Can you say “taper”?

Let’s talk bonsai….just what is it?

When I was a yungun’ and being learned in thinking and reasoning, I was told to begin at the beginning. So that is where I shall begin (don’t worry, it has to do with the tree above, but sometimes, the long way is the short way, so to speak).

Now, a bonsai, if you literally translate it, is a plant in a tray. Adding some context and anglicizing it, it’s a tree in a pot. One could add the spiritual nature of bringing nature into the garden (Japanese gardens tend to be very small, hence the miniaturization of the trees). But, since I’m a teacher and writer, I have a much better, stock answer.

Bonsai… (imagine this spoken in an expounding, neo-Shakespearean manner, with sweeping hand gestures and wide spaced feet)….BONSAI is…. The Art of taking a relatively small, and relatively young plant, and making it, through various horticultural and artistic techniques, look like a big, old, tree! (What’s funnier is if you imagine one of the old Looney Tunes characters saying that……like Foghorn Leghorn…”I said, boy, you know…I said, Bonsai is, ah, the art, you know, THE ART…you listening boy, I said, the art of taking, you see boy, a small and young, ah, plant…….”)

Now, we ask ourselves this question, “How does one do this?”

Well….by using various artistic and horticultural techniques, of course….aha! Well, we have the artistic: proportion, perspective, and framing. Framing is the container and the pot, proportion is the placement of the first, the second and successive branches. How far up from the soil level (look up the Golden Mean), how far from each other, their placement around the trunk (look up Fibonacci Sequence…).

But today I’m talking about perspective.

The concept of perspective is what the Bonsai peeps call “taper”. Perspective is, in its simplest definition, the viewers position.

Taper, in Bonsai, is perspective. This is an exercise I use when teaching beginners (and not so beginners) what I mean (I also use it to explain another technique of perspective: that of tilting the tree slightly forward, towards the viewer). I say, “You trust me? Ok then, close your eyes, imagine you are walking in some primordial forest, full of the ideal, a priori trees. You walk up to one, right up to the gnarled root base, you reach your hand out to feel the rough, mossy trunk. You tilt your head up and try to see the top of the tree, the crown (what bonsai people call the apex). There you are, the roots spread out at your feet, clutching the earth, the branches and leaves like a framework supporting the firmament, and the trunk, like looking down a railroad track, “tapers” to a point, so high up it makes you dizzy”

Now, even the skinniest of trees, when viewed from this “perspective” have taper. Serious taper. This perception of taper is what programs our brain to view that taper on a bonsai and relate it with height. And bonsai, in case you didn’t know, is an art of illusion, of tricks and forced perspectives, that fool the brain into believing a little tree is bigger than it is. And that’s why we are always pushing the concept of taper. Let’s get back to our ficus.

It has a pretty wide base. Up top, it’s pretty thin. Not bad taper….

…but that taper could be a little better. You can probably guess, if you are long suffering reader of the blog, what I might be doing next to this tree.

You’re probably right. But it’s already doing it to itself. Defoliation Nation…man.

I accidentally let the tree dry out, and a tropical, like this here ficus, equates drying out with the winter time. In the winter, they drop leaves. And that’s what’s happening here. You’ll also have leaf drop when the light duration and intensity changes, like when you move a ficus indoors to protect it from the cold. I will recommend to my Northernly challenged students to go ahead and defoliate when you bring them in, and you’ll get a new set of leaves that are adjusted to whatever indoor light set up you have. Try it. It’s easier for a tropical tree to make new leaves (which is true of most broad leaf trees as well) than it is to adjust the chlorophyll to compensate for the low light.

Back to my tree and forgetting to water, if you do it, don’t be alarmed (well, not too much) if you miss a day or three (whoops!) of watering. Chances are the leaves will grow back. Hopefully. I’m not worried. Not much…….

Anyway, look at that trunk! Lots of aerial roots, most of which will go away from my scissors, this isn’t a banyan style tree, though it is a ficus, so I’ll beep a few, but only just enough.

If I see a tree with this many aerial roots, my guess is that it’s been in too much shade, not watered enough, rootbound, or a combination of all three.

We’ve already learned that I might be under watering a tad. And it’s entirely possible that the tree has been crowded on the bench, with all the lower trunk being shaded, but it’s not rootbound. But we will visit the roots later.

Let’s get the tools out and try to improve the taper.

Do you see how the thickness does not change from below the branches to above the branches?

That’s pretty common after the initial chop, which may have been done 5,10 or even 15 years ago, that the original owner thought he/she was done with the chopping. But the initial chop is just the beginning (🎶 The first cut is the deepest…..🎶).

So I’m thinking this is a good place to cut. There’s a new leader I can wire up….

…..and it’s not too harsh of a transition.

Chop!Hmmmmnnnn….that could make a good little tree.

…..there’s even on or two roots. Let’s get a pot…..

Tie it down into said pot, backfill with good nursery soil (bonsai soil dries out too fast in a deep nursery pot, so use a good draining potting soil instead)

Also, standard practice amongst professional propagators is to cut the leaves. This reduces transpiration and the cut leaves create ethylene gas and abscisic acid, which pushes root growth (yes, my friends, defoliating a tree with roots does the same thing. It’s an adaption to protect from an insect infestation like a plague of locusts that defoliate a tree, or if it dries out, or maybe a denuding wind storm, like maybe, gee, I don’t know…that bitch Hurricane induces root growth to help the tree recover faster)

There’s the chop. I like to use a sharp knife to clean the cut and today (not every day though) I will seal the wound.

I’m going to try a new product for sealing the wound. You can get it in the door and window section of your favorite DYI warehouse.

I have high hopes for it. I like the way it’s formed, and that it’s less like clay and more like putty.

I’ve used the duct seal that’s all the rage with the kids, and it kinda melts in the Florida sun. I shall report back on the efficacy (you like that word, right?) of this product.

Here’s a trick. Notice the cut below ⬇️

I want a new branch in that area. The one that was there was too thick (just as the trunk needs taper, but the branches, as you go up the tree, should be thinner and thinner until you have twigs on the crown). By leaving a stump like this, I am leaving the “Branch Collar” intact (I could write a constitution on the branch collar, but I won’t). What does this branch collar have to do with growing a new branch? Well, it is within the collar where we have a concentration of undifferentiated meristematic cells that, when we cut at certain places, will magically turn into new buds and, therefore, new branches (it’s not magic, it’s hormones).

Under my thumb! Big and ugly wire. And a careful bending using some pliers (bend the wire, not the branch. It lessens the chance of snapping the branch). And the bones are reset. Now I’m going to slip pot the ficus into a slightly larger pot.

Which is an easy explanation, one slips it out of a smaller pot and slips it into a larger pot, without touching the roots. This technique is good for repotting out of season if the soil is compacted and the health of the tree is in jeopardy.

This new pot has about a half inch to an inch more space all around the root ball, and it’s deeper.

Tied down well.

And the dramatic finish.

Pablo approves.

I did remove all the leaves except at the top (reference this Post for the reason why) And I left all the growth tips intact. This, along with no root cutting, will cause elongation in the branches. I fertilized with a half organic and half synthetic fertilizer as well. Growth is good, growth creates new, efficient leaves, which produce sugar, which is then turned to carbohydrate, which means that, in the spring, it’ll have energy to accommodate it when I start pushing ramification. It’s now winter in Florida, but that doesn’t matter much, for, if you did this to your tropical trees, in a good indoor setup during the frozen winter, they’ll do the same thing. You need high light, soil temps above 65f, and adequate water and ferts. Try it. The leaves will be huge but don’t worry about that, you need to defoliate when they go back outside in the spring anyway. And that’s that.

Look for an update next year.

Posted in branch placement, Horticulture and growing, rare finds, refine | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

I’m at it again, trying to stand when I should be sitting…..

Uh oh, what am I doing now? Why sit when you can stand?

Let’s get a’buildin’!

I have some rusty angle iron, some twisty legs off a coffee table. A channel piece from something. All cast off metal. Found objects. The inspiration was the coffee table legs, of course. That’s how it works with me. I find an object and it gets the gears moving.

This was a few planks I had joined for the last stand I made, back in May, but I changed the design and didn’t use it. So I have a top and the pieces for the bottom. Not to put them together.

My old welder I just got back from my old job.

It’s a little beat up but I know how it works and how to fix it. The fabrication should be easy……maybe.

The legs will be the feet of the stand.

And the angle iron will help hold the board.

Just a few tacks…

It does not want to penetrate. Damn. Old welder or rusty weldor. Or both.

That’s holding a little better. It just has to stay so I can run some stronger beads.

Now I have to do some strong welds and then grind down those ugly tacks.

Strong but still ugly. There’s a joke there.

Getting the hang of it again. Like riding a bike. Of course, the last time I did that the chain broke and I fell off and dislocated my shoulder. What can go wrong here? Famous last words.

Welding is playing with fire that’s brighter than the sun and just as hot. It’s like wielding the elemental power of the universe. Fun stuff.

You should try it.

The angle iron is on, now for the flat piece.

Not totally flat. It has some structure. But notice how thin it is? Those legs are about 3/4 inch square. The flat piece is a bit….thinner.

welding thick to thin is hard. Let’s see if I still have it.

Aww yeah.

Not blowing through. You have to heat up the thicker metal with the wire electrode (I’m using a mig welder with a shielding gas mixture of argon and co2) then zip back and forth to the thinner material, making sure you don’t blow through the thinner stuff.

The penetration is good. That’s what she said.

I almost blew through there on the left. But I held it together.

The bottom is done. Mostly.

Now for the wood. That’s what she said.

As much as I like the bark on this front edge, I don’t think it will work on this piece.

You’ll see why in a moment.

Before I finish the wood I’ll need to drill some holes.

Notice the uneven edge….

That makes it easier to center it on the bottom. I just kinda eyeball it.

Now the finishing treatment.

Ima gonna play with some fire!

Burn baby burn.

Just enough to darken it. It’s pine from repurposed pallets by the way.

And since I tend to do things a bit alternatively, instead of polyurethane or what have you, I’m using wax from a candle to deal it. A “pine” scented one, to be precise.

Hey, it’s almost Christmas time.

I just rub it on….

Then I use the torch to melt it, and then just polish it with a rag.

To finish the bottom, I use lacquer, mostly because I like that it dries fast (I’m impatient) and you can polish it to a high gloss or subdue it to a soft luster.

That’s that.

I think it’s cool.

Some nuts and bolts and washers to attach the two pieces….

And Bob’s yer uncle!

I’ll be using it in the upcoming Winter Silhouette show in Kannapolis, North Carolina, December 2nd and 3rd.

You should come on by, see what else I have in mind. It’s a great little show, free and open to the public. The displays run the gamut from classical to very creative. The trees are top notch as well. I hope to see you all there.

I like it my new stand. The tree is a hackberry. I might even use a beer bottle for the companion. Just for fun.

Posted in sculpture, woodcraft | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The green, green island of ficus

Here I sit again, in the back of my PT Loser, waiting on my spawn. And, of course, I have a tree to play with. This time, it’s a ficus microcarpa “green island”. You missed the good parts though, I’ve cut some leaves, some grow tips. I’ve removed the wire too.

It needed it, it’s in a development stage, after all. Contrary to common teaching, these scars are necessary and they will grow out. Well, they’re not, per se, needed but the branch generally will pop back up after wire removal, if they don’t scar, on a ficus, as scarring is the result of the branch growing and the purpose of wiring is to make the branch stay were we place it, and that happens when the branch…grows new material. Those that say otherwise are either not long enough into growing ficus or are trained in non tropical species and think that they can apply that knowledge to figs.

Speaking of fig knowledge, let me share, free of charge, some techniques that’ll get you through the day. Or at least some bonsai tree workshops.

First, let’s talk about the concept of balancing energy in a tree. It’s very popular now to talk about it. When we say energy, we really are talking about sugars and carbohydrates that the tree creates through photosynthesis. This is how a tree feeds itself. No amount of fertilizer “feeds” a tree, regardless of what those advertisements and some bonsai-ists all say. A tree feeds itself through a chemical reaction between sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water (ok, those nutrients in fertilizer do have a role, but it’s only in the facilitation of the processes). This where the “energy” is catalyzed.

The energy (as carbohydrate) is stored in the living xylem (the living wood in the trunk, branches and roots). Therefore, the energy is present in the entire tree, not segregated in roots or growing tips, as has been posited recently. Any branch, root, and trunk pruning diminishes the amount of stored energy available for a tree.

This is where it gets tricky, you see, the idea of “balancing” is valid, but it’s not energy we are balancing, but the hormones that regulate growth. We have auxins, cytokinins, gibberilins, and ethylene gas. Those are the more known ones, with auxin being the most dominant. But, when we prune, it’s not enough to say “by cutting this, hormone X does that”. It’s more correct to say “by cutting this, the absence of hormone X causes this hormone Y to become dominant….”

Like I said, it’s tricky. Let’s use the a juniper as an example. It is correct information to say that we shouldn’t be pinching all the growing tips because it weakens the juniper. We should be proactively cutting back some grow tips while preserving those lower on the branch: See this link, Mike revolutionized the treatment and care of junipers with that article (so much so that there are those who are jealous and try to knock him down. Really. Michaels blog is one of the ones I subscribe to and when I was at an event recently, listening to some guys trying to discredit him, I was annoyed. I just don’t understand the bonsai scene sometimes). And he is correct in the technique, and even the energy production. But it’s the distribution of hormones that is the real reason behind the technique working (also, it takes energy to make auxin and move it to the grow tips, and junipers are not as strong as a ficus when it comes to excessive pruning, but they live in different climes).

Anyway, let’s get back to the Green island fig.

Firstly, on some branches, I’m cutting to a side branch. This is, first, to create taper (going from thick to thin), and second, to cause backbudding.

You’ll notice that I leave a leaf (great band name) on those branches where I cut back for taper or backbudding. The reason is that the green island ficus microcarpa (as well as the green mound variety) are not very apically dominant. What that means is that they are more bush like and not tree like (this could explain why most junipers need to be treated the same way, they’re bushes, not trees….hmmmmmnnn) they want to grow sideways, not up. By leaving green, we are giving the branch indication that it is still viable and alive (the cells have within them two genes that are turned on or off, by hormones, so that they will either grow one way or another. Like if it’s cold, it won’t grow or if it’s arid the cell won’t divide. The same cell, but differing actions. Cool, and we just learned of it this year too. It pays to read and continue to learn, ain’t it?).

What I’m trying to say is that, with this type of ficus, if conditions aren’t favorable, the tree will abort the branch and activate the dormant buds at the branch base. No matter how much stored energy it has. A tropical would rather grow all new branches than try to fix old ones. The same with leaves, which is why a ficus dropping leaves is normal (and predictable) and how we can get away with defoliation so often.

Next, on some smaller branches, I defoliated and left the stipule (the growing tip) intact. This concentrates the auxin (the hormone that is responsible for elongation of the branch) at the tip and causes it to grow longer, thicker, faster (sounds like a great movie).

There are a few I did this to.

Well, more than a few.

The defoliated leaves are circled in yellow. I made a mess.

Now, to go back to the earlier statement about green islands being more bush like: for that reason, at this time (November in Florida) I am leaving the top alone.

I want all the growth I can, and the top acts as a siphon, pulling that energy up, on the orders of auxin. I know to leave the top alone because I have killed off the top too many times on a green island by chopping it prematurely (this same thing happens with azaleas, which is why, as I’ve pointed out before, you see many “Bozo the Clown” style azaleas with dead tops and full foliage around the sides). I suppose I could defoliate the top except for the stipules, but it’s not necessary at this time.

And there we have it. One ficus green island-

Ready for some winter growth in sunny Florida.

Which is kinda like spring most everywhere else.

A little pushing here, some redirection there, free growth on top but regulated growth down bottom. I can’t wait until next year, this will be a cool tree to play with some more.

Before I go, I have entered into a partnership with The Bonsai Supply, and they are offering an exclusive, 20% discount for Black Friday, Shop Small Saturday, and Cyber Monday, on their pots, soil, tools, etc., to my blog readers, Instagram followers and Facebook friends. The code is valid from November 24-27th. To take advantage of it, go here

The next post, we will play with another green island, and I’ll show you the difference between it and the green mound.

See you later!

Posted in Advanced basics, Horticulture and growing, rare finds, redesign, styling bonsai, wiring | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

What a Tangled Web of Roots We Weave 

Here’s a challenge:

Ficus microcarpa. A seedling grown one, looks like it, or what the trade calls, a “ginseng” ficus. Which isn’t a variety, but just a marketing thing. Like calling American style Chinese food “Chinese Food”. I got the tree from Nick, over at American Bonsai Tools. He got it from a closing sale at Japan Nursery. It’s an ugly mofo of a tree, ain’t it? I’ve had it too long and, since I’m cleaning up the nursery and all, well, it’s probably time I got to it, huh? 

Onto the operating table:

This was probably the front, at one time, a long long time ago. 

This might be the new front. 

This is not the front. 

Maybe but probably not. Let me explain the idea of a front, for those that don’t know. First, even though a bonsai is a three dimensional art, you’ll hear most seasoned bonsai people talk about “The Front” all the time as though that’s the one and only true vision for viewing a tree. They are kind of, mostly, right, as many of the design principles and tricks for making a small tree look big work best when viewed from one angle. And often the pruning scars or evidence of certain growing techniques are hidden when viewed from that fixed angle. But the “front” tends to be a little more complex than that one chopstick stuck in the soil by the master du jour at your local clubs byot workshop. In my view, the front is about a 45 degree angle, starting from one corner and continuing to the other. As though, amazingly, you are walking past it and you begin looking at the tree as you approach it. Now, what does that mean when selecting the front? It means it’s your job to have something interesting, a focal point or a certain feature, like the root base or a hollow trunk or Jin, anything that will arrest that dude walking by your tree, in that 45 degree arc of sight. The idea is to have your tree, your art, be looked at, talked about, praised or criticized (I usually go for criticism “what was he thinking of? Putting that on his tree!”). Anywho, let’s get back to our “pot of spaghetti”. Gotta get out the full set of tools for this job….I’ll need them. 

First, let’s chop off some of these long shoots, to see what we have. 
Plus, I promised some cuttings to a friend, Sonny Boggs (who happens to be a very talented potter by the way, you can find him on Facebook and the Facebook bonsai auctions from time to time). I’ll be seeing him in Kannapolis, which means I need to root these by the beginning of December. 

That’s better. You can see why I called it a “pot of spaghetti” now, right. 

Let’s slip off the pot. See what’s hiding underneath. 

Well, looks like dirt. 
Before I begin to organize the roots, here’s what might happen, if you’re neglecting a ficus. 


Fat. You end up with an ugly bit of obverse taper. 

I’ll try to fix it by cutting off some branches, by changing the planting angle and, importantly, spreading out the aerial roots to “fill in” the gap on the bottom. Moved from here to here

But first! Remember those worksheets that our teachers used to give us with the scrambled up lines? 

I often feel that those activities were training for my ficus bonsai work. 

At least the roots on the bottom aren’t so messed up. In fact, I think it’s the poor soil it’s been sitting in that might have caused the over abundance of aerial roots on top, to compensate for the terrible roots in the dirt. But, what do I know, right? 

Let’s choose some branches. I like this as the top. 

But I’ll need edit out some of these ones. They are contributing to the obversity.  

Let’s expound on the subject of aerial roots for a bit. There is an orthodoxy, a, dare I say it, even a conservative segment of the bonsai world, that believe that aerial roots have no place on a bonsai tree. 

No, seriously. Even though a full grown ficus will have the various types of aerial roots (those that come down from the branches, those that parallel the trunk, and those that shoot off the trunk in a 45 degree angle, downward, from the trunk), it’s not considered “proper” for a bonsai to have them. Even though a bonsai is supposed to be a semi realistic representation of a tree, in miniature. And even though they look cool. 

Anyway, those reactionary elements will point to the work of the Taiwanese bonsai masters and say “Well, you never see aerial roots on their ficus trees, do you?”, or, “….in Japanese bonsai, which is the end all, be all of the state of the art, you would never see aerial roots, because they are grotesque!”  

You know what I say? I say, ” Fellas, it’s my tree, they happen in nature, I like them and it’s My Bonsai World”. 

That said, even though I like aerial roots, I insist they follow my design rules. And are in good taste of course, because “Good Taste” is what really drives bonsai design. Uh huh. You know, to a lion, we all have good taste, can I get a holla? 

My rules for tasteful aerial roots: 

They mustn’t travel horizontally or across the trunk or branches. 

They mustn’t cross each other, unless they need to. 

They must accent the trunk, not take away from it. Lastly, they must travel straight down from a branch, if that’s where they originate from. 

I’m sure I can come up with a few more. Give me a minute while I untangle the bottom roots. Freaking dirt. No, dirt isn’t good for root development, even on ficus or tropicals. Dirt is good in the ground. And for flinging at your enemies reputations. 
Not in a bonsai pot. 

But that’s another post. These roots will need some straightening out……and this hole needs some filling. 

I enjoy filling holes. Insert…..joke, here. 

I may or may not need these roots. They’re kind of in an odd area, almost on the inside of the curve. And that would take away from that curve. 

Yeah, they gotta go. Let us, as they say, start the party. Chop!

Horizontal rootage….


Getting there. 

Bust out the rusty saw. Reminds me of my CIA days….

OH! Dayum!

I’m on a roll now. That’s a good cutting. Sonny, my friend, you are in for some killer cuttings. Even Pablo agrees!

Slow and steady. Or fast and messy. I’ll clean that up later. 

What a rats nest, huh? I need to come back to that. Let’s turn it around and look at the front. I see four when I should see two, maybe three, tops. 

Choppy choppy. 

Three is a good look. 

I’m feeling stronger. Back to the backBAMMMM!!!

Theses are a mess but let me think on them. 

Wait, what’s this? Huh? A zip tie. Or the remains of one. 

Ok, I’m getting there. Making progress. 

The last real choice is whether this root stays or goes. 

I could try to approach graft it???Let me think on it. 

Time to poop or get of the pot. Or repot, as it were.  The pot it was in was too small for development. It might work as a display pot but that’s a few years away. 

This mica training pot will be perfect. Mica pots, in case you didn’t know, are great for developing bonsai. The material they are made out of, mica, helps to keep the roots cool in the summer but warm in the winter. 

But, before I put the tree into the pot, I need to take care of those last roots. First, I’ll use this tiny one to fill in that hole I pointed out earlier. 

A few stainless steel staples will do the job nicely. 

And that other root…..

I think it might work right here. 

No staples here, I think I can tie it with some wire. 

Soil (my trademark Red White and Blue Supermix™, no doubt). 

Lots of fertilizer….and there it is….side view. 

Back view. 

The other side view. 

And the front. 

Now, maybe a little wire. Right after I strike those cuttings, that is. 

I don’t use rooting hormone on ficus when I’m taking cuttings. I use my nursery mix, which is half perlite and half standard potting soil. I usually remove the leaves, or cut them in half, but this time I didn’t. Lazy I guess. I put the pots in the shade, keep the soil moist and the humidity up on it. Let’s all hope they take for our friend Sonny. 

Back to our tree. Let’s call him Stubbs. 

With the wiring, I’m really just interested in the first bend on the branch, at this point. 

Which is why I’m not worried about wiring this branch. 

I’ll probably cut it back to here, when it back buds. But for now, this is it. It goes into the full sun, to help stimulate those dormant buds. And it gets the hose. A good soaking. And that’s that. 


And after:Kinda looks like a crazy alien flailing his arm wide, riding a two headed sloth. 

Make sure to bookmark this post. Starting next year, I plan on showing how hard I can push this tree, using my techniques, my knowledge of hormones and how they affect growth, and I am predicting by this time next year I’ll be at the tertiary stage of branch development. Anyone wanna bet me? 

Posted in Advanced basics, branch placement, rare finds, roots | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Parking Lot Bonsai, or, the sum of my choices

In the afternoons, on schooldays, I get to sit and wait for my children to get out of class and then I chauffeur them home. As I wait for them, I sometimes use this time away from the nursery to work on trees. Sometimes I nap. 

Before you get all huffy about me spoiling them by not making them take the bus, or walk home, they go to a charter school that is too far to walk home from (about a two hour walk) and bus service isn’t available. (For those who are wondering, a charter school is a publicly funded operation but not run by the normal school board. In Florida this is an option to send your children to, if your local school does not have a passing grade when it’s ranked by the state. There’s all kinds of arguments and debate as to whether this is a valid or even fair system but this blog isn’t a political one, so please let’s not even broach the subject. I will not entertain the comments). 

So today, instead of napping or eating M&M cookies, I worked on a Brazilian raintree.  I got the tree in a Central Florida Bonsai Club auction back in June. It was originally designed,  and then donated, by Donnie and Bill, who are members of both the CFBC and the Bonsai Society of Brevard (they’re overachievers, I know). But I saw something exciting and unique in the tree, so I put my hand in the air, with my wife beside me giving me the look, and won the bid. I slept on the couch that night. 

After getting it, I pruned and wired it, as it was in need of some attention. Here it is on, what looks like, a rainy summer day. I set the bones, so to speak. 

Now’s the fun part, continuing the development. I love this stage, the main branches are mostly set, and now you get to really give the tree a mood. 

Of course, my first step, as you may suspect, is a defoliation. Which I think I may need to explain a little. I think that many people misunderstand the why, when, and the process itself. 

First things first, I only defoliate when appropriate. What that means is I only do it when the tree is healthy, when the time of the year is correct, when the species or variety can handle it, and when it’s necessary. 

It is November. I live in Florida. The tree is a chloroluceun tortum, the Brazilian raintree (sometimes misidentified as a pithecellobium tortum). The trees buds are turgid, even, to mix metaphors, pregnant, with energy. They are swelling, ready to burst. But, through observation, experience, experimentation, I’ve come to learn that BRT’s have a hard time dropping their old leaves (many tropicals have this same problem) to make room for the new leaves and branches (often, the new bud occurs at the base or the crotch of the leaf petiole, where it attaches to the stem. By removing, defoliating the leaf, we are utilizing a hormonal response that activates that bud to begin growth). By defoliating, we spur new growth, faster. 

As an addendum to this, if a leaf is off color, damaged, or shaded, it is better to cut it off and grow a new leaf than to allow it to remain and steal energy from the tree (and here’s another one, why do you think many ficus species drop all their old leaves, if you suddenly change their light exposures, like when you might bring them inside for the winter? The answer is: it’s more economical for a ficus, and most tropicals, to drop old leaves that were grown for one light exposure, and grow new ones, than it is to try to adjust the current leaves for the new light exposure). Here’s a truism: tropical trees like to grow; they don’t need a dormant period. What that means is we can push them more than temperate or even subtropical or broadleaf evergreens (like a holly, or boxwood). 

So as I’ve been talking, I’ve also been wiring. Well, maybe not, but I just put that image in your head, I also just made you think of a peanut shell as an athletic supporter. 

Back at the parking lot, just off my rear bumper, I think all the wire is on and the branches are just about in place….
But the kids are here, take a quick pic, and it’s back to the nursery, and The Nook. 

If you’ve been paying attention to my BRT stylings of late, say on Instagram or on Facebook, you’ll notice that I’ve been a little more twisted than usual.  

I think I’m beginning to really understand the way they grow, and to be able to put that branch in the right place so that the leaf, which is a graceful compound leaf, lays on top of it just right. 

At least, I think so. 

I’ve also been playing with structure. 

And focal points, or accents. I’m really getting tired of the cookie cutter trees you see so much of in today’s bonsai. 

Just look at that shadow, it screams old, gnarly, mean, twisted. You don’t get that kind of emotion out of an informal upright Christmas tree. I’m bored of those mediocre, middle of the road, status quo, vanilla trees at this point in my life. I’ve been doing bonsai for a long time, I’ve had my fill of moyogi, boiled potato trees. Give me something tortured, tired, bizarre; I’d rather take the “substandard” material and use some techniques to make it look old. 

Here’s a thought to ponder, one which has made me think too much of late:

 “For every artist, once they reach a certain level
at a certain age, and once they become famous enough, They face this problem. They have to confront what their original intention was. They will also face a lot of people’s questions and doubts. The more successful an artist is, the more dangerous the situation is.”

~ Liu Xiaodong 

I think a lot. I’m in my head too much. I have words and doubts and great emotional ups and downs, soaring heights where the atmosphere is thin and heady, and dark, endless depths where it seems like the air is tar, stifling in odor, burning and mindless. 

But when I work, all that goes away and the tree sings to me. Soothes my spirit and takes on the emotions that plague me. I like this tree. What do you think? Let me have it, I’m a big boy, responsible for my own actions and able to wipe the drool from my own chin, tell me I’m wrong, but be prepared to back up your arguments. 

Posted in Art, branch placement, Horticulture and growing, maintenance, philosophical rant, refine, wiring | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

My Bonsai World

Welcome, friends. Welcome to My Bonsai World! If you’ve been wondering what I’ve been up to since the hurricane, well, it’s been interesting. I’ve been all around the state, from garden clubs, private sessions, field trips, and of course, lots of time in my own garden. Let’s see…..

The CFBC had a workshop at Agresta Gardens. Our first of many. It was a good day. 

I’ve been doing many things, seeing trees, teaching, talking with people. 

In my nursery I’ve been continuing the clean up and rebuilding. I’ve even found some things I’ve forgotten I had. This looks like a good stand top. 
All my trees are still waiting for proper display benches. 

I’ve made capital purchases. 

And I collected a tree or two. Can you see that one?  It’s a bougie that was on a bench, but fell off some few years ago. It rooted through the drain holes and flourished. Which isn’t really surprising. But there it is, stuck there. 

I think I need an implement. 

In the Spanish speaking civilizations they call this a “machete”. 

That’s all I need. Chop chop! 
I know, I’m a brutal bonsai kind of guy. 

It’ll live, don’t worry. 

We don’t need no stinking roots! 

It’s not the best specimen, for growing under a bench for 8 years that is. A little fatter on top than on bottom. I can carve it though, fix that. 

Let’s put it into a pot. 

It’s a one hole pot unfortunately. I have ways to deal with that. Watch! 

Metal screen…



Through the inside,tie the chopstick down…..

Add some tie down wire…Soil and a twist……And Bob’s yer uncle! This technique will even make this tiny, brightly colored pot, usable.

Well….maybe. Hahhah! I once knew a man with a wooden leg named “Smith”. Anyhow, the bougie just needs to grow. It has a certain raggedy potential. And it has provenance too. Rescued after Hurricane Irma. 

Another tree, one you’ve seen before, was “lost” after the storm. I found it and had to repot it. It had fallen into the brush and all the soil got washed away. Portulacaria afra. It’s weak but it’ll come back. 

The nursery is totally different now. Lots of new ground cloth and new benches. It’s coming together. Thank you all to those that helped! 

It’s so clean and beautiful, for about a minute or so. It’s getting dirty already! 

I’ve done some good carving work in my recent travels. Here’s a buttonwood. The before. 

The after 

And I put together a new YouTube video for those who were asking for one. Here’s the link: Don’t worry, I’ll be working on part two soon. 

Trees, trees, trees….


Others people’s trees:

The hurricane has ushered in our “second spring” here in Florida. All the tropicals and broadleaf evergreens are pushing new growth, so there’s lots of work there. 

And, of course, there’s still lots of other work. ​I’m having fun really. 

​So much fun that, I started this post about a month ago and I’ve been too busy to finish it. I think I have two more sets of pics I need to work into blogposts as well. 

But that’s what it means to do bonsai professionally. Not that I’m much of a professional, I like to think of myself as an artist. Sometimes I’m a bit scattered (though I do know the difference between a hormonal response to pruning and energy distribution, when it comes to trees. If you don’t, I’ll explain it, but some people should know better). 

But enough of my trees, let’s get to the point. This post is a bit like Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaraunt”. I’ve started tagging my social media photos with #mybonsaiworld. Here’s the challenge: show me your trees on social media by tagging them with #mybonsaiworld.

I came up with the tag because, well, you see, I’m a little concerned with certain “behind the scenes” chatter that I’ve been hearing. The freedom we’ve been enjoying in the bonsai world of late is in danger of being stifled. Let’s not allow it. Let’s make bonsai a personal thing, a relationship with your trees, your journey, your learning, your travels, your progress. Your trees. It’s not my world, it’s yours! Here are some screenshots of recent pics with the hashtag. 

A pic of a fellow blogger, Jonas! Nice!

Robert, nice tree! 

David in Miami, he likes those bunjin trees. 
Let’s see your best, your worst, the places you’ve been, the things you’ve learned. Let’s make bonsai into the Art it deserves to be. 


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

Worst case scenario

Well friends, here’s the hurricane Irma aftermath blog. But with some perspective. Sorry. 

This is Pablo. A wood carving I did many years ago. He’s a fixture on the blog and on my Instagram feed.  He’s called Pablo because he kinda looks like Pablo Picasso, in case you were wondering. I chose Pablo to be the protector of The Nook and The Wall of Pots.  (here’s a funny thing, check out this link).  

The day before the hurricane when I was getting supplies. Funny the things people don’t buy. 

I mean, what’s wrong with herring in curry pineapple sauce? 

This was pretty much the track. 

The rain cleared out at around 3 am but the winds continued. It was when the winds shifted in the early morning when a lot of the branches came down. The stress of being pushed to the west and then the shifting wind them north broke the trees. 

My backdoor, the branches hit the roof. 

This is me climbing through the fallen trees looking for bonsai. I know. A fool thing to do. 

A hawk on the top of a telephone pole. 

It faced itself into the wind and hung on for life. 

This is around 8-9 am on the Monday. 

This damage was from the north blowing winds. I’ll need to do some re-building

We had minor flooding. Just enough so that the septic drain field was flooded and the toilet didn’t flush. 

Trees everywhere. 

Not a bonsai to be seen. 


This is a panorama shot. It looks better on Facebook. 

I had put all the trees on the ground. They would’ve been safer in the middle of the street. They were covered with debris. 

This was the view from the peak of my roof. 

Looks bad. 

The first tree I dug out. It’s  a tiger bark ficus that was imported by Suthin. The trunk has been built by extensive grafting. The chop marks and scars were almost all healed. It was under the a heavy branch. It’ll live but it’s back to square one. The date of the eye going over orlando was Monday, September 11th 2017. 
While all this digging out was happening,  the 9-11 moments of silences were taking place. I didn’t even think of the date until I was looking through my pics the other day and saw these: While up in Pennsylvania (which now seems like a year ago) my friend Nestor took me to a 9-11 memorial in Coatesville I was going to publish this photo set on the anniversary, the day of the hurricane. But it really didn’t work out that way. The blog story was going to be about the design construction of the World Trade Center and the use of these interestingly shaped beams. They called them trees. I thought it was appropriate, a blog about trees writing about the steel “trees” that kept the WTC up.

 It was a unique design, there were no interior supports, the whole building was a hollow tube held up by the walls and the “trees” 

The “trees” were built in Coatesville. They were returned there, with all honors. 

It was eerie, sharing space with the “tree”. 

This once was part of a living, breathing structure, full of people, business, history. It came down with those two planes, that morning, many years ago. 

Almost 3000 dead, more than 6000 wounded in the initial aftermath. 

A hurricane is slow a motion disaster. In Florida alone, more than 6 million people were told to evacuate. We had a weeks notice. 

Regardless of what all the conspiracy theories say, the people who perished had no warning. They had about an hour to walk down the stairs to possible safety. 

The buildings were constructed to last 2-3 hours in case of a fire. Plenty of time to evacuate. An hour just wasn’t long enough. 

The WTC was also supposed to be built to withstand an impact from a Boeing 707. 

That didn’t take into account the fires though.  Impact and fire and the poorly designed fire suppression system and the fact that only the first 64 floors were sprayed with asbestos containing coating that was designed to protect the steel “trees” from fire (amazingly, NYC banned the use of asbestos during construction and they switched to another foam spray. It was said at the time that if a fire occurred above the 64th floor, the building would collapse)  

But I’m not going to debate what happened. Please don’t comment on it.  

It is still a fact that too many people lost their lives on that day. 

The same date as hurricane Irma for me. 

Was my tragedy equal to those who lost there lives back in 2001? That’s a hard question. 

I’m alive, in relatively good health. My family and friends made it through. I have cleanup. 

I have damage to my little trees. 

My favorite tree, this hackberry. The one I’ve been pushing hard this year. 

Well. Here it is. 

It lost the top. 

It’s just a little tree though. Is it enough to hold prop up my life? I’ve made my life on them recently, so it’s hard to say. Perspective is tough to see when there’s still sweat in your eyes. 

But It’ll grow back. 

I cleaned off the trees on the back door. 

Rescued many of my other little trees. 

It was just work. It’s good for you. 

And for my children too. Life is hard and they need to learn that. 

I had friends who helped. That’s Guaracha up there. 

I cut  down some trees that needed it too. Ones I should’ve never let grow. 

​My wife took the video. She got excited when the tree came down. 

We started with this. 

Cleared it all out. 

Moved some lumber. 

Got some nursery cloth down 

And the tables got put back up. 

There’s still a lot to do but I’ll survive. 

As I write this, another hurricane, called Maria, is tearing into Puerto Rico. She’s a catagory 5. I have too many friends and too many of my friends families on the island. They will know disaster. I’m just experiencing a little pain right now. It won’t last. I just need to work through it. In more than a week I hadn’t worked on any of my bonsai. I took the time yesterday to do just that. 

It helped. I also went to a clients house and worked on some of her trees. She was almost unscathed. It helped to see that too. Normalcy. 

So many of my friends were impacted by Irma. It will be years for some to dig out. Or months or just days. For me, I’ll take it one day at a time. Some days I’ll get more done, some days, nothing. I can only do what I can. Stay safe and strong. Be kind to each other too. You may get a weeks notice of disaster. It may happen in the blink of an eye. 

Posted in goings, philosophical rant, redesign | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments