Dawn Redwood Fusion


Metasequoia glyptostroboides ( Dawn Redwood) Fusion Bonsai

In 1990 I purchased a Metasequoia glyptostroboides (Dawn Redwood) through the mail. What arrived was a pathetic bare rooted broken stick, so I planted it in the corner of my yard and ignored it. Fast-forward 18 years and that broken stick had grown over 60 feet tall and produced several hundred seed cones. During the late summer and fall I gathered the cones and tossed them in a shoebox for the winter. When spring rolled around I shook the box and hundreds of seeds fell out. Having read how hard they were to grow I was surprised to find that 156 of the seeds germinated. 100 of those seedlings survived through the first winter.

What to do with 100 trees?  Planting 100 trees is quite a chore and disposing of a critically endangered species (IUCN Red List) like Metasequoia glyptostroboides was something I was not willing to do. There is an article by Doug Philips in a book titled Bonsai Master Class that demonstrated an approach grafting technique  (referred to as fusion) of multiple Trident Maple seedlings to create a large trunk perfectly tapered bonsai in a very short time and I thought this might work with Dawn Redwood. I already had seedlings, so I experimented by wiring 3 pairs of seedlings together. In only four weeks the seedlings had all fused at the contact points where they were wired together. This technique will work with Dawn Redwood.

Here I am standing in my 18 month old seedling forest. There are 3 Metasequoia glyptostroboides ‘Ogon’ in front that I grafted onto seedling rootstock (the brilliant spring yellow color fades to lime green as summer progresses) and 2 possible dwarf Dawn Redwood grown from seed.  The tallest seedling is 55  inches and the shortest is 10 inches.

The first step of this project was to build a frame. Doug Philips had used heavy copper wire to essentially create an upside down tomato cage. I saw two problems here, first the cost of heavy copper wire is prohibitive and second it created too few anchor points to tie the seedlings to the frame. My solution was to use ½ inch galvanized screen ( hardware cloth) solving both problems. Notice how I flared the base to add character to the trunk.


On Feb 20 and 21, 2011 the tree was assembled using 2-year-old seedlings.  The seedlings were bare rooted with all branches removed and roots trimmed. This is a 2-year-old seedling before cleaning and root trimming.

The next step involved attaching the seedlings to the frame. I tried to get the seedlings as close together as possible to shorten the fusion time by using thin copper wire to attach the seedlings to both the frame and adjacent seedlings. The wires will be left in place and the excess will be cut off after fusion is complete. I learned from my experimental grafts that removing the wires could cause the graft to separate. The roots were misted frequently to keep them from drying out.

I switched to paper wrapped wire ties half way through assembly because I found the thin copper wire ties to be too brittle. I had originally planned to use the paper wrapped ties but I could not find enough to complete the whole project. I randomly cut the thinner seedlings and covered them with larger seedlings as the frame gradually tapered to the top.

This is my little hollow tree viewed from the bottom.  I kept as many of the roots as possible to accelerate growth and shorten the fusion time.  I anticipate that this tree should be ready for a bonsai training pot after just one or two growing seasons.

The seedlings were weaved at the top with the excess to be removed after fusion is complete. Finally I placed the tree in a large pot.

37 seedlings attached to galvanized frame

Height – 31 inches                 Circumference at base- 25 inches

Total assembly time was 12 hours, which includes building frame, bare rooting seedlings, root and branch pruning, attaching seedlings to frame and potting.

Conclusion

I am fairly happy with the results of my first fusion project.  However there are several changes I will make in future projects.  First I will create frames with much greater contrast between the base of the trunk and the apex. This would require using one year-old seedlings instead of two year-old seedlings because the older seedlings were very stiff resulting in much loss of the flare I had designed into the base of the frame. One year old seedlings are much more flexible and would be easier to mold to the shape of the frame. This would require 100 -120 seedlings for the same size frame I used here. The seedlings would be shorter than the frame and would need to be attached as they grew up the frame. Secondly I would acquire prior to assembly enough paper wrapped wire twist ties to finish the project before I started. The paper wrapped ties are much stronger and easier to handle.

To get the buttressed trunk that I desire on this tree will require more grafting. NEXT YEAR!

 

This is the Dawn Redwood 1 month after assembly. Lots of buds have popped and branches are beginning to grow.

This is the Dawn Redwood at 3 months. The trunk (or more accurately 37 trunks) are completely covered with branches.

12/1/2011

The Dawn Redwood fusion has showed very little fusion so far. The seedlings have not grown very much because I have kept them in a pot. I did not realize the impact that a very large pot would have on slowing growth. The 2 seedling test was kept in a pot and had very good fusion, but 37 seedlings in a pot created too much competition for space, water and nutrients to have much growth and therefore little fusion. A few seedlings have died off and will be replaced in the spring with extra seedlings that I kept in reserve.  I will then plant the tree(s) in the ground and hope to see much better results.

2/12/2012

Winter has been canceled this year. Well, maybe not, but we have sure had more than our share of 60+ degree days in Jan. and Feb. Last Thursday it was 62 degrees and I needed to get out in the sun for a while so I decided to work on my Dawn Redwood fusion project. After I originally assembled this tree last year it became quite obvious that the upper trunk was much too thick and had lost it’s taper. Since trunk fusion had only been modest I decided to correct this problem while I still had an opportunity. First I removed 5 dead seedlings and one near dead seedling, and then I separated the fusions, which at this stage had not fully hardened off and were relatively easy to separate. Finally I detached the seedlings from the frame and cut the frame down to 6 inches above the base. This allowed me to collapse the trunk.

The only problem I encountered with reassembly was that the seedlings were no longer seedlings but actually 3-year-old trees. Several were now approaching ¾ of an inch in diameter and the twist ties I was using would not bind the trees securely. My solution was to use small brass flathead screws. Most of the screws are hidden from view because I attached the trees from the side and the adjacent tree covered the screw. A few trees needed to be attached from the top and are visible. I counter sank these and they should heal over quickly leaving no visible presence. The smaller trees were bound by doubling up the twist ties. Finally I added 11 more trees/seedlings of various sizes to fill the gaps. The root ball (not yet root bound) was very solid and I planted it in the ground with very little disturbance.

It is hard to see the trunk in this photo because the trees exiting from the trunk are parallel to the trunk, however, the apex of the trunk is much improved and the taper is much more dramatic. The plan at this stage is to maximize growth this year and next spring begin removing the excess trees to be flush with the trunk.

You might be able to see that we had our first big snow storm this year. Not enough to cover the ground, but the cold has returned with a high today of 32 degrees.

12/30/2012

dr5

The Dawn Redwood project is now over 6 feet tall. There is good fusion at the base but the apex has very little fusion because many of the twist ties have snapped and released the seedlings from their bonds.

dr4

Here you can see the fusion beginning to take hold near the base of the tree.

dr1

Here is a closeup on the other side of the tree. This is where I used a screw to attach the seedlings and it has held them together with pressure that can not be achieved with twist ties. The seedlings have completely healed over the screw and it is not visible. It should not be a problem to have screws completely embedded in the trunk because they are brass and will not rust. Even if they do eventually corrode the trunk will be completely fused by then. A problem might occur when I remove the excess whip of the seedling because I can’t see the screw and I could damage tools in the process.

Next spring I will insert many more screws to tighten up the trunk and apply the needed pressure for fusion.

Update 3/7/2013

dr10

Last year I was having trouble getting the larger trees to fuse. Several twist ties had snapped and were no longer holding the trees together. A few trees were now approaching an inch in diameter and twist ties were just not strong enough to hold them together. So I tried short brass screws and they worked great.  In the pic above you can see that the large tree (right center) fused nicely to the one on it’s left after being screwed together. The only problem now is that because I counter sank the screw and the tree healed over the wound I can not find the screw. I am afraid that when I remove the excess whip down to the trunk I will find the screw and damage my pruners.

dr11

So this time I used 3 inch long deck screws. This is the apex. The plan is to carefully remove the screws after fusion is complete and I don’t have to worry about cutting into one of the screws.

dr12

Farther down the tree you can see I used several screws, 8 deck screws plus 4 more brass screws from last year. There were several areas that needed to be locked down with pressure to force them to fuse. No pressure, no fusion. Note that the bottom screw actually goes through 4 trees.

My friend Shane  Martin ( http://shanemartinbonsai.wordpress.com/2013/01/) used a brad gun to shoot nails into half inch diameter seedlings to attach them to a wooden frame. He said it works great. I will follow that project closely.

There are many ways to attach seedlings together. The important thing is to apply constant pressure. Thin seedlings are easily held together with wire, but as the seedlings get larger they often snap the wire releasing the pressure. If that happens you need to get creative.

Update 9/08/2013

DR update 1

These seedlings have fused and the larger seedling on the right is ready to be removed. I let this go a little longer than I should have and the result will be a larger wound to heal.

DR update 2

I sawed off most of the whip first. Because this tree was too large to use my concave cutter I tried to use a grinder. That did not work out to well because the tree is too fleshy and wet, so I had to use the concave cutters anyway. When I cut into the tree the water squeezed out like water from a sponge. The bark is very fiberous and is like cutting rope, making a clean cut difficult.

DR update 3

I removed several other whips from the sunny side that had also fused. You can begin to see the trunk outline now. The back side of this tree was shaded out and has seen less growth. In the spring I will dig up the tree and rotate it 180 degrees to allow the back side to get full sun.

Notice the hollow gap in the middle. At first I was disappointed , then I realized it could become a nice feature. This is my first fusion and the biggest lesson I learned here was to be more modest in size. To fuse, the seedling/whips need to grow 2 to 3 times their size. Since I started with large seedlings I now have an enormous tree.

DR Arboretum

Here is a magnificent Dawn Redwood at the National Arboretum. Look at all the hollows on this tree.

Update 4/27/2014

My back yard was only getting about 2 hours of full sun daily so I had 4 large shade trees removed to let in more light.  A major improvement. The  Dawn Redwood was not growing very well on the shady side of the tree so I dug it up to spin it around. It probably weighs 60 pounds now. My back is going to feel this tomorrow. I am beginning to appreciate smaller trees more every day.

dr1 Since I had the tree out of the ground I patched a spot that had died off. It is a lot easier to work standing up as opposed to kneeling on the ground.

dr2 Twist ties will not hold these large saplings in place and screws were too large, so I took a tip from my friend Shane Martin and used brad nails.  This worked very well at tightening up the saplings.

dr3 I put the tree back in the ground and then removed the large whip on the right and topped the apex to keep the scar from getting too large.  I can finally see progress after 3 years.

 

Have Fun!

 

6 Responses to “Dawn Redwood Fusion”

  1. For me, the exciting aspect of your fusion project was the detailed explanations of the materials used in the initial process and the changes you planned for future fusions.. I appreciated the photos and the descriptions of everything connected with your project. Lastly, your gift as a writer made for a readable and enjoyable venture into a world in which I had little familiarity. Thank you for sharing your expertise.

  2. Hi Greg, I have only recently discovered yours and Doug’s blogs about this technique. I started a fusion technique experiment of my own some 23 years ago with trident seedlings which has only just last week been removed from training on in the ground. The base measures some 30 inches in circumference and 12 inches across.
    I didn’t use an internal frame, rather just placed a round rock at the base to start my binding of the seedlings with rafia string which would rot over time. My end result though impressive does not have the nebari perfection seen on Doug’s results, as over time some of my seedlings died and left the odd gap. Having no more 2yo tridents to replace them, I just let time and nature take it’s own path. I am hoping to start branch development this coming spring and summer. I do have a question for you Greg…. in using the paper covered wire to attach your young stock to the frame, how come you don’t have problems with the wire or plastic ties cutting right into the little trunks and in time killing them?
    I look forward to giving your technique a run one day… just have to find a good supplier of young stock.
    Thanks for a great tutorial.
    regards
    Shane Martin
    New South Wales , Australia

    • Your tree sounds impressive and is further proof that this technique works. I have had many seedlings die on my Trident Maple fusion but luckily I had 30 seedlings left over to use for repairs next spring. The wire ties do cut into the trunks but the cambium swells and covers the wires leaving a bump that will smooth out in time. No harm is done to the tree. I will have updates when the tree goes dormant in a couple months and we can actually see the trunk.

  3. Frank DellaValle Says:

    Absolutely magnificent tutorial showing the fuse-grafting techniques to make a super fat, composite-trunk …”E pluribus unum” tree.

    I plan on using this technique with Acer campestre, Quercus virginiana, Olive, and common edible fig. Different varieties of figs can be fused together to create one tree that bears both dark and light figs. Young, thin, succulent stems of figs can be braided and tied together until Cambium-layers fuse into a single “trunk”.

    The possibilities are endless. Thanks for sharing, and the photos.

    Frank

  4. hi after reading your blog in 2011 i thought i would give it ago.
    but i had no seedlings so i have used cuttings which i have great success 98 % i have taken cuttings from fresh growth up to branches 1/4″ thick.
    i have got mine to fuse very quickly with 100% success.

    as you know they grow quite fast.
    so i only use about 12 trees in an 8″pot and plant them in a circle of 6″ dia mybe 2 0r 3 in the middle.
    i then let them grow freely rotating the pot to ensure even growth to about 2 feet tall.
    then in the winter i cut the brances off gather all the trunks together to form the shape of the new trunk i then sort of randomly platt all the stems together and secure with a few cable ties just to hold every thing in place .
    when the stems grow they have no choice but to fuse.they cant pull apart so fuse straight away and you have some control over the pattern the trunk ends up.
    they start to fuse at the end of the 1st summer.
    and you end up with a great tree that looks like a big one 🙂
    i am sorry but i dont have any photos

  5. Hey! Love your fusion projects! I try one myself on my young ficus sprouts. Now it as one tree merged together and looks very beutiful. I found that wrap all trunks tightly with plastic tape is very helping to support of merging trees together. As they grow bigger, they have less and less space under tape and this helps to merge them. Pic of my tree https://s24.postimg.org/bevlwdqn9/fusion-ficus.png

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