Demonstration by Matthew Walker – Collected Sierra Juniper

This month’s demonstration was performed by Matthew Walker. Matthew worked on a collected Sierra juniper. The yamadori material had been collected three years prior. Matthew shared that these Sierra junipers are found at elevations between 6800’ and 8200’. The tree was presently in a plastic bonsai training pot planted in three equal parts Akadama, pumice and lava rock. Showing its signature blue, green, gray foliage, it was ready for its first styling. The original starting size of the tree was one hand lifting Katade-mochi size approximately 14” wide and 10” tall. The interesting and powerful material was at one point attached to a larger tree. As the styling progressed, the completed tree ended up more compact; ending up in the Komano small size approximately 9” in diameter and 10” tall. As with the first styling of most trees the challenge of finding the front and angle of the tree presented a few options. With ample dead wood and live life lines from the 3” trunk and slightly wider nebari to the curved 4” Y above, the front highlighting theses desirable attributes was determined.

The next decision to be made was the form of a somewhat larger 8” long primary branch curving away from the main trunk and extending parallel about 6” above the soil line. This branch would prove to be a challenge since its connection to the Y and main trunk was showing signs of splitting and being too thick to bend. The verdict was to reduce its length and to jin the branch to approximately 4”. Matthew pointed out that the base of jin should have angles and taper which gives it a more natural look as opposed to a symmetrical ring where it meets the remaining bark. He also mentioned that a torch is a good way to remove smaller splinters and hair like fragments. A wet towel is essential to cover and protect the other parts of the tree while doing so.

As wiring commenced, starting on the lower secondary branches, the yamadori material began to reveal its bonsai identity. Matthew gave many valuable tips on wire bending specifically with how the wire should be wrapped into a slight hook at the end of each limb in order to keep it in place and at the desired direction. Foliage pads were craftfully created with the tips longer than side branches creating five to six tapered fans extending from the gracefully curved trunk.

Matthew reminded us that the apex of bonsai trees can be the most difficult and time-consuming aspect to styling. Referring this part of the creation as the “comb over”, an apex may be made of two or more small branches and compacted for density.

The elegant yet rugged bonsai tree was completed by being placed in its new appropriate angle with its training pot placed in a three-gallon plastic nursery pot at about 45 degrees.

–Steve Triolo

Photos by Diane Matzen

REBS Demonstration by Bob Shimon – San Jose Juniper

On August 27, 2019, Bob Shimon performed a demonstration for the members of the Redwood Empire Bonsai Society (REBS) on a San Jose juniper (Juniperus chinensis ‘San Jose’. Bob recently purchased the San Jose juniper from the member sales area at the August 24 and 25 REBS annual bonsai show. He said the San Jose juniper had character and interest as bonsai material for his demonstration. Some of the factors lending to character included: deadwood at the base of the trunk; a large base at the trunk; movement in the trunk; no or minimal taper in the trunk suitable for a bunjin or literati style bonsai; foliage concentrated at the top.

One of the first things to do when purchasing or beginning to work with bonsai material is to scratch away the surface soil from the base of the trunk to expose the root structure. A few inches is sufficient to observe the flaring of the trunk base. Bob saw a bunjin style bonsai within the material. He would proceed to cut and remove small interior branches. He would also remove unwanted branches and any dead branches. He said the main purpose of the demonstration material was to establish branch structure. There were two main trunks; one had to be removed as it was competing with the other and in conflict with the intended design. Bob used a sharp hand saw and removed the smaller of the two branches. What remained was a fairly long, curving branch with its foliage near the top.

Bod identified a number of smaller secondary branches that he would jin. Jin is Japanese for deadwood feature for a branch. Shari is also Japanese for a deadwood feature along the trunk of the tree. Both deadwood features are seen in nature and add to the character and age of the bonsai. Where branches were removed, Bob created jins. The jin is made from a short stub of the cut branch. A long jin is not true to nature. The best time of the season to work on creating jins and shari is when the tree sap is present.

Bob discussed a little about the horticulture for bonsai. Most bonsai require the outdoors. Exceptions are tropical and sub-tropical plants. Bonsai soil for junipers or conifers is on the dry side; usually one third pumice, one third lava rock and one third Akadama (a fired clay imported from Japan). Redwoods and deciduous require more moisture and use more Akadama. Fertilizers are required for bonsai since the soil mix for bonsai is inorganic. A common fertilizer schedule is any 10-10-10 fertilizer during the growing season and 0-5-5 during the winter months.

Bob said wiring is critical for bonsai. Learning how to wire properly is something that everyone must accomplish in order to work on bonsai. Copper wire is normally used with conifers, whereas aluminum wire is used on deciduous trees. Ivan Lukrich, the senior instructor at REBS, assisted in wiring of the demonstration tree. Ivan, who also teaches the beginners workshops, said REBS uses aluminum wire in the beginners’ workshops since it is easier to work with, can be removed and reused if needed.

Ivan proceeded to wire the San Jose juniper. The copper wire will require removal once it begins to indent the branches. The branches will grow larger but the copper wire will not, thus cause wire to cut into the bark making ugly wire cuts. He said observe the wire from time to time and ensure it does not cut into the bark.

Bob estimated the San Jose juniper to be about 20 years old. He recommended repotting with a bonsai soil mix next winter. He would use the same nursery pot but cut the pot in half to accommodate shortening the roots.

When the demonstration was finished, the San Jose juniper was raffled off to the members in attendance. Becky and David Jackson won the demonstration tree.

Bob Shimon, Becky and David Jackson with demo bonsai tree

Demonstration by Bill Castellon – Princess Persimmon

On June 25, 2019, Bill Castellon performed a demonstration on a Princess Persimmon. Bill brought to the monthly meeting and demonstration several personal specimen bonsai of the Princess Persimmon. He also brought several Princess Persimmon trees to work on as demo trees and to be raffled off at the conclusion of his demo. Bill favored the Princess Persimmon for its tiny bright orange to red fruit, small diamond shape leaves and ease of propagation. Bill said the demo species are not readily available nor inexpensive. He said that the species in California were mostly from a group of 2,000 plants imported years ago by Carl Young of Lodi, California.

Princess Persimmon (Diospyros rhombifolia) is dioecious, that is separate male and female plants are required to produce fruit. It is a deciduous tree, originally from China and secondary Japan. It is popular for bonsai due the size of the tree and small fruit.

Bill described his experience and success with propagation of the species by root cuttings. He said root cuttings will produce or replicate that of the parent tree. This is not so with the seeds which can produce variations in the fruit.

The fruit ripen at varying times and so it can be difficult to prepare for a display. The fruit forms on the new growth each year. Pruning can be hard after the fruiting is over. The tree grows quickly. Bill applies fertilizer on a regular basis. He uses Romeo products out of Half Moon Bay, California. He uses the general purpose 15-30-15 fertilizer. Romeo products can be found at a number of retail stores and nurseries in the San Francisco/Bay Area. He feeds fertilizer all summer.

Bill used a bonsai soil mix of Akadama, lava rock and perlite or pumice. His preferred portions are 60% Akadama, 30% lava rock and 10% perlite.

Pests and diseases: Bill recommended three doses of a fungicide for the winter months.

Bill started his demo on the largest of three trees. First, he eliminated one side of a bar branch. He used a sharp knife to clean the wound, a common task for deciduous trees. Cut paste applied over the cleaned wound. He then removed any dead branches and unwanted branches. Aluminum wire was used to wire various branches. The branches can be brittle and so wiring must be carefully wrapped around the branches using both hands; left hand to guide the wire in place and right hand for wrapping the wire around the branch. That is if you are right handed, of course.

Bill described the technique for creating ramification in deciduous trees by allowing some branches to grow outward as long as needed to gain the strength and thickness desired, and then cut back to the secondary branches. Bill kept the demo tree tall and slender with slight movements in the wired branches.

Watering: Bill said he will allow the tree to be on the dry side before watering. Do not let the tree dry out completely.

As with many of the deciduous bonsai, morning sun and afternoon shade seems to work best.

Bill offered the demo female tree with a companion male tree as one of the evening’s raffle prizes. Another female semi-cascade tree was also offered for raffle.

Bill’s Princess Persimmon at GSBF Convention Exhibit 2018
Bill’s Princess Persimmon at Demo June 25, 2019

Demo Princess Persimmon tree.

Demonstration by John “JT” Thompson – Cork Bark Oak

Demonstration tree – collected native cork bark oak

On May 28, 2019, John “JT” Thompson performed a demonstration on a cork bark oak (Quercus suber).

There are some 20 native oaks in California. John is experienced in collecting many different types of native oaks. He brought in several species as examples of oak bonsai. He described the general form of native oaks as growing up and outward from the trunk and primary branches.

John discussed oaks’ adapting to their environment. Whether growing in wide open space to hanging by its roots on a hillside. This adaptation makes for ideal bonsai in numerous styles.

First, John examined the base of the trunk and surface roots or nebari. Cork bark was present on the lower trunk. He then evaluated a potential front view, sides and back. The trunk was tapered nicely and movement was present throughout the tree.

John talked about three styling or development methods – cutting back, defoliation and thinning.

Cutting back branches to two leaves and let them grow outward. Wire the first four to five inches and bend in an inclining slope, mostly up and outward, up and outward, then a little side to side movement in the same section. Allow the shoot tips to grow unrestricted for the remainder of the year, but remember to remove the wire when it starts to bite in, usually six to eight weeks later. John said cut back to leaves where you want new shoots to appear.

Defoliate healthy trees only. Defoliation should be done in early May to mid-June. After that is risky to the health of the tree.

Thinning out allows sun light to enter the interior of the tree. Here you are only doing a partial defoliation.

John spent some time talking about working with the younger branches or new shoots on oaks. New shoots can be wired after the leaves have hardened off. Meaning less succulent and stiffer leaf growth. Straight branches need to be wired for creating movement. The most important part of the wired branch is the three to five inches in the first year’s growth. The movement should be up and outward, up and outward, and then side by side, forming curves or arches. Then, let the branch grow out. The next year cut back leaving the bent in the branch. Let new shoots grow out. Select three new shoots, a front, side and back, and allow these to grow and hardened. The steps are repeated to develop ramification in the branches and eventually twigs.

There are growth periods to watch for. Cut back should be done in January. While working with new growth occurs in mid-February to March after the leaves have hardened off.

Cut back longer branches to have a more compact bonsai. Cut back to where you want division. Remove downward growing branches and weak branches. Remove dead branches and twigs from the tree.

John prescribed fertilizers once the tree has hardened off after the early spring growth.

He preferred using aluminum wire over copper wire for wiring branches. John believed copper wire would damage too many latent buds. Whereas aluminum wire was easier to work with on oaks. He said to watch out for the wire cutting or biting into the bark and advised removing the wire after about six to eight weeks.

Repotting – January is the prime time for repotting oaks. Collecting oaks was best done in the spring or fall after a rain. John preferred a deep pot over a shallow pot for oaks. Besides a usual bonsai soil mix, he uses about 12% horticulture charcoal when repotting. He also uses an organic supplement for root growth and development. Dr. Earth has a line of organic supplement products and fertilizer.

Watering – summer watering can bring on fungal issues. It is best to water in the morning versus evening. The soil should be watered, not the foliage.


Demonstration by Club Sensei Kathy Shaner – Mendocino Pygmy Cypress

On 23 April 2019, Club Sensei Kathy Shaner performed a demonstration on a Mendocino Pygmy Cypress for the members of Redwood Empire Bonsai Society, Santa Rosa, California.

Mendocino Pygmy Cypress (Cupressus pigmaea). The Mendocino Pygmy Cypress is a type of forest or woodland found a few miles inland from the Mendocino County coastline in northern California. It is really not a forest but a group of scattered, small areas consisting of stunted cypress trees growing slowly on ancient, uplifted marine terraces. The Mendocino Pygmy Cypress is prized for bonsai due its age, stunted and distorted growth patterns, and small, compact leaves.

The demonstration tree was collected by Bob Shimon of Mendocino Coast Bonsai, Point Arena, California. Bob provided for a discussion on the care and repotting of the Mendocino Pygmy Cypress. It seems care must be taken to remove one third of the original hardpan like soil per repotting until all of the original soil is eliminated. To rush the process would cause harm to the tree.

Kathy began the demonstration by examining the nebari. To be more exact, she was looking for where the nebari is. By scratching away some of the surface soil at the base of the tree, Kathy was exposing the surface roots and direction of the nebari. She found no extension on one side of the trunk. There was a slight slanting of the base which might lend itself to creating a slant style bonsai by titling the tree in the pot. Kathy then discussed styles and that the tree’s long, rather thin trunk with foliage at the upper most top of the tree appeared to take on a literati or bunjin style.

Emphasis was placed on determining the direction of the nebari. From the direction of the trunk’s base, one could determine the front view and angle of the slant for the tree’s style. Kathy was lending towards creating a wind-swept style bonsai, where the branches might be following the coastal sunset.

The next step in creating the wind-swept bonsai was to remove some foliage and branches. Kathy identified a number of large, primary branches to remain on the tree. She also said a lot of interior smaller, branches would be kept. She wanted to wire branches before removing too much of the unwanted or unnecessary branches and foliage.

Kathy began with loosely wiring the large, primary branches. She said by loosely wiring the branches it was possible to ensure control over the direction of the branches when set and not harm the fragile foliage and branches. She said the cypress was a soft wood tree and care was required in wiring. Finally, the loose wiring would allow for the wire to remain on the branches without cutting in to the bark for a long time.

Kathy discussed the avoidance of allowing the cypress tree from becoming leggy. She recommended pinching the terminal tips on the foliage to keep the shape or silhouette. Kathy, upon completion of the wiring, removed unnecessary foliage by cutting the terminal tips on some of the large runners. This served to compact the foliage and create a balance between the appearance of foliage and trunk.

Upon completion of the demonstration, Diane Matzen won the raffle and took home the Mendocino Pygmy Cypress demonstration tree.