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Putting the Bonsais to Bed

Monday, April 14, 2008

Last fall, I took a bunch of pictures of the process of putting my bonsais to bed for the winter. I had planned to blog about it in November, but we took off for New Mexico right after I took them, and it was all geese and blue skies from then on. Having just taken the trees out of said pit and gussied them up for spring, I thought you might be interested to see how one overwinters bonsai trees in southern Ohio. (I don't know how anyone else does it; the pit and the foil-wrapped trunks are my invention). After that, I 'll show you how you get them out of bed. You don't have to yell at them multiple times; you just yank them out.

To my great cons-tarnation last November**, I found that my bonsai pit, which lies under our west-facing deck, had collapsed a bit. More than that, it was just too small for my trees, some of whom have been growing for--gasp--25 years or more. I have a special love for Japanese maples, and my favorites get a few inches taller each year. This is the best one:
She's about 2 1/2' tall now. The split trunk is courtesy of a 'coon, who knocked her off the porch railing in 1993 and split her down the middle. I was sick about it, thinking she'd probably die, but I taped her together and dripped candle wax on the wound and darned if she didn't grow into the most gorgeous twin-trunked creature, the best of all my trees. Thanks, 'coon, sorta. I don't torture my trees with wires or carving to make them beautiful; I trim them and that's it, so I'd never have done anything that drastic.

A bonsai aficionado who looked at her about five years ago scolded me for having her in a cheap pot.
"I paid $25 for that pot," I replied, a bit indignant.
"Well, that tree deserves a several hundred-dollar pot," he replied. "Where did you get it?"
"I grew it from a seedling."
"Get out."
"I did. I didn't know any better." He looked at me closely, then shook his head, smiling in disbelief.

See, most people take older nursery stock and carve it up and stick it in a successively smaller pots and "train" it as a bonsai. My trees started with me as two-leaved seedlings, cotyledons still attached. This man looked at me like I was some kind of savant, which I guess I am, because I don't know nuthin' about how you're sposed to create bonsais. I just start small and wait, because hey, I'm waiting anyway. Heh.

This is my oldest maple. The picture doesn't do him justice; he's really big around and has terrific twig structure and very small leaves. Cicadas scarred him in 1996, the year Liam was born, and voles have chewed his trunk, nearly girdling him, but he perseveres. What a wonderful tree. If you're wondering, I assign sexes randomly. Japanese maples are bisexual. Mine have yet to bloom or make seeds, something I wonder about. Perhaps I've arrested their reproductive development as well as their upward growth.I hated to put them in the pit while they were still in full fall color, but we were headed for New Mexico, and the forecast was dire. Speaking of dire forecasts, it's supposed to dip to the mid 20's tonight, which means the entire contents of my linen closet is draped across my gardens. @$%&%$*$%!!! I can only reach half of my heirloom lilac using a stepladder, but I've got two bedspreads and a tarp on it. If I have to stand there all night with a hairdryer pointed at that lilac, I am going to have blossoms this spring. Didn't get any last spring; five nights in the 20's at JUST THIS TIME IN APRIL froze it BLACK. Please forgive me another string of expletives.@#$%$#%$^%^&%/!!! Gotta go out and kiss my golden forsythia good-bye, because by tomorrow afternoon it's going to be dark brown. @#$#%$#^%$!!!

I got a couple of the trees ready to put in the pit and realized that I was going to have to enlarge the darn thing if I was going to get any trees in there at all. So I grabbed my LadyGardener shovelette and started to dig:
Then, I reset the cinder blocks.The finished pit, trees in place. I've taken them out of their pots and wrapped the trunks in thick crumpled foil to keep voles from chewing them over the winter. Then I bury them in soil and water them well.
The last step is to roof the pit, once it gets cold, with a piece of tempered glass (a shower door). You can see it behind me, waiting to be deployed. More Zick fashions for your certain derision. I got the Land's End Squall Jacket for $8, probably because it was such a fabulous color that nobody else wanted it. But that's OK. You don't have to make fun of me this time. Remember, I don't have any neighbors, so I can wear what I want.

photo by Bill Thompson III

The bonsais would sleep here all winter, protected from frost and burning winds by their glass ceiling. I water a couple of times a month, otherwise forgetting about them, until April, when I creep softly in to pull them out of their beds and start their season of leaf and growth.

They're all in the foyer tonight. Pfffft.

**what we hillbillies call bein' upset, when "het-up" don't fit


And, in addition to everything else, you're into bonsai TOOOOOO!! (and you figured this all out on your own???) WHERE do you find the time, or are there 48 hours in an Ohio day?
Seriously, this is one of my favorite posts ever... just reads GREAT all the way through (...and interesting on top of it all).
As to your attire, I can say at least one thing: your shoes sure look Keen...

Whattaya mean, you're not supposed to start bonsais from seed? Somebody should have told us that first bonsai is on the kitchen windowsill now, 1.5 cm high and thick as a thread. College daughter got a kit in a tiny box in her Christmas stocking and guess who got stuck with the daily care...wish us luck!

Bonsais have always seemed complicated to me. Afraid to touch with my brown thumbs. Maybe I should rethink it and give it a shot.

I'll be collecting blanets and bed old bed linens tomorrow night, covering half of what I have and hauling the annuals inside - the frost that blackened everything last year at this time still haunts me.

I have the same Lands End jacket in the same color. And, I have neighbors (some of them snooty) and I still wear whatever the hell I want.

I have the same jacket in the same color. I've had it since 1997. Lands End makes 'em to last. Am definitely not known for fashion sense. As for bonsai, my bonsai juniper turned brown and died. Have not tried again.

I almost choked at the "lady gardener shovelette." Please tell me that's the real, patented name!!!

Also, I am in awe of your gardening prowess.

Wow Julie, I am so impressed that you grew these all by yourownself! Hey now, I have the whole coat that color from Lands End and I love it! ;c)

**HA! Just read Mar has one too... great minds...

Mare, Janet, Jayne, I think we're OK as long as we don't put a red hat on top. Anyone else have a screaming purple Land's End coat? Arf arf.

Jess, Bill bought it for me, saying it was Consumer Reports' highest rated small shovel, and it is indeed a Lady Gardener, but I added "shovelette." I have many shovels but it is the first one I reach for because it is so ladylike. It is also the perfect size for flinging dog poop.

If anyone would like to read the poem, "Warning," by Jenny Joseph, that was the inspiration for the Red Hat Ladies, please go here, and be sure to turn up the volume so you get the homemade piano music.

The blog administrator would like to state that her choice of bargain jackets has no bearing on her age or the likelihood that she will at any time invest in a big red hat with a wide brim and ostrich feathers sticking out of it.

I don't believe you would be opposed to a big red hat with a wide brim and ostrich feathers sticking out of it. Now, that's STYLE.

My bright purpose jacket is gone but I still have AQUA and PINK. Love the pink. 1994.

Meant bright purple.

Julie, bonsai?! You are a gifted gardener. I have always admired bonsai, but never took the plunge.
I haven't checked my lilac buds yet today to see if they survived. Same here about last year...freeze, no blooms, beautiful leaves! Maybe now you can bring your linens back in for good.

Lovely bonsai!!
I didn't know you had them, I've never seen such colours in a bonsai before, is sooo pretty!
Great work you've done there!

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