Bonsai and Lime Sulphur

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spray it thoroughly with water

If lime sulphur is painted onto dry wood it tends to run off the wood rather than be absorbed into the wood. Lime sulphur is also unable to penetrate as deeply when the wood is dry. For the lime sulphur to have any preserving effect on the wood (however slight) it must be absorbed as deeply as possible; by ensuring that the wood is damp, the lime sulphur is able to penetrate much better.

Secondly, as mentioned previously, moisture (water) is necessary for the Sulphur dioxide to have a bleaching or staining effect. Dry wood takes much longer to whiten and in some cases can retain some of the original yellow/red colour of the lime sulphur mixture.

If the wood is not already wet from being outside in rainy weather, spray it thoroughly with water.

excess water on the surface of the wood

Any excess water on the surface of the wood will cause the lime sulphur to run down the wood and bleach areas of the tree that you do not require to be whitened. Use an absorbent cloth to remove excess water from the deadwood itself and try to dry the bark as much as possible.

Apply the lime sulphur

Apply the lime sulphur, starting at the highest point of the deadwood. It is better to apply several thin coats over the course of a few hours than try to apply a thick coat all at once. Any excess lime sulphur will run down the deadwood. Be prepared to mop up any excess lime sulphur that collects at the base of the deadwood you are painting.

It is necessary to mop up the excess lime sulphur before it runs into the soil or surrounding areas of live wood and bark. This is because the lime sulphur will also bleach the soil and the bark. It is not because the lime sulphur will 'kill' the tree or 'damage the roots' of the tree.

Obviously, a large amount of lime-sulphur in the soil is not a good thing for the health of the tree but this must be kept in perspective. A small amount of run-off will not poison the tree. On many occasions I have lime sulphured deadwood roots (as shown in these images) and lime sulphur has run into the soil with absolutely no detriment to the health of the tree. If you worried that too much lime sulphur has entered the soil, simply flush the lime sulphur out with water.

lime sulphur

If any lime sulphur gets onto the bark of the tree, as can be seen on the base of the tree in the above image, simply use some wet cloth to wipe away the excess lime sulphur.

clean the bark.

Do this as soon as possible so the lime sulphur does not have a chance of whitening the bark. If the bark still appears white when the lime sulphur has dried, just use an old toothbrush or similar to clean the bark.

lime sulphur will dry and whiten the wood

The lime sulphur will dry and whiten the wood over the course of the next hours or days depending on how moist the wood is (the more moisture, the quicker the whitening takes effect) and the ambient temperature (the warmer the weather, the faster the lime sulphur will dry). Avoid placing the tree where the lime sulphur will be exposed to rain as this will cause the lime sulphur to run off the deadwood before it has had the necessary bleaching effect.

The newly lime sulphured deadwood of the tree above is shown just hours after the lime sulphur was applied. As can be seen, the wood is not as white as can be achieved and this is normal for a first application of lime sulphur on freshly stripped deadwood. Additional applications will ensure that the wood takes on a much more even stark-white finish that contrasts well with the adjoining live wood and bark.

Colouring Lime Sulphur

By its nature, Lime Sulphur produces a white finish to deadwood. While a stark white colour is suitable for coniferous species such as pine and juniper, on other tree species such as boxwood, hawthorn, privet and the majority of deciduous and broadleaf trees, lime sulphur is often coloured to produce a more appropriate variety of tones and colours.

Additionally, because lime sulphur produces such a flat white colour with no tone or variety, it can make deadwood look very flat and 2 dimensional. Being able to darken and colour lime sulphur allows the artist to produce an appearance of depth and a third dimension to lime sulphured wood.

hollow trunk

The hollow trunk of this Thuja was lime sulphured but rather than allow the lime sulphur to produce uniform white finish, the lime sulphur was carefully tinted with black ink to produce a variety of greys and black to increase the feeling of depth in the finish.

The outer edges of this trunk were painted with pure lime sulphur and then as I painted deeper and deeper into the hollow, I added a few drops of black ink to the lime-sulphur mixture to produce a steadily darker colour.

Lime sulphur can be coloured with a variety of ingredients and some experimentation is required. All water-based inks and paints will work well but avoid using anything oil-based as it will not mix with the lime-sulphur. Generally only a very small amount of black ink or paint is required for the finish to become a grey colour. For a more natural 'wood' colour, try ochres or burnt umber paints.

For a more 'natural' approach to colouring, you can use diluted (in boiling water) tea leaves, instant coffee granules or grinds to produce softened white to ochre tones. For grey tones you can use wood or cigarette ash either mixed into the lime sulphur or applied to the wood after the lime sulphur has dried.

Due to the nature of lime sulphur, it is not possible to advise of exact mixtures or recipes and experimentation is necessary. Always allow the lime sulphur to dry to its 'final' colour before judging the results of your work!

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