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.

Demonstration by Randall Lee – Shimpaku Juniper

On March 26, 2019, at the Luther Burbank Art and Garden Center, Santa Rosa, California, Randall Lee conducted a demonstration working with Shimpaku juniper. Randall began his demonstration by identifying the various types of junipers used for bonsai. These included Shimpaku, Kishu Shimpaku, Itoigawa Shimpaku, San Jose, Prostrata, Procumbens nana, Buffalo. Sources for purchasing these junipers are bonsai growers and vendors, local nurseries and Home Depot.

Randall described the soil mix he uses as 1/3 Akadama, 1/3 pumice and 1/3 lava rock. He will use a wetter soil mix, 40% pumice and 60% Akadama, as well.

He said organic fertilizer for slower growth. However, since he is using young plants and may want to have more growth, he will use chemical fertilizers, such as Apex, Power Gro, Romeo water soluble fertilizer. He does not use fertilizer cakes and tea bags filled with fertilizer due to rodents being attracted to them.

Randall began working with the Shimpaku demo tree by examining and evaluating the inside of the plant. He could observe many small branches at or near the base of the plant. Some larger branches appeared towards the top portion of the plant. He cut and removed the large, unwanted branches first. His design would be a small bonsai or Shohin classification. He paid close attention to the base of the plant and followed the trunk line from the base of the plant to the apex. He selected a potential front view of the bonsai.

In removing the unwanted branches, he created jins or deadwood features in the bonsai design. Upon removing the largest branches, the Shimpaku juniper began to take shape, thicker at the base and thin towards the top or apex.

Randall emphasized cutting back on the foliage. He removed more than one third of the plant’s foliage at this point. By cutting back on the foliage, he would have the plant back bud on the interior. He said this was important since the Shohin style or small bonsai design required small branches close in to the trunk.

Randall began to place aluminum wire on the small branches. The wire was used to create movement and interest in the setting of the branches. Some branches were too soft and young to wire at this time, but would need wiring when they harden off more. He described the selection of branches to remain on the plant must be in proportion to the trunk of the bonsai.

Care for the Shimpaku juniper post demonstration included keeping it out of the direct sun for few weeks. “Let it grow and relax” according to Randall. He removed a lot of foliage and the plant needed to rest for a while. He would not fertilize for four to six weeks.

Upon completion of the demonstration, a raffle for the newly created bonsai was held. REBS member Diane Matzen purchased the winning raffle ticket for the Shimpaku juniper.

Demonstration by Eric Schrader – Monterey Cypress

On February 26, 2019, Eric Schrader returned to conduct a demonstration for the REBS meeting. Eric worked on a Monterey Cypress, approximately 12 years old, grown from seed. Eric said he collected the Monterey Cypress seeds from the Presidio of San Francisco. He planted a number of the seeds. The Monterey Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) were planted by the US Army in the 1880s.

The Monterey Cypress is a very vigorous grower and quick to develop into a bonsai. The tree experiences year-round growth. The demonstration tree was planted for awhile in the ground to speed its growth.

Eric brought in another Monterey Cypress as a potted bonsai. It was a smaller version of the demonstration tree. In order to maintain its shape and compact foliage, Eric will pinch the terminal tips of any runners.

Eric described the natural growth pattern of the Monterey Cypress branches as growing upward and outwards from the trunk. He demonstrated wiring the branches upward and outward. The ends of the branches were laid out flat to form the usual pads.

Eric identified a front view and marked it with two pieces of chopsticks. The front view was selected based on the movement of the trunk. There was one side of the trunk without branches which did not serve well for the front.

He then proceeded to remove surface soil to reveal some of the flair in the trunk base. Some surface roots were removed as well. Eric started to wire the top branches. He did this versus starting to wire from the bottom as normal because he intended to wire the branches upward and outward.

Eric said the Monterey Cypress is vulnerable to scale and spider mites and so one must keep an eye out for these pests and treat accordingly. He also said the Monterey Cypress does not take heat (100-degree F and above) very well. San Francisco’s weather is normally ideal for the Monterey Cypress. However, the weather can spike upwards in the summer.

Eric cut with a small saw the trunk more than 50%. The length of the trunk was grown to enlarge the trunk base. After growing the size desired for the trunk base, the length was no longer needed. This is referred to eliminating the sacrifice branch or limb.

Eric discussed creating jin and shari (deadwood features) to demonstrate age and mask the cut wounds.

When questioned about the best time to work on Monterey Cypress, Eric replied he prefers July, August and September time frames.

Upon completion of the demonstration, Ivan Lukrich won the Monterey Cypress.

Demonstration by Jay McDonald

Procumbens Nana Juniper Demonstration by Jay McDonald

On January 22, 2019, Jay McDonald was the guest demonstrator for the monthly REBS meeting. Jay has been interested in bonsai for almost 20 years. He studied under the Sensei Kathy Shaner and various other bonsai masters. Jay’s personal collection of bonsai is remarkable at about 25 bonsai. He brought for show and tell several of his mature bonsai, Ume, Olive and Japanese Larch (see images).

Jay’s demonstration tree was a Procumbens nana juniper, about 30 years old. The juniper was purchased from Bob Shimon of Mendocino Coast Bonsai. The juniper was grown in southern California for bonsai and displayed a lot movement in the trunk. Jay worked on the tree before bringing it to the demonstration. He cleaned up the foliage and removed any large branches that were no in proportion to the tree and trunk. He also did some pre-wiring of the demonstration tree.

Jay emphasized proportion of branches to diameter of the trunk and other branches. You can’t have larger branches near the top with smaller branches below them. The larger branches would be out of proportion and need to be removed by cutting them off or by cutting them short and making jins (deadwood) out of them. 

Deadwood on junipers is essential. Jay pointed out some branches he stripped the bark off of and made in to jins. In order to create age and interesting characteristics in junipers, Jay said deadwood features are important.

Wiring the whole tree. Jay said bonsai is wiring. Wiring the whole tree is also important to creating bonsai with age and movement of the branches. Jay made it clear that he desired the wiring of the whole tree, including the small twig like branches. Wiring is controlling the movement and flow of bonsai design. He highlighted the purpose of wiring as creating movement, taper and interest.

Fertilizer. Jay believes in fertilizing his bonsai and starting early around the end of January. He has used an assortment of fertilizer, including organic and chemical. He will used Miracle Gro on his bonsai to give them a boost in growth when trying to build his bonsai. He then will use organic fertilizer when his bonsai are more mature and slower growth is desirable.

In finishing the demonstration bonsai, Jay applied a generous amount of moss to the top soil. Jay said moss is the proper manner in which to display bonsai. The moss can be removed when not displaying the bonsai.

Upon completion of demonstration, a raffle of the Procumbens nana juniper was held and club member Paul Wycoff won the bonsai.

Demo Bonsai – Procumbens nana juniper