Archive for the ‘Spotlight on Shohin’ Category

Shohin Seminar, Santa Nella, 2020   2 comments


The seminar comes and goes every two years. I go with my budget, and am amazed at what little I unload from the car after an unusually amount of money spent. Four or five items, and 500.00. It doesn’t seem right. It’s a hobby that once you get hooked, the hook sets deep and money is just an inconvenience in out pursuit of bonsai goods.

I purchased my usual hard goods that I always restock when I come to an event. It is much easier to buy it here because it’s all under one roof. You can find what you need at half a dozen vendors. Stuff like wire, three kilo’s, cut paste, new tube, and pots. I also bought a tree. I told myself , no more trees, you have enough. If all the cuttings take, and all the seeds come up, I will have like 2500 trees to deal with. Why do I need to buy more? Because it’s there, and I don’t have it.

I started the day by looking over the whole thing. Checked out both vendor rooms, as I do when ever I go. I just make a mental note who has what. I knew I was on the lookout for a pot for a trident maple, I found a pot in my garage for the new pine I got from Steve so didn’t need that, but needed a small unglazed pot for my Shohin pine. The first thing that struck my eye was these burls slabs. I have quite a few of them, but I don’t have any with bark on them. The larger one on the left is unfinished and I will do that myself after sanding. I really like the one on the right due to it being full of eyes in the burl and the heart wood against the sap wood. Just a nice look. These are the kind of things that a lot of people pass by in favor of the next tree or a nice pot, but with show season right around the corner and the time will conme when you show three trees and have only one burl…then what you gonna do Willis?

I found this unglazed cut corner pot by Zenigo. I bought it for a pine but when I got home I’m not sure it will fit correctly. Maybe something else will go into it. I’m thinkin an olive would look great in this, or a rough twisting pomegranate.

I purchased this Shuho glazed bag pot for a trident I have. I had to do an emergency repot in the middle of summer due to the other ot being too small. This will be just right and the extra bit of depth will really help the maple.

I ran into Tak Shimazu and he had some small beauty berry. I just recieved seeds on these and have them in water right now. They will be set out tomorrow and hopefully they will sprout. These were from cuttings, and I chose this one due to the length of the roots compared to the small trunk. I wish to work this into a neagari ( exposed root ) style and this is a perfect tree to do that with. even got a few berries left on it. tak must not have birds and squirrels, because even though they are bitter they will eat them if needed.

The vendor areas were crowded in one room and very sparse in the other. I think I would have loved to be more spread out in the sparse room rather than be so crowded in the tight room.

Jonas Dupuich talking with Adair Martin, Peter Macasieb behind Adairs arm.

Nathan Simmons

Most people come here for the workshops. Each instructor donates his or her time and only charges for the material to cover it’s cost, which is usually on the fair side. Workshops typically have 6 to 8 people. Most average around a hundred dollars with many cheaper and some more expensive based on the material with junipers and pines running 150.00 and up. I remember one year, 2016, Kenji Miyata had a workshop and the fee was 600.00, but the trees were worth it.

This year was full of people doing workshops in the room. Even a workshop for building your own stand..

Bob Hilvers at the helm of another workshop. He does two on Saturday, Lots of work.

Ted Matson never stops working on bonsai. I have no idea how he has time to breath.

Steve DaSilva is always an instructor every two years like clockwork. He is a tireless worker for the cause!!

David Knittle had a special workshop in that he brought all the components of a Shohin rack stand and you were to put it together during the workshop.

All the parts were pre cut, pre finished, and ready to assemble.

The wood components had a bamboo motif carved into the edges of the parts. The uprights and the edges of the flat boards. They looked to made of solid mahogany. The brass screws were used to affix the feet to the bottom.

David even explained how to use a screwdriver for those that may have never used one before. He also told how easy it is for the screwdriver to slip off and scratch the beautiful surface he provided.

It was a great time for me to connect with friends I haven’t seen for two years. Adair Martin, from Georgia and student of Boon Manakitivipart, was in California for work with Boon. He was able to get away and partake of the bonsai festivities. He tapped me on the shoulder, I was pretty surprised to turn around and see a friend from Georgia at an event in Santa Nella California!

Every two years I make these rooting sticks. They are made from hardwood, and left over pieces from my stand building work. They are hardwoods, walnut, cherry, lace wood, padauk and mahogany and never wear out. They are very hard and will pry trees from the pots when needed. I have done it for years.

Adair choosing his “Al Keppler Signature Series Stick”.

Posted February 1, 2020 by California Bonsai Art in Spotlight on Shohin

Layers, Root Cuttings and other Stuff   4 comments

Today was a great day. The sun was out, I wore shorts for the first time in 2020, and the day was ripe for some serious radical bonsai. I am a pretty patient guy but when a tree starts getting the best of me, I get down and dirty and just take it within an inch of it’s life and cuss at it and say, “there, deal with this bitch!” Today was one of those days. I had these three big air layers on two tridents and one cork elm. The cork elm is two years old as a layer and the tridents were started last Spring. The elm is such an aggressive grower it bridges in a week or less and stalls. I have recut it so many times that I was just plain tired of dealing with it.

I cut the first trident as it had the most roots. Pretty good all the way around and I am confident that it will make it till summer and will have made enough new roots to compensate.

That tree will be planted out in a colander for keeping the new roots compact, but still allow for good air exchange.

It’s a scarred up mess, and frankly even as a layer I don’t know if it has any merit as a bonsai. Time will tell.

The next one was this cork elm. This thing has been a thorn in my side for two full years. I have recut it so many times there is hardly any wood below what roots it does have, which is not many. It only had root in three places around the trunk, they were pretty good clumps of roots, small but numerous, not as good as the trident. It is an elm and if it’s as aggressive as it was before removal, then in live or die mode, should create roots. That’s the plan and I’m sticking to it

Now what I had was this big stump left from the base of the tree the layer came off of. It’s large, 5.5 inches across and mean.

These are my cut lines on the stump

Below on the right was a large double root that needed to come off. It was too high on the trunk and would never allow the stump to be planted correctly.

I just sawed it off with the sawzall

I’ll plant that later, and meanwhile, throw it into a tub of water. Now I cut the stump in half and cut it back to a branch and make the cut with massive taper to get somewhat of a bonsai trunk out of it. Based on spring push and looks of what I see, all the open wounds from the root cut off and the large taper cut will be hollowed out and carved to give a Wizard of OZ type feel to the old tree.

This is just trash now and found it’s way onto the fire wood pile.

 I had a couple large root cutoffs and planted them out in clay pots.

Prior to planting the base of the elm I did an extensive root pruning on the bottom end. All of these were thrown into the water bucket to keep wet. Each one is looked at, root hairs trimmed from it’s roots and wired for shape and planted out with the tip sticking out of the soil. The tip is cut straight across with sharp shears to facilitate shoots growing, which they will.

The roots are wired and planted in soil after bending into interesting shapes. Most of these will be Neagari (exposed roots) style, like the ones I did several years ago.

Choose a good one

Clean the roots of small root hairs.

Wire them up and shape.

Plant them out.

I wanted to repot the elm that started it all with the Neagari style root cuttings. This is the plant I won in a raffle and took home, only to be amazed at the root ball this thing had. How I managed to get it this small and live is a testament to the aggressiveness of these cork elms.

I finally got it out of the inturned lip pot which I new was going to be difficult but did  it anyway.

Once again this tree ended up being a gold mine of small root cuttings that I could wire and bend up into all sorts of cool little shapes and grow out. I may end up using these for a workshop at the Shohin Seminar in Santa Nella going on this weekend. It happens every two years, so in about four years I could do the workshop and have some real nice material for the Seminar.

A root like this is a gold mine for making elm material. For about ten minutes of time I can start something that will give years of pleasure playing with these.

So a lot of the cuttings were small and I planted six or seven in a small colander to grow out. These can be transplanted any time of the year and if these get crowded later I can break them up.

I had one more trident to remove and this one was a pistol. I think this tree may have been cut two years also. It has bridged way too many time to count and I was tired of dealing with it. I’m not in love with any of these and put much more stock into the small elm root cuttings than I do in these three layers that may or may not make it. I think the elm will, but that’s all I’m sure of. The top of this trident looked so great while it was on the tree but after removal it does not have the same feel it had on the tree. I’ll give it a couple years and see later.

So I wired up the top of the big elm stump with lots of roots. I know this will grow like a striped ass ape and I will be pruning branches in no time. Carving to come later when it firms up in the pot, which at the rate it grows will be in about 60 days.

The small elm after transplanting, this time into a rectangle pot with traditional rim.

The root cuttings I made from the small elm clump above made some nice plants. I had access to about two hundred roots and I have no Idea why I only made about five of them. This is how they look now, five years later.

Flowering Bonsai, Shohin Bougainvillea   Leave a comment


Make no mistake about it, I love Shohin Bonsai. My love for the trees has spilled over into the flowering world. This year I have included Crape Myrtle, Pomegranate and now Bougainvillea into the mix. I had not considered flowering species in the past due to the heat here , but now with retirement I hope to cultivate more of the delicate species of tree for bonsai.  The cultivar I chose and it was no mistake was a evergreen species, that flowers all summer and has two colors on the same tree. It blossoms out dark orange and turns hot pink on the same flower, all the while having both colors on the tree at the same time.

This is a very fast grower and the picture shows the plant at just about full grown. It only grows about 18 inches tall and spreads a couple feet. Just about the size you see in the photo. It is evergreen but due to the climate it has lost most of it’s leaves. Some still reside out at the tips. This is in a five gallon can and has a 1.25 inch trunk. I have not seen any this size, so I bought it as soon as I saw it.

The flaky bark is falling off right now like most trees that will shed a layer of bark at the onset of Fall. These are just some views around the plant.

I started by pruning off what I absolutely did not need. I didn’t need those shoots with the thorns. They are hard and sharp and they mean business. One stuck me and I had to apply pressure for 15 minutes to get it to stop bleeding.

Now It is really cut back to the trunk.

So this is my final product. Just a nice little trunk to build a small canopy on. The foliage is fairly small, and I think if it blooms quickly I won’t spend a lot of time fussing on branch training. Just guide it to a pleasing shape and keep it pruned back. The nursery said it will bloom on 1 inch long wood. Can’t wait to see that.

I cut off a couple roots while the plant is undisturbed.

…and this one. Wiki tells me that they don’t like their roots messed with, but I will need to get the roots reduced to get it into a pot. My first move when the weather clears up, raining currently, will be to keep as much soil intact as possible, but get it into a small colander so the roots will crop themselves in the pot.

I kept these three cuttings. They are of good size and like most vines, bougs root from hardwood cuttings pretty easy. I dipped them into hormone and planted them out. Each one is capable of making a cool tree very quickly with what each has to offer.

Winter Shohin Displays   Leave a comment

I love the winter time and playing with trees like I played with my trains when I was a kid. I had the backdrop up from taking pictures of the pots and decided to take the opportunity to shoot some tree too. When displaying trees on a tiered rack or box stand some thought has to go into the pairing of the trees. I toyed with three displays. Let me explain my madness.

Lets look at an initial set up. Four trees and an accent. The trees seem prepared correctly. Groomed and pots cleaned. Due to the size of the stand and the height of the trees, peripheral stands are kept to a minimum. I only used a very thin stand at the top under the main tree. This is a slanting tree and since all the rest of the trees under it would talk to one and other, this top tree would set the direction of a stand alone accent if it had been used. In this case my table is rather short and just enough room for the rack, so the accent was placed in the space in the middle which is a bad position for a tree. The accent is on a small round Chinese stand. I like the interplay of the trees and the assortment of colors with in the display. Only the pine is in an unglazed container which is appropriate.

So, the eye is immediately drawn towards the red Saraku pot with the elm in it. Following the trunkline, the eye is taken right out of the display. Obviously it is pointed in the wrong direction. The trident in the turquoise Koyo pot according to the movement of the trunk upon exit of the soil is to the left. That should be correct for placement on the right side of the display rack. The problem is after that two thirds of the weight of the branch mass points to the right. Visually it moves right. I need to switch the two trees. My problem, I don’t want the shape of the trident to compete for placement with the pine. I want more visual separation between the pine and the maple.

So what I did was turn the rack around. I placed the trees in the same positions on the rack, but now they face the other way. I also removed the small stand from the accent and placed it on a small plinth. Now I like it.

Pots; Pine-Yamaaki, Elm-Saraku, Trident-Koyo, Twin trunk Trident-Barrett, accent-Sharon Muth

In this next display, we pay homage to Maple in Winter.

Once again I like the interplay between trees. Even though they are all the same, each one is different. There is variety in the pots with many different colors and visual textures. The playful stripes of the Satomi pot mingles well with the broken crackle glaze of the Keizan above. As I step back and look the small trident in the bottom is definitely pointed the wrong way. The tree above, another trident, the weight of the canopy pulls the eye right. The wrong position for this tree. Again I have no way to turn around the small tree.

After turning the stand around again, I can put the small maple back into the small space for that tree. I have only chosen to place the small maple on a stand this time and left out stands on all the others. 1. they carry enough visual weight. 2. they are pretty tall trees to be on a stand on a stand. Ecah tree becomes to vertical. After moving the trees around I decided to leave the two larger trees alone and put them where they were but at different levels. I allow the bottom of the trunks to dictate direction. The canopies are to subtle to make a difference in my mind. I am happy with this display.

Pots; Trident-April Grigsby, Rident-Banko, Trident-Keizan, Trident Satomi, Accent-Sharon Muth.

Mixed bag display.

This display contains many species of tree. Once again we see a stand under the small pine on top. Two of the pots are similar in color and the pot on the olive disappears on the dark background. I like the display but the Willowleaf is pointed the wrong direction.

I liked the configuration of the stand and trees and so to fix the problem, traded places with the olive and the willowleaf. Even though the small trunk leaving the large base on the olive exit right, the canopy is large enough, and well balanced to the eye to make much of a difference. Not enough to tear the whole thing apart. This display contains a pine on top, a slanted Japanese maple, a willowleaf fig, and the olive.

Pots; Pine-Bigei, Japanese Maple-Yamafusa, Willowleaf Fig-Emie, Olive-Yamafusa

The Japanese Maple above right was repotted today for this exercise. It was repotted into this Yamafusa pot.

Hint: Rotate the pot and find the side with the best pattern. Many times a person will repot into a pot that has a texture in the glaze only to find when done the best side now faces the back of the tree. Don’t be a Bo Bo, check both sides.

Uninteresting glaze on this side.

This side of the pot has much more interest in the glaze detail with a wave of texture in the glaze with the dark crystals. This is the side we will use for the front.

Close ups of the pots. These pots were not in the cleaning pots post. These are much more expensive pots.

April Grigsby, April is an exceptional potter. She pays a lot of attention to the form and function, and that is important for the health of the tree. This pot is exceptional because finding deeper Shohin pots is very hard. Mokko shape with transparent leaf green glaze. Rather masculine is stature but the rather feminine nipple feet soften the feel. $$$

Yamaaki Kiln, Second Generation Potter Kataoka Sadamitsu, Unglazed rectangle with high sides for plant health and cut corners. Ultra smooth finish and simple lines make this masculine pot a favorite for a pine.  $$$$

Koyo Kiln, potter Aiba Kouichirou. Traditional oval shape with sloping sides and rather deep walls for health. Famous for his oribi glaze with burst crystals. $$$$

Yamafusa kiln, Koie Takehiko. Rounded rectangle style with rather low sides. Gentle sloping sides, and no lip and enough volume to keep a maple happy. Oribi glaze with black crystals.  $$$$

James Barrett, a home potter that has been around since bonsai came to America. His pottery is known world wide and is all over the United States. He has won numerous awards with his pottery and this pot is no exception. The thick snow type glaze expands in the kiln breaking open and creating texture. Oval pot style, slip cast from his own molds.  $$

Yamafusa kiln, Koie Takehiko. This small oval pot has gentle sloping sides, no lip,  and has enough depth to keep a tree happy. This one is glazed dark Indigo Blue, almost black. It contrasts well with the olive inside it.  $$

Saraku, One of the more modern pot makers out there. Very contemporary styles with different feet and legs. This pot has flat out turned edge and the unique feet keep this one a center of attention. Outlandish glaze colors make this potter a favorite. $$$$

Satomi Terahata, A prolific potter in the shohin genre. His pots are typically painted and glazed. Typical lipless oval. Very small pots and barely usable for a maple.  $$$

Bigei Kiln, Atsumi Hirata. One of the best old potters from Japan. His pots are vy far the most worked and smoothest you will ever feel. His clay is burnished and fired leaving a pot with a feel of velvet. Mostly unglazed but I do have a glazed Bigei pot. This basket weave is most unusual, and no lip. He also likes to make pots with nail heads and rivets.  $$$$

Youzan, (Eimei) – Artist ; Shimizu Hideaki. Rounded rectangle in oribi glaze with no crystals. Out turned lip with good depth. Functional Shohin pot.   $$$

Banko Good solid oval pot with interesting double glaze effect. Out turned lip and smooth finish. Great depth , good for any Shohin size plant. I have this in rectangle also.  $$$

Keizan Kiln, potter Hisada Shizuo. This formal rectangle has sloping sides and out turned lip. The antique tan crackle glaze makes this a very sought after pot. I am lucky to have this. $$$$

Sharon Muth, this small hand made pinch pot is not unlike hundreds made over the years by many people wishing to make their first pot. The turquoise foamy glaze, intermingled with black,  is what makes this special.  $

$………15.00 to 30.00+

$$…….40.00 to 75.00+

$$$….100.00 to 175.00+

$$$$..180.00 to 400.00+

Dealing with Problem Roots   1 comment

If one does bonsai long enough, they will deal with problem roots many times in their bonsai career. When your new to bonsai these problems can be very difficult to deal with because trees can’t fit into pots well when roots grow all over the place. Hopefully I can show some difficult root cases and what I have done to help save some time dealing with these problem trees.

Case no. 1

This maple was purchased last year in 2018 and has been in the branch training mode since it had been newly dug from the field. I anticipated having some problems this year when it came time to repot since it is a wire embedded in the trunk specimen and these tend to have a terrible base at soil level. I had chose this one because it looked like it did not suffer from that problem.

I was wrong!! I figured it might be a problem but did not anticipate this. What I have here is two seperate root systems. Since the base was so bad, upon removal from the filed the plant was just planted deep in the sell pot and the plant pushed roots high on the trunk. Rather than the grower taking a risk and losing a plant, just sell it unsuspecting and let the new owner deal with it.

So my solution it to now remove the base of this root ball and replant it and hope like Hell that it survives. What this will do is cause me to lose two years in getting the tree into a show pot. One year to gain strength and then another year repairing what I had to do this year. Next year it will be cut back on the roots and planted in a small colander forcing feeder roots to grow close in.

Once I had the tree cut free of the bottom set I decided to plant it because it may shoot being trunk tissue and not root tissue. We will see, nothing to lose and maybe another tree in the future. There are two ways to deal with problem roots. One can cut away conservatively and work with it over the next five years or a little more aggressive and cut away to problem part and keep working. I have a lot of trees and have little time to deal with nibbling away at a root problem so I take the more aggressive approach. If you only have a couple trees and lots of time then the more conservative route might be your approach.

The “tree” is planted out and treated as a cutting. It has good roots and a viable trunk with some interest. Fingers crossed.

The tree in training goes back into a grow pot and will stay here for another season growing roots.

Case no. 2

This small elm came from the same grower. In this case the root mass was quite manageable and really did not need tweaking. Once again this plant has had training on the top as this year was a throw away also since these two trees had been taken out of the field and I didn’t want to disturb the planting. What I did want to do is see if there was a way to remove the big root so prominent in the front of the front view. Elms are very aggressive growers and cutting roots from a healthy elm is a no brainer. I felt that if the large root did not support all of the tree I would be able to take it.

Upon inspection the root was a throw away and could be removed with no problem. Just cut it away with the concave cutters and saved it for replant. After removal it was no problem fitting it into this April Grigsby pot. Now I can see under the trunk and see the movement in the trunk undisturbed.

The big large root was planted as a cutting and will sprout. It had some interest with a U-turn at the top where it was cut away from the trunk. Once it sprouts I will continue the movement in what grows and try for a twisted Literati.

Just remember on elms that they can handle pruning aggression very well. Will usually reward you with increased growth after an amputation. Always throw the root cut-offs into a small container of water to be dealt with after the days work. Look for interesting shapes and things that can be manipulated into a bonsai. Plant these out in containers and treat as though they have roots. In a few months they will, and lots of them.

Case no. 3

 This Kiyohime maple was also field grown. I have not ever seen the roots though I have owned it for three years. As purchased it had a crown nearly three feet in diameter. I had to hack it back to be a Shohin tree. After the first pruning I was happy with the shape but I knew that growing ramified twigs on those long internode primaries was going to be a problem.

So, I took it back to the main primaries. It has thick trunk divisions but it will be a chunky maple so I left it.

It has grown hard over the tree years and I keep it hedged weekly never allowing anything to grow out more than three pairs of leaves. Its the only way to manage this tree. If I let up, the internodes just revert back to where it was and all the compactness of the tree will be lost. I had a long root that was exposed on the right and in this pic you can see where I just sawed a section out.

Today was the day to see what I had in the can. Boy, was I surprised. These roots are an exact duplicate shape of the can. The grower did a great job of providing a radial cut upon removal from the ground, but then neglect caused the roots to bolt straight down for four or five years the grower said. That’s the root I cut hanging on the left.

These roots are very much like wire and do not have a lot of feeder roots on them. They are red and hard and each feeds from the tip. I decided to take it back to where it had been trimmed when removed from the ground. I know it has lots more roots than it had then so I feel safe.

I was able to plant it in it’s first ceramic pot.

Three years later and much finer canopy.

Triple Clump reduced to Two   2 comments

The original article on growing from seed is here. 

This is the continuation of one of those seedlings and where it has come since 2013. At that time I had taken seedlings and threaded them thru holes drilled into terra cotta water saucers. They work well and are soft and easy to drill. I drilled a hole for each seedling keeping the holes as close to each other as I could without breaking out the clay. By the following year they were layered off at the saucer and planted out into colanders to grow. I cut some back to keep the heights varied and tried to keep the diameter of the trunks in check by pruning those more heavily than the others.

The bases melted together pretty well and were solid. Rootage was good when I took them off the saucer and did not need to work about them failing.

This triple specimen was potted up in 2018.

So now it’s fall of 2019 and the trunks just do not work well with each other. In this view below the trunks actually work against each other going different directions and working the eye out of the center in two directions!

Today I decided to take a stab at this hot mess and started by taking some pictures around the tree.

Unfortunately there is just not a good view from any place around this plant. The trunks just work against one and other. The tree was pulled from the pot and the roots inspected. It was very heavy with roots and it filled the container in just one year.

I started removing roots by cutting around the plant and then started cutting back heavy roots. The heavy roots needed pruning anyway, but since the new pot is much smaller they would need a drastic cutback. I was careful to use a side cutter to prune the big roots with the cut side facing down. This allows the roots to come out around the perimeter of the cut and build a better nebari. I have done this many times in the past and it works really well.

In this view I have decided that the middle trunk is the one to be removed.

The middle trunk was removed and will become my largest cutting yet. I have no idea if it will survive but it was large and cool so it could make a good tree in the future if it lives.

After removing the useless trunk the tree was potted up in it’s new pot. This pot by Jim Barrett has a thick snow glaze on it with pits and texture. Now I will begin pruning and shaping the new plant.

Big thick pruned ends are removed leaving only the two small buds to continue here. Removing these large pruned areas is the best way to set the tree up for the detail foliage.

All the wire was crossed over the trunk on the back of the tree to keep it hidden on the front for now. This big chop is healing and will close soon.

This chop has already closed and is starting to melt into the trunk line.

The tree now has some wire on it for the next years growth and though it looks OK the white background casts too many shadows. In the middle left area there seems to be a hole in the foliage. I have a branch there with two divisions on it. This photo allowed me to see what I did not see in 3-D.

With a dark back ground and shadows eliminated I can see the tree much better. I bent the branch to fill the void and will allow the tree to rest for the winter and hope for it’s continued strong growth. This next year the tree will be detailed with lots of twigs.

Posted December 26, 2019 by California Bonsai Art in Spotlight on Shohin

Building the Fat Trunk Tree   5 comments

While bonsai in it’s larger form can include trunk widths in a variety of shapes and sizes, the Shohin trunk tends to be on the larger size.

Why is this so?  Shohin must compete for assertiveness in its trunk. It must do this by captivating the viewer rather quickly, by keeping the eye fixated on the magnificence of this overstated trunk of large size for it’s height. Developing a tree only 8 inches tall with a trunk three inches across in a pot 6 inches wide is a herculean task. It requires many years of growth and training on many parts of the tree at once. Once the eye is there it can then take in the development of the branch structure and the overall feel of the tree as a whole. Without a viewer lingering long enough the whole tree is never judged for it’s complete merits.

These large trunks are developed in a couple of ways, but most are accomplished thru the “chop”. The trunk at some point in it’s growth period is chopped off and the base is grown out. This chopping and growing may go on for five or more years just to build the character of the trunk. It may take another five or more years to erase the scars of the chopping process before the branches and canopy are added. Obviously this is a process done to deciduous trees, since chopping a conifer would kill it in most respects, though many conifers do undergo chopping as part of the building process, just on a more conservative order.

In order to help show this process in more detail I have enlisted an authority on shohin trees. The Gafu-ten picture book. The Gafu is an exhibit that happens in Japan on a yearly basis to highlight the Shohin aspect of bonsai. Trees are shown at the highest level and most are magnificent in their design and level of quality. There are a large segment of the bonsai population that think many of these trees are grown small and the trunks are natural. I hope to show that this is not true and most of these beauties are chopped and grown just like their larger cousins.

I have a number of trees I will show in this segment on how many of these trees were made. The pictures are good but some detail is missing due to the confines of size in the book and closeness of the camera to the book and focus. These are small trees and it is a small book being only 10 x 7 inches and a half inch thick. It is a great book and all Shohin lovers should have at least one in their book collection.

Keep in mind that most of these trees will be maple trees of mixed varieties and there are a couple others in there maybe quince and cotoneaster or other species like winterberry.

The maple shohin will start with a larger tree, maybe grown for a decade or longer and prepared by growing a spreading base. This may be accomplished by growing out on a slab and screwed to a suitable base or tied down to a hard surface. The most important thing is to get the large flare and spreading base because once beheaded this part would take an immense amount of time and probably ruin the stock for being a great Shohin tree. This is an important part of the process and shouldn’t be overlooked as it adds the immense drama and the reason the eye is fixated on the tree. Of course it can be done with out the large flare and roots spreading into the ground, but it loses much of it’s power without it. Remember these are Gafu quality trees from Japan and some of the best in the world.

First I will show the tree and then I will show my interpretation of how I think it was chopped based on movement of the trunk, the line and the taper. A tree naturally will grow with taper , but it does this so gradually that to get measurable taper in a half inch trunk will take two feet or more of growth. To compact that growth into a an 8 inch tree has to be done with successive chops.

I will show the original line of the tree before the chops and then the successive chops to move the line and direction of the trunk and build in the necessary taper for the tree in 8 inches. In this picture below we can see the two easiest to see chops and even the scar not closed of the first original chop in the middle of the tree. This tells me that the tree is probably only been being built in the chopping part around five years based on the size of the chops and the unhealed scar. I feel there was also a chop done on the far left side of the trunk to abruptly turn the apex right, but since I can’t see any signs of a scar there and branches were probably grafted there we will just leave that to the imagination.

Sometimes we see a tree that is rather formal in appearance and has no undulation in the trunk and is straight up. These trees when shown much later in their life have no flaws and scars to hide and can seem like architectural masterpieces, and they are. Fortunately this tree is shown rather soon and the signs of a major scar are visible right square in the middle of the tree.

The beginning tree was grown to appropriate size and beheaded. A shoot may have been retained for grow out or a bud was selected in the Spring after the beheading and grown out. It is easy to tell that the shoot that became the continuation of the trunk came from behind and was grown out. There is a sunken area right where my line begins and below that is a large scar that I feel was a sacrifice branch that helped build the massive taper. A sacrifice scar can be seen on the lower right of the trunk also.

When a tree like this is exhibited in a World stage show, it can be considered a filler tree. Maybe because of the pot, the direction or the variety to fill out the box stand.

The abrupt change in direction of the trunk and ledge left by the chop can easily be seen on this tree. I include it here because of the easy nature of the chop.

I have a larger tree in my own collection that was made exactly the same way.

This is a wonderful example of a great Shohin maple.

There may have been some smaller chops and some sacrifice branches done, but for the most part only two chops really show on this tree. If you look hard you can see the scar from the first chop. It was a large one and even though the bark is covered and smooth, the way the scar tissue grows always leaves little hints of the kind of tissue that it is. That is very visible on this tree.

The tree in the display

This is a nice little tree to look at.

While there are many more chops in the top of the tree I have mostly shown what to look for when viewing a tree to see how it’s made. Lets face it, seeing how great trees are made are better than any spoken word you will ever hear. The trees speak volumes if you know what to look for. Look right in the center of my circle and look at the big scar not really fully healed. It will in time and it will be barely noticeable but the tissue will show the image of a scar for decades.

This is a tree not really ready for Gafu. While the scars are healed great, they still have juvenile bark and it is smooth and easy to see where the chops were, and the branches are very rudimentary.

The first big chop was done and the scar is still visible. The second chop on the left is easy to see and the third chop on the right looks as if it was larger than the second chop. All the scars from the chops show smooth juvenile tissue at the chop sights, even though they are healed, they have no patina of age. They do not match the barked areas around them.

This is a great little tree. Graggy and great bark texture, and a very interesting design element.

The tree was quite large when it was beheaded. I can only suspect that in Japan where they have immense fields of maple growing for the bonsai industry there are culls for large trees that are developed on to become Shohin trees. This may have been one that was a good tree when early in it’s life but developed something wrong, branches died or some other calamity. It was decided to chop it down to Shohin. The scars of the first chop are visible because of the plate development of the later bark. It never grows with the original grain and because it becomes compartmentalized it will always show this texture. The other tell tale sign are the huge shoulders on each side of the original chop. These are always a give away at the chop site. From here on I numbered the chops because sometimes they are confusing when the chops overlap a previous chop like here. Notice again how the scars at the later chops are more juvenile looking and though healed are dead giveaways.

The tree in the display. Sorry for the wonky photo due to a book. The trees seem at home among other trees and when viewed together do not seem to display some of the looks of a chopped tree.

This is a little persimmon that has been chopped and is easy to tell.

The lines here should leave no ambiguity.

This is a little quince tree with the becoming monotonous trick of tying a plastic fruit on for show.

One can be assured that in nature trees do not grow so zig zaggy. They have to be manipulated by chopping and changing trunk direction for interest. Again, easy to see on this one.

In the display

This is a interesting tree…why?

Not being able to see the tree or turn it for other views, I think based on the scars something very different happened. Follow along for a moment. The bump on the back of the tree on the lower left is what I believe was a shoulder from the first chop. It was grown out with a direction change towards the viewer. Chop number two scar is easily seen. The growth after chop two is normal but what happened after that is unorthodox. It’s as though there was a change of ownership and the new owner did not prune when it was needed because there is a terrible whorl of growth at chop 3, and 4, even allowing a ball of tissue to grow.  Just doesn’t seem like the same caretaker thru chop two and three who was very meticulous in the beginning with chops one and two. Seems odd for a Gafu level tree.

Cool looking maple and rough bark also. Nice canopy and some fine branching.

The chops are pretty self evident. Later on when I discuss how to build one of these trees, there are signs of deadheading, which I will discuss. That is evident in chop two. The right angle chop there is a give away.

This is a great tree and being a fan of the boomerang shape for a maple, it moves me.

I have shown this in four chops, there may have been more but one can see the large scar from the first chop not healed in the middle of the tree. There are also many scars on the sides of the lower trunk showing signs of sacrifice branches there to help build girth in the trunk in the field prior to chopping.

This is an interesting tree because I think it was designed one way and the owner at the time changed their mind and went with a sacrifice as the new leader.

Again not being able to see the back I can assume there is a scar of a previous chop back there that I can’t see. Because of the large scar on the front I can maybe see where the front may have been on the other side and this scar on the front was the sacrifice. In any case I have it numbered as number one because I can’t see the other side. Chop one pushed the leader the other way which is why I feel it was intended to be shown the other way around. Something happened, and it became clear to go with plan “b”. The rest of the chops are easy to see.

Even Ray Charles could see the chops here.

It almost looks like there is remnants of cut paste on the trunk of this tree and why this is in Gafu is of course a mystery. The base is good though and shows the years of age and patina, the rest of the tree looks like it was developed three years ago.

In the display

Super balanced tree and symmetrical canopy

Once again we see the square shoulders of the chops. It take many years and lots of reducing and healing to get rid of those shoulders. They become part of the tree because the tree gets to a point where it can be shown and to fix it takes it out of the display circuit for four or five years.

This may be Ilex or Cotoneaster, but the trunk is great and as a clump style it works.

The trunk was cut out at some time and new buds and shoots were used to build the clump. I have also circled a scar from a sacrifice for building girth.

This is a cool little tree and I like the shape and it’s look in the pot.

This tree also exhibits the scars from the chop and though healed the tell tale scar tissue remains for a long time. The main chop shows a very large scar and a lower scar on the left is probably an old sacrifice scar for building girth. These sacrifice scars are another subject in the diary of building trees. The sacrifice once cut off of the trunk compartmentalizes and from there on does not receive the same hormones as other parts of the tree and so does not heal. That scar will be there for decades.

Another thing to mention is that the small roots showing on the right side are a great indicator of a ground layer to remove the large root mass that existed on the beginning stock. No way to shoe horn that into a small pot. I have many plants like this that I have layered with exactly the same roots.

Great tree and great bark. The canopy shape is very pleasing and I would love to own a fine rough barked maple.

Once you know what to look for it is very easy to backwards engineer the tree and see how it was made. This one was as simple as 1,2,3.

This outline is very pleasing and the canopy is lush indeed. Lots of twigs on this one.

On close inspection of the trunk a series of scars runs up the left side and where the chops were made is easy to see.

This is a case of very nice tree but something is wrong?

On closer inspection it is evident that the chops are healed but the tissue is young and vibrant and does not match the surrounding tissue. human skin does the same thing after skin grafts and the difference in colr and texture remains there for years. Even though this chop maye be several decades old the young looking scar tissue may remain for another decade or more.

Building the tree

These are drawings that I have prepared due to the time of the year. If it were Spring I would just do it. Problem is I can show in drawings what takes decades to do. It does take that long just due to the fact that the material must be grown to size. Having a larger trunked tree to start with will obviously be a help. Just remember that when starting with thick material it is useful to make what I like to call a safety cut the year before. Make the cut by chopping the tree by two thirds. That way the tree will explode with new shoots all up and down the trunk which is what you will need to start the project with that larger material. If you just chop a big old fat tree, you are destined to fail because there are things that must be done along the way to allow the process to work.

Here goes,

If starting with larger material skip on to the part where you material takes over.

Start with a whip around 1/4 inch or more. Length does not matter. Plant the whip out on a board in a container at least 14 x 14 and about 6 inches deep. Secure the whip with wire and tie it down well. what we don’t want is the whip to push away from the board. Arrange the roots in a radial pattern and this is not something that has to have a lot of time spent on. Why? Because in the end we will be ground layering the tree off it’s old root system to prepare for fitting into Shohin pot. Many people make this mistake and spend so much time on preparing the nebari thinking that it is the most important thing on the tree. It is, in a way but not for what you may think. Sure good roots are great, but they are of no use when the roots are 3/4 in diameter and we need to fit it into a pot 6 x 4 x 1 inch. Build the flare on the board and later we will use that when we cut the tree free.

OK on with the program.

Plant the sapling on the board at a good slant. Trunks for Shohin, being quite small, benefit from the trunk emerging from the soil at a slant. We don’t have the luxury of a lot of trunk in which to show movement and so slanting from the get go will help make some movement in only eight inches. After burying the plant in the box fertilize and allow good sun and air by elevating the box off the ground.

After about eight years we can return to our project for the trunk by now should have reached a good size and the board should have built a large flat base and some good flare. The trunk now should be in the two inch range and if your gets there faster, so much the better. Just make sure to keep all the groth alive in the lowest part of the trunk, keep them small by pruning and since they are at the bottom they will not be good growers anyway. The tree may be seven or eight feet tall by now and I have just shown the bottom two feet in the drawing.

Now is time for the first chop. There is a decision to be made now and one has to choose one or the other. In the first scenario the chop is made between two live branches. This does two things. many beginners will chop a new tree with no regard for protecting the livability of the trunk. The branches are what keep the trunk alive. If no branches are on one side, the tree will compartmentalize that half of the trunk and even though it does not die, it never grows any branches either. These “compartments” that the tree builds helps the plant survive in the case of calamity. If no branches are on the side it becomes useless to the plant and just sections itself off from producing any growth on that side. These calamities are what give conifers magnificent dead wood. They have sap and will hang around for a hundred years if dry. Deciduous trees when exposed rot fairly quickly and so we try a preserve as much living trunk as possible. So keep in mind keeping all shoots and buds on the trunk for now. I have shown this chop fairly low on the trunk and your height may vary due to branches on the trunk. Just make sure that the chop is made between two live branches. There can be lots of other shoots too, and I have not drawn them for clarity. Just make sure they are there.

In this drawing I chose the shoot on the right to be the next section to grow out. I chose that movement based on the tree leaning to the left upon its initial planting. Just adding movement folks. That shoot is grown out for a couple seasons ans again keep everything on all the branches. They can be pruned back and kept small and branches in good positions in the back can be developed for back branches for later.

When the section is suitably large, the next section can be removed. In this case we chose the appropriate shoot on the left this time and cut to that. This will be the shoot to grow on and become the next section. Again watch the back for suitable back branches and still retain all.

When we get to this point the space is going to change dramatically. This is because we now have a fairly large scar to heal in the top of the tree. As we are moving along with the tree keep in mind to wire all branches and constantly pull them down. We want no upwards pointing branches except those that are in the very top and will become the next chop.

Now once again we make a chop between two branches keeping one as the new side branch and the upper as the new leader. Wire that new side branch down and now lots of the shoots on the trunk in the lower third can be removed. There may be scars from sacrifice branches at the very bottom and some of the adjacent shoots can be kept to heal the larger scars.

Now we begin building the apex. This part is difficult for some people but what we have to do is allow the top to just grow and choose branches. Artistic ability is a must here and be aware that whorls and balls of wood will form if you keep too many in one spot. Keep pairs and keep cutting back to build ramification in the top. If everything goes right, you end up with a great Shohin maple just like I showed in the books. This whole process will take about twelve years depending on your climate. If you live in the colder regions with short growing seasons, it may take 18 or 20 years to get to this point. There are no shortcuts, except starting with the larger material, losing the movement in the lower trunk due to it being more upright.

If we circle back to the initial chop, one may wish to start the chop higher on the trunk for a little taller tree. This kind of chop is called a “deadhead” because we are cutting to no live shoots and we risk the trunk dieing back due to no shoots. If shoots come quickly then everything is go.

As these shoots come we keep them all. Maples are not very prolific shooters at the edge of chops like an elm would be.

Once we do have shoots we can start by picking one and allowing it to grow and gain girth giving us the next section. Take a look at the shoulders that I left like we seen on many of the trees above in Gafu. This is where they come from. The only way to get rid if them is by carving and sealing and praying. They do heal, it just takes along time. Once again bend all the branches down too.

Now this tree becomes just like the other and we can cut to two branches and develop just like the other.

Finish out the apex in a season or two and the tree is ready to be layered. I will talk about that in another follow up.

I have shown the two tree side by side. I drew these by tracing over that last image. How they became so different is because of the separation in the last exercise and the extended growth above the first two branches. I like them both.

For those of you reading this and enjoying it, keep in mind that building a three foot tree is done the same way as an 8 inch tree. The only thing different is the time and you start with a four inch diameter shoot!!!

Posted December 5, 2019 by California Bonsai Art in Spotlight on Shohin

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