Repotting camellia bonsai

It’s been long break since my last post. While I’m active on Facebook and Instagram I’m finding it exceedingly harder to write between the time I invest studying bonsai as well as learning Japanese. In any case I’m still alive, and for those who are still around thanks for reading!

I’ve recently gained a strong affection for camellias. Prior to coming to Japan I’d never seen a camellia used as bonsai before. Their floral display is spectacular and provide some contrast in the garden between the more commonly seen coniferous and deciduous varieties.

During the Kokufu-ten, where I assisted my Oyakata for over 2 weeks (brrr),

I picked up a small tsubaki (camellia) tree. It wasn’t anything super expensive, but the flower variety was nice, leaves were small, and was a young plant with good potential.

photo from the same tree, taken one month prior

The variety is “izumotaisha” (いずもたいしゃ, 出雲大社). Unfortunately I lost the tag but I was able to re-verify the variety from a tsubaki book I picked up at the Kinbon vendor table. Another huge incentive for me to study and learn Japanese is to be able to read the books here. Japan undoubtedly has a high level of horticultural and aesthetic mastery from practicing bonsai for so many generations. Although bonsai is very much a “hands on” learning practice, I can’t cover the same ground from shear trial and error. There’s a wealth of printed information here and I hope after a few years worth of kanji I can access it better.

でた!Found it!

The tree as acquired. Many leaves were already cut in half. Because the leaf size of this variety is already small for camellia I can’t imagine it was done so for aesthetic purposes. Likely it was done for repotting which I will discuss next.

As an evergreen species, camellias do not drop leaves during the dormant season. This means when we work the roots we need to compensate by performing partial or full defoliation of the tree. For this tree, I’m doing the former. Full defoliation generally should only be done on very strong vigorous trees. Defoliation reduces the transpiration stress on the tree and can allow plant to properly recover from repotting.

As opposed to uniformly defoliating the tree, we can remove more from stronger regions and less from weaker areas to balance the tree. As I grow out and develop this camellia I want to preserve the inner buds so the design remains full and not leggy.

terminal bud and leaves, we call this the “おめ” “ome”

At the end of each shoot there is a strong terminal bud with pair of adjacent leaves. We call this “ome.” At the ome, the leaves attached to the strong terminal bud are cut entirely. This helps direct energy to the weaker and dormant interior buds.

like so

The inner leaves and the dormant bud at each petiole’s base can be referred to as “kome.” We want to direct more energy to these buds so the leaves at the kome are only cut in half. Most of which were already cut so I left them as is.

Reducing strength at tips can also encourage development of interior backbuds

In addition to the dormant buds at every petiole I found some inner backbuds. I’d like to preserve these and allow them to develop too.

The weakest and smaller leaves were left as is. After finishing the scissor work, we can work the roots.

Camellia roots are quite tender and brittle. Careless raking or prodding will just tear out large chunks. Carefully work and tease out the roots to keep them intact.

I want to let the tree grow out more and thicken the trunk, so I removed it from the cheap production pot into a larger terra cotta pot. Since there is only one drain hole an anchor needs to be made. I used a piece of thicker gauge copper wire from the scrap bin.

Tie down, anchor, and drainage mesh set.

The result! I’m quite excited to develop this tree and to learn more about camellia cultivation for bonsai in general. I will post updates as this tree develops.