Sunday, December 7, 2008

December 2008 'Literati Style'

Bonsai, like any hobby or art form, needs to grow with us if it is to retain that “feeling” you got when you bought your first tree. Remember that? If you just continue to do the same old thing you will get bored, stale and become tired with bonsai.

The older we get the safer we tend to become. Risk is vital to remain energized. You don’t grow if you stand still.

I have included some pictures of a simple literati that I completed recently to show you what can be done with a pretty normal tree. I have about 50 of these trees in stock and purchased them because of there amazing trunk shapes. Trees such as this are really difficult to find as the work involved in getting them to this shape is quite arduous. They are a type of juniper and at first glance appear to be procumbens, but some of the foliage is developing scale foliage so may end up being a sergeant juniper.

Firstly these trees present excellently for literati. Now “literati” means “men of the books” (hence the word literature) and only the higher gentry were permitted to grow and shape this type of tree. Whilst it retains some facets of the guidelines of bonsai, it also breaks them. It is a little like jazz music, it follows set principles, but it breaks boundaries. This is the type of thing that will get you thinking outside the box, and stretch you to develop your artistic approach. Now the specimen shown is by no means a perfect one but is merely used as a demonstration as to what can be achieved. This tree will go on to develop into a nice tree all the same.

Your tree should tell a story, in this case it is showing signs of a fight to survive and reach light, in years gone by older branches have given up the ghost but in its incredible struggle it has managed to survive. Most literati’s are very sparse in their foliage, showing the extreme duress they have endured. Literati usually have only 3, 5, or 7 branches, and these are also kept sparse. The branches are always close to the apex (unless the apex is jinned) and are kept in the traditional positions at the extemes of the bends. You need a trunk that has lots of twists and turns in it to make it interesting. Litetarti can be slanting or cascade or even windswept.

Trees such as junipers, pines, cedars and elms can be used as literati. The older and gnarlier the better. I have recently done a beautiful black pine into this style because it sat there with scars all over it, poorly distributed branches, yet it made a great literati! Now everybody wants to buy it, and no its not for sale!!

If you want to have a go at one ask next time you are at the nursery if you would like assistance picking one out.

The other thing I would like people to think about is creating that beautiful tree you have seen in a book. Usually it is something like an old elm or maple with an amazingingly thick trunk with great taper and awesome branch structure.

You don’t get this by buying $12 twigs (sorry but you don’t!) I encourage people instead of buying lots of little trees, save your money and buy 1 big one. What you need to be bold enough to do is get yourself something with a great looking trunk. The bigger the better. Don’t worry about branching that will come later. All the early years in the growth of the tree goes into growing the trunk, branches can be grown in a few seasons.

You can cut an old elm or maple back to nothing, and then start growing your branches. Yes this will take a few years but so many people put it of and lose precious time.

You can have a tree like you see in the books, it’s a matter of starting with the right stock, and then being patient.

Usually patience is the biggest problem, people want it now, but this isn’t going to happen!


Defoliating is the term used to describe the removal of all foliage. This is only done on broadleaf varieties. Trees such as figs, maples etc are ideal for this.
This is practiced in bonsai for a few reasons. By removing the foliage, the tree goes to work developing new leaves to keep the process of work happening in the plant. The tree cant survive without leaves.

One of the reasons for doing this is that it will increase branch ramification, (more branching and sub-branching) as there is more light allowed inside the tree. This stimulates growth on dormant buds back along the existing branches.

The second reason is leaf size. By cutting all the leaves of, the tree will prematurely produce new leaves which will be reduced in size. This is one of the other aspects we are trying to create in bonsai, small leaves.

Now a word of warning, (or 2) don’t do this to sick trees, it will put them under to much stress, and they may die. Also do this only in December as this is the optimum time for the tree to produce new leaves, left to late and the tree may not be able to produce new leaves if the temperatures drop. Again you may lose your tree. When you cut the leaf stem cut it just above the joint between branch and stem, and always use sharp scissors!! (That’s another story for another newsletter)

Have a go this December, and watch the results. Remember to back of on the watering as they will not be transpiring as before, feel the soil before watering each time.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

October 2008

Welcome! Once again welcome to all the new readers of the newsletter, I hope you find it informative, inspiring and encouraging. Remember I am trying to cover a broad spectrum of experience amongst the readers. So there may be things that you have read before, but for others it comes as some really helpful information.

It always helps to remember where we have come from in our journey of bonsai, helping others with things that we may now consider fundamental, but to them a revelation!

The annual “Gold Coast Tweed Bonsai Club” will be holding its annual show on 8th and 9th of November, at the Robina Town Centre, Robina drive. This is situated near the library, it is on the outside of the shopping centre at the western end of the centre. It is held in the large community hall.

There will be some great bonsai on display, also there will be demonstrations each day, Saturday 11.00, and 2.00, Sunday 11.00. Admission is $5.00

I am sure you will find this very inspiring, and if not already a member you may wish to join.
I will be there only on Sunday at this stage with a sales table, so make sure you say g’day!

Its important to understand when you are selecting a tree to shape as a bonsai, that often you are not looking at the entire tree. More often than not the tree has been grown to its current size just to increase the trunk thickness. Don’t try and work out how you could shape the whole tree as it is. Start at the base of the trunk and imagine a tree with good taper using maybe only one third of the tree! You may throw the rest away. I have some beautiful pomegranates that are a good example of this. They are probably 50 cm’s high but would be cut back to around 25 cm’s! This looks stunning, a tiny little tree with beautiful flowers, and then the fruit. These take a bit of time to develop, but really pay dividends. Try and resist the instant bonsai pressure and begin to plan for the future, you will be surprised how fast time goes. I have recently cut of the whole top of a juniper and kept only the bottom branch, and turned it into a lovely cascade. By doing this you have a nice strong looking tree, with heaps of wow factor. If you are keen to do something like this, let me know next time you are at the nursery, and I will show you some trees that I keep my eyes on! This is a great way to expand your artistic ability and talents!

The global economy is going to effect our world of Bonsai!
I have been ready to re-order another container into Australia but with the drop of the $AU, (and still no end in sight of its bottom) it has become sobering to estimate the price of new stock coming in from overseas. I just did some quick figures and what my $AU15000 bought earlier this year buys a lot less now. To buy $15000 worth of stock now costs $25000! I guess the point is this, stock that is here already is a lot cheaper than that which will come from now on. Things such as wire, tools and pots will radically increase over the next 6 months. Someone commented the other day that the Japanese tools were dear, well wait till the next delivery, you will wish you got them now!

In saying this, I still think bonsai is a relatively cheap hobby. If anything prices have come down. I remember buying pots 15-18 years ago and paying more than they are now!

Trees are being effected for different reasons, water costs have risen, fertiliser costs have gone through the roof (40% in one hit!) and wages combined with land values, petrol for transport have all impacted on costs dramatically.

Yet in saying all this, bonsai is still one of the most enjoyable things to do, particularly in a climate of uncertainty!

Don’t forget to keep your eyes out for pests! Apart from overwatering, pests would be the main reason people struggle with their bonsai’s.

I find it much easier to act preventatively rather than curatively with my trees. In other words, don’t wait until you have a problem before you act as this may be to late!!

A monthly spray with a low toxicity all round spray such as pyrethrum will often do the trick. If you need to get on top of things you may need to go to products such as Folimat, or Confidor both available from Bunnings. The biggest problems are usually from red spider mite and are very damaging!(which is not really visible to the naked eye) white louse scale particularly on junipers.

Sometimes the best way to discover if the red spider mite is present is to hold a white piece of paper under a branch an gently tap it. Watch carefully to see if you have minute dots scurrying around the paper, these will be red spider mites.

There are things you can do to minimize the problems of pest and disease. By keeping your trees well aired, in other words let them be exposed to the elements. This will allow nature to do its thing as many birds etc will be predators to the bugs that bug you!
Keep your trees of the ground and the benches where you keep them clean. Don’t use old soil! All you may be doing is transplanting pests bugs and viruses!! Don’t try and penny pinch with soil, it is poor economy, and will deliver poor results as soil becomes denuded of its goodness over the year.

Keep your tools clean, get yourself a cleaning block (we have these available here) as cutting one tree and moving to the next can and will transmit disease and viruses.
Keep your trees turned, in other words rotate your trees so as they are getting equal amounts of sun to the whole tree. This is really important as the tree will produce healthy foliage when facing the sun, but at the other side of the tree it may be limited, and also provide a haven for the little bugs we have been talking about.

Keep your trees thinned out. Make sure your removing dead foliage that has formed inside the tree, again this will provide building material and hiding places for bugs. Keep the foliage pads short as this will allow more light inside the tree, producing smaller foliage as well as keeping the tree healthy.

Happy bonsai, and remember…. It’s a journey, not a destination!!

September 2008

Once again welcome to all the new readers of the newsletter. The growth of the popularity of bonsai never ceases to amaze me!

After months of no movement, no growth, everything is springing into new colour and growth. Some trees are a little late this year, a few of my liquid ambers have still not burst bud as of yet, whilst others are growing as you watch them.

All this new growth presents us with lots of opportunities. If allowed to grow feely your tree will probably lose its shape very quickly. The answer to this is obviously trimming and pruning.
Before I go any further, I will explain a method of creating thicker trunks on your trees during this increase in growth.

By allowing a branch which is either low to the ground, or even in the apex, to grow unhindered for a year or so without trimming, will create a much thicker trunk. This really is common sense, obviously the bigger a tree grows, the thicker the trunk required to support it. You can even take it out of its pot, put it in a nursery pot, or box, and whilst keeping aspects of the tree in shape, allow this new branch to extend.

The usual name for this branch is a “sacrifice branch”. The reason for this is that the branch is never intended to be a pert of the tree, but is grown to create thickness, and is later ”sacrificed”. Wherever the branch is left on, all below it will thicken. So if you just want to thicken the base choose a branch low down, if you want to thicken the whole trunk, choose a branch in the apex.
Now to shaping.
Different types of trees require different techniques when trimming.

Leafy varieties differ to junipers in the way we cut them. With trees like elms, figs privets etc, we can fairly freely snip away with our scissors, even cutting through the leaves in places with no ill effect. Many trees once they become thick, are cut just like a hedge. Once the clouds are created, just a trimming to keep the cloud shape is all that is needed.

Junipers on the other hand, are treated differently. If you were to just cut away with the scissors, within a week you will have a half brown, half green tree.
The reason for this is that most junipers grow in what is known as “whorls” This is where all the buds grow out at a single point, whereas most “leaf” trees grow either opposing or alternate buds.

So with the junipers, it is important to “pinch out the new growth to continue to encourage new growth which will produce your cloud like foliage pads.

Now if you look closely at a small part of your juniper that has been pinched out, you will see that the stem is made up of little scale like sheaves. This is where the dormant buds. Between 2-6 new buds will shoot from this point. After allowing them to grow say 20mm they are then pinched back and each of these will produce 2-6 more buds and so on.

If these are allowed to grow to long, die back will occur underneath where the sun or light is not getting to. If this has happened you will need to cut through these stems with scissors, or cutters. The whole pad should not be much thicker than 25mm or so.

The important thing to be doing at this time is pushing growth by fortnightly fertilizing. More growth, more trimming, more fertilizing, will develop your tree. I should mention that at this time your tree needs maximum sun, but don’t forget to keep up the moisture. Junipers don’t like to be wet all the time, so let them become nearly dry.

Now your leafy varieties need trimming in different ways. You need to trim your branches to produce more branches. By trimming a tree, the hormone that is in the growing tip is gone therefore the tree will produce new buds further back down the branch. This is what we are after. Always cut 5-10 mm in front of the last bud. The reason for this is so as the last bud is not damaged. You can always go back later and cut of any little stubs. If you cut to closely you may get die back and lose the bud you wanted for growth in that direction. Always cut to the direction that you want the branch to grow in. Allow the, new shoot to lignify (harden) before you cut it back.

Keeping clean!!
Cleanliness is vital for the well being and health of your trees. This means keeping your growing area free from weeds (in pots as well as under your benches) and also your tools.
We would never use a instrument used on somebody and then use it on ourselves because of the danger of cross infection.

This means cleaning your tools clean (as well as keeping them sharp, as blunt tools will tear leaving damaged ends which are more likely to become infected) and free from rust and sap.
There is a product called “Crean mate” (yes I know bit of a giggle, a slight oversight in the Japanese translation) this block is a rubberized abrasive piece used for cleaning the blades of all your tools. The one I use is probably 5 years old so they do last quite a long time.

We are selling more and more of these now as people are becoming more aware of the need for clean tools. Often this comes about after seemingly “unexplainable” die back on a tree.

Well hope some of this information helps you, but remember to let me know some suggestions on what you would like to read.

August 2008

Welcome to all the newcomers of the newsletter. I hope yopu find it instructional and inspirational!! I am amazed at the constant increase of new proponents to the art!

I don’t know if its our culture, or our technological age we live in but too often I hear people talking about bonsai as if it is an exact science!

To start with, there are some things in nature we will never understand. Even the best horticulturists will tell you they still don’t fully understand the working of soil and tree together.

Often when a tree “passes” we try and find the reason, but sometimes there is just no good reason we can find! Don’t get caught up with making it an absolute science like maths! You will be disappointed, and have missed the essence of bonsai.

Bonsai is both horticulture and art combined. It is working with material that never presents exactly the same as the last one you did.

For some reason we are so persistent in creating something because we think this is the direction it should go (according to something we have read.)

Be bold enough and game enough to begin to follow your creative instincts, sure use good horticultural guidelines, but beyond this just as they say “have a go”

Read as much as possible, glean as much information as possible, do all you can to fill your mind with images of your beloved hobby, but then as you shape, let the mixtures of the images begin to dictate to you the shape. Things such as balance, and space will become obvious.

Bonsai is not about rules! We are not building a mechanical object! Rules are there for guidelines, they had a purpose in the beginning, and its understanding is vital for the success in bonsai.
Too many people bend down to have a close look at a bonsai and stand up with a look of intelligence on their face to proclaim “Its wrong, the first branch is a back branch”. I swear if I hear someone make a statement like this again, I will scream!

The next book you are reading on bonsai you will find somewhere in the book, how the tree should have a left, right and a back branch radiating up the tree. Now go through the pictures of the book and find how many follow this pattern!

This layout is a guideline, not a rule. I have seen trees that people have forced branches to fit the criteria, and they look ridiculous.

Trees have branches at different heights and different levels because that is how a tree grows naturally. Branches will grow into the most optimal position to gain light. (this is a brief explanation)

If we are to develop both our personal and corporate world of bonsai then we need to both encourage and attempt to develop new styles, and techniques.

We must welcome the newcomer, and not baffle him/her with science and rules, but impart some enthusiasm that will inspire.

We need to “unveil” the mysteries that are so readily propagated by the few, to help people understand that bonsai is not some mysterious thing, some freak of nature, but are at the end of the day, just trees in pots! Lets not be so precious about the whole thing.

People have told me after I have complimented them on an aspect of their tree, asking how it was achieved, only to be told it was a secret!

Bonsai has a long history, and its journey has crossed many lands and cultures. It is reputed to have started in China (maybe even earlier in India) and eventually to Japan.

Pensai from China has a distinctly different look from the bonsai from Japan. Pensai has its early roots (sorry for the pun) in China and was more to do with landscapes in pots.
Whether you like Japanese or Chinese style of bonsai, doesn’t really matter, its about enjoying the art form. They are both legitimate.

There is a respect for its origins and respect for its originators.
If we allow, and indeed encourage those coming into the hobby, especially the young, we will be part of the evolution of bonsai. Bonsai styles are not fixed in time, there are guidelines to be followed, but it will continue to change and develop.

The greatest problem we face as we get older is the ability to change. We fear change around us because we don’t like the rules being changed.

The spirit of bonsai is not precious, it has humility at its heart because it doesn’t know everything. It s encouraging, it imparts all the knowledge it has, its not envious, but appreciative of others achievements.

Probably as Australians, indeed Queenslanders, we have a unique opportunity to develop the art of Bonsai. Our climate is so different, our species are different, even our climate is different.
What will happen with Australian natives? I know we are using them to some degree, but how far are we willing to go? Do we try and shape them into traditional shapes, or do we try and follow the shape of trees around us?

If we allow this sort of development in bonsai then we will all be the richer for it. Maybe everything wont work, but we wont know until we try.

We cant be rigid in all we do, otherwise we will become stuck in time.
Maybe if you feel like you are getting stale with your bonsai, its time to try something different. Go somewhere you haven’t gone before, stretch yourself!!

If we keep this type of mindset, we will be more tolerant of others, we wont be envious, and will ensure the future of one of the worlds greatest hobbies!!

I have really taken to swamp cypress as a bonsai, both as an individual tree, and as group plantings.

The Taxodium genus consists of only two species, Taxodium distichum/ The Swamp Cypress and Taxodium ascendens/ The Pond Cypress. Both a suitable for bonsai cultivation though it is the Swamp Cypress that is more commonly seen.

The Swamp Cypress is an upright, conical, monoecious, deciduous or semi-evergreen coniferous tree found in swampy forest or by river margins from SE USA to Guatemala. In its native habitat it can reach heights of 20-40 metres. Though often found growing in wet, swampy soils, the Swamp Cypress also grows well in relatively dry soils. In wet soil conditions, Swamp Cypress develop aerial roots known as 'knees' or pneumatophores at water level.


Full sun. Fully hardy to -10°C.
WATERING Swamp Cypress should be kept moist at all times as they are thirsty trees. Although Swamp Cypress are able to adapt to wet, swampy soils it is not necessary or beneficial to stand them permanently in water.

FEEDING Swamp Cypress are very vigorous growers and require regular feeding every one or two weeks with a balanced feed.

REPOTTING Repotting should be carried out annually in Spring as new buds extend. Use a soil that is able to retain water but is still fast draining.

PRUNING Pinch out new shoots throughout the growing season to keep in shape. Hard pruning can be carried out in late Winter; this commonly results in prolific budding from the trunk.

WIRING Care should be taken when wiring, as these trees are fast growing and wires will damage the bark if not removed quickly enough. If possible use guy wires to pull down the branches.

PROPAGATION Cuttings at most times of the year and air layering in late Spring.


STYLING Formal and informal upright forms, slanting and literati, twin-trunk and group forms in all sizes.

July 2008

The most exciting time for Bonsai lies just around the corner, so its time to get ready for all the spring jobs. I know we may have some cool nights ahead still but nature is starting to show clear signs of spring. Things I have noticed are new buds bursting on the elms. New buds coming out on the black pines, and most noticeable is the winds, they are from the N.E. which are our predominant spring summer winds. I am still cautious though, I have been caught before. If we are not aware, we can be caught out or running to catch up. So here are a few things you need to think of:
If you are unsure leave it for a few more weeks.

You should be preparing to repot all your trees soon. Some can be left to later such as pines, figs, but your elms, maples junipers etc are ready to go. What happens with the old soil is that it becomes drained of all its nutrients, we can continue to fertilise but this is not the optimum. Much of the humus has broken down, and can become quite mushy. It is vital that the mix you use is “open”, and “sharp”. By this I mean it is free draining, and that much of the mix is sharp in content, such as sand and gravel. The purpose of this is to cause the roots to divide constantly. The roots travel along, hit something sharp and split. This is what we are after. The better the root system, the better the foliage. That makes sense doesn’t it! Unfortunately we pay little attention to the soil or the roots, out of sight, out of mind eh?.

I have had my own mix commercially made for me according to my own specifications for some time now and I have used a product in it called “Zeolite” This is a nonorganic substance that has been formed through the volcanic process. It is usually a brown type of rock but is very porous. It has some amazing qualities. It is reputed to be able to hold up to 70% of its own weight in moisture! But wait that’s not all, it has a negative charge, or negative ions. All organic material has positive ions, so it attracts these minerals, and all the other goodies and holds them. When the soil becomes moist, the ph changes, and the minerals are released, when it dries out they are regathered! This mineral is so amazing, they are now manufacturing it artificially!.
This is the mix I use in all my bonsai’s at the nursery.

Now is a good time to do some wiring. Many of your trees will have less foliage on them now. This allows wiring to be easy, as you can see more of your branch structure. Also take the time to remove any branchlets that are shooting out the wrong way. You can be fairly severe on elms, maple etc. cut them back hard, it will give you greater branch ramification in the future.

Now is a really good time to do some pruning and refining. Trees such as elms, and maples will respond really well to hard pruning now before leaf bud. By pruning back hard now you will create greater ramifications on your branches. There is nothing better than an elm or a maple that has hundreds of tiny twigs all exposed in winter, so now is the time to cut them back while you can see them. Keep cutting back to 2 leaves (or buds) on each branchlet and over spring and summer you will get fantastic growth. It is easy to just let them grow as they will look good, but winter will find you out with long stringy branchlets.

Take some time to assess your trees whilst they are defoliated, see what changes need to be made. Maybe its time to thin it out and remove some major branches! You may decide to reshape the whole tree, this is all part of the journey!

Some beautiful pots have come in (15 tonnes!!) The majority of them are handmade and some are very unique. Although I do wholesale into Australia with pots, there are some that I keep exclusive to the nursery. So you know you can buy something here you wont see anywhere else.

See you all soon!
Happy bonsai-ing!!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

May 2008

Welcome to the new readers from the recent classes, hope all your trees are going well.
Sometimes you may notice some repeated articles in the newsletter. This is owing to the fact that after 4 years there is not a lot of new material to write for that particular month. I will always endeavor to bring fresh ideas and news to you. Remember that your input is always welcome, and subjects that you would like discussed or explained, just shoot me an email.
Also remember that the stock of pots is on the website, which allows you to browse looking for something suitable before you get to the nursery. There are other pots here that are not on the site, these are the handmade range, which are not available anywhere else.

Winter is an important time to keep your trees in their best condition for the coming spring.
It is wise to spray your entire collection with a diluted amount of lime sulphur over the winter months.

Lime sulphur is a fungicide and pesticide which is fairly low in toxicity. It will keep at bay such things as sooty mould, some other funguses, and some of your minor pests.
Spray once a month for 3 months starting in say May.

The other effect it has is a lot of the little nasties that have laid eggs will be greeted (if not killed earlier) by a pesticide. Otherwise you can find you get of to a bad start in spring with all the little nasties hatching and looking for breakfast, at your place!!

Lime sulphur is available from Bunnings, use as directed.
The other use for lime sulphur is bleaching dead branches to create that old look as well as preserving the timber. When this is done it is used neat (undiluted) this is called “jinning”.

Whilst on the subject of jinning I thought it would be a good opportunity to explain a little further regarding this method of giving your trees a more “aged” look.
Remember a tree should always tell a story. It should look like the elements of nature have shaped it, not the hands of man.

This is where jinning comes in. Jinning is a method where all the cambium layer is stripped from a branch to give it a look of an older tree that has had damage done to it through either a storm or lightening, insects etc. A branch or apex can be jutting out of the top of a tree that appears to have been hit by lightening. Maybe a bottom branch that is no longer needed in the design of the tree can be stripped back to look as if over the years the branching above it has shut out the light causing it to die of.

So before you go cutting of branches, or cutting your tree down in height, consider leaving some and jinning it!

To start the jinning process you need to strip away the cambium layer from the branch to be jinned. Make sure you cut around the base of the branch where the jinning is intended to end, otherwise what can happen is when the bark is stripped of, it can tear past where you intended it to finish. This can be done with a sharp knife.

The next step is to remove the cambium layer. This is the living tissue under the bark. Beneath this is the heartwood or deadwood. This is the part we are going to bleach.
The best way to strip this bark of is with the use of jinning pliers. These are used to crush the cambium making it very easy to remove.

Remember to leave as many of the smaller branchlets on the branch being jinned, shorten them as they will add to the overall effect.

After this has been done, consider if the branch is the shape you want it to be. Because it is at this time you will get a one of chance of shaping it. You will find that it is still moist and supple and can be easily wired and trained into a new shape. You may want to twist it and get it spiraling up through the tree. This can look very effective.
You will only need to leave the wire on for about a month as the branch will quickly dry out and then become brittle. You can use heat to bend a branch further but this is fraught with danger as you can boil the sap right back down into the living tissue and kill the branch or even the whole tree!

After you have completed stripping the cambium away, make sure it is clean from any small bits of stringy pieces before you paint it.
The best way of getting the lime sulphur to be absorbed is to lightly spray the deadwood with water. By doing this it will be absorbed into the wood, which will inturn draw the lime sulphur deeper into the wood grain.

Using a small paintbrush, paint the lime sulphur on liberally, making sure it doesn’t run down the branch onto the rest of the tree, nor let it get in your soil. Cover the pot with a rag or similar to stop this happening.

Use the mixture straight from the container, don’t dilute it.
At first it will look very yellow, don’t worry as this will quickly turn white over the coming weeks. It is important to put it in the sun as this will enhance the whitening effect.
The lime sulphur will not only bleach the branch but will also work as a preservative on the timber.

You will need to do this again in a month or so and then say twice a year at any time.
Some trees respond better to jinning and bleaching. The softer timbers don’t do so well such as figs, but trees such as pines junipers swamp cypresses etc look awesome!
This all can be taken a step further if jinning presses your buttons!
This is where carving comes in. Now this can really be fun!

This ranges from using a small Dremmel, to the old “widow maker”. The process here is trying to replicate nature with carving the tree to make it look like it has been weathered for a long time. Twists can be carved into it, trunks can be hollowed, and so on. This takes a little bit of practice, but it can take an ordinary looking tree, and make it look spectacular!
The big bougainvillea on my email signature has been created in this way. Actually it is has even more carving now as I neglected to notice the ants building their home inside one of the trunks so now it has all been hollowed out and looks great.
Anyway give it a try!!
I have include a couple of photos of trees with jins to give you some ideas.

There has been quite a bit of raw stock come in lately, there are olives, trident maples from small to extra large, pyracanthas again medium and large, these are all covered with a beautiful yellow-orange berrie and look stunning, some small Japanese maple (you need to live in a cooler part of the coast for these to be at their best) some larger crab apples, and few other bits and pieces. As usual first in has the best pick. The majority of this stock has been ground grown which gives them great nebari’s (root structure around the trunk)

Happy Bonsai-ing

Saturday, April 5, 2008

March 2008

Red Dragon Bonsai

Once again welcome to all the new readers of the newsletter! I hope the it inspires and helps you on the journey of bonsai.

Just remember that because the growing season seems to be over not to neglect your trees especially when it comes to wire. During this time of the year, often your trunk and branches will continue to thicken up. One reason is the optimal temperatures (they are very much like spring) the other is that the tree is starting to store all its goodies before winter in preparation for next spring. For this reason wire can start to cut in quite easily and leave nasty scars. Just check all your trees and have a close look to make sure wire doesn’t need to come of. Keep this in mind if you are currently wiring your tree, it will need to be checked in a month or so.

Another thing to remember at the moment is to not do anymore trimming on your azaleas. All your new flower buds will have formed, and if you cut them you wont have any flowers!
In regard to flowers and fruit, don’t forget to start using liquid potash once a fortnight to produce an abundance of beautiful fruit and flowers come spring.

Its also time to move your deciduous trees into more sun. This will give greater colour as autumn approaches.

I have never had so many enquiries regarding pests since we have been here at the nursery. The most frequent species have been elms and junipers. Most of them arrive either very brown, or having dropped most of their leaves. The problem seems to been prompted by the high humidity (I think) and we saw a mass of infestation of white louse scale, spider mite, and some other nasties. Most trees had the tell tale signs of very fine spider webs. The worst effected trees were those trees that had been neglected, and or had been overwatered, underwatered and not given enough sun. Problems will always occur when a tree is neglected. Nature will just do its job and remove the weakest tree.

The best allround treatment is either “Folimat” or “Confidor”. These come in aerosol cans and will effectively treat the pests mentioned. What is important is to follow the directions on the can and reapply again in 7 to 10 days. This will ensure that any hatching “critters” will also be dealt with. Hold the can at least 25cm’s from the tree as the aerosol can burn foliage.

At this time of the year it is worth checking your junipers for old needles under heavy growth that have died of from not getting enough light. This is only natural as the needles cannot work economically if they are receiving no sun because of the new growth that has formed on top of it. The growth on a juniper should not be much longer than 25 – 30 mm’s, any longer and it will get leggy. The reason for cleaning out this old dead growth is to keep the tree clean and not supply or encourage pests to take up residence using the old needles for their home!

Using a chopstick or similar object get in underneath and stir around until you see the old needles falling. You want to be able to see the branches and branchlets, free from any collecting debri. You may even notice small cocoons with little grey worms in them, these guys will really mess your tree up. Hold your tree up and look underneath, you may be surprised what you can see!!

Another thing to do is when you are watering, aim a strong jet of water up under the foliage pads as this will also blast a lot of the dead foliage out. Doing this will keep your tree healthy as the more air you can get moving around and through the tree will keep it much healthier.

We have a couple of new things in stock (and soon to arrive)
Firstly we have a fantastic book written by Hoy Leong Kwong, a well known Sydney identity in the world of bonsai, and owner of Bonsai Southside Nursery The particular book is “Ficus Bonsai” in temperate climate.

Its wonderful to see a locally written book rather than trying to glean information from something written in a country that has no real relationship to our climate. The book covers everything from styles, cultivation of ficus for bonsai, training and maintainence, development aspects, and a pictorial workshop. I have really enjoyed reading it and gaining new knowledge and insight into this great species used for bonsai. Some of the trees in the book are nothing short of breathtaking. The cost is $39, well worth the money!

Also arriving next week (maybe Thursday are ground grown olives (I know a lot of people have been waiting for, large trident maples, medium and large pyracanthas (these have red and orange berries).

I’ll leave you with a couple of nice trees from China
Happy Bonsai-ing

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


The Art and Philosophy of Bonsai
Ph. 0755939916 Email


Red Dragon Bonsai is being formally presented for sale. The owners are relocating to take up another opportunity in bonsai outside of retail.

The nursery is located in the beautiful Currumbin Valley, yet is only 2.5 klms from the M1, and 4 Klms to the beach.

It is the only Bonsai nursery of its kind in the city of the Gold Coast (pop. 500,000)
The property consists of a 2 storey Queenslander, containing 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 3 toilets, plus office, it is also air-conditioned upstairs. It is in a tropical setting of palms and cycads, with well tended gardens. It also contains a private gazebo with power lighting and BBQ.
The property is fully fenced. The nursery has a 2 mtr. + high fence on its boundary.

The business is thriving, and would ideally suit a husband and wife team, with huge potential for expansion in the area.
It is positioned on the Currumbin Creek road which is on one of the main tourist drives in the area. This also presents for fantastic drive-by sales.

The business has a large database of existing clients serviced monthly with a newsletter. There are many areas that are still untapped for sales.
A well laid out website is also included, again with huge potential for expansion in online sales.

This is a great opportunity for someone with a passion for Bonsai to live their dream!
For further details please contact the nursery 0755939916. (P.O.A.)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Newsletter February 2008

Again welcome to all the new readers of the newsletter! Great to have you with us.
Well the rain keeps coming, we are in our normal monsoon pattern and probably will stay this way for a few more weeks at least. Just remember after heavy rain your trees have gotten to use to a higher uptake of water. When it stops raining your trees will stay in this mode for a few days so you may have to water more than usual for a few days, as they will dry out quicker.

Where do I start?
The idea of fertilizing is even more important when we are growing container trees. They are completely dependant on the immediate surrounds of the pot for their nutrients.
One of the key aspects of fertilizing is that it obviously keeps your trees healthy! One of the forgotten up sides to this is the fact that healthy trees will attract less insects and pests! Healthy clean areas are must for healthy trees.

Many of the commercially produced fertilizers are usually high in nitrogen. This is the chemical that will produce great growth to your foliage. The problem with this is that it is “artificially” feeding the leaves. It is the roots that should be feeding the leaves! So what you need is what is called a ‘balanced” fertilizer, one that will feed all aspects of the tree. We forget that the leaves are feeding the roots and vice-versa.

Around this time of the year, the reason for fertilizing, (particularly slow release) is to allow the tree to begin to store nutrients for the coming spring. This is vital if we are to have healthy happy trees come springtime. These nutrients are stored in the trunks and larger roots until called on when the weather begins to warm.

One of the dangers of using a fertiliser high in nitrogen late in the season is that you are liable to produce late growth which may not last the colder winter months. If this happens, you may lose your tree. Trees need to go into dormancy, we all need a rest sometime. If we make it produce during this period we will threaten the trees health.

I would encourage you to do some further reading regarding fertilizing if your are serious about your bonsai. There really isn’t the space here to discuss all the issues involved, chemical verse natural etc.

You may have seen the bottled liquid fertilizer I sell at the nursery. This is an all natural “Healthy Earth” fertilizer, a balanced liquid concentrate that will keep your trees topped up with constant nutrients. This is ideal for transplanting, balancing PH, revives sick plants, and the 600 mls makes up just over 100 ltrs. This is used every 3 weeks or so.

The other new range I am now selling is “Healthy Earth” slow release. This will feed up to 3 months, doesn’t “wash out”, and doesn’t dump in hot weather.

Both of these fertilizers are safe on newly potted trees, herbs, indoor, all flowering plants, and even natives. This saves the hassle of buying different fertilizer for all your different types of trees.

I only use these fertilisers in the nursery. I have found them to be safe, environmentally friendly and extremely beneficial to my stock.

Whilst we are talking about fertilizing and growth, it is worth mentioning that as the temperatures start to drop.

We enter a period that is similar in temperature to spring, so guess what? Yep that’s right, new growth, again this is why fertilising is important at this time of the year, we want to make sure we are getting every chance of growth into our trees as we can.

BUT! Keep an eye on your wire as the branches begin to grow and expand, wire, if not checked, will begin to cut in. This can leave nasty obvious scars on the tree, which is to be avoided at all costs. Some trees will never recover from this and can spoil a great tree. If needed remove the wire and rewire if necessary, just wire it slightly adjacent to were it previously was.
It is often best to use slightly heavier wire as this will have a twofold effect, it will last longer (ie avoid what we are talking about above) and hold your tree in position more securely. Believe it or not, your tree can often produce enough pressure over a growing season to move the branch upwards, which is its natural inclination.

A common problem I often see is with the thickening of foliage, and the die back of undergrowth.
People find it difficult to understand the need for constant trimming on some trees. The varieties that are effected most are the likes of junipers. As the foliage elongates, the lower leaves or needles (now covered by shade) are no longer able to do the work they were to designed to do, ie to turn starches into sugars with the help of the sun. (UV) So once growth elongates, the bottom or inner needles die. By constantly thinning your needles/leaves during the growing season, you will create a nice thick pad, which is able to let plenty of light in to these branches. This is the secret to creating “cloud like” pads on your branches.
On varieties such as junipers, this is done by constant pinching back. Never cut the needles, otherwise you will end up with lots of brown tips. These will eventually grow out but will be unsightly for a time.

You need to keep the pads down to about 25cm in thickness. Much more than this and you will encounter the problem we are talking about.

A lot of people think that if they cut of these small branches their tree will become smaller. The opposite is true. When you prune a tree, you remove the hormone in the growing tip, thus the tree responds by making more growth. So where you had one small sub branch, you will now have 3-5. This is how pads are created. (in a fairly simplistic way)

“T” Shirts. After a large demand for our T shirts, they are now available in sizes s,m,l,xl. They are as you see me wearing them on the webpage, and at the nursery. They are $25 and great quality! (mine are 2 years old!)
I’ll leave you with a bit of inspiration from the recent Bonsai show in China.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Photo Gallery

Newsletter January 2008

What great rain we have had! I think I only watered twice during the Christmas break which was a real bonus. I suppose it wasn’t so good for those on holidays though.

We are entering into perhaps the hottest part of the year. You may need to find some more protection from the sun for the next couple of months. Under a tree is not such a good idea as all trees excrete what is called lye. And will damage your bonsai. As well as this you are more likely to have more problems with insects. The best way to go is to erect some sort of shadecloth which is removable in winter. If you are choosing shadecloth go for the lowest % you can find, ie 50%. I use 30% but I think this may only be available commercially. This will help maintain moisture as well as keep the sun from burning foliage. (Really its no so much burning of foliage as it is the tree being unable to supply enough moisture to the leaves that is being lost through evaporation)
Now is probably not a good time to be repotting! There are some species that will tolerate all year round repotting such as figs, elms and junipers, but it is vital that the after care is at least 2 weeks of shade and misting. Obviously if you are doing these trees don’t take as many roots of as you would normally.

In the latest issue of Bonsai Focus, (still some in stock) there is a fantastic article on grafting. The tee that is used in the article is a shohin (miniature) maple. The method that is used is fascinating. It uses the elongated branches of the tree to whip back and be grafted into places where you would like a branch. This is a very successful method of grafting. This method can be used on other varieties but trees such as maples really lend themselves to this. I have used other methods such as using the whip, and drilling a hole through the trunk and feeding the whip through and leaving it until it has grafted. Then the original branch behind the graft is removed. The time a graft takes to become attached varies from species to species. What is also important is the time of year that the graft is done. Obviously the best time is when the sap is flowing so as to ensure a quick healing at the wound site.

Another way to graft is to use a smaller tree of the same variety, only leave it in its original pot whilst the graft takes.

After all this growth from the recent rains, be sure to check your trees which have been wired, to make sure the wire hasn’t begin to cut in. What is happening is that the branches are thickening up with the new growth, but the wire doesn’t expand. The end result can be nasty spiral scarring on your branches. On some trees this can be worse because they are softer. Trees such as azaleas, camellias, maples etc, mark very easy, and in the case of maples, very quickly (within 3 – 4 weeks!)

Obviously this is a problem if you are trying to grow the branch, but have to remove the wire every month or so, yet the branch has not set.

One of the ways around this is to use raphia. Raphia is a natural reed type product that is available in places like spotlight. It comes in strands and looks like flattened grass. What you do is soak the raphia for 30 minutes or so in cold water, then wrap the branch you intend wiring. You will need about 3 strands to make it thick enough to cover your branch. It is then wrapped around the branch quite tightly.

After doing this, wire the branch as normal. This should give you a bit more protection.
Another use for raphia is when you have a large branch you want to bend past a position that it would normally be capable of. By wrapping the branch with raphia, it is a lot less likely to break. Even if it does, it will probably hold the branch in position until it has healed. Sometimes you can bend the branch until you hear the crack and stop. This takes a bit of learning but it can be done.
With bending, don’t think it all has to be done at the one go. You can bend a branch over an entire season. The best way to do this is, once having rapia’d the branch and wired it, connect a loop of wire past the point that you want bent, and fix it to a opposite side of the tree, something to gain leverage from. You are then able to twist the wire slowly, maybe a turn every second day, until you have the desired bend. Leave this for a full growing season. For older trees, you may need to leave them for 2 – 3 years.

Whilst talking about bending, I saw an interesting article the other day on it. Instead of just bending the branch with both hands, twist the branch first with both hands until you crack the cambium. Often a crack can be heard. (This is before applying raphia) What this does is instead of putting the pressure across the cambium, it puts it along the branch instead. It is like hundreds of strands slightly separating, but not actually breaking as a branch does straight across.

I hope you are able to understand what I mean! By the way, I take no responsibility for broken branches!! Take the time to learn and practice on branches that it doesn’t matter if you do break them.