The initial thoughts of this project began in the winter of 1990/91, when there was nothing more to do than read about Bonsai. I had been growing bonsai for a few years,but the more I read the more I realised that my trees lacked a certain quality. Age was what was missing. An article in Bonsai Today #2 about airlayering inspired me to do something about curing my problem. Airlayering is a means of propagating new plants from woody material or, as the article stated, improving the root system of your trees. I thought of expanding on this idea by airlayering a branch of an old tree to make my new tree. The branch I eventually found belonged to a very old Hawthorn that was growing in a quarry. Fortunately the apex was accessible from an adjoining field;so having gained permission from the landowner I set out to capture my find. It was early April and the tree had started budding, so the sap was flowing. I chose to make the layering on a bend,as I thought this would improve the final outcome by giving an interesting base;the branch was 2.5 ” thick at this point. The method used was called”ring barking”,which entails removing a section of bark approx the same diameter as the trunk. In my case I removed a 2″ ring of bark and then scraped the cambium layer away until I reached the heartwood. If you do not remove the cambium layer,there is a possibility of the wound healing over without issuing roots. This bare area was dusted with hormone rooting powder and wrapped with sphagnum moss. The moss had previously been soaked in water and vitamin B1,as this is believed to promote healthy root growth. The moss was then covered with clear polythene and tied above and below the cut. I used clear polythene,so that I would be able to check on root growth during the process without disturbing the moss. The complete package was then covered with black polythene. This was used to attract heat to the moss,which also helps root growth. There then followed a period of intense patience and constant checking of the package to see if anything was happening. Occasionally,I had to water the moss to stop it from drying out. This was done with a syringe to inject water into the moss without unwrapping it. This water also contained a few drops of “Superthrive”,another root aiding product. After 5 months roots had started to develop;so the next decision was,when to remove the branch. After very carefully unwrapping the polythene the moss was found to be full of roots,so the branch was removed in October, 7 months after starting. I also removed another section of the branch to check its age. Despite the small size over 60 rings were counted. The new tree was planted in a training pot and tied in firmly. I did not disturb the moss at this stage as I felt this would do more damage than good. The tree was over wintered frost free and the following spring I was rewarded with a fine budding over the entire tree. It also flowered well,but I removed them so as not to put any more strain on the surviving tree. The following year I continued to water with “Superthrive”,and in November I removed the tree from its training pot to check on the roots. A good root ball had developed,so I very gently removed as much moss as I could with tweezers. The tree was re-potted,tied in,and again over wintered frost free. During this quiet period thought was given to a design and I felt that the quality deserved something special,so I settled on a Literati. The tree was designed on this theme and has been developing well since. At this time the tree was 33″ tall. During the winter of 2001/2 I felt that after 10 years more experience I would re-style the tree. I always felt that the top 1/4 of the tree was always going to give me problems with the very straight section of the trunk. I decided to remove the top and adjust the branches to accommodate the new image. I feel that the improved taper and reduction of foliage reinstates the fine image of this tree. It now stands 28″ tall and is planted in a Milan Klika dish. The beautiful shari has developed naturally with the swelling of the trunk pushing the old bark off. Who knows, one day this fine old tree might be offered for exhibition.
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