Finding the Line with Stick Figures   2 comments

I decided to use the last of the three pines I recently bought as an exercise in how I find the line in a piece of material with multiple choices to make. Pines are very easy to work with, they back bud well and branch development is pretty fast once you get it established. Once established it’s just bud selection and maintenance. This is a small pine from Ed Clark out in Lindsey California and the tree is very healthy and full of options. I will identify the options, weigh the options and make selections based on which option is the best for the tree. There are many ways to do this, and I provide my way here.


Part I

This is the pine. Lots of choices and a very unusual trunk arrangement. The trunk splits into three sections.

Here I lift it’s skirt up for a peek under the dress. We can see three distinct trunks.

We can call these trunks A, B and C.

A better view of trunk A. It is rather heavy but has a smooth transition. It could work as an extension of the trunk. What I am looking for here is “the one” trunk to carry on the character of the tree. I do not wish a multi trunk tree with the eye darting every which way, we need one good trunk line with the best the tree has to offer.

On trunk A there is a few flaws. first the trunk moves upward and is punctuated with a big bulge and scar in the middle of the line. There are no buds on the section and just about where the “X” is just about terminates the end of that trunk. Due to a possible cutback by the grower.

In close proximity to trunk A is trunk B and it too has the same defects as the first. Obviously some branch reduction had taken place last year as there is evidence of sap on the cuts and there is no real signs of callus yet so reductions made last year for sure.

Like trunk A, B has no growth in this zone either. Both these trunks sections were grow out from budding on the trunk, and each was allowed to grow for the season. Each whorl developed branches and then the grower came in and reduced some of the growth, but too late as the bulges had already formed.

The first cut was to reduce A trunk down to a short stub. The stub is retained due to proximity growth at the base of the stub with branching I wish to further develop.

These two small shoots will be branch number one in the future. I will keep both as back ups. One will be removed if the other grows well. The stub will be reduced later to blend in.

Here is a good look from a different angle of trunk B. It has good movement and has lots of choices for branch structure with multiple shoots coming off the trunk.

When I clear the area a little and take a good LONG look, I am just not excited about this option. I don’t like the knob in the middle of my extension, and there is nothing to cut back to here. Nothing green, no needles no nothing. One could use this trunk line and cut everything on that trunk back to base needles and provoke the tree to get into emergency mode and push buds, then again, that’s a crap shoot and could take years.

Here’s a detail of everything I don’t like about it. The circle represents the unfortunate branch removal scar, and the left arrow shows a good first branch in this view and the right arrow shows the branches I kept from trunk A removal and would become second branches in this scenario. The small blue line is the stub from trunk A.

Again pulling back the needles I have shown the three places with no buds , no needles and possibly nothing for years. This is not a good option, keep looking.

I cut the top portion out first. Just to check things out. Always make safety cuts and check your work as you go. Sometimes just the removal of a piece of the trunk can open up a whole new possibility. Now that it’s opened up, I hate it even more. Are you seeing what I am seeing though…..

If one was to keep this, these three branches would be your leader/apex options. Not full of promise.

I make the cut and leave a stub. I will come back later and clean that up when it dries out some.

So now we have removed trunk A and B and left a couple small branches at trunk A for the future. What the hell does C look like and is there a future?

So from my proposed front view, based on the trunk flare and largest girth view, this is what we have left.

If we trace the trunk line it moves out something like this. I need to get it back over the base of the tree. I like slanting trees but slanting trees are a cop out if you don’t know how to get the apex back over the roots. Sometimes you cant due to not being able to bend it, too large, but this is a small tree and not that large and pines are soft, and take bending very well, even larger branches. Just get larger wire, rebar, hose/pipe/wood clamps and get r done.

I put some large wire on the trunk and took both my largest bonsai pliers and started bending. It is much easier to bend pines with two pliers using one to hold the base of the wire and the other a little higher up to bend. Move each up a little and continue bending, hell you can make a u-turn if needed.

This is the new line of the tree. The rest of the photo’s just show the tree from different views around it to see what I did.

This is what we had when we started for a trunk.

And this is what we have now. It is very deceiving when you look at a stick figure because the dimensions of the trunk add so much more to the picture. The line is important and now we have one trunk, a good line, and the branches will fall into place. All the branches have been shortened based on needles and tomorrow I will clean up those branches and wire them and put them into place. Stay tuned Part II coming soon.


Part II


This is this morning after I removed the lower needles on each branch and wired everything. Preliminary branch placement has started. The basic shape can be seen. It is not final as there are places which have to be bent even more before I am happy.

This is the pile removed from the tree over all. More than 75 percent of the canopy has been removed for this trees first style session. There are those that will say, “ahh Al you did too much or, you can’t so that all at one time”. Shit…this thing will explode in the coming weeks. If I didn’t know how this tree will respond, do you think I would do this to it after spending this much money? I paid $400.00 for the three. I feel that was a steal. For some that is a lot of money, for others it’s a drop in the bucket. For me, it was a lot of money!

This tree was loaded with what I call on a pine, a typical shoot. To reduce this for our needs we start out like this.

First I remove the candle. Right now it is not needed. We will make more later.

If after removing the candle, the branch is of the correct length, begin removing needles from around the base. I leave about four pairs of needles at the tip of the branch. I use heavy pine needle tweezers for removing needles. The ends of the tweezers have teeth that will grip the needles and not slip off while pulling. They work exceptionally well. They cost about $75.00 for a good pair.

Here you can see the teeth!

The end of the tweezers is pointing to a green spot on the stem. this is where the needles were. Buds will pop here too.

The center of the branch needs to have the center cut clean across. No slants.

On these shohin trees I cut the needles. I cut them because to wire one without cutting needles is almost impossible. these needles were about 3 inches long and needles everywhere is frustrating when you spend more than half the time chasing needles out of the path of the wire. As I work the tree, successive candle pruning and styling will reduce the needles in size and it won’t be necessary to cut them any longer.

If the top of your tree looks like this, one can see how impossible it is to wire out something that is such a mess. Most of the time this is what we have for a canopy and it requires wire now while everything is small. It’s not something that can be put off , it has to be done now.

For this first branch lets say I wish to reduce it to the scissor point. Cut at that point and reduce the needles on the stem to four pairs at the tip.

Here is one branch on this cluster prepared and ready for wire. The needles have been cleaned and the tip has its needles for buds. The needles kept have been cut down and now wire can be applied easily.

Now we have the whole cluster all cleaned and needles cut back. Now one can come in and wire this out and bend branches into place very easily.

You might be asking…why did I leave this cluster of needles there on that stem? I wish for a branch to grow there. By keeping that cluster, the bud inside will elongate and begin forming a branch. At a suitable point I will cut that and look for two buds to emerge. This will make a fork and this is how we make a new branch and begin the ramification. It’s all necessary baby steps but one has to be vigilant. Making branches and ramification on a pine is not like making branches and ramification on a trident maple. One can’t just cut it off and start over. You get one chance at this. Screw up and the branch may be wasted.

So this is the result after getting in with two pliers and bending the apex trunk into the shape I wanted. If you scroll back and look at the apex leader before, it was pretty much straight up, now it has a nice curve. This is functional wire, not pretty wire. There is a time and a place for that and now is not the time. There are no guy wires, no turnbuckles, no branches wired to the trunk, so memory should set fairly quickly for these wired areas. I will take off all this in the Fall and start over, hopefully with much less wire, and better looking.

Here we go….done..see what a difference that small bend in the leader made. Now it’s not a straight section. Straight sections suck and so do straight trunks….they’re boring!!

This is our stick figure now. Very much different than when we started.

Branch A is a back branch, and the area marked B has three small buds of growth that will become more back branches. Right now there is a hole about just below the red oval. It will fill in with no problem.

A side by side comparison of how we find the line of a trunk and build the beginnings of branches on virgin material.

This exercise is finished with one exception. This particular tree was styled in two days. Could have been one if I wished, I just didn’t want to work at night time under lights. This tree is not the culmination of my vision step by step as I removed crap from the tree. I saw a tree in this tree while I was in the green house at Ed Clarks in Lindsey. I knew before I wrote this lengthy article that the tree was going to be built with trunk C. I knew it was going to be wired and brought back over itself and finish out on top of the roots in the manner it did. I knew this because I visualized the whole process standing there holding the tree and turning it in my hand. I knew what I was going to do before I even told Ed “these are my three, here’s the money” Don’t be a Mo Mo and just buy shit willy nilly. Don’t buy shit cause it’s a “good deal”! It never is.  Formulate a plan and know what your going to do before you ever lay the money down. Don’t be that guy that buys material and goes to a bonsai discussion forum, or Face Book and asks “what can I do with it”? It’s your tree, what are YOU going to do with it!!

Fence Bench   Leave a comment

This has been my first full year of retirement. It has been a roller coaster ride of ups and downs and medical issues. Rosie and I have worked thru them and we are excited for this new summer.

Early in the Winter I started expanding my grow out area. It was expanding and I needed more room to house all the pots and larger tree growing out. It is especially hard since often times canopies are allowed to grow unpruned until sizes are reached on certain branches before pruning back. Having these sitting all over the yard and moving them to mow and water and prune other things is a hassle. What I did was reinforce the fence by installing knee braces at each post with a 4 x 4 and a steel stake driven in the ground. This made the fence super rigid and also adds more strength to the fence since it’s shared with a neighbor. I installed a 16 foot shelf on the fence at the post height, about ten inches from the top of the fence. These are mostly for growing out shohin size trees and with the shelf at 10 inches from the top, I don’t have to worry about something or someone coming along and knocking it off the shelf from the other side.

Two months ago I built the second shelf under the first. This shelf is about 14 inches below the first shelf. Here you can see the knee braces holding the fence firm. Both shelves are 16 feet long. This area gets full sun almost all day. The sun starts about 9:30 AM and gets shade about 5 PM. Notice all the larger stuff on the ground sitting around in colanders and cut down nursery containers.

Today I finished the lower shelf on concrete blocks two high. The shelf is two 16 foot 2 x 6’s with a small block every 5 feet for support and to keep them from twisting. The bench holds all the larger trees that need the support. Underneath is all my seed trays.

Up on the shelves contain cuttings and smaller rooted plants of things taken last year.

These clay pots have elm root cuttings in them, neagari style and the tips of the cuttings all have small green shoots popping out.

Like these….

These small green things are semi cascade style small leaf privets. Just poke them in the ground and roots in 60 days.

I got these three pines from Ed Clark March 14 this year. Two of them have been styled, the third one tomorrow.

The big pine I got from Steve DaSilva. It’s growing really well. I lost two very small branches that turned brown after about a month. The rest of the tree is responding well.

Candles galore.

These two colanders have , I think,  Crape Myrtle seeds in them. They popped out last week and are really growing quite fast. They will be getting the screen on top this week end. The screen keeps them from growing up, and puts all sorts of movement in the seedlings.

These were tridents I did several years ago with the method. Just window screen laid over the seed bed.

That’s the way you put movement into trunks at an early age. I have several hundred tridents that I am doing this way again.

Witches Broom   Leave a comment

A term in the nursery trade to mean a “genetic mutation’. This is a mutation that occurs from environmental factors, chemical triggers and health factors in the plant that stimulates a mutation of the parent plant. It is how many new varieties of plants are found. These “witches brooms are grafted back onto parent stock and many times the genetic mutation takes on the mutation and grows on to become a new plant.

This year in the garden I had the surprise to find one of my trees exhibit witches brooms on several branches. Not all of them but three of them. The tree is a normal acer buergerianum “trifidum”. A common trident maple.

So this is the plant. It is a trident maple that I dug at Steve DaSilva’s field. I have had the tree for a decade and never did anything to it. This past year. 2019, I took the top off as a layer. I cut the layers free a couple months ago and they leafed out. Suddenly, this one developed three witches brooms.

I have circled the three exhibitions of the broom.

On closer inspection it is easy to see the much different shape of the emerging leaves.

The leaves exhibit all the traits of the Mino Yatsubusa maple with it’s long middle lobe looking like a hand flipping the bird.

Check out this close up and compare it to one of the normal leaves on the same tree.

I will keep an eye on it and see how it develops thru the next couple weeks. It could be gone by May?

Updates 2020   Leave a comment

So far this spring has been a roller coaster ride. Warm, then cool again, late rains, wind, chill, warm then cold. Leaves have come out on some things, and been slow on others, even of the same species. I have had some trident maples open leaves on half the tree and the other half’s buds are swollen but stopped when it got cold. I know it will all even out soon as the heat is ready to swoop in and begin the real Spring soon. The three large layers I took off almost two months ago are beginning to open now. The third one had the most roots of the three and seems to have opened much larger. The elm is opening but seems to be sputtering in the cold. I need heat right now for root growth and building new roots to help keep it alive till it is running on it’s own.

The little beauty berry that I bought seems to be leafing out well. I will begin to wire some in a month or so as I get more extension.

This maple underwent some massive surgery 6 weeks ago by removing a branch and cutting it way back. I did some carving on the trunk and wired out the small shoots before the leaves.  It seems to be pushing well in spite of the weather.

Three new pines entered the fold. These come by way of Ed Clark. They are all Shohin size and are to be developed over the next five years. I already have one I got five years ago and so these are numbered II, III, IV.




This pomegranate is also a recent addition


Posted March 15, 2020 by California Bonsai Art in Uncategorized

The Bunjin Form   Leave a comment

My Thoughts on Bunjin.

By Jim Osborne

“Bunjin is probably the most miss-understood of all the bonsai styles. Actually, it is not really a style at all but more of a feeling. All good bonsai should evoke some feeling in the viewer, and this is especially true with Bunjin. In most other styles, you look at the roots first, then the trunk. In Bunjin, you look at the trunk, the branches and roots come second. Bunjin is all about the trunk, in other words, the line of the tree.

Bunjin can trace its beginnings back to China, over 1,300 years ago. One can easily see a kind of abstract shape in Bunjin, which brings to mind the art of calligraphy and landscape paintings of the Southern School of China. I learned that the men, who painted in this way, were from the ruling class and turned their backs on the government and courts in order to dedicate their lives to things like poetry, philosophy, calligraphy and painting. They sought freedom for the individual man of culture. These men became known as the “Literati,” meaning educated ones. The literati felt that in their wild landscapes the entire man was revealed, even more than the mountains he painted.

Bunjin bonsai reflects this freedom. In other bonsai styles crossing branches or trunks would be considered incorrect. In the Bunjin style, such crossings are not only permitted, but it can give a powerful tension and drama to the design of the tree. Look at the landscape paintings of the literati. Crossing branches, and odd twists and turns of the trunk are prominent features of their work.

According to Frank Nagata, former dean of the Southern California bonsai masters, “Bunjin is the last of the bonsai styles for the student to appreciate.” As I’ve stated, Bunjin is not really a bonsai “style”. There are few rules, and everyone makes what they feel is right. However, if it’s not done correctly, the tree just looks funny. Therefore Bunjin is very difficult to do.

It is even hard to describe what makes a Bunjin bonsai, because it is more of a sprit that invests the tree than some thing physical. There are some rules however. The most important of which is that the trunk is tall and slender with little or no taper, and it is never straight. The trunk should have interesting twists and turns. In some Bunjin, the apex can be a 180 degree turn in the trunk itself. The branches on Bunjin are asymmetrically arranged and few in number. The first branch being, in most cases, two thirds up the trunk and sparsely greened. Most Bunjin have very little or no surface roots at all.

My bonsai friends and people who know me know that Bunjin has long been my favorite style. I do not really know why this is. Perhaps, it is because of the true freedom that one can enjoy when creating a Bunjin bonsai. I do not have to concern myself with all the rules of the more conventional styles. With Bunjin, I am free to create as I see fit, as long as I take into mind the sprit of the tree. I have found that with Bunjin, you either love it or are indifferent to it. Most people look at a Bunjin and don’t see too much. They think that it must be easy to create, because of the simplicity of the design. Whatever the reason for my love of the style, it gives me great pleasure to create and enjoy them.

People often ask me what is the difference between a Bunjin bonsai and a literati bonsai. Nothing, they are one and the same. New-comers to the art of bonsai learn about the heaven, earth, and man triangle and the arrangement of the branches; first branch second branch, back branch, ect. Then, just when they are beginning to feel sure of themselves, they see a tree that breaks all the rules, and they feel uncomfortable. They don’t like it. When the novice no longer has to think about the rules in bonsai, then maybe they will at some point develop a taste for Bunjin. It has been said that Bunjin or literati bonsai is the most sophisticated of all the bonsai styles and sometimes the uninitiated may see them as artificial.

The great John Naka says this about Bunjin. “The Bunjin style of bonsai is so free that it seems to violate all the principles of bonsai form. The indefinite style has no specific form and is difficult to describe, however, it’s conformation is simple, yet expressive. No doubt it’s most obvious characteristics are those shapes formed by old age and extreme weather conditions.”

What type of pot can be used for Bunjin? As with the style itself, less is more. A round, drum, or a nail head pot could be a good choice for the Bunjin bonsai. Another good selection would be a natural-looking crescent or boat shaped pot. In most cases, the pot will seem somewhat undersized. As in any bonsai, the tree and pot must harmonize with each other. The same rules for color and glaze apply to Bunjin as in any other design.

Thinking about trying to create your own Bunjin bonsai? What type of plant material can be used? Just like other bonsai, you have many choices. The most often used material is some type of pine, because they can be found growing in nature in a Bunjin style. Juniper would be another good choice, but really you are only limited by your own imagination. Whatever you choose, it should be a material that will allow the harsh pruning and sparse foliage that is the hallmark of Bunjin. It should also be something that does well in our Western climate. Bunjin are mostly grown in small pots, which is something to consider in the heat of our summers.

I love this style. It is a challenge to create, and I find that it epitomizes the very sprit of what we as bonsai artist try to create. Bunjin is about the struggle for survival against great odds. It has great age, and displays fantastic movement, and as such, great drama. It tells a story. It surely evokes a feeling in the viewer. It clings to life, year after year, despite itself, in the most adverse conditions. What is not to love about this wonderful style? What more could one want from a bonsai?”

I have found the form very intriguing and began dabbling with Bunjin in about 2012. It is rather difficult to perfect the form and it takes the perfect material to be successful.

I few of my own.


A Peek into the Life of a Fanatic   2 comments

Part of this story started 4 years ago in 2016. I decided to make a few stands. I was going to make them all the same, two larger ones and two smaller. One each for me and one each to sell off. They were going to be simple and bare bones. Mostly functional, with nothing fancy. All The alder wood is cut and ripped into the correct widths.

Again, very simple and just functional as far as displaying a tree.

Here is where it begins to slide off the rails. My wife was getting pretty sick by now with the cancer and I did not finish one of the stands for a year. In that year I began putting together the components of my display for the Kazari. I had this pink pot by Bunzan that I bought specifically to plant black mondo grass in. I thought the pink and black would really pop. In my head I thought wouldn’t it be interesting if I introduced a colored stand to the world. Something not seen before. A pop of color rarely seen outside of the accent plant. Yes, this is going to be something not yet seen before.

I assembled my components at the Kazari. I chose the pyracantha because of the pot. The stark white pot would be the perfect foil for the stand. The subtle turquoise in the border of the scroll played well with the color of the table. A seasonal moon with Ume. Black mondo grass in a pink pot. The playful splash of color is just what the season calls for, waking up from Winter, in a display not often seen in bonsai circles. I didn’t place, but I think Mike Saul was the judge. Maybe he has some insight as to feelings of the display from a judging POV.

So now three years later and I decide that for this year at the club show it might be nice to finish the other smaller stand. The stand was done except for the finish. I thought the open space between the top and the bottom stretcher was too boring. I found these laser cut wood cutouts and fitted them in. Continued with finishing the stand with a custom Rosewood dye I make myself with denatured alcohol as the base. Little did I know, California in it’s infinite wisdom has decided that denatured alcohol should become a controlled substance and is no longer sold in California in anything larger than a pint. I guess drunks are drinking it to get high, and go blind in the process! I only drink it on special occasions, and my cape keeps me from going blind!

The Boss asked me to bring extra stands so one more is in the fold. I think that makes 21 or 22. I thought it might be fun to take some cheap procumbens and wire them up and sell them. I purchased four. This town is really juniper proof. If you want junipers for your garden your going to have to go someplace other than Fresno to buy them. If you do find one they will be scrawny little plants with a pencil trunk and barely out of 4 inch liner pot. Pathetic really. These were pretty robust and I bought all they had with any future as bonsai. Ther are a few left , but good luck making a tree out of them.

I wired the four and made two upright and two semi cascade. Nothing fancy, just starter plants for the people interested in starting with bonsai. Not very often does one find stuff at a bonsai show that is ready for a show pot, and frankly could be shown right now. I’ve seen worse at shows. It takes me a couple hours and some wire to turn these out.

I left some of the dead wood long and it can be cut back by the new owner.

In my email from the “Boss”, I was asked to bring along any accents I might have as well as the stands. I thought I would touch up a few today as some of the plants were looking pretty tattered. You already seen the mondo grass in pink pot earlier from 2017, and I still have it!

Pot by Dick Ryerson

Pot by Gary Wood

Pot by Bunzan

Pot by Pauline Muth

Pot by April Grigsby

Pot by Yozan

Pot by Bunzan

Pot by Yozan

Pot by Yamaaki -Toshio

Pot by Big Dave Rochester

Pot by Gary Wood

This has been the last two weeks. Fifty to go!

If there would be any interest in seeing the tree displays from the 2018 Kazari and given the opportunity to judge it for yourself, please comment and ask for the trees. I can post them up if the interest is there.


Making Room   4 comments

This year has been a problem. It actually is a problem that is good to have. I have too many plants in training. I ditch them where ever I can, in between larger plants, on top of the soil of larger plants, on the ground, where ever. Today I built 16 feet of shelving on the fence and over the next few days will continue to build an even larger shelf for larger plants in training. All the stuff on the ground will move out for the new larger shelf. Seed trays will be stored under the larger shelf.

Posted February 16, 2020 by California Bonsai Art in Repotting, Trees from Seed

Got an Extra Week!   2 comments

The weather turned cold again and everything slowed down. Many things that were already on the move stopped completely allowing Al to have a little more time. Most of the stuff I have done this week were things that could make it another year before repotting. Some of them were junipers that I always repot last. This week I intensified my work on cuttings, taking literally hundreds this year.

I have a couple miniature privets that I picked up at House of Bonsai. They have been very good and producing lots of shoots during the year. As it gets to fall I always let some go for cuttings in late winter ready for Spring. The plants slowed down this year, and a little later I needed to repot them on inspection. The small pots were packed with roots and absolutely no soil. I took cuttings two years ago and they rooted well. Last year I transferred them to individual pots and they filled the pots with roots.

I gave away so many I didn’t have that many left. I have eight to grow on this year, but I have a whole batch of new cuttings already pushing leaves and ready for roots this year. This is how they filled a four inch liner pot full of roots.

I cut the bottom pad off and spread the roots and replant taking the time to wire while they are bare rooted. It’s so much easier to do when bare root.

Most of these are being trained in semi cascade style, and a few will grow to be in the neagari semi cascade style.

Most of these were already pushing leaves, but their tough and can take the repotting while pushing leaves.

I did the same things with trident cuttings. even though I have a million seeds growing, cuttings are fun because you can get the “head start” aspect of the growing experience.

Oh I don’t know maybe 40 or so in here?

This pot from April Grigsby is a pot I robbed from her at Shohin in 2018. I don’t think she wanted to give it up but I kept pulling out twenty dollar bills until she said yes. I had the pot, I bought that early in the day, but didn’t really have a tree in mind for the pot when I purchased it. It just looked good, and I wanted it. Now to fill it.

Like a few years ago, as the day winds down and I’m ready to go, if I haven’t spent my money I get all antsy and start panicking looking for something to spend my money on. I’ve done this before, like in 2016 when I bought this thing…what was I thinking.

I found this small fat trunked little green mountain maple, and since I don’t have a lot of those I felt it necessary to get this one. To this day I don’t know why I bought this. It is without a doubt the most butt ugly piece of material I have ever purchased. The trunk is terrible and there is a huge scar right in the middle of the top of the trunk where someone cut the top out to make a smaller fatter piece of material out of it. After it was cut, everything that sprouted at that point was saved and allowed to grow big. Ugly. I don’t have a lot of before pictures of this thing due to the fact that after I got home and really looked at it, and realized my shame, I didn’t take any pictures, I was just too embarrassed.

So what do I do, pot it up in the neat cool pot I bought, that will make it better.

No matter how you turn it, It doesn’t get better. Just ugly after ugly….

It really does get good red color in the fall.

So this is it. This is the whole enchilada.  This is the shot after taking it out of the pretty pot and putting it into a grow container. My intention was to take it to the FBS exhibit next month and put it on the sale table. I would hope to get about ten cents on the dollar back. This view shows the huge stub in the top, and all the branches that pushed out around the edge. Why these were all kept is beyond me, but I saw something in it and now what do I do with it?

The tree had four large branches that came off the trunk about half way around. One half of the trunk has no branches. I looked at this as a challenge. What would I do if asked by a new member with something like this? Could I use this as a challenge to myself to find some good in this tree? Being there were four branches, I knew that I needed to reduce to three. Always try to keep to an odd number. The brain some how accesses odd and finds it interesting, even numbers are found to be monotonous. The big one was the one I chose to remove based on a couple factors, most of which it would provide separation between the others and it was large and ugly. That about covers it.

I cut it out with large knob cutters and cleaned up the end. I decided I would try it as a cutting as the timing is perfect.

I dipped it into some new rooting gel I am trying and have done lots of cuttings this year. I have done bare trunk, powdered hormone and this gel. I have already used a whole jar in making cuttings this week.

I wired it up a little before planting just to give it a head start. I didn’t spend a lot of time, I don’t know if it will even take.

Planted it into a small four inch cup and wired the plant in to keep the squirrels at bay.

With the tree replanted and secure I get to work with the arbor tech and start carving the trunk.

Just taking away some of the wood in an effort to lighten the image.

As I continue to work I decide to scar the front much like the other maple I did last weekend. Going to go for that spooky tree look.

I begin to wire all the shoots on this one. I feel that this foundation setting while growing material is paramount. Too many people do not start soon enough with foundation wire, or wire at all! I’m happy with the look just not the middle shoot.

The small cutting in the pot with it, is a cutting Rosie did last year, and it struck roots….beginners luck. No hormone! I repotted it and was able to pull it up about 1.5 inches in the pot. Mame Literati coming!

I wire it over with a turnbuckle and get some movement to the left. Now the whole tree leans left. At least now I am not so embarrassed and I will keep it around for another season just to see what it can become. Don’t ask me what I paid for it, my lips are sealed. If it grows well and I can mange it, maybe I can get my money back someday.

Posted February 15, 2020 by California Bonsai Art in Uncategorized

How Many Pots?   3 comments

Trident Maple, Kims Bonsai, Phelan Ca.


This was a replacement tree from a tree I bought at the 2001 convention from Benny. The tree died, essentially a cutting and they were not supposed to be sold. They were taken to the convention and he replaced the dead tree with my choice. I chose this Trident maple. My first trident larger than 1/2 inch. It was growing in a large plastic bonsai pot.


This was the first ceramic pot for the tree. Some of the branches were elongating and making progress. The pot had a small bamboo trim around the middle of the pot. Unglazed and a rather cheap pot. What I was amazed to see was this picture of this stand. I purchased the stand in an antique store in Santa Cruz. It was full of asian antiques and I picked up this stand for about 100.00 dollars . I know it wasn’t more than that because that’s about what my budget was for this sort of stuff then.


My son made this pot in Ceramics class at Central High School. The dimensions of this pot was about 16  x 12 x 1.5 inches tall.


Same pot , but branches really getting better. Roots are really in bad shape and need work.


In the winter of 2008 I took the bad roots off. Above on the right side of the trunk at ground level one can see a root growing straight down as well as some knots of roots growing on the soil surface. I took all these off. Just cut them off with a saw. The big scar on the lower front is from the big ball of roots I took off. The tree is now planted about two inches higher in the pot.  The pot, By Jim Barrett, was purchased at a Shohin Seminar in 2008. It was during this time that I started using the pot as plywood and tied in the tree with no soil under and just planted on the bottom of the pot. This gave me a flatter root ball and forced the roots upward and began the flare process. Like tree in Japan with enough age, maybe 30 or 40 years the root ball will fuse into a large plate of roots. It’s already starting to do that. Make a note of the flare on the tree as it enters the soil, there is none. Lets check in a few years.






I purchased this pot from Robert Pressler at Kimura Bonsai in 2017 going down for the Bonsai a Thon. Its a Chinese blue bag pot. The dimensions of this pot are 18 x 15 x 2. This was a deeper pot and the tree was staring to need the larger reserve of soil due to the size of the canopy. Take a look at the flare the tree grew in just a couple years tied into the bottom of the pot.




The tree is now in this large Kakuzan pot from Garrett Ryan. The pot measures 19 x 15 x 4 inches. The glaze is Oribi and small cream crystals run throughout the glaze. The scar still visible on the front of the tree is now four inches above the soil. The canopy is, soil to apex 24 x 24 inches.

Posted February 11, 2020 by California Bonsai Art in Uncategorized

The Student – Instructor Paradigm   Leave a comment


In science and philosophy, a paradigm (/ˈpærədm/) is a distinct set of concepts or thought patterns, including theories, research methods, postulates, and standards for what constitutes legitimate contributions to a field.

This area, given enough time always seems to come up in hobbiest circles. Instructors take the time to try to help and pass along the benefits of their timely experience, but soon tire and become frustrated with the inability of what seems like much too long to learn what seems so easy. Easy for the person that’s done it for ten years, not so easy for someone just buying their first plant. What kind of advice can I give to someone that has never done bonsai before?

  • Look, before you buy. Is it healthy? Does it have an adequate trunk? Does it fit my mental model of what I perceive a bonsai to be? Does the trunk have movement?

  • Do I want something for now, or do I want something to plant in the ground to grow bigger?

  • Do I want a deciduous tree or a conifer?

  • Do I have a particular style in mind I am shopping for?

  • Do I have a particular species in mind I am shopping for?

Let me talk about these five points in more detail. First, looking. That is the hardest part to teach someone how to do. You look at things all your life when you shop, you look for things on sale, you choose the best firmest peaches, and you look for things in your size. You do the same exact thing in bonsai when you shop for material. You look for healthy stock, you look for movement in the trunk, and you look for basel flare in the rootage area. Your mental model, it will start when you see the first bonsai for the first time. You may be at a show with a friend, or someone has set up a display at a shopping center, or you visit someone who has bonsai and you walk in the backyard for the first time to take a closer look. Something out of all the exposure will set in your mind. Something like a shape, a feeling, leaves, needles, a trunk shape, something begins your mental model. It starts at a young age. You may see a really cool car at a young age like a Lotus or Ferrari and you will base every exotic car against those cars all your life. You may look at a new Corvette and tell yourself subconsciously that, their getting better, but they are still not a Lotus. That’s how your mental model guides your life for your whole life. Can your mental model change? Of course. Things you used to like soon become outdated when something new and better comes along. My mental model of great bonsai is much different than it was 36 years ago. That is due to the influence of the internet being able to show me bonsai with the click of a keystroke and see the best trees in the world. 36 years ago I was stuck in a book/magazine world and that was the limits of my exposure.

Do I wish a small tree or a large tree? seems like a dumb question, but many people don’t know what they want. Let’s talk about the 6/1 ratio as it applies to bonsai. As a general rule, bonsai look best when their ratio is 6 inches of height to every inch of trunk width. So if you buy a piece of material 1 inch across and it is two feet tall, to really fit within the ideals of bonsai, it would need to be chopped down to about 6 inches in height. It is conceivable to turn the two foot tall 1 inch thick trunk stock into a literati type tree. That is not as easy as it sounds either, and I could do a whole article just on literati type trees. If you purchase a 1 inch trunk and you wish a larger tree then it can be planted in a large box or the ground and grown out. Keep in mind that portability is compromised and it may not be easy to transport a charge this heavy in a car. This may not be the easiest thing to bring to a workshop, and frankly not much can be done to it anyway since all it is doing is growing and waiting for wire applied to harden off.

Bonsai trees in general are divided into evergreen and broadleaf. Conifer and deciduous. Conifers are your junipers and pines, yews, hemlock and cedars. Deciduous tree are maples, hornbeam, hackberry, and gingko. These species overlap a lot on style but not so much on care. Each has it capabilities and idiosyncrasies. If you prefer and have a mental model of trees from the sierra’s then you will gravitate to conifers. If you prefer the look of a massive spreading oak in the country side, then deciduous trees will be your ticket. Of course having both is even better.

A person should be on the lookout for raw stock thats fits their image of bonsai, that mental model. It is prudent to purchase material that is already on it’s way to fitting your ideal. It is also much easier to work within your means talent wise. If something really appeals to you be it cascade, or informal, formal or slanting, then of course buying material shaped that way in the can is only going to make your job so much easier. My job too if your asking me for direction!! If you have this great image of a cascading tree spilling from the pot with maybe flowers and later berries, then we wouldn’t purchase an elm tree to start with trying to materialize that image. We might look at pyracanthas, or cotoneaster or rosemary and maybe even azalea.

I just touched on species, but if you were savvy, you keyed in on the species above that I named. I mentioned species that thrive in our climate. Our climate in Fresno California, for those of you reading from somewhere else just plug in the species that thrive in your location, is harsh and hot, and cold to extreme. I would love to have a larch, but I know they don’t live here, so I don’t have one. At the recent Shohin Seminar, the only instructor that come from out of town is Bill Valavanis. Each instructor brings his own material for the session. Bill brought  Hinoki Cypress Sekka. This plant may do OK for those that took the workshop around the coast and SF area, but for the guys here in the valley that took the workshop, will have a brown tree around July. Know your area and know your plants that thrive. Ask questions of seasoned members and what works best around here. Shop for that and help out the instructor so he doesn’t have to tell you that won’t do.

So now your armed with the simple basics and wish to move on. Where should I be looking for this kind of material? Well unless your mental model of a bonsai is a small pine tree styled juniper from Home Depot, you will need to be looking at more bonsai related sources. Specialty bonsai nurseries are a great place. We are blessed in California to have many growers to choose from. Here in Fresno Steve DaSilva is growing material specifically for bonsai and has material from small to large. Evergreen to broadleaf. Muranaka Bonsai Nursery in Nipomo is a long time, established bonsai nursery with an abundance of material. Ed Clark, in Lindsey has five or six hoop houses plus material under shade cloth, nearly five acres of material. Ron Anderson in Sacramento is also good for material and lots of pots. These type of nurseries cater to the bonsai aficionado and will have material that is trimmed on top and bottom to keep it containable in the pots we use. The trees are tended periodically for shoot length so the branching doesn’t get all wonky. Each year in Dec. the Fresno club has a Bonsai Yard Sale with plants selling for great prices. In March we have the show at the Home and Garden Show at the Fresno Fairgrounds and great deals can be had there on all kinds of bonsai material. The bi annual Shohin Seminar in Santa Nella that just happened a week ago, has great material and pots and supplies that can’t be had anywhere except at these kinds of functions.

This is the most important piece of advice I give to anyone wishing to start their journey in bonsai. “Don’t buy any material that you don’t see the tree in”. What does that mean? It means that the person purchasing the material should already have a plan in mind, a blue print formulated on what is going to happen with the material when you get it home. It should meet all the criteria I just outlined. It should have a decent size in the trunk, it should have movement, it should have some taper, it should be healthy, and the roots should radially spread around the trunk with good basel flare. There that wasn’t so bad, just go to any bonsai nursery and pick up half a dozen of those. Not so fast. You may find material with SOME of those attributes, but finding material with all hardly ever exists. It is your job to look at it , look at all sides, analyse it, see what needs correcting and if it’s in your wheel house and bag of tricks. If it needs branches in new positions are you armed with knowledge of grafting? Do you know someone that does? Can you get that person to help you? Have you ever chopped a tree? Do you know which part of the season is best for that? Do you know how to wire a tree well? I say well because wire is either right or it is wrong, there is no inbetween. Sure you can be sloppy, but it looks sloppy. How you approach your bonsai and how you work it is a reflection of you. I would imagine you are reading this because one, you have a curiosity about getting better and two, you wish to do bonsai on a more community level. Otherwise you would just work in your backyard in obscurity, and believe you me, there are plenty that do.

I don’t have much money for this art? I heard it costs a lot? It does. But everything does, heck a fast food burger is ten bucks now. I can actually get into bonsai for less than a fast food lunch for two. The trick is, buy smart. Don’t go out and buy a bunch of crap. I see so many people go out and buy crappy plants and bring them to a club meeting and expect the instructor person that gets hijacked on his way to the bathroom to come over and tell the person what to do with the plant they bought. The club instructor is there for ideas and to help one to see things in the material that only experience can see. These ideas are up for discussion and pros and cons are weighed, and in the end it is the decision of the tree owner to decide what to do. The instructor is not there to do the work for you. The club setting is laid back and helpful, not one person doing all the work. There are many bonsai professionals that would be willing to do the work for you for a nominal fee. In fact I might even be willing to make your tree for a fee. I will gladly give one advice on planting angle, or explaining rotating a potted plant for different planting configurations, or how to mix some soil or any myriad of things concerning bonsai. What I won’t do, can’t do, is pick out a tree for you. I can’t tell you what you should buy any more than I can pick out your clothes in a department store. Bonsai is personal and has to trip your trigger not mine. What you have to do is pick out a tree with your leaning curve as the basis. Pick out something that you see a tree in. What if there was no bonsai club? What if there was no magazines or books? Would you still do bonsai? Would you still try? Do you come to the club expecting someone to do the work, or are you interested in developing the skills to do it your self, and are you willing to put in the time and money to do it?

 I was part of a very good club that fell apart because the sensei decided that it was too far away to come and work with far too many people that were not willing to work their trees. He was tired of coming over monthly to repot trees for people, to apply wire for people and to style trees for people. Even in a scenario in which he got paid he felt that his time was worth much more than that  to come and do everyone’s work. It happens and personally I don’t want that to happen again. It hurt his pride that people would not do the work themselves. He was not treated with respect.

One last thing, to do bonsai on a decent level requires some commitment. It also requires lots of time and in most cases lots of money. Like any hobby you only get out of it what you put into it. If you go to a bonsai meeting once a month, and go golfing the other three weekends and have the best golf clubs, the best shoes, buy a couple rounds of beer at the nineteenth hole and then take all your buds out to lunch, and come to that one meeting with your 20.00 juniper from Home Depot and expect some instructor type guy to make a master piece out of it, someone needs to re evaluate their expectations in hobby priorities. I’m not saying it can’t be done, it’s just a lot to expect from someone that sits right beside you when the club business is being read.

Now I know this has been a lot to read, and I hope everyone reads it with the spirit in which it was written. I want everyone to have a great bonsai experience but one needs to come to the meeting ready to learn, equipped with the best they can afford and know what they want to do and we can help get you there. That is it.  If I am asked to come and look at your tree and I get there and you start out with “What can we make with this ” we got a problem.

These are just some arbitrary photo’s of stuff I do and stuff I bought and what they might become. Most of it is FREE and what I did buy cost very little. I will post the price I paid, less the pot.

Free Trees by root cuttings

Root cuttings this year for more free trees. 

Free trees from seed.

Trees purchased for very little money

FBS Yard sale $35.00

Gazebo Gardens $45.00

Muranaka $100.00

Ed Clark $20.00

Fbs Yard sale $35.00

Ed Clark 45.00

Gazebo Gardens 30.00

Bonsai-a-thon $110.00

FBS Yard sale $60.00

Posted February 10, 2020 by California Bonsai Art in Uncategorized

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