Winter is generally a quiet time, unless you have a lot of conifers such as junipers and pines which you want to style. However there are actually a lot of fun things you can do during the cold and rainy months. Here are a few which I can think of.
Bonsai forests are wonderful to look at. They have the ability to transport us to some faraway place in our imagination. Unlike individual bonsai trees which require a fairly advanced tree to be convincing or impressive, forests can be made up of relatively juvenile trees and in a fairly short period of time you can have something which will impress not only yourself but your friends that come to visit also.
Image caption. Hinoki forests at a grower in Saitama, Japan.
There are plenty of articles both on the web and in magazine as well as books on how to create a forest so I won't go into too much detail but I will make the following suggestions or tips if you like:
Image caption. Make a framework of sorts onto which to anchor the individual trees in your forest. Use something which will degrade after a while, like bamboo or chopsticks.
Root over rock plantings are a lot of fun to do and are very suited to many of the species which we can easily grow here in South Africa - namely the figs.
Image caption. Few species are as suited for Root over Rock plantings as the Chinese Maple, such as this one I was growing for some time in the ground on a rock collected from the seashore.
Before the spring repotting season winter is often a good time to search for suitable rocks to use in root over rock plantings.
Once again here are a couple tips you might find useful when looking for rocks:
Image caption. When rock and roots blend into one form it can be spectacular. Chinese maples do this readily.
Alright, this is probably the least "fun" activity of the bunch but it is none the less something I would strongly advise.
Mould and fungus begins to develop on your wooden benches due to the continuous dampness, assuming you are using wood as a frame. It is best to use a pressure sprayer or simply a scrubbing brush and clean this off or the wood will begin to rot. I know it might look nice to have moss growing on your benches but eventually you will have to replace the wood, so it's not advisable to let it grow.
Image caption. My benches are constructed from wood and every couple years it is necessary to clean them and even reapply wood preservative.
Although not cleaning, I also would advise that you spray lime sulphur everywhere, two weeks apart. On your bench surfaces and all trees. Some people will tell you that lime sulphur stains unglazed pots. Indeed it does but in a few months there will be no more evidence of this. Dilute the lime sulphur as directed on the packaging. This is a very good spray for winter as it prevents overwintering of pests and more. Read more about lime sulphur here or read in general about common pests and diseases and solutions for them here.
It is best to perform any major restyling of pines and junipers, during winter. Quite simply the reason for this is that when the trees are actively growing in spring and summer, and sap is flowing through the tree, it is very easy for the bark/cambium to separate from the hardwood beneath when you apply wire or make large bends. Sometimes if this separation is considerable you will lose a branch and if enough branches, then the entire tree.
Image caption. I would not have attempted this dramatic bend if this pine were actively growing, definately not without raffia. However done in winter you can risk much more.
For this reason major restyling of these species should be left for winter when there is no sap flow and there is no danger of separation. This does not mean to say that you cannot lightly wire and style conifers during the spring or summer months, I am referring to major bends.
I don't believe someone just begins designing beautiful trees out of the blue. I believe that what we design is a culmination of what our eyes have taken in from our surroundings, from books, other resources and our own creative style.
Before you have realised your own style, so to speak, it helps a lot to study pictures of bonsai trees and of course wild growing trees. I love looking at trees in winter because all their secrets are revealed to me without the leaves which cover them in the active growing period.
Image caption. One day when I grow up (he he!) I want to be able to style Celtis like this one from Taiwan.
One can study how branches emerge from the trunk, how they split or ramify, and how they taper. You can study the proportions of canopy and trunk. Much can be gained from such study if you can translate that to your bonsai (Something which I see too little of, lots of bonsai by numbers though). Such translation could be done in a very literal sense as is the case of "natural bonsai" or in a slightly idealized manner which is typical of the Japanese style of bonsai.
Another great book to have is Charles Ceronio's "Practical Bonsai Styles of the World." It is filled with many sketches of bonsai styles, tips and suggestions. Perhaps you will get an idea for that tree you have hidden away in the back corner of the garden that you simply have no idea of what to do with.
Well there you have it, a few things which could keep you busy all through the winter. Winter is also a good time to do some shopping; for instance to stock up on some repotting requisites so you have them at hand for when spring comes round.
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