Large Scale Central

The way train trees should be

Many garden railroaders plant dwarf trees, which soon become anything but small. Also, they plant too few trees too far apart, which makes for a very nice looking garden, but not one that represents a world in miniature. Now here’s a bonsai display that looks like an actual forest, one that would look very realistic on a garden railroad. Note the liberal use of plants and the intense pruning that makes plants look like trees–in miniature.

Of course you’d have to spend every waking moment whipping them plants into shape, and as much time or more keeping 'em trimmed. Still, in my perfect world, that’s what I’d have.

Good post, Joe. I’m a bonsai enthusiast myself and I actually have one that’s very like this but not quite as big - maybe 12 trunks.
I have developed a method of doing bonsai that’s a little more in keeping with our western lifestyle - that is, while the Japanese method requires them to water their trees every day, because they are planted in shallow dishes exposed to the air, I plant my bonsai in our own normal standard reddish western-style terracotta flowerpots.
I then plant these pots in the ground.
To a certain extent the pot confines the roots. Burying the pot allows the plant to be watered by the rain and also protects the roots from drying out or being burnt by the sun. Furthermore natural rainwater does not include the mineral content of tapwater so whitish mineral deposits do not form or build up on the soil surface as they do over time when watered with tapwater.
I call this western style bonsai, because our busy lives often don’t leave us much time to do things at the slower pace of the traditiona oriental way.
Using my method, I can have the look of bonsai in the ground without having to water my trees every day.
I can lift the pots right out of the soil for occasional pruning of the branches, perhaps once a year. Twice if I’m going to show them.
As for the roots, they do have more room to grow in a western pot than a traditional Japanese bonsai dish. Moreover, the roots are inclined to find the drainage hole and escape through it. So I keep a close eye on the root development.
The plant can usually be popped out of these pots quite easily for root inspection. Any thick root that has escaped, and that might even be locking the pot into the ground, will get lopped off. I generally try to limit root surgery to once every couple of years, and also try not to do too much at a time as I believe this is quite traumatic to the plants. This is not always possible, especially with plants that have an aggressive root habit. In time, however, plants seem to ‘learn’ to slow down their growth, both abobe and below the surface.
As for ground covers for my bonsai, for reasons unknown I have not had good luck with any of the true mosses at all. I have had to depend on Irish or Scotch moss, or other miniature ground cover material.

You mention dwarf plants and how they can take off and become oversize for our railroads.
This is very true. I have seen dwarf Alberta spruce as high as eighteen feet tall.
When I was a kid my Dad planted what were then called dwarf fruit trees. At maturity these trees were considerably smaller than standard trees, but they were easily twelve feet high.
This was over half a century ago, and I’m certain that things have changed since then.
All the same, in the horticultural world, as you, Joe, are probably aware, a distinction is made between the terms “dwarf” and “miniature”. What we really want is “miniature”.
When we go shopping for plants for our backyard railroads it would be wise for us to bear this distinction clearly in mind.

John, I’ve heard of keeping trees in pots–for the reasons you mention. Makes sense to me. As for the terms “dwarf” and “miniature,” I was aware there was a difference, but thanks for clarifying the issue.

BTW, I notice my tree photo has been replaced by a red X in a box. Do you suppose that’s because I removed the image from my Freight Shed? To make room for more images.

Joe Rusz said:

BTW, I notice my tree photo has been replaced by a red X in a box. Do you suppose that’s because I removed the image from my Freight Shed? To make room for more images.

If you remove the photo from your Freight Shed, it is no longer available in the forum post.

Ralph Berg said:

Joe Rusz said:

BTW, I notice my tree photo has been replaced by a red X in a box. Do you suppose that’s because I removed the image from my Freight Shed? To make room for more images.

If you remove the photo from your Freight Shed, it is no longer available in the forum post.

Gee, Ralph, we can’t slip anything past ol’ Joe, can we? :slight_smile:

Since the response to my “trees” post was underwhelming, I guess we can safely conclude it was time for that photo to go. Unless of course there’s a groundswell of demand to reintroduce the picture as I pay Bob his $20. :slight_smile:

Seems silly to remote it, unless you’ve run out of space.

I’ve never left my dwarf alberta spruce trees or boxwood trees in pots. When you leave in July in our part of the world, my trees would starve for water. So, about twice a year, I do a major trim. I start with the hedge trimmer and cut off the tops and all around the sides, then, trim the center of the trees to make them more realistic looking. This works for me. Many of my trees or about 15 years old and most are under two feet tall. The trunks are about two inches thick.

I’m sure that’s right, Jan. Even up here by the lakes, where we get 30" of rainfall a year, a pot left in the air will dry out, quickly killing the roots.
I probably should have mentioned our 30" rainfall figure, which I’d bet is maybe twice yours where I guess to be the Eastern edge of the prairies.
Our 30" of rain provides a margin of safety for my buried terracotta pots which let ground moisture in.
All the same, there are times when I supplement the rainfall with an occasional watering, particularly in the dry month of August. This is because I have a tendency to take special care of my bonsais, into which I have invested a long time. All the same, I do believe most years I could get away with leaving them alone. I just don’t like to think of my little darlings going thirsty! At the same time, I’m confident that I could be away for a few weeks even in August and they’d survive. I do have a trustworthy plantloving neighbor also…:wink:
The very large Alberta spruce I mentioned were at a tree nursery where they appeared to have “been parked”, presumably unattended, for many years. They served as a warning to me that if I didn’t pay attention, this species would eventually outgrow its welcome!
Thanks for the tips on how you groom your trees. There are fellow clubmembers up here who also put them directly into the ground and treat them much as you do, with good results.
My regards to you and Ric!

In this shot you can see some of the Alberta spruces I’ve tried to shape in tree’s,These are planted in the dirt no pot.


In this photo the Japanese Maple is from three layout’s ago.It is my oldest tree around 12years!


Again it’s just in the dirt with no pot.

Any suggestions for good sources for miniature trees or hardy bonsai -

Mini Forests by Sky has a great selection, and excellent instructions on care and feeding.

Bob: Looks very interesting! Thanks, Phil

I usually get dwarf alberta spruces at Lowe’s or Home Depot. My boxwoods started from my dad’s yard from clippings.

I’ve been really happy with Emerald Green Arborvitae that I trim up to give them some trunk. The tops do a good job of simulating a large leaf tree from a few feet away.

Got some good deals on 2-gallon ones from Home Depot early in the spring. They did great all summer until late September when one completely croaked. Supposedly they are guaranteed, but I have no receipt and they don’t have replacements now :[

I try to buy absolutely nothing from Walmart, Lowes, or H. Depot, Not just plants…anything. Often, We can buy local and made in USA or Canada - usually a better quality, for a slight premium, not always successfully, however we try…

In further response to Phil’s question, The lead Bob gave you indeed is a good and well trusted one, especially if you’re looking for true miniatures as opposed to dwarfs. (See my earlier post in this thread)
If you join a bonsai club you may get opportunities to buy, but ordinarily they are not for sale, and the ones I have seen for sale in ordinary stores haven’t looked very trustworthy to me.
Bonsai by tradition are a do-it yourself project rather than something you buy.
Bonsai can be made from any small local native tree or bush. It is the treatment you give them after you’ve acquired them that keeps them small.
There are books on growing your own bonsai in your local library. I find this a delightful companion hobby to backyard railroading. Cheers!

Saturday SWMBO went to the AGM of the regional garden clubs chapter. In addition to “Business” the main topic was “Growth Habits of Conifers”.

Looks like we now know where to get what we desire without going across the border.

:wink: :slight_smile:

I have finally gotten some plants in, courtesy of the ever-hardy Don Herzog, my landscaping mentor. He loaded up my layout with conifers and i could not be happier. Dwarf Alberta Spruce are the best!

Just keep pruning the heck out of them, they maybe called “dwarf” but thats in relation to the real Albeta (White)spruce (35’ tall)

The dwarf wants to be 10’h by 4’ wide :slight_smile: