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Updates 2020   Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

II

III

 IV

This pomegranate is also a recent addition

 

Posted March 15, 2020 by California Bonsai Art in Uncategorized

Got an Extra Week!   2 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It really does get good red color in the fall.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted February 15, 2020 by California Bonsai Art in Uncategorized

How Many Pots?   3 comments

Trident Maple, Kims Bonsai, Phelan Ca.

2002

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

2004

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

2004

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

2007

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

2008

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

2008

2011

2015

2015

2017

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

2018

2018

2020

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

Posted February 11, 2020 by California Bonsai Art in Uncategorized

The Student – Instructor Paradigm   Leave a comment

Paradigm

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

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

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

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

  • Do I want a deciduous tree or a conifer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free Trees by root cuttings

Root cuttings this year for more free trees. 

Free trees from seed.

Trees purchased for very little money

FBS Yard sale $35.00

Gazebo Gardens $45.00

Muranaka $100.00

Ed Clark $20.00

Fbs Yard sale $35.00

Ed Clark 45.00

Gazebo Gardens 30.00

Bonsai-a-thon $110.00

FBS Yard sale $60.00

Posted February 10, 2020 by California Bonsai Art in Uncategorized

Bougainvillea/Serendipity   2 comments

I purchased this Bougainvillea from a nursery. The variety is rosenko, and the bracts bloom orange and turn hot pink over the months. This had a great trunk on this small plant and I thought it would make a nice flowering tree for my stable.

So I pruned it down to this deciding that I didn’t want to start building branches on the heavy wood. I feel smaller is better. Being a vine it will be a process of cutting off everything each fall anyway and starting over each year.

Today I decided to take this bougainvillea out of the nursery container and transplant it. I have read as much as I could about them and from what I read, I am in deep trouble. Bougs don’t like to have their roots messed with..at all. All the literature says to gently remove them, even going so far as saying to break the pot rather than disturb the roots, to remove them from their container. Being the heathen that I am, I just wanted to see what was in the can. As I laid the can on it’s side and rolled it like I usually do, the whole plant just fell out of the can. It was a in a terribly wet sawdust mix that was very soggy and not very good at drainage. This is typical of nursery plants and saves money. In the photo below, we see this huge twisting root coming out of the bottom of the plant.

The trunk is the lighter part and the root is off to the bottom left all twisted in a circle. I was shocked when the soil fell off. What a monster root.

I began clipping other roots off the trunk and saving these aside for planting. So far, I can’t find anything on the bougs and propagating them from root cuttings. I know jasmine, and wisteria will propagate from root cuttings and I remember my Brother in law had a huge one, in fact three of them at each post of his patio. They climbed the posts and ran along the eve of the patio and bloomed every year. I remember the roots being exposed would always have little plants on them. My late wife would always try and cut some off and I always lost them in the car and she forgot about them when we got home, I did not want to plant any of this on my house. She thought it was beautiful, I thought it was a problem for the house.

So I planted out the big root. Tomorrow I will construct a fence around it and back fill it with medium to keep it from drying out.

The small tree was planted into this Jim Barrett pot. I bought this pot from Jim when I went to my first convention. I think that was around 1986.

The rest of the smaller cuttings were planted into a container for growing. I have no idea if they will grow, but we will soon see.

Posted February 5, 2020 by California Bonsai Art in Uncategorized

Working on Beauty Berry   3 comments

I purchased this small Beauty Berry from Tak Shimazu at the 2020 Shohin Seminar. I chose this one due to the configuration of the roots and the ability to manipulate it into a Neagari style tree. The main feature was short trunk and long roots. There were others and they all had longer trunks which is hard to make look correct for this style.

This is the tree pulled from the pot, and all the roots teased out. Lots of roots and separating each of the larger roots from the whole mass turned into quite a job. I was able to do that and trim each root of root hairs down to the same level on each. I want all the roots to become stilts holding this tree up, and root hairs on the larger roots detract.

I didn’t take as many pictures as I usually do and this is it for now. Each root has been wired and shaped for the future. All the wire on the trunk is nothing but an anchor for each wire running down each root. All the roots are shaped and have a bend mid way to add interest. In this picture it is planted deep to continue growing but the roots below the soil level have a bend.

Under the soil they look much like this. Yes this little damn tree was 70.00 bucks! I am definitely in the wrong business.

Posted February 2, 2020 by California Bonsai Art in Uncategorized

More Seeds   Leave a comment

I have one more package of seeds coming for the year, but this one came yesterday while I was at the seminar. Will get these planted today. The last one to come are the Kinzu, Kumquat. They are coming from China, should be here by the end of the week.

These are all species fairly hard to find.

Posted February 2, 2020 by California Bonsai Art in Uncategorized

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