American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  Sam Ogranaja on Tue Jun 04, 2013 12:19 am

Arthur Joura wrote:The man, silent to this point, grunted, "Is that a bonsai? Doesn't look very old to me..."
--

I love your posts Arthur. Keep them coming.

You can't leave us on a cliff hanger, what'd you say to the guy?

Have a great week!!!!
Sam

PS - I can hardly wait for the next Expo. I might show up a week early Smile

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  Arthur Joura on Sat Jun 08, 2013 5:25 am

Sam, thank you for reading and offering your supportive comments. I appreciate that you always bring a positive outlook to any conversation in which you partake.

In answer to your question - I did not respond to that man's remarks. Interacting with the public is a big part of my job, so much so that it would be difficult to say if I deal more with plants or with people. Sometimes I think I would rather spend all my time working with the plants, but the bonsai are only there for people to enjoy so I need the people to be there, too. It can be enjoyable talking with many of the visitors, and I have learned a lot from the questions they ask and the comments they make, but sometimes it is a challenge to maintain professional composure when dealing with certain members of the public. Admittedly, the difficulty sometimes has as much to do with me as it does with them! In all cases I try to take the proper read on the person in front of me, as well as on my own temperament at the moment. On that particular day, with that particular customer, it seemed best to let his comment pass.

This evening before I left to go home, I did a final walk-through of the Bonsai Exhibition Garden and was for some reason drawn to this landscape planting:



This piece is the work of my friends Ken Duncan and John Geanangel. The trees in the forest are American Hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana) and the flowering plants in the understory are Chinzan Azaleas (Rhododendron X 'Chinzan').

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"Yoshimura Island"

Post  Arthur Joura on Wed Jun 19, 2013 12:18 am

A couple of Fridays back, I finally addressed a job that has been 18 years in the making. I have been wanting to post about it but have not been able to make the time to do so until now.

One of the signature pieces in the NC Arboretum bonsai collection is a unique, 17-tree group of American Hornbeam, planted on a slab of ... plywood. Here is a professionally made photograph of it from about 10 years ago:



This tray landscape has been on display in the Bonsai Exhibition Garden every year since that facility first opened in October of 2005. It sits out in full sun all through the summer, and puts on an impressive display of autumn color almost every year:



In January of 1995 I was able to spend a brief period of time studying with Yuji Yoshimura at his home in Briarcliff Manor, NY, a highly memorable experience I regard as the most influential of my bonsai career. On that trip I had taken with me 25 American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) trees in plastic nursery pots, 3 years from seed and completely untrained for bonsai use. On the final day of my stay Mr. Yoshimura used 17 of these trees to make a landscape planting. Along with the hornbeams, I had brought with me 2 different stoneware trays, quality Tokoname containers, one of which I anticipated would be used for the group. But Mr. Yoshimura had another idea. Scurrying to the back end of his dilapidated greenhouse, rummaging through a large and precarious pile of assorted stuff he pulled out an oddly shaped piece of plywood, announcing, "We will create masterpiece - ON WOOD!" I was dubious, never having seen a bonsai planting done on a piece of plywood. "Oh no" I said, hoping to dissuade him, "that's too nice - I'm sure you had something else planned for it!" Mr. Yoshimura had made up his mind, however, and it was not my place as the novice student to question the great teacher's decision.

Here is a picture of Mr. Yoshimura putting together the planting:



This photograph was taken at the Arboretum immediately upon my return there with the piece:



There is much, much more to this story, but it will wait for another time to be told. My purpose today is to document the work that was done to replace the original piece of plywood with a new one of the same design. When Mr. Yoshimura sent me home with his "masterpiece on wood", he told me "This slab will last for 10 years, then it will need to be replaced. But that will be your problem because by then I will be dead!" He was half right. Mr. Yoshimura was long gone by 2005, but the plywood was still completely solid. The original slab was made of marine plywood, treated with a copper-based preservative and then burnished with a torch. Only last year did the edges of the slab begin to get mushy with decay, after 18 years of use. Over that time, I had numerous people tell me that the planting was great but the plywood slab was no good. Several well intentioned friends offered to pay for an alternative, a similar slab made of stone or cement, or even a nice stoneware tray, anything but a piece of plywood! Early on I considered making such a change, but after awhile I came to think of the plywood slab as being a key component of the unique character of this tray landscape. It is inventively creative, and as such it well represents what made Mr. Yoshimura a great artist and a key figure in Western bonsai. I resolved that this iconic tray landscape - named "Yoshimura Island", by the way - will remain on a piece of plywood for as long as I have any say in the matter.

The following image sequence documents the process by which a new plywood slab was made and the group of hornbeams transferred to it. Captions describe what each picture shows.  I was assisted in this work by my friend Charlie Dunnigan, long ago a member of the infamous "Secaucus 7" but since proven to be an upright citizen.

1) The outline of the slab's shape was drawn on the new sheet of pressure-treated plywood by tracing the contours and adding about an inch all around:



2) The shape was cut out using a sabre saw:



3) It looked like a big jigsaw puzzle:



4) The edges of the slab's outline were rounded off, first with a die grinder with a router bit and then by hand with a wood rasp:



5) The cut out shape, with edges rounded off, was taken outside in preparation of burnishing with a propane torch (Mr. Yoshimura had done this on his original slab as a measure to further protect it against decay; for our purposes it also was intended to "cook" out any excess surface residue of the chemical used to preserve the pressure-treated plywood):



6) The burnishing highlighted the grain pattern of the wood, producing a tiger stripe effect which was an unanticipated but welcomed development:



7) Drainage holes were drilled in the slab, and it was ready to receive the planting:



8) The roots of the hornbeams had attached themselves firmly to the decaying wood of the old slab and had to be pried off of it using a spade:



9) I had done root pruning on this planting 2 years ago, so decided to expedite the transplanting work by leaving the media mass undisturbed and moving it entire from the old slab to the new:





10) To keep the media mass in place we screwed it to the slab, using decking screws:



11) The planting successfully transferred to the new slab, sitting on a cart with the old slab posing alongside:



12) A detail of the tip of the "island", showing the black & brown grain pattern of the new slab:



Some of the more observant among you may have taken note of the fact that this work was done in mid-June yet the trees in the "Yoshimura Island" planting were without leaves. The Arboretum has a large, walk-in refrigerator in which I overwinter a portion of our bonsai collection, and this piece was kept in there waiting for me to make the new slab. I wanted to do the transfer of the planting while the trees were dormant, although it was not entirely necessary to do so. Once the planting was exposed to the warm late spring air it quickly broke bud and started to grow. Here it is today, 10 days after the work depicted in the pictures was done:

 

I do not know if this new slab will last as long as its predecessor. I used slightly thicker plywood this time, but the chemical treatment used today is different than what it was back when the original slab was made, and I have heard some claim that the new stuff does not hold up as well as the old. I also elected to forgo giving the slab an additional application of a copper-based preservative, as Mr. Yoshimura had done with his. It seemed to me that was a bit of overkill, but I suppose I will find out as the years go by. At any rate, if this current slab lasts for another 18 years, or even if it only makes it the 10 that Mr. Yoshimura thought his would, I should be covered. I expect it will be someone else's problem then, because I will be... retired (and hopefully not dead.)
--


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Slab

Post  lennard on Wed Jun 19, 2013 7:38 pm

Very informative and very beautiful planting.

Thanks for posting the pics.

Lennard

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  Kev Bailey on Wed Jun 19, 2013 9:36 pm

Wonderful photo essay Arthur. I appreciate all of the effort and the details that you are putting into your posts here.

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  hometeamrocker on Thu Jun 20, 2013 3:05 am

This is a great thread, thanks for taking the tiem and sharing.

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Summer Solstice

Post  Arthur Joura on Fri Jun 21, 2013 10:52 pm

To lennard and hometeamrocker - My pleasure and thank you for reading!

To Kev - I appreciate having the IBC as a venue for posting, in addition to being a place to learn and see what others are doing. Thank you for making the site possible.

The Summer Solstice is tomorrow, and from that point forward the days begin to shorten. Strange to think that with the arrival of the first day of summer the clock on the growing season begins to slowly wind down. Here in this part of the world we have experienced an absolutely wonderful spring, cool and moist, and as a result everything is lush and green. Although I hear some people complaining about the abundant rain we have had so far this year, to me it is welcome relief from 8 years of drought out of the last 10. People who grow plants become sensitive to such things as rainfall and the changing seasons.

Here's an image to celebrate the Solstice:



This plant was identified by the person who gave it to me as Bowl of Cherries Bellflower (Campanula punctata v. 'Bowl of Cherries'). It is a bellflower, no doubt, but the literature says 'Bowl of Cherries' has deep pink flowers. Looks more like a bowl of grapes to me. The container is by Dale Cochoy.

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  Russell Coker on Sat Jun 22, 2013 2:38 pm

I first saw, and fell in love, with this plant in Japan.  Like ballon flower, Platycodon, it's an important and much loved summer wildflower.  It makes a great summer kusamono by itself or mixed with other grasses, displayed with an appropriate scroll.  It's Japanese name is "hotaru bukuro", lightening bug-bag, and was a favorite of the children - along with rhinocerus beetles, the fruit of akebia vine and dragonflies - and of course lightening bugs. 

Summertime in Japan...  I'm so thankful my time there was way out in the countryside in a peaceful mountain valley.  Sometimes I can still hear the cicadas...  Meeem Meeem Meeem.....

Winter?  Not so wonderful...

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  augustine on Mon Jun 24, 2013 3:46 pm

Arthur,

I've greatly enjoyed your posts and photos, your collection and arboretum are just charming. I love the history and stories that accompanied your trees. I realize that your career at the arboretum, even though seeming like paradise to many bonsai folk, was/is filled with much difficulty and backbreaking work.

I sat on Friday night and re-read the entire thread, unique and wonderful. I can't stop thinking about Mr. Yoshimura's forest planting on plywood. I'm glad you decided to place it on a new piece of plywood. Mr. Yoshimura certainly left his mark in our country.

The bonsai world is unique in that you get to communicate with many professional artists through forums, bonsai shows and seminars and email. I've found many of these people very happy to help the amateur and you're doing the same here.

Thanks very much.

Best regards,

Augustine
central MD 7a

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The View From Early July

Post  Arthur Joura on Tue Jul 02, 2013 9:39 pm

Russell - Thank you for sharing your reflections on summer in Japan! Not least among the many intriguing qualities of plants, they can be powerful triggers of memory, and even people who are not so aware of plants will respond to certain ones they associate with a particular person, time or place. A plant person such as yourself naturally tunes into this more acutely.

Here is another bellflower, grown from a division made of the one previously posted, planted in a container made by NC potter Sage Smith:



Augustine - Thank you for your kind comments! I appreciate that you take time to read what I write here, and if you and others find value in what I have to say it validates the effort it takes to write the words and post them. Your remarks regarding my work at the NC Arboretum prompt me to remember a bit of lyric from a song I used to listen to long ago: "If your work is not what you love, then something isn't right." Having worked for many years in a variety of jobs that were in turns physically abusive, mentally numbing and spiritually deadening, I am glad to be in a place now where I have reason to be grateful every day.

And I am grateful, but also ridiculously busy throughout the growing season and often worn down by my inability to keep up with everything that wants doing. Maintaining this thread is one more task that takes time and attention, and lately has been shortchanged. Here then, to keep my hand in, are some images made just yesterday in the garden:













The good rain we enjoyed this spring is so far continuing on into summer. I cannot remember ever seeing the plants, be they in the forest, or the cultivated landscape, or in decorative little pots, looking so full and lush. When I read about wildfires raging in parts of the country sucked dry by drought I give thanks for the blessing of water falling from the sky.

The bonsai images that follow were also made yesterday in the garden.

From left to right - Blue Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica 'Glauca'); Trident Maple (Acer buergerianum); Bowl of Cherries Bellflower (Campanula punctata v. 'Bowl of Cherries'); Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus):



The "Chase Grove" landscape planting, featuring Dwarf Hinoki Falsecypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana Gracilis') and Chinzan Azalea (Rhododendron x 'Chinzan'), originally created by Chase Rosade in a demonstration in Washington, DC in 1996:



And finally, a planting of Mountain Dandelion (Krigia montana), a wildflower native to the higher elevations of the Southern Appalachian Mountains:


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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  Kev Bailey on Tue Jul 02, 2013 9:59 pm

I'm very grateful that you can find time to post here Arthur and enjoy them immensely. Also sympathetic for the many in the US who are suffering drought and fire. I hope it rains for you soon.

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  JimLewis on Tue Jul 02, 2013 11:01 pm

Once again, thanks, Arthur. That white pine is one of my new favorites.  It is a very unusual species for bonsai, and I've use a picture of that tree to encourage people to try working with it.

On drought, heat. and fire, 19 firefighters died in Arizona last weekend when a blaze reversed course and flared over them. That happened just a few miles from where I used to visit my mother. Everything is so dry there, and 115+ degree temperatures aren't helping.

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  MikeG on Tue Jul 02, 2013 11:21 pm

Really enjoy your posts Arthur. I absolutely love that Chase Grove.

Mike

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  Sam Ogranaja on Wed Jul 03, 2013 1:08 am

Knowing just how busy you are makes reading your posts that much more enjoyable. Chase Rosade's Grove is AMAZING!!!! The azaleas add lots of character and depth to the planting as well as a perfect splash of color.

Thanks for keeping up with your posts here!!!
I hope you'll continue to do so.
Have a great 4th everyone!!!
Sam

PS - On pins and needles for the Expo this year. Can't wait.

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  monte on Mon Jul 15, 2013 2:27 am

Arthur, I really like your posts and would love to visit the gardens someday. I have a question for you re: a quote I copied from one of your posts a while back.

"And finally, because we go to great lengths to avoid using pesticides in the Bonsai Exhibition Garden, it is a place teeming with all sorts of life. The 3 pictures that follow I think of as "the birds & the bees (& the skinks)".

If you have a few minutes someday to share some of the measures you use I would be very interested to hear about them. I am not a fan of the squish every bug you see then spray poison on it approach to bonsai cultivation.

Thanks, keep up the good work
Monte

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"The Chase Grove" tray landscape

Post  Arthur Joura on Thu Jul 18, 2013 12:02 am

Kev, Jim and Sam - Thank you for your comments and continuing support! I would like to post more and hopefully when things slow down a bit (about late October) I will.

Mike - Thanks for reading and commenting. If we ever did a poll of the public's choice for the favorite piece in the NC Arboretum's bonsai collection, "The Chase Grove" would probably win. Everyone seems to like it and relate to it in some way.

As I mentioned, it was made by Chase Rosade in a demonstration at a convention back in the mid-90's, and it was purchased at auction that same weekend by a man from Rock Hill, South Carolina. That man did not have a way to get the large planting home with him at the end of the convention, so he asked Chase to bring it back to his nursery in Pennsylvania and hold it until arrangements could be made to transport it to SC. For whatever reason, those arrangements were never made. After more than a year of waiting, Chase called the man to tell him he could not hold the piece forever, and the man from Rock Hill then decided the planting was too large for him anyway and offered it to the Arboretum. As it happened, Chase was about to make a trip out to Mississippi, to Brussel's Nursery, and offered to haul the planting part of the way south to a prearranged meeting place and pass it off to me. That's how it came to be that one gray afternoon I drove out to the I-40 welcome center in East Tennessee, met up with Chase and his traveling partner, Jim Doyle, and transferred the more than 5' long planting from their van to mine. I did not really know Jim at that point and Chase was annoyed because I was late and kept them waiting there awhile, so we did not stick around to talk much. It took just a few minutes and then we drove off in our separate directions. It was kind of like an illicit contraband deal, only without the risk of going to prison.

Anyway, as soon as I got back to the Arboretum I made a photograph of the piece:



I think a big part of the appeal of this piece is in the gargantuan fabricated slab. Chase Rosade made that, too, using a technique not unlike that employed by people who make mountain scenery for a model railroad layout. He started with a wooden armature, which was then covered with hardware cloth (metal screening), which was then manipulated to form the contours and undulations of the "rock". Over that went strips of fiberglass cloth, like that used in auto body repair, which was first soaked in a slurry of Ciment Fondu. Lastly, the exterior was covered with a thin coat of Ciment Fondu applied with a paint brush. So, the slab is hollow and fortunately a lot lighter than it appears to be. I think Chase has made many such planters over the years, but this might have been one of his first on such a large scale. It is a neat idea, although the surface is a bit fragile, requiring minor repairs over time.

12 years went by before I needed to repot the planting. In this picture, made in June of 2009, you can see that all the plants have grown and filled out considerably:



It was necessary to take out plant material, both azalea and falsecypress, to alleviate overcrowding. This meant some alteration of the original design, but I tried to put it back together in a way that respected the feel of Chase's work. Here is how it looked in autumn of 2010, one growing season after the replanting occurred:



The plants responded favorably to being repotted. Here is a photograph from autumn of 2011, one year after the picture above was made, wherein you can see how the process of the landscape filling out is once more underway:



Finally, for the sake of easy comparison, here is the image of "The Chase Grove" that appeared in my previous post, showing it as it appeared in flower a few weeks ago:



I named this planting in Chase's honor because he is one of the more important and influential figures in American bonsai, and we are proud to have a piece of his work in our collection. He is a genuinely likable guy, too.

Monte - I did not overlook your comment. I appreciate your interest in the pest management practices we employ at the Arboretum and intend to respond to your question. However, I am out of time right now. My next post will be on that subject. Thank you for reading!


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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  monte on Thu Jul 18, 2013 3:39 am

Thanks Arthur, looking forward to it, whenever you have some time of course. I enjoyed the story of the grove too, thanks.
Monte

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Integrated Pest Management (part 1)

Post  Arthur Joura on Fri Aug 02, 2013 12:38 am

Try this: Find an insect or bug, something large would be best, perhaps one of these:



Now, tear off its wings. Take off its legs and antennae, too. Now lay it out in the sun on a hot sidewalk and watch it. It squirms and its mouth parts move. The creature is in agony. It probably will not make any noise, or at least none that our ears can hear, but if it could it would be screaming.

Of course you would not do such a cruel, barbaric thing and neither would I, but I do spray insecticides. You probably use them too, to protect yourself, or your pets, or your house, or your plants. Insecticides kill insects and bugs, usually by attacking their nervous system although sometimes they kill by suffocation or dessication, or inducing paralysis, or inhibiting energy production, or causing the creature to stop eating and so starve to death. The end result is death, though, and the route there is usually slow and torturous. How is it better to kill with insecticides as opposed to physically torturing an insect to death? If you are like me, you justify your use of these chemicals by describing the creatures you kill as being "bad bugs". Most people would include the following as "bad bugs": Fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, flies and cockroaches. People who enjoy growing plants will probably expand the list to include aphids, whitefly, thrips, spider mites and mealybugs. How about caterpillars? They eat leaves and can do a lot of damage to crops and ornamental plants, so they must be "bad bugs". But some of them turn into butterflies... And how about spiders? Most people seem to think of spiders as bad and will kill them, largely out of fear, but spiders eat other insects and so might be thought of as "good bugs".

It gets complicated, because it is complicated. Life is an unimaginably huge and complex system, in which all the parts are somehow interwoven. So much is still unknown to us. A great deal of brilliant science has gone into the formulation of modern insecticides and still they are blunt instruments, especially in the way they are so often misused. When I started out in horticulture I was shocked to learn how drenched the whole business is in pesticides, and how accepted their use is. I was repelled by this, and yet over time I came to be more accepting of it, and now looking back I realize that I have killed literally millions of living creatures, and did so with intent. I cannot make excuses for this behavior. I made a rational choice: I grow plants for a living, so I have to protect the plants I grow. Insects that eat plants are my enemy, so I destroy them.

Still, I think of myself as one who loves nature, and so this wanton destruction of certain parts of it I deem undesirable does not sit comfortably with me. I still do it - I sprayed fungicide on Tuesday, horticultural oil on Thursday and herbicide today - but I work to remain conscious of what I am doing and to do it as responsibly as I can. I have made the choice to kill certain things, but I try to be both intelligent and sensitive in the way I go about it. This is a horribly compromised position to be in, but when I look around me it seems that being horribly compromised is part of the human condition.

In my work at the Arboretum, I strive to practice what is referred to as Integrated Pest Management. Here is a definition from the web site of the US Environmental Protection Agency http://www.epa.gov/opp00001/factsheets/ipm.htm:

"Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common-sense practices. IPM programs use current, comprehensive information on the life cycles of pests and their interaction with the environment. This information, in combination with available pest control methods, is used to manage pest damage by the most economical means, and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment.

The IPM approach can be applied to both agricultural and non-agricultural settings, such as the home, garden, and workplace. IPM takes advantage of all appropriate pest management options including, but not limited to, the judicious use of pesticides. In contrast, organic food production applies many of the same concepts as IPM but limits the use of pesticides to those that are produced from natural sources, as opposed to synthetic chemicals."

A big part of my personal approach is to begin by thinking of the Bonsai Exhibition Garden, and the bonsai displayed within it, as being a tiny piece of the natural world. The walls that contain the garden do not exclude it from greater nature, just as the pot that holds the bonsai does not exclude that plant from greater nature. I have to be careful what I do with the garden and with the bonsai because they are connected to everything else in nature.


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Integrated Pest Management (part 2)

Post  Arthur Joura on Fri Aug 02, 2013 6:45 am

Starting from the point of consciousness that our bonsai and the gardens for which we are responsible are a part of, and not separate from, the rest of nature, the next step is to acquire as much knowledge as possible regarding the way that nature works. This is an ongoing, never ending effort, but not at all a dreary chore. Endlessly fascinating, the study of nature is also deeply humbling. With each little piece of the puzzle you think you put in place comes the greater realization that the puzzle is gigantic and multi dimensional, and possibly some parts of it you thought you had right do not actually go together the way you thought they did.

The greatest aid to learning about the environment around you is to be observant. I spend a great deal of time at work just looking - at the bonsai, at the plants in the garden. Part of this is related to design decisions, such as, should I remove that lowest branch? Should I replace those pink flowering azaleas with something other that has blooms more in harmony with the garden's overall color scheme? But another part of my looking has to do with appearances as they relate to the health of the plants. That plant looks a little droopy - why? The leaves on that plant are damaged - what did it? Here are 2 examples:





Both images show damaged foliage, but what caused the damage? Knowing the answer informs the response you might choose to make as a grower. The first picture is of damage done by the hungry mouths of Japanese Beetles. Spraying the damaged plant with a contact insecticide, like horticultural soap or something more toxic, such as Orthene, will not help unless the bugs are there at the time and are covered by the chemical. For all that, if the beetles are on the leaf you can simply hold a jar of soapy water under them, tap the leaf and they will fall in the solution and drown, which is about the least environmentally damaging way you can address the problem. Or, you can do it in the least environmentally sensitive way and sprinkle Sevin dust all over the plant, and then every bug that comes in contact with it - good or bad - will be subject to the toxic effects of the chemical (and as a note of interest, the active agent in Sevin, called Carbaryl, is listed as a likely carcinogen in humans.) What about the damage to the leaves shown in the second picture? That was done by hail. No pesticide application will help.

One thing I am always on the lookout for at this time of year are leaves that look like this:



Flip over such leaves and you may find this:



Are those little dark dots what is causing the damage on the top side of the leaf? No, those are the droppings of the creature that is damaging the leaves. Here is the culprit:



This is a Lace Bug, and the damage they do is by hiding on the underside of leaves and sucking plant juice out of them. They are amazing creatures to see under a microscope, very intricate and lace like in their appearance (hence the name). They are a persistent problem for my plants every summer:



Lace bugs are easily treatable with low level insecticides like horticultural oil or horticultural soap. If I find them on a bonsai I will usually spray them. When Lace Bugs turn up on a larger plant in the garden I have a different method of control, which I will discuss a little later.

Here is another example of the benefits of closely observing your plants. I was walking past this Stewartia bonsai one day and something out of place caught my eye. I first thought a branch had been broken:



I moved in for a closer look:



No need for insecticide in this case, just simple physical removal. I did not kill this caterpillar, I think just because he looked so cool, but I did airlift him out of the garden moments after this picture was made:



One truth quickly learned by being observant and studying the ways of nature is that the world is full of hungry things, and a great many of these things eat plants. As previously noted, those of us who grow plants tend to characterize those creatures that eat them as the bad guys, and in the same simplistic vernacular those creatures that eat the things that eat plants are the good guys. In Integrated Pest Management, one of the most effective tools in controlling the bad guys is promoting the presence of the good guys, also known as the beneficials. In the last 2 years I have released thousands of beneficial insects in the Bonsai Exhibition Garden, as well as in the hoop house where we grow the bonsai not on display in the garden. I purchase them mail order from a company called Biobest (http://www.biobest.be/home/3/), but there are other suppliers out there and a web search for beneficial insect suppliers will provide leads.

Although I have bought and released several different beneficial species, the one I have used the most looks like this:



Actually, they do not look like that when I release them. The picture shows an adult Lacewing, which feeds primarily on nectar. What I release are their larval form, sometimes called Aphid Lions, which are so tiny when I get them that they are difficult to see without a magnifying lens. They are voracious feeders who especially enjoy aphids but also eat a broad spectrum of other bugs and insects, including each other if there are not sufficient alternatives available. Lacewings are my weapon of choice to combat Lace Bugs when they turn up on landscape plants in the garden.

The hope when beneficials are released is that they will not only eat a great number of pests, but will also reproduce and establish a lasting presence. I know Lacewings are doing that in our garden because I have seen this evidence:



Look very closely at the leaf in the very center of the picture and you will see tiny white dots dangling from its underside. Those are Lacewing eggs, each suspended by a thread which separates them from each other, presumably so they do not devour their siblings upon arrival.

Several common garden insects are well known beneficials, such as the Praying Mantis:



And the Lady Beetle (these 2 here shown in the act of creating more beneficials - way to go girls!):



Most people know these are "good bugs" and will not harm them, but what if they happen to get sprayed by insecticides being put out for pest species? Then they die, and all the pests they might have eaten get to live. This is one reason why it is important to be careful when choosing to apply insecticides - you may inadvertently be undermining nature's own pest control. Look for the presence of beneficials before you resort to chemicals, and if you see them, consider giving them time to work. Of course, you have to know what you are looking for. There are so many different species of bugs and insects and they do not wear white hats and black hats so you can tell them apart. Take this one for example:



Good guy or bad guy? Looks kind of creepy, and has a creepy name too - Assassin Bug... but, it is a beneficial.

Of course there are a lot of beneficials that are not insects or bugs. The Bonsai Exhibition Garden has an impressive population of insect eating skinks and lizards, such as this Eastern Fence Lizard:



Reptiles, birds, small mammals - there are many creatures that live by eating insects. Their presence in your garden or in the vicinity of your bonsai can work to your benefit, so it makes sense to promote their well being. Part of what they need to survive is food, and their food in large part are the bugs and insects that eat your plants, and this means there needs to be some of them present, too. Wait a minute... in order to have a healthy presence of the beneficials there has to be a presence of the pests? This would seem to mean that it is in some way desirable to have about a certain population of the very things we do not want to have. This is all too confusing. Would it not be easier just to kill everything???

As I said before, it gets complicated.

Arthur Joura
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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  JimLewis on Fri Aug 02, 2013 1:30 pm

It is complicated, so thanks for helping it become a bit simpler.  

If you look in our section that deals with sick or damaged plants --    -- it is obvious that many bonsaiests are convinced that the only good bug is a dead bug.  We try to suggest remedies other than the nuclear option of spraying everything in sight.  This will be a big help.

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Jim Lewis - lewisjk@windstream.net - Western NC - People, when Columbus discovered this country, it was plumb full of nuts and berries. And I'm right here to tell you the berries are just about all gone. Uncle Dave Macon, old-time country musician

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Integrated Pest Management (part 3)

Post  Arthur Joura on Fri Aug 09, 2013 9:41 pm

The "kill them all" approach to pest control is misguided for 2 fundamental reasons: 1) it is not possible; and, 2) it is not actually desirable.

Plants are the ground floor of the food pyramid, and as such have the greatest number of things feeding on them. If a grower eradicates all the harmful bugs or insects on a given crop, be it bonsai or tomatoes or what have you, it is only a matter of time until another population of plant eaters turns up. So, the grower once again douses the crop with insecticide, the problem temporarily goes away, but then it returns and the sequence is repeated however many times over. Aside from the inconvenience and expense of constantly reapplying the insecticide, a person might well decide that this method was an acceptable way to go about the business of producing plants that did not show the signs of pest damage. You may not be able to kill them all, but you can kill them again, and again, and again, and again...

The problem here goes back to that whole pesky business of the web of life, and the fact that all living things on the planet are in some way connected. Your intention may be to do away with the aphids (or mealybugs, or spider mites, or whitefly) but in so doing you are also causing a certain amount of collateral damage in the population of other creatures, including those who, unmolested, might help keep the pest numbers at an acceptable level. What constitutes an acceptable level? If your idea is to produce perfection - that is, plants completely free of any cosmetic defects - then your acceptable level of pest presence is going to be ridiculously low; as in, the pests can be there only so long as they do no damage. Good luck with that! The question you might want to ask yourself is, where did you get the idea that plants are supposed to look perfect? In gardening catalogues and bonsai magazines the plants may look perfect, but this has much more to do with the art of photography than the reality of living plants in nature.

Another source of our illusionary ideas about perfect plants comes from the people who are ready to sell us the products necessary to achieve these desirable results. Since the end of World War II, when the munitions industries largely converted from the production of weapons to the production of synthetic chemical fertilizers and pesticides, a great revolution has occurred in the production of food. Bypassing the whole argument about whether this is an overall good or bad development, it is safe to say that the changes wrought by this revolution have spilled over into many areas of modern life and particularly those that have to do with growing all kinds of plants, including bonsai. The end result of this can be witnessed in our tendency, when faced with a plant that looks unhealthy, to first think "What can I spray on it?"

One of the greatest dangers inherent in the use of chemical pesticides is that they are relatively cheap and easily available to anyone, regardless of the competence, intelligence or sanity of the buyer. These are highly lethal substances that can be purchased by anyone at the nearest big box hardware store. The safety of these chemicals depends on the applicator using them the correct way, and especially at the correct rate. Overuse of pesticides is commonplace and one of the pitfalls of this is that the targeted pests can and do over time build up resistance to the chemicals. Then it takes more and more pesticide to achieve ever decreasing results. Meanwhile, presence of the chemicals builds in the environment and begins to affect non-target life forms, sometimes including humans.

The subject of petrochemicals used in plant production, and the subject of environmentalism, and the complexities of how these 2 concerns are completely intertwined, is, I suspect, outside the realm of interest for many people in the world of bonsai. This strikes me as strange, but I accept it as so. The whole bundle of issues is expansively complex, and I do not pretend to do anything here other than lightly scratch the surface with a few observations and questions for your consideration. Those who have real interest in Integrated Pest Management or organic plant production will find all the information they might desire somewhere on the Internet, although the usual cautions about believing everything you read are certainly applicable.

I make no claim to being an expert in this area. I do, however, have an active interest in both plant production and environmentalism and think these interests have strong relevance to my work in bonsai and the ongoing development of the Arboretum's Bonsai Exhibition Garden. I am an active student of Integrated Pest Management and try to put into practice the things I have learned.

Here, then, is a rudimentary list of best practices as well as a few behaviors to avoid as regards pest management:

  • Always try to diagnose the problem before doing something about it. Knowing exactly what you are dealing with will help you make intelligent choices as to how the problem should be addressed.

  • For that matter, wait until there is a problem before deploying a solution! The practice of putting out insecticides as a preventative or prophylactic measure sounds plausible, but often the real effect of this practice is to help pests build a tolerance to the chemical being used.

  • Always use the least toxic response possible. Sometimes a strong spray of water from a hose is enough to dislodge damaging pests and wash them away. Horticultural oil and insecticidal soap are effective but relatively benign first options as far as pesticides are concerned, and are less likely to have a lasting effect on the environment.

  • When using any pesticide, read the label beforehand. The label gives information about the proper use of the chemical, the pests on which it will have effect, the level of danger it poses to the environment and the user, and the personal safety equipment necessary for use. If you actually take time to read the label, you will notice that it includes language to warn you it is a crime to use the product in any way other than that specified. If reading this stuff gives you the willies, it should! But not reading the label keeps a person ignorant, and choosing to remain so makes a person stupid.

  • Avoid using systemic insecticides. These chemicals have become very popular in recent years, including among bonsai growers, and why not? The latest in a long line of miracle solutions, all one need do is apply the chemical once and for a period of many months no insect will eat your plant without paying the ultimate price. Of course no pollinators will be able to drink nectar or bring back food for its offspring or the rest of the hive without paying the ultimate price, either. And predators who feed on the bugs and insects that eat your plants may also eventually pay the ultimate price, as the presence of the toxin builds in their systems. You know what they say about things that seem too good to be true? Well... (http://ecoipm.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/neonicbees.pdf)

  • Be on the lookout for the presence of beneficial creatures, and if they are there, give them a chance to do what they do. A plant displaying a minor case of aphids, for example, that also has a lady beetle larvae or two actively eating the aphids, should not be sprayed.

  • If you can afford to do it, purchase beneficial insects and release them in your garden or growing area. Work with nature rather than against it.

  • Along the same lines, grow your plants in the most healthy manner you can. Healthy plants are more resistant to insect and disease attack. Stressed plants are more susceptible to problems, just as stressed people are. Consider that the presence of plant pests is often a symptom of the problem and not the problem itself, so treating the symptom will provide no lasting relief from what is truly wrong.

  • Abandon, or at the very least, modify your ideas about perfection in nature. Bonsai fall into the category of ornamental plants, and as such their looks are paramount. Still, there is a price for everything and the price for the illusion of perfection should be considered. Is compromising the quality of your small piece of the greater world of nature an acceptable price to pay for having unblemished leaves on your maple? This is a matter of personal choice, yet the sum of all our personal choices has real effect on the living world around us. I think of this as being a matter of what we call stewardship. It seems to me that bonsai people should all be inclined towards being good stewards of the natural world, but that will probably be the subject of another post sometime in the future.



Last edited by Arthur Joura on Tue Aug 13, 2013 11:41 pm; edited 1 time in total

Arthur Joura
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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  Dave Murphy on Fri Aug 09, 2013 9:49 pm

Great thoughts and insight Arthur. Thank you for making the effort to post them here.

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  JimLewis on Fri Aug 09, 2013 11:59 pm

I've been preaching this for years, Arthur, but you said it better than I ever have, or could.

Now, if people will listen.

Thanks!

_________________
Jim Lewis - lewisjk@windstream.net - Western NC - People, when Columbus discovered this country, it was plumb full of nuts and berries. And I'm right here to tell you the berries are just about all gone. Uncle Dave Macon, old-time country musician

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  DuncanJH on Sat Aug 10, 2013 12:20 am

Hello Arthur, I read every word of all your posts and it's clear that you put a great deal of thought and effort into each, I am always waiting for the next instalment! Then as I read the reply's this time I wondered if many others felt the same, so just wanted to let you know that your insights, stories and opinions are fascinating and you can count me as another person following this intently!

Ps Your choice and quality of images always seems to add depth to your posts, are they all your own photos?

Duncan

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  Khaimraj Seepersad on Sat Aug 10, 2013 1:22 am

Thank you Arthur.

Mind if I share one with you. In the first image with the butterfly, Nina Shiskoff on her facebook page was in her glory about how many of those - is it swallow tails ? - were on her flowers.

I politely reminded her about the children, as caterpillars, they are highly destructive.

As fate had it, I have a special fukien tea from seed from my old IBC friend Carl Rosner, long story short, I found it stripped of 70 % of it's leaves. This fukien tea is known as Carl 1. I figured it was a caterpillar.
Sure enough, it came out at night, and was caught, but not killed, just transferred to the bush down the hill.
It's the time for them, and I found a second on one of my Serissas. Also transferred.

A congaree, is presently making short work of the fine ants that bring the scale [ at least it looks that way ] and I am harvesting the droppings for use.
Later,
Khaimraj

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

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