Out-of-its-comfort-zone Thuja

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Out-of-its-comfort-zone Thuja

Post  JimLewis on Sun Mar 18, 2012 5:41 pm

I know little or nothing (emphasis on nothing) about this species -- Thuja occidentalis -- since I never expected to own one. But when I attended Bill V's last September session of workshops, two summers ago I'd signed on for a juniper workshop only to find they all were trees I'd need a crane to lift and could never fit into my car to get home afterward. So I switched to another workshop, with smaller trees -- Thuja. Luckily I got the smallest tree there, but now I have it . . . down here in the warm end of zone 7. Dirr says they will grow into zone 8, but are absolutely not happy there, but this tree was collected in Canada!

I've been collecting information. I have a couple of good, illustrated articles by Reiner Goebel and a couple of other members of the Toronto club, which have been helpful, and some of my books give (conflicting) information on the species as bonsai. Otherwise I'm flying blind AND by the seat of my pants.

Until Wednesday, it was still living in its collecting pot with what looks to be Kanuma and Turface and some organic material as soil. I'd wired, and pinched, but little else. It is now living (badly off center) in a Cochoy pot that probably is bigger than it would ultimately want (except for the temperature issue which may dictate a larger pot to keep the roots cool).

It got a bit more wire, and had some additional foliage pinched away as I repotted Wednesday morning. It's off center in the pot because of a HEAVY root which plays host to all its small, delicate feeder roots. It will be that way for some time, since another repot is 4 years or more away, or so I suspect.

So, I'd really like to hear from all of you Thuja occidentalis experts as to the care and feeding of an out-of-place white cedar. Come summer, I will wrap the pot in aluminum foil (shiny side out) to reflect away as much heat as possible.

But will I want to keep the tree in sun, part sun, part shade, or mostly shade? (it has been in part shade for the last 2 summers.)

I have it in Turface and composted pine bark -- about 60-40 since it seems to want an acid-ish soil. Yes or no?

ANY other suggestions will be gratefully considered.

Herewith the tree in its three most likely fronts. Lots of shaping and pruning yet to be done.

This is the original "front."



I think this next one will be my preferred front.



But this is nice, too.




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Jim Lewis - lewisjk@alltel.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: Out-of-its-comfort-zone Thuja

Post  LSBonsai on Sun Mar 18, 2012 8:04 pm

Thuja are one of my favourite species, so I hope I can offer you some advice. Aside from the excellent information on the TBS and Reiner's sites, you might want to check out Lenz's book. He has a good chapter on Thuja. Some books or people might say Thuja is not suitable for bonsai... if you've checked out the TBS website, you know that this is not true.

One thing worth noting is that they have root systems that are much more robust than other conifers. They can be barerooted with the hose quite aggressively, which is usually an important step as the rootball gets so dense and choked out.

I would also say that your thuja looks a bit weak at the moment. This could be due to a heavy foliage shedding last fall or due to recent work. Anyway, if you keep it in full sun, it should fill out in a couple of months. Once the new growth is really extending, cut it with scissors. Pinching thuja excessively results in topiary-like growth.

Don't overprotect the tree in the winter... I would say just leave it above the ground in a shaded area so it can get as cold as possible. They like lots of water, sun, and fertilizer. Pests are practically non-existent around Toronto (except leafminer) but that might be a different story down south.

You have a nice twin trunk there that has some signs of age, I would try to shorten the trunk on the right to emphasize their difference in girth.

Hopefully there were some helpful tidbits there. Do you have any specific questions?

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Re: Out-of-its-comfort-zone Thuja

Post  JimLewis on Sun Mar 18, 2012 8:16 pm

Thanks for the info. If you see Reiner anytime soon, tell him that one of us owes the other a beer. I forget who.

I would also say that your thuja looks a bit weak at the moment. This could be due to a heavy foliage shedding last fall or due to recent work. Anyway, if you keep it in full sun, it should fill out in a couple of months. Once the new growth is really extending, cut it with scissors. Pinching thuja excessively results in topiary-like growth.

I've pulled off ends of leaves, which is probably why it looks thin now. I'd done nothing on it since the workshop 2 years ago and it was an overgrown mess over the winter. It turned so brown this winter, my wife thought it was dead, but the foliage always felt soft and pliable, and its going nice and green now. By "cut with scissors" I assume you mean shorten the leaf. HOW short?

Again, thanks. I'm sure specific questions will pop up over the summer.

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Jim Lewis - lewisjk@alltel.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: Out-of-its-comfort-zone Thuja

Post  LSBonsai on Sun Mar 18, 2012 8:53 pm

JimLewis wrote:Thanks for the info. If you see Reiner anytime soon, tell him that one of us owes the other a beer. I forget who.

I would also say that your thuja looks a bit weak at the moment. This could be due to a heavy foliage shedding last fall or due to recent work. Anyway, if you keep it in full sun, it should fill out in a couple of months. Once the new growth is really extending, cut it with scissors. Pinching thuja excessively results in topiary-like growth.

I've pulled off ends of leaves, which is probably why it looks thin now. I'd done nothing on it since the workshop 2 years ago and it was an overgrown mess over the winter. It turned so brown this winter, my wife thought it was dead, but the foliage always felt soft and pliable, and its going nice and green now. By "cut with scissors" I assume you mean shorten the leaf. HOW short?

Again, thanks. I'm sure specific questions will pop up over the summer.

Thuja thinning is very similar to juiper thinning. Just to clarify, there is a difference between the leaf and the frond. I never cut the leaves, as they usually end up browning and dying. Just cut back the strong fronds, then the weaker side fronds/leaves will develop into stronger fronds, and eventually branches (ramification) that can be detail wired.

I attached a pic to show what I mean. This branch is typical of untouched thuja foliage. One year later the same branch should be much more ramified. Keep in mind this is just an example. To cut every shoot on a thuja this hard should only be done if the tree is extremely strong, and as part of the initial rough work on the tree. If you are not sure it can take it, don't cut that far back. Hopefully that makes sense.



Edit: don't worry about the winter colour. There is a huge range. Some turn almost red, others turn deep purple, others hardly turn at all. It can be quite alarming but don't toss it unless its still that colour in June Smile

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Re: Out-of-its-comfort-zone Thuja

Post  RKatzin on Sun Mar 18, 2012 9:57 pm

Hi Jim, this is also one of my favorite trees, not only because it survived my amaturish hands, a testament to Thuja durability.

I started with this nursery stock Thuja occidentalis 'Rheingold' in '07. It is a varigated green and gold. I gave it my usual chop and drop styling and planted it in good potting mix out of the bag.


The pot of choice was a terre-cotta saucer I drilled holes in. In spite of my best efforts the tree survived and flourished


In '10 I moved the tree to a slab where it remained and grow well until about a week ago I built a box for it and transplanted it into a prepared mix of Turface mvp, decomp. pine bark and organic potting soil.


I was pinching it like you would a juniper, but they don't respond like a junie. I now take the foliage on each stem and and gently pull them into a clump and trim them all off with a shears, then just pluck a few smaller individuals for direction.

It is quite hot and very dry here in summer and even on the slab this tree never faltered. That was in just plain potting soil. I hoping with the improved mix a larger medium container to see some increase in my trunks in the next couple of years.

I also have a couple of the threadleaf variety and I'm thinking these are good candidates for weeping style trees. I'm no expert by any means, but judging by what I've put these through, they are a darn tough tree. I'd bet I took 70% of the root mass to slam it into that saucer. She didn't bat an eye!

Another Thuja I've been dabbling with is Thuja plicata, commonly known as Western Red Cedar, I thought deserved and honorable mention at least. Rick

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Re: Out-of-its-comfort-zone Thuja

Post  Billy M. Rhodes on Sun Mar 18, 2012 10:15 pm

Looks like a Dale pot.

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Re: Out-of-its-comfort-zone Thuja

Post  coh on Mon Mar 19, 2012 1:28 am

Good info in this thread...very timely as I picked up a collected cedar last summer and will be needing to do some work on it this year. So I don't have any advice on managing it (especially in that warmer climate). However - I did want to say that of the 3 views you posted, I like the first ("original front") the best, followed by your 3rd view. The relationship between the 2 trunks seems most natural and tree-like in the first image. The left trunk is more interesting (in isolation) in the other views, but the relationship doesn't seem right...at least to my eye.

Nice material with a good sense of "age", hope to see it again as it evolves/develops.

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Re: Out-of-its-comfort-zone Thuja

Post  JimLewis on Mon Mar 19, 2012 1:18 pm

Many thanks, all. For the main this summer, I'll feed, water and maybe later, snip at the "fronds."

I've been trying to figure how to shorten the smaller trunk. It's gonna be difficult, I think, to get a "natural" look.

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Jim Lewis - lewisjk@alltel.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: Out-of-its-comfort-zone Thuja

Post  Mitch - Cedarbog on Sat Mar 24, 2012 3:25 am

With all due respect, Jim, it does seem like your soil is quite coarse. That's only based what what I am picking up from the picture at the very top. It seems my collected white cedars love wetter soil but well draining. In the past, I have made the mistake of being lazy on my own mix that are intended for my own trees and threw the components in the mix without sifting and even though it was the right amounts, the particles within them were a little too big and it made the soil dry way too fast. I kept up with the drying but had to repot the following season. That was last year. I sieve everything now to eliminate the dust and overly large particles. Live and learn moment there for me. Northern white cedars are my favorite species. I am a sucker for them.lol

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Re: Out-of-its-comfort-zone Thuja

Post  Mitch - Cedarbog on Sat Mar 24, 2012 3:33 am

Also I would like to add another topic to this thread if it is not too much trouble.
I hear that it is 100% impossible to get backbudding on wood older than 3 years. I personally am not convinced on that being true. But I have not had that occur on my cedars...yet. what's you guys take on that? Is it possible over time? Can it be more of a possibility when there are particular conditions present within the pot itself that could lead to backbudding? I do believe in any case, its not as easy as said, but I do have time and will use it to my advantage if it is possible.

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Re: Out-of-its-comfort-zone Thuja

Post  JimLewis on Sat Mar 24, 2012 12:05 pm

With all due respect, Jim, it does seem like your soil is quite coarse.

Well, it is finer than what it had been put in after collection. We'll see. I do sift, but the Turface I can get here is pretty fine stuff. Nothing larger than 1/8 inch. And that is mixed with a lot of composted pine bark.

Thanks.

_________________
Jim Lewis - lewisjk@alltel.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: Out-of-its-comfort-zone Thuja

Post  LSBonsai on Mon Mar 26, 2012 2:22 am

Mitch - Cedarbog wrote:Also I would like to add another topic to this thread if it is not too much trouble.
I hear that it is 100% impossible to get backbudding on wood older than 3 years. I personally am not convinced on that being true. But I have not had that occur on my cedars...yet. what's you guys take on that? Is it possible over time? Can it be more of a possibility when there are particular conditions present within the pot itself that could lead to backbudding? I do believe in any case, its not as easy as said, but I do have time and will use it to my advantage if it is possible.

Its definitely not 100% true as they may backbud at branchpoints on branches that are definitely older than 3 years, but not reliably. Trees growing in the ground backbud much more readily when cut back hard, and very old cedars in the wild will sprout buds from their trunks, even when shaded out. This is practically impossible to replicate in bonsai. Basically, thuja bonsai backbud poorly and unreliably on older growth.

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