Building a bonsai is all about the process

Well, that’s a mess. Sometimes, though, it’s when you’re at your messiest is when you’re at your best. That’s the process.

If you are so worried about being neat, you’re not really throwing your whole self into the creation.

And, like they say, a clean desk is the sign of an empty mind…….

Or, more likely, what I just said is just a pile of fertilizer.

Say hello to Kathrin. I made her hold that tree for a full 2 minutes trying to get the perfect pic.

And that is her ficus microcarpa she started from a cutting. She is deep in process of slowly building the structure, growing out the trunk, with wired movement, then the branches. Growing them, wiring, then cutting back. That’s the point she is at now. The next step in the process is the thickening of the secondary branches. Who out there is saying to themselves “If your thickening the branches, why did you cut off all the leaves?”

Aha! Good question! We follow the concept here at Adamaskwhy Bonsai Central that it is hormones that drive growth. Energy plays a role, definitely, but hormones will cause a plant to keep growing until there’s no more energy left.

And by defoliating our ficus (which is healthy and just bursting with energy) but, leaving the growing tips (whence the auxins accumulate) the tree will put on new growth at those tips, first, and elongate the branch, thus thickening it faster.

That’s using hormone theory for growth and development (let me fix an all too common misconception in modern day speech. The word theory is not what people think it is. A theory is the accepted reality as we know it as far as science can describe. For example, we have the theory of gravity. Gravity is real, and it is observable. It is true we don’t know exactly why it works, but it works.

The problem is that most people confuse the words theory and hypothesis. Or, more precisely, they say theory but mean hypothesis).

Thus spake Zarathustra!

How did I come to this theory?

I read.

I pour over scholarly articles on hormones, touching such subjects as rice, or sugar cane, or oak trees. It’s amazing the variety of plant species that are studied (and not studied!). I tend to eschew bonsai articles as they teach more about the traditional and passed down techniques and knowledge. I am a firm believer that often times schooling gets in the way of learning. When these scientists do their experiments, they may have a hypothesis but the theory doesn’t come until after all the data has been collated and examined. Traditions are good, and needed. But when they are incorrect, they are incorrect.

I think I’ve made my point.

I teach four studygroups every month, on top of any clubs or private sessions I go to.

This is the Saturday Sarasota group. They are an amazing bunch of people, willing to learn and (more importantly) they laugh at my bad jokes.

This willow leaf belongs to Steve. It’s a testament to process. He started the tree more than twenty years ago from a cutting as well.

He let it grow, chopped it, wired it, let it grow. But he followed the process (there is a blog post I wrote about it a few years ago when I was boarding the tree for a few months while he was moving and setting up His new house). Now it’s a show stopper. But it’s still developing…..notice we took off a front branch to open up that amazing trunk line. It has near perfect taper and subtle movement. This is, in my opinion, one of the best banyan style willow leaf ficus in the state.

Here’s a ficus of my own. It’s been in the blog before, and now it needs some work.

It’s been a little weak this year, but with the advent of our second spring (what you in the Frozen north call autumn) , it’s beginning to grow again.

Old leaves make for inefficient photosynthesis. They got to go!

The signal I was waiting for was this: new growth. If you notice the slightly red tinge to the leaves? I do believe, by that red tinge, this is a ficus microcarpa “kinman”. Which means “red head”.

The process on this tree, defoliation, then some atomic green fertilizer (Harrell’s brand)……….in the defoliation process I left the growth tips……….you see, F. microcarpa sometimes have dieback, by leaving the grow tips (stipules), the flow of hormones (in this case, auxin) continues the growth. In about a week or two, when the fertilizer kicks in, I’ll cut the stipules, and this will direct the growth inward and increase ramification (we remove the auxin, which is an evil oppressor of the weaker, yet important, hormone called cytokinin. It activates the secondary buds).

The next tree (I’m just burning through them on this post!) that’s in process, is a Brazilian Raintree. You’ve seen this one too. I think even this year.

I’ve removed the wire several months ago (part of the process) and let it grow.

It grew almost two feet on that one branch.

Now, because I’m listening, the tree is telling me it’s time for some new work.

The language of a BRT is easy. If it s leaves droop, it needs water, or shade, or it’s night. If they stay droopy most of the time, it’s telling me that it’s defoliation time.

This constant droopiness on a BRT is because of a process called senescence (I wrote a post on it way back in 2016).

But it’s not just the droopiness that is speaking at me. Below, you’ll see the new bud ready to go.

It will eventually pop, but it is my experience that we can help the tree by getting those old leaves out of the way and letting it grow.

Now, wire.

And yes, I’m leaving those branches that long. On a tropical legume like this BRT, the growth habit tends to be long and twisted.

But first, I gotta get to The Nook.

The kids are here and Mathew is ready to rock!

At The Nook, it’s time to get bent.

Ooooops! Ah well….I will point out that it cracked where the wire was not protecting the outside edge of the curve (read the post on the escambron for that lesson, scroll about two posts back I’d say).

A break like this is called serendipity.

I can make it work.

Twists and turns, ups and downs….

Dog legs and switchbacks……

Try to make it look spooky.

I’ve been building this tree for a few years, getting the structure and movement, slowly.

It’s a small tree but I like it. Not much more than a stick in a pot but it does have character.

That matters.

Both in bonsai and in real life.

I think it’s almost time to find a good pot.

That’s the next step in the process.

What’s next on the bench?

But that’s another story……

Posted in Art | 4 Comments

A bonsai, an ostomy, a life

The tree:

The me:

The set up:

The life:I’m being a bit pretentious but, you see, I can be. Why?

Welcome, my friends, it is…

(I don’t use this brand but it’s the only graphic I could find for free, thank you Hollister, I’ll be ordering some samples soon!)

I thought that it would be informative to my readers to understand just a little about what I have to do to be a teaching and traveling bonsai artist living with an ostomy.

First, for those who have no idea what that is, an ostomy is, basically, a hole in your body through which either urine or feces (or fæces if you’re English) can exit your body (from those organs which produce said waste) and be collected in an appliance. Check this website out for a good description of types of ostomies.

I have an ileostomy (more specifically, a loop ileostomy. This type is supposed to be temporary but I am coming up on four years now with it).

Let’s introduce the Ostomates (what those of us with ostomies call ourselves) to my art, bonsai trees.

What’s a bonsai?

Generally, it is a relatively small and young tree, trained, through various pruning and artistic techniques, to look like a big and old tree. We use just about any kind of tree (juniper, oak, elm, etc), but we usually prefer trees with small foliage and the ability to respond to our various abuses.

Like the ficus above. It is a ficus salicaria, or willow leaf fig (a ficus is a fig is a ficus). I’ll be going back and forth between work on the tree, and explaining my ostomy. It’ll be fun, don’t worry. There will be a little bit of…umm….fleshy bits, but you can quickly scroll past those parts if you’d like.

The first thing I do to a tropical tree like our ficus here is to (usually) cut off all the leaves (oh no!!!) don’t worry, the tree responds very well to this technique. I’ll also be removing the training wire (I use aluminum but many artists use an annealed copper wire).

The purpose of the wire is to move the branches to make them look older than they are. They’re not permanent, but are much like braces on your teeth. When they’re “set” you take them off.

Let us begin…


Speaking of snip….

All this paraphernalia and supplies are just for me to be able to hold my….uhhh, poo.

Below is the bag, or ostomy appliance (because you apply it to the skin I guess). This side is what you stick to your abdomen.

The brand is ConvaTec, and the model is an Esteem Plus, one-piece, drainable pouch, with a moldable Stomahesive skin barrier. The part with the graphic of the two thumbs is the moldable barrier. For me, it gets tossed aside. I tend to adapt things to work better, so I use a different barrier, which you’ll see in a moment.

This is the front. The opening on the bottom with the Velcro is how I drain the pouch. I won’t show you that, don’t worry.

This is the lifesaver, without it I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. . It’s called a SureSeal ring. It goes over the part we call the flange (which is the seal). If I get a leak from the flange’s seal, this SureSeal keeps it, uh…contained, until I can change the whole system. I learned about this miraculous product from Megan, The Front Butt YouTuber

These are my ostomy scissors. They’re specially shaped to cut a circle.

These are my bonsai scissors. They’re specially designed to cut off leaves and branches.

Like so. Our ficus has been dewired and defoliated.

This is the seal I use in place of the one that comes with the ConvaTec bag. It is a Coloplast Brava skin barrier protective sheet. I learned about them by talking to the ostomy care specialist from Coloplast and they suggested it.

I have found, after all of the different skin barrier seals I’ve tried, this to be the best “seal” for my situation. It works for me.

But, I have to cut it to fit. And that’s what those scissors are for (the first ones). For those who wish to know, the hole I have to cut for my stoma is 50 mm or two inches wide. That is large, btw, as far as stoma sizes go. My ostomate readers will understand that. But the hole isn’t as big as my ego. My bonsai people will understand that.

What now? Cleanup. To my stoma area I first remove the old pouch (interestingly, there are several words we use for our appliances. I say bag, but some find that distasteful, some say pouch, as you saw in the ConvaTec description above. Technically, it’s an appliance. Here’s a very good link describing several different kinds).

For my fellow ostomates that want to know what a bonsai is, you can peruse my site (there are more than 400 articles) or go to my friend Oscars’s site Bonsai Empire

This ficus is a little unusual in the structure, kinda like me and my stoma.A little about me as an artist: I find myself in a philosophical and aesthetic mindset where I wish to use odd shapes and interesting structures to create my bonsai (my tag line for this blog is accurate, I am both irreverent and questioning). I think I’ve shown enough that I can create regular or “acceptable” bonsai (as an analogy, I can paint a bowl of fruit, and I’ve done it in many ways and styled. At this point in my artistic journey, I don’t want to paint fruit anymore).

This tree below might just be considered not a “good” bonsai. Some might even say it’s bad. It’s not a good bowl of fruit because it doesn’t conform to what some people might think is a bowl of fruit should be. I know, the ostomy readers are thinking, a “bad” bonsai? Isn’t bonsai an art? How can art style be bad? You either like it or not. Or it’s not well done (I guess that might be considered bad, but does one discourage a beginner in an endeavor by saying whatever they do is bad, or do we encourage for them to practice more?)

Speaking of art, as I said, my stoma is shaped oddly. Here’s a digital re-imagining of it.

Don’t worry, it’s not that bad. I call it my “Middle aged Mutant Ninja Stoma”. Sometimes I call it “Admiral Akbar”

If you can’t laugh at yourself, whom can you laugh at.

Where was I? Ah, cleanup of my stoma area, I use baby wipes to clean, literally, the shit. That’s what they’re made for. But, unfortunately, baby wipes have oil in them. Oil, as you might guess, is not conducive for making a good seal. So I use that rubbing alcohol to “prep” the skin.

Then, so I don’t get a rash (those of us with ileostomies are susceptible to rashes from our output because of two reasons. First, it’s very watery. I don’t use my large intestine as the diversion, the stoma, Akbar, occurs at the end of the small intestine. And, if you remember from your anatomy section in your health class, the large intestine is where you absorb most of your water. I, obviously, can’t now do that and yes, it makes me very much in danger of dehydration. That’s why, when you see me at the shows or on stage, you see me with a drink in my hand almost all the time (no, not an adult beverage, usually it’s a Powerade) . Secondly, it’s also inside the large intestine where the body reabsorbs digestive enzymes. So literally, if my flange is leaking, I am digesting my skin. This is why babies get rashes as well, their systems don’t work well so their poo is watery and acidic….and that just painted a nice pic in your head of what my poo looks like, didn’t it? Hahaha…. ), I use this powder…. It absorbs moisture…..

This is a typical rash. Don’t worry, this pic isn’t bad either.

This one is though, a camera selfie.

This pic is kinda cool.

The next step for the bonsai is repotting.

This is my soil mix , I have many blog posts on soil mixes and what I use, so I won’t bore you all too much on it, except to say, there is no “dirt” or “soil” in it. Soil mix is just a generic and (in my opinion) an acceptable term to use. I’m not a Bonsai Snob and I rather dislike those who try to be (that’s why they call me irreverent really, I don’t know why, but they also Call me the Gangster of Love…..).

By “repot” I mean that I am removing old soil and pruning long roots and, often, re-using the same container the tree was in. I don’t often put it in a larger pot, but I might change it if I find one that matches the tree better.

I wish I could change my stoma so it matched me better.

So, a warning……

……you may want to scroll fast past the next pic…….

…….it’s an actual, in living poo color, in your face picture of my stoma……

…….I warned you…..






What you see on the edges are granuloma tissue that needs to be removed by my surgeon. But I haven’t seen her for about two years. It’s a long story but it has to do with me needing to switch insurance companies twice in those two years.

I won’t engage in an argument as to what system may work best when it comes to health care payments. I just won’t.

But here I am, with an ugly stoma (are there any pretty ones?) and one that prolapses as well. My surgeon and I had discussed the prolapsing (I won’t put a link this time but if you’re curious, google prolapsed stoma, not even remotely attractive), but we were going to do a reversal…..and then the whole insurance thing. So yeah……as a result of the prolapsing, I wear an abdominal binder to keep my intestines in (for those of you who have met me or watched me in a demo or class, no, it’s not a girdle keeping my fat belly in).

Speaking of binding, it’s time to wire. The wire above is called a guy wire (if we called it a girl wire, it might get us in trouble… dum dum crash)

A second one. When we wire, usually it’s done by wrapping the wire around the branch in a spiral. Often times, if we only need some downward movement, a guy wire or two works just as well.

And, after all the branches are wired, I move them so they look old (meaning it looks like gravity has acted upon them over time and are twisted and gnarly, like my personality), but are harmonious as well. This is a bonsai.

But that’s not all I do. I teach bonsai as well, traveling around the country, driving, flying etc. with my ostomy.

This is Judy, one of my Ft. Myers, Fl students.

These all belong to Rick, another student.

This belongs to my client, Janice.

And this is me, the handsome devil I am.

Why am I writing so extensively about my ostomy today,? Well, it is Workd Ostomy Day, which only happens every three years, and the theme of this years World Ostomy Day is:

Speaking Out Changes Lives.

The interesting thing is, I did not know that was the theme when I started writing this blog post. I just had an idea that I should share more with my readers than I ever have. And to give you all an idea of what I need to do to function in my life.

I also wanted to share my passion for bonsai, both the Art and the education, with the Ostomates that stumble upon this post.

And to show them that one can still be productive and fulfilled with an ostomy.

I am not always happy and chipper (or cantankerous for that matter). This is a painting I did after one of my surgeries. There are some very dark moments living with my ileostomy.

But bonsai brings me back. This is me giving a talk about bonsai at Epcot in Disney World. That was a good day.

I also have a YouTube channel where I act like a fool talking about my trees (Here’s a good example of my video work)

It’s been a humbling journey, both in bonsai and with my ostomy. But I still live.

I could not have made it without my wife, Rebecca.

She’s been my rock. She changed my bag until I learned how (all you New ostomates, don’t you worry, you’ll learn). She takes care of me and the kids, she waters the trees while I’m away. And is often the face of the business when I am vending at a show (I’m too busy hobnobbing with my fellow bonsai artists).

Thank you my wife.

Thank My Bonsai World.

And thank you my fellow Ostomates, I know that I am not in a bad way. reading and watching your stories sometimes makes me sad. I actually have it easy, and in many ways, I’m pretty fortunate.

I am grateful.

Happy World Ostomy Day my friends.

Anyway, that’s me.

I hope to meet you one day.

Posted in Art, maintenance, philosophical rant, wiring | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Did you just call me escambron again….that’s it, I’m gonna….wait, what, that’s the name of a tree?

Escambron, a tree native to Puerto Rico. If you say escambron with just a little bit of the emphasis on the right syllable and slur it a bit, you might just be saying a bad word (shut your mouth…)

Let’s talk about it’s scientific name. I’ve always known it as a type of clerodendrum, C. aculeatum to be exact, but, upon researching the species, I think the scientists may have moved it. Based on what I’m reading, these plant scientists have been doing genetic testing and figured out that they no longer belong in the genus clerodendrum, but a different genus called volkameria (volkameria aculatea to be precise). Check here and here and here. The last link is called The Red List, which determines how endangered a plant is. It also has the Puerto Rican common name in the description escambrón.

I’m not going to get in another fight with old timers or nativists who refuse to change their speaking habits after those in charge of naming plants change the names of trees (like chloroleucon tortum) or when they are misidentified (like ficus microcarpa being called f. retusa), but I’ll be calling it a volkameria from now on.

I do need an identification on this fungus though. It might be a type of Cortocioid fungus, which I think, is mycorrhizal in nature. But I don’t know. I’d be terrible on one of those survival shows. Not only would I be worrying about who’s watering my trees at home, but I’d be too busy trying to collect specimen bonsai to find food.

I’ve seen the fungus on bougainvilleas before as well. Both their wood rots similarly.

It kinda tastes like bacon….

I think this is my front. I’ll need to do some carving. (For all you scrambling to identify the fungus to see if I’ve poisoned myself, no worries, I didn’t taste it, I’m not that dumb…..usually)

This was the previous front. I think.

A little background on the tree, it was collected by a former friend named Michael Feduccia from Puerto Rico. It was either a workshop tree at a Bsf convention that Michael taught or a Kawa Bonsai Society, Joy of Bonsai event.

The bonsai enthusiast that took the class is Christen, from South Carolina (her hometown got hit hard from Hurricane Florence, if you can spare it, donate to your favorite charity, Christen recommends The Cajun Navy and Operation BBQ Relief )

She asked me at the 2018 Winter Silhouette show in Kannapolis if I’d take it home to Florida and develop it, Florida being a little more hospitable to a tropical tree than the Carolinas. And here I am, working it today.

One characteristic of the escambron is how brittle the branches are. But, if you catch them while they’re young………..they’ll still bend.

But I am going to cut it way back before I carve it.

Like many tropical trees, it bites, it has these small thorns.Insidiously tiny ones that jam into your fingers as you are wiring and bending the branch.

Ah, we can see the tree now. It has some structure to work with. It won’t be one of those “omg, he’s a magician” stylings today (those happen with trees that have been developed for a long time and then let go for a year, so the “styling” looks miraculous. I try to stay away from those “easy” trees as most bonsai practitioners can’t afford them and I am, if nothing else, a Working Class bonsai artist). It’s more instructive for you all to see the initial styling, and then watch it through the months and years, as it develops into a good bonsai, learning along the way.

The decision. Where is the top? Well, you’ll notice the bulge on the trunk? One of the purposes of carving is to give the tree some better taper.

And since I’m carving, and I want you to see it, I’ll choose the back branches as the new top.

The power tool I’ll be using is the medium duty Makita. It’s a good tool for removing a modest amount of material and doing some shaping. I’d recommend it before a Dremel definitely, as you can get a smaller collet for smaller bits. I’m only using one bit today, but I wanted to show you the two I got from the new US distributor of the Samurai line of carving bits, Artisan’s Bonsai, near Tampa Florida. The one on the right is called The Ronin. On the left is just a ball end carver like you’d use on a root stand (like I did here. It came out ok, but too bad about Sean though, I used to like him.) If you’re not in the Central Florida area, you can order the carving bits here:

I said just one bit and I meant it. Before I carve I’ll go over some safety equipment I use and highly suggest.

Safety glasses: if you can’t see, you can’t carve.

Gloves: no gloves, no love.

A dust mask: breathing ain’t no joke.

And finally, no matter what power tool I use, I use a variable speed foot pedal:You plug the tool into it, and plug it into the power supply. One reason for a foot pedal: most of these tools have just an on or off switch. If you drop the tool while it’s still running, the only thing you can do is try to unplug it. Otherwise it bounces on the ground and you have to dodge it as it chases you around The Nook (or your nook, or studio, or back porch. Wherever you do that bonsai you do).With a foot pedal, when you take your foot off the pedal, the tool shuts off. Safe as milk it is.

The second reason is the variable speed. There are just on or off foot pedals but you need the variable speed kind. I can go fast or slow, depending on the rating of the carving bit. This comes in handy when using a wire brush, which likes to fly apart at high rpms.

Before carving, above.

After carving, below.

Now, for wire….

This tree is very much like a bougainvillea. Not just in the softness of the wood but also in the way the branch attaches itself to the trunk.

The only way I can think to describe it is “like a socket”

Meaning that if you flex it too much it pops out, like your arm out of your shoulder if it’s flexed too much by Biff, your childhood bully that just needs some positive reinforcement from his parents…..

……like I did here…..To get the bend I need, I brace it in place (just some gentle guidance, you’ll be ok Biff, we love you….) ….and ….not bad……I don’t generally like my branching to come off at that 27 degree angle anyway.

Now we get to some physics. It’s been said that wiring like this is akin to wiring like a four year old. Not to mention I learned it from a septuagenarian, let’s talk science a little. When we bend a branch, the inside of the bend is being compressed, and the outside is being stressed. This stress site is where it cracks. But…BUT….if you cover that outer layer, it isn’t an outer layer anymore, and it gets compressed, and doesn’t crack. It is this principle of stress and compression that is used when you wrap a branch in raffia, or self amalgamating electricians tape or an old inner tube, or your wife’s nylons….. It keeps the branch from cracking. Amazingly, the same thing happens when a wire is wrapped around a branch. So it makes sense to spread out the wire (instead of the “approved” method of making the wire look pretty by placing it next to itself). So when you bend, the wire is more likely to protect the branch from cracking.

And it works.

Even if you don’t believe in it. Like gravity.

It’s repot time, before the cold and snow of winter comes…..who am I kidding? I live in Florida so I don’t have to deal with snow. And I get to do bonsai all year ’round.

I think the tree wants to be repotted. If you’re unsure of how often to repot, if the roots are growing out of the drain holes, that’s a good indication.

Or, if like below, when you take the tree out of the pot, and you can cut a finger on the root ball it’s so sharp……

Where’s my root rake? I swear Teeco, put my tools away! You’d better not have put it in your tool bag….

Never mind, I found it…sorry…

…damm that’s a lot of roots!

And, because I know you’ll ask, the soil it was in is a pumice, lava rock, expanded shale or clay (or both) and akadama.

The soil I’m putting it into is pumice, lava, expanded slate, zeolite, and, to test it out since I just got a sample from American Bonsai tools, some fir bark.

And that’s all I can do to it today.

Like the song says, “Let it grow, let it grow!”

Or is that what it says?

I do have one more escambron that needs repotting. Sooo…..very quickly….It’s a little more well developed. But I’ve let it grow this season to gain strength.

It’s a totally hollow trunk. Which is pretty normal for one.

Orf wiv it’s ‘ed!

Good roots, in a mix similar to mine…..

Combed out……

And repotted…….

And Bob’s yer uncle!

Next time, on Celebrity Death Match Bonsai Styling, a tree I got from…..dum dum dummmmmm… enemy!

See ya’ real soon!

Posted in Art, branch placement, carving, rare finds, sculpture, styling bonsai, wiring, yamadori | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Bonsai on Elm Street

It’s actually the corner of Randolph and Wallace, but that’s not very euphonious.

It is an elm tree. A Chinese elm, for clarification, Ulmus parviflora, which means “small flowered elm”. It is a species from East Asia including China and Japan (sorry, but I must insert a note on the general naming of plants, or the binomial system. I see this mistake often, but, most recently and embarrassingly, by a gentleman who has been in bonsai for longer than I’ve been alive. The genus is the first part, which here would be the “Ulmus”. The second part is the species, again, in this case “parviflora”. Lastly, we would have the cultivar, which might be “Caitlyn” or “seiju”. It’s not very edifying to oneself to use the word “cultivar” when you mean “species”)

I’m not sure what, if any, the variety this tree is (or, you know, the cultivar, which means a cultivated variety, or one that’s been selected for favorable traits. Like the small (tiny) leaves on the Ulmus parviflora “seiju”) It is ugly. Very non-elm like. Looks like a caricature of a bonsai.

And I’ve let it get scarred terribly. But scars are cool. Chicks dig ’em. That’s ok though, they’ll grow out in the end.

I think I got several of these elms from someone and had to take the good with the bad, hence this one….In my experience, in Florida, the Chinese elm is unique in the deciduous world in that it’s not always deciduous. Meaning the leaves stay on the tree and stay green all winter. We can also repot them well into spring, even after new growth has appeared. They do suffer a heat dormancy in July/August, but if you keep them fertilized, watered, and pruned, they will keep growing.

These characteristics got me to asking myself, “Self, if these trees exhibit some traits of a tropical, or semi-tropical plant, what would happen if I treated one that way?”Now, normally, I stop even thinking about the deciduous trees after September or so, as far as pruning and fertilizer go, because if I don’t, and get a flush of growth in, say, December, then get a cold snap that freezes off the new growth, a deciduous tree generally doesn’t have the energy to re-sprout again come spring. I don’t even look in their general direction for this reason.

Here’s my timeline and techniques on how I teach the development of deciduous bonsai trees:

Starting in late January (the same for all parts of the world, mostly) you knock off any extraneous and un-needed buds that formed last year. Use basic bonsai pruning ideas to choose the wanted/unwanted ones, i.e, any bud in the crotches or undersides of branches. Remove old wire as well.

In February or March (depending on where you live) and as the new (and remaining) buds begin to swell, repot the tree. Do not fertilize at this time. If you fertilize now, it will cause the new growth to have long internodes (the spaces between the buds, or nodes). We want the growth to be short and close, so when you prune, the ramification is more dense.

I also wire at this time so that the shapes are set early in the year.

In about a month, after the new leaf growth hardens off (gets dark green, thickens, stiffens) then you fertilize, and prune off unwanted branches, or shorten extra long ones. Remove any wire that may be starting to get too tight at this time and re-wire as needed.

In June/July, defoliate and un-wire, re-wire. Fertilize again (when I say “fertilize” and it’s a tree in training, I mean using a granular and organic fertilizer. For slow, extended release and slow, strong growth).

At the end of August or early September, remove any old fertilizer, un-wire, and re-wire as needed, then let the tree go dormant for winter.

Some of the timing will be different (think of the differences from Miami to Alberta). But the procedures would be the same.

The reason for such a rigorous schedule is a deciduous tree can only (well, mostly) create food for itself during the growing season and it stores this food (as carbohydrate and sugars) until it needs to wake up in the spring. If we start taking energy to develop it as a bonsai, we can weaken it and even kill it.

It is this reason that I can’t grow a tree like the Japanese maple. It is very sensitive to heat, and it comes out of dormancy in Florida too early, or never goes into dormancy, and the trees just fizzle out and die, consuming it’s food because it has no choice to do so.

So then, what in the name of all that is green and growing, am I doing to this poor elm?

Well, first, I’m pruning for taper …..


Then some defoliation…..

You can tell a leaf in senescence by how easily it plucks off the branch.

And it is in a senescent state, but not yet dormant. It’s been a long, hot, wet summer here in The Sunshine State, my normal timing would have been to defoliate in July to kick it out of this slowdown. But, if you read the last post, I’m a little behind on some of my trees.

On an elm, you can defoliate by cutting off the leaves so that the new bud isn’t damaged (which is what we want) but you can also pull the leaf forward and pluck it off without damaging said bud.

As I defoliate and prune, this activates the hormones and starts the tree growing (contrary to what some people teach about energy, it is the hormones that make a tree grow. It’s true that a tree uses energy to grow, but it’s the hormones that make it grow and in which way. That whole “balance the energy” trope should read “balance the hormones”).

Naked tree. Close your eyes!

The branch I cut for taper, cleaned up a bit. I left the growth tip intact, so it elongates and thickens faster.

Aha! I just learned that the steering wheel is a perfect pot holder!

No hands!

when I first started posting bonsai pics, I happened to put up one where I was bending a branch, seemingly with just one hand. I wasn’t really, it was just a pic and one hand was holding the camera, but a curmudgeon of a man decided to attack me in public, telling me I had the responsibility, to show only proper technique when it came to bonsai instruction.

After laughing and explaining to him that, yes, if you read the caption, it says to do it the correct way. Anyway, always wire and bend with two hands.

As I did on this tree.

As I pointed out earlier, this is an ugly tree.

It even has a cheap, and a Chinese, and a cracked, pot. Pathos for all that’s good for bonsai………hah!

To clarify what I am doing, in case you couldn’t figure out by my obtuse explanation (I do tend to ramble. And wander, and tangentially bounce around), I am going to treat this deciduous (mostly) Chinese elm as though it’s not. I’m going to push the tree and see what happens. It’ll either revolutionize the growing and development of Chinese elms or I’m going to kill the tree.To also clarify, this is not an experiment, as experiments should be characterized as such.

Experiments have controls, rigidity, data collection. Those things are beyond me. I’m a bonsai artist.

This is a case study using my horticultural prowess, my moxie, my years of experience, my green thumb. The only scientific thing going on here is my hypothesis (which is the word most people mean when they say theory, btw):

“I think this elm will act like a tropical tree”.

I actually think it has a higher chance of dying, but we will see next spring and especially in the summer. But first, this will be the Winter of our Discontent.

And, to quote that famous song (sorry about the inevitable earworm)


tell your baby children,

yea yea

Don’t do the things that

I’ve done….”

Interestingly, the elm has responded to the initial pruning in only about a week’s time, since the work was done.

Do not be too excited my friends, I knew this would happen.

I’ll update as the tree progresses. Please send hate mail to the appropriate email address. And don’t speak too unkindly of me behind my back. I’m sensitive that way.

Posted in Art, Horticulture and growing, rare finds, wiring | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Return of the cracked pot friendship tree

Again, here I sit, waiting for the kids to be released from prison… uh, school. People ask me why I work on my bonsai so much here. I guess I could just take a nap or read a book but, I’m a bonsai guy. Plus I baffle the other parents and get strange looks. That’s worth it, if for no other reason.

The tree today is a Brazilian Raintree. I had been calling it the “Friendship BRT” but since I put it into that pot I added the “cracked-pot” descriptor to it, for the obvious literal meaning and because of its history and what has happened since.

Here’s its history, in reverse order (latest to earliest).

You can see its last appearance if you click here, the one before it was here, and before that was here. There are some good progressions of some of my best trees in there. It’s amazing that today’s tree started off like this:

After the styling it ended up here:

But, when we last saw it, it was like this:

What’s it gonna end up like? You’ll have to wait until, uh…the end, I guess…..

The famous PT Loser. I just realized this was the first model year of the car. It really seems like it. They should come up with a measurement of age the same way they do for dogs. After 18 years of existence, a human is just beginning. A car, especially a Chrysler, is ending (and probably should have been crushed for scrap 3 years previously).

I could list its ailments but then I’d just ruin your day. I really do need to take it out behind the barn and put it down (right after I get full insurance coverage on it, that is…shhhhh).

I bought it cheap but I’ve had to keep up a running list of repairs and pay for them. My uncle says you pay for a car whether it’s new or not, either monthly finance charges or (it seems like it for this car) monthly repairs.

Anyway, let’s turn our attention to our tree today. It seems as though it’s weathered some of my recent life-storms with grace and strength.

It’s alive and growing at least.

This is some of the dieback from about a weeks neglect that happened at the end of June and the beginning of July. If you’re on Facebook, you’ll understand about the neglect. All I have to say about that episode is that there are several people who should be grateful that I’m not the suing type, or maybe they counted on that, when they chose to libel me. In public, in writing (even though many of those people have since removed their comments. I’ll tell you what guys, Facebook is forever, if a subpoena were gotten, Facebook is glad to bring all those nasty things that were said into court, even private messages. I don’t even need all the screenshots I took, all that, even the edits with the misspellings and miserable grammar and more, is sitting on a server located at 1 Hacker Way, Menlo Park CA).

But I’m not the suing type. I do have several friends who are (their names were mentioned in the secret documents no one in the public got to see) They were waiting for there names to be mentioned but, for some miraculous reason, they were never mentioned. Makes you go “hmmmmmmnnn?

So I’m left with a sullied reputation, several thousand dollars in actual lost income (which I use to feed my family, literally) an untold amount in potential income, and several damaged trees. That hurts the most, the trees. I can always go work at McDonald’s, but I can’t bring back a unique specimen bonsai that I’ve been growing for ten years.

My friend, Sergio, from Argentina, said it best:

“They love the blood more than the trees”

I could go on, I was going to write a post on it, with real evidence, quotes, screenshots, 27 8×10 color glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back to describe what each one is…….I was going to list it all, get it all out there…..but then I just had an epiphany, an “ahhh” moment, when I read and re-read what Sergio said, and I’m letting it all go.

The trees matter more than the blood. I don’t need it, I don’t need to see them destroyed, or an organization ruined, just for me to get back at them. I have too many trees to style and work on, and blogposts to write, too many YouTube ideas to film and produce. I have books to write. And a family to love.

The trees matter more than the blood.

With that, let’s get back to the tree. That’s a significant branch to die. But I’m not worried. A Brazilian Raintree comes from an area called a restinga, on the east coast of Brazil, which is characterized as marginal, with poor, acidic soil, long spans of time when it is in drought (winter) and, in the most famous restinga, has army guys tramping through it with their machetes and axes.

The BRT is considered a deciduous tree, though in Florida and in most bonsai cultivation it is not known for leaf drop. Unless, of course, you let it dry out.

Like what happened here.

I know, you may judge me harshly if you wish. I can take it.

I’ve had this question often: “what’s happening to my bark?!”That’s just the tree’s trunk growing and expanding and the bark is “exfoliating”. Kinda like how all those Hollywood stars are able to stay so fresh faced, they scrape off the old layer and expose the new…..It only lasts so long and then the wrinkles come back.

What else occurred in my negligence, the wire cut in really badly. I’ll deal with that in a minute. First, a defoliation.

And an observation on the morphology of the leaf structure.

First, the leaf is called a compound leaf, meaning that the leaf is made up of an elongated petiole with smaller leaflets on ancillary petioles. In this pic, the whole leaf goes from the top of my thumb to the tip of my middle finger, where it attaches the the branch and the thorns are located.

What I’ve been noticing, in my defoliation work, is that little black dot right in the middle of my finger, in the pic below. To me, it looks like a stomata or gland, upon close inspection, It intrigued me, so I’ve been defoliating and leaving the petiole intact above that gland, much as I would with a buttonwood leaf.

I had hypothesized that it could be a new growth tip, but I never got a new bud from it.

Then, on the Facebook community “The Brazilian Raintree (Chloroleucon tortum) Study Group”, a member, Pete, noticed a crystal or drop of liquid coming from that spot. It got my gears turning and I did some checking. The BRT hasn’t been studied very extensively, and I failed to find any reference to a salt gland, but I did find a related species, another legume, called the salt wattle (acaccia ampliceps) with them. If you look that up, it doesn’t look much like a BRT, but it works the same and has a legume as the fruit.

Since the BRT lives in a coastal (read that as salty) area, I am willing to bet that it has an adaptation for expelling salt (which would include excess fertilizer salts like potassium and magnesium. In my research, when Google takes you into the “Scholarly Article” realm, you either learn a lot, or your eyes begin to go crooked. Plants, like people, can only use so much of a nutrient, and you will either poison it, such as in too much aluminum, or the plant ignores it, like manganese, or it expels it, like with potassium). That’s my story until someone can tell me different (Enrique?!).

In my studies I also learned of several different Chloroleucons, including one native to Mexico, called “CHLOROLEUCON MANGENSE”. I think the tree I worked on in this post could be one of them. Or that the genus is just that variable that a single seed pod can grow several different “species” of trees. But I don’t know, I’m not a geneticist, I just do bonsai. And the only bonsai scientist I know is Enrique Castano (anyone else is just like me, a google search specialist, which I have a certificate in:

Now that I’ve just thrown a full block of words at you that’s you just skipped over or read and you’re reaching for that energy drink to keep you awake, we return to our poor neglected bonsai, of which the styling is still in progress….

Defoliation serves several purposes. One, it lets you see the structure: I don’t need this branch, it breaks up the line and flow of the tree.

B: defoliation spurs new growth and branching…

And 3. In the least important aspect, you get smaller leaves. I only do that when I’m going to show the tree. We want regular sized leaves for their photosynthetic potentiality.

(In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been using a bunch of 25¢ words in this post. I’m trying to keep up with the Jones’….)

Time to go to the next stop in the journey….

Ben’s studio at Agresta Gardens. I’m going back in time to the last blog post. The one where Ben worked on this tree:This is the “after” pic, with both sides done, by the way. I have, for posterity and historical curiosity, the tree very early in its development. With Ed Trout, no doubt, too!This man is an American bonsai master of incomparable grace, gravitas, humor, humility, style and talent. He is one of my heroes.

While I was helping Ben, I wired out the BRT.

Now, a new pot. One that won’t crack.

Wait, what?!

I did. Indeed I did. I made a welded steel crescent pot. Now, before you welders go on about ugly welds, I did it on purpose. I was running out of my Stargon™️ shielding gas on my old mig welder (18 years old) so the welds weren’t penetrating properly. I then switched to a flux core wire spool to finish and I got the idea, mid project, that all the splatter and slag would look cool on a pot, so I went over the other welds to “ugli-fy” them as well. It’s an artistic decision, I promise that the pot won’t fall apart…..

I was going to hide all the welds on the inside but, again, I chose to show them.

Unfortunately, the pot I made didn’t fit, so I had to make a second one….….oooops!

It’s a different shape and I put most of the welds inside. But to make it more ugly…I roughed up the cut edges and made them jagged looking (don’t worry, there are no real sharp edges)

And the tree fits. It’s almost like I measured or something this time……

Some root pruning….

And, after a long and rambling blog post, there it is!

Fertilized, pre-emergent-ized,

Wired for sound (I wonder if being a steel pot, it will create a field effect….)

It certainly will create a lot of head scratching and wondering. That’s ok, it’s my tree. And it could be something I pursue and refine. Or get bored with. I still have some cool ideas to try…..

I posted some teaser pics on social media. There were people who though it might get too hot (it doesn’t, I’ve been monitoring it next to several other pots and it’s the same temp) some say it will rust away too quickly, especially with the watering and fertilizing. I don’t think it will, steel that thick gets a layer of rust (if you let it, I sprayed it with a clear coat) that actually protects it from rusting faster. But we won’t see how quickly until a few years have passed. And it’s steel, I can cut off rusted parts, add more to it, even change the design in time. You can’t do that with a clay pot now, can you?

Lastly, people were worried about the iron hurting the plant. Well, we talked about that up in that part you skipped over, about a plant only using what it needs and ignoring the rest (iron is an essential nutrient that helps in the creation of the green in chlorophyll). And, in looking up iron toxicity, it’s usually only a problem if the plant is low in zinc, or it’s soil is alkaline, or it stays too wet. The soil I use is slightly acidic, my ferts are well represented in the micronutrient area, and I’m pretty sure the soil will not stay too wet, as coarse as it is.

I like it.

I think in the next blog post, I’ll see if I can kill a Chinese elm. Should be fun. See ya’!

Posted in Art, philosophical rant, redesign, updates | 8 Comments

Lowering a branch on an historical bonsai

Man I’m getting around a lot here recently. I’m literally living a “Have bonsai, will travel ” lifestyle on the blog.

Today, as I work on a Brazilian Raintree (which you’ll see in the next post or so), I’m at Agresta Gardens, in the studio, assisting Ben (read that, taking pics and nodding my head in support when he waxes poetically about certain bonsai trials and tribulations) in the lowering of a big branch on one of Ed Trout’s signature ficus salicaria. Ben purchased it from Ed about a year ago and has been maintaining it since.You can see my little stick of a Brazilian (which has good movement, in its defense) in the foreground.

Ben had spoken with Ed about lowering the branch, and Ed agreed with the idea. Ben is doing a slight defoliation, just to see the branching better.

That thick branch in the center of the shot, below, is the candidate for lowering.

You can see a guy wire on a secondary branch. That’s part of the technique that’s being used here. It will get a bit more….invasive… in a bit.

First, a screw is drilled into the root base so we have something to attach the bottom of the guy wire to.

On the branch, some aquarium tubing is used, with a split cut into the topside so the wire can be twisted tight (I think that Ben came up with this himself)

Pull it tight…..

Push down on the branch a little, so that when you twist the guy wire during the operation, you have more downward movement, without running out of twisting space.

He’s so delicate sometimes. You should watch him sipping afternoon tea….

With the wire in place, the next step is to mark the cut.

Wait?! The cut? Yes sir and or ma’am or they.

I’m sure you’ve heard of cutting a wedge in a branch to lower it? This technique is similar but instead of a wedge (which is hard to match the angle of the wedge-cut with the ultimate downward movement of a branch, ending up with a bad match of cambium layers, resulting in uneven or no healing at the cut site), we will be cutting a slim blade’s width, and then lowering the branch until it closes, then cut another slice, etc….until the branch is lowered adequately.

First, some Lysol to sanitize the saw. Which is repeated several times during the operation

Then the cut…..

On a ficus, we want to go almost all the way through the branch, only leaving the bark layer on the top, intact

My tree being ignored over there while I assist.







I think Ben performed the slice/twist technique (which is the opposite technique that’s performed by a מוהל) about six times or so. To clarify (thanks Peter) the slice is in the same exact place each time, just removing a blades width of material.

Ben added a second guy wire, which pulled the branch back a little, to get a few more degrees of twist to the pad.

that’s my hand just to show you that I’m just the camera jockey today. I think the regular readers could tell anyway. Look at those nails, who bites them down so short, anyway….ewwww.




And I think he is done. For the record, Bob really is his uncle.

And there’s the end result.

The before…..

The after….

Even though the amount of material taken out at the cut site was less than a quarter of an inch (>6mm) , the movement at the branch tip was probably about four inches (Ben says six. I’m not one to argue. That measurement is best left between him and his wife….)

He didn’t seal the cut site as a ficus “bleeds” it’s own latex, effectively sealing itself (interesting to note, the white latex from a ficus is not its sap, but, depending on whom you listen to, is either a defense mechanism against chewing bugs and animals, or a sealant for when wounds occur and it helps the tree heal faster).

The tree went back into the bench to get some sunshine and to let it grow.

Next post, the friendship BRT.

Posted in Art, branch placement, Horticulture and growing, tips and tricks, wiring | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Face-hugger or Swoosh? You decide


Inner-est-ing. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I like to work with non-traditional shapes very often in my art. This is not the first time you have seen this tree…..……nor shall it be the last (….back back, over the falls….)

Cookie cutter bonsai, both in trunk form and branch selection and placement, is easy. Once you learn those artistic principles, you are allowed to exaggerate, edit, or even throw them out. That’s what Art is. But art is also about being successful at what you are trying to convey.

So if you are trying to make a tranquil, natural representation of an upright deciduous tree, you’ll tend to want taper, radial roots, the branch structure, etc. that convey that idea.

If you want a face-hugger, you gotta use something else for inspiration.

I’m looking at changing the pot on this bad boy (I had a reader say that they are never bad boys, they just need a firm hand….).

It’s not a bad pot really, but for this tree, it is. Notice the considerable bulk hanging over the edge?

It keeps tipping over and resting on the lower branches. Not really falling over but resting. And it doesn’t help in keeping that first branch where it needs to be. Wire removal…..


It’s a crazy sexy, beast, amirite?

I came across this cartoon by French cartoonist, Rémi Lascault, that aptly describes why so many people prefer a tree in a leafless state (with permission from the artist)Hee hee!

Now the knife comes out.

My very sharp knife I carry everywhere. Just for cutting things.

Or, you know, cleaning my fingernails.

But I’ll need to retire to the cabin of my vehicle for the surgery. It’s gonna rain!

Somehow a wound developed on the top of the tree (wait, I didn’t introduce you to it yet, did I? It’s a ficus salicaria root cutting I got last year at the Bsf convention from my friend Mike at Emblem Bonsai and Exotics, a very talented bonsai artist in SE Florida who has some of the best developed stock anywhere. And his trees are not average, but of specimen quality).

This wound was not there when I got it but I think it might have come from sunburn. A common bark wound cause here in Florida. I need to clean it out and get to good wood.

Like this.

I can hear the collective gasp. Don’t worry, it’s a ficus, it can handle it. Hopefully.

I think it actually improves the trunk silhouette.

The rain has gone and now I need to repot.

Good roots, which I expected in that deep pot.

Here’s the new pot. I’m not sure of the maker but I believe it’s a full time potter who just made a bonsai pot.

Which explains the quality of the glaze.

If you can tell what that says, you’re better than me (which isn’t hard, I’m low end good, at very few things).

Screened and ready for the tree.

Ahhhhh, that looks better. No more falling over (unless we have a hurricane. Speaking of hurricanes, keep our Carolina bonsai friends in your hearts as they brace for Florence. It was this week last year that Hurricane Irma hit me, and I know the heartache it can bring).

Time to go back to The Nook to wire, after picking up the kids.

Back at The Nook.

Let me try to explain some of the techniques….

The branch in my hand below needs to be twisted back and counter clockwise.

Like so…

The branch behind it just so happens needs to be twisted clockwise.To do that and keep the wire from unraveling, you need to wrap the branch in the direction and/or the way you are twisting the branch. And since I have two branches with the need of opposite twists, I can use them to anchor one wire. Here’s one of My YouTube videos explaining the how and why of wiring.

I don’t need this branch anymore.

Now to the wiring.

That’s better.

Just a little teasing.

It is a great pot. And you can see the root base better in it than in that cascade one.

I’m liking it. But I don’t think it’s much of a face hugger anymore.

And I probably shouldn’t be calling it a swoosh either.

I don’t generally name my trees but I think it deserves one. I’m open for suggestions, leave a comment, let me know what you think.

Posted in Art, progression, rare finds, refine | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments