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Club Meeting July 2015

by Kevin Kelly

The Club president Trevor Venables welcomed the 15 members present and he noted the names of 6 members who had sent their apologies.

Phil Levitt presented the 'tip of the month' on the theme of 'olive maintenance and care through winter and spring'.

He dwelt on the topic of fertilisers and the relative merits of different products available. He noted that the different products each have advantages and disadvantages and suggested that it may be best to rotate between products. Among other characteristics, the brands differ in the trace elements they include and using a mix of products one has the highest likelihood of covering the needed range. Phil also reflected on the merits of liquid versus granular fertilisers, and spoke favourably about Multiote, a controlled-release granular fertiliser.

Phil also spoke about insecticide options and mentioned the use of Koinor as a low maintenance approach to pest control which yielded good results. He discussed a range of fungicides and foliar sprays and raised questions about whether lime sulphur really stains pots and suggested that this is not permanent and generally comes out.

Phil also spoke about the problem of a dark collar forming around the base of olives and suggested that the use of course gravel prevents this problem and controls its spread.

Other tips included: "Don't prune if you want them to thicken", "Wire branches before they get too thick to achieve the desired angle with the trunk", "Don't prune trees until they start to push, then hedge-cut and they will back-bud".

Dorothy Franz filled the 'just junipers' slot with a focus on Sargent junipers which tend to get overlooked as bonsai subjects. She said that she favoured this species among the junipers and the specimens she showed attested to the success that can be attained. If left to their own devices Sargent junipers usually grow in a semi-creeper form. This also means that they are very pliant and easy to wire. Dorothy noted that Sargent junipers have a feminine characteristic with attractive foliage. One disadvantage is their tendency to form terminal bunches. She has found it best to wire secondary branches flat every 2 to 3 years. Sargent junipers are slow to grow into tree stature but break back very nicely on old wood, allowing a second chance if one has allowed a branch to get too leggy. Care must be taken not to overwater them and they tend to like to stay on the 'dry side'. Although they may get scale they generally are not bothered by insects and they strike well from cuttings.

Hennie Nel was the judge for the evening. The theme was Celtis and Henny brought forward two trees for comment. He commented very favourably on Gail Theron's Celtis africana, which Gail has had in training for 30-40 years. He commented on how gracefully tapered it was, with no big scars, and a well-shaped spread of roots. Hennie also commented on Cindy Rodkin's arresting saikei; a raft planting with a thoroughly natural feel and fine ramification and movement in the branches.

Andre van Jaarsveld was the 'bush to bonsai' artist for the evening. He worked on a Juniper procumbens nana to good effect, and was congratulated on what promises to be an interesting tree.

Trevor Venables spoke on the Celtis family as bonsai material, pointing out that there are at least 60 Celtis species and three are naturally found in South Africa. He felt that there are a number of species in the family that could be good bonsai material but are seldom if ever used.

He spoke about the differences between Celtis africana and Celtis sinensis, saying that there are differences in opinion about how they differ, but that Africana appears to miniaturise better.

In discussing the characteristics of Celtis he noted that they could be effectively developed as both naturalistically styled or broom styled trees, and that one of the most pleasing characteristics is that they can be beautiful in full leaf and are also stunning without leaves in winter, especially given the fine ramifications that can be relatively easily attained. They also offer pleasing yellow leaves in autumn. Their alternating leaves provide good opportunities for structure development, but they tend to be apically dominant and need regular cutting back by light trimming throughout summer. He noted that it is important not to wire to the tips of branches as this may result in die back.

Trevor also noted that Celtis air layers particularly well and that big scars tend to heal well.

Other growing tips are that good taper can take quite a number of years to develop, and the feeling of age relies to a great extent on taper. He emphasised the importance of letting branches thicken and the need to cut back top branches and let the tree gradually "grow its way out". He said that one should "Grow for vigour and prune for health" and that it is safe to defoliate Celtis up to three times a year.

He felt that the use of jin in Celtis trees can be very effective in creating interest, or suggesting an interesting story of the tree.

Celtis generally have fast root development and this is the case with sinensis in particular. They should be transplanted in July and early August and require a course growing medium and regular feeding to avoid dieback.

The most-informative meeting closed with members reminded to put forward trees for the ABC4 Convention exhibition.

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Random Bonsai Tip

Wick watering - Support your tree or pot over a container of water. Place one end of a piece of rope (approx 20 cm long and one centimeter diameter) in the container and bury the other end in the pot of soil - you can now go away on holiday.