Building a maple or two

Whoa?! What?Are you drilling holes in trees again Adam? It looks like one of those parasitic worms trying to stick its tendrils into a tree and the tree is trying to get away. 

How about we start at the beginning? Let me ‘splain. We have three trees. Here are two:This is one I’ve been pruning for shape for about 8 or 10 years. All that movement is from chopping, regrowing, healing, chopping. Repeat. 

This was from the compact disc root layering experiment. 

It’s ready for some chopping. Let’s begin with it. 

Fortunately, its budding back all over. 

I have all kinds of branches to use as a new leader. I’m thinking around here. 

Or here. Somewhere….aha…I see, I saw. 

Now, a little contouring. A rusty tool (where are my good tools?) 

A sharp knife. 

That’s better. You’ll hear nowadays to make a square cut instead of an angled one like I just did. If this shoot wasn’t here:I would be making a straight cut. You don’t know where the new shoot will pop from and, as likely as not, if you made an angled cut, it would pop from the bottom of the cut instead of the top. 

There are plenty of shoots down below the cut, that makes me feel better than doing a blind trunk chop. 

I can get rid of some there are so many. 
A bit of wire. 
Here’s a tip, the skinnier the branch, the more movement you put into it with wire. Especially close to the trunk. As the branch thickens, those exaggerated curves will grow out and be more natural. And I’ll be chopping the branches back to the first curve anyway. 

One last thing, to focus the growth hormones, always point the tips upward, especially in this building stage. You’ll get stronger, faster growth. 

On a cut like this I’ll use a wound sealer. This is inexpensive duct caulk (say that aloud, very loud, in a crowd: DUCT CAULK!)

Now, normally I wouldn’t be fertilizing at this time of the year, but I want to accelerate that new leaders growth, which will then accelerate that chop healing. I am expecting it to get about 4-5 feet tall this year. 

Now, the second trident.I’ve been building this tree for maybe ten years. The first cut is healed, as are all the subsequent ones. Keeping a strong leader growing makes the difference. Some call it a sacrifice branch, some, an escape branch. Call it what you want, it works. 

 Now that’s a gnarly trunkNow it’s time to add some branches.  

The donor tree. And, back to front, the tool of the day, the liquid courage, and the cures for the effects of that liquid courage. 

I need a branch here, at the base of the healed chop. 

I’ll do it by a thread graft. Basically, drill a hole all the way through the trunk and insert a branch through that hole and let it grow, filling the hole and grafting with the tree, and then you cut off the donor tree.  

It’s the easiest graft to do, with a high probability of success. 

While I’m at it, I think I need one here too. 

I like to seal the wounds with a cut paste (the snot variety) that stays flexible when dry. I also like to secure the grafts with wire and, of course, put a little movement in them. I also tie the pots together to minimize movement. 

Here’s a short video to let you see what I did a little easier. ​
​I’m digging the music. 

Here’s that first tree again. 

Look at that nebari! Instead of a blind trunk chop, I put the grafts exactly where I wanted them and I’ll chop it next year. It’s Daves tree. You’re welcome Dave. Cabron. 

I’ll cover some approach grafts in a future  post. 

Posted in Advanced basics, branch placement, Horticulture and growing, progression, tips and tricks | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Sugarberry….aw, honey honey… are my bonsai tree….and I think I love you!

Two collected hackberries. 

If’n you follow me on Instagram or the Facebooks, you’ll remember that I was lamenting the loss of a stand of native celtis nearby. Now, granted, it’s been heavily collected from by fellow bonsai practitioners but, as some have suggested, that’s not the reason for the decline. It’s two fold, one, see that dirt road? It goes to a lake with a boat ramp. The road is heavily traveled, for being a dirt road, with those hunting the elusive bass we call largemouth (It’s funny, I had a girlfriend I could describe as a large mouthed. Or big mouthed. I originally hunted her but ended up running as fast as I could away from her. Ahhh, to youth and my sweet roison dubh). The road is bulldozed and leveled quite often, fishing being a little more popular than native trees. This constant “improvement” keeps making the road wider and messes with the drainage. The first tree I’ll be working on is a root from a big tree that was felled to widen said road. I’ll get back to that in a bit. 

The second reason the stand is declining is it’s being choked out by the dreaded Brazilian Pepper tree. Truly a scourge for native trees, it (SCHINUS TEREBINTHIFOLIUS) loves Florida and, considering that it’s seeds keep getting eaten by wildlife and sown everywhere,  Florida loves it. I don’t know a solution and I’m not sure one could be found. It is true that it was man that brought the pepper tree into Florida but it is speculated that it was the ocean that brought in the buttonwood from Africa, one of the most beloved “native” trees now. There’s a treatise in there somewhere. But I’m not going to write it. Yet. Back to the other…hack…job. Ha!

This tree is actually a root from one of those larger, bulldozed trees. 

It’s, ah, unique. Let’s see what I can do. The structure is definitely not traditional. But it is growing strong. Let’s do some chopping to induce backbudding. 

Ans some branch selection. 

And what about the top? Those two, very strong growing apices? 

I think here:

And here:That’ll work. 

Now a little wire before I turn to the roots. This is so close to the trunk….I need a wedge….that works. Some heavy wire….

….and some movement. Now to the roots. I don’t really know how the rest will go until I see them. 


uh oh

Mind the gap. Looks almost like a pair of legs. 

Now what? Well, let’s make the best of it. I’d like some surface roots so I’m scoring some places on the trunk that’ll be under the soil line. That should help with more roots. 

Especially at this odd angle. Some good soil, the new blend. 

And there was some mycorrhizae in the old soil, I add it to the new soil. 

Some more wire and….welllllll…I know. Let’s see what happens. I love a challenge and this is surely a challenge. 

Let’s look at the other tree. It’s a little more normal. 

First, gotta find the bottom. When I collect a tree and pot it up I usually bury the nebari so the surface roots don’t dry out after the collection. 

Obviously I need to chop this back. I might remove it totally in the future but maybe not. You can’t glue it back on so I’ll leave it here for the time being. 
Lots to work with still. 
Next, into the training pot. 

This root is a little highIt goes. 

There we go. 

It’s looking good. Now for a touch, just a touch, of wire. Ok, a lot. You know me, I wire. I’m of the opinion that if you’re not using wire, it’s not modern bonsai. Here’s an analogy for you: traditionally, man painted with his fingers. Then Ug, the Picasso of the cavemen, picked up a feather, the first paintbrush, and revolutionized the art of painting. It’s the same principle with wire on bonsai. The practice is less than a hundred years old, so most definitely not traditional, but that’s how modern bonsai practitioners make trees. That doesn’t mean not to use clip and grow, I use both techniques, even on the same tree, but if you’re not wiring, it’s like only using your fingers whilst painting a picture, you can only get to a certain level of refinement because of the limitations of your tools. 

The more I look at the chopped branch…the more I’m thinking of removing it. Not yet though. Patience. 

Let’s review: 

Two collected celtis lævigata.

 One, kinda weird, a leftover roots from a bulldozers swath of destruction. 

The other, a more traditional looking specimen.  

A solution for the one….maybe…

And an initial styling for the other. This one will be sweet, like sugar (see what I did there?) I’ll revisit them both in a years time. Both will be sweet, you’ll see. Stay tuned, mi amigos, they develop fast. 

Anyone wanna go fishing? I know this one spot…….

Posted in branch placement, Horticulture and growing, rare finds, styling bonsai, yamadori | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

I Feel So Soiled

Now there’s some pretty soil. With all the partisan political divisiveness of late, I figured that I’d introduce a calm, nuanced, and non-controversial subject into the æther. Try to, you know, relax the dialogues on the interwebs and facebooks a little, so to say. This is a safe subject. Indeed. It’s time to make the soil!

In that spirit, let’s talk about soil a little… one argues about soil, right? Before I begin, here are three links on soil from Da’ Blog: The epic oneThe personal oneThe update. Read them. There’ll be a test. 

Let’s see now, we have lava (the pointy heads call it scoria. What do scientists know, right?) Lava is my go to, I’ve used nothing but it at times. It’s great for Florida, it doesn’t fall apart, has good shape and porosity, doesn’t hold too much water. Unfortunately, it doesn’t hold much nutrients either (this is called “cation exchange capacity” abbreviated henceforth as CEC. It is a measurement of the electrostatic charge of a particle in reference to fertilizer molecules. How much fertilizer sticks to a soil component. This is important in the coarse, granular soils we use because, startlingly, 75-80% of all fertilizer drains right out of the bottom of our pots. It helps for the soil particles to be able to hold a little between applications. At least I think so, there’s enough fertilizer pollution in Florida’s groundwater as it is now without me contributing to it too much more). 

This next is expanded slate, a newer product that’s almost a ceramic, marketed by the Espoma company (and American Bonsai Tools too, I might add). It holds only about 10-15% of its weight in water and about zero CEC. I use it to improve drainage; in Florida we have rain, it being the Sunshine State and all. We can have more rain in a few hours than most places have in a month. This aggregate is basically to help keep my mix drier. Funny story, we once had a British gentleman (aren’t all British men, gentleman? Well, not really, I know one guy….likes to call other bonsai people names, not very “propah” at all, come to think of it….)  visit the Orlando club and claimed that England had a lot of rain. Granted, it rains a lot in the United Kingdom of Great Britain, but it’s more like drool as opposed to the explosive projectile deluges we get here. Anyway, the funny thing is he kept asking if we had hawthorn yamadori and if we knew of a bloke called Tony Tickle. I said, “Mr. Tickle? Isn’t that a character in a children’s book? ” Hi Tony! Owe you a pint for that one. 

Moving along, I have a pumice source now (the aforementioned American Bonsai Tools). I still don’t like the look of it but I’m liking most of the properties. Well, except for one: see, it doesn’t have a high CEC (because of the silica composition) but does, the way the pores work, (called index solution trapping) hold nitrogen in the surface matrix. What I’m learning and not liking is, when it’s relatively dry, it holds those nutrients and is very stingy in sharing with the plant, but in times of saturation, it will leach them excessively (as opposed to the way cation exchange happens). Here’s the scenario: in the summer, we have the flooding rains and then the heat dries the soil out pretty quickly. I’ll need to water again the next day if it doesn’t rain, ( I call this the “Wet/Heat/Dry Cycle”, it’s one reason why akadama doesn’t hold up well here). But, in the  winter, the soil will stay wet for days, and pumice will give off too much fertilizer during these periods of saturation. Not good for trees that we don’t want to be actively fertilized at that time. I should add, this is mainly an American pumice problem (or what could be called a new pumice problem). The older the pumice or the more degraded it is, the higher the CEC will be. But that’s some high level stuff right there (go Here to read an abstract of a study done in Oregon on pumice, there are definitely some 25¢ words to learn) conversely, my favorite characteristic of pumice is it’s crushability by the roots. The roots need something to hold onto, to embrace and, much like the way your Aunt Joanne does when greeting you at the family Christmas get together, crush. Pumice should be soft enough for this (there are several grades of pumice. Everything from those stones you grind the callouses off your heels you get from wearing what my uncle used to call “come-hump-me-pumps, to horticultural grade. Which is really the cheapest grade. It’s soft, often floats, and works great in bonsai soil). 

Since the pumice isn’t good at holding nutrients, my soil additive for that is pine bark, sifted, partially composted and ph controlled. I use Fafard organic soil conditioner. It holds water and fertilizer very well and the roots love it. And it’s a perfect medium for growing the microbes we need in a bonsai pot. I’ve written about mycorrhizal and bacterial symbiosis before, and every time I research it, there’s new information expanding our knowledge. The fauna down below is good for the flora up above. 

I also use a calcined clay aggregate (OH NOOOOO!! The dreaded Turface!).  It too has a relatively good CEC and holds water. It works good in Florida, much the way akadama performs but without the rapid breakdown that turns akadama into a brick. I don’t understand the vehemence that is shown towards this product. It’s not bad as a component in a soil mix. It could be this for one statement I overheard someone say “I’ve never deigned to even think of using a cheap product like that on my trees” that is the real antipathy. Take that as you will. In some parts of the country, turface is more expensive than akadama. 

I will usually use an expanded shale product, but I’m out of it at the moment.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet (from this post and those linked above), I’ve done a lot of research and put a lot of thought into my soil. I don’t take someone’s word or use “traditional” soils just because they’ve been used for generations (For hundreds of years it was believed that bathing washed off the natural defenses that a body produced against disease. Before we discovered the germ theory of disease. And that bloodletting worked too, before we stopped believing in the “humours”. No one asked why though, did they?)

So here is this springs soil mix recipe.  Notice that when I do my measurements, they’re a little heavy on some ingredients  and lighter on others. Here you go: 

One part lava (usually its two but I’m using pumice this time, an almost identical component)

One part pumice (and if you’re not pronouncing it “pooomice” you’re just not cool) 

One part expanded slate (ignore the leaves and twigs, they don’t count) 

One part bark (a little lighter on it). 

One part calcined clay (and its “calcined” not “calcinated”) 

This batch should get me through the next few weeks of repotting. Hopefully. A full batch fills an 18 gallon plastic bin. Like I said, isn’t that pretty? I should be a hand model.

Next few posts, I’ll be immersing myself in the wonderful world of the sugarberry tree.



Posted in Advanced basics, Horticulture and growing, philosophical rant | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Bald Cypress Forest 

We have a tray:

We have some trees:

We have a strong beer:Tray-tree-beer? Will we have bonsai? Seems likely. We might need more beer, even if it is a German one and not Japanese. 

Let’s review. Tray:Made by a retired Lieutenant Paramedic from the Orlando Fire Deptartment.  He just recently passed away. I never met him but I’m told I would have liked him. A good friend of Rick’s. You’ll meet Rick a little later in a nice video snippet. I love this kind of tray. Too bad it’s not mine. It belongs to the CFBC.

  Trees:Five small bald cypress, taxodium distichum, purchased from Dragontree Bonsai down in Palm City, grown from seed by da’ Man hisself, Robert Pinder. I know him and like him. You would too, give him a visit if you’re in the area. I got about forty cypress from him for a Central Florida Bonsai Club program taught by the amazing Rick Jeffery. I mentioned him up there about a hundred words ago. Here’s a video of the aftermath, Rick is the distinguished, mustachioed gentleman with the white hair. 

We put these together for the raffle table at the upcoming Bsf/Abs Convention here in Orlando in May on Memorial Day weekend. We didn’t use all the trees so I got homework.  

So, tonight is a forest kind of night at The Nook. 

With some good strong beer. For those who are interested, and why not if you ain’t, this is a style of beer called “urbock”. Basically, it’s a bock beer which has been smoked (smoking beer? I thought you drank it?!)  A “bock” beer means that it is a lager that is of a higher gravity (more alcohol) thats brewed during the winter for consumption in spring. Being higher gravity it takes more time for the yeast to convert the sugars (malt) to alcohol. The monks made it to get one through the fasts that are associated with Lent. There are also double (doppel) and triple bocks for your, um…religious observances. They tend to be very malty and dark though, in recent years, they have been adding more hops to balance them out. I’m sure that the hopheads will come out with an IPA version soon (though an IPA is an ale and a bock is a lager…..don’t get me started on that differentiation. Different yeast and fermentation times/processes etc.). I must make a note, the two products most Americans associate with the word “bock” are Shiner Bock, from Texas, and Amberbock, from Missouri. The former is just a slightly stronger pilsner (amber lager if you insist), in my opinion, and the latter, as my beer school instructor liked to say, is neither amber, nor bock (Amberbock was once called Michelob Dark, but at that time, Americans were not liking anything with the word “dark” in it. It was all about Budlight or MillerLite and all that crap, so the rebranding guys got on the job and came up with the catchy name, “Amberbock”). Enough about that. This beer, of which I am enjoying responsibly, is a finely crafted,German made beer with a strong malt flavor, balanced well with the hops and the smokiness. The high alcohol (7%) is not a detriment to the flavor, you can hardly tell it’s there (here’s one last beer factoid, the most popular beer in Germany, by sales, is……..sigh, Budlight. Sadly). 

Before I pass out, ahem, let’s get this forest planted. 

Prepare the pot!Screen

L shaped staples.  

Extra tie downs. 

The soil mix I’m using is a combo of my regular bonsai mix-The only difference in it and previous mixes (just use the search bar up top, you’ll find several blog posts on soil) is the addition of some pumice, the white particles. 

Since these are cypress (a swamp tree) I’m cutting it 50/50 with my regular nursery mix. Which is 50/50 pine bark and perlite. 

It should hold water and allow for good root growth. 
To prepare the trees….

 ….I’m just going to tease out some of the soil and work the roots down. 

Some base soil…

I’m not cutting off many roots at all. 

Maybe just some high ones

I want the roots to become an interconnected, tangled mat, almost like one tree, as the forest matures. 

Now you will see why I put so many tie downs. This is the biggest trunk. Usually we start with it. They call it the number one tree. Whomever they happen to be. 

You see that there’s not much variation in the tree sizes, I got stuck with the leftovers. 

The only challenge with making a believable forest is to avoid what Rick calls the “picket fence” effect. All your trees lined up in a row, like a fence. Most beginners (and many experienced) do this often. The trick: plant your trees in clumps. This one has three. 

All those wires are kinda important. Tie them down tight. Any movement after will damage the roots. 

Tighten on top….

And bottom. 

The placement is made of two clumps, I had only five trees (though the multitrunk is considered more than one, technically). I spaced them on each side of the pot to give a “trail” look to it. When it’s dressed up (which I’m not going to do) you can add moss and stones to give the impression of that trail or a dry riverbed or whatnot. If I had more trees I’d stick with the two clump composition but shove as many trees together as I could. 

And, as you might have guessed, I don’t care if it’s an odd or even number, as long as your groupings aren’t symmetrical or in straight lines, it’s fine. Only those who drink gin and tonic have the time to count trees. 

And the spacing between them is pretty natural. I can fit only two fingers here. 

But almost my whole hand here. Dirty fingers…..dirty boy. 

Back filled with soil, now I need to fix the tree heights. The thickest one should be the tallest. 

That’s about right. 

Some fertilizer and a top dressing of chopped sphagnum moss, to help retain moisture. It helps to have a cypress on the label of your fertilizer. 

One should wear gloves when handling sphagnum moss…..If I had regular moss I’d make it all pretty for you, but, alas,  I can’t grow moss for some reason. That yellow/greenish granular stuff is a pre-emergent weed preventer. I hate pulling weeds. 

And viola!Yeah, I know, not much to look at. 

How’s this? Looks kinda natural. The photo flattens it out unfortunately (compare the aerial shots above to this, you know it’s not as flat as it looks here), but that’s ok. If you go to the joint Abs/Bsf convention in May (Go here for info!) you can buy some raffle tickets and win it, and fix whatever problems you see. It won’t hurt my feelings. 

And Bob’s your uncle! See ya’!

Posted in Horticulture and growing, roots, styling bonsai | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Collecting from the wild (actually, my nursery) 

I have this tree that I’ve been growing out (well…..I have many trees, but this one is in the ground, it was a volunteer, maybe deposited by bird trying to poop on my head, a southern hackberry, a name I prefer to sugarberry, which sounds like some special technique practiced on a sugar daddy, ummmm…..anyway, it’s a celtis lævigata that has grown too big, much like this sentence) that needs to be collected. Like I said, big, and in the ground. I meant to dig it out about two years ago. I got sick though, and that’s all I have to say about that. But this isn’t about collecting it. Maybe soon, but I’ll need help with it. Today’s post is a quick one, easy peasy, with only a few big words and two or three diagrams and illustrations. What I’m after today are called “suckers”. No, really, suckers. I think that they’re called that because it’s believed that they “suck” the energy from the main tree, growing off the roots as they do. 

There are different names we could use, adventitious shoots, basal shoots, root sprouts, water sprouts, but I like suckers. Who doesn’t like a good sucker, huh? A tree that does this is called surculose. Whatever that means……..ok, I had to look it up, it’s root (heh heh) is Latin for sucker- surculosus plus the ending ‘ose. Which doesn’t help much, does it? Anyway, I thought the Latin word for “sucker” was “fellator”? 

Let me explain what I’m actually doing. We have a southern hackberry. Oh, by the way, here’s a “fact” that most people are taught in school that is untrue (like the one that human blood is blue until it hits the oxygen in the air). We were taught that a trees roots only grow as wide as the canopy. 

The real fact is that the roots grow 2-3 times as wide as the canopy. This is important on our hackberries. You see, on the roots (and many other trees, like elms or bananas) are buds (technically meristems, cells which can differentiate into various organs, like more roots or shoots) that will sprout into new trees. In this way, one tree can create its own thicket or stand or forest even, without having to produce seed. Which might explain the low fruit production on many celtis; it might take less energy to reproduce this way than making fruit. A stand of trees like this are genetically identical and the actual term is a “genet”. The most famous example is the quaking aspen colony (its called “Pando”) in Utah that is sometimes considered the largest organism (by mass) on the planet with 47,000 individual trees connected by one root system. It covers 106 acres (43 hectares). The scientist believe this colony is anywhere between 80,000- 1,000,000 years old  That’s right, a million years old! 

The problem with the trees being genetically identical is that if something external affects one tree (say, a bug or a disease) it could wipe out the whole colony. Which many people believe is happening to Pando. It’s dying. They just don’t know what the cause is, whether it’s drought, insects, or disease. Or a combo of all three. Sad really.

How does all this relate to bonsai? We can collect these “root suckers” and make bonsai of course. 

They grow like this in the ground. 

The idea is to pick some of the better ones and cut them out. 

Hopefully you have some more roots….…..but they’ll still grow from the cut ends. There’s a rock embedded in the base of this tree. 

This one is just cool. Good movement. 

But the best use of small ones, like I’m collecting today, are for making little forests or groves, with connected roots. For those so interested, the soil is 1/2 perlite, 1/2 pinebark. Nothing special except it’ll grow roots. 

It’s almost like a raft, but the idea behind the raft is for a fallen tree to grow roots where the trunk is touching the ground and the other side to grow new trunk from the branches. 

I’m not sure where the front is yet….

It’ll be cool. Very natural looking. I’ll probably add more when it goes into a proper pot, I have plenty more trees to choose from. 

Not bad for a backyard nursery and a “weed” tree. Generally, you want to pass up collecting small trees like this for unless your plan is to grow them larger (a good ten year project) or if you want to make little forests like this. Or if you want small trees I guess. What you generally want are bigger trees with character and movement. Like this one-which is going to make a fantastic tree, can’t wait to work on it. 

One last aesthetic tip. When making a forest or clump, the fattest trunk should be the tallest tree. It’s “older” and therefore should be taller. 

Get out there now (or when the ground thaws I guess….) and find yourself some root connected trees and put together a cool little forest. Make sure you get permission first though. 

After care for something like this: no fertilizer until new growth hardens off, but plenty of water (hence the heavy organic component). I also tend to keep them in the shade and protected from the wind to minimize water loss due to evaporation. I’ll keep you up to date, cross your fingers, hopefully I get good results (that’s the cue for the Perpetual Intermediates out there to tell me that they’ll all die because I didn’t get a “proper” root ball. Go ahead, say it, sign your name to it, though, and own it. I’ll publish your reply) 

Next time, a small cypress forest and a Chinese elm or two. 

Posted in Horticulture and growing, rare finds, roots, tips and tricks, yamadori | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

The Scissor and the Wire

Here’s an interesting ficus. I got it from my oldest son’s 7th grade teacher, Mr. Myers. That was a few years ago and it’s finally ready. It’s taken a little while to get it to grow. He had nearly killed it and that’s why he gave it to me, to revive it. I did some serious branch work on it, you can tell by the, almost, healed scars on the main branches. 

It’s an interesting shape, very low and squat. With really quick taper. 

The first branch does break one of my “rules” though. The first bend goes back instead of forward. But that’s because, as you see by that half healed scar, the “forward” part of it died back. But there is a reality that over turns rules, “one must do what one can with shohin trees”. Meaning, there’s so little space on a small tree sometimes you have to “cheat” to get branches where you need them. 

I’m calling this a tiger bark ficus. It’s also known as “golden gate” for some reason. It’s a good, if not the best, ficus microcarpa varieties (don’t call it retusa, please….) the internodes are short, the leaves smaller, and the bark has that cool texture. Like a, well, tiger…..bark. A quick aside: I see this on the forums and pages all the time, do you see the white, chalky looking stuff on the leaves? That’s just water, usually it’s calcium or lime or some other dissolved solid. It just means that the water you are using is hard. If it bugs you, you can use a soft cloth to polish it off, use that “leaf shine” stuff on it, rub it off with your thumb. And try not to get the leaves wet when you water. That last bit is actually a good hygiene practice; wet leaves invite fungus. I see this more in the winter and spring (the dry seasons) because I’m having to water by hose more often (as opposed to watering by hoes, which adds so many more complications…..sorry, I know. Bad Adam). Therefore, using deductive reasoning (as opposed to inductive reasoning, which is what makes an electric motor work) it’s deducible that it, is, indeed, the Winter when I am doing this work. What can I do to this poor tree now, eh? It’s a tropical, do I want it to live? Thrive? Continue to give me pleasure? Well, how about a partial defoliation of the older leaves? I think I can do that. Look at all the branches! That is a bonsai artists wet dream (hence the “give me pleasure” line above). That means that, one: we have something to work with and, B, it’s healthy. Maybe “B” should come before “one”. Meh, it’s just bonsai, right?  How do you achieve branching on a small tree that doesn’t really get as dense as you’d like? 

Style it. Let it grow. Then, topiary trim it. Or hedge prune,  but it’s the pruning that causes ramification. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just prune it like you’re using a hedge trimmer.  You can’t be afraid to cut. In bonsai we have two tools to shape a tree. The scissor and the wire. Prune and bend, cut and shape. Which brings us to the wiring. 

A little loose. That will be a problem in a second or two. 

I had removed wire just a few days ago, which you can see some of the newer scars on the top branch. It amazes me how torqued people get at seeing wire scars. It’s either horror or a holier than thou response. But, and I’ll say it again, on a ficus (and many trees), if you don’t let the wire cut in, the wiring job will be inneffectual. It will just mice back to the original position. 

One branch. 

Oh! Here’s what happens when your sloppy with the wire coils. Tsk tsk tsk!
Wired, before placement. 
Wired, after placement. 

You’ll notice I’ve started the second level of ramification (as outlined in This Post)

On wit’ it, den!

If’n you’re paying attention, you’ll see that I haven’t trimmed the tips yet. If this were a colder winter, I may keep it this way, to minimize dieback. But, since I’m such a rebel, an iconoclast, a loner, and just a plain contrary ass, I’ll prune it too. Just so your eyes aren’t so fixated on the  out-of-sorts leaves. Which, truth be told, aren’t going to help much, photosynthesis-wise anyway. How’s the sun gonna hit that? 

Some scissor discipline…..

Try to leave the leaves that are horizontal with the maximal surface attitudinally adjusted for optimum photosythnthetic effect…….don’t you hate it when people use 25¢ words?  Make sure the tops of the leaves are on top. Now then, that might be all you poor people in the frozen north should do now, with your tree inside under lights. 

But….of course, I’m in La Florida, and I’m going to go just a bit further. 

Push the envelope, so to say. 

Let’s see if good ol’ Ma Nature slaps me down with a cold front. 

Yup, I full out defoliated and pruned. 

You can really see the structure this way, and the taper too. I’m doing it for you all. No, really, so you can see. And I’m trusting in the magic of the Internet to keep this tree growing.  

It got fertilizer, of course, I used Martha Goff’s Tropical Green brand. It’s my first time using it so we will see how well it works. Now, let’s see how the weather holds…..


I did the work about Christmas time and I’m writing the post on January 12th. We had two cold nights, one at 37f and one at 40f (2-4c).  Let’s see what havoc I’ve wrought. Was Mother Nature kind? Did she smack me up side the mouth? 

Naw. I won’t learn that lesson today. Fully emerged leaves. I fixed that wiring by the way. 

There’s even budding back!I count four new buds, do you see them?

Sometimes you just need to thumb your nose at convention and do what you think will work. 

If it doesn’t work then, well, they say that it takes a person killing about a thousand trees before they can become a Master. 

Looks like I need to prune it back on the left…….
Now, seriously, don’t do this to a tree unless you can provide proper conditions essential to growth. I knew that I would have them (above 60f nights, adequate light, moisture etc) and if you are keeping them inside, just invest in some indoor growing stuff like full spectrum lighting, a horticultural heating pad, a humidifier etc. You can push the envelope too, as long as you pronounce it the douchie way, “aaahnvelowpe!”  

Posted in Advanced basics, branch placement, philosophical rant, rare finds, refine, wiring | Tagged , , , , , , | 11 Comments

The Winter Silhouette Experience 

As promised, here’s the “story” post of the trip to the 2016 Winter Silhouette Expo. Let’s start with the view from the second floor, above the exhibit room. It’s always best to start at the top. But maybe not in order. I don’t remember things in order, it doesn’t seem, sometimes, so maybe I’ll write this post that way. Or maybe it was the coquito. And beer. Memories soaked in spirits. Nestor supplied the cocquito. Chris poured the beer. 

Some of these pics aren’t mine, some are Nestor’s (above left), some are Cullen’s (from AB Tools) and some I just outright stole from the Facebooks. Let’s start in the middle somewhere. 

My buxus microphylla being photographed by the amazing Joe Noga. If’n you’re wanting a true professional photo of your (your club, Society, or regional group’s) exhibit trees, I suggest You hire Joe. He took, I kid not, at least thirty photos of my buxus here. It’s a difficult tree to photograph I guess (the light bark seems to reflect the lights and it causes really bright hot spots) but he finally got the photo, with the help of holding up two blinds blocking the lights and handheld spots and all kinds of tricks that only a pro could think of. Here’s the result (photo by Joe, obviously) 

Thank you sir, for all the hard work. Next year I’ll enter an easier tree to photograph, promise. 
The show had four demos during the weekend, we had Owen Reich ( 

Rodney Clemons (All Good Bonsai in Atlanta) Rodney’s Virginia Pine demo tree. Rob Kempinski on the left and Rodney on the right. 
Bill Valavanis and his demo tree.  

And the last demonstrator was this long haired weirdo who’s writing this blog, yours truly. I’m looking over my shoulder, wary of the snipers. 

I’ll show my demo trees a little later in the article. 

If you remember last years coverage (click  here) James, Rob’s sister’s boyfriend’s son, and Rob had collected a pine tree. Surprisingly, it was still alive and flourishing. We are thinking it’s a loblolly pine. 

Here’s Rob and James weeding it and plucking the three year old needles.   If James keeps up with the tree, in 20 years (he’ll be in his thirties) that tree will be a masterpiece. 

In case you didn’t guess, this year I drove with Rob again, along with my good friend Dustin Mann. This is after they defoliated Rob’s tree, The Kraken (a ficus microcarpa) mid show. It was a dramatic move and surprised a lot of people. The before/after shots. 

Rob is pushing the envelope when it comes to bonsai display. I think he’s having fun doing it too. 
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Rob and his sister and her family for putting up with Dustin and me and letting us stay with them for the show. 

Last year I talked a lot about my prep for the show, the stands, the trees, etc., but this year I’m going to go quickly over it. 

I had made the stands previously, I just needed to clean them up a bit. A little rustyI knocked off the big chunks and sprayed clear coat on the steel. 

That stand is very similar to the one I used last year, but it’s a shohin stand for multiple trees. 

I went through too many configurations for the tree placement. I’m not sure I got it right in the end, but I enjoyed the challenge. It’s all about flow.  As it was presented in the show:photo by Joe Noga. 

The trees mid prep. 

Ulmus parviflora. 

The boxwood mockup. Notice the lack of green moss. 

Barb provided the moss this year, which gave rise to the above companion, some reindeer moss (lichen) growing out of regular moss. She really came through for me. Her sea grape and shimpaku juniper. Along with her sweet companion plants. Thank you ma’am! 

The boys from AB Tools were in the house: I’m very fortunate to have them as friends. Thanks guys! 

One of my favorite people, who just moved from Florida to North Carolina, was in attendance, No, not Alex Jones, that’s Mr. Mike Cartrett. He was doing what he does best, selling bonsai and bonsai related sundries. He gave me this cool Hawaiian rock.My original idea was to carve it out a bit more and drill some drain holes. But Rodney reminded me that I should leave it alone, else I’d feel the wrath of the Hawaiian volcano gods. Mike promised me that it had been blessed and any curses removed. I might just be careful, this time. I don’t need any more curses chasing me around. 

One of the great things about shows like this is you get to meet many new people and renew old friendships. You see, bonsai is little trees. But it’s also big friendships, good people and great art. I’m grateful to be a part of the community.  

Ok, now for some (if you’ll forgive me a little) shameless self promotion. 

My demo trees. A ficus salicaria. 

And a green mound ficus. 

The ficus salicaria was just a gag demo. I trunk chopped it. Ruthlessly. Here it is today. It’ll be a fine shohin in a year or two. 

On the green mound, I did some actual work. And hammed it up as best I could. 

I got Nestor to defoliate for me. 

The theme of the talk was, believe it or not, “Why tropical bonsai is superior to classical bonsai”. Maybe I’ll write a blog post using that theme soon. Post it on all the forums and stir up all kinds of trouble. Maybe…..

Anyway, here are some, like I said, shameless self promotion shots. It was all about the point this year. My orange Nikes were a hit too. 

I really had fun, doing what I do best, talk bonsai. Me and my Vader-Helmet hair. Dumm dumm dumm dum tee dum dum tee dummmm….

And here is a shot, back home in The Nook, of the finished tree. And that’s all. There were some stories that will stay at Winter Silhouette. 

Thanks to the man with the plan, Mr Steven Zeisel, for again putting on a great show. I will be there next year, definitely. 

I hope to see some more readers of the blog next year, too. We need a contingent, a movement. A mob. That’d be cool. Take over the joint. 

As a parting shot, this is a photo that Dustin got of a random girl taking a pic of one of the exhibit trees, it looks like Rodney’s kingsville boxwood. 

That’s what bonsai is about. Not the awards, not the egos, the cliques and politics. Not the money or the trappings or the hubris. Bonsai is this. That girl is seeing the tree and was so inspired by it that she stopped to take a pic. Simple.  And that makes me feel hopeful. 

Posted in goings, philosophical rant, pictures | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments