Non-traditional bonsai.....Tree of Heaven

greenman28 NorCal 7b/8aJuly 20, 2009

I call it my Bonsailanthus ;)

Ailanthus altissima, the Tree of Heaven...which I knew only as "freeway trees" for many years. There's certainly a reason they survive so well in poor soils alongside freeways. Anyhow, turned out a neighbor - two houses up the creek - has a grove of Ailanthus, and he shared cuttings...some for the yard and some for containers.

Started this one in 2005, and the whole project has been a lesson in set-backs. I took it off the deck one afternoon, and the deer ate the top four inches off the one-foot plant. It grew back, but the following two Springs, a hard freeze burned the new growth. Thankfully, in Spring (2008), the last freeze wasn't quite as hard and resulted in branching instead of outright death. But the branching was way up on top of this "stick," a shape for which Ailanthus (around here) is known.

In December (2008), I re-potted the plant. Completely bare-rooted. Removed a secondary trunk that had sprung up (and potted it separately). I pruned most of the root-ball away, too. The soil was old compacted peat-moss, so I had little choice in the matter. Now I know that I work on Ailanthus aggressively when it's dormant. I didn't know how well it would handle the bare-rooting, and no one I asked had answers. I re-potted in a mix of bark, perlite, and pumice.

This Spring (2009), April rolled around and the Ailanthus began to bud. We had no hard freezes in May, which was just about perfect, and all the new growth survived...even some of the smaller branches toward the base of the trunk. Well, I'm sure you know what's comin' next...

I left it on the backsteps for sun one afternoon...even though I should have known better. Yep, the deer got it. They chomped it back to a stick, with only a few half-chewed leaves here and there. Of course, the Ailanthus grew back; and, when it did, I decided to make the next cuts. Now, the plant has re-foliated, and the leaves *are* reduced....compared, that is, to a ground-grown Ailanthus ;)

Next year, I'll prune it even lower. Probably down to the first branch. I'll begin exposing the root-flare (nebari), as well. The bare-rooting this Winter showed me that it doesn't have good roots yet...but some potential.

Here are a few pictures.

1. July 2006

2. July 2006

3. April 2009 (Left side of picture)

4. July 2009

5. July 2009

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Funny thing, deer have been pruning for thousands of years but have no idea of styling, you'd think they would learn something by now!!!!

With the size of the leaves you're gonna need a lot of trunk or it won't look good at all, hope you can either grow more trunk or reduce the leaves.
Something you can do to stop them: try it on one leaf first to make sure it can take it---use Hot Sauce and spray the leaves, after a while they will stop eating that. Old landscaper trick for azaileas and rhodes.


    Bookmark   July 20, 2009 at 8:25PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Hey, Bob!
You'd think that *I* would learn by now how the deer operate...! Ah well, the deer must have been
truly desperate if they were willing to browse the "stink leaf." Or maybe these deer are just that dumb!

I've moved my trees to a fenced area, so I shouldn't have to worry from here on out. I tried hot pepper
as a deterrent in the past, but I found that it didn't have the lasting power I needed.

As to the leaf-size....well, this tree will never make a good bonsai. I figure I'll keep chopping it back
to the base, until it either craps out or gives me a satisfying, re-sprouting stump.


    Bookmark   July 21, 2009 at 2:22AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

This is where I keep some of my trees.
Completely fenced, not a chance of anything other than a raccoon working its way in. In the front, I have a Calocedrus decurrens (Incense cedar), two California Blue oaks, a "trident" maple seedling, two Ailanthus, one Osage, two California buckeyes, and in the back, a Cryptomeria - 'Sekkan Sugi.' Here's a family portrait.


    Bookmark   July 22, 2009 at 4:57PM
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