The hidden bonsai: Casuarina – Part 2

By August 25, 2017 No Comments


In the previous blog we shared some information about the Casuarina Equisetifolia in it’s natural habitat and that although this species is not so popular amongst the European bonsai community, it can offer great satisfaction and sometimes with easy and less efforts.  It is a real hidden bonsai that should be treated with more respect.  It is an invasive species in Australia and Asia, and in Malta it can grow easily since it has few to none enemies.  Please excuse for not including enough images of the process I did on my first Casuarina since I lost all the images I had due to a HD failure.

Hands on Casuarina

In today’s blog, part 2 of this section we will be dealing with ‘Hands-on Casuarina trees as bonsai, and I will be sharing my experience with this species.  Although a short experience, I managed to achieve outstanding remarks that encouraged me to train more casuarina trees as bonsai.  In fact this is what I will be sharing today.

My first Casuarina

As many, I was sceptic about casuarina as a bonsai, and the reason is that I knew nothing about it.  I never thought of doing some research or experiment with this species until I bought my first pre bonsai Casuarina Equisetifolia.  It had a straight somewhat thin un-matured trunk.  So my first challenge was to create some movement and add some interesting features to a normal cheap trunk.

Step 1: February 2015

The first thing I felt, was to give some character to that particular tree.

  1. Shortened the overall size by removing long secondary branches.
  2. Kept one of the branches that was turned into a ‘Jin’.
  3. Below that branch, I added some ‘Shari’ to create movement to the tree.

It was taking shape and looking more like a bonsai.

Step 2:

One of the basic rules in bonsai is to have the first branch at 1/3rd of the overall height of the bonsai.  This branch was missing, so I had to find a way to do it.  Luckily, the Casuarina back bud quite easily.

  1. I awaited to have some back buds along the trunk and in the area.
  2. Once new buds emerged, I selected one branch that I thought was in the right spot were needed.

One problem has been overcome, but this created another problem.  Another  basic rules says that the first branch should be broader and thicker than the second branch.  So I had to encourage this new branch to thicken while avoiding that the second branch continues to thicken.

Step 3:
  1. Left the new bud to grow and thicken.
  2. Did frequent trimming the foliage on the second branch.  By doing so, I was avoiding that the second branch will continue to thicken.

So while encouraging more sap to move through the first branch towards the foliage, I controlled the flow on the second branch.  This means that the first branch was thicken fast while the second branch was thickening in a slow pace.

Step 4: March 2016

In the mean time, the tree was healing itself, by covering the ‘Shari’ with new trunk.  This was creating a nice texture on the trunk, turning a plain un-matured trunk to a matured looking trunk in a very short time.

Step 5:

Once the first branch was thick enough:

  1. Trimmed to branch to size.
  2. Wired the tertiary soft branches to start shaping the pad.
  3. Removed unwanted branches.
  4. Trimmed the second branch and third branch to size.
  5. Shaped the apex.

The hidden bonsai started to emerge.

Step 6:

In the mean time, the tree still looked taller than I wanted it to be.  Another basic rule is that the taller the tree is the thinner it looks, and vice versa, the smaller in height the tree is, the thicker the trunks looks.  This time, to reduce the overall height of the tree, I decided to air layer the tree at a specific point.

  1. Cut a ring around the trunk and removed the trunk.
  2. Using a sharp knife, I made sure that the green layer called ‘Cambium’ was removed properly.  This will bypass flow of sap and encourage new roots to emerge.
  3. Using the middle part of a plastic bottle, I covered the cut I just did.
  4. Filled completely with sphagnum moss and tighten the plastic cover to make sure the sphagnum moss was touching the cut.

This technique was very helpful since I kept the sphagnum moss wet at all times, since I was watering the tree daily, making sure the of wetting the moss regularly.

Step 7:
  1. Thanks to the translucent plastic bottle, I could see the new roots that were emerging, making sure the air layering was a success.
  2. More roots were emerging since the plastic cover was getting stiffer due to the new roots.
Step 8: February 2017
  1. I carefully removed the plastic cover and made sure I had enough roots to maintain the tree’s health once the tree will be cut off.
  2. Carefully removed the tree from the old roots.  Now I has a shorter bonsai tree.
  3. To my surprise, thanks to my air layering, I now had a thicker Nebari.
    1. The new roots helped to increase the Nebari circumference.
    2. The opening of the air layering permitted the inner trunk to thicker even more, thanks to water absorption.
Step 9: August 2017

The last step I just did a week ago is only a cosmetic one.

  1. Refined the area were the main trunk was cut initially to reduce the tree height, using an electric tool.
  2. Added moss on top of the soil.  The moss will protect the soil to maintain its position in the pot and not flow away during watering.  It also gives a professional look.
  3. Cleaned the foliage from dried branchlets using using tweezers. 

After 2 and a half year of training


It was my intention to share with you in this blog hands-on three other pre bonsai casuarina trees that I started in February of this year, but since the blog ended up to be too long, I decided to include Part 3 in this series.  I will do that in the following blog.


Follow Part 3 in our next blog


Martin Abela

Author Martin Abela

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