January 2015


January 2015, Vol. 41, Issue 1 



  • President’s message
  • JT’s Tree Tips
  • Editor’s Note
  • December Meeting Recap
  • January Meeting Topics & Club Calendar

Presidents Message

It’s a New Year!

As your new President, I’m sitting here wondering where did the year go? Whether your ready for the new year or not, all of us are now a year older and hopefully a year smarter regarding growing and developing our bonsai trees.  After all isn’t that what our bonsai club is all about, to instill useable bonsai knowledge and growing techniques that will motivate all of us to extend ourselves beyond what we personally thought possible.IMG_3634

After seven years now with our club, I can say that many of my bonsai goals are now finally becoming a reality.  I now have trees I’ve developed over the years that are now going into real bonsai pots that I can present at our yearly show.  This I must admit is very rewarding!  For the first time now I need to search out the right show pot for this or that tree, or find a vendor that is selling show tables at a price I’m willing to pay.  This is a big step for me!  Mainly because I was never willing to spend the big bucks up front for that already developed show tree someone else had spent years grooming.
But at the same time, I’m proud that I stuck with my long term goals, and took the time to develop the knowledge and patience and hurtles we all face to get there.  Good bonsai takes time, and a willingness to work through all of our personal issues and take advantage of those that can teach us and show us the way.  None of us have completed our learning, even those that are considered teachers are always learning new ways to remedy yesterdays problems.

2015 is here, new opportunities and goal are before us. It’s my wish that all of us this year can support our bonsai show and enjoy the rewards this can bring to all of us. On behalf of myself and all of our members that are taking the lead for the next two years with our club, may we help you to accomplish your goals and enjoy each others support.

I wanted to thank everyone who attended and supported our yearly Christmas Party and Auction this year.  Great eats as always, and a joy to socialize and get to know other family members of those in our club.  The auction was financially a success, with many happy members taking home new trees and bonsai materials.

Each year at this time our club puts together a yearly calendar of events that fills our meeting programs with various people in the bonsai community that will come and share their knowledge on various topics.  This is probably the most important meeting that takes place all year long for our club.  We invite everyone in our club to take part in sharing their ideas for the various topics that will be presented this year at our monthly meetings. This meeting will take place at Armadillo Willys on January 13th at 6:00 PM. It’s in the shopping center on the north west side of the intersection of Camden and Union Ave.  Looking forward to a very prosperous bonsai coming year with everyone in our Club!

J T’S Tree Tips

Transplanting is the perfect beginning activity for the bonsai year. Start it now and you will have healthier trees with 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 (Jan 8th because of New Years) and third thursday meeting in January will be devoted to transplanting your trees so get prepared, bring in you trees and supplies and let’s have at it. Peter Tea and Ben Willis will have soil and tools available for sale.

Each time we transplant gives us another opportunity to improve our nebari and excelerate the growth and development of our trees.

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 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 more parts akadama . For every 5 gal. 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 copper 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 rootball 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

Please note as Jack & JT mentioned our first meeting will be Thursday January 8th, not this week as normal because of the holiday.  The 3rd Thursday workshop will be as normally scheduled on January 15th.

December Meeting Recap

This past month we had our annual holiday party and auction.  New board members were elected and we had a really good turn out.  Our workshop meeting was our annual Pork-chop workshop which, while not as well attended, also had great food and was a great workshop.  Sorry we unfortunately didn’t get any photos this time.

January Meeting Topics & Club Calendar

January 8th – Transplanting Workshop

The main meeting will be held on Thursday January 8th because the 1st Thursday is New Years.  This will be a transplanting workshop with a short technique demo by J T.  Bring trees and pots you want to transplant and supplies you need to the meeting.  Peter Tea and Ben Willis will have soil and tools for sale.  We will go over basic steps then get right into it at the meeting.  Refer to JT’s Treetips to review transplanting.  This should be fun and you can get a lot accomplished on your trees.  Fear not!  This is a great way to start the year.

January 15th – Transplanting Workshop continued

Our third Thursday workshop meeting will again focus on transplanting as this is the perfect time of year to get this done.

2014 Meeting Schedule

Month 1st Thursday 3rd Thursday
January Transplanting Workshop with JT Transplanting Workshop
February Pine Winter Work with Bill Castellon Photo Shoot with Danny and Jim
March (Currently Open) (Currently Open)
April (Currently Open) (Currently Open)
May Layering with Danny (Currently Open)
June Annual Silent Auction Photo Shoot with Danny and Jim
July (Currently Open) (Currently Open)
August (Currently Open) (Currently Open)
September (Currently Open) (Currently Open)
October (Currently Open) (Currently Open)
November (Currently Open) (Currently Open)
December Annual Holiday Party, Election, and Auction Pork chop workshop

Northern California Bonsai Events

January 14, 2015, Oakland, California
East Bay Bonsai Society:
 Break in the new year with Kathy Shaner! Free demo at 7:30pm on Wednesday at Lakeside Garden Center, 666 Bellevue Ave. Kathy, the first non-Japanese citizen to be honored with the title of Bonsai Master by the Nippon Bonsai Kyodo Kumiai, will demonstrate the nuances of discovering and styling a multi-trunk Korean Hornbeam with superb nebari and age. The demo tree along with other items will be raffled following the demo. Don’t miss this chance to see Kathy in action! To learn more about the East Bay Bonsai Society, please visit www.eastbaybonsai.org

January  24-25   Oakland, California
Bay Island Bonsai Annual Bonsai Exhibit at the Lakeside Garden Center, 666 Bellevue Ave. Hours: 10AM-4PM, Saturday and Sunday.  Auction on Saturday, preview at noon and auction at 1pm.  Bonsai demonstration by Boon Manakitivipart on Sunday at 1 PM.  Guided tours of the exhibit both Saturday and Sunday.  Vendor sales, Club sales, Educational bonsai material for sale,  A special pots sales this year.   Entry to Exhibit is free, donations accepted.  For more information (510) 919-5042 or go to


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