Indoor Grow Light Shelf – Completed!

Well I finally finished it, not that it took that long, it just needed to get it done. Thankfully I was given some Christmas cash that definitely helped to give the project a much needed funding boost! I was having no luck trying to find the things I wanted on kijiji for cheap! So here it is, kind of empty right now, but should start filling up in the next few months!


The big chrome wire 6-shelf adjustable unit was $79 at Home Depot, I got it on sale last week! I didn’t end up getting the one with casters as I had wanted (so I could wheel it around more easily) but it was way more expensive and not on sale – I can always look into buying some casters for it later if I think I really need them.

The lights were also purchased from Home Depot, and I wanted at least 3 shelves with lights. The light fixtures themselves were $20 per light (I put two on each shelf so that there would be more even coverage of light – for a total of 6 light boxes). They come with chains so it’s easy to hang them on the underside of the shelves and adjust them as needed. Set it all up on a timer/powerbar (about $24 total) and with full spectrum T8 bulbs. The light bulbs which were about $45 for 12. I still want to use zip ties to lash the power cords to the shelf posts just to keep the whole thing a little tidier.

The black trays are boot trays from the dollar store ($2 each). Although – they don’t fit really well, they are too long to put two per shelf so I may have to go out and find some smaller ones so I can double up on the shelves properly. I put these in so that any dripping water from watering doesn’t get onto the light fixtures of the shelf below! Safety first!

This set-up also gives me some extra shelf space for storage on top and for starting my seeds on heat mats (since they don’t need light at that point) indoors this winter.

I also started my seed stratification process this month, my elms need 120 days of cold so they are already stratifying in the fridge. The rest of the seeds will get going at the end of January so they are all ready to get planted out and germinate in April.


Seed Stratification

I know it’s early to be thinking about spring planting, but of all the seeds I have ready for this winter starts some of them need early stratification. For those new people to the world of seed propagation, stratification is a simulated cold period that most seeds need to go through in order to sprout.

The natural process for trees is to drop seeds in the fall, have them sit in cool damp environment for the winter (a few months) and then when things start to warm up in the spring they will sprout. Since we want to simulate this process in order for our seeds to sprout, we need to recreate the process manually. This is called stratification.

All tree species will have different needs based on their natural environment. Tropical varieties probably won’t need much if any stratification – since the natural environment doesn’t have much of a cool period. In my case – or those varieties that are naturally occurring in climates with defined colder winters – we need to find out how long they need to be kept cool for.

In my case, research tells me that I need to stratify for the following amounts of time:

Ussurian pear – 90 days
American hornbeam – 120 days
Amur maple – 90 days
Japanese black pine – 60 days
Apples – 90 days
Crabapples – 90 days

So how do we stratify? Well basically you need to put the seeds in a moist medium and keep them in a cool place for the identified amount of time. The easiest way to do this is to put them in the fridge since it hits the right temperatures for the majority of the seeds I have. Just make sure to do your research on the varieties you might be doing, as you can see above the times are different, and temps you want to stratify at can vary as well (although most range from 1-8 degrees Celsius).

Step by step stratification process:

  1. Soak the seeds for 24 hours. This gets moisture into the seed as well as helps you determine which seeds will be viable and which won’t. Anything that’s still floating after 24 hours is a dud, so skim them off and toss them.
  2. Take a paper towel, fold in up so that it would fit perfectly in a small ziplock baggie. Get it wet and squeeze out all the water you can – so that it’s just moist.
  3. Place all your seeds on the paper towel – I like to space mine out nicely so they aren’t touching, but I’m weird like that.
  4. Label your ziplock baggie with the date and how long it should stratify for (or just put the “take out of the fridge date” on it).
  5. Slide the paper towel with your seeds on it into the baggie and close it.
  6. Stick it in the fridge. I put all of mine stacked up in the back at the top.

Once the stratification period is up, pull them out, stick them in some kind of potting medium – brand new soil is a must whatever you choose to use (I use a seed starting potting soil). I then put my seed trays on a heat mat for faster germination, when I did the red pine seeds last year it only took a week before they were popping up. Once they are all up – or most of them – take them off the heat and put them under a light (or outdoors depending on your climate and the time of year). I don’t get full spring until mid-May so mine stay indoors for a few months and then get hardened off by getting placed outdoors during the day and indoors at night for a bit until the weather levels off.

Given the time needed to stratify the hornbeam I am going to put these babies in the fridge tonight! With the rest getting staggered over the next few months so that I can plant them all out at the same time.

Indoor Growing Shelf Project

With the purchase of all the seeds I acquired this fall I plan to start growing a number of new seedlings indoors this winter. My experiences with the red pines was pretty good so I figure it will give me an activity to keep me busy this winter while all my trees are buried is straw and snow.

I found a few great ideas online so plan on setting on up on my own – DIY style – using some of the ideas I came across.

I am going to purchase the following things:

Chrome shelving unit – 4 feet wide with 6 shelves


Fluorescent light fixtures – 3 of the shelves will have the light fixtures, they are 4 feet long.


Rubber boot trays – these will go right on the racks under the seed trays to catch any dripping water so nothing falls on the electrical lights of the shelf below.


I will also buy a plug-in timer so that I can set the lights on a timer system as well as a powerbar so I can set up heat mats for the early stages of germination.

All in all I think this whole set-up will run me about $200 if I purchase everything new, but the good thing is that I will likely use it for many years as well as use it to germinate my vegetable garden seedlings once the bonsai seedlings are going. Will have to keep you posted on its progress as it may take me some time to acquire everything – and the right light bulbs for the growing spectrum – since I am going to try and get some things (like the fixtures) on kijiji if I can find them to cut down on cost.

Bonsai Winter Protection

So I finally got my rear in gear and made a plan for overwintering my bonsai here in zone 3. I did a lot of research and almost everything told me to get a greenhouse! Which is a pain because I can’t just go buy one of those (renting my house right now so options are limited). Besides, I’m not entirely sure that would protect potted plants when it’s -35. Nor would it likely keep everything dormant when we get a chinook and it warms up to +10 within 12 hours of it being -35 (and then have it drop back well below freezing the next day!).

So I dug a hole.

I dug a trench along the north side of my house. About 1.5 feet deep, enough to set my tallest pot well below the main surface. I used all the dirt from the hole to build up a bit of a mound around the edges for extra protection.

I then lined the hole with straw (don’t use hay because it can have weed and grass seed in it which then grow in your pots!). And then placed all my trees in the hole while packing the spaces between them with straw. Once they were all in I completely covered them with straw. Some are completely buried – the smaller ones – and some are buried only up to the first or second set of branches.

IMG_2220 (2)

The idea is that the straw will protect the roots from getting too cold, while at the same time when we get our chinooks roll in it will hopefully keep things cool as well. Since it’s on the north side of the house I will also be able to mound up snow from the yard on top of it all and it will stay in a pile and not melt as much since it will be out of the sun. This will keep everything cold, but not too cold!

I will have to go in there and water them from time to time, mostly when it warms up enough to dig in a little bit and reach the soil in the pots as they will likely need some water when they warm up a bit. But otherwise my fingers are crossed and I’m hoping everything comes through alive.

Bonsai Seeds for This Winter

As you know this past winter I grew some red pines from seed I had collected from a tree in my neighbourhood. I had some good success (7 trees survived the 25 seeds I had tried to germinate). I say that’s success because I think a lot of the ones I tried to germinate were not viable – I just didn’t know what I was looking for at the time!

Because of that success I thought I would try growing some more this winter. I tried to pick seeds that of course were zone 3 or lower to grow.

In the spring when I was offered some replacement trees for some lower quality nanking cherries that I ordered, I got a ussurian pear. Unfortunately I killed it (may have tried to trim its roots too much on initial planting of the bare root seedling). In any case, I wanted to try again! I also discovered that the american hornbeam is hardy to my zone. I also had tried to grow a garden centre amur maple last year but it too died (in my defense I bought it for $5 wrapped in burlap in the fall and I think it was already dead). I also picked up some black pine. They’re not hardy to this zone, but I think I can baby them enough to keep them alive. If not, then it was only a few dollars worth of seeds down the drain.


I also picked some crabapples and apples from two trees in our neighbourhood. I saw both of their flowers in the spring and thought they would make good candidates. I tried a few cuttings but somehow I just haven’t figured out cuttings yet. So instead, I picked some of their fruit, cut them open and pulled out the seeds!

Apple seeds on the left, crabapple on the right.

photo 2 (3)


Last winter I started cold stratifying my seeds way too early (like in November!). So I am not going to start these until the right times, I have to check how long they each need to be cold dormant and plan backwards from there!

I’m looking forward to having some new tree babies in the house! Although I think that my grow light collection may also need to grow a bit this winter since I also start some of my vegetable garden seeds indoors!

Thunderchild Crabapple Bonsai

Well, it’s not a bonsai yet, but it will be!

I am very excited for this tree. It came as a freebie after my nanking cherries were considered below par. I picked two more expensive seedlings (this and a ussurian pear which I have since killed!). It was a one-year plug, which I did some basic root spreading on when I potted it up into a small pot with coarse soil (which it apparently likes). I budded and leafed out like crazy – so much so that it was too big for the pot that I put it in (the leaves would catch the wind and the pot would get knocked over) which was about a 4″ pot. So when I slip potted it into a 6″ pot I found that it had already completely filled the pot with roots! So I am glad that it did well out of the gate.

I did some light wiring of the lower trunk to get some preliminary movement, it will need way more wiring in the years to come – and reducing eventually – but for now it’s just growing out. I think in the spring it will need to be potted into something much bigger (a bigger colander perhaps) as it seems to be growing fast. The picture below shows the outline and shape, unfortunately the light sucked so you don’t get an idea of the leaf colour.


So a bit about the Thunderchild Flowering Crab or Malus ‘Thunderchild’ – it’s a zone 3 hardy tree which likes well-drained soil and full sun. Pics of this tree in bloom show a huge amount of pink blooms before the leaves come out in the spring. The leaves are a deep purple colour which apparently turn a really nice red in the fall (will find out soon!).

It will be great to see this in the spring and whether it shows any flowers or not!

Nanking Cherry Bonsai Update

So as you know I got 10 nanking cherries this spring. I didn’t mention this in my earlier post on these babies, but the nursery I bought them from does hardiness tests, so whatever they do with them it determines if they will survive the freeze/thaw cycle we get here in zone 3. Apparently these didn’t have a good survival rating (not up to their standards at least) so they refunded my money and let me pick out more trees of equivalent value. I ended up getting a thunderchild crabapple but that will have to be another post.

They still shipped the nankings so as I mentioned I potted them all up and figured I would give them a shot anyways. I ended up with 3 of the 10 budding out and growing well. I can see why they would consider this below standard. I am still happy that I basically got 3 free nankings though!

Anyway, as I mentioned I have three that survived. Each one just happened to be wired a little different. One was left straight, one slightly wired for gentle movement and one twisted pretty extremely.


The picture above is the straight one. I am lucky because it has lots of low down growth that will eventually form the main branches once this grows out. I did pinch some of the leader buds to try and prompt the back budding which worked well, and didn’t seem to affect health/growth.


The one above here is the one that was gently wired, it’s hard to see but it only have a little bit of curve to the lower trunk. I don’t know what design this will make for, but we will see how it looks as it fattens up. I also did some bud pinching on this one as well.


And finally the one above is the one that I wired pretty significantly. I did do some bud pinching and it threw out growth on the one branch on the side – which became the leader. It might lend itself to a cascade or something, but we will see how it grows out in the next few years.

My plan for these is to let them grow like crazy. Maybe next spring – or the one after – I will pot these into colanders for extra growth. I am hoping we will have bought a house by then and I will be able to make a growing bed in the garden, but if not – then colanders!

I have had good success with colanders, some big differences in larch growth which I will have to write a separate post about sometime.

Corylus Avellana – Hazelnut Bonsai

I have three hazelnut trees. They are also called filberts, or nut filberts. I got all three from a former bonsai club member in Vancouver. The biggest is in a grow box. It has (had?) some potential but in the span of my research I discovered that the interesting bark texture I noticed on it is actually a really terrible blight that can (will?) eventually kill the tree. The picture below is what it looked like last summer.


So I unfortunately had to hack it back big time because it was badly infected with a hazelnut blight (supposed to just cut off any infected areas). I’m just hoping the cankers didn’t open enough for it to spread to the other ones I have! This picture below shows a close-up of what this nasty blight looks like. I had to hack back a ton of the wood on the main trunk, so I will have to wait and see if anything grows back, if not I will have to use the skinny trunk on the left as the new leader, which won’t be terrible I don’t think.

photo 2

The second tree I acquired from an old club member in Vancouver in July 2013 is a twin trunk and quite a bit smaller. I didn’t do anything with it last year when I got it. Just let it grow and see where it would take me. I mostly wanted to wait for the winter to get a better idea of the shape once the leaves came off. Here is a picture of it from last summer.


I brought this tree out to Calgary in June of 2014, it went into total shock for some reason and all the leaves started browning. I did a quick emergency repot as the soil was pretty compacted in the pot it came in and it is really dry here. I also trimmed off all the dead or dying leaves so that the tree would focus its energy on making new leaves rather than trying to keep the dying ones alive.

Somehow that worked (I guess it was like leaf pruning!), and it has recovered well with a nice second set of leaves. I definitely won’t do this every year especially given that it was emergency potted. But I have to say I would be sad to lose this, I really like the movement it has with the twin trunks.

photo 4 (8)

And the third one I have was a cutting when I got it last summer. It’s pushing out growth really well and has some neat looking movement. I don’t have any new pictures of it, but maybe I will try and take one tonight. It’s not much to look at yet, but I am hoping it will eventually!

As for hazelnuts themselves, they seem pretty resilient so far. They do produce pretty big leaves, but as I have noticed doing a defoliation definitely helps reduce the leaf size. I think they can make some pretty neat looking gnarly trunk lines and branches and am looking forward to seeing what I can make out of these!

Old Boxwood

I thought it would be great to showcase one of my favourite trees (aside from the dawn redwood of course!). This old boxwood came to me as a gift from a club member of the club I was with in Vancouver. He had collected it himself and just put it into a grow box in pure sand. I should have taken better notes about when he collected it and from where, but to me it just looks like it was run over by a lawn mower before digging!


This first picture is right after I acquired it in the summer of 2013. I didn’t do anything to it at the time, as I thought it would need repotting but didn’t want to do it mid-summer. So I just left it and fertilized it big time and let it grow.

Clearly I was hoping it would do some serious backbudding so that I could cut down some of the weird long branches that would not work in any final design. This is a neat tree because it has some pretty interesting deadwood pieces.


Here picture above also shows the deadwood, there is also some on the other side as well. I asked about the hardwood on the study group forum and I think maybe this summer I will do a bit of carving and maybe some lime sulphur because it has never been treated and I am worried it might rot out.


So this spring I repotted it into better soil. It’s a mix of turface, perlite and lava. I didn’t do much with the roots because when it was transplanted it must have been chopped back hard, but I did trim some of the weird and overlapping roots.

The next four pictures show all four sides of the tree as it is now. It was chopped back a bit and trimmed down. I think there is still some hope for it!

photo 1

photo 2

photo 3


photo 4


I’m leaning towards this last one as my front. I really like the profile of the first one with the roots, but the branch on the left actually comes way out towards you and might be hard to cut back so that it’s not an eye-poking branch. I will just have to wait and see for the most part as it could get more options as it back buds more.



Bonsai Tool Maintenance

I’m probably doing this backwards, should be doing a post about all the tools I use first and then explain my maintenance plan – but I finally got my tool cleaning stuff and got to work on it last night and snapped a few pics.

So here it is!

I had done some googling and talked to a guy in our little bonsai study group here about tool cleaning. Because of the sap, and the dirt and the wet branches etc. your tools can get dirty and gross pretty fast. Given the fact that lots of trees are susceptible to fungus and rots it’s good to keep your tools clean so that you don’t lessen your chances of tree survival because of dirty tools.

The results of my searching led me to two relatively easy things you need for good tool maintenance. Just a side note this is just about cleaning, not sharpening, I don’t think I would ever try and sharpen my own tools (I can barely handle a cheese grater without taking a layer off my knuckles) I will leave THAT for the experts!

The first thing I got is called crean mate or a hand block. It’s basically a rough grit that’s moulded into a block with rubber. It’s used to rub off any junk on the cutting surfaces of your tools. Rust, sap, dirt anything that won’t come off with a damp cloth or quick wipe. It’s also cool because it crumbles away a bit as you use it so you don’t end up with a dull side because it continues to crumble and reveal grittier parts.


This is the one I bought on eBay for $10


This is the fancier japanese version that cost more for shipping etc.

So I went through and cleaned up all the surfaces of my tools and it made such a difference! Here are two pictures – a before rubbing and an after rubbing. Sometimes it took a bit longer to clean certain ones than others. I found the pruners I use for roots were dirtier – probably the sappy roots and the dirt made those worse than the ones I just use for pruning branches.





As you can see it made a big difference just from using the hand block/crean mate. But I also noticed that they were all a bit stiff to use, and I had read that a good tool lubricant is good to have on hand. I bought this lubricant from the same eBay store as the hand block, but I am sure that you could probably use any tool lubricant that is suited for the metal type that you have for your tools.



And that’s all it is! It’s pretty easy actually. I took me about 20 minutes to go through and clean and lubricate all my tools. I think it would be way less time if I rubbed off the gunk from my tools after each use, but this time I hadn’t had anything to clean them with for a year, so it had built up!

I also don’t think I would use the lubricant every single time I use my tools. It sticks around for a while so maybe – depending on usage – I would lubricate on an as needed basis rather than over lubricating. I worry a bit about my tools having too much on them and that not being good for the trees (not confirmed, but I’d rather not test it out!).