Archive for the ‘nebari’ Tag

How can I make my bonsai look old?   Leave a comment

I have been asked this question many times. The easy answer is start with an old tree. This can be accomplished thru many ways. Start with old material from someone else. Start with collected material from nature. Maybe start with an older tree from a growing field. This material may not look old from the get go, but the trunk and branches may already have the older bark or patina of age such as rotted scars and dead stub of old branches. This gets us moving in the right direction.

So what is the image we wish to produce? For me, I think some of the native oaks in my foot hills moves me in the right direction. This image can be conveyed on many species of material.  Good for maple, pyracantha, elm, oak, and many fruit and nut trees.

What is it that these trees have in common? Sagging heavy branches. The sheer weight and the decades of age have weakened the branches and moved them downward from the sheer force of gravity. Just one of the large oak branches extending outward and 25 feet long could weigh as much as a 1000 pounds. The tree is just not equipped to handle that much weight extended out that far from the trunk.

The tree didn’t always look like this? As a tree sprouts fourth from the ground it grows straight up and fast. It need the sun to make food and so builds branches fast. This tree is young and the branches grow outward in an effort to see it’s own sun. They are young and do not weigh much at this point and the wood is strong and able to handle the load. Notice on the trees below that the branches are still upright and show youth in their feeling.

How might this process look thru the decades? It would look much like this below. One of the things to notice is that even though the older tree has sagging branches, notice that the attachment to the trunk will often show the angle of the branch when it was young. It will show the signs of growing upright, and then sagging from the weight often showing a bowing fashion.

Showing our branches bent in a downward fashion is a sure fire quick way to introduce age in a bonsai. Other than a broom shaped bonsai I can’t think of another reason to have all upright shaped branches. Sure some near the top being young could exhibit this phenomenon, but most of the lower half of the tree would exhibit bent down branches. Dan Robinson has used this technique to his advantage over the years by exaggerating the bent down gnarly branching he is known for. For me there are too many small branches in the top of the tree showing too much age, and it would not be very effective to have a large number of small branches in the top sagging? But the contrast of dead wood against the lush foliage is dramatic.

This elm makes good use of lower branches beginning to sag. While most of the tree looks young, there is just enough sag to convey the image of age. A very good use of aging technique.

Drop branches are a dramatic and interesting way to convey age. Of course the tree could not support the weight of the length and so sagged. Though still alive, it becomes part of the story.

Drop branches can also be jin. They don’t need to be alive to help tell the story. Many times I have wired a branch after I have stripped it of bark and bent it into a drop branch to help show age.

Here I have wired a branch after the jinning and have used it to move downwards to help convey age.

This pine has multiple techniques to help convey age. Not only are the branches sagging downward, we have the look and feel of the aged bark. Heavily plated bark on a pine is a great way to help assure the illusion of age. It does take many years to achieve that look and so it is a true indicator of it’s age.

Another indicator of age is a flat spreading nebari (root mass). These examples show the pancake nebari that some in Japan specialize in. These dinner plate roots take many decades of work to achieve and although the branches may not droop, they don’t have to because the roots and ramification in this case say all there is to say. I’m old!

Have fun guys and gals

Ted Matson Workshop at the Round Valley Nursery   Leave a comment

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

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





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








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





This was some of the people from the afternoon session.




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


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




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



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



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


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



The tree was pruned and wired.

DSC_00820082 (2)

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






Realville gets a makeover   10 comments

This trident goes by the name Realville. Some day I wish to add small metal tags to the trees and number them so I know which ones are witch. Until that day I just name them. Not all of them have names but sooner or later something comes to me and it sticks. The name comes from the title of a blog post here I did a couple years ago. A search on the home page with “realville” should pull it up.

What I wish to do for this tree is shorten it up to maybe work as shohin. I think it will work but it will take a couple years to achieve. As it stands, the tree has a pretty good trunk and good taper. It has a terrible nebari and even though I tried to graft whips to the bottom, they failed and the base looks crappy still. I took the tree to a shohin study group I belong to hear and developed the plan.

So here is the measuring stick I made to measure at a glance the category a tree fits into. As we can see the tree is just about 1.5 inches too tall for shohin which is at the top of the orange portion.



I figure that if I layer the tree at the thickest part I can shorten the tree and put a better base on the tree in one throw.


Leaves fell off and the line is marked at the study group.



So today I carve a groove all the way around the base of the trunk at the line.


A large piece of wire is tied around the trunk. The wire is pounded into the trunk tissue and allowed to follow all the curves and indentations.


Once the wire is affixed a collar is made of plastic canvas for holding the soil.


A little bit about the soil. This is a bag of akadama I picked up several years ago…maybe about seven. I had no idea what it was that I had. When I opened it I was kinda like …”what the hell is this “.


The akadama is in round balls. Perfectly round balls. No broken edges, no rough sides, just smooth round balls. It is soft, very soft, and absorbs water like no bodies business. I mean it holds a lot of water. What’s really good about it is that being round, one can see in the picture all the shadows. It is about 60/40, akadama/air. It never compacts and allows perfect air exchange. This stuff grows roots so fast even I am shocked. No hormone here. I have used this on my large trident after the squirrels ate the nebari off and I had roots with this stuff in a collar like this in a few weeks. I have used this medium for all my layers thru the years and am on the look out for a bag to replace this one with. I have about 25% left. I’ll be back in 60 days and brush away some particles and we’ll see what we have.


Grow Stones and Maples   1 comment

Last year I did two trees as an experiment with the grow stones. Both trees were planted in 100 percent grow stones. I did a conifer that was ailing which would give me a visual indicator during the year if the increased air and drainage was worth the effort. I also did a group of five maples thru a disk with five holes to build a massive taper larger trident. I can say that while the conifer was actually improved and grew very well the trident while not suffering too badly did not thrive in my heat.

I planted the trees as they were in the growing pots about 14 inches tall. The trees wear about 3/4 inch across and were planted thru 1 1/4 inch holes drilled in a ceramic disk. The tree grew and managed to grow to about five feet tall which in itself is good, not good for what they should have done in a year around here. I should have had about nine feet of growth and a good increase in caliper.

All of the trees I planted into disks were left the height they were while they had been growing as single trees. The smaller ones I planted from the seeds the year before were about 10 inches tall. While the small ones did increase in size and layer at the disk intersection, I feel this was because the better and more moisture laden soil they grew in. They all grew in colanders so that part was equal as well.

This year the large group of five in individual holes will be planted into a much more humus rich soil mix. Based on trees grown in previous years, the trees should begin to fill the holes and layer off. I need each one to increase in girth by at least 50 percent to even touch each other and begin grafting. Should take about two more years to get to that point.

The most important part of this project is what was done for this year. Like the trees I did a decade ago, massive girth in the bottom third of the tree will only take place when the shoot emerges from the trunk low on the trunk. Let me explain. When a tree is expected to increase in size, sacrifice branches are used to achieve this. If a tree is 20 inches tall and the sacrifice is used from a bud that emerges from the trunk in the first inch above the soil, that shoot will increase the base of the trunk by a lot over a season. In fact this is a good way to improve reverse taper.

If a person is trying to achieve a large trunk and uses a shoot in the upper third of the trunk, all of the branches adjacent to the shoot will increase in size but the base of the trunk will hardly see any increase in size. Further, all increase in size happens below a sacrifice or adjacent to it. For this project on the large tree as well as the smaller projects I have going, I have cut back all the trunks on the groups of tree thru the plates down to about 2 -3 inches. The larger project was cut down to about 4 inches. This cut back will force all the energy into only the four inches of trunk and swell a lot. If I left the trunks 5 feet long the shoots would only increase the trunks right out on the ends of the trunks, 14 inches away from the holes I need to fill. With the trunks now only four inches tall, the new shoots will direct all the energy into the trunks and they should swell to fill the holes by June. The tree was checked and the buds are swelling and now is the right time to cut the canes. this will now force all the energy into the bottom.





This is how much larger the trees have to grow to fill the holes and begin layering.


The roots have been covered with a layer of the grow stones as well as what above the tile. just from the fact of being covered with soil the trunks will begin to emit roots.



Here are the five trunks cut back and ready for next years growth.


All the trunks were cut back to shoots or buds on the trunk. this is the safest method to insure the trunk will take off when the sap is on the rise.





Here are some of the other baskets of maples with the trunks all cut back ready for spring. These are all the seedligs I did under the screen. They have good movement as a benifit from the screen.





This is one of the larger seedlings done from the same batch. It is amazing how fast they grow if they are not stuted by having screen thrown over them. the squirrels did a number on this root connected pair as can be seen in the close up.






Bonsai Tips with Justin Case   Leave a comment

Let me introduce myself, my name is Justin….Justin Case. I have been retained by the bunker to find the tips, bonsai tips that may help in the pursuit of bonsai.

This first tip is from Fresno Ca. A crafty fellow out there doing bonsai…”His Way” has this to say about new material.

Safety Cuts, use um or lose um.

What is a safety cut. Well to his way of thinking, safety cuts should and can be used throughout the year on any material for a number of reasons. When purchasing new stock, safety cuts should be made straight away on the material for two reasons.

1. it will give one an idea on how well it responds to pruning

2. it will give one idea how well it buds on old wood.

Why is this important? Knowing how stock responds to pruning is how we go about styling a tree. Styling a tree with a species that responds well by stimulating new growth after pruning allows one to be more aggressive with styling ideas. Knowing how a species responds to pruning and the stimulation of buds on old wood means more aggressive styling can be done by removing unwanted growth at the tips with the assurance that it will back bud appropriately. I know from experience and many safety cuts on Pyracantha that I can prune all the way to the soil and it will bud aggressively. The same can be said with Cotoneaster and pomegranate. On the other hand, trident maples will only bud back on old wood if the cut is made back to a live bud. Beheading a trident will probably kill the tree, while beheading an elm can start the process over again and a whole new tree can be built.

Even conifers can benefit from safety cuts since many times an awkward branch that is too large can be pruned back to the trunk area leaving a stub an inch long, and even with no green on it, will sprout new growth adjacent to the stub from the collar. Cut the branch off flush and no bud growth. The stub keeps the area viable long enough for the buds to stimulate and new growth to start. This technique can also be used over a period of a few years to push growth back closer to the trunk by making safety cuts each year. After the first cut is made one will have an idea how deep the next years cut can be made and how the tree will respond by adding new foliage in deeper where we want rather than out on the tips where we don’t.

Safety cuts on stock being grown out for bonsai material can also benefit from this method. In my technique for growing tridents with larger trunks, I grow during the season and defoliate in fall. after leaf removal the tree is allowed to keep all its long growth, in spring the tree is spur pruned.

What is a spur prune? A spur prune is a term used in the growth of grapes. To spur prune is to leave a small portion of last years growth for the cane to grow from. many grapes grow from the trunk and do not require a spur. In fact the canes are better grown from the trunk each year since the cane becomes exhausted. Some grapes do not push forth growth from the trunk and require a spur for next years growth. Grape bonsai should be made with a variety that requires spur pruning so as to not have the bonsai styles branches cut from the stump each year. Muskat grapes work well for this.

Back to the tridents, so in spring the canes of the tree are cut back to the trunk area leaving a spur, maybe an inch long. This spur will sprout and add tremendous girth and scar tissue to the base of the tree.

What happens if we cut back a cane in spring and it does not shoot?

This means that the spur was too short and the tree had no bud wood on the spur to shoot. The way we correct this is to make a safety cut back in the fall after we removed the leaves. Cut the cane down to about 6 inches of the base of the tree. This will allow the tree to generate the bud areas for next years growth. In spring when the buds begin to swell this small six-inch long cane will have a multitude of buds on it. It will have a bud at every bud ring on whats left of the trunk. Then after the leaves come out and develop into two pairs, the six-inch long stubs can be reduced to the short spurs by cutting down to the first bud on the shoot you left and it will continue on and grow from there creating girth and swell to the point that in mid summer there will no longer be a spur there. It will become just a shoot on the new larger trunk mass and melt into the new base you are building.



If one studies these two photos one can see that the second picture shows the long spur that was left the year before has now become part of the flare of the base of this trunk. The shoot that grew from it can be seen in the pic also. This will be pruned out again this year and the whole process started over again in spring.

Make those safety cuts early so the tree will respond as you like……Justin Case


Five Trees in a Hole Update   7 comments

This project is what lead to the five hole on the plate project. When I started these it was my wish to have some material to work with that I could never buy, these are just projects that one just has to do for yourself. So far this project is really coming along. I started this project one year before those on the plate, which is a larger project and will make a larger tree. This  project will be a small tree as it was simply an experiment to get my feet wet. This tree was planted on an inverted  terra cotta water saucer. This tree was planted in my regular ALP (akadama, lava, pumice) mix and watered and fertilized profusely.



As I was getting close to fall of 2013 I took a peek of what I had. Looked pretty damn good to me. I had never did this so this was pretty exciting.


In winter of 2014 around Feb. I do my repotting. This was what it looked like after washing off all the gravel. I paid special attention to getting as much embedded rock out of the trunk as I could. I didn’t want embedded stones in the growth.


Two of the shoots were cut back to a low bud in an attempt to change direction of a couple as well as give some taper to two of what would be larger trees later. Study this picture becuae what happens is paramount to growing a base.


This is the tree now, Fall 2014. Pay attention to the scar at the base. Notice how it is part of the base now. The stubs were left close to an inch long above the base I had last year. Now the trunk has used the condensed energy of the cut short shoots so close to the base to cause it to swell more than it would naturaly. This is the same technique I used to build the trunks on the three little pig trident sumo shohin maples. It is a grow all year, cut back to a short stub in spring and grow out again. Scarring at the base will add girth quickly.  This year at repot I will pick two from the opposite side and cut them back short and do it all over again. I have roots beginning to fuse in only two years.


When the repot is done the top plate of roots will be cut back very short to maintain a small size suitable for a shohin pot. The tree at this time still has its base under the plate and can sustain a pretty good cut back to the roots and still have enough energy to sprout at all the cut tips. The red lines on the two trunks show which two will be cut this next season. Make sure a cut is made above a suitable node so it will bud, other wise you may loose the trunk in that spot.




Cutting Down for Shohin   1 comment

In Fresno here a group of us have decided to start a Shohin Study Group. This group will obviously be for the study of smaller trees but will also be good for those that have smaller Kifu sized trees that would like to fit into the Shohin catagory in size but have no idea how to get them down to that size. For the first meeting I have made this handy dandy measuring stick. It has all the sizes that I will ever encounter in bonsai. I do not for see having a bonsai larger than 40 inches.

What are the sizes that bonsai fall under?

Bonsai Size Classification

Keishi Bonsai (thumb size) – Up to 1 inch (2.5 cm) in height

Shito Bonsai (very small) – Up to 3 inch (7.5 cm) in height

Mame Bonsai (mini) – Up to 6 inch (15 cm) in height

Shohin Bonsai (small) – Up to 8 inch (20 cm) in height

Kifu Sho Bonsai (medium) – Up to 16 inch (40.5 cm) in height

Chu Bonsai (medium large) – Up to 24 (61 cm) inch in height

Dai Bonsai (large) – Up to 40 (101.5 cm) inch in height

There is a classification for Imperial Bonsai which are six man bonsai over 40 inches tall. This stick now can be placed in a pot and I know instantly where my tree stacks up. Many times a person will have a tree that seems to fit the Shohin size limits but has to planted out into a larger dish due to a root system that is not compact enough to fit in the proper size dish.

A properly size Shohin should fit into a dish no longer than 7 inches no deeper than 1.5 inches. 1.5 inches is in my opinion even a little too deep to really look like a Shohin sized pot. I started working this tree over with the purchase in 2010. I started an article about here. During that time I made a virtual of where I would like to see the tree in a few years. After grafting on a few branches and working on thread grafting roots, only one of which took, I decided that this tree might be better served if it were a little shorter. This is how the tree started in 2010. No branches just a trunk with little movement.


I was able to grow out the top and get some movement back the other way. Even this subtle movement will help with the dynamicism of the tree.


This was the virtual I made in 2013 when I grafted on a the two branches on the trunk. I had grafted branches onto the base to help rebuild the undercutting I had there. Only one took and it was in the worst place of the four and did nothing to build any girth there. I did succeed in getting the two trunk grafts to take and make the first branch and one higher up in the canopy on the left.


So today I looked the tree over and have come up with a radical plan for the base of this tree. I will begin building that in the coming weeks so that I can install it this spring. If I can get done soon enough I may start it now and see if it sprouts around the base. This is the stick i built for sizing my trees.




This is the tree today. It has filled nicely and the canopy is pretty much a dead ringer for the virtual.


When I put the stick beside it, we can see that it is about 1.5 inches taller than a Shohin and well within the Kifu range. The tree now would easily fit into a Shohin pot since the root base is very compact and the basket has air pruned the roots really well this year.


The new plan is to ground layer the tree right at the area where I can take maximum advantage of the larger trunk base. I plant make a terra cotta plate for the tree and then saw it in half. Grind half a hole in each half to fit the trunk after I peel it and then wire it together. The trees base will be covered with soil and as the roots grow there will be a plate to grow on and should have a good sized flat root spread.


All this and more at the bunker this spring.






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