Early March Garden Update – Transforming an Olive

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Normally, I wait a few more months to tackle major olive work. I wait until evening temperatures are steady above 50 degrees. This year’s weather has been a bit bazaar and I have movement in most species that I would not expect including my olives. I have a had a client olive hanging out on my deck for a few weeks and it endured a freeze we had here. Now temps are steady and upward trending.

This olive is a legacy tree for SF Bay Area. The tree is over 70+ years old with documents that show it was worked on by Pete Sugawara, who was a co-founder of Kusamura Bonsai Club and assisted many other Bay Area clubs. He owned his own nursery further north. The documentation states that it was worked on by Pete in 1960’s and was on display at a prestigious Japanese event. There are photos documenting its evolution. It has been cared fore in the 80’s by a local Buddhist temple group known as Akibono in Palo Alto, CA.

I first met this tree a few years ago when I accepted a new client. The tree was lovely, overgrown, and potted in very bad soil. From the mid 80’s some clubs did not use a good Japanese sub-strait; rather, they used what was commonly available, potting soil. The drainage screens were from screen door cuttings. The soil became a muddy mess and the roots got smaller and smaller. The screens clogged up and held water in the root mass. As was also popular back then, there were two rocks added to the composition. Why? Just because rocks look natural. What they do instead is reduce the root space and repel water.

Original legacy olive position that included two rocks in the composition from the 1980’s
Removed rocks, cleaned up root mass, and exposed a new nebari.

My effort, when I took over the tree care, was to clean up the canopy and open it up to reduce the overgrown foliage. This would prepare the tree for the warmer months and encourage back-budding.  I wanted to immediately remove the large stones there did not provide any interest to the composition. (They will be returned to the owner who hold on to them in honor of her husband.)  Once I did that, I needed to find the original nebari of the tree. It has been so long since the tree was re-potted that the soil and roots had moved up over the top. All that soil, moss, and excess roots were removed from the tree exposing a strong root growth and crown of the tree.  We cleaned up the roots and could not bare-root the tree this year, I plan on doing that in future re-potting to purge all the old mud from the tree. I decided to keep the original legacy pot but experimented with other shapes and sizes.  I will recommend to the owner a shallower rectangular or oval pot for the next placement.  I also changed the orientation of the front some; turning the tree a bit more to the right to expose more of the expanded trunk and roots.  That also brought the number 1 branch of the the front corner of the pot.  The tree was also titled toward the front front a bit more to “nod” at the viewer. Later this summer I will wire and trim back more foliage after the roots get well established.

New orientation showing more of the bottom trunk and root flare.
Final image of the Olive transformed and re-potting completed.

1 comments on “Early March Garden Update – Transforming an Olive”

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