In my collection of trees I have tropical and subtropical trees along with the standard California mix. The Peruvian Pepper is one of those special trees. I have been working on a little stump I found at the Sumagawa Nursery near Santa Rosa, CA. It was in a large container in a forsaken section of the the nursery grounds. I live around them and was interested in finding a tree I could attempt to train as a bonsai. Over the years I have found that it develops heavy tubular roots with very will on them. So cutting the roots had to be done carefully as to not lose a section of branches in the canopy.

The pepper is re-potted in the summer like most of the rest of the subtropical species I have. Today, was the day. I am always surprised by the amount of roots it creates. There were lots of fine roots this time so I could cut away some of the larger tubular roots. I cut back the foliage and started the process. The trunk itself is very wide but not very tall and this presents a design challenge. I am working to create branch ramification but that is a very slow process. I am having some success. I have left a longer growing apex branch to attempt a stronger central line for the tree. However in a month or so I will reduce it again and try for some branching. I have had to use a great number of sacrifice branches over the years.

Peruvian Pepper bonsai:  After re-potting
Peruvian Pepper bonsai: After re-potting
Peruvian Pepper bonsai:  out of the pot.
Peruvian Pepper bonsai: out of the pot.
Peruvian Pepper bonsai: Soil mix contains the deciduous mix.
Peruvian Pepper bonsai: Soil mix contains the deciduous mix.
Peruvian Pepper bonsai:  taken out of the pot and beginning root work.
Peruvian Pepper bonsai: taken out of the pot and beginning root work.
Peruvian Pepper bonsai:  tubular root removed now that find roots are developed
Peruvian Pepper bonsai: tubular root removed now that find roots are developed
Peruvian Pepper bonsai: Root mass of fine roots finally developing.
Peruvian Pepper bonsai: Root mass of fine roots finally developing.

Today ends my 2 year journey to test the viability of turface as a substitute for akadama growing medium for sample bonsai in my collection. It has been recommended in club meetings and by cost conscious bonsai artists over the past few years as the price of Japanese Akadama has increased. Over the past year I have lost a small pine completely and weakened some tropical trees and young plants.  Today, however, I took the last tree in the experimental mix to check the results. Over the two year period I had noticed the struggling foliage on the juniper procumbins with concern. I had fertilized and watered like all the rest of the juniper but this one was not growing much at all. The mix was 70% turface, 10% pumice, 10% lava, 10% fur bark.  The fur bark had completely decomposed.  I hydrated my trees as usual before the re-potting process.

I found that the turface held a lot of water and the juniper was not draining well. The turface was breaking down into power holding even more water. What was most disturbing was the lack of root growth. Normally when potting a tree after two years I would be cutting off roots. Not in this case. There was evidence of negative root growth so I did not trim roots at all. The juniper is now re-potted in the standard 70% akadama, with mixture of pumice, lava, kiryu. I am looking forward to better root development and thus a better foliage mass.

So my end results are that turface, holds a lot of water, breaks down to powder quickly and fails to hold nutrients that feed the tree. It can discourage root development and weaken the plant. I have also been doing soil temperature testing an found the turface medium had a slower rate of heat retention from the akadama mixes and dissipated heat much faster. After having several species either fail or weaken I will never recommend turface as an akadama replacement. I have read this from many bonsai purists but wanted to test it for myself. Even though turface is an inexpensive medium alternative, akadama proves it offers much better nutrient holding because of its surface structure and inherent nutritional benefits. I would rather pay the extra for healthy plants.

The root mass show negative root development in turface medium.
The root mass show negative root development in turface medium.
Tree has weakened substantially.
Tree has weakened substantially.
The turface material has broken down considerably in 2 years.
The turface material has broken down considerably in 2 years.
The foliage mass of the juniper is suffering.
The foliage mass of the juniper is suffering.

Bonsai show time is a great experience. It is an opportunity to display the results of all the work you put in on your trees.  We spend countless hours every year perfecting the placement of branches, feeding, protecting, watering and then it is story time. Time to tell a story with a tree of hard times or times of plenty. This year I displayed 4 main trees. Three were my own and one juniper not pictured here was from a client whose trees I regularly care for and redesign. I had four other small shohin trees added to the in progress area to inform the pubic of the kinds of things that can be done with tropical bonsai.  The Diamyo Oak is always a crowd favorite because it is not common to see. This years display featured a full tribute to “Boy’s Day” in Japan because of the timing of the show. It consisted of the tree, scroll about the holiday, a warrior doll and even the mochi wrapped in diamyo oak leaves. Yes, you can eat the leaves off my tree, but please don’t 🙂

The Olive saikei is another favorite and it has grown well and evolved this year to a better tree. The boxwood was an in progress display because it was inspired by a demonstration this past year where it was wired and shaped as an oak tree. It is far from that at the moment has changed so much since the last time I showed it that it had return for the education of it.

Just because show this show is over it is  not a time of rest. So many more trees need their turn on development.

kusaFormal2015 DiamyoOak kusaFormal2015 JColive kusaFormal2015 boxwood kusaFormal2015 DaimyoOakDisplay

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