This is a post for my Dwarf Jade Bonsai BootCamp members (and everyone else too. Which, if you’re interested, it’s available from The Bonsai Supply). The reason I’m writing it is so you all don’t feel like I’m picking on you when I make you practice this type of tough love on your trees, that I’m about to inflict upon on my own tree.

See? I’m not just a sadist, but also a masochist…..

The tree was a gift from a lady (Mrs. Campbell) who was moving to San Fransisco and couldn’t take her trees with her. California is notorious for not allowing any vegetable matter, even just an apple (!) into the state. She grew it from a cutting (so keep the faith!).

It has a wonderful root structure. Not necessarily classic bonsai, but I like it.

We had a big storm the other day and it got knocked off the bench, so I figured it was time to work it.

This was the original front I believe.

I say that’s the front because the trees structure and habit are growing that way.

Here’s damage from the storm…

Not really bad, but enough to get me off my butt.

The original pot. Classic Greek I think. It was just a grow pot, to increase the trunk size and all that.

it was also good for the purpose it served, a cascade, and Mrs. Campbell liked it and that’s all that matters.

I’ve let it grow in the year or two since I’ve had it (that seems to be a theme here recently, letting a tree grow and coming back to it).

But now I have a few choices to make.

One of the cascading branches need to go and….

I need to figure out a top.

Or even if I need one. Cascades don’t necessarily need a top.

I like cascades with tops myself. But, like I said, you don’t necessarily need one. They say the higher up the mountain you go, the less of an apex you have. Something about snow compacting the trunk and bending it down. We don’t know snow here in the sun-tropical paradise we like to call “la florida”. Having never been a mountaineer, I’m not witness to that snow damage, but it looks good on that one graphic you see floating around the interwebs with a banyan tree at the bottom, and as you travel up in elevation and you eventually get to a mountain and a full (topless) cascade near the peak. From Pinterest

Here’s a teaching moment: this brand new bud illustrates the concept of what a node is and how a Portulacaria only shoots new growth at a node. The segment where the shoot is emerging from is the node, and the internode is the space between (hence the prefix “inter”, meaning “between” ) New buds won’t grow from the internodal cellular space, on most trees and especially dwarf jade, but only from the nodes.

Let’s get to work!

That’s the new top, in the above pic.

This branch below is too much in front. They call it an “eye poker”. Eye pokers are branches that are coming from the front and you can’t really see them because of extreme foreshortening. Not good design generally.

Now we have two choices for the first branch on the left. Both are the same size and they are right on top of each other. Sometimes you keep that but, same sized branches in a row, what we call “stacked branches” are again, not good design. As the branches go up towards the top of the tree, they should be successively skinnier.

I picked the upper one, to show the trunk better and raise the “canopy”.

Now, do we keep this left side branch?

One reason to keep it is to help balance the movement.

But I think maybe the cascade needs to be more towards the left.

And it’s gone!


This first branch, which is technically the cascade branch, needs some movement. That’ll come in a bit.

Let’s talk roots.

The soil is the old “Florida mix”, which I’ve based my mix on (I stole it of course. Or “built upon it”. Knowledge is always built upon what has come before).

This looks like Jim Smiths formula: lava, pine bark, calcined clay (he used Turface brand).

It worked and still does.

Remove the compacted soil underneath and below the trunk. That’s the place where water will stay, causing roots to suffocate (soil should have space for water and air, about a 50/50 ratio). That space will be where I work the most to get new soil into.

A little compacted. Maybe it’s been 2-3 years since I’ve looked at this tree?

There we go, that should work. I don’t usually remove so much soil and “bare-root”. But I need some better drainage.

It’s going into a more shallow pot, and we need better drainage for those (the more shallow a pot, the less it drains).

Ready for the new pot. And some wire.

With larger wire I prefer to apply it before I repot, as just the application can disturb the newly reported tree.

You’ll see, in the above pic, I haven’t added soil yet.

But, below, we are settled, wired, and ready for some glamour shots!

I k ow many of you don’t have access to trunks with this type of caliber, but try to seek them out and jump on the chance to get them when you can.

Many thanks to Mrs. Campbell, of course.

And to Mr. Peter Penico for the pot.

It’s a raku fired pot with some “horse hair” accents and a sweet splash of red on it.

Now it needs to sit under the roof of The Nook, so no rain gets to it, for at least a week.

Nine days later we have new growth.

The old leaves have shriveled up, don’t worry about that. It’s normal

Now it’s ready for sun, rain, and heat.

This is a transition bench right next to The Nook, so I can watch newly reported trees.

The BonsaiBootcamp Studygroup also has a Facebook group where we share projects and knowledge, and there’s also a monthly Zoom group you can join. Check out The Bonsai Supply, online, on Facebook and YouTube, they are a go-to spot for all you might need for bonsai.

Posted in Art

14 thoughts

  1. This is a total misunderstanding of what bonsai is. Or, better said, what it should be. Jade can never be(come) a bonsai. Period!


    1. Dwarf Jade are probably my favorite bonsai tree. I don’t get this comment at all. Haters gonna hate I guess. Thanks for the post and sharing your knowledge.


  2. Good stuff, thanks! I have a cutting that is growing in such a way as to suggest a cascade form, and will probably be repotting it soon so it has some time to grow before it comes inside for Toledo’s winter. 2 questions:
    A) Do you recommend trimming before a repot to a bigger pot? I seem to recall you saying that trunk thickening on Portulacaria is enhanced by allowing taller and wider growth.

    2) Switch to bonsai soil now, or let I grow in some other type for a while?


  3. Oh, I just thought of a question… Is it possible to purchase the jade bonsai study group/course for someone else as a gift?


  4. Adam,
    Cool tree. To me, there’s an added level of enjoyment when a tree possesses traits of the human form. It’s like a living sculpture. This one appears to be gracefully bending at the waist and… Come to think of it, people who say JaDeS aReNt BoNsAi should also gracefully bend at the waist, take their opinion and… I’ll get to my question, when developing Ports into cascades/semi-cascades how quickly do you cut the new shoots that you don’t ever want to be in the design? As the plant tries to shade its trunk with new growth, I wonder if I’m robbing it of energy by continuously cutting the new growth immediately. Thank you for sharing this post, very fun to see the transformation.


    1. I’ll tend to let a tree grow freely for a season after the first heavy styling, just to let it recover and begin to store more energy, but a succulent like the Portulacaria has a great energy reserve. It’s evolved to survive elephants eating it so it needs to be able to regrow with not much left.


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