January 2013


January 2013, Vol. 39, Issue 1

Japanese Maple, by Ray


  • President’s message
  • JT’s Tree Tips
  • Editor’s Note
  • Midori Member Profile
  • December Meeting Recap
  • Midori Member Projects
  • Midori Member Pictures

Presidents Message

A New year, a new board.  I’d like to start out by thanking Larry White for all he has done for the club.  He gave us not two years but three full years of organizing and coordinating events and inspiring us all to do better bonsai.  Thanks Dawg!!

I’d like to follow in these footsteps of Larry.  I feel that the purpose of the club is to increase the skills and knowledge of each member through education and to create opportunities to enjoy the process of bonsai.  The board and I will do everything we can to make this happen.

We’ll start by having a functioning greeting table. It’s a pet project of Larry’s and he has volunteered to man the table to greet members and welcome newcomers so that they feel included and not lost at our meetings.  You can help too by attaching yourself to a guest and showing them around.  I’d like to see everyone with their name tag on and if you have forgotten it, to put on a “Hi, I’m …” name tag available at the table.

At the beginning of the meeting, I will be starting a short discussion of which trees are ideal to work on for the next couple of months and what we should do with them.  We have many knowledgeable people in our club so I bet we will get some great info on this subject.

We would like to encourage everyone to think about what trees you would like to show in this year’s show or at the Cherry Blossom Festival, and start working on them now.  Let’s plan out the work now so they will be ready at the right time.

We have a great board who would like to hear from you about skills you would like to learn or sharpen, and any input you have to make the club run like a well oiled machine.  Adam Butterfield (abd707@yahoo.com), our new newsletter editor and Jim Wallace (wallace_jim@yahoo.com), our webmaster, would love any photos of trees, people and events as well as heads up on u-tube videos or webcasts you know about, regarding bonsai subjects.  And of course, be sure to visit the website and read the newsletter – great and timely information.

Let us know what we can do to make the club better.

 – JT and the Board

January Program

This month JT and Larry will initially present aspects of Transplanting to the club members, to be followed by an open workshop of transplanting members’ trees.  Bring your trees tools, soils and pots and start the year off right.  This is such an important topic, we will be continuing this on the third Thursday as well as the February meeting.  Getting this one process right at the beginning of the year, enables us to do everything else successfully throughout the year.  Join us!


J T’S Tree Tips

Here we are again.  The perfect beginning for bonsai – Transplanting!  Start it now and you will have fewer problems throughout the year.

We in the Bay Area are very fortunate with our mild climate.  Don’t wait for the buds to swell on the deciduous trees – start now.  If you wait , you will never catch up with it.  Our first two meetings will be devoted to transplanting your trees so get prepared, bring in your trees and supplies and let’s have at it.

We want healthy and vigorous radial root systems for our trees and we all know that if we accomplish this we will have better bonsai.  The root system affects everything above it.  Repotting our tree accomplishes many things. It rejuvenates the tree by freshening up the soil. It initiates the taper of the trunk for which we all strive.  It can correct problems in the root system and may solve problems in the upper tree.    By cutting back the roots, it makes the tree generate new absorbing root tips closer to the trunk making a more efficient plumbing system and allowing us to put the tree into a shallower and more appropriate pot. So, let’s get to it.

One caveat: We do not completely bare root conifers. To do so might kill the tree!!  We do need to get the field soil out of the mix, but not all at once.  Taking out all the soil of a third or half way around the trunk will insure leaving enough undisturbed roots to keep the tree alive while the bare rooted section builds up a new healthy set of roots.  Two years down the line you can clean out the other part while leaving the new roots alone to maintain the tree.

REMOVE TREE FROM POT.  If in bonsai pot, cut tie-down wires from beneath pot and loosen screen  clips from drainage holes.  If the tree will not come easily from the pot, use a sickle or knife to cut a wedge (higher at surface) between roots and pots along two short sides and one long side of the pot.  From the cut long side of the pot, hold down the pot with one hand while your other hand pushes the upper trunk up to release the root ball.  Don’t grab the trunk where valuable bark can flake or rub off.  Hold a Jin or sturdy upper branch. Take your time and do it right. Lift the tree and root-ball from the pot and put aside in the shade while you clean and prepare the pot.

PREPARE THE POT.   Clean off the grunge, with natural fiber brushes, lime away and a good water scrubbing.  Then put screens in the drainage holes and wires through the holes for tying the tree down later.  If there are two holes in the pot put two wires in each hole.  If you have four holes, use two wires, with one end through each hole.  We’ll discuss what to do with them later.

PREPARE THE SOIL.   Pre mix your soil components into a large batch so you don’t have to scramble later.  Have sufficient larger sized pumice or decomposed granite for a bottom drainage layer. Don’t worry about stratifying water in the layers.  When you put a tree in the pot it alters the layers and creates a different dynamic for drainage.   I have good success using more of the imported clay material, akadama.  Japanese pumice, called hyuga, is another additive I like but domestic pumice would be just fine. The clay (akadama) should hold nutrients in the soil better and the hyuga should lighten the mix and improve drainage.  Here is a basic, fast draining conifer mix: 1 part akadama; 1 part pumice (hyuga);  1 part brown lava or decomposed granite.  For deciduous and broad leaf evergreens you might add an additional 1-2 more parts akadama . For every 5-gallon bucket, add in ½ cup charcoal and ½ cup super phosphate to the mix.  The size of soil used for your tree will depend on its stage in the bonsai process.  Freshly collected and nursery container transplants will need coarser (larger) sized particles. Sickly or weak trees should have this coarser soil as well. Medium /large akadama would work well here.  For developed trees, I use a smaller sized mix of akadama, pumice and lava.  This will create finer roots and top growth.  For top dressing, I use a slightly smaller, sifted mix of this smaller soil.  Even if you don’t start transplanting right away, assemble the soil components you need now.

PREPARE THE TREE.   Transplanting should be done when the soil is damp but not soaked.  It is a little messier than when dry, but the roots will not dry out as fast if they are moist. After all, healthy trees are our primary concern. (Of course, the new soil we will be adding will be dry, as it’s easier to work into the roots).

When you have it out, gently scrape off the thin layer of surface soil around the tree exposing just the upper surface roots.  Remove the hold-down wires from the top of the soil surface if you can, pulling away from the trunk, not straight up.

Tilt the tree to the side 90º holding the root pad with one hand.   Using a small rake, cut out the layer of matted bottom roots keeping the root mass an even thickness over the entire surface.  Comb out the roots in this area removing large roots with root cutters and those smaller roots growing directly down from under the trunk of the tree with bonsai shears. The underside should be flat or like a slightly inverted saucer.  Clean out any dead roots or rotted wood you encounter. When you have cleaned out the bottom surface, return the tree to its upright position.

Using a small root hook or chopstick, gently tease the surface roots from trunk to the edge in a radial direction.  If there is old field soil remaining, dig it out.  If you encounter crossing roots straighten them out.  Most healthy deciduous trees can be bare rooted if there is field soil present, but if it has a good draining root ball, it does not all have to be removed.  Again, conifers should not be as aggressively combed out.  If you have a lot of old soil that needs to be removed on a conifer, clean out just one side this year and leave the other side intact.  Next year you can clean out the other side to complete the process.

Once you have the roots combed out, cut the roots so that you have about the same amount in the front and rear.  Allow some root tips to extend past the root ball so that they will move easily into the new soil you will put them in.  REMEMBER this is where the new absorbing root tips will form so give them enough room to grow and be sure to make clean cuts

For reduction of nursery containers, first scrape away soil from the base of the tree until you have a good set of surface roots.  Saw or cut off from the bottom at least one third to a half of the remaining root mass.  Tease out the roots as above encouraging radial side growth roots rather than downward ones.  Make clean cuts at all times.  We will reduce the soil ball further next year.

We usually don’t put trees from nursery containers directly into thin bonsai pots.  For the health of the tree, choose a transitional intermediate sized container for the first transplant.  Again, this is not a Race!

REPOT THE TREE.    Put a thin, flat drainage layer of larger particle soil in the bottom of your prepared pot.  Place a mound of soil (like the above-described inverted saucer) where the base of tree will rest.   Place your tree so that the front of the tree and the tree angle are correct.  The soil level should be slightly below the pot rim and the buttress of the trunk should start at the level of the pot and not high above it on a mound.  If you can have someone hold it in position for you and step away to make sure it’s at the proper angle.  Add soil around the edges of the root mass and work in with chopsticks. Don’t just dump it in on top of the roots – let it sift through the roots so they are separated and not matted. Chopsticks can be used to help the dry soil filter around the roots.  Stick the chopsticks in to an area where you need soil and then work them in a back and forth manner to direct the soil where it is needed.  Don’t just jab the chopsticks in and out or you can tear and damage the roots.  Make sure that soil has penetrated into all areas.  We don’t want any air pockets.

TIE DOWN.  If you have four holes in the bottom of the pot, use the wire tie downs in a clockwise or counter clockwise fashion to secure the tree in the pot, tightening them by twisting and pulling with your fingers at each wire intersection.  The  final wire is tightened with wire pliers to pull the whole basket weave together and cinch it into place.  Add more soil and work in well with chopsticks.  While holding the root mass down with one hand, bang down gently on the rim of the pot with your other hand all the way around the pot.  This will settle the soil into cavities you missed with your chopsticks.  Use a small brush to sweep the surface of the soil flat then tamp down with a small spatula.   If you have only two holes on the bottom of the pot, after you have worked the soil into the root area, lay chopsticks down across the root area on either side of the tree and then tighten the back two wires over the chopsticks and then the front wires.  This will help hold down the tree and give added stability even when there is a marginal root system. Sprinkle some shredded sphagnum moss on the surface of deciduous trees.

AFTER CARE.   Water in well from over head until the water runs clear from the bottom of the pot.  Keep the soil moist but don’t let it get too wet or you can develop root rot.   It can’t process as much water as an established tree until it forms new absorbing root tips.  Protect the tree from drying winds and frosts and excessive Sun. To be doubly safe you might use something like Cloud Cover, which is an anti-transpirant.

If we have a burst of freezing cold, which would figure, the transplanted trees and others that have young, tender shoots will need to be protected from damage. However, this should not deter us from transplanting everything we can get our hands on starting with fruiting, flowering and other deciduous trees.  Follow then with the evergreens. To give it an extra boost or if you have excessive cold after transplanting; you might use a heating mat under the plant.  This bottom heat will stimulate the roots without the extra stress of supporting top growth. Don’t fertilize except as noted above, until you see strong new growth.

If you are pruning and styling your trees, remember that the closer we get to the growing season, the closer you can cut back to the last bud.  If you still think there might be frosts, leave a little stub at the end.  You can trim it later in the year.

If you have questions, call me at (408) 371-7737

– John Thompson


Editor’s Note

Welcome to a volume of the Midori Bonsai Club Newsletter!

I’ll keep my comments here brief. I just wanted to encourage everyone once again to take pictures of their trees and send them to me for the newsletter. A couple members have been contributing already, but it would be great to get some more people to share. The more we participating we get, the more awesome our newsletter will be.

And on a side note, I’ve somewhat recently started my own bonsai blog, and just wrote up an article about a technique I’ve been working on for creating jin on junipers. Instead of copying the article again here, I thought I would just link to it. Check it out, let me know what you think! You can find the article here: http://wp.me/p1ZyD7-27.


Midori Member Profile

This Month:

Jeremy Bettencourt

How did you get involved with bonsai?

I would have to say it was at one of my first jobs at orchard supply hardware. I worked in the nursery for two years and during that time the small trees sparked my interest. After that, I purchased a few from the store.

How long have you been doing bonsai?

Well I started killing them around 1997, and for the next ten years off and on, until I found out I needed to removed the glued down rocks on top of the soil. After that, I started looking for more info on bonsai. I don’t count the first 10 years I only count the last 5 years.

How many bonsai do you have?

About 30, all of which are pre-bonsai and mostly all boxwoods. I also have a couple of olives, several junipers a few elms and a variety of others.

What is your favorite specimen?

For now, I would have to say boxwood and olives

What is your favorite bonsai style?

Broom and semi-cascade style

Who is your favorite bonsai artist?

I don’t have a favorite artist

How much time are you spending on your bonsai in a week?

Presently, just enough to keep my trees watered, fertilized and roughly pruned. with my new job I started 2 years ago it has put a large strain on my free time.

What is your special skill in bonsai?

I can’t say that I have any real bonsai skill…yet

How many yamadori (collected trees) do you have?

I would say all my trees but four. I enjoy the hunt for a nice tree. As I said above most of my trees are boxwood and all of them are from front and backyards (pulled with consent of the owners of the yards).

Why are you doing bonsai, what does bonsai mean to you?

It extremely therapeutic. It lets me relax and let go of the stress of life.


 December Meeting Recap

The December meeting is always great! A chance to gorge on all kinds of great food, and score some new bonsai goodies at the auction. Here’s a few photos from the night.


Midori Member Projects

We have a couple of member projects this month, both are trees recently won at the December auction.

First we have a boxwood by Mehrdad. He got it for $15! Here’s a little before and after initial styling. Mehrdad plans to do some carving on the tree, and of course, it needs some time to fill out.

The second project is from Adam. I’m pretty sure this is a Pinus sylvestris (Scots Pine). It was only $12 for the tree plus a pot! Note the long, straight trunk and first longish branch on the left in the before picture. It should make for a nice shohin eventually. The top hasn’t been cut off yet, it was just covered with a piece of paper for the after picture.


Midori Member Pictures

To finish off this month’s newsletter, we have a couple member pictures of deciduous trees in their full (or in one case, partial) leafless glory. The first two trees are from Mark, a Japanese Maple group, and Korean Hornbeam flat-top style. And finally, another Japanese Maple, once again from Ray.





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