Changeing Minds

Doing club demos requires research and planning but the bring rewards to the membership and even to self. I recently had the opportunity to do a demo for the San Mateo club, SBBK, on the subject of tropical material. I introduced species many had not seen before. It is always good to help “change minds”, challenge concepts and drive the art of bonsai in new directions.

Popular demonstration on tropical trees.

This month I will touch an another taboo subject; Tanuki or phoenix graft. Some say that it is not bonsai, others disagree; and I consider it bonsai that tells a different story and should always be explained if presented at a show. It is less about the trick and more about they reasons why the graft was done.

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August 2018 Update – Too many figs!

This week I visited with my creeping fig tree. Years past I have let the figs ripen and fall off but that weakens the tree going into Fall and Winter. It was time to harvest. I remove most of the figs; leaving only those for ornamentation purposes.

Moving around the garden, I also checked in on all the little wonders that have been re-potted this year.

Creeping Ficus 2018 – full of figs
Creeping Ficus 2018 – extending root mass into the air.
Creeping Fig 2018 – farming figs to preserve energy for the tree.
3 trunk Schfleura after re-potting
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Last of the Summer Re-Potting Done for 2018

Nice hot day here in Santa Clara. I had re-potted most of the tropical trees before a demo I recently concluded. Now it was time for the final ficus and the last of the summer trees.  The Ficus Microcarpa Shohin is one of my prized tropical trees. It has been in the little shohin pot for a few years now and gone to show this year. It has been putting on prolific growth this year and I wanted to develop a more advanced nebari and root mass. In order to do that I needed to up-pot the tree to a bigger pot. I will lose some of the ramification and leaf size reduction initially as it grows back in but I can work that back and shape it over the next year.

Ficus Microcarpa Shohin: full canopy along-side a new pot for growth.







The root mass was thick and full. Below is the before and after root pruning images:

Ficus Microcarpa Shohin: Root mass need more development. This view shows the original after removal from the shohin size pot.
Ficus Microcarpa Shohin: Working to remove the large build up of fused roots in the bottom. This will make more room for new roots in the pot.











The tree is to develop a new nebari so it is secured in the pot to ensure it doesn’t rock or move. This will ensure new fine roots will not be disturbed.

Ficus Microcarpa Shohin: Caged for tie-in using bamboo chopsticks. I want to redevelop the root mass so locking it in in firm.









Finally the ficus is watered in and rest to grow again.

Ficus Microcarpa Shohin: Finished re-potting. Watered from above it is now sitting beside the tray of water to keep the humidity level high. Here in California we have to provide that resource. Also, found an areal root developing on this one. It has been a while since I have had those develop.













Last tree to re-pot was another Calliandra Tweedii, Firebush. This one was potted differently from the first. I am testing the bare rooting process on this one. I will watch it carefully as its after care may be different from the previous tree.

Last Firebush re-potted for its first placement into a bonsai pot. This was was nearly bare rooted as a test to see how it performs.
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The Forth of July

Projects consumed the morning on the 4th of July. Not feeling very festive for so many reasons that I will not discuss in my blog. On the docket this morning was a shohin Japanese Black Pine and a client Boxwood.

After participating in an on-line training session about shohin black pines last night I was inspire to change my young tree. I never liked the top and the trees was too “open”, to much negative space between the branches for this size of tree. I placed some structural wire on the trunk and used a new technique to compress the truck and lowered the entire top area of the tree. I did the needle pruning to set it up for the second flush of growth going into Fall. Shohin black pines are the last to be worked on in the season because we want small needles and short inter-nodes. The new compressed trunk allowed to shape the apex now and get more movement in the tree.  So much work for this little beauty.

My shohin black pine before needle pruning and wiring.
My shohin black pine after trunk compression, wiring, and needle pruning.










The second tree was a client boxwood. It had been ast re-potted 8 years ago. The foliage was becoming yellow and showing distress and now wonder. The entire pot was consumed with roots and became pot-bound. There was hardly any soil left to hold nutrients. I reduced the canopy of the tree to where dormant buds were sitting. I have found long ago that re-potting a boxwood in the summer is preferable to Fall/Winter as they do not sulk but quickly activate buds and root growth. Every boxwood I have ever worked on in the off-season or seen others do, failed to develop that year. So this one is re-potted in the summer and after-care become very important. It CANNOT go out in to the hot afternoon sun. It will stay in my garden for a bit while it recovers and then moved into the least hot part of the client’s garden (morning sun – afternoon shade).

Client Boxwood: Leaves were becoming yellow and tree was over-grown.
Client Boxwood: root ball after 8 years had become pot-bound, hardly any soil remained.
Client Boxwood root ball after root pruning begins.
Client Boxwood after pruning and re-potting. It is is a new pot and makes the tree look so much more present. The previous pot was too heavy.
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In the Heat Of Summer – Think Tropical

Daytime temps here in Santa Clara are reaching upper 80s to mid 90s now. Work in the garden starts to slow down since most plants start shutting down in the 90s except for the tropical trees that begin to flourish as long as there is good humidity. Here in CA I have to create the humidity with trays of water under or near the trees. These trays of water help keep the shohin hydrated as well since it become impossible to keep them moist in the summer.

I have received several inquires about my gardenia, often referred to as an indoor bonsai by flower companies. So many have received them as gifts this year and need to know more about the care. I am posting the gardenia images from when it arrived to my collection from Brussel’s to where it is today. You will see a huge difference.

Gardenia fresh from Brussel’s Nursery. Large pot, very organic soil mix of most mulch and every branch ready to bloom. But not this year. One bloom was allowed for form this year. Then all the blooms were removed as well as much of the branch structure because it was a tangled mess inside. Soil need to be replaced to that appropriate for our area.
Gardenia today. New leaves are forming and the tree is back-budding nicely to create a more appropriate branch structure in the future. Pot is a bit strong for this tree but it was more appropriate to the trunk size for now.













Trees transplanted today are ficus and schefflera species. These hot weather lovers like to be re-potted in the hot days of summer when their roots and foliage are exploding. I stopped re-potting tropical trees in Fall and Spring many years ago when I found them sulking for too long. Now I only do them in the heat of summer.

The schefflera is a triumph in leaf size reduction and trunk development. This little tree, purchased from a local hardware store is intended to replace the large version of this I had on the East coast before moving to CA in 2000. I left that tree behind because of state plant material transport. Now I work with this shohin version and build it up. It has made its home in the blue pot for several years. The trunk has fused nicely and root development is good but could be better. Therefore, I up-potted it into a deeper pot to pump up the roots and the trunk. This will mean that I will battle leaf size again. More room and fresh soil causes them to grow large again for a while. I will work at cutting back the larger ones and keep the smaller ones for the rest of the summer

schefflera, leaf reduction is fantastic and the trunk has been thickening nicely. This will go into a new bigger pot for a while to continue development.
schefflera roots of two trunks merged toghther
schefflera after re-potting. This new pot will allow for renewed root growth and will lead to larger foliage that I will have to work to reduce again.
















The Ficus Micoarpa was in a small shohin pot as well. It is time to encourage more root growth and branch development so it was potted in a larger deeper bot to build strength.

Ficus microcarpa grafted on “ginseng” base. This tree is being moved to a much larger pot to improve root development and foliage mass. It has been showing in a nice shohin pot of many years and it is time to build it up again for a bit.











The gem of my summer collection are my Brazilian Raintree and the Trinidad Flame Bush. The flame bush was features earlier this summer when it was re-potted. Now it is grows like crazy creating new branches. I will introduce it during a demo in July to SBBK in San Mateo. Most have not seen this rare species. The Brazilian Raintree is in its glory now producing spectacular foliage and very long thorns. Sad to say that we have discovered that the trees that develop thorns generally do not bloom. I am not discouraged because the tree is so unique in this area and makes a stunning display.

Brazilian Raintree update. Summer is here and this beauty is just putting on the growth.





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Cork Oak Progress Update

Purchased this cork oak from a nursery in southern California in 2009. It was in a standard nursery pot from a bonsai grower. When I got it home I was shocked to see that its roots were mostly 4 plus inches below the soil level with a stick in between with only a few small feeder roods in the nebari. So, I left it to develop roots, In 2010, I re-potted it into a grow pot and waited for the corking to begin and roots to continue to develop.

2010 Cork Oak









Today the tree has a nice canopy and has been producing considerable foliage. I wanted to re-pot this one before the heat started to build in my area. We were able to get it out of the grow pot to find copious root grown and get it placed in a more appropriate pot.

Cork Oak re-potting 2018
Cork Oak 2018 before re-potting
Cork Oak 2018 after re-potting
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Daiymo Oak Update

Daimyo Oak 2018

The Daimyo Oak is the king of my collection. It has such a provenance. Seed carried from Japan by a club member and planted in 1960. Fifty-eight years ago this was an acorn. It was styled by that club member and then upon his passing, donated to the Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt. It went up for action there when too many trees were in the collection and an older tree existed. It hardly had any branches when I bid for it and won it for an unbelievable price; I think people did not know its background. Over the years it has evolved and gone to show many times. Today, I present this 2018 version after re-potting. I took it to Sensei Kathy Shaner along the way and changed it direction completely. Today, it is my star tree with smaller leaves than ever before. The retrospective seen here is a great way of documenting the evolution of your trees. Every year I take a clean photo of each tree to keeps it history of development.  This used to be done in printed photos and tree cards. We have come a long way.


Daimyo Oak from the Kusamura Bonsai Club Show
Daimyo Oak before redesign. Look for the story coming soon. Tree is over 50 years old.

Diamyo Oak redesign formal presentation.

Peak of seasonal color on the Daimyo Oak
Daiymo Oak 2010
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May 2: Planning Tropical Tree Summer Work

Today I revisit my little tropical collection to plan for the summer design work. I will be doing a demo in July and need to get these trees planned for that period. Descriptions are on the tree photos. If you notice a white material on the leaves; that is from the high mineral content of San Jose, CA water. I use leaf bright to clean that off. Since these will go to demo that work will be done during that time.

Ficus on Ginseng graft. These are sometime very difficult to manage but I have been able to keep the ginseng root section under control and develop the upper canopy. This year the center will be opened up to get more of a designed top.
Schefflera triple trunk is a new tree from a cutting 3 years ago. Notice the leaf size. Leaf reduction has been incredible on this cutting as they tend not to resort to the large original leaves. These trunks will be moved soon to open up the top of the tree. Still working on ramification of branches.
Ficus Microcarpa has been in training as a shohin bonsai for many years now. Since it is just getting warm outside the leaf growth is a bit big but those will be removed to create a smaller tighter canopy.
Schefflera bonsai, this was originally a cutting from a hardware store, It has now developed a nice compact trunk and leaf size reduction has gone very well. This year it will get some tie-downs to open up the canopy.
Western Fig. In development for over 20 years. Original owner grew this as as standard size bonsai but it did not develop well. I have been developing it as a shohin bonsai for 10 years. It was re-potted this year and is being allowed tg grow.
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A Slow Day In April

Right now I am handicapped with a hand injury and lingering issues from sickness. That give me time to catch up on some stories and ask others to move trees around so I can putter about for a while.

This past weekend the local bonsai club asked if  I would demo the creation of a Saikei; a Japanese style landscape planing using rocks and various plant material. They were  popular in the US in the 1950s. I agreed and produced a fine example but made the comment that I did not generally like them in the collection because they were not classical bonsai, had a mix of species, were too heavy to move around, and required constant attention. Well, truth be told I have one remaining in my collection that is a not to Saikei but not with a mix of tree species or even a specific scene.

Olive Saikei front before cleanup. I need to balance the foliage mass on both sides.

I started this olive Saikei over 10 years ago with two young olive plants and a large lace rock. It has gone to show a few times and is favored because it was hard  to tell the difference between the rock and a stump.

The trees have developed nicely. They, like all olives require seasonal care of old foliage removal and thinning in order to keep them healthy.




Olive Saikei nebari developing nicely. These were just two Juvenal trees 10 years ago.
Olive Saikei prior to clean up. Showing the two trees in this planting that are developing a nice root system.
Olive: love to see the bark forming on an olive. This little young twig when I started this planting is being to bark up.
Olive transition from old growth to young growth. I am working to redevelop internal branching.

Other olives needed seasonal work as well.

Old olive in recovery, nice bark development.
Old olive in recovery. This was a shohin olive of over 20 years of age. It suffered greatly and this is an update on its recovery. This year it will have free range to grow.











Then, there was the need to tame the Trident Maple story. This is a new tree in the collection. This year we are working to develop lower branches,thicken up primary ones, and develop an official apex.

Trident maple after spring flush of growth. We are developing lower branches and curtailing the top growth.
Trident maple after 1st pruning. The horizontal branches will continue to run again to develop those branch thickness while a new apex is finally underway.











Then of course I need to revisit a few of my favorite trees. Notes are below the images.

Peruvian Pepper tree this year will undergo a balance of growth in the foliage. Keeping the strong shoot pointed down to move growth to other branches.
Revisiting an old favorite. Spring is starting to make the Peruvian Pepper tree to push new growth. This is the trunk detail.
Daiymo Oak with Spring foliage.
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2018 Kusamura Bonsai Show Prep

It is show time next weekend so there is a lot of final cleanup and show display stand testing. We preset all the trees with a stand so we know we have the correct ones for the display. Not too large, not too small, the correct color, correct tree placement. As usually I do not have all the perfect stands…. This means beg and borrow where needed. That is what we do in a club; share and share again.  Nice to have trees going to show that have never been there before.

2018 Show Prep: Boxwood
2018 Show Prep: stand 1 Silverberry
2018 Show Prep: Stand 2 Silverberry
2018 Show Prep: Shohin display
2018 Show Prep: Sierra Juniper
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Boxwood Out of Dormancy and Getting Ready for Show

This stump has been in training for over 10 years. The past 3 years has seen a massive change in how it is pruned and shaped. The carving was completed and now the branches are thriving. This will go to show in its new Gremel pot. As this tree develops it will take on more of an Oak style. The inside will remain cleaned out and the branches with thicken.  Nice evolution on this tree.








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Preparing a Tree for its First Show

I have a Sierra Juniper that has been in training since 2009 that will make its first show appearance. Is is perfect and national show worth; oh heck no, but it has been an effort of love and desire to see where the master who set the design fulfilled. This year, Master Mitsuya will come back to the US from Japan for the GSBF Convention and I think it would be fun to take this back to him and show the evolution. It may take another direction, who is to know. For now want to show the labor of 9 years to the public and explain the how it has gotten where it is. Hope you enjoy.

Sierra Juniper, collected stump, in training 9 years.
Sierra Juniper, collected stump, 1 year after initial style plan set by Master Mitsuya. His vision was to create a softly weeping style that could in nature have been created by snow and harsh weather.
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Later January: Yet More Re-potting Projects

Here is late January I needed to re-pot a client black pine. The original pot was just too tight so I was off to Japantown to get a new one. The idea was to create more room for finer roots and provide some more space in the pot. Although I would normally use a rectangle I opted for this oval. In the re-potting I found old river sand from the original soil mix near the trunk. I was able to remove that and create drainage areas for near the trunk.

Client Tree: Black Pine. Weaker than it should be, it is scheduled to re-pot soon.
Client Black Pine re-potting













Also today, I took on the Daimyo Oak re-potting as the buds were beginning to set. It had been it its original show pot for many years and I wanted decrease depth and increase the horizontal root area. The new Jim Gremel pot was a perfect choice.

Daimyo Oak: I was surprised by the abundance and strength of the root development in 3 years.
Daimyo Oak: Working on the vigorous root growth.
Daimyo Oak: New Jim Gremel pot setting up nicely.
Daimyo Oak: At home in its new Jim Gremel pot.








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A Not So Ordinary January Day

Since the USA government experienced a closure I used the time to visit a client and work on some trees. I had seen that many had become over grown during the Fall last year. I started working on the pines. Two pines here. One with a lovely movement and the other a bit chunky. The Black Pine with the great movement like to grow very dense bud areas, we wish all our pines had this problem. But eventually the material is just too dense. It was clean up time to allow the sun on those new buds.

Client Tree: Black Pine. After cleanup. I love the movement in this tree. It will re-pot at a new angle soon.
Client Tree: Black Pine. Before cleanup. This tree like to grow thick dense needle groups.










The next Black Pine is distressed and has been since it came up to northern CA 7 years ago. I have been slowly re-potting the tree since the root mass was hard as a rock when it arrived. This is a slow process of removing areas of old soil and year after year moving to a different area to work. I also think the pot is too small but I will work another area of roots and keep it in this container for now. The entire top of the tree needs to be redesigned.

Client Tree: Black Pine. Weaker than it should be, it is scheduled to re-pot soon.
Client Tree: Black Pine. Before cleanup. This tree so needs a redesign.









My lovely friend, the shimpaku prior cascade was also over grown. It was time to clean it up and work on ramification of branches. It is looking lovely. Hard to believe it was once a cascade.

Client Shimpaku. Posted a pic of this tree over grown. It is cleaned up now with a domed top. This used to be a cascade years ago.










The Liquid Amber group came north later than the others and it had already suffered. It has spent the last two years growing. This year, I wanted to start working on some branch formation and setting a new apex. This tree has lovely leaves in the summer and fall. It is a labor of love to rework this one.


Client Tree: Liquid Amber – recovering from acclimatized shock. Lost a central core of the group. It has been rebuilding for a few years. – Before trim back.

Client Tree: Liquid Amber – recovering from acclimatized shock. After cleanup. It has a long way to go.

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From a Cutting – to a Tree

This little client trees has been developing from a cutting for the past 8 years. It has developed a considerable root mass and significant foliage to begin to style. The grow pot it was in is not a good container so we went of to Japantown in San Jose to get something more fitting.

The foliage was thick and considerable material was gathered in the branch crotches and of course growing the in the wrong directions. I cut the tree back to main branches and then wired them. Some of the wire is major structural wire to bend the larger branches. Small beginner shari have been created on the trunk in areas were the trunk needs to look less flat. Those will scar nicely in the coming year and be extend later.

Client tree, from cutting, 8 years old. Tree has been growing and developing a nice base and some stronger branches over the years.
Client Tree, Shimpaku, from cutting 8 years old. After styling and re-potting.
Client Tree, Shimpaku, from cutting. Nice tight root ball has formed.
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California Juniper Client Project – Reinvention

Today, we had the opportunity to reinvent an old tree. Seven years ago a client’s collection came up to the Bay Area from Southern California. The collection was in dire straits have been neglect due to the owner’s poor health and the client wanted to save the trees. I am so glad she chose to do that.

When they arrived here, many had not been re-potted for countless years, all suffered from poor soil and poor watering. The first thing I did was to up-pot or emergency re-pot to save the trees. I had to create drainage, unlock the trees from the pots so water could get to the root ball and often did not have a better pot to place the trees in at at that time. As the years have gone by, I have brought new pots for the trees to the client and improved the collection. Trees that had barely any foliage exploded with new growth. Today the trees look completely different from their original form but I have usually tried to honor the original style but not always. This brings us the the project of the day.

The California juniper arrive as two trunks in a small cascade pot. After the tree acclimated to the new surroundings I chose a new pot for the tree that would allow for extensive root growth and recovery and waited to the tree to tell me it was ready for work. I have consulted several of my local teachers on a possible design of the tree. The upright nature of the tree was just not very pleasing having two trunks not talking to each other.

Original tree design as it arrive from SoCAL. Note the cascade pot. It is amazing that a tree of this size could get health in such a small pot. The work is being done because the foliage has recovered. When it arrive from the south there was very little green left on the two trunks.



The goal now was to create a design that allow the branches to tell a more realistic story of how they would grow in the deserts of SoCAL. Having been on a dig for these beautiful trees, I knew we need to honor that image of the wild.  The new pot, frees the root ball from this tight cascade pot and will allow them to grown horizontally as we need them to.

New pot. This is a large rectangle pot that has a about a 4+ inch depth to hold the root ball. Our goal was not to bare root and not to cut much root from the tree at this time.








Next, we had to work on the foliage. A foliage reduction of the unruly mass had to be done. We cleaned out dense areas where too much material came from one location. We also wired out branches that flowed into the new design. The foliage path needed to flow out in the direction of the new position and a new distinct apex was needed on the two living trunks.

Original tree design. Foliage reduction and basic structural wiring.
Rear view of the original design.
Rear view after branch reduction.

So my goal was to split the trunk (separate deadwood trunk from the live line) and create a three trunk tree. This would allow me to later preserve the dead wood which was suffering from termites and rot. After splitting the trunk evidence was found of termite damage in the main trunk. That will be sealed and preserved soon when the wood has time to dry out. I will use a brush to clean the wood and then preserve it with PC Petrifyer. The separation is being held in place for the time being with a copper pin that brace the two trucks away from each other. Next was to change the orientation of the tree, lowering the flying branch to the left and giving space to the other two trucks, thus creating a standard triangle form of the composition.

New orientation, new front, three trunk view. Foliage needs to develop now. Some wiring has been done after branch reduction.
Rear view: new orientation.

The placement of the tree will now allow root development and foliage expansion. The tree is now ready to start a new journey for future development. As always, these these project never end on the first day; rather, take years of development and finesse.




The tree is watered in and will rest and recover from the work before the next phase begins.
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January 2018: Pygmy Cypress Styling Part II

This year I used my pygmy cypress as a Christmas tree in the house for a week, decorated with lights and a few balls. It was full and shaped like a typical Christmas tree. However, now that those days have passed by for the year, the tree needed to move back outside. While inside the house it had continued to grow and lengthen branches.

Mendocino Pygmy Cypress tanuki after wiring and styling




After reviewing some new material on styling the pygmy cypress on an online bonsai class demonstration, I knew this tree had to be transformed and soon. It has a growth patter of constant elongation of a single branch. This causes considerable growth of fine material but not consolidated masses of foliage; this often results in the loss of considerable internal growth. The tree will bud back when exposed to sun so I know I can get some of the material development closer to the trunk again. Branches were cut back to a pair of horizontal buds, eliminating downward buds and reducing the upper growing buds. This can be done because the growth patter is 2 perpendicular and 2 vertical buds. Reducing the foliage in this fashion reveals the trees.

Pygmy Cypress after new 2018 cleanup.

This composition is actually the marriage of 2 Pygmy Cypress trees to a Utah Juniper stump (a Tanuki). I have been working on this tree for many years now and the new cypress trees were container grown saplings. The Utah Juniper has a lot of history and when the tree died I chose to make this creation. The true front of the tree is a little bit more rotation to the right. Now that the branches are exposed, I will begin exploring new styling options to more realistically portray a Pygmy Cypress in nature.

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A New Year, a New Design

It has just turned 2018, and the winter tasks are in full swing. Re-potting, wiring, and deciduous tree development is in process. Today I started preparing the Daimyo Oak for its 58th year. Wiring must be applied carefully especially to the younger fleshy branches. The larger branches are still quiet movable.

Daimyo Oak: 58 years old, Wire example of caged wire to prevent scaring.

I am adjusting the front per the long term plan so some heavier wire (#14) was added to the heavier branches while (#16) was applied to the smaller ones. The wire is not tight on the branch; rather it is forming a cage as to avoid scaring and avoiding contact near a bud. In the last club show the top was incorrect due to strong growth at the apex. That is now corrected by moving a branch to the back. I have now positioned branches in anticipation of where the leaves will develop. Daiymo Oaks have a large leaf and the select branches must be designed so that they have room to sit in the design. The Apex is bent down to the front a bit in anticipation of new buds forming to create a back branch in that area.

Daimyo Oak: 57 years old, Pre-2018 styling
Daimyo Oak: 58 years old, After styling.

The Daimyo has been in this current pot for many years, simply being re-potted and returned to it. Next month as the buds begin to swell I will transplant it to a new pot more fitting to the size of the canopy and providing a bit more room for root development.

Daimyo Oak: 58 years old, After styling and with proposed new pot.









I also starting working on a season favorite, Chinese Quince, as its leaves are just dropping and buds setting up for Spring. This is a young tree in bonsai terms and still needs considerable structural wiring and design. We had hopped for a tread graft to succeed but, alas, it failed. This means that an important leader branch on the left side is still missing. I am working to develop two branches in that area still. The tree is very strong on the right side and branches had to be cleaned out and carefully wired to get them in position. Many of those branches will be cut back during the next year as ramification occurs.

Chinese Quince 2018 before wiring. Tree has been in growth period for the past year.



The top was greatly reduced. This tree has a very strong apex that I will need to control next year. The goal is to create a domed top instead of this point but I must be careful not to let the branches thicken as they did last year.

Chinese Quince after restyling
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2017 Fall into Winter

It has been a very colorful year in Santa Clara. We normally do not get to enjoy such color in our trees where I live. As the leaves are now falling from all the neighborhood maples, liquid amber and such I settling into a different mindset. The year comes to and end. Most of the growing seasons concludes. Cold weather protection will be needed for the tropical trees and the Brazilian Raintree is already in the house under its grow light for the length of the winter.

Daimyo Oak in full fall color has now gone and been defoliated for the winter.
Closeup of the final colors of 2017. Glorious this year.
Today’s view of the Boston Ivy, finally making its true colors known.

This is a time of reflection, a time of endings with the promise of new beginnings. I will eagerly await the renewal both in trees, spirit, and heart.

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Glamour Shot at Peak of Season

Sometimes you just have to feel like a proud papa. Today is peak of season for this wonderful old tree. Many years it never gets a chance to show off it colors. This year green, red, yellow graced the view every day thanks to the current weather here. Now, the Daimyo Oak reaches peak and from here the leaves will bronze and crisp so I could not resist the change to honor the tree with its glamour shot. Hope you enjoy.

Peak of seasonal color on the Daimyo Oak
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Olive Overhaul Project Day 1

Christine W. got this wonderful olive stump at the GSBF convention workshop in Sacramento a year ago this weekend. So in honor of that special time, we set a date to take on the project and carve it to distinction. First issue was the the sheer height of the tree. It could not fit in any current vehicle so a height reduction was required. Also, the taper at the top was a real design challenge because, essentially, there was none.

Original Olive front from the convention workshop.

We began our team work with David M, Christine W, and  myself. We needed to establish the front view and then find a natural apex. The apex was easy because convenient foliage was available. The big saw came out and thanks to David’s skill he managed to reduce the top within range where we could still have some to carve. After several batches of stump removal with the saw we stopped and and said, more. So we spent considerable time removing chucks of the trunk until we found a shape to work with.


Then each of us took to the dremel and DeWalt carving tools to get a design on the tree. This continues for over 4 hours. When working this kind of wood, I like to take it in batches, look at what the wood is offering and go at it again. David and I each had a vision and Christine yet another so we took time communicating all those plans and executed them.

David M. and Jerry working to reduce the height of the tree.
David M. begins carving the backside of the Olive.
I get in there with the carving tools and make some wood fly.
David M. Continues working on the back while I sit and contemplate the initial side carvings.
Christine W. looks over the initial carving and bids us go much further and of course we did.
David opening up the back.
It takes a lot of team work and long periods working the carving tools. Best to sit on the bench and get busy.
This was the original back of the olive before carving began.
Christine and David working in tandem with dueling carving tools.










































The end of day 1 work shows a tree artfully carved and still in need of refinement. Now the wood can rest a bit, the tree regain some energy and we can go at it again in the future.

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The Art of the Rescue

Often when we dream of working on bonsai we see ourselves surrounded by master class trees hundreds of years old, wiring and refining branches, enhancing deadwood, or returning to shaping of the foliage. However, much of the work we do for clients is rescue work. Let me paint this story for you: Client has inherited some trees and loves the art of bonsai. Her husband gives her a tree purchase from some show long ago and of course she has an attachment to it. The client may not know much about caring for the trees but loves them.

This was the sun side of the tree. All of the foliage was going one way and is so dense that the sun never made it back inside the branches so that the foliage is only on the very ends of each branch.

So here goes the rescue work. After years of watering and some minimal feeding, the trees live. They are not rotated and grown one sided as they sit in the shade under the eve of a house. I get the call to come help save the tree which I gladly do for the love the art. I have some clients who have great collections so you never know what you will find.

This is the story of a juniper species that was root-bound, not wired in the pot so that when the tree is moved it just falls over and is placed back up-right. Where to start?  Look at the tree and imagine what it looked like when it was young. Prepare the pot and tie-downs. Prepare the soil, then, starting working the root ball to free those roots, teasing them carefully. Place the tree with the best front, tie it in well, and begin shaping.



Tree has been tied-down and branch wiring begins.

That is not normally how it is done. I usually shape and wire before transplanting but when the tree is falling out of the container you have to change it up some.  Then wire, thin and style to get it on its way; keep imagining what the trees would be like in the future and start setting branches. In this case,



I am opening the tree up to encourage back-budding so I hope to cut off all this existing foliage in the future, decreasing the size by more than half and restoring this to shohin style. That will take some work but the rescue mission and achieve the ultimate goal with care.

The final form for now opens up all the branches to allow sun and hopefully back-budding so the tree can be reduced.
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October Odds and Ends

October 1 brings a noticeable change in light on the trees. Soon the focus of work will change to re-potting but I took this day to catch up on some trees that were in grow phase.

There was the Peruvian Pepper tree trunk that has been in development for years, trying to find the correct way to develop branches where they need to be on this little truck. The challenge is that this is a little stump and the leaves tend to grow very large and long. My experiment is to reduce leaf size and develop new ramified branches. Now years latter, I finally go it to where I could do some wiring.

Peruvian Pepper tree. Years in development trying to get branches to develop where I wanted them to be. Wired it up and trimmed.









My Mendocino Pygmy Cypress tankui has been features several times. This summer it has grown well and recovered from my branch selection process earlier this year. Today, I wired or used guide wires to get some branches placed. It is finally starting to look like a fun tree. The foliage doesn’t seem to like summer wiring so it is wired in Aluminium and caged to not be tight on the branches.

Mendocino Pygmy Cypress tanuki after wiring and styling
Mendocino Pygmy Cypress tanuki prior to styling









My little California Juniper got some more work today. It is about to go into a growth phase now that the rainy season is coming. It was trimmed and rewired a bit.








Olive update. My recover tree is doing very well. It put on many new branches and took on some more wire. Progress is good.  And finally, got some wire on the Brazilian Raintree. Been working it for some time to get branches developed to wire. It is almost end of season for this one as I will come inside under the grow light once temps go into the 50s.

Olive in Recovery update. I posted this one some time ago. Now it is recovering branches with lots of new growth.
Brazilian Rain tree. Finally developed branches for some shaping.


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Another Olive Stump Begins the Journey

This is a typical wonderful day here in Santa Clara, CA. Lovely afternoon to work on trees. Late September is the final time to set up my olives for winter growth. I had one last olive stump to open up. Originally the base of a 6′ tall wild growth, it has been reduced over the years. I have kept it cut back to create foliage near the stump itself. Years ago none of this material existed. Prior to wiring out the stump looks like a weird young tree with all the branches reaching for the sky, similar to all the young trees you see for olive harvesting as you drive south on Hwy 5. The goal of today was create depth, open the tree up for fall/winter sun and begin to give it a bonsai style. It is wired with copper wire in a caged fashion that will not bite into the thin olive skin. The wire will be removed in early spring as the tree begins its aggressive growth phase.

Olive stump prior to wiring and shaping. Lots of young growth low to the stump.
Olive stump after wiring and shaping creating much more depth and age to the tree.
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Cleanup Summer Foliage

Today was one of those sick days you have to go outside and work on trees. Many of the shimpaku junipers were let grow to recover from a bad year past. Between too much heat, sun, and stress most suffered. So this year they were in grow mode to recover. However; we got some brutal heat this summer and the trees stressed out again, the good thing is that I had not cut them hard and wired them. In the heat of summer the foliage looked very tired. After the passing of the worst heat, it was time to open up the foliage, define branches and do a little restyling.


Shimpaku, Before cleanup 2017
Shimpaku, After cleanup 2017

The first project was this shimpaku. It has always suffered since I got it more than 7 years ago. The bottom branch was too weak and split; I had been trying to keep it strong but never won the battle. So now it is a jin. The foliage on the top was tired and burned but there was new growth appear now that the heat had passed.



This next tree is a San Jose Juniper. They are difficult trees at the best of times but this one suffered after re-potting last year and styling so it was let grow out to get stronger. I let that take its course before restyling it. It has a long ways to go and its mixed juvenal foliage and mature textured foliage will mix again soon.

San Jose Juniper, Before cleanup 2017
San Jose Juniper, After styling 2017









My next project was another Shimpaku Juniper.This tree has been in the collection over 10 years. It has suffered just like my other shimpaku from too much heat and sun. Last year after re-potting we were hit with a heat wave. Most of the trunk on the right side died and I feared for the tree. This year after growing out it was time to ‘start over’ on this one. Cleanup of the dense foliage and dropping some branches will put this on the way to recovery.

Shimpaku, Before cleanup 2017
Shimpaku, After cleanup 2017









Still another Shimpaku Junper, one of may favorite long term projects from the GSBF workshop with Jim Gremel needed cleaned up as well. This one was destined to a show earlier this year but the heat decimated this one in its shallow pot. Cleaned up now it will be on its way to recovery.

Shimpaku, Before cleanup 2017
Shimpaku, After cleanup 2017








I also worked on some other small projects today. Cleaning up a shohin black pine, and continued working on this lovely Potentilla. Since joining the collection this year it has come a long way from a bush.

Potentilla, Still working on the basic design since this one joined the collection this summer. It has come a long way since bush style.


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A Final Farewell to Trees

Today, I had the opportunity to work for one of my long time clients. I have worked for him for about 5 years on a small collection of trees that were purchased from Kusamura Bonsai Club show sales tables. When I started working on them they were not in good shape. The owner had purchased them many years ago and was just hanging on to them and they were just alive. Some trees are a joy to work on. We rehabilitated an old ficus that is now quiet a lovely thing. Some of the other trees are passable now having added branches and such. One of the big projects we had was separating a group of three oddly matched Juniper compacta. Originally all three trees were in the same pot and going different directions. Today, two remain in a pot together and one stands alone as a lovely tree.

The client is retiring and moving up to Santa Rosa. So I gave the trees some love to keep them going in the year to come and said goodbye to Steve. He intends to learn much more about the art of bonsai in his new place and I hope he can connect with the nice people of REBS sometime in the future.

Juniper Procumbins compacta, 2017 pre cleanup. Client tree. SF
Juniper Procumbins compacta, 2017. Two of the trees from a group of three now growing strong together. After cleanup
Juniper Procumbins compacta, 2017 after cleanup. Client tree, SF
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Last of the Summer: Re-potting Those Warm Weather Lovers

The heat wave here in California broke today leaving humid heat in the upper 80s. That is perfect time to sneak outside and re-pot those trees that still have time to settle in the warm Fall heat and prepare for winter. Trees that love work this time of year are boxwood, olives, ficus, and subtropical trees. My boxwood needed considerable work when I tested the  soil recently.

Boxwood at the beginning of the re-potting process. Out of the pot and teasing roots free of soil.
Boxwood became root-bound in just a few years. This is solid mass of roots.
Boxwood summer re-potting shows is was really in need of work. The root mass had exhausted the soil mixture leave just a mass of roots. This tree was re-potted just a few years ago.
Boxwood after root pruning and set in the pot for tie-down.
Boxwood in new pot made by Jim Gremel.



















This being the end of summer I checked on some small olives, black bamboo and re-potted those as well. The rest of my olives had been worked on earlier in the summer. However, the ficus microcarpa had quickly become root bound this year. I found the roots has fused in the pot. Those fused roots take up considerable space in the pot and had to be cut back to allow room for more root development.

Root bound ficus was extremely congested. This was re-potted last year.
Ficus become root bound and roots fuse into a solid mass. We must cut into that mass to make room for more roots.
2017 FIcus after re-potting.










All these trees will have time to harden up and be stable for the Fall. In this part of California we always end up having along warm stretch into September and October before the rains come.

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September Bay Area Heat Wave

Today temperatures in the SF Bay Area, Santa Clara region, peaked at 101 in the shade. Temps reached 108 degrees. For my bonsai friends around the bay, remember to cool down those pots. You may have to water twice a day in some areas of full sun. Humidity is only 14% where I am so things are drying out fast. Soil temperatures on my black pine pot was over 120 degrees before watering.

Take steps protect your trees. The tree below, the olives, are loving the hot temps and is drought resistant. After watering today the leave are busting out every where and dark green. They will enjoy the watering and humidity I introduced much more.

Olive after re-potting, I kept this one in the same pot.
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August Working – Boxwood

This month all my tropical bonsai have been thinned and cut back in anticipation of the next growth spurt. The tropical collection is substantially deduced in foliage, removing old larger leaves so that we can get smaller leaves and more ramification. Olives have been worked much in the same way this month. Best to remove old hardened leaves and let new growth use the energy from fertilizers and create more branches.

August is typically a time I refine boxwood as well since in our growing season, new leaves will form into the early Fall. My boxwood is cleaned about twice a year, allowing for branch refinement and wiring activities. I was asked why I would so severely reduce the foliage this way. The answer is this; no natural mechanism will remove old leaves in a bonsai culture except for disease, lack of light, and pests. None of those options are good for the tree. Therefore; I reduce the leaves to allow sun, water, and air circulation through the tree. By pulling off all the crotch leaves and removing the dense foliage areas you allow the growth to be more healthy. Secondly, I open up the tree this way for wiring. It is nearly impossible to wire a boxwood with so many leaves and small branches. By removing the foliage inside the branch structure you can choose the branches for development, remove the unwanted material, and clear a path for wire.

Boxwood, 2017, After leaf reduction, branch selection. This will allow clear path for wiring and branch refinement.
Boxwood, 2017, prior to thinning and branch selection.
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Culmination of a Big Summer Project

This summer we realize a project that has been in our dreams for years. We needed to replace old rotting bonsai benches and need to have more space for the trees.  So, an ex-coworker of mine that retired, started making benches for her own family and I asked if she would be interested in my project. Thanks to Marcella, she took it on and created new benches. We needed to replace old rotting display stands and potting area as well and David worked tirelessly to put a new system in place as well as clean out all the old bark base under the stands. Today we see the project completed. When you have great trees, you should display and grow them in a healthy environment. Now the trees have space not to be crowded with two levels of stands and the larger trees stand on benches on the ends.

Thanks to David and Marcella for making this happen.

New Bonsai benches by Marcella

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Sierra Juniper Retrospective 2008-2017

This morning I sat down to wire a fascinating tree. This Sierra Juniper, purchased in 2008, at a REBS bonsai show vendor table has development so much in nine years. I purchased the species as a trial to see if I could grow it where I lived. It was to be a unique species in my collection of junipers along side the Shimpaku, California Juniper, San Jose Junipers, and Procumbins. I loved the bluish delicate foliage.

Bonsai is always a labor of love. You let them grow, periodically re-pot them, feed them, trim, trim, and more trimming. After all that sometimes you forget to look back where it began.

After purchasing the material, I had the opportunity to work with Master Mitsuya from Japan. He looked at the material and expressed it would be an excellent weeping style tree, one of his favorite styles. I was skeptical but he set to wiring the tree and he set the branches. He advised me to develop it this way over the years to come. Now it is wired for display in anticipation of an upcoming Kusamura Bonsai Club event that host Mitsuya’s student, Master Kathy Shaner. It will be interesting to get her feedback on the tree.

Sierra Juniper – 2008, original material purchased at REBS, Redwood Empire Bonsai Club show event vendor sale. The tree was taken to Master Mitsuya in 2009 to pondered the possibilities of the tree in a weeping format. Show here after the styling at a Kusamura Bonsai Club event short after first styling.
Sierra Juniper, 2017 after wiring for display at Master Kathy Shaner’s demo, Kathy was a student of Master Mitsuya in Japan, on California natives at the Kusamura Bonsai Club meeting.
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2017 Kusamura Bonsai Club Glamour Shots

We have concluded our 2017 show and I wanted to post some draft photos of my small tree display. More to come later as I work on the photos. Thanks to our photographer, Sabrina Huang. In the coming weeks I will be working up the best photos for publications. These are just draft teasers.

Ficus Microcarpa
Porcelain Berry
Boston Ivy
Ficus graft to ginseng base
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Dressed for 2017 Show

Spent the morning putting final touches on the trees for show this weekend. For details on the show you can find us at, on Facebook at: or

Kusamura Bonsai Club Annual Show!
June 24 – 25
Lucie Stern Community Center, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
Show Hours: Saturday-June 24 (Noon to 5PM).

These some of what I will be showing. The Diamyo Oak will also make an appearance. Wish I had more time to work up the big trees but work travel has really hampered getting that work done.

2017 Tropical and Ivy collection. Even some mame in there.

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Planning for a June 2017 Show Proves Challenging

Kusamura Bonsai Club usually has its annual show in April when temps are cooler and trees are at their Spring finery. This year; however, the show is June 24/25. It just so happens that the temperatures in the unpredictable California weather pattern this year have gone over 100 degrees for several days. Trees take that hard in some cases and stop growing. I got home from work today to find soil temperatures over 90 degrees in the shade.I can only ponder what it was while they sat in the sun. So, obviously, pour on the water and cool those pots down and lessen the stress on the trees. Still there is foliage on trees I will show that are just suffering and wilting in the heat. On Wednesday this week I will need to bring the show trees indoors to keep the foliage it the temps remain so high.

The tropical trees love this weather. As you can see in the images that some are running away and having  fun. The pepper tree is blooming to create those lovely spicy kernels,the brazilian raintree is starting to sing the all the ficus are robust as always now. All this join while my boston ivy for show looks like it is weeping with sadness. Hope it can come back in the cool shade inside for a few days.

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The King Takes the Throne

Today the King of the collection takes his throne. I have been getting the Daimyo Oak ready for show at Filoli Estate and Garden Flower Show. The show will take place on June 3-4 at Filoli located in Redwood City. Be sure to check out the club mini-show to be held there in honor of the event.  As for the oak, I see changes I need to make on it. It is a never ending process of refinement.  At the top I have a branch that needs shaped and wired lower and I will get to that after this mini-show and before the main club show. A few other minor refinements to make it good to for this year.

Daimyo Oak, 57 years old, grown from seed hand-carried from Japan

Quercus dentata – Wikipedia

Quercus dentata, also called Korean oak, Japanese emperor oak, also daimyo oak (Japanese: カシワ or 柏, kashiwa; simplified Chinese: 柞栎; traditional Chinese: 柞櫟; pinyin: zuòlì; Korean: 떡갈나무, tteokgalnamu) is a species of oak native to Japan, Korea and China. The name of the tree is often translated as “sweet oak” in English to distinguish it from Western varieties.[3]

Quercus dentata is a deciduous tree growing up to 20–25 m tall, with a trunk up to 1 m diameter. Its foliage is remarkable for its size, among the largest of all oaks, consisting of a short hairy petiole, 1–1.5 cm long, and a blade 10–40 cm long and 15–30 cm broad, with a shallowly lobed margin; the form is reminiscent of an enormous pedunculate oak leaf. The leaves are often retained dead on the tree into winter. Both sides of the leaf are initially downy with the upper surface becoming smooth.[3]

The flowers are produced in May; the male flowers are pendulous catkins. The female flowers are sessile, growing near the tips of new shoots, producing acorns 1.2–2.3 cm long and 1.2–1.5 cm broad, in broad, bushy-scaled cups; the acorns mature in September to October.[3]

Filoli information: and


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Summer is Show Time

There are several bay area shows coming up and my June is looking terrible. I may make it but life intervenes with regular work and unpredictable schedules. In the mean time I put up my Diamyo Oak to stand back and take a look. I had to thin out some super dense leaf groups and then notices I had an antenna; a double apex that cannot show that way. This will take some careful wiring for the month of May to prepare to show in June.Need to clean up the nebari too. Off to get some more wire and then wire this fellow up this week. I am just back from traveling for work so my energy level is only about as good as looking at the problem today. They I think I will take a nap 🙂


This Japanese oak is now 27 years old, cultivated from seed carried from Japan in 1960.

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Earth Day and the Art of Bonsai

I am celebrating Earth Day today by enjoying the trees gathered in my collection. Enjoying their beauty and their contribution to the planet. So many people live in hermetically sealed apartments and home with no lawn or garden, no trees and maybe a postage stamp of grass. In Bonsai we work to preserve nature and in some cases can collect endangered species to preserve them for the future. We handle our trees with care, ensure they are fed the best natural foods, water them carefully with our limited resources. Why do we do this? To bring nature back into our lives while enjoying the living art. Contributing oxygen back into our planet where we are surrounded by concrete and glass structures. I am reminded of this as I drive around the Bay area and witness endless miles of pavement, buildings crowed together and limited heat radiating man-made surfaces. Get out in the air today, breathe some clean air away from exhaust, put down the electronic devices and listen to the sounds of nature around you. Stop and smell the flowers? Yes that too.

A range of tree species from lemon, tropical, oak and pine
Rabbit’s Foot fern joins the Kusamono collection after years of development from a cutting.
Celebrating plant diversity with boxwood, olive sierra juniper, pygmy cypress, shimpaku juniper, pepper tree and more. Contributing to the the planets health and enjoying living art.
Quince, juniper, olive, and more in a celebration of Earth Day.
Celebrating natures color and blooms: 2 very different geranium species and a Boston Ivy. I love the color and textures of these trees.
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A Lovely Day in April

It is a lovely humid day in April here in Santa Clara, CA. So I could not resist spending some time with the trees. It is  that time of year to check on trees for pests, halt aggressive growth and to clean out dense growth. The boxwood got mot of the attention. Tropical trees are starting to push strong now and pines are pushing huge candles that will need to be tipped soon. Olives begin to get their infestation of white fly so they had to be treated systemically and with foliage sprays. Some trees are waking with surprises. Those are the mystery trees that end up not being what you were expected but being beautiful anyway.

Olive has so many years to go and the journey has already been a long one.
Boxwood stump after thinning.
Boxwood prior to thinning.
Not the expected beauty berry more like an geranium.
Schefleura coming on strong early.
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2017 Spring Cleaning

Today was the perfect day to clean up the garden, shed winter, and prepare trees for the sunny part of the day. Everything was moved, cleaned of weeds and debris, rotated and staged for placements. The weed base under the stands had to be sprayed with weed killer this week. I had a runaway accent plant that turns out to be super invasive. That was pulled last year and sprayed but it came back with a passion. Trees were all moved and the weed base was sprayed. I look forward to controlling that mess. That same weed likes to spread to the trees too, so those had to be taken out by the roots from the pots.

Once the area was sprayed, the trees were rearranged for summer light. Some trees can take the hot direct sun while others must be now sheltered. Trees like Sierra Junipers, Shimpaku, and similar species must be placed in cooler shadier areas of the patio and will be pulled back out of the daily roast later in the year. Pines, olives, oaks and tropical trees can take the hotter temperatures and will get strong in the direct sun.

Tropical, shohin, and oaks to get long periods of direct sun.
This table gets early light and then shades down in the afternoon. Later in the summer it will get at least 5 hours of intense sun. Mame, shohin, tropical, and recently repotted items are staged here.
The garden view features, Chinese Quince, boxwood, olives Sierra Juniper, Black Pine, Junipers, cedar. One thing I always like is a mix of textures in my trees.
My other extended sun table features, Pepper Tree, juniper, palm accent, cedars, shohin silverberry, and more.


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2017 Winter into Spring

It has been a very odd year for bonsai in northern California this year. We have been having extremely mild temperatures and tons, and I mean tons, of rain. This after 5 + years of drought has turned our schedules into mud. Along with the rain comes the need to improve drainage by tipping pots, rotating them of often, sheltering some plants for periods of less water, severely interrupted re-potting schedules. Taking trees out of the rain for a few days to drain before re-potting is essential; otherwise, we rip roots and work in mud.

There is too much moss everywhere and a constant effort must be made to clean the nebari of the trees to stop moss from climbing trunks. However, I can clean a tree and 5 days later have to do it again. Since temperatures have been so mild and wet we also now have to battle pests like adelgid in our pines, fungus in slow draining pots, and root rot. I am having to pull pines out of the rain, wait for a few days and spray them, and keep them out of the rain for a few more days.

So I gave up waiting for the rain to slow or stop and just began re-potting the few trees I had on this year’s schedule. A Chinese quince was overdue and was going into a much bigger pot. It should have been done last Fall, so I know it will not bloom this year. I let it drain well and moved into its new larger pot. It has some thread grafts on it that will be cut this year and then I will have to carefully wire it with paper wrapped wire once the tree is well established in its pot. I got the chance to get to a wind influenced maple before it leafed out. It has quiet a story of its own. Also go my mame and accessory plants underway.

Wind influenced Acer P. This was originally an air layer. I lost a whole top of the tree last year in the heat and drought so I am going to see what happens in this new pot.
Chinese quince with thread grafts made it into a larger pot finally. You may notice a large cut root at the base; that was reduced in strength last year and had lost importance to the tree and was removed. I will work that down some more this year.
Sheltered trees from the rain. A recent acquisition, small grape, is already pushing buds. Most of these are tropical or semi tropical trees that have lived outside most of the winter this year.
Boston Ivy, a recent purchase from a bonsai colleague of mine. This is a very old tree that had not been re-potted in some years but has now moved into a pot to show its leaves and moving trunk. Wish I had the age of this one.
Rain, rain, rain. Everything is waiting patiently for the sun. I think it looks my little dense forest.
Mame pots were recently gifted my by a painter friend of mine. They are now hosts to accessory plants and some small bonsai trees that will be styled once they settle into their pots. Mame in California are challenging with high heat and dryness. They will require shelter and tray with water all summer long.


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Winter Rain in California

This is one of those precious days in northern California when the rain just keeps coming down. The trees are getting their water, cleaning, and flushing for the next few days. It is also good that this is tropical moisture and the temperatures are not that cold. So, in this area, we say bring it on. One important note though it is remember to check the trees and ensure they are draining. Some pots will get tipped soon to let the water drain more quickly from them. This will keep the moisture controllable and not cause root damage. Be sure to no let water sit long in your pots. Place a block under one side of the pot allowing gravity to pull the water. Rotate to block to the other side in a few days to continue the draining. On trees that may be in need of re-potting, I pull them out of the heavy rain. Thankfully I only have one in that condition that was going to get new soil the week, but alas, the rains came.


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Fall into Winter

Wow, Fall came and went quickly while I was working client trees and now we are falling in Winter. That means we enter potting season. I had 12 trees re-potted last year so the work is a bit easier this winter. I have some Chinese Quince finally going dormant that needs to be done as well as some of the hardy Junipers. Pictures coming soon of the quince re-potting. In my living conditions some trees take a long time to go quiet but the leaves are now all golden and it will be a mater of days before I begin the work. Happy Re-potting season, Spring will be here before we know it and our lives will be elbow deep in Spring re-potting chores.


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I have not written much but that doesn’t mean it has been a quiet time. Along the way there have been many trees re-potted and styled. I have to document some of that journey for the site soon.

This week I am on a very specific journey. I am preparing for a demonstration for SBBK in San Mateo, CA. They requested someone demonstrate the creation of the the Phoenix graft or Tanuki. This is not a demo we see much here. I completed all the researching on past and present philosophy of its creation and whether your are of the school that they are not true bonsai or not some can be created very  convincingly.  I wrote on article on the philosophy in the most recent release of GSBF Golden Statements, Nebari Net, that takes on the controversy.

Marking a clear path to follow for the carving tools. This image shows the termination at the top of the wood.
Marking the entry point of the tree a the base of the wood. This area must be channeled wider to accommodate the trunk of the whip that will be used.
Marking the movement mid-way in on the wood. Here the tree will disappear behind the wood only to reemerge at the top most portion.
Carving begins with a deep channel that the tree will sit inside of; make sure the channel is deep and smooth.
Deadwood is staged in the pot after channel is cut. This deadwood will be placed on a small piece of wood nailed to the bottom to keep it flat to the pot bottom. The bottom structure will then be tied down inside the pot.

I have enjoyed working and styling many of these phoenix graft trees over the years. Some of the most convincing trees start with a trunk with great twisting movement, such as a California Juniper stump, and is designed where you can see the live material originating in the front of the tree. It can then disappear and reappear along the movement of the the tree. Finding the wood is the first effort. Mapping out the path with a sharpie following a natural waterline of the material is second. Using good tools to create a big enough channel for the living material to sit inside of it is most important. A shallow channel or too narrow and the living material will not be as integrated into the deadwood and look nailed-on.

Update: 8/21/2016 –

Today was time to use PC Petrifier to harden the deadwood that is wanted in the final design and at the base. Today We will drill wood blocks to the base for the deadwood so that it will stand higher in the pot. Those blocks will be tied into the pot with copper wire just before the tree is run in the channel. Blocks are drilled into the bottom of the deadwood to complete the standing trunk at the height desired for the design.

Tanuki material is a blue shimpaku whip. This is a view of the completed staging for the demo.
Deadwood is screwed into the block to keep it in place. I am using two wood blocked screwed together to provide the correct height of the piece. The screw heads will be used to help anchor the block to the pot.
Close up of the wood blocks and their placement in the pot. I will use copper wire from under the pot to secure the blocks.
The stump has been treated with PC Petrifier to preserve the deadwood in the final design.
Tools of the trade are often a Dremel. In this case the job is made much more easy by using the high powered Dewalt grinder with various sized grinder bit. My thanks to David M for letting me use his tools. I would have take hours to do the same job with the standard dremel tool set.
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Today I needed to be a re-potting crazy man and managed to get all of this year’s re-potting done minus one tree!  I had not re-potted some of the olives for over 5 years as I was more concerned with creating good roots and styling foliage. This could not last another year. With the great temperatures all the olives have been pushing aggressive new growth. Along with the olives I had trees in grow pots or containers that need to move to office bonsai pots, tropical trees that needed refinement before I could to my special exhibit at our club show in May, and some overdue trees. I worked on 2 Schefflera that is coming along nicely, a western fig that received its (every 4 years) hair cut, a dwarf bottle brush that finally need to go into a bonsai grow pot.

Western Fig before trimming.
Bottlebrush after re-potting in bonsai grow pot.
Western Fig after branch reduction.
Bottlebrush staging for tie-down. Chopsticks used to protect roots.
Bottlebrush from nursery. It has been growing a few years to develop branches.
Schefflera branch work. Foliage reduction had gone well.
Another little Schefflera cut back in demonstration last fall is developing nicely.





























I then began my work on the olives. Some of the olives required considerable root work. They had developed excellent root and now needed to be lowered down into new pots. Sometimes larger hard wood areas had to be removed and chiseled away. I staged each tree with several new pots to find the ones that will work the best.

Olive clump in new pot. The pot is a Jim Barret award port from GSBF and shows off this tree nicely.
Olive after re-potting. It remained in its original pot. Now it will need to grow and recover some nice foliage.
Staging clump with its new pot.
Olive clump during re-potting.
Olive clump used to be 6 feet tall!. It has reduced this this and is now in a new pot. Time to develop a new canopy.
Staging olive clump in new pot.
Olive clump in original pot. It had been in this pot for 5 years and needed a change.
Olive clump root mass was healthy and tight.
Olive clump after root pruning.
The tall clump required considerable hardwood removal to seat in the pot at the correct height.
Small olive clump after re-potting and branch reduction.
Staging small olive clump with new pot.
Little olive clump had developed great roots over the years.
The little olive clump also required considerable hardwood removal to seat in the pot.





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Today I set out to repot a few trees. This year our seasons are advancing very quickly and trees are putting on a great amount of new growth. It has been above 50 degrees at night on my terrace and tropical trees are continuously moving with new buds so I have begun working on Silverberry, creeping figs, boxwood trees and many more standard trees such as junipers. Some trees are moving to new pots because the have been developing much better and can be enjoyed in smaller ornate pots.  The boxwood had not been re-potted for at least 5 years and had developed a very thick root ball. I removed most of that  root ball so I could place it lower in the pot. The juniper re-potting was to move it up in refinement; it had been raw material 3 years ago and it is now in a pot that it can remain in for many years. The Silverberry had been in a development pot for 5 years as well and now get a new home in a Jim Gremel pot that highlights the strength of the tree. The creeping fig has been thickening up the nebari and trunk in and growing as a slant; however, since it has developed some new lower branches, I thought it time to raise it up and redevelop the tree. Tomorrow, I will start on the olives.

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President’s Day 2016

You know it is a great day when you pop out of bed on a holiday and run for the woods, well, in this case the trees on the patio.  Today, I needed to accomplish the re-potting of the my Sierra Juniper. I have had this tree for about 6 years and it began as not a very interesting stick. I had the wonderful opportunity to work with Master Mitsuya on its initial styling into a weeping design. It has been maintained that way every sense. Back budding has not been very successful so I tend to allow foliage to develop in the upper branches and then bend them down over the older branches . On a few occasions I have been able to replace bare branches with new dense foliage ones. This year I was also able to get rid of a heavy underground root because I have managed to develop a great deal of small feeder roots. That made me happy.

Sierra Juniper after re=potting
Sierra Juniper after re=potting
Sierra Juniper before re-potting.
Sierra Juniper before re-potting.
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February 2016

Today I toured through my trees looking for growth progress. I was surprised by what I saw. The weather the past few weeks have seen temps in the 70’s and night time temps in the 50’s so trees are showing unexpected signs of movement. I also a seeing the first ever blossoms on my Chinese quince. After so many years of only green leaves this is a great sign of a happy tree. Maples are in leaf already (so I can not re-pot them), pines are showing movement and even the western fig is moving buds. All too early but the climate had changed so much.  Great news on my Brazilian Raintree as well, the new grow light has made it flourish.

Brazilian Raintree under grow light.
Brazilian Raintree under grow light.
Chinese Quince with first ever blossoms.
Chinese Quince with first ever blossoms.
Acer in early season leaf.
Acer in early season leaf.
Western Fig pushing buds.
Western Fig pushing buds.
Silverberry must think it is summer.
Silverberry must think it is summer.
Pines pushing buds.
Pines pushing buds.
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The re-potting madness has set in. I am busy cleaning up trees, re-potting and generally getting rid of winter mosses and weeds. This year we have been blessed by rain in California but as I was re-potting trees I was reminded why we must water our plants anyway. Some of the root mass was too dry. These drier roots got a bath of VF-11 and water while they awaited a new pot. I managed to make it through a number of shimpaku that are still somewhat dormant but beginning to green up. Cleaning and taking wire off trees was a big focus. I was surprised to see that my maples are already starting to leaf!  Way to early for those.  One of my Shimpaku trees was a convention tree for GSBF Modesto and was originally style in a workshop with Jim Gremel. Nice to see it flushing.WP_20160207_12_39_05_Rich_LI WP_20160207_12_39_22_Rich_LI

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In my collection of trees I have tropical and subtropical trees along with the standard California mix. The Peruvian Pepper is one of those special trees. I have been working on a little stump I found at the Sumagawa Nursery near Santa Rosa, CA. It was in a large container in a forsaken section of the the nursery grounds. I live around them and was interested in finding a tree I could attempt to train as a bonsai. Over the years I have found that it develops heavy tubular roots with very will on them. So cutting the roots had to be done carefully as to not lose a section of branches in the canopy.

The pepper is re-potted in the summer like most of the rest of the subtropical species I have. Today, was the day. I am always surprised by the amount of roots it creates. There were lots of fine roots this time so I could cut away some of the larger tubular roots. I cut back the foliage and started the process. The trunk itself is very wide but not very tall and this presents a design challenge. I am working to create branch ramification but that is a very slow process. I am having some success. I have left a longer growing apex branch to attempt a stronger central line for the tree. However in a month or so I will reduce it again and try for some branching. I have had to use a great number of sacrifice branches over the years.

Peruvian Pepper bonsai:  After re-potting
Peruvian Pepper bonsai: After re-potting
Peruvian Pepper bonsai:  out of the pot.
Peruvian Pepper bonsai: out of the pot.
Peruvian Pepper bonsai: Soil mix contains the deciduous mix.
Peruvian Pepper bonsai: Soil mix contains the deciduous mix.
Peruvian Pepper bonsai:  taken out of the pot and beginning root work.
Peruvian Pepper bonsai: taken out of the pot and beginning root work.
Peruvian Pepper bonsai:  tubular root removed now that find roots are developed
Peruvian Pepper bonsai: tubular root removed now that find roots are developed
Peruvian Pepper bonsai: Root mass of fine roots finally developing.
Peruvian Pepper bonsai: Root mass of fine roots finally developing.
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Today ends my 2 year journey to test the viability of turface as a substitute for akadama growing medium for sample bonsai in my collection. It has been recommended in club meetings and by cost conscious bonsai artists over the past few years as the price of Japanese Akadama has increased. Over the past year I have lost a small pine completely and weakened some tropical trees and young plants.  Today, however, I took the last tree in the experimental mix to check the results. Over the two year period I had noticed the struggling foliage on the juniper procumbins with concern. I had fertilized and watered like all the rest of the juniper but this one was not growing much at all. The mix was 70% turface, 10% pumice, 10% lava, 10% fur bark.  The fur bark had completely decomposed.  I hydrated my trees as usual before the re-potting process.

I found that the turface held a lot of water and the juniper was not draining well. The turface was breaking down into power holding even more water. What was most disturbing was the lack of root growth. Normally when potting a tree after two years I would be cutting off roots. Not in this case. There was evidence of negative root growth so I did not trim roots at all. The juniper is now re-potted in the standard 70% akadama, with mixture of pumice, lava, kiryu. I am looking forward to better root development and thus a better foliage mass.

So my end results are that turface, holds a lot of water, breaks down to powder quickly and fails to hold nutrients that feed the tree. It can discourage root development and weaken the plant. I have also been doing soil temperature testing an found the turface medium had a slower rate of heat retention from the akadama mixes and dissipated heat much faster. After having several species either fail or weaken I will never recommend turface as an akadama replacement. I have read this from many bonsai purists but wanted to test it for myself. Even though turface is an inexpensive medium alternative, akadama proves it offers much better nutrient holding because of its surface structure and inherent nutritional benefits. I would rather pay the extra for healthy plants.

The root mass show negative root development in turface medium.
The root mass show negative root development in turface medium.
Tree has weakened substantially.
Tree has weakened substantially.
The turface material has broken down considerably in 2 years.
The turface material has broken down considerably in 2 years.
The foliage mass of the juniper is suffering.
The foliage mass of the juniper is suffering.
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