Archive for the ‘Repotting’ Category

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

The Trees that Throw Apples?   Leave a comment

Early in my life I saw a movie that scared the bejeezus out of me. The Wizard of Oz. As a small child the beautiful parts of the movie ended up taking a back seat to the scary parts of the movie. I mean, who could ever forget that green witch with her evil cackle and scary looking broom. Later, we would see the team skip down a yellow road and into a spooky forest only to be molested by evil apple throwing trees. That image stuck with me until this day.

Now I have talked many times about a term called “mental model”. A mental model is a term used to explain why people are drawn or not drawn to certain images in their life. Due to my age, BI (before internet) my first exposure to bonsai was the first book I ever purchased. I bought it on my honeymoon and read it cover to cover many times during that week. The pictures in that book set my mental model of what bonsai should look like. I didn’t have the internet to look at and be exposed to countless thousands of images of bonsai from around the world like so many do today. That book was my world and that is what I knew, and bonsai for me was contained upon 50 pages in a small book. Of course my horizons broadened greatly as I found out about the bonsai scene within the state and began to see images of trees not in the book

This modified single trunk tapering “S” curve trunk was my mental model of what bonsai should look like. If only everything we find in nature could look like this!

This photo also captivated my imagination due to my proximity to the trees in nature near me.


This is how I thought bonsai should look. I thought based on the pictures I saw of how to develop bonsai and a finished product, that all bonsai were shaped like an “S” , had massive taper and finished in a pointed triangle.

The subject of this article started in 2011. I was invited to Steve DaSilva’s home for the first time to dig some material from his field. The maples we were digging at that time were about five years old. They had been started in 2006. Up to this point I had only one really big, and good trident maple in my collection. When I saw these in the ground I allowed my awe to get the best of me. I wanted the biggest one I could find. I wanted the tallest, the fattest and digging it gave me so much satisfaction.

I had that puppy out of the ground, Planted in a cut down ten, and filled it with my soil mix. That is just how this tree has sat for the last nine years.

I have moved it around my yard countless times and tried this and that. Started some pine tree type branching on it, but the tree never became all consuming to me. It was always just watered and cared for, without doing much bonsai work to it. Last year after a look at the tree and what I was able to take out of the top, I decided to layer out that top.

That top had made a turn to the side and a new leader was chosen and it looked as if it could be something.

The top removed and planted out.

After removal of the top, I had this stump. Many of the branches left on the trunk have not necessarily been trained in that shape, they are mostly there and that way due to me cutting them back so they didn’t stick out into a travel path. They many times presented a trip hazard and I would just lop them off.

Cesar Ordonez, a new guy to bonsai but eager to learn, asked if he could come over on a Sunday due to his work, and help out with what ever it was I was doing. This past Sunday was a good time for that as I had some things that needed tending to. I put the big monster on the bench and we looked it over. I had it on a turntable and I asked Cesar if there was anything he saw in the stump. We turned it different directions and looked and looked. It had branches but they were in not so good places

I began working the top with a rotary tool. I removed wood from between branches in an effort to add some taper to the stump.

Based on various indicators around the stump like branches, taper, or lack there of, nebari, large roots and future refinement I kept coming back to this one place. I indicated that by placing a sharpie mark on the base of the trunk. While there are places that the trunk looks fatter, it comes with other things that ruin that look. I liked what was going on but was unsatisfied with the shape of the trunk. For this thing to be believable it would need to look like it had lived thru harsh storms and rough living. Nature would have tapered this thing all by itself.

I turned the tree a little off my mark and carved some more. It was looking better and more of the feeling I wanted. The trunk didn’t look so blocky this way and had a subtle turn. I asked Cesar what he thought and I just nicked it with my grinder to seal the deal. No turning back now.

The only thing that kept me from working more was that damn eye poker branch.

With that branch gone there was nothing stopping me from really getting to work on the trunk.

In my research for spooky trees I found some pictures. Of course we have the Wizard of Oz, which had the creepy talking apple throwing trees that scared me as a child.

In my research, which means I look to the internet for inspiration. I found a common theme in scary trees. They all tend to be blocky trunks, cut off square and branches coming out of the top. Perfect, I’m on my way.


More grinding with the Arbor Tech and more woods turns to sawdust. At this point I am adding some texture to the removal of the wood. This will become much more prominent in the future as the interior dries out and texture can be carved with fire and things like that.

I did some cleaning up of branch stubs and buds on the trunk ready to pop.

The tree was popped out of the can and the roots were exposed to the air nine years later. Unfortunately I did not get any pictures of that, though Cesar may have pics on his phone. The tree was prepped up and planted into the colander to build a better root ball and the tree was planted more slanted to accentuate the creepy nature of the tree. Most of the pictures above show the subtle curved trunk at an angle in the soil.

Though the branches are large and unbendable, I was able to move a lot of them. Some of the big ones will be carved down later as smaller new growth, that can be wired into twisty spooky shapes, can be done.

Al Keppler Signature Stick   5 comments

Many years ago a friend, Ray Thieme gave me a stick for repotting. I had just come back from my honeymoon of driving the California coast. We got Married in Reno and traveled west. We spent the night in Santa Cruz and the next morning looked over the town. I was still a baby of just 28 years old and my new wife, 12 years my senior showed me the town. She took me to San Lorenzo Lumber to see Begonia’s. I found bonsai. Found them, and was intrigued by them. I bought one and we spent the rest of our trip up the Ca. coast with the tree and my new bonzo book. Upon arriving home and and checking the yellow pages I found that indeed there was a bonzo nursery. 41 Bonsai Nursery owned by Ray Thieme. I met him and he showed me around the place. I bought a couple junipers from him, (I still have them) and he told me about a bonsai club, The Fresno Bonsai Society, he said I should join and learn about bonsai. I did, that was 36 years ago.

After about four months, and finding myself at the nursery every weekend, Ray gave me this stick. It is made of very heavy bamboo, and has repotted every tree since 1984, hundreds and hundreds. I have never forgotten where it came from, and it was given to me out of friendship. It’s just a stick, but to me it’s much more, it’s a reminder of friendship from a man now gone, but not forgotten.

Now many years later and I too have made sticks for many years. The first ones I was making were basically a jazzed up chop stick. Laminated and thicker than a chop stick and about 12 inches long. It was good used as a chop stick but that’s about it.

About 20 years ago I started making these. Much larger and only ten inches long. I have made a dozen or so at a time and take them to conventions and the Shohin seminar. They start out as about 3/4 sq wood scraps from stand building. The woods range from black walnut, english walnut, padauk, lace wood, cherry and mahogany. I start by thinning the stick one way. Ok I was drunk, the sander will fix that…..don’t worry.

Then I quarter turn it and sharpen it the other way, but much more shallow. This is done on the band saw and the blade wanders in the hard wood. I could switch to a thicker wider blade that don’t flex but I’m lazy, OK there I said it.

This is about what it looks like before sanding.

I have a large bench sander not in the picture but it will give you a really short manicure in about 4.6 seconds. Those in the front are the raw sticks and those stacked on the green lid are cut to be sanded. My garage is full of saw dust for the ones I made to take to Shohin. These are the ones I made for the meeting. The orange sawdust is from the African Padauk it’s bad but not as bad as Bocotte or Cocobolo. That became a trip to the hospital.

I’m allergic to the sawdust from the ones made of wood from Africa or Austrailia. I have no antibodies because the trees don’t grow here. My eyes puff up, water and I itch everywhere.

At the Shohin Seminar I ran into lots of friends I hadn’t seen for many years. I haven’t made these sticks for ten years. Just to many medical things going on in my life and no time for things I like to do. In this case Adair Martin from Georgia is choosing the one he wants from the stash.

These things are real Dracula Daggers and if your lucky, you might just win one at the meeting tomorrow! These things can tear up a root ball in no time, and they will pry a stubborn trees out of a pot, I have many times.

Posted February 7, 2020 by California Bonsai Art in Repotting

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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.

Cutting Back an Old Pyracantha   1 comment


This pyracantha was taken from the parking lot of a shopping center under demolition. I dug five and have two left. Two didn’t make it and one I traded for another piece of material. They were taken in the heat of summer and for a pyracantha that would be great for a repot on a tree with great roots, but these were basically ripped from the ground to stay ahead of the demo equipment. That two survived is a miracle. When I dug this tree I intended for it to be a shohin size tree. It seemed quite small, but 16 years ago my idea on how tall a Shohin tree should be was larger than 8 inches!

It began to bounce back and started pushing green things. This large tub, probably twenty gallon, has a lot of fluff over the top of the soil. Mostly dead leaves from the trees it is under.

Within two years I had put it into it’s first pot. It was during this time that I made the five walnut stands. The dark spot on the right side of the trunk is about the line that was shown above sticking out of the soil. The interesting part now showing was buried. The tree is about 12 inches tall.

In 2006 I repotted in another pot. This one was a tad too small. Branches are beginning to elongate.

In 2007 it went into a different pot. This one was deeper but still on the small side. At this point I was trying to develop layers in the branch structure. At this point I should have paid more attention to structure rather than outline.

In 2008 I purchased this pot from Kanemi Muranaka. I wish I had it back but it had a hairline crack in it and I sold it with a plant many years ago. That same stand finished.

This is typical two month growth. Lots of shoots that can be trained but cutting them back short needs to be done almost daily. A working man hardly has a chance. The thorns makes this like pruning a rattlesnake.

In 2011 I put it into this large shallow oval pot. Unglazed in a dark brown. I liked this pot and had it been finely glazed I would have kept it in this container.

In 2017 I potted into this Tanibanchi pot from Garrett Ryan.

In Spring of 2018 I entered it into the local Kazari exhibition. The year of the teal stand!


Its been 17 years since any major work has been done to this tree. Most of the branches have grown very large and that is mostly due to the growing nature of the material. Since pyracantha grow from any where on wood, new or old, they constantly send out shoots. The shoots they send out tend to be almost always on the upper part of the branch , straight up. It is very time consuming constantly pruning off this unwanted growth in favor of side shoots. The side shoots are sparse and seem to be sub dominate.

Pyracantha is an evergreen and never stops growing. It may slow down in winter, but it does grow. I started by removing all the leaves so I can evaluate all the options. At this point, the top portion with leaves is where I want the canopy to finish, at just the line between no leaves and leaves. I just feel the tree continues to get taller and I don’t like the long neck the tree is developing.

Looking at dead center upper middle we see this thin tall straight section.

This section right here. For me this is tremendously distracting and a part of the tree that always bothered me, but did not know how to correct it due to the nature of how the tree is made.

If I rotate the pot about 15 degrees to the right I can see how the top is put together. There are two distinct branches that make up this crown.

The part in red comes off low on the back of the trunk, and it has a little wiggle in there. The branch in blue, jut out just above the jin portion of the trunk since collection. It moves out right and becomes a primary branch. So all along it has never really been as simple as just cutting it down, because there is nothing to cut down to. One would actually remove everything and start over, which is something I never wanted to do. There is something in there I can show at least so that is a goal to work towards.

Pyracantha’s really never build a twiggy branch structure. They build foliage by shoots. They will shoot all over branches and for the most part straight up. This close up shows all the stubs sticking straight up.

These areas had become clogged with foliage and were not tidy. I will make it my job to fix these areas and build finer branch structure here.

At this point I have done some really invasive pruning. Taking out heavy growth that is doing noting other than elongating branches and adding nothing to the composition other than just increasing size. My wish is to force more lateral branching on the heavy branches I will keep in favor of the straight up type of growth. I am hoping that being retired will give me the time to keep this up, and after a season or two I may have three pyracantha for sale! In this view I have reduced the top and turned the tree to show that double area in the middle that gives a thicker impression rather than the straight bottle neck I had. It’s not perfect but I can’t go lower, so find a better view.

Here is the same view head on and the thin bottle neck. Just scroll back and fourth and see the difference.

Now I have really gotten crazy and reduced the top even further. I still wanted the tree shorter and I am whittling it down.

I needed to get this in a pot so I could see what I was working with on a new front. The pot was really full of roots after two years. The roots had pulled the screen right out of the holes and a full 1/2 inch of roots between the screens and pot bottom.

The tree is repotted and this is the new view. I like seeing the better transition between the trunk and the apex. It seems to have some shaped wood there rather than a 5 inch long straight section.

I just can’t stop. Each time I take a photo, I see places where I don’t wish to try and build on portions that are too long. I want finer branching in closer to the trunk and not so far out. I am getting closer.

This branch is really distracting. Covered with foliage it would barely be seen. I would know it’s there. I have taken off so much, I can’t leave it when I have the pruners in hand.

So I have covered all the aspects of the flaws I wished to work on this go around. I have changed the front to show the two branches that make up that straight area that wasn’t seen before. I have pruned back all the areas that were clogged with overly long foliage shoots and a multitude of straight up shoot stubs.

Keeping the right side shorter and the left side longer for slanting tree counter balance.

The obligatory drama shot.

So what ever happened to all those branches that I cut off?

I pushed them all into a colnader of soil and will hope they all take as cuttings. Some of the branches were over seven inches long and made ready made trees with wire and sub branches still on them. Then some of them were only a couple inches long, but if they root will make some little Shito trees for a collection of pots I have.

This is the collection of Shito Thumb pots I have. Some of those little trees may look pretty cool in one of these.

Pyracantha being a pretty masculine tree will look right at home in this Ken To “Man Sack” pot!

New pot for an old Friend   3 comments

This Trident maple has been the subject of many articles here but this time it will get a new pot. Re potting here startes early, like in January. This tree wtill has Christmas ornaments on it from the previous month.

The tree is lifted from the pot and a thick matt of roots are starting to move already. This tree is so vigorous it must be re potted each year as the roots lift the tree from the thin pot.

I remove a full two inch ring from the tree and comb out the roots.


The new pot is from Robert Pressler and Kimura Bonsai in Southern California. It is a sky blue Chinese bag pot. Trying the pot for size. I like it!

Drainage layer.

Soil layer with 30 percent coarse fir bark.

Watering it in…

The beauty shot.

At the recent Fresno Home and Garden Show March 2017.

Juniper Winter Work   6 comments

I have worked on many shimpaku and other species juniper over the winter. Many were restyled and re-potted.

Mas Ishii Shimpaku

This first tree is a tree I purchased in 2002. It had been a very beautiful tree but I managed to ruin it over the years. It has escaped death numerous times from spider mite and pinching misfortunes. This is the tree in 2005 after escaping death twice.

Another few years and more rattyness.

A few more years and even less green left.

Left to grow for a few years to get strong and now it may be ready for a restyle….at least with whats left.

Restyled and repotted in a glazed Bunzan.

George Muranaka prostrata.

This tree was purchased in Nov. of 2014. It was left to grow for a couple years and then a first styling was begun.

Cleaned up and put into a first pot.

part of the canopy would be removed and jinned entirely.

Re grow and then style whats left.

George Muranaka Shimpaku

I purchased this tree from George around 2006. Once again it suffered from spider mite and my lack of awareness on how to take good care of the species.

Left to grow and a re style and then a repot. Looks like this now and is growing quite well.

Benny Kim (Kim’s Bonsai) procumbens.

The tree is on the left and purchased in 2002. It had a good trunk about two inches across.

Lots of jins on this one and some carving.

A first styling

Starting to look pretty good.

A new direction for this one. It had started to slump really bad due to the roots giving up on one side. Time to turn it upright.

Done…for now.

Steve DaSilva Procumbens.

These were struck as small plants and wired and twisted up. Planted in a field for a few years and dug up in 2015.

I would use the stock as a demo at the Fresno Home and Garden show in 2016

As it sits today.

Ed Clark Shimapku

This tree came by way of Ed Clark from Bonsai Northwest in Washington State. I kept it for a year making sure it was good for a repot in 2017.

Ready for some work.

It was removed from its growing container and combed out. Root structure was fairly small like most junipers but was rather one sided. I wnted to plant it into a signature Begei pot I had and felt that once planted here it could stay for a while. The one sided root meant it was planted well off center but will be fixed later when new roots go and allow for more diligent root pruning.

Now for the style part.

There is a large looping jin that comes over the top of the tree. The shoot I wish to be the apex is in front of that jin. I need to get it behind.

So…with some praying and bending and pulling I ease the jin around the shoot.

Now I am happy with the position of everything and can start the details.

More pruning and removing everything I don’t want. That should mean I have only the things I do want. Good in theory and poor in practise….

After some wire and manipulation I am able to coex a pretty decent tree out of the aftermath. Next year I will concentrate on managing shoot strength and how to treat possible shari on the trunk….or not!

Mas Ishii Shimpaku

I purchased this tree from Gary Ishii in 2004. Like all my shimpaku I battled the spider mites with fury. Mostly they seem to win but never kill the tree but ruin it for many years till successive cut backs get rid of grey and yellow foliage.

This style took place in 2010 after the tree had recovered for many years. It was planted into a Sarah Rayner shallow glazed bunjin pot.

This winter the tree underwent another re style and pot change. This time into a heavily patinanted Bunjin Begei.

….then the styling

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