Archive for the ‘Spotlight on Shohin’ Category

Willow Leaf Ficus   2 comments

I purchased this small Willowleaf Ficus from Gary Lai in Southern California at the yearly fundraiser for the Southern Collection, The Bonsai-a-thon. I picked this up for $120.00. I think it is important to list the price of plants for the general public to see how the pricing is different around the country. This also allows those selling material, what to expect when the come west to sell!

This is the ficus as purchased. Notice the deep scar in the middle of the tree from an initial chopping point.

Of course upon arrival at home I had to commense pruning the tree. I applied its first wire and waited. It did not grow. No shoots and it began dropping leaves. I have no experience with tropicals and so all I could do was nurse it through the winter and hope for the best. The tree was way overpotted in this deep larger pot.

It is now August and this day seems cooler and time to repot this thing. everyone tells me that deep summer is the time to do it and hotter the better. Well I figure 99 is hot enough…no need potting on a 110 day. Before pruning.

After pruning and deciding on placement. The scar seems much more healed now since the tree grew quite well with this humid summer we had the last month.

The tree potted up in a small Yamafusa pot. maybe not the final pot, but much smaller and fitting for such a fine trunk. I was able to pot the tree a little taller exposing more of the flare that was under the soil. Now on to refining the branches over the next few years and then maybe the best pot…who knows. I really do like this pot, I think the color works well with the trunk color and the color of the foliage.

Posted August 13, 2017 by California Bonsai Art in Spotlight on Shohin

Shohin Kiyohime Maple   1 comment

While on a trip to Ed Clarks nursery in Lindsey I ran across this Kiyohime maple in a wooden box sitting at the end of a table of maples. I thought the leaves were exceptional and he told me that they take really well to cutting back constantly and with correct pruning like to make the small leaves with increased ramification.dsc_00610060


I purchased this one and felt that the trunk lent itself well to a slanting type of style. I also liked the fact that eventhough it had pretty good taper, it was not so much built in the pine tree style trunk so prevelent in growing fields. It is very hard to make an acceptable spreading oak style tree when the trunk is grown so upright and tapered with branches set in the ascending 1,2,3 style.

dsc_01060001 The canopy was pruned back to what I expected would be the outline of an acceptable maple canopy. The internode length posed a problem since cutting back to the first bud still meant that there would be no inner foliage on the tree. This would mean that the foliage would start about another inch or so outside of this line. totally unacceptable for me.

I decided what I wanted to keep and cut everything off that was heavy or in an awkward place. Large pruning scars were sealed and covered tightly with chip grafting tape which provides a hot house and keeps the lips of the callus tight to the trunk. Ed swears by this stuff and I have seen the results and it works very well. Not cheap tape, about $12.00 a roll but will last forever. Just have to see what this year brings.



Ted Matson Workshop at the Round Valley Nursery   Leave a comment

Ed Clark, owner of the nursery arranged for a Ted Matson workshop back in March. Due to stand commitments, shows, vacations, Easter and Mothers Day, most of my weekends have been taken up by something. It is now time to show a little of what went on over that weekend. Ted is always a good teacher. His expertise in a number of plant materials, his love of shohin, and the material provided by Ed were a match made in heaven. The workshop consisted of a two day affair with each day broken into separate morning and afternoon sessions. Each day was a repeat of the morning or afternoon before.

Ted started out by telling us the many attributes of the way Ed was growing the material here. Ted was also savvy of those that think this material is too twisted and has too much movement. Ted explained that these trees over the next couple of years are going to mellow out and become fine bonsai due to pruning and growth on top of growth. Ted explained that having seen material grow for bonsai all over the United states that this material is different because care has been taken to keep the movement up while the plant is growing. Ed doesn’t just stop and allow the tree to twist and turn and then allow it to grow pole straight the next year. There are growers in Southern California mentioned by name that have allowed this to ruin what would have been good material.





Ted used some trees from the nursery and also brought some material he had bought earlier and worked on it some and then used for demonstration.








Lunch was provided in the workshop and Lind Clark did a great job with a buffet style lunch. We killed an hour and then hit it again in the afternoon.





This was some of the people from the afternoon session.




I worked on two pines during the workshop. One I had bought specifically for the workshop and the other a tree I purchased during the lunch break for the second session.


Here is the tree I purchased earlier and worked on in the morning.




This is what it looked like after the first pruning and some wire. Pretty scary.



This is what it looks like tonight. I am very happy with its growth, and it looks like there is going to be a good tree in here.



The second tree was purchased right at the nursery for the workshop. I had brought three others to work on but for some reason this one caught my eye. Ted had said something about these trees that made me pause a little. He said instead of looking for the best ones to work on, sometimes it makes more sense to look for those with the most faults. These are the trees that have character and feeling. So I picked out one that had some faults and will see what I can do with it.


This small tree had some reverse taper and lots of wire in the trunk. It had a rather gnarly shape and looked like it could be a good tree later on.



The tree was pruned and wired.

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This is how the tree looks tonight. It is growing strong and like all Ed’s trees the needles stay firm and short. Lots of choices for an apex and the branches have lots of shoots. I am happy with this one as well.






Elm, Gro-Pot to Sho-Pot   5 comments



Ulmus parvifolia, commonly known as the Chinese elm or Lacebark Elm, is a species native to China, India, Taiwan, Japan, North Korea, and Vietnam. It has been described as “one of the most splendid elms, having the poise of a graceful Nothofagus“. A small to medium deciduous, semi-deciduous (rarely semi-evergreen) tree growing to 10–18 m (30–60 ft) tall and 15-20 m (50-70 ft) wide with a slender trunk and crown. The leathery, lustrous green single-toothed leaves are small, 2–5 cm long by 1–3 cm broad, and often retained as late as December or even January in Europe and North America. The apetalous wind-pollinated perfect flowers are produced in early autumn, small and inconspicuous. The fruit is a samara, elliptic to ovate-elliptic, 10–13 mm long by 6–8 mm broad. The samara is mostly glabrous, the seed at the centre or toward the apex, borne on a stalk 1-3 mm in length; it matures rapidly and disperses by late autumn. The trunk has a handsome, flaking bark of mottled greys with tans and reds, giving rise to its other common name, the Lacebark Elm, although scarring from major branch loss can lead to large canker-like wounds.

Propagation of elms is easy as they develop from roots, cuttings, seed and layers very easily. In this article it is root cuttings that I wish to concentrate on. There is no faster way to develop an elm bonsai. In China elm bonsai are developed from root cutting and developed by the thousands. The S-curve elm seen in bonsai shops around the country as well as the big box store is grown for export only. Somehow the Chinese felt that us westerners liked this movement thing in bonsai. Lucky bamboo caught on and so elms should be styled likewise.

The root cuttings are collected in the winter and sown in plastic pot. As they grow they are switched over to ceramic bonsai pots and they receive the rest of the training in these pots thru shipment to places all over the world. It is hard to comprehend just how many are grown there. These photo’s were smuggled out of China for a friend of mine in the bonsai nursery trade. He has allowed me to share them here.


At Brussel’s bonsai this would be about the $800.00 stuff














These on the top shelf would be about $2500.00 at Brussel’s.


Big commercial nurseries like these in China use lots of pots for export. Most of these come from Lotus Pottery.









Sorry about the quality of the photo’s but I thought it would be fun to see how this is done on a large-scale in a foreign country.

Now we switch gears and come back to America to see how it is done on a much smaller scale and with a little more intimacy. Up close and personal. All photo’s from now on are by Justin Case. Elms are one of the type of trees that grow well from root cuttings. The new buds emerge right from the cut end of the root. It is this ability that allows one to propagate from roots since interesting shapes and large sizes can be cut from the roots and struck. Traditional cuttings taken from hardwood branches of other trees always yields a rather straight uninteresting start which will always require some sort of chop later to create taper. By starting short elm roots and leaving only the very tip showing from the top of the soil, the start to convincing taper can be created from day one.

During the production of this large cork elm, I reserved this first branch stub since it was pretty large and I wanted to have a larger branch to start with.

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The new shoots came right out of the end of the cut branch and I was able to develop from there.


Roots are taken from larger elm trees in spring during repotting. The roots are cut away and thrown into a bucket of water to be processed later.



The roots are taken from the water and trimmed up and cut shorter or planted with long trunks for literati or cascade forms in mind.


Even Neagari (exposed root) forms can be saved from the tangled roots. These make interesting Penjing subjects or creative shohin.


Large roots can give a good start to larger trunked specimans and can save years of time. The root may be only a year old but they grow so fast and plump that large tree seem older for the ease of one year old roots.





Once the roots are planted it becomes a waiting game. Then soon, the small buds begin to appear at the cut ends of the root. they start as small pin pricks of green in the cambium area of the cut end.

elm rootcutting2photo by Thomas J.

Sometimes the entire cambium ring will turn green, during this time some or most of the buds will be rubbed off to allow one or two to grow strong. These shoots can grow and then leaders chosen later.elmrootcutting

At the end of about three years the tops of the tree should be full of small branches. These should be pruned regularly to keep the plant compact. At the end of three years the plants are separated from each other in the large pot and planted out into clay pots on their own.


For the next three-years, regular pruning must take place many times during the year. It is very easy for the plants to get out of control and lose the “shohin” feel if they get too leggy.


The canopies can be hedge pruned to keep up with twiggyness. This is not so much because we are going to keep this ramification, it is because we need the choices for direction since all of the training will be by clip and grow. No wire.



Continue to prune for shape all year-long.












By the end of the fourth year they will be ready for a final prune for fall.


Even after I prune in fall I always get a flush of buds, that’s just the aggressiveness of the species.





At the start of spring of the fifth year the plants should look like this. All the twigs are cut off and choices for direction had been made in Fall. Now we will begin the canopy for the final product. This is when we will keep new secondaries and begin working on tertiaries.



Now the leaves come out and we can watch to see what they do and be ready to prune and keep direction. I had only eight to keep me busy but 8 is all I could handle. I wonder how many Chinamen it takes to keep those fields in check?



After the leaves harden off I cut again for shape. This time I have drilled holes around the soft clay pots for guy wires to ease branches into place for better shape. This works well with elms since they grow wood fast and will keep their shape in a matter of months.









This is the beginning of the sixth year, The training from hear on out is very light pruning just to fill in the canopies. I selected 8 pots from my shohin pot collection. They are a combination of Chinese and Japanese, some signed pots and a glazed Begei. (bottom left)


I prepare the pots with screen and wing dings. I bend them like this because I like the purchase the loops have against the pot on the root side.


Its been six years since the roots were taken and now they will undergo final shaping in the small pots that will slow them down considerably. I need the rest, these 8 have kept me hopping for the last six years.









Six years from gro-pots to sho-pots. Very fun and very fullfilling. It is a lot of fun to see a project all the way thru from beginning to end.





Fun Size   Leave a comment

Here are a few more shots of the trunk now that it has dried a bit. The comment from Neli suggesting that it had reverse taper gave me pause, since I even mentioned that the base look kind weird while it was wet, yet the comment stands. I had a couple hundred to choose from, there would be absolutely no reason to choose one with reverse taper.


In this shot of the back, the old sacrifice stub can be seen. The sacrifice branch used must come from very low on the trunk to keep the base fat while allowing the trunk to enlarge and grow over the wire. Yes it is very easy to attain reverse taper during this method. I think this one will be ust fine.


Posted February 11, 2015 by California Bonsai Art in Spotlight on Shohin

The pine I call “Fun Size”   1 comment

I have a workshop coming up next month at the nursery of Ed Clark, grower of extraordinary bonsai material. The workshop will be hosted by Ed and his wife Linda and will include the instruction of marauding bonsai teacher Ted Matson. Ted has been instrumental at organizing shohin workshops and the study of shohin in general in the state of California. I have a good cross-section of shohin plants in my growing collection of shohin, but do not possess a good example of a pine bonsai. In fact I do not have a good example of a pine bonsai in any size.

Pine trees in general for those not well versed in the management of the species tend to find the species a challenge. Once the correct techniques are acquired the species become as easy as working with an elm or maple. Like any bonsai species the “correct techniques” have gone thru many revisions and this post is not going to deal with the ins and outs of the species as there many with far more experience with the species that have written volumes on the subject. This blog entry is more of a shit sheet of the things that will happen to one tree over an initial period of months with semi annual entries to keep up with its production.

The tree has the attributes to be what I call a top shelf specimen. What is a top shelf specimen. In the display of shohin bonsai, many times the display of trees will be contained in a “Box Stand”. A box stand is a stand with shelves arranged with in a box about 3 feet square. The shelves are arranged with of course the top of the box containing the top shelf, and then room for two trees in mid section and room for two trees on the bottom shelf of the box stand. The top of the box is reserved for a pine or masculine juniper bonsai. As one works their way down the shelves in the box, the mid levels are reserved for hornbeam, elms and maples bonsai and the bottom shelves may contain trees like flowering quince or fruiting trees like persimmon. In this photo the box stand is displayed with a companion piece of a tall stand and separate accent.


This is a close up of the pine on the top shelf of this display. This is the kind of pine I wish to produce.



There are many way to achieve a pine like this.

  • One could purchase a pine such as this for hundreds of dollars and have a tree ready for display and work towards keeping it in a refined condition.
  • One could purchase a piece of material that is ready to have the canopy produced with the trunk being worked to such a condition.
  • One could purchase a rough piece of material and start a chopping process to “work it down” over a number of years.
  • One could start with smaller one gallon materials and grow then out in the ground using careful techniques to achieve success.
  • One could start with seed and control the process from start to finish.

At my age I thought it would be best to start with the second method and purchase a plant that has been purpose grown for a shohin pine, grown for taper, grown with many options for branching, in peak health and ready to start working with.

Ed Clark has taken the lead with producing a well-developed niche in the bonsai world by producing material with superb attributes in the making of small bonsai with many amazing details not seen much in the USA. The amount of time devoted to keeping literally hundreds if not thousands of these small gems in this condition is staggering. During one of my outings to Ed’s nursery I found this pine and tagged it for future pick up for the upcoming seminar. I felt this pine in particular has the correct proportions, superb taper, future apex in place, and branch choices necessary for the production of the bonsai I wish to create.

The pine I chose stands about 20 inches tall in its pond basket. The tree was started in a one gallon, moved to pond basket, grown in basket placed in a 25 gallon nursery container full of soil and grown there for two years. This particular tree was removed from the large growing container in the fall.


Here is a closeup of the tree showing the taper and growing angle of the tree. There are many options for branching also.


The trunk is just shy of two inches across at the soil level. I have not dug down to see if there is flare or not. I will check that over the next couple days.


Of course the part of the tree I wish to utilize will be in the first seven inches of the tree as it is currently. There is a good leader to cut to , while removing the whole sacrofice portion of the top of the tree and focusing energy into the bottom portion of the tree building the branches. I would like to see the tree top out at the full limit of the catagory, 20cm or around 8 inches. The pictures at the soil line are a little misleading due to the bottom 1/4 inch of the trunk being wet. The part diving into the soil is not well seen and I will get a better picture as I move forward with the project.



Posted February 10, 2015 by California Bonsai Art in Spotlight on Shohin

New Shelves for the Pagoda   3 comments

About two years ago I started to notice the shelves that housed the shohin trees were starting to rot. I had purchased window box planters that have a long water tray, about 5 inches by 26 inches. I filled these with lava and when I watered the trays would fill with water and the lava would keep the pots out of the water while providing a humidic atmosphere. The water would get under the trays and would allow the wood to stay too wet and rotted out the redwood.

It was time to replace the wood.

In the last two years I have had all my shohin grouped together onto a large piece of marble that is in a section of my yard that is in constant shade. Viewing the trees and watching for signs of stress was hard due to the trees being piled into a group. I lost some trees whale they were like this due to rampant growth on trident maples and providing a water shed while I watered and not allowing some smaller trees to be watered properly. This is how they used to be.


This time I made the shelves from pressure treated Hem-Fir. It’s a hybrid tree for the construction industry with few branches and bone straight growth. When logged it is used mainly for the manufacture of fascia board around the eves of your house. With pressure treating the wood will last in wet areas twice as long as redwood or cedar. The trees are placed back into the proper area which opens the old area up for a display.






This small maple is a recent repot in the neagari style.


This area is where the shohin used to be and now I can display a tree and others.


Since I was out with the camera I decided to update the backyard in winter with some views of the compound as it is today. still have some stuff on the ground and this has been reduced by half. Of course if I don’t stop buying more stuff it will just fill up again.



All the larger tridents in baskets up on the shelves are trees that were on the ground. They have been moved up onto the shelves after a large sell out of trees at the recent bonsai swap meet in December.



Here are some trees from around the perimeter. The big california is due for a restyle this winter. The pyracantha is pushing growth right now like crazy and the new Oshio beni maple is due to be removed from the bucket to see what down there.


Ghidorah-1 is just minding its own business wondering what I will come up with for a pot? Any ideas?


Over here I have the black pine with a big clamp on it, all the new green maples that just came in, and 8 shohin elms that I really want to pot up since I might just keep them all.


Another black pine shohin material that showed up. No Bai De is looking for this one.



Posted January 19, 2015 by California Bonsai Art in Spotlight on Shohin

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