Kishu Cuttings

Posted by on Dec 25, 2014 | 6 Comments
Kishu Cuttings

Last fall I cleaned up an overgrown Kishu shimpaku juniper that had many long runners on it. Whenever I see a tree that has a large straight base to it and then a bunch of tightly controlled branches it makes me want to propagate and work on tiny little seedlings and cuttings. There’s some sort of tragedy in all that work being done to a tree that will only ever be mediocre. At the same time, properly grown and developed bonsai are quite expensive. So starting from scratch, even though it may take 15 years, will perhaps give you a better result for less initial investment if you have the skills to make it happen.

These cuttings had about an 80% take rate; only a few small ones in the batch completely failed to root. The procedure was relatively simple:

1.Cut off unwanted branches from a larger tree
2. Normalize the size to about a matchstick by cutting larger pieces into multiple small ones.
3. Remove enough foliage that there is a bit of a stem to stick into the soil
4. 70% Perlite/30% sand rooting medium
5. Carefully trim the cut end with a grafting knife to ensure a clean cut, dull scissors can slightly smash the end.
6. Dip in rooting hormone powder
7. Make a hole with a chopstick in the rooting medium and insert cutting.
8. Place container full of cuttings under a bench (shady, more moist than on top)
9. Water like other bonsai.

A year later the cuttings have put out a significant amount of new growth, enough that I’m sure they have rooted and should be separated into individual containers.    Kishu cuttings can be used for approach grafts onto collected native junipers either as roots or as foliage, or they can be grown as their own composition.   If you were going to use them for approach grafts you’d want to encourage the tree to grow relatively straight and in a small container so that it would be easy to position the graft and the roots that sustain it while it’s bonding to the recipient tree.

In my case, I decided that I’d like to make some shohin and mame size trees.   The styles will vary, but there will be quite a bit of movement.  So, rather than let them get stiff and hard to bend I decided to wire all the trees now while they can be twisted into almost any shape.

The container full of cuttings.   There are about 35 of them in there.   The growth looks healthy so they should tolerate some work easily.

The container full of cuttings. There are about 35 of them in there. The growth looks healthy so they should tolerate some work easily.

One of the smaller cuttings removed from the batch and wired.   The roots are nearly as large as the cutting.

One of the smaller cuttings removed from the batch and wired. The roots are nearly as large as the cutting.

Once wired the aluminum wire is used both to shape the trunk and to provide a handle and anchor for potting.

Once wired the aluminum wire is used both to shape the trunk and to provide a handle and anchor for potting.

Trunk bent and twisted into a shape that will make it potentially a tiny mame as a finished tree.

Trunk bent and twisted into a shape that will make it potentially a tiny mame as a finished tree.

A 2" container with large soil in the bottom, the wire holds the cutting in place while the rest of the soil is added.

A 2″ container with large soil in the bottom, the wire holds the cutting in place while the rest of the soil is added.

All potted up.

All potted up.

A flat of 24 cuttings in 2" containers.    These will all end up being small trees.

A flat of 24 cuttings in 2″ containers. These will all end up being small trees.

For the trees that are intended to be shohin I took the larger cuttings and used the same technique but made the bends slightly larger and potted the trees into 4″ containers rather than 2″ containers.

I’ve previously tried making tiny trees by a different method – bending the vigorous whips on a large plant while they are still attached and then air-layering them off. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out as well for some reason and I have only one plant as a result of the efforts.

Taking cuttings from Kishu seems to be pretty simple. I recall failing at it a decade ago when I took something like 100 of them and ended up with only 2 or 3 plants. The differences are numerous so pay attention to the advice from people if you want a higher success rate.

6 Comments

  1. CD Willis
    December 26, 2014

    This is something I am planning to do this coming spring. Thanks for the how to. When you say perlite and sand, what do you mean by sand? Would Turface work? I don’t like it for my soil, but I think it’s fine for amending my growing bed.

    • Eric Schrader
      December 26, 2014

      It’s an interesting mixture, the sand weighs down the perlite a little and locks it into place. The mix actually seems to retain more water than standard bonsai mix. I’ve never used Turface for much. I did use it once for starting some acorns, the root structure is hard to judge on an oak seedling but I didn’t have a favorable opinion. I imagine it could work okay for rooting medium. The best way to find out is to try two batches, one in sand/perlite and the other in turface/perlite. Then you’ll know for the future if one is better than the other. The sand that I used was just regular bagged play sand that you can pick up at a home center. You can get bags of horticultural sand which is washed more thoroughly to make sure any salts are gone.

  2. Jim Robertson
    December 29, 2014

    Eric, what do you use for soil when you pot up the cuttings, is it different than the original mix? Wouldn’t they grow faster in the ground? Thanks.

    • Eric Schrader
      December 31, 2014

      Hi Jim,

      I use my standard bonsai soil for growing out the cuttings. In this case I used large size on the bottom of the containers – which is up to about 3/8″ but I used small size on the top. The small size is about 1/8″ particle size or less, about like coarse sand. The mixture is Boon’s mix.

      The cuttings would eventually grow faster in the ground, but putting tiny plants in the ground is dangerous, you will tend to lose a bunch of them to pests or even in weeds when they’re this small. The other thing about these is that I intend them to be very small trees, under 3″ tall. So ground growing is not necessary in this case. If I were going to be making larger trees I might consider ground growing them.

      I do ground grow trees, right now I have a few oaks, trident maples and cypress in my yard.

  3. Paul
    July 5, 2015

    Thanks for a very helpful post. Matchstick-sized cuttings seem small, have you had success with larger material?

    • Eric Schrader
      July 5, 2015

      I’ve done slightly bigger with some success. But once you get more wood in there than you can easily slice through with a very sharp grafting knife you’d have to use a cutter of some sort which would smash the cambium and make them less likely to root. With Kishu if I wanted something larger I’d try air layering it, I’ve had some success with that for making larger cuttings.