next is a closer shot of the trunk and rootage; notice how smooth and young looking the bark is? I’m not an expert on Doug fir, but I know it takes several decades for most conifers to show the rough, cracked bark that indicates the kind of age we like to see in our bonsai. I would probably pass on this tree if I saw it while I was out collecting today. But the point of my post today is to apply the techniques you learn from a program like Ryan and Scott’s as soon as you can, even if you don’t have stunning material. It might be stunning someday since it got off to a good start in the first place!

Doug fir trunk


Another shot looking down in from above. Sorry for the blurry photo, but you can see some of the branches and the broken top, which is already weathered and gray…maybe  this tree is older than I think?

Doug fir apex


And a shot after the first wiring:

Doug fir first styling


That first branch is a long one! Let’s fast forward five years to late last month for a before shot of this tree prior to its second styling:

Doug fir 2013


Two things hit me about this photo in contrast to the earlier one: The way the tree has filled out and how robust it is and how the cedar tub is rotting. The Universe is telling me, ‘find a pot for this tree soon!’ One more shot a little closer:

Doug  fir closer


Can you guess what comes next? You got it, let’s cut off some of those branches so we can see the trunk!

Doug fir after pruning


And the pile of branches that were removed:

Doug  fir branches


That’s was a mound about three feet in diameter and while it looks like a lot, trust me there were plenty of branches left for me to work with! It’s time to share a little bit about this species that Ryan shared with us in that Doug fir trees are among the tallest of our native conifers and that prior to the logging of most of the old growth trees, there were specimens taller than the redwoods…and why mention this? Because when we keep them as bonsai, they want to become tall too and in order to do so, their lower branches weaken and tend to die in favor of keeping those top few branches so it can get taller. But we have other plans for  them 😉 I had to keep this in mind as I pruned the tree, going lightly on the lower branches and being more aggressive as I went up the tree. And since the tree was in such a fine state of health, I felt confident in taking close to fifty percent of its foliage off. Even then, there was a lot of green to work with and it was getting dark when I took this next photo with only the first two branches ‘roughed in’ or wired only for position:

Doug  fir wiring


One thing to note in this photo is the trunk and the bark especially–do you see it beginning to change in texture from smooth to a rough gray? And there are also little cracks and fissures starting to form as well. That’s what happened in five years container grown. I’m sure all that foliage played a part in its more mature appearance.

My Seattle trip came up soon after I started this tree, so it had to sit a while before I got back to it. The next picture up is of it all done for now. I’m sorry I don’t have any steps in between just know that once the main branches were wired and set in place that what followed was the wiring of the finer branches to make flat foliage pads. You can see the contrast in the photo above of a branch wired out–the first one on the right and the next branch up on the left, that is only partially finished. We make the foliage pads flat like this to maximize the branches’ exposure to sunlight, thereby improving the tree’s ability to feed itself. Remember, they feed themselves through photosynthesis. We make a big mistake in thinking fertilizer is what feeds plants–this is only partially true. Fertilizer provides the building blocks for growth while sunlight provides the energy to convert those blocks into the plants and trees on the planet. Just imagine how much easier our lives would be if we could master this trick of feeding ourselves!

Doug  fir second styling complete



Doug fir


A slight turn clockwise to the right:

slight  turn right

Oops! Sorry for the repetition, here we go:

slight right


That’s the way I left it for now–most of the branches appear too long but I will work on shortening them over the next growing season by allowing next year’s growth to extend and cutting it back when the new shoots start to harden off in May or June. And I’d like to leave you with something a little unusual that is blooming now:

cactus accent


A cheery little outfit, wouldn’t you say?