Only a week before the world pandemic was announced, I attended a very crowded plant fair, and managed to acquire two new trees for my efforts. For my small backyard, two more trees is a lot for my every-increasing, self-made bonsai collection.
Pictured on top is Witch Hazel (left) and Dawn Redwood (right) which I planted into separate pots and buried under a layer of wet bark mulch. Now they are sort of lumped together into a larger bonsai pot to prevent roots from digging into the earth below. The trees are dormant, so this micro-climate nook under the eaves of the house should help them to adjust slowly while the temperatures are still cold outside.
Before I show you more of these trees, and show how I potted them (as I always do here for my followers!), I'd like to invite you on a journey to the Plant Nerd Night, where I found these trees.
Plant Nerd Night
The annual Plant Nerd Night is an indoor plant fair that happens in Lake Oswego, Oregon. They host the event indoors in a church auditorium in late Winter when plants and trees are best transplanted, but not yet in flower. Most of the flowering plants on display are forced by growing them inside a warm greenhouse.
So for many of the plants not in flower, we watch a slideshow narrated by the vendors, displaying what to expect from each plant they are selling. Many plants are exotic new species found from exploring remote regions such as the Himalayas, or from several years of genetic mutation experiments. Learning the story of each plant presented can be incredibly fascinating.
First a little about this strange suburb I grew up in.
We get a lot of middle/upper-class retirees in this long-time historically posh suburb of Portland. Some of them love to compete with The Jones's to have the most eye-catching front yard garden. Some of them like to put rainbow plastic flamingos in their yard and tell people it is progressive garden art.
Most of these people here (maybe, myself included) probably haven't got a clue what to do in the garden outside, but will spend gobs of money if you tell them a plant is organic, sustainable, and will be pretty or smell nice.
Last year, I waited in a line for over an hour, and it was cold, dark, and muddy outside. Even after all that, I missed the rush into the main room to reserve a seat. So I ended up with a floor seat. This year I came a bit prepared.
I brought a friend with me so we could reserve seats first thing, and we took turns touring the vendors to see if there were any interesting plants we wanted to snag. There were fewer people this year, perhaps because of the rain, so everyone got a seat anyway.
Everybody who attends gets a raffle ticket, a free bag filled with plant sale brochures, and a few free goodies. Black Gold sponsored the event by giving away free soil. They were handing out so much free bags of soil. A person could walk out with as many bags as they could carry if they wanted to.
There were piles of free soil bags they were passing out, so I picked up a seedling mix bag.
The trilliums on display really amazed me. Trilliums are a unique three-petal and three-leaf flower. Usually they come in white, pink, or pastel blue. I have never seen this deep shade of magenta with the variegated leaves before.
Trilliums probably grow better in the Pacific Northwest than anywhere else in the world. They love the shade of dense forests where the ferns grow. The wet rains and clouds that fill the river valleys keep them hydrated to last longer when Summer begins.
When I was younger, I was told an urban legend about Trilliums. Never pick the flower, because it will not grow back for seven years.
A rhododendron vendor specialized in shrubs promising large evergreen leaves, paired with vibrant flowers with rare petal shapes I never knew existed. I was more interested in why the veins had a rosy tinge running through the middle.
Hellebores in various dark varieties.
A slide-show presentation taught us how many of these unique flowers are made; particularly with Clematis. Often times the nursery will hand-pollinate the best varieties together, and then they have to wait years before the plants will show a resulting bloom. Then they choose the best varieties to choose from again to develop the next generation of flowers, and start over again.
And I thought breeding apples was hard!
The vendor booths were so crowded, I often had to stand with my front against the back of someone else in order to wait to step a few inches closer while others at the front purchased their items. Just to get close enough to steal a photo glimpse of the table display took a lot of patience.
So lucky this event took place a week before the pandemic began! Our area was not at risk at the time.
Of course my favorite reason to attend this event is discovering what sort of free goodies they give away. The wonderful people at Bartlett Tree Experts provide young tree starts. This year they were letting people take as many tree starts as any person wanted to take, and they had several varieties to choose from.
Who pays for all of this free product? I wondered what sort of returns they expect. Perhaps, because this event is also a charity to attract donations to provide basic medical services for school children in Africa. Looking back, I can see that aid will definitely not go to waste this year.
Planting New Trees
Here is how the trees arrive. They are tagged with the roots wrapped in plastic, and a nifty canvas carry bag on the outside showing the Bartlett Tree Experts company logo on it.
After unwrapping the bags, the roots look like this.
At this stage, you have to consider what size pot to use, and how to prune the roots if they need it.
Even if the roots do not need pruning, it is good to gently tear them a little bit on the outside to encourage new roots to spread outward. These little tree-starts were developed in a tight space, so roots are already looking too bunched up. I want them to spread out to develop into good future bonsai trees with a strong root shape.
The long Witch Hazel roots, I pruned off a bit more than 1/3 of the total root length. I do not want to grow it in a deep pot, so I made it so it will fit well inside a 4 inch pot.
The Dawn Redwood did not need any root pruning to fit inside of a pot, so I only had to comb out the roots a little bit.
For each tree I lined the bottom holes with window screen, and filled them with bonsai soil (pumice, lava rock, akadama). On top, I covered the soil with bark nuggets to retain moisture around the soil and roots. This will also increase the air temperature and humidity around the roots.
I've never grown a coniferous tree like Dawn Redwood before. It is strange, because this is the first conifer in my collection that is not evergreen. Here in this close-up we can see the little buds getting ready to push out needles.
Two weeks later, and I'm still waiting for these two trees to push out leaves. Many of my other older bonsai trees are starting to push out their first set of Spring leaves.
The Witch Hazel has shown zero signs of growth so far. Hope I did not prune the roots too much. Witch Hazel plants can have crazy colored confetti-tassel flowers The leaves can change into multiple colors to give interest for all season.
Right now that tree isn't so interesting, at all. The sky on that day, on the other hand, was showing an odd portent for major changes coming our way.
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