Oleaceae - The Olive Family Part 2

by Rudi Adam


The collecting methods of oleas vary according to the age of the tree and according to growing conditions

1. AGE

  1. Seedling
  2. Young trees
  3. trees of 10-30 years
  4. Old trees


a) Forest - dense bush (high rainfall area)

b) Rocky terrain - open low scrub ( low rainfall area)

1 a) Seedlings

Seedlings are best collected in the beginning of the rainy season when the ground is soft, or if they have sprouted in some garden. It is advisable to water the collecting-area first. This facilitates the easy lifting, with minimum damage to the rootlets of the young tree At this stage of life the young olives are normally a single straight upright growing plantlet with no side-shoots, and 10-20 pairs of leaves. Wrap these young trees in wet newspaper and transport home for re-potting.

Early training of Olea seedling

Training pots should be rigid, round plastic containers of 15cm diameter and 9cm deep with 6 drainage holes near the central base. Secure a 30cm piece of aluminium wire through two of the holes and position as centrally as possible. Fill the container 3-4cm deep with soil mixture (raised in the centre) .On this, place the seedling in such a manner that the lateral roots (future surface roots) are on a horizontal plane, with their tops slightly descending. Top up with soil until all roots are covered by 1cm soil and add a further 1cm of large pebbles to stabilize the seedling. Water overhead with fine mist spray until thoroughly soaked. It is advisable to wait until the newly planted trees have settled down and start a new growth cycle before light wiring can commence. It is at this time that the future style of the trees is determined.

Wiring and grooming

Once your seedling has established itself in its new container (a good sign of this is new growth of up to 5cm) you can commence wiring it into the desired shape, up to a total length of 20cm. Wire is to be applied fairly loose (more than 45° angle) and may be covered with plastic tubing, in order to avoid any injury to the young tree. Remove leaves where no branch is wanted, but leave the terminal intact at this stage. As the new branchlets emerge a by-weekly feeding programme should be adopted, using fish-emulsion, seaweed concentrate and 2:3:2 granular fertilizer on a rotating basis. At all times must the wiring be inspected and if signs of 'biting' or pressure points emerge, the wire should be loosened and re-applied.

Once the new growth has stopped or slowed down pruning of the tree can start. The lower third should be done first, and at weekly intervals the middle, and then the top third. This will give the lower buds a chance to ripen and emerge equally strongly. All pruning must be done to two horizontal leaves, keeping in mind the shortest possible internodes and the achievement of good ramification of the branchlets. For the remainder of the first year, bud-pinching is practised leaving 4-6 new leaves on the lower half of the tree but only 2-4 leaves on the upper half. No branch wiring in the first year of training. Oleas must be kept in full sunlight as this will harden them off and keep inter nodal distances to a minimum.

Year 2: Loosen and re-apply trunk-wire right to the apex section (correcting and refining curves as you go along). Wire the lower and middle branches to the correct position ( 1, 5mm aluminium wire) prune top section to two leaves (very short) and continue to pinch buds overall. No repotting to be done this year.

Year 3: Repot and root prune, paying particular attention to radiating surface roots raising them to near the surface. Simplify branch lines by means of pruning, correct with wire-aiming for triangular outline. Pinching is priority in this training year.

Year 4: If you are aiming for a small tree, it can now be potted into a proper Bonsai container. Larger trees should be kept in the training pot for another year or two, adding soil in the bottom of the pot, thereby raising the tree and enlarging the available soil-area.

Shohin - small bonsai:

These normally need no wire-training and are therefore grown purely by the grow and clip method. A more natural looking tree is achieved in this manner, but small corrections will have to be made with one or the other training methods once the size and height is achieved.

Seedlings with one-sided or single roots

Such seedlings should be planted in groups of three, four or five, very close together, with their roots radiating to the outside. When these have settled into the pot, plait them together to form a single tree. Tie together with non-nylon string. The tops of the individual little trees form branches, with one being the apex, unless a broom style or baobab style is wanted. After one or two years (depending on root-growth, these trees should be potted on into a larger size container for speedier development. Root prune lightly. Twin, triple and multi-trunked styled can also be achieved with a small change in technique. Here the trees are planted close together and then tied at the base with a rubber band or plastic tubing (both will expand with the growth of the tree, but at the same time hold them close together for possible fusion of the trunks. Fusion is more likely if the bark has been shaved at the point of touch (exposing the cambium layer).

1.b) Young trees (3 - 10 years)

Trees falling within this age-group are bent on rapid expansion are, under normal conditions thin in trunk but long and lanky. Due to this rapid growth the trees have little stored energy and find it difficult to re-establish themselves after collection. This factor must be taken into consideration. A considerably larger than normal rootball (for oleas) must be left when collecting this size tree. This can be reduced slowly over the following two or three years. Reduce the tree by at least three quarters finding if possible, a side branch to replace the apex. The trunk is usually uniform in thickness and plans must be made to change this. It is imperative that these trees not be trained too early, except by clipping and pinching back. Any cuts made must be sealed and should be made in such a manner (if possible) so that there is a branchlet at the top or bottom of the cut, even if the branchlet will not be needed in the overall design. This will forestall any 'die back' which would occur otherwise in the lower region of the cut. Tree seal, Cut-past or Plasticine (any sealer that does not allow light to penetrate) will speed the growth of the cambium and therefore he healing process.

Nursery trees are normally available in this age-group. Treatment of these is basically the same as collected trees but it is simpler since the roots are contained in the bag, and may be shortened step by step.

Further training as in SEEDLINGS. Beware of strong top-growth, prune in good time so that lower branches can catch up in thickness and strength.

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Random Bonsai Tip

When creating a cascade the root-ground level must be on a horizontal plane. This imparts the stability to the whole style. Do not tilt the tree, bend the trunk.