Demonstration by Kathy Shaner – Ginkgo biloba ‘Weeping Wonder’ Maidenhair Tree

On January 28, 2020, club sensei Kathy Shaner performed a demonstration for members of the Redwood Empire Bonsai Society (REBS) working on a Maidenhair tree ‘Weeping Wonder’ (Ginkgo biloba ‘Weeping Wonder’)

Nice new weeping dwarf Maidenhair tree. It does have an upright leader with side branches going horizontal or slightly weeping. Leaves vary from lime green to dark green depending on environment. Characteristics: Sun Exposure – Sun; Annual Growth – 6 – 9 inches; @ 10 years – 5 feet x 2 feet; Color – green; Growth Rate – intermediate; Hardiness Zone – Zones 4-8. When the leaves drop, they drop rapidly, forming a golden carpet around the tree. Ginkgo have no serious insect or disease problems, making it a low maintenance plant. Low maintenance; soil moisture – moist to average, well drained; growth rate – slow; deciduous – fall color.1

Kathy started working with the demonstration tree by uncovering the nebari. The tree was in a nursery container and so she used a chopstick to dig around the base of the trunk, removing top soil to expose the root structure. The nebari is the flair or surface roots radiating from the trunk. Kathy pointed out that you can not really determine the front of your bonsai without uncovering the surface roots. The front of the bonsai is determined by the appearance of the surface roots or nebari and interesting movement of the trunk.

Some of the many branches on the demonstration tree were cut and removed. When cutting roots and branches it is critical to have sharp tools. The cuts must be clean. Branch cuts must be smooth to heal quickly. This is accomplished by using a sharp knife.

The Ginkgo biloba species has a tiny hole in the center of the branches. When cutting the branch this hole is exposed and can rot out from watering and rain. Cut paste is not effective to prevent water from rotting out the cut branches. So, it is important to cut the branch on an angle and to round off any tops or leaders. See images for examples.

Kathy noted that the cuttings from the Ginkgo biloba are easy to propagate.

A number of primary branches on the demonstration tree needed to pulled downward. A guy wire was used to perform this styling feature. A rubber or plastic tubing was serrated so as not to pinch the branch. Copper #16 was inserted into the tubing on one end and wrapped around the branch to be pulled down. The other end of the wire was attached to the side of the nursery container by making a hole in the container. The guy wire technique was considered to be better than wiring the branch.

Another styling technique used on the demonstration tree was to insert tiny pieces of bamboo between two branches, thereby separating the branches so they did not grow too close to each other.

Wiring – Kathy used very little wiring of the Ginkgo biloba. She cautioned against having wiring cuts caused by wrapping wire around the branches too tightly or leaving the wire on the branches too long. Wiring should be loosely wrapped around the branches. Paper can be wrapped around the wire to help protect the branches. The holding period on wired branches depends a lot on the growth of the tree. A watchful eye must be taken to ensure the wiring does not cut into the branches.

Kathy proceeded to remove and thin out branches. This will allow sun light in to the interior of the tree. Remove branches located in the crotches. Kathy suggested not to stay in one place while thinning out the branches. Instead, move around and work in a manner to balance the work areas.

Upon completion of the demonstration, the Ginkgo biloba ‘Weeping Wonder’ was raffled off. The winner was Joanne Lumsden.

1 Internet searches on Ginkgo biloba ‘Weeping Wonder’.

Demonstration by Sensei Kathy Shaner – Juniper

On November 26, 2019, our club Sensei Kathy Shaner performed a demonstration on the styling of a juniper. The juniper demo tree was furnished by Bob Shimon of Mendocino Coast Bonsai, who purchased the tree from Takashi Shimazu at the GSBF Convention 42, Riverside, California, October 24-27, 2019.

The demo showed movement in the trunk and deadwood feature.

Kathy said one should ensure the tree material is well hydrated before working on it. She like the front view which was chosen for its movement and Shari deadwood feature. The front view is always towards the viewer. She described her plans to cut the foliage in order to encourage back budding on branches. The back budding will occur closer in to the trunk and cause the foliage to appear more compact.

Flow or direction of the branches was considered in the styling of the demo tree. Kathy experimented with the angle of the tree to expose a more interesting line and movement.

Wiring the branches is critical in styling any bonsai. Kathy emphasized the correct size or gauge of wire to do the job of controlling the movement instilled in setting branches. If one has doubt, use one gauge lower with copper wire. Kathy said wrap the copper wire loosely around the branches. This will allow for bending and twisting the branches. It will also allow the copper wire to remain on the branches longer and avoid wire cutting into the bark.

In bending branches, Kathy demonstrated exercising the branch first. Just using your fingers and move the branch to be bent up and down or twist side to side. This will make the branch more flexible prior to wiring and bending it. Then wire the branch and set it by bending and twisting the branch in to the position desired. On conifers like the juniper, bend the branches downward. This action will allow more sun light to reach the interior of the tree. One last note on bending branches is to bend or establish movement near the trunk.

Kathy explained the setting of the first, second and back branches. She created a flow or direction of the branches to appear as if the wind influenced them.

Upon completion of the demonstration, REBS member Diane Matzen won the raffle for the demo juniper.

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

Demonstration by Jonas Dupuich – Carving Basics

On September 24, 2019, Jonas Dupuich, author of Bonsai Tonight, performed a demonstration on carving basics for the members of the Redwood Empire Bonsai Society (REBS), in Santa Rosa, California.

Jin is a bonsai deadwood technique used on branches or the top of the trunk (the “leader”). A jin is meant to show age, or show that the tree has had a struggle to survive. Jins are created in nature when wind, lightning, or other adversity kills the leader or a branch further down the tree.1

A shari is deadwood on the main trunk of the bonsai. A small shari usually runs vertically on or near the front of the trunk – shari have little aesthetic value at the rear of the trunk, where they are rarely viewed and are obscured by branch growth.2

Carving basics for bonsai involves the creation of deadwood features, jin and shari. By incorporating these deadwood features into the design of your bonsai you are creating character, age and interest.

Jonas began his demonstration by showing a slideshow of various images taken of natural deadwood on Bristlecone pines located above 10,000 feet elevation in the California White Mountains and Sierra junipers located above 8,000 feet elevation at California Carson Pass. These trees displayed dramatic deadwood features, the result of many years of adverse weather and environmental conditions. The slideshow also provided images of Japanese bonsai on display at Kokufu Ten Bonsai Exhibition and Taikan Bonsai Exhibition organized by the Nippon Bonsai Association, both being leading bonsai exhibitions in Japan. The bonsai exhibition images depicted natural and carved deadwood features.

Jonas explained there were three elements of good deadwood carving: movement, twists and interest. He talked about natural occurrences in creating deadwood, that is wind direction. The design must take into play the direction or flow caused by the wind or design. Carving deadwood features should have a story or reason. For example, jin at the top of the tree might have been caused by lightning and shari in front of the flow of the tree’s movement caused by wind.

Carving tools may include: root cutters, pliers, jin pliers, knife or box cutters, and wood carving tool chisels.

Jonas said one should start out by cleaning the life line of the tree in order to find where the deadwood is located on the tree. Dead branches or stubs of former branches in a row on the trunk of the tree is a good indication of where to find deadwood on the trunk. Begin by scrapping away the bark attached to the deadwood. Use a tool like a jin loop or jin knife to determine where the deadwood and live wood are located.

Jonas advised to use wood carver’s gloves for safety.

Jin the lower branches on junipers and other species. These are branches located 1/3 to 1/2 up the trunk that when wired downward would be touching the soil.

A jin is started by taking a sharp knife or box cutter and cutting into the bark at the base of the branch and trunk. Cut completely around the branch. This will stop the bark from being pulled into the trunk area when stripping the bark off the branch. Use a pliers or jin pliers to squeeze and crush the bark away from the branch. Then remove the bark. It is best to create jins in the spring when the water flow is present and the bark is easily removed by your fingers. Otherwise, a jin knife or loop must be used to remove the dry bark. Once the bark has been completely removed, then shape the jin to a pointed end in order to eliminate the tool cutting mark. If bark fibers remain on the jin section, these can be removed best with a wire brush or by burning them. Care must be taken not to burn foliage or live wood. After burning the fibers, a wire brush is used to remove the burn marks.

A shari is started by using a Sharpie ink pen to outline the area of bark to be removed from the trunk. A sharp knife or box cutter is then used to cut into the bark. Score the bark along the outlined area. Then, the bark can be removed by pealing back the bark and working with the wood grain. Use a scissors to cut any portion of the bark that does not peal off easily.

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deadwood_bonsai_techniques

2 https://en.mimi.hu/bonsai/shari.html