Kathy Shaner – Repotting Your Bonsai

On January 23, 2018, we conducted our first meeting and demonstration of the new year, featuring club sensei Kathy Shaner. Kathy arranged for an exciting and fun hands-on repotting workshop, where four club members were given the opportunity to repot their own bonsai under her guidance and instruction. Kathy approached the demonstration like her advanced workshops, moving from one club member to the next, giving her expert instruction to each and ensuring the proper steps were taken.

Repotting bonsai at regular intervals is critical to the health of your bonsai. Each step taken ensures the repotting is done correctly. In general, you determine if the bonsai requires repotting. By examining the roots, you can assess whether the roots are circling themselves which will eventually grow thick enough to displace the soil and water causing the tree to starve and die. The usual season for repotting in Northern California is December through March. This is the time for less activity and growth and the bonsai is impacted by less shock. Some bonsai, for example the tropical ficus, like early spring. Remove the old soil. Deciduous can be bare rooted. However, never bare root a conifer all at once. Comb the surface roots using a chopstick, root hook or rack to radiate from the trunk. Gently disentangle the roots if they have grown thick and in to each other. Remove some of the bonsai’s roots. Remove long roots and downward growing roots. Use a sharp root scissors and cut away any damaged or dead roots. After cutting away the proper portion of roots, position the bonsai in its pot. There should be a layer of soil mix in the bottom of the pot. A common bonsai soil mix contains Akadama from Japan, lava rock and pumice. Ensure the pot holes have been covered with plastic screens and have tie down wires BEFORE placing any soil mix in the pot. Work the soil mix gently around the bonsai roots and make sure the trunk and roots are secured with tie down wires. Add additional soil mix and work it in to be sure to eliminate any air pockets. Water the repotted bonsai. This will clean out any fines and settle the soil mix and hydrate the bonsai as well.


Repotting your bonsai will keep it from being root bound and starving to death. It won’t keep bonsai small, but fresh soil mix will help feed it new nutrients and allow it to grow and be healthy.

An Evening with Sensei Kathy Shaner – Redwood Demonstration

On November 28, 2017, the Redwood Empire Bonsai Society (REBS) was treated to a wonderful and informative demonstration by our club’s sensei, Kathy Shaner, who worked on a collected California Coastal Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens). The redwood was collected and containerized about three years ago by Zack and Bob Shimon of Mendocino Coast Bonsai, Point Arena, California.

Almost all the members present for the demonstration have at least one redwood in their personal bonsai collections. The California Coastal Redwood is also the club’s logo bonsai and an inspiration to all.

Kathy began her demonstration with “finding the treasure within the tree.” Of course, this search begins with close examination of the nebari or surface roots at the base of the tree. Then, a look at the base trunk and all of the deadwood features this demonstration redwood tree had to offer. The entire trunk of the tree was hollowed out with open spaces to peer through the deadwood. Next, what is the flow of direction the tree has to show the viewer? Kathy said she likes to follow these features in styling the bonsai. Some bonsai artists use drawings and sketches to style their trees and oftentimes force their ideas on to the tree. She felt it was better for her to follow the natural beauty and growth features offered by the tree, instead.

A redwood bonsai requires a lot of attention in order to keep the tree compact with needles about one quarter of an inch in length as most desirable. Kathy pointed out that the demonstration tree was purchased in August 2017, and that it showed healthy growth in the needles. She said in order to obtain the quality of fine, short needles one has to stay on top of pinching the smallest new growth throughout its growing season. New growth starts in the spring and lasts through the fall. Pinch with your finger nails or a tweezers early to avoid the lengthy needles.

Kathy removed some of the largest branches on the demonstration redwood. About one half inch to one inch of the branch remained on the trunk. She described the lower leaves at the base lie flat for gathering maximum sunlight. The leaves at the tops of redwoods are spiral for maximum sunlight. These top leaves also catch the moisture from fog. She left the bottom branches with some length and wired them to create movement. This movement is more on the inside than on the outer tips. At the top, Kathy wanted to wire the leaves upward, a more natural appearance.

Kathy discussed cleaning the darkened softwood at various locations, using a variety of wire and soft fiber brushes. The darkened softwood would rot if left on the tree. In addition, the brushing and removal of the darkened softwood will expose the beautiful redwood grain.

She noticed a portion of deadwood showing saw marks and so by using the proper cutters or pliers the saw marks were removed leaving a more natural looking jin.

When wiring the smaller branches, Kathy wired between the needles. Otherwise, the branches would be left curled together and making a home for pests. Kathy explained that removing too much foliage from the redwood at one time would stress it too much and risk its healthy growth. She left some branches long to grow out and help strengthen a thin life line on one section of the tree.

Kathy talked about repotting in the spring. Otherwise, one could wait until a year later to place the redwood into a bonsai pot. Note that Bob Shimon said the redwood has been in the same nursery container for the past three years and that it should be placed into a larger container to allow the roots space to grow.

Kurt Kieckhefer won the redwood demonstration in a raffle.

Fundraising for the Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt’s GRO Project

The Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt (BGLM) has been raising funds for its Garden Revitalization Project (GRO) for months. To date, over 50% of the $100,000 goal has been contributed to revitalizing our Bonsai Garden museum. But, there is more to do. This project aims to upgrade the display benches and stands, watering system, pathways, add windows and much more, in order to meet the challenges of caring for and maintaining the historic and legacy bonsai collection in a professional and museum quality manner.

BGLM has recently initiated a commemorative brick fundraising drive in which individuals, clubs and businesses can purchase a variety of laser engraved bricks for $150, $250 or $500, and the proceeds will help fund the GRO Project. The engraved bricks will last a lifetime and rest in a place of honor at the entrance to the Bonsai Garden. For information on the bricks click here: Commemorative Bricks.

Another method of contributing funds to the GRO Project is to simply donate any amount through the Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt’s crowd funding website – YouCaring.

Your help is greatly appreciated!