Got an Extra Week!   2 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It really does get good red color in the fall.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted February 15, 2020 by California Bonsai Art in Uncategorized

How Many Pots?   3 comments

Trident Maple, Kims Bonsai, Phelan Ca.


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


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


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


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


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






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




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

Posted February 11, 2020 by California Bonsai Art in Uncategorized

The Student – Instructor Paradigm   Leave a comment


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

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

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

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

  • Do I want a deciduous tree or a conifer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free Trees by root cuttings

Root cuttings this year for more free trees. 

Free trees from seed.

Trees purchased for very little money

FBS Yard sale $35.00

Gazebo Gardens $45.00

Muranaka $100.00

Ed Clark $20.00

Fbs Yard sale $35.00

Ed Clark 45.00

Gazebo Gardens 30.00

Bonsai-a-thon $110.00

FBS Yard sale $60.00

Posted February 10, 2020 by California Bonsai Art in Uncategorized

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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Cork Elm, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly   1 comment


The Good

This elm was dug in 2015, and was grown out in a field. It was pruned and shaped for taper but was dome in segment unfortunately What this does is branches but from one area on the trunk and they are grown all year and a bump forms, then in the fall a leader is chosen and it grows another segment and buds push and another bump is formed and so on.

Showing all the growth segments. Each one has formed a ball of cork, each one getting small forming some taper, but it is intermittent.

I played with it for a few years to no avail.

I felt the best thing to do would be to layer off the top and at least get a good shohin tree out of it.

The layer is removed and is now on it’s own roots, lack luster as they may be, it’s a  waiting game now.

The Bad

The middle portion of the trunk was cut away and only the base and roots saved. The rest was thrown away. The base portion has been planted in it’s own container for grow out. Much of the trunk was sawn away at an angle to induce some shape in the stump. Later on if it grows well the sawed portion can be carved into something unique, a deadwood feature of sorts.

The bad news is that with no other branches except what is left on top, the trunk below the sawed portion will probably die. Only the part of the trunk with a living something above it will continue to live. The water lines will dry up and will leave a stump like I have drawn with the red portion still alive and the blue area dead. Now if the stump pushes buds out of the old wood and really tries to save itself, it could continue living. That means branches could come out of the trunk below my cut line. In contrast the layer to the right has branches all the way around the cut portion so it has a much better chance at keeping an entire live trunk. On the other hand, since it only grew roots in three places around the trunk, it is those places that will remain alive and branches above the vacant area of roots will wither and die.

The Ugly

The stump if it lives and pushed growth could look like this ugly rendition of an elm. I may change my strategy if it grows on top and pushes buds out of the old wood. If it does, I will have to draw a new virtual of my idea.

Posted February 7, 2020 by California Bonsai Art in Styling Trees

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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 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

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