The Beheading

A few days ago Tyler and I had the luxury of “house sitting” the nursery while team Japan (our oyakata and the other apprentice named Yuusuke) were out of town hunting for new trees and various Bonsai treasure via auctions in Tokyo and Saitama.

Although we are expected to take care of business in his absence (no slacking off!  Ok, maybe a little…) we get the rare opportunity to work on some of our own trees and experiment, using some of the knowledge we work with on a daily basis in our own way.

Before separation - making one tree into two

This is a tree that was grafted for fun a couple of years back by one of our clients.  As well as an extreme change in planting angle, roots and a branch (a variety more suitable for refinement) were added using approach grafts.  I’m sure many of you have seen this technique used by Iiura-san, one of the grafting godfathers of Japan.  I initially brought this bunjin into the workshop to get a closer look and look for signs of success, but after wiggling the branch grafted on top, it was clearly a failed attempt just by the way the thing moved if you were to touch it in the slightest.  The root graft felt solid enough, so we decided to chance it and end it with one fell swoop… off with the head!

Oops! After sawing off the uninteresting top

I won’t go into great detail about Juniper grafting techniques in this post, just always take great care and be cautious before being bold with these kinds of decisions!  Sometimes the only way to find out is by taking chances, so always leave many branches and make sure your juniper are strong and growing well before grafting.  And if you know you want to graft, hold off on repotting as this tends to slow the tree down a bit.  The type of approach grafting we like works better on larger trees, as the scions are not little cuttings, but rooted seedlings.  This way you can water the roots of the seedling, keeping it alive until it has fused with the parent.  Branch grafts using this method, if performed correctly are very efficient, taking only one growing season before the supporting roots can be chopped.  Vice versa, root grafts tend to take longer because you want enough roots to grow before discarding the original mass which can destroy the tree if the graft was faulty in some way.  One way to tell is by simply cutting off the foliage of the grafted sapling, if the roots continue to grow then you know they are helping support the tree.  Also, if you notice swelling above the area of insertion, you may assume that things are going well.  In the case of THIS tree, we had nothing to lose, and two or three years had passed since the grafting was done… so all in!!!

A close up - Tyler holding his new tree!

The next step will be to pot this baby up in a growing container and let nature have its way.  Next year we can graft better foliage and eventually end up with a decent shohin with lots of deadwood, perfect material for our future experimentation.

Alas, we have two tree’s with unworthy foliage.  However, we now have clarity and a clear game plan.  Keep in mind, an amateur  first grafted freely on this poor guy, and who knows what was going through his mind.  Before we had a mass of confusion with a nice lower trunk, now we have two trees with good potential.  But what to do with the lower trunk?  More grafting coming this June!  Here are some more shots for your contemplation.

Some nice twist and shari near the base

This is the type of stock we use for grafting (rooted cuttings)

Another view revealing the movement, critical to have in a bunjin Juniper!

Always good to have a lot of cuttings! My hair is starting to look like this now...

Still haven’t decided on the front and inclination for the lower half… I’ll take another look when summer arrives, grafting time.  Hope you enjoyed the beginning of this project, I’ll continue documenting the progress of both tree’s and share the results!  We should see some interesting results within the next 2 years, hope you look forward to seeing them!


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