Turn that bougie upside-down 

This, I believe (I’ll have another beer) is a pink pixie bouganvillea. It just might be a purple one though.  

   It is thornless, and that is what makes me believe in the pink pixie paradigm (sounds like a conspiracy theory. Or a punk rock band). Although I dunno why they calls it pink. It’s more of a lilac. Maybe orchid or lavender even.  

 But that would confuse you, calling a bougie’s color lilac, orchid or lavender. That might be the conspiracy, calling a shade of purple, pink, to test the color sensitivity of plant collectors in order to dupe them when they start selling puce colored candy canes for Christmas (a nickel to whomever can tell me what that reference is from) 

Or maybe just the guy that hybridized it wasn’t able to pass the color tone test from the last blog. But that hypotheses is boring. Pointing out the inequities of my fellow man is the recreation of choice when I’m tying one on at the bar, not for my bonsai blog. Unless I happen to be writing  while I’m sitting at ‘ye old watering hole. Which I suspect some of my dear readers are thinking is happening at the moment. To the tree! 

   Pretty cool. And short/fat too. I got the tree years ago from a man named, amazingly, John Petterson. He has the deepest, most resonant voice in bonsai, I believe. He is often tapped as the auctioneer at various clubs’ Christmas parties. I don’t know what that has to do with bonsai but…..sold, to the man in back with the cane!

Anyway, I had Jason Osborne in for the last NoNaMé Bonsai studygroup meeting and somehow (don’t remember how) I showed him the tree and he held it all crooked like and said, quote “You know Boss, this would make a keen semi-cascade….”  

I looked at him, all crooked like, and said, quote “I think you are correct, Chef…” To which he replied, quote “fer sure, dude….” I looked at him even more crooked like (hey, if I’m going to make up dialogue I might as well get a laugh or two. He is a chef btw. In fact, some of my best bonsai friends are chefs, or rehabbing chefs (chef-ery is sometimes an addiction). There’s Jason, Ryan, Glenn…..well, that’s it I guess….and who puts a parentheses  inside a parentheses any way?) 

You know what comes next, right? Defoliation! 


It needed it, fer sure, dude. 

New, semi-cascade enabling, pot.  


You see all the branches? What I’ve been doing to this tree (and this is the way to develop a bougie) is topiary (or hedge) pruning. 

 Then, when the time comes to style it (and with a thin, but narrative, word salad to accompany the pics) you suddenly have all kinds of branches to prune, wire and bend now. 



And bend! 

It’s gonna look all cool and stuff with flowers (pink or lilac or whatever color they are).

Hum. It seems we have a little more space to fill……how about an update on a Willow leaf ficus we’ve been watching?  A ficus salicaria from this post.  

If you don’t follow the Facebook page, you’ll have missed the last update on it (Click here to see)  

The wire is, again, beginning to cut in. 

But the main cascading branch is creeping back up. 

This was at the beginning: 


This was after the first styling: 


And after the second styling:  


And now, today: 


I’m going to have to reapply some heavy wire to the branch or this will be a formal upright in just a few months.  

And, unfortunately, it ain’t gonna be pretty.  


But, sometimes we have to make our trees ugly so that they will be more beautiful in the future.  

I have a feeling I’ll have to keep this wire on until some serious scarring occurs, and then wrap it in the opposite direction and do the same. Maybe even a third time. We shall see. 

Some more wire.  


A cool meme you can share with your peeps:

And I’m done. It’s Miller Time™!


The very first visiting artist I ever saw (a Canadian, if you can believe that…in Florida!) called cascades the “pain in the neck” style. I thought it was bacause of the angle you have to hold your head when working on them. I now realize, after training them for several years, that he called them that because they don’t want to grow that way. You have to fight the tree at every step. I think it would have been less confusing if he had called it a “pain in the ass” style. But they are, to steal from the above mentioned Ryan, a dynamic and dramatic tree to view. 

And that makes it worth it. 

Posted in branch placement, progression, redesign, Uncategorized, updates, wiring | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Japanese boxwood redux

Time to trim my boxwood. Way over time actually. It’s late September here in the hot F-L-A. So maybe it’s not a good time for you….or maybe so…..depends on your first frost date usually. I won’t have a frost until maybe January, February (that’s right, that’s how we roll in Florida…). If you have the time for  new growth to harden off before your first frost, go ahead and trim. I’m going to say at least a month or even two.  Or, if not, and you want to trim, you’ll just have to protect the tree over the winter. 

On the boxwood, that means the new growth has turned from light green to dark green and the leaf has actually hardened, it’s waxy and shiny. The new growth is almost rubbery (called “succulent” by horticulturists and gormands…well, not gourmands, unless they’re talking about roast duck) and dull. You’ve seen this tree before (click here to see its wonderful and amazing journey, filled with sketches, diagrams and 9×10, full color, glossy photographs to illustrate the story, there’s even a video with some awesome music here)  I’m going to clean and treat the deadwood and define the live vein.  

Or rather, I’m going to show my student Johnathan how to do it and sit back to take pictures.  

  It’s at this, oh-so-critical point that he tells me that he’s slightly green/red colorblind. You see (which he couldn’t) the cambium under the bark on a boxwood is green. The same green as the leaves actually, which he could distinguish, but next to the tan bark he just saw it as a darker shade of tan. Very interesting how the eye works, I won’t get into it but I will say this, people don’t all see the same colors. (Click here for a fun, or frustrating, game that tests your color hue sensitivity. It’s not designed to test color blindness, to test that Click here. How well did you do? If you failed the second one, just remember, for all of us drivers safety,  the red light is on top of the traffic light, the green is on bottom) 

We discovered a startling discovery.  

 The bark is only living here, between my fingers. I’d say only about 20-25% is alive.  

 Ok. Time to think.  

Let’s look at the tree again. 

This isn’t a juniper. The thin live  vein will keep deteriorating and the top will ultimately die. I’m thinking that this is an opportunity. An opportunity for ART!

  Or at least some artful chopping. And it gives Johnathan some more work to learn on.  
   Peeling the bark with a Jin plier involves crushing said bark with said plier and then peeling said bark  off the tree. Once you get the hang of it, it’s easy-peasy.  
It’s starting to come together. Needs a little haircut though.  

And it’s really just a return to basics. Remove the older leaves. Make sure the shoots growing from on the top and the bottom of the branch are removed. Any shoots in the branch crotches and where there are more than two emerging from branch junctions should be removed. We want forks, not tridents.  

 This is the new bud on a boxwood. The spearpoint looking thingy (technically the shape is called a  a bodkin point, a spear/arrowhead point designed for piercing armor).  

 When removing the old leaf, make sure you don’t damage the bud, or the tree will have to waste energy making a new bud before it can replace the leaf. 

Now for some detail carving and lime sulfur.       

It’s going to be a year or so until the new deadwood ages and whitens (or greys out, really) to match up with the older deadwood. 

I’m not going to repot now (not the best time) but I think I’ll change the front just slightly when I do (around March). Maybe a rotation about 10 degrees counter-clockwise.  
 Watch the Facebook or Instagram feeds for updated pics, I expect it to pop new growth pretty quickly. Fertilizer, light water and slight shade (for today, just to protect from sunburn on the branches with the heavy pruning I just did. But, in the winter, full sun, cold winds and boxwoods don’t go together. Those two things, cold and full sun, cause the boxwood to catalyze the chlorophyll in the leaves and turn it to beta carotene, changing  them from green to orange. If this happens, you need to remove the orange leaves or they could kill the branch). And that’s all for today. 

Next post, I’ll explore the neck bending actuality of a semi-cascade bougainvillea.  

Posted in maintenance, rare finds, roots, updates | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Podocarpus? Podo-crazy!

A bucket of podocarpus trimmings. If it could be smoked, I’d move to Colorado and make more money selling it than I’d ever make doing bonsai. Or not. Maybe.  I know of at least  two bonsai professionals just waiting for legalization in their respective states to begin another horticultural enterprise. Let me show you what I’ve been up to lately. 

Four podos, especial and stuff, for ya’ll.   




I know, the last one is interesting. Let’s begin with the first one though. Just to be regular and things.  

This was my second tree to be exhibited at the Epcot International Flower and Garden festival. It just needs a trim. Well, a hard trim. I need a step stool though, it’s a little tall for me.  

I had let the tree go a little to regain some strength from the show. But that was three years ago, so it’s time for The Scissor Discipline.  

I’ll let it grow through the winter, trimming the shoots for ramification, and then start really pushing it hard in the spring. 

Next, a podo you’ve seen before: click here. Read that post if you  really want to learn about the podocarpus. I’ll just touch on the topic a bit in this post.  

The tree has grown out quite a lot, which you’d know if you read the first post about this tree. I was on a good track keeping the leaves reduced, but I lost a month (have you seen where June went? I need to defoliate my trident maples…..) 

Here’re the leaves, the big one is the newer one.  

I had really gotten them that small. It’s a real battle though, with each new seasonal growth spurt, the tree wants to push out those big leaves. I’ll show you one technique to reduce the leaf size and increase ramification a little later on in the program. 

First, I consider the front of the tree to be like so. 


And it might be this warm, old, honey wheat ale speaking but I’m feeling the need to adjust its attitude in the pot.  

 I’m a little out of season doing this but I’m not really doing a repot.   
What I’m doing could be equated with planting the tree in the ground. 

  When you plant a tree in the ground you are supposed to rough up the root ball to stimulate new root growth. I’m not doing much more than this here. 

Or it’s just that ale talking. I hope I didn’t kill it. Oh, I killed the ale, it’s so much more easy to chug when it’s warm. 

Next podocarpus is the first tree I ever collected.  

It was during a field trip put on by the Central Florida Bonsai Club to a members home who was removing her old landscape to make room for a new house. The first styling and carving happened years later in a demonstration for the Bonsai Society of Brevard.  

That’s me, probably telling a dirty joke about how hard the wood is and how much I like to work it. My bud Mike won the tree in the raffle and granted me custodianship of the tree to develop it (because it was my first collected tree, he thought I should keep it). 

This one too isn’t in the pot quite right either (one could say that I’m not sitting in my pot quite right either) 

I can’t just turn it in the pot like I did with the previous tree because the pot is too small. Or the roots are too big, you decide. But I can put it into a round pot that’s bigger.  

 Now I’ll show you how I begin the process of ramification and leaf reduction. First, so I don’t mess up my fresh soil…. Like this…


I’ll take the opportunity to slip in a product placement whilst protecting the soil at the same time.  Available soon on the website, the Adam’s Art and Bonsai shop towel. Perfect for polishing your tools, masking a branch to see if you need it in the design, or just wiping the sweat from your brow after a hard days work on bonsai. Taking orders now!

And now, back to the program.  

Step one: I defoliated most of the leaves except the ones towards the edge. Those were cut in half. This reduces the leaf surface area, stimulating the tree to put out more shoots (the leaf surface area for a tree is a fixed thing that that tree needs for photosynthesis and a tree will rush to put out new leaves, often doubling the number of them, when they’ve been removed.  But once that surface area limit has been met, those leaves stop getting bigger. That’s basically how we reduce leaf size. The more leaves, the smaller they get.) 

I need to redo the carving, I’m still not satisfied with it yet.  

 Maybe next month. I need to study it some more. Next!

  This tree belongs to my friend Bobby. He entrusted it to me when he was moving to South Africa for a non profit he had started. He told me to develop it.  Defoliate, cut the tips, a little wire (a lot) and….. 

This branch is in an odd place but we need a lower back branch. 

And, again, as seems to be the theme, I’d like to twist the tree in the pot.  

Now to the carving. 

 The original carving was done by a certain famous bonsai artist of whom will remain nameless. I’m not a fan of the swirly sharp stick style,so I tried to make it a little more natural. I’m still not satisfied with it, so…… 

Not bad. I still might shorten it. I need to study it some more too. 

Some fire and a wire brush, then some lime sulfur. 

And that’s that. In case you were curious, this work took place over several days. Hence the different beverages and light levels/intensities. The wiring on the last tree took about two hours or so. 

On all of them I fertilized heavily. Here in Florida I’ll get what I call a second spring. Most trees here stop growing during the summer, just soaking in the sun and storing energy. But, when the temps begin to cool, they’ll put out a whole new flush of growth before winter. This second spring is why you should be jealous of us Florida bonsai growers.  

Posted in branch placement, carving, refine, updates, wiring, yamadori | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

A broken bonsai tool

Here’s a short post that might help you out, but is really just to make myself look more awesome. Because I am you know, just ask anyone. Unless your name is Mike. For some reason, all my life anyone named Mike just couldn’t appreciate my magnificence. Or they did in the beginning, but something happened that dissuaded them from the true and righteous path that I follow. 

A tool. No, I don’t mean the Mikes of the world, but a bonsai tool. 


Being the hoarder I am, I won’t throw it away. I shall attempt to repair it. And with what shall I fix it, dear Liza, dear Liza? Why, with my mini angle grinder, that’s what I’ll use.  

 I have two wheels I’m using: a regular grinding wheel…. 

And a flap disc, which is comprised of overlapping layers of sand paper.  

 This might be 150 grit. I’m not sure. 

Then, after all the grinding and smoothing, I will turn to a diamond card to sharpen it.  

 This one is a medium grit I believe. 

Let me get to work.  First is grinding it so that the tips are even. 

Next, to address the chipped cutting edge.  

For this I switch to the flap disc.  

   That was the easy part. Now I have to fix the geometry. Firstly, the cutting edges should be parallel. Secondly, one cutting edge should overlap the other. No, really, they shouldn’t meet but one slides over the other. If they didn’t, the first time you used it, and the edges met, they’d blunt themselves. 
The edges look good but the angles they were originally ground at no longer meet because I’ve removed material. 

This pic shows the gap better.  

 Now it’s a matter of grinding down the edges to match, a little on both sides. But, since I’m doing that, I’ll need to grind down the detante as well.  

That little knobby thing is to keep the tool from deflecting too much when the cutting edges do meet. 

A little sharpening and I’m done.  

It’s not perfect but it’ll do. Please don’t take the brand the tool is as an example of a tool that may break like this. In fact, any tool with a hard enough cutting edge that is also sharpenable is also inherently brittle. It’s just the way metal works. 

Posted in maintenance, tips and tricks | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Please give support for a new bonsai art book that is in production

I don’t generally like to push things upon my readers (except for my arrogant prose and my questionable bonsai stylings, I guess…) but I recently got an email from a well known, professional photographer heaping praise upon me and my blogs content (ok, it was more like him saying he enjoyed the way I showed step by step steps, but I’ll take what I can get) and telling me about his own bonsai project he’s been working on for a year. 

The photographers name is Stephen Voss and if you visit his website stephenvoss.com (don’t be scared off by the portrait of former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan’s stern visage on the front page. Or the other politicians and politicos for that matter, he does live in Washington D.C., the belly of the beast, so to say, and he’s a talented, famous photog) you’ll see how gifted he is. Click around in the menu and you’ll see that he’s very able to tell stories with his pics. His is not just a camera, not just a recording device for events or things, his pictures are, to use a cliché, worth a thousand words. I particularly like this one, chronicling a closed Detroit school.  

It’s a model of an ear. 

Getting back to his year long labor of love concerning bonsai. He’s been working on a book, called “In Training” that not only portrays bonsai as sculpture and art but gives views that only the bonsai artist generally sees.  

These up close shots are why I do bonsai, and any art, for that matter. The twisted crook of a branch, the aged bit of bleached Jin, cracking in the sun, the emergent, swelling bud, in the early morning, springtime dew, the strong, gripping, nebari, anchoring the tree in the earth, giving the tree presence, existence in the world. 

These views are, typically, never shown in bonsai books or blogs. The usual view we see is one of the full frontal shot, as Robert Stevens calls it, the centerfold shot. It doesn’t leave much to the imagination, these formal portraits. 

But to get this book published (in today’s age, an art book on bonsai is a tough sell to the major publishers)  Stephen has a Kickstarter page that is nearly at its goal ($14,000) but has, at this writing (the 18th of September, 2015) only 14 days left in the campaign. 

I plan on supporting it. How about you? If just half of my readers gave $10, the project would be fully funded.  

Thank you if you do.  

The Kickstarter page is Here. Watch the video, read the story.  Pledge something. $5 won’t bust your budget. The project is so close to funding and is worthy of your support.  Don’t let those corporate hacks in the publishing industry tell you, from on high, what you should be reading. 

Bonsai is art. 

Posted in Art, philosophical rant | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Crackpot bonsai

 See now and be satisfied for before you is a broken pot.  

And a drain-hole screen.  

Secure the screen, securely. 


Tie-down wire for tying down. 


Ficus salicaria root cuttings.  From last year. Radically reaching rooted root cuttings ready for rearranging.  


I like the big one. Take that comment as you will. 


Prune the roots. Gently. 

Shave the reverse taper down. Shave it down man. Just shave it. 

With the knife (if you’re reading this aloud it should be pronounced ka-nife)  


Some wire. All-you-min-eeeee-ummm-why-urrrrr. 

Soil, only the best, Supermix™.  

The tree. Tie it down.  

Backfill, chopstick it in, fertilize and…. that is all. 

I like this last pic as the front.  

It’s mysterious. It makes you slightly annoyed that you can’t see the soil and you have to look around the side to see it. Insidious. Subversive. Iconoclastic. 

And that’s the way it is. 

Posted in philosophical rant, rare finds, roots, styling bonsai, wiring | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

See, if you just wait ten years, you, too, can have a bonsai. 

Ten years.    

Yeah, it took ten years to grow that trunk to my satisfaction. It was about the same height when I got it from my first teacher, Ray Aldridge. He was closing his nursery at the time and he gave it to me. Ten years of no bonsai techniques at all. Just topiary trimming once a year (it was at the entrance to The Nook so it was trimmed so I could see if someone was sneaking up on me)   
When I got the tree, you could see through the trunk and those aerial roots. Not so much now. I hadn’t really looked at it closely until Jonathan pulled it out of the ground. Wait!? You don’t know Johnathan yet? He’s my new student, apprentice really.

Here he is modeling the new Series 16 flush cutters from American Bonsai Tools. He wants to learn and, more importantly, wants to help. I can’t lift quite what I usta coulda and he helps with that. It’s kind of frustrating, having this ileostomy (which is basically a controlled, purposeful hernia; my small intestine is poking out of my abdomen. It makes it a challenge lifting. I have nightmares of my intestine popping out of my stomach like a jack-in-the-box or the old nuts-in-a-jar gag. BOING!)
It’s so frustrating that I sometimes feel like Driving Miss Daisy (if you don’t know the reference, either look it up, or to hell with you). 
Anyway, Johnathan had to cut the tree out of the ground (it’s a schefflera arboricola, a dwarf umbrella tree. Most of the time they are not very good bonsai; it takes a huge trunk with copious aerial roots to really begin to look tree-like, or they sometimes work as a forest planting) I had had the tree sitting on a wooden pallet and, in those ten years, the tree sent roots down into the earth and subsumed the pallet, crushing it beneath itself. Growing into the ground really helped the development. This one looks like a huge banyan tree to me. I’m even going to brag a bit and say that it’s the best trunk I’ve seen on one, ever. But that might just me being a proud papa. It’s a little tall 

  …ok, a lot tall. But the secret to growing a trunk is having enough leaves to feed it and, more importantly, let it get tall….
 ….then you cut it back, then get tall again, and cut it back, etc. One could say that this growing and chopping is a bonsai technique but, you know what, they use the same technique growing Christmas trees too (I must admit, I have said, in the past, that the large scale commercial bonsai farms in Japan growing black pine bonsai are producing nothing more than Japanese Christmas trees. Imagine acres and acres of near identical pines, about 2 feet tall, with the first branch on the right and the corresponding bend in the trunk…..first branch, second branch, back branch HAI! It’s like they’re all dancing to the same tune-probably “Watch me (Whip/Nae Nae)” by Silentó. If you know the song you are laughing on the floor. The moyogi style looks just like the dance……….if you are brave, look up the video. I warn you, it’ll be stuck in your head all day). 
  Anyway, this isn’t anywhere near a moyogi Japanese black pine. It’s more like a monster ficus, slowly devouring a hapless village over a thousand years. That’s a powerful tree. 

I think it’s a choppin’ time! 

 I’m keeping it a little taller than I would, normally, to allow for dieback. A schefflera is a very node specific plant, meaning that a new leaf or branch will only grow where there’s a visible node.  

 If I make a cut anywhere in the internodal area, the branch will just die back to the next node. It’s annoying but, if you are aware of it, it’s predictable. 
Next we pot it down. That’s right, into a smaller pot. This will slow growth (maybe, this tree is a monster) and shorten those internodes a bit. Here’s the pot.   

To give you scale, the pot with Johnathan.     

The pot seems big but, compared to the roots of the schefflera?   
The big pot came from Judy, down in Ft. Myers, after a private carving session she hired me for. She was way too generous (I thank you very much, Judy!), she even gave me this Willow leaf ficus.    

In a Japanese pot no doubt.  

 I was admiring the nebari, the root base…..   

…..and she told me to take it. She really enjoys the posts I make on Facebook and said I had to post the development. You can see where the root bifurcation technique was used to improve the nebari. 
A little trim. 

 There’s a bit of reverse taper from swollen buds. 

Which I shaved down.   

The Willow leaf doesn’t have a problem producing internodal growth. It’s a battle sometimes in stopping new buds from forming. 

Then I briefly contemplated removing the second trunk.  

Nah! If I did that, to quote my casual acquaintance, Seth,

 “…it would make it look like a hundred other Willow leaf shohin.” 
 I’ll keep it. But in a different pot.  

I could use some more wire but I’ll let it grow a bit more, then, the wire. 

It’ll be a nice tree in a year or so. Thank you again Judy, for the tree and the big pot, which is coming in useful right about now…. 


What’s surprising to me is how loose the roots are. It’s been in that pot for ten years but it’s not a solid mass. If it were a ficu, it’d be a brick I’d have to take a pick-axe to. There are still too many roots and they’re too big for the chosen pot. 
Let’s get out the big boy tools.  

Where’s that 16 inch flush cutter? I’ve nicknamed it “The Amputator”. 
When cutting back tropical and deciduous trees for their first bonsai pot (and only if they’ve been strong growing and untouched for years) I always cut those downward growing roots as high up in the rootball as I can. Even if I’m putting it into a deeper pot (unlike this operation) I’ll cut them as though they’re going into a shallow pot. The reasoning is this: the tree, after all those years of strong growth, won’t have as much energy as it does now (when you begin growing a tree as a bonsai, it tends to weaken it to a degree) and gradually reducing the big roots (as many people teach) is like death by a thousand paper cuts. I should note that even though I am in Florida, I still should have done this root pruning last month, at the latest (it’s September now, so cross your fingers). Always do work in the correct season. I’m confident that the strength of this tree will get it through. But don’t you do it. Especially those of you in the Great White North. 
So, with the big roots cut back… 

….and some serious chopsticking…. 

We manage to shoehorn the tree into its new home.  

This will actually be my first real attempt at schefflera bonsai, so it’ll be a learning experience for us all. 
What do you think? Acceptable? 

Like I said, I left those branches long and even left more than I’ll use in the final design of the tree, but I think it’s a good start. And to those of you saying that I should have kept the tree in that bigger pot to speed development, nope. I want slower growth now. In that big pot I would get foot long shoots in weeks. I don’t want that. I want short internodes and increased ramification and the smaller leaves that that creates. It’s time for bonsai techniques now.
 And with that, I’d say, in another ten years or so, it’ll be awesome. Considering the tree was probably ten years old when I got it, and I’ve had it for that long, maybe the title should say, 

 “In something like thirty years……”

Posted in Horticulture and growing, rare finds, roots | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments