Brazilian raintrees and senescence

Here’s the word of the day: senescence. Here’s the tree of the day: Brazilian raintree. 

When we think of senescence we usually think of deciduous trees. Not huge, tropical canopied, thorny and dangerous Brazilian raintrees. Senescence happens to all trees. Even junipers and pines. Those third year needles that you clean off a pine? If you left them they’d turn brown and fall off. That old browning scale foliage on a juniper? Same thing. 

What a trunk huh? 

And those thorns I was talking about. I have to stick my hand in there. 

Here’s another BRT you should be familiar with. 

It’s got some yellow leaves too. And no matter how much water I give it it seems to be droopy all the time. 

Sad looking. 

But it’s not sick. See that new bud? Some trees, both tropical and broadleaf evergreen, have a hard time shedding old foliage and you have to help them out and defoliate them.  

Some wire and I’m all set for the holidays. 

Oh, wait?! Did I mention that it’s December? But….aren’t we NOT supposed to be working on tropicals at this time? Sorry, you’ve never heard that from me, my friends. Especially on BRT’s. 

Here’s a third tree to throw into the mix. I like it. It makes me smile. 

Let’s discuss the tropical legume we call the Brazilian Raintree (chloroluceun tortum). In Brazil it’s called tataré, and it’s native to the coast of Rio de Janero, in an area called restinga, a wet coastal stretch that goes from tropical to  subtropical areas on the eastern shore of Brazil. It’s home to a broadleaf forest that has sandy soil that is both acidic and nutrient poor. A good place for a legume, which has the ability, working in symbiosis with a nitrogen fixing bacteria to, amazingly, pull nitrogen out of thin air and fertilize itself.  The BRT is also a type of tree called a monsoon or drought deciduous tree. The restinga is a biome (an environmental designation) called a tropical/subtropical dry forest, bane forest or just monsoon forest. It is a place that gets a lot of water but also has a dry season, where the trees have adapted by dropping their leaves, just like deciduous trees in the northern climes do in the winter. 

This is senescence in BRT’s. Droopy, off color, wimpy looking. Like some bonsai artists I know. Senescence is an adaptation by plants, in response to drought or low light levels, that, using the hormone abscisic acid, puts a tree into dormancy. It is the act of abscission, dropping leaves, that gave the name to abscisic acid.  

But enough of that, how does all this relate to doing bonsai on a BRT? It means that we must be the stewards, the midwives, the facilitators, of the tree. Time to defoliate again. Before. Like they say, you can prick your finger but you can’t finger your pri…..Ouch, right in the cuticle. 
Here’s a quick pruning lesson. The red and blue arrows are pointing to nodes. The node is from whence the new leave or branch emerges. The space between the nodes is called an internode. This is true of all trees. Learn the words and you’ll be thought smart, like me. Or just be called a smart-ass. 

On the BRT this is important because of a process called dieback. 

Again, the circle is encompassing the node and the internode. Dieback can be significant on a BRT, it’s the process during which the tree compartmentalizes a wound so that it can heal. To be precise, if I cut here at the red line…..the branch will die back to that main branch. Which is fine because I would want to remove the branch to there anyway. The problem is that it is taught to prune flush with the branch on most trees. If you do that on a BRT, the dieback will go like so:and you’ll lose that whole branch to the next node. Therefore, you will see that I leave nubs on all my pruning points; it’s not lax scissor discipline but an understanding of the horticulture of the BRT. Does this mean that we can’t prune flush? No. Once the branch dies back, you can then do a flush cut. 

Let’s get some wire on it. 

You’ll notice that the pad isn’t flat like this:but rather on an angle so you can see the back branch. This helps to show depth in your trees. Now for the finish. 

I’ve broken a few rules I usually insist upon but I will always listen to what the tree is telling me. 

You’re wondering about the very first tree, aren’t you? We haven’t seen it for a while have we? Don’t worry, there will be a YouTube video on it but, to hold you over, here’s the after pic. Lots of work. 

Stay tuned for the video, I think it’s gonna be a cool one. 

So, what did we learn today? We learned about senescence, about nodes and internodes and dieback. We learned about fingers and pricks. And that’s all I have to say about that. 

Posted in branch placement, Horticulture and growing, philosophical rant, rare finds, refine, tips and tricks | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Bunjin or literati, what do you call it? YouTube video 

New video is out over on the adamaskwhy channel. 

Click here to watch

I have a bit of fun in this one. 

Posted in branch placement, philosophical rant, tips and tricks, videos, wiring | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The trees of the Bonsai Society of Southwest Florida’s annual show

This year, I had the privilege of being one of the artists for the Bonsai Society of SW Florida’s annual show. I gave a demo and a workshop but I was also honored to give out two awards in the exhibit; the BSF Presidents Award (no, I’m not the prez yet but the current one was on his way to Japan and couldn’t be there) and the Best Display. I’m not sure I’m worthy enough to be a judge yet but I tried my best. 

Let’s start with the trees, I’ll comment where appropriate. 

A nice portulacaria afra, pretty well developed.  

An ixora with a good trunk. That’s hard to find, even here in Florida where they are common landscape plants. There was discussion about a concept called nitrogen locking, as this one is a little yellow. Nitrogen locking happens when the ph is of the soil (or water) isn’t in the correct range and the plant can’t uptake nutrients. In this case, an ixora needs an acid substrate and many wells in Sw Florida are very alkaline. Coffee grounds are a quick fix for that or switching to kanuma (an acidic pumice from Japan) works too. 
This was one of my runner up choices for the Best Display award. The tree is a green island ficus. 

I liked the idea of the scene but, to be nit-picky, the figures weren’t in scale with each other (which one could argue that it was a dream scene with the inclusion of the head-as-stand) 

But what didn’t work for me was the placement and attitude of the figure and the screen. Go back to the first pic and you’ll see that the man, although facing the tree, is actually in front of and, therefore shielded from the tree. When doing a display like this it’s important that small details of composition be perfect. 
This is a divi divi, and it’s flowering too. 

This was another contender in the best display award. The tree is a premna microphylla. You are seeing correctly, it’s sitting on bricks, which I thought was brilliant. 

The accent was planted on a piece of a broken concrete ring. Again brilliant. 

I love the idea of the scroll too. Maybe if it was a little more graffiti like in style though, it might have been perfect. I love the dripping. The main reason I didn’t pick it as the winner was that both the premna and the accent incorporated masonry in their individual presentations and combining them in one display there was not enough contrast. Maybe if the premna was on some rusty, twisted metal or the grass companion was planted in a broken glass bottle, then it would have brought it all together. I know it sounds like a contradiction but it would have tied the whole display together with more contrast between the tree and the companion. 

A little ficus salicaria

A big Lysiloma latisiliquum. I liked this tree a lot, but what surprised me was I heard it was much criticized. One criticism was that the branches were angled up. But the tree is a legume, and a tropical canopy tree. The branches do naturally angle up from the trunk as their first movement. The second criticism was that you couldn’t see into the tree. This was true. I think with just a few tweaks, it will be an award winner. 

I think this was an escambron (claredendrun aculeatum). I love that stand. 

This is a collection of tilandsia for the accent on the next tree. 

A parsoni juniper 

This is a brazilian raintree. 

A little portulacaria. The exhibit had an area just for novices, a good idea if you put your own club’s show on. 

Another f. salicaria. It was in the novice area too. 


This is a Turks cap (Malvaviscus drummondii or M. arboreus var. drummondii) an American native plant that lives on the Gulf Coast from Texas to Florida.  It’s also in the Caribbean islands. It’s planted over a rock and has a spectacular shape for being in the novice section. I’d recommend a better pot maybe. 

I really liked this next one, a bucida Spinosa (or, correctly, terminalia mollinetti, but we bonsai people are hard to change,even when we are wrong).   But this was a cool idea, a complete acacia style flattop. 

If it didn’t have this bald spot I would have considered it for the presidents award. 

I really love this neea. 

Especially the hollow trunk. Bee-eee-ay-yute-if-full!

A nice small conocarpus erectus with a rustic stand. 

One of my favourite species with carving even, ilex vomitoria “schillings”It won best small tree. 
Another fine neea. There was one neea tree that made the rounds a few years ago that I thought was the most natural looking one I’d seen. Don’t know what happened to it or the man who owned it (he probably faded away for political reasons) but I’m picking this one as my favorite now.  

A Fukien tea

I loved this buttonwood so much I chose it for the presidents award. The deadwood detail is what sold me, plus the gentle dignity. It’s not an in-your-face-look-at-me tortured tree. Don’t get me wrong, I love those types of trees, but sometimes gentle perseverance is just right. 

Look at that calm interplay with the live vein and the deadwood. 

This next Brazilian raintree is a true marvel to me. As a species it’s really apically dominant so to be able to grow it like a cascade takes some real talent. 

Taxodium distichum Love the deer. 

A pretty sweet ficus microcarpa. It looks like it started out life as a ginseng style. 

Here was my choice for best display. 
A Brazilian raintree. The antelope was just in scale for the display, the combo of the companion and the figurine works for me, especially the dried grass and I thought that the black stand under the tree set off the whole thing. Especially with the natural looking slab. This is what I mean by contrast brining a display together. 

A parsons juniper. 

The next two pics should be one. 

I love shohin displays. 

The next display is what was called a “Keshiki bonsai” 
I wasn’t able to watch the presentation by  Susan Johnson on the concept as I was leading a workshop but I think I get it. 

Here’s a jaboticaba with a good nebari and movement. A good example of the species. 

This is the true dwarf of the dwarf of the dwarf schefflera. I think it’s called “luseanne”. It won the people choice award. My pic doesn’t show the depth of the forest planting at all. One gets lost wandering inside that grove. 

This is another bucida in a different style. 

A sea grape. 

I particularly liked this Chinese elm. It won best small tree. And I think it was masterful to show it defoliated. That’s a Sarah Raynor pot. 

And a third bucida in another style. I need to explore them more as bonsai subjects. 

And finally, a parsons juniper. One of the best parsons junipers I’ve seen. Spectacularly carved, styled and developed. It won best in show, the artist is Dorothy Schmitz. 

And that’s it, I hope I didn’t miss any trees but I apologize if I did. 

What a great show with great trees, great people and good times. Thank you to Martha for inviting me and Phil for hosting me. I am looking forward to next year. 

Posted in goings, pictures | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Deadwood bending, trial by fire

Let me stand next to your FIRE! 

Recently, I was tasked with some juniper carving. Usually one does that with a pair of Jin pliers and maybe an exacto knife. But ain’t nobody got time for that now. And I like my power tools and playing with fire (I mean, who doesn’t, right?). Besides, once the wood on a juniper is dried out, that whole beaver carving technique doesn’t work. Not that it usually ends up well in most cases anyway. Give me a rotary tool and some carbide burrs any day. 

We have a stump. Or two actually. 

You’ve seen me bend wet, newly made deadwood with a torch before (basically, by heating up the new, still green, wet branches, you are boiling the sap and releasing the tension in the cell walls, which allows you to bend a branch. Then by cooling it quickly, you set that branch in place). But this time the branch is very much dried out. What is an itinerant, vagabond bonsai artist to do? The branches are prit’near void of interest in the ways of branching. And carving sharp-sticks-in-your-eye are not my style. I wouldn’t be writing this piece if what I did didn’t work so, get out your sketchbooks and prepare to take notes, FIRE! 
First step, using your flat cutters (variously called trunk splitters or root cutters), split the wood. Next, Jin pliers to hold the end. I’ll use these cheap old ones so as not to ruin my new pair……..
Get the torch out and let’s boil some resin. 

Split the branch:

Grasp an end with the pliers and try to bend it in the direction you want it to go. It won’t bend obviously. But then you apply the FIRE and wait, continuing the pressure from the pliers. Eventually, miraculously, the branch will bend just like as if you were heating metal, it will become pliable and bendy. 

Add water to the burnt section and the branch will harden and hold. 

On the other piece. 

You need movement in two directions. This is the first branch. Then to the carving. Remember, you need movement, taper, and depth in the details. 

First branch. 

Second branch. 

Some more details of the carving. 

Basically, a juniper had copious amounts of resin, or oils, in the red part of the wood (juniper has sap wood and heart wood. The sapwood is white, heartwood is red. It’s the red that resists decay in the wild and gives us those crazy deadwood yamadori masterpieces). By heating the resin, it’s the same principle as heating the water in a newly made Jin. 

One can do this same thing on wood that doesn’t have that resin by soaking a towel in water and wrapping the branch with it, cover the towel with aluminum foil and then heat the whole thing to boiling. The steam will loosen the cell walls and you can then bend the branch. 

But that way isn’t as fun because, well, you know….FIRE!

There’s nothing that smells as nice as  juniper fire. The Native Americans would throw a juniper bough on the fire during dream quests. 

That’s it, a quickie for some hard wood that needs some movement. Don’t burn yourselves. 

Posted in carving, refine, sculpture, tips and tricks, woodcraft | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How many times have you heard someone call a bonsai a “Frankentree”? 


Pretty impressive, right? At least the base. One of the anthems of my day, when I was young and idealistic, frames this trees proportions with élan and grace…..”Baby’s got back!” That’s why we are even looking at it, to be honest.  It’s one of those ficus benjamina office trees that got put outside several years ago and forgotten. 

It’s a little bit taper challenged. I’m in West Palm at my client Greg’s house. He just purchased the place and part of the purchase, I mean, actually in the contract, was this tree. I think it raised the selling price even. You read that right. Greg told the real estate agent that if the tree wasn’t part of the sale, there was no sale. Nope. Nada. No commission. 
All the beginners out there are scratching their collective heads wondering what in the hell is wrong with Greg.  Don’t worry, it’ll hit you soon. You’ll be overlooking a beautiful scene one day, say, in the Grand Canyon or on the mountain trails of Maine or in some relaxing Swiss Chalet, next to your honey or love, sipping wine or a beer, maybe a hand crafted cocktail, and you’ll be looking at that pine on the ridge, looking at climbing routes, do you need ropes or can you be lowered down to it. What tools? A spade? Pick axe? Is it the right time of year? The moon phase? Has it rained recently? Is it legal or can I get away with it if it’s not? Should I call someone or will my love help me?

The old timers are scratching their heads too, wondering why anyone would worry about a stupid ficus like this. It must suck to be jaded.

 Me? I’m excited! Time to get to work!

And I have a lot ahead of me. 
I need to address the bugs first. Thrips, to be precise. This is just an old leaf. No bug damage here. 

This is thrip damage. Usually, when you open it you see the bugs. None in the above pic but in the bottom…Evil little things. 

For long term treatment I use a systemic insecticide. Today, I will CRUSH THEM!

Next up, the soil isn’t much a….soil ….anymore. 

It’s because the pot has no real drainage. Let’s fix this. 

Tile cutting wheel, angle grinder. 

That’ll work. Some screen and we are ready for the tree. 

The top of the tree is a mess. It’s not a bonsai or even a pre-bonsai. Let’s see if I can be creative. Gotta love the reciprocating saw. 

And the big tools. Those are what make the bonsai artists you know. Big tools and big trees. 

Watch this….

That’s how you fix obverse taper and give some movement to a big tree. Ficus are perfect for the technique, especially a benjamina. Granted they have the branch dieback problem but they heal big wounds better than any other ficus we use for bonsai. I think it’s because of the trees apical dominance and auxin creation that makes it excellent at the compartmentalization needed for fast wound healing. 

Now for some fancy fixin. We have two leaders, which one do I keep?

This one has shoots lower that will be easier to work with and it will help heal that big wound at the tip of my saw. 

This one has better movement. I’m going to have to go with the health of the tree I think. I left a stub because I’ll get new shoots at the branch collar. 

The branch I cut off I think I can use. 

Just call me Victor Von Frankenstein. A little whittling, drill a hole. Insert tab A into slot B. Yes, I literally drilled a hole in the trunk, whittled down a branch end, and stuck it into a hole. We will be calling it a “peg” graft. Just don’t do a google search for pegging. 

You’ll notice the aerial roots hanging down from the base? That’s my lifeline for keeping this branch alive while it grafts into the side of the trunk. 

And a little putty should keep the branch from drying out too fast. While I’m at it, I’ll use some of those other aerials to help heal some of the other wounds and put a little interest in the trunk. They’ll graft onto the bark sections where I have those staples holding them down. 

Some branch selection…

There’s not really styling involved. Just removing excess branches and simplifying the branch structure to guide the growth. 

Some green tape (to make it look professional and stuff) and hold those air roots to the trunk. 

A whole bunch more putty. And a pink flamingo to criticize me(I am in West Palm you remember) 

That useful reciprocating saw for a little root work. I took about an inch off the bottom and hosed off the theoretical soil. Added new bonsai soil, fertilizer and the systemic insecticide. 

And that’s it until next summer. Let it grow Greg, let it grow. He has two boys now so he doesn’t know the pain yet from that song. But his wife is pregnant with a girl now. Congrats my friend…..…both on your soon to be born daughter (he has no idea what’s in store for him, does he? ) and on this beautiful frankentree I have left for you. 

You should have seen the look his wife gave me when she saw it. She literally asked me if I got paid for this type of work. Literally. 

Posted in goings, Horticulture and growing, rare finds, redesign, tips and tricks | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

I use some fancy words to justify my defoliation habit, go figure. 

Okay, perhaps I defoliate too much. Maybe or maybe not. I can admit it before an audience. And, of course, there are those bonsai professionals out there who say, quite reasonably, that to cut off all a trees leaves might not be the best thing, horticulturally speaking. It seems, from a common sense view, a reasonable position to take. I mean, even an astrophysicist can deduce that a tree without leaves isn’t functioning very well, you know, photosynthesis and junk.  But I have observed the results of well timed defoliation on healthy trees and can attest that it works (obviously we are doing this on broadleaf trees, not conifers like a juniper…). And it doesn’t bother me when I’m denigrated by these professionals because my trees show results, and other bonsai artists work gives credence to the defoliation technique. But recently I got a message from a Reddit user from Australia who was in a heated debate on one of the Australian forums about a specific technique of partial defoliation for elongation and thickening of a branch. I didn’t have the sciencey words to help him out so, in my “asking why” way, I decided to visit the scholarly articles facet of Google and get those answers (interesting place, the realm of “Scholarly Articles” it’s like the “dark web” where, if you find yourself in it, it’s probably best to back yourself out slowly, because if you stay, you might learn something that you didn’t want to know, like, say, all things are chemicals, even dirt…or we live in a heliocentric planetary system, and your worldview will change) 

This post will be a talk about hormones (not the teen spirit kind, but the plant phytohormone kind). And, with my Google University diploma in hand, load up on guns, bring your friends, we begin. (See what I did there?)

 As usual, my homilies contain trees I’m working at the time,  so…….

I’m massaging some podocarpus today (the massage is the message). This is my second year on them. There are three, to be precise. But I only have two with before pics. 

Yup, podocarpus macrophylla. Which means toe-fruit big-leaves. 

So you’ll have to wait until the end to see tree number three. Don’t worry, I’ll mesmerize you so with my English language mastery and with staggering use of scientific jargon that you’ll forget my lackluster photography for this post. And it’s lacking, trust me. 

Here’s the after pic of the second tree:You can read all about its history Here. It’s come a long way but I’m still not liking it much. That’s all the photos on this tree. A before and after. Time to get fancy with the science speak. Let’s turn our jaded gazes to this podo:

Everything you wanted to know about it (and podocarpus) is contained in the blogpost herein. It’s progressed quite a bit from when I first got it from my friend Reggie. In case you didn’t know, there are several podocarpus leaf sizes out there. This one is a big leaf variety. These two pics are from the blog post up there hyperlinked with the word “herein” you should read it. I’ll wait. I’m going to perform two defoliation techniques on this tree to get smaller leaves. The first is to cut the leaves mostly off and to nip the growing tip. Which is what I did totally to the 2nd tree. I’m pushing for ramification on it. 

The second technique is to increase length and girth (send me $19.99 and I’ll send you these wonder pills to do just that!)…….this involves defoliation but leaving the growing tip intact. 

I know that both techniques work. I didn’t know why. I was a shame to my name because I never asked “why”. Well, let’s name names now, shall we? 

There are five main plant hormones, they are: auxin, cytokinin, gibberelins, abscisic acid, and ethylene gas. There are others and there are actually several different variants of each hormone (except ethylene). But I’ll only be talking about the ones that matter. Or the ones that help my argument, I am as susceptible to confirmation bias as the next guy, or gal. Or whatever he/she/they pronoun you prefer. 

Auxin-everyone knows this one, right? It’s the hormone responsible for apical dominance and phototropism. It’s synthesized in the growing tips and travels downward (using energy, I should add). It activates the process of differentiation of vascular tissues. It also, in conjunction with cytokinin, is responsible for wound healing. 

A quick aside, when we are talking plant hormones, we are talking minute amounts. In example, if we use two different auxins mixed together, and spray a forest or jungle in massive amounts, we don’t get a monster super tall tree jungle, we call that mixture Agent Orange and we get a wasteland. It’s actually toxic to plants in high concentrations (and birds and mammal and soldiers, women and children) even though it’s made by plants. Next!

Cytokinins– they come from the root tip and travel upward the same way water does, using no energy. They promote cell division. But they need auxins to work in tandem with. More on that when I present my grand thesis. 

Gibberelins– they are like a cross between auxin and cytokinin. They promote cell division and cell elongation. Usually stem growth between nodes. They are in leaves and bud tips. 

Abscisic Acid-technically, all the hormones are acids, so I’m not sure why they add acid to this one. Maybe it’s the alliteration. Scientists surely sling stupid sing-songy and sometimes salacious soliloquys sometimes.  It forms in the bud tips but it’s job is to inhibit cell growth, say, when it’s time for a tree to go dormant. It also works in conjunction with ethylene to close stomata when a tree is dry or to abort leaves under stress conditions. It also stimulates root growth when water is scarce. 

Ethylene Gas- if you know about tomatoes and green bananas, then you know about ethylene. It’s what’s responsible for fruit ripening. But, in our case, vegetatively, it stunts growth. It’s created when trees’ leaves are damaged someway, either through mechanical trauma, bugs, disease. More on that later too. 

Before I go further I need to add a picture for those who are just skimming the words. My notes for today’s post:

See, I studied. 

A few pics of the tree: 

This one is all authoritative looking and stuff with my hand posed holding the scissor.  That pic was before I cut off all the leaves. That’s the one branch that’s younger than all the rest. It’s an important branch needed to fill in that area on the and mature fast. The way I accomplish it is to defoliate everything but the terminal buds. It works; here’s how: By not pruning the terminal bud, it keeps the auxin intact, pushing length, I am not touching the roots, so the supply of cytokinin is stable, which keeps the ratio to auxin in an ideal stasis and encourages cell division and, therefore, girth.  The damage (pruning) releases ethylene gas, which, with the presence of auxin, suppresses side growth. The lack of gibberellins (which are in the leaves, now defoliated) keeps the internodes shorter. Ethylene decreases gibberellins too. I learned the technique from Jim Smith, and it’s been confirmed by generations of tree farmers trying to get taller, thicker trees as fast as they can. 

Now, to my regular defoliation technique. On a healthy tree, at the right time (all depending on species) I will defoliate and cut the terminal buds. What does this do? It increases ramification, it decreases internode length, it makes leaves smaller. How? Why?

Here we go, either on to the greatest explanation in the history of bonsai or the most facile, ignorant defense ever presented,  of my technique. Here’s a very poorly illustrated diagram of our green hormone factory.  

Here’s what happens when one defoliates, and tip prunes, without a repot. 

First, the growing tip is gone, so the action of auxin is stopped, no more branch elongation, but, since we have roots still producing cytokinins, they do their job and push cellular division. Backbudding, so to speak. The effects of ethylene (stunting new growth) is also lessened with the lack of auxin. Gibberellins, which cause elongation of stems (the spaces between internodes) are also lessened because of the defoliation, therefore you get shorter internodes, what we want on the branches.  

Abscisic acid, which is created and causes dormancy in leaf buds, have been lessened from the defoliation, and that action is halted. But that abscisic acid in the roots is untouched. As well as the cytokinins, which are also synthesized in the roots. They can now do their job in pushing cell division and backbudding, since auxin isn’t blocking its action. 

The ethylene gas slows the growth, and you get smaller leaves. 

For those Internet goobers who put the tl;dr (which means, too long; didn’t read): defoliation causes back budding, shorter internodes, smaller leaves. 

Here is where I put some caveats: the tree should be healthy, the tree will try its best to do what the hormones are telling it to do, but if it is unhealthy or lacks the energy, it will grow (or not grow) itself to death. 

Defoliation should be done at the right time, and the frequency matters. For example: a deciduous tree should be done mid summer, after the spring leaves have hardened off. Usually only once a summer unless you do it early summer and then late summer, but only if your growing season is long enough and the winter dormancy is great enough. 

A broadleaf evergreen should be done in early spring after a repot (wait, a repot?! Don’t worry, I’ll get to that in a bit)  and mid summer, then, depending on your climate, early fall (I can get away with it, but maybe not you. Winter begins in mid January for me and lasts through late February). 

With tropicals, I might get four defoliations a year. You all in the frozen north, maybe only two or three. Come to la Florida, the livin’s easy. 

I mentioned repottting with broadleaf evergreens on the first defoliation session. By cutting the roots at that time, we slow the synthesis of cytokinins, which slows the cellular division, but also it reduces the effects of ethylene and therefore the action of abscisic acid (which is created in both roots and leaf buds). Basically, you are keeping the hormones balanced. This mitigates stress to the tree and let’s it grow normally after the repot. 

Here’s tree number one after the work on it. You can see the lonely, thin spot on the top right. That’s where I’ve cut mostly all the tips except on that branch. 

And tree number three after the work on it: Told you I’d show it. I just did the normal pruning for ramification. 

It’s a little hard to see what I did on those podocarpus so here’s a ficus to make it easier to see. It’s a tree that belongs to my niece. Earlier in the spring we trunk chopped it and repotted it. As you see it now, it  is after branch selection and partial defoliation. I left all the growing tips but I need to slow the growth on some branches. Some wire and branch shortening. If you notice, I bent the tips up. This helps the auxin know which way is up. 

This branch is getting thicker than the others so a snip will put it back in its place. 

A few more things about hormones. They are influenced by temperature and light. Auxin is responsible for phototropism, a plant growing towards the light (or away from the dark. The plant scientists aren’t quite sure the how or why yet, mainly because the amounts or hormones in a plant are so low it’s hard to study. Most of what they know is from studying mutant plants that may lack the capability to make a certain hormone and adding it to the plant. A good example is a dwarf plant that lacks gibberellins, and by spraying them on one, it will grow normally). Low or high temps slow the action of hormones as well. Drought conditions also influence hormones, especially abscisic acid. 

Speaking of dwarf plants, this is a ficus macrocarpa “melon seed”. Not much to look at yet, needs a wiring job and another year or so. It has short internodes, dense backbudding, and doesn’t like to thicken branches or the trunk. It was grown by Erik Wigert and when I got it it was in a 3 gallon pot and was about 8 feet tall. I chopped it and put it in this pot about a year ago or so. Maybe two. It backbuds like a ficus salicaria and it’s been a struggle to keep the fungus off it and keep it green. It’s almost always yellow. I’m curious to learn if the plant is a mutant or if it was selectively bred over successive generations for its dwarf properties. 

Look for a post on the above tree explaining branch placement,  for different effects, soon. 

So, after reading all those words (and you read them all, right?) what did we learn with all this science? Well, if you’re a reader of the blog you knew what those techniques were, but now you know the what and why of the hormonal battle going on Behind The Green Door (heeheehee) of our trees’ leaves and branches. The terms and phrases are really superficial to the causes and effects for most people who do bonsai, though it helps when you are writing a blog or giving a demo to amaze and confuse the audience with technical jargon. This is what you should take away: Defoliation, with and without growing tip pruning, has definite and measurable effects upon the plants we work with. Care must be taken as to the timing, the frequency and the health of the plant. It is a valid technique in bonsai training that works, predictably, if the above cautions are taken into consideration. 

Phew, that was some deep shit there, am I right? Speaking of which, maybe I should do a fertilizer post soon……
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I’ll be making two appearances next week, one, November 5th, in Cocoa Beach, for the Brevard Bonsai’s annual Multi Club Auction ( wandering around like a fool. And in Ft Myers, as a headliner at the Bonsai Society of Southwest  Florida’s Annual show, Sunday November 6th (Show Schedule). See you all there!


Posted in branch placement, Horticulture and growing, philosophical rant, refine, tips and tricks | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Saying goodbye to a favorite tree

Some of my loyal  and longtime readers know that, for the last one year and eleven months (yes, I am counting)  I’ve been battling a unique health issue with my digestive system  (my colo-rectal surgeon says I am a unique case that her and her colleagues have never seen. My case study was even presented to a symposium of colo-rectal surgeons. I am an oddity and atypical.  Up until her saying that,  it’s only been the psychiatrists who’ve classified me in that way….) I still have several surgeries left in that battle but, in a kind of memorial, I’d like to share a casualty that happened way back in December 2014 because of my struggles. My favorite shohin ilex vomitoria “schillings”. 

The tree on display at the 2014 Bsf Convention

The tree had many of the qualities we seek in bonsai…

This was a photo Paul Pikel took

….a wide root base, quick taper , gnarly roots and twisted branches. It looked old. I also think it was the best pot/tree combo I’ve ever composed. 

Here it is today.Yeah, it’s dead. It’s sad just thinking about it. It just wasn’t watered for a few days while I was in the hospital. 

I’ve been holding on to it just like this since then. 

I think it’s time to move on. It might be more healthy for my head that way. 

At least I can reuse the soil. And the pot. 

But, I need to find a tree for the pot. 
It’s a hand thrown round but then altered into an oval. I’m not sure of the potter though. A Floridian, I think. It’s funny but it’s  usually the opposite procedure, finding a pot for a tree. 

Here are several candidates but, unfortunately, they all have good pots. 

A willow leaf ficus. 
Maybe I could use another ilex. This one is cool.But I like the combo here, a formal pot and an informal, even irreverent tree. ​ 

I think the ficus will fit…..

Let’s see…If I shoe-horn it in, it fits. 

Not sure I like it though. 

Okay then. Back into the old pot. 

I have two more trees. Another willow leaf. 

But I think it’s a little too small. It could use some root work. But not this pot. One more tree to try. A ficus microcarpa. And my kitten Salem. He’s supposed to be inside the house, he’s still too small to take care of himself, naughty kitten. 

It looks like it’ll fit. But first, some wiring and developmental pruning. 

There’s just one wire that needs to come off. 

I’m going to remove the damaged and old, interior leaves. 

I’m keeping the last leaf and the terminal buds intact. This will channel growth to the tips, to elongate and, therefore, thicken the branches. And then some wire. It looks a little weird and it seems counter intuitive to just leave the end growth intact, but we are using the trees own hormones to direct growth. 

Now for the new pot.

I normally wouldn’t do this at this time (it’s late October in Florida) but I’m not touching the roots at all. And it’s a ficus. 

I turned the pot around too. It looks good in there. A good choice. Now just let it grow. 

And give a thought to our fallen yaupon holly. Let’s remember him in his glory. I should have used this display at the convention. 

Posted in philosophical rant, redesign | Tagged , , , , , | 18 Comments