Journal Entry No. 1

In winter (it's mid February as I am writing this) you will often come across discounted plants at garden centers. I recently came across what looked to be a single, densely branched mugo pine (Pinus mugo spp. mughus) for Fr. 6.

Pinus mugo spp. mughus.

The container I bought home, I was expecting a single plant.

I decided to buy it because I was just about to go write an exam. Knowing that I had a little tree to style when I was done helped get rid of some of the stress before and after the exam. Besides that, mugo pines are native to Switzerland and I don't own any yet. Much to my surprise, it turned out to be almost a dozen small seedings in the same pot. There were four bundles of them, with the nursery plug fabric still visible.

A bundle of three mugo pine seedlings.

A bundle of about three seedings, the grey-ish fabric seen by the roots is the nursery plug.

Seeing this fabric is never a good sign. I think the stuff is supposed to be biodegradable but It probably takes a millennium or two. It also means that you are in for a seriously messed up root system. The reason for this is that the seedlings or cuttings are started in these small plugs. They are then mostly left in there for quite some time. By the time they are potted up the roots have circled the inside of the plug a few times. When you pot them up the roots grow to the outside of the new pot, but the inner circles never correct themselves. This is problematic; especially for bonsai. The only thing you can do at this point is to remove the fabric and try to untangle the roots so that they don't circle anymore. Luckily most of the seedlings were still pretty small, so the roots weren't too messed up.

A single mugo pine seedling.

A single seedling, separated from the bundle.

Once separated, I wired most of the seedlings. I choose to do this because material with bends that start low in the trunk are hard to find. The low bends give you a lot of options for the later design of the tree but it also takes some designs off the table. That's why I don't wire all of them. I just bend the lowest part of the trunk, the rest of the growth is still really young and will still be flexible for a while. While I am at it I also remove any extra branches to ensure proper bifurcation.

Wired mugo pine seedling.

A wired mugo pine seedling, ready to be potted.

I pot the seedlings in a half-half mix of granulate and pine bark. The seedlings go in my cellar by a window. It's pretty cold down there but they will be protected from frost. Once the chances of a hard frost are over (one that would freeze the substrate) I will move them outside to a sheltered area and eventually into full sun. The wire will be removed next winter or spring, depending on how much the trees grow over the summer. I will let it bite in quite a bit on some of the trees. This helps create a gnarly, thick trunk. In Japan they will sometimes even let the three completely envelope the wire and not even bother to remove it. Maybe I will try that with one or two.

Potted mugo pine seedling.

A mugo pine seedling, potted up and ready for spring.

It has to be said that this is not the best time of the year to be doing this kind of root work on pines. I recently watched a video where an old Japanese bonsai master said "People who have many trees re-pot early." That pretty much sums up my situation. in my experience the aftercare is what's important. With good aftercare you can get away with a lot. That said, I don't expect all of the pines to survive. Not because of the timing but because I had to bare-root most of them and remove a lot more roots then I was planning (they had a lot of circling roots due to the plugs). I prefer to do the radical work right away on new trees, especially seedlings that came cheap. I'd rather loose a few seedlings now then a tree I have invested time into later on.