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!!