Demonstration by Jonas Dupuich – Arranging Bonsai Displays

Typical Japanese formal bonsai display for medium sized trees

On June 23, 2022, the Redwood Empire Bonsai Society (REBS) hosted guest bonsai artist/instructor Jonas Dupuich to perform a demonstration on how to effectively display bonsai elements. Jonas is the creator and author of Bonsai Tonight [https://bonsaitonight.com/], a world-famous blog on bonsai techniques. He is also the author of A Little Book of Bonsai, 2021, a great comprehensive guide to bonsai basics. Jonas was a member of the Bay Island Bonsai club for 20 years, where he gained experience in bonsai display. He has traveled to Japan and participated in and photographed many of the formal displays used in the Japanese bonsai exhibits and contests.

The sizes of bonsai are critical to displays. Here you find the approximate Japanese sizing of trees:

          Mame < six inches (15 cm)

          Shohin < eight inches (20 cm)

          Kifu < 16 inches (41 cm)

          Chuhin < 18 inches (46 cm)

          Ogata < 36 inches (91 cm)

The prestigious Japanese bonsai exhibitions, Kokufu-ten and Taikan-ten, provide display spaces at approximately six feet wide. Larger trees require more space, and the smaller trees require less. The display elements commonly used within the six feet of space, consists of the following:

          One large tree with an accent plant

          Two medium sized trees with accent plant

          Up to six small sized trees with accent plant

A scroll, figure or suiseki (viewing stone) can be used with medium sized displays in lieu of a second tree. Three elements are typically used with medium displays. However, two elements may be combined to serve as one. Example: one tree, one scroll and one slab containing the accent plant and figure.

The stand should raise the bonsai tree to a level where the viewer’s eye is focused about mid-section of the tree and the viewer is standing straight, not bent over. A round pot is best suited for a round or square stand. The pot is centered and within the lines or edge of the stand. Consideration should be given to the color of the stand. Dark stands work well with conifers, whereas lighter stands can be used with deciduous trees.

Arranging the display elements takes some thought about their placement. The main tree should be placed towards the back. Place the accent plant towards the front of the display space. For medium trees, place the second tree behind the accent plant but in front of the main tree. Mountain stones are often placed towards the back of the display space as they appear in the distance. Note: for photographing a display, align all elements to the front.

Efforts to convey the season or location are important. For example, scrolls with ocean scenes do not go well with high mountain bonsai trees.

The appearance of accent plants should be full and in season. Also, ensure that the accent plant is within scale with the tree.

Displaying your bonsai trees should be fun. Experiment with different display elements. Artistic displays can be used in lieu of the Japanese formal display above. However, learning the fundamentals of Japanese displays is foremost to understanding the viewer’s perspective of the art form.

Demonstration by Boon Manakitivipart – Common Olive & Shimpaku Juniper

REBS was privileged to have internationally acclaimed bonsai artist Boon Manakitivipart present the program at our May 26, 2022 meeting. Boon gave us a bit of his personal bonsai history as an introduction, detailing his first frustrating efforts in the 1980’s to even get his trees to live, and his opportunities beginning in the early 1990’s to study in Japan and learn from masters there. Boon spoke of apprenticing in gardens that specialized in Japanese Black Pines and the wealth of high quality material there to study and work on. During his training he had the opportunity to work on several trees that subsequently won top prizes at the Kokufu show in Japan. He has carried this love and study of JBP and bonsai in general to his work in the US at his gardens outside Sacramento, California.

Boon worked on three trees during his presentation, the first an olive. He explained that olives with big leaves are referred to as Mission Olives or Common Olives. These will bear fruit, but those with small leaves do not. Olives are easy to collect locally in old orchards or neighbors’ yards, and if you have a good trunk of a common olive the smaller foliage of the small leaved variety can be grafted on from cuttings. In the wild olives have no shape to the foliage, they just look shaggy, but they can have wonderful chunky trunks which make dramatic bonsai when the branches are directed with wire. Branches are grown out for girth and pruned to the desired shape when the tree is full and healthy. On more mature trees pinching will help keep the tree in shape, but Boon warned not to take all the new growth off. When pinching and cutting back in the spring it is important to leave some growing tips so the branch won’t die. During spring cleanup old leaves and downward pointing leaves can be removed to better show good branching and ramification. Also be sure to remove the suckers on the trunk. In styling an olive Boon suggests leaving the top a little fuller. Overall, the ideal is a triangular shape with a slightly rounded top, and it is important to keep the tree looking balanced.

In his bonsai journey finding the right potting soil for his trees was a big challenge for Boon. Now we have easy access to Akadama clay from Japan and premixed soils with lava and pumice as well, but when Boon started those materials were not available in the US and the prevailing “wisdom” here was to include some organics in the soil mix, like orchid bark or peat moss. His trees were failing because the soil became too wet, compromising the health of the trees, so he read everything he could find about soil, including every issue of Bonsai Today from the very beginning of its publication. It took years of experimenting with many combinations before Boon found the blend he favors, which is Akadama/lava/pumice with about 5% decomposed granite. This last ingredient is similar to the sand the Japanese refer to in their mixes. Boon includes it based on his observations of the natural habitat of junipers and pines in the mountains where they grow well in granite.

The second tree Boon worked on was a small, healthy shimpaku juniper. He used this tree to illustrate the importance of balancing growth in a bonsai and keeping the tree developing new branches with proper pruning techniques. Boon was cutting the long shoots on this tree at this time pointing out how evenly distributed they were on the tree which indicates optimal, balanced growth. He was not going through the tree taking off all the green tips. Long ago this was what local teachers recommended, but it stunted the growth of trees because these growing tips are what is needed to keep the tree vibrant and healthy. You also don’t want to prune a juniper, or any tree, at the wrong time which can also slow the growth or result in branches dying off. Boon mentioned that many bonsai hobbyists work on their trees too much or take off too many of the important growing tips. The result is prickly juvenile growth which is usually not desired, and little or no branch development. If this has happened on our trees, he suggests letting them grow out for at least a year and starting again with the pruning when the mature growth has returned. Weaker branches should be allowed to grow without pruning.

Boon saved the raffle tree for last, an olive whose trunk is a  “nice chunk of lumber”. This is a collected common olive with the larger leaves, but Boon had grafted cuttings of a smaller leaf olive in strategic places on the branches. He talked about the 30-40 year old tree and how the trunk could be made to look older and given more character with some carving. He recommends hand tools which encourages a slow approach, stepping back and reviewing the work before moving on, resulting in a more natural look. The grafts had pieces of blue painters’ tape on them which acts as shade cloth for the graft and keeps them moist as they grow.  Boon suggested we all need to learn to let our trees grow, not overwork them and allow them to have a more natural aspect. The ultimate goal for this tree is to make it look like it came from the mountains.

Diane Matzen was the lucky winner of the raffle and picked up a few more growing tips at Boon’s workshop the next day. We want to thank Boon for an inspiring talk and sharing his expertise and wisdom with us.

Write up by Candace Key

Boon is a past apprentice of Kihachiro Kamia of Japan and Boon has many students as well as private clients throughout the country and the world. He has developed several now common bonsai practices including the 1:1:1 soil mix (Boon’s mix) and half bareroot repotting technique.

He first trimmed a developed olive by removing all of the six inch long spring growth back to one or two sets of leaves. This will encourage new growth and shorter internodes that will be refined later in the growing season.
Boon then explained how juniper should be grown strong enough to produce long extending tip growth. Only when the extending tip growth goes well beyond the silhouette should the tip be cut back to the silhouette. Clean all growth below each pad and never pinch tip growth on a juniper. You can cut the one extending long strong tip.
 
This is the olive stump before any work. A large stump with large leaf and small leaf growth. The large leaves are from the stump of the commercial (fruiting) olive. The small leaf growth has been grafted from a seed grown plant which does not produce fruit. Boon then removed much growth and placed several more grafts on.
This is the grafting technique Boon uses now. The graft is a two pair leaf cutting inside the plastic bag with wet sphagnum moss. The bag tied closed with a long copper wire and the graft stick end poking out of a corner of the bag. These can be prepared ahead of time. The graft stick is cut on both sides forming a “V” which is inserted into a slice of a short branch. The graft is tied to the branch tightly with stretchy plastic tape. The wire is used to secure the graft to the end of the short branch. If the bag dries out, you can put more water in using a syringe and needle to keep it moist. Painter’s tape can be put on top of the bag to act as shade cover until the graft begins to extend.
At the end of the evening the newly grafted stump was raffled off to Diane Matzen.
Diane Matzen and Boon Manakitivipart

Photographs and captions by Michael Murtaugh

Preparation for De-candling of Your Japanese Black Pine By Michael Murtaugh

These are some notes for you to think about before you get to the de-candling of your Japanese Black Pines. I have found if I de-candle between June 1 and June 10, I get good sized needles that match my size trees. These are Chyhin size trees, say 8” to 18” tall.

These first photos show typical candles on my pines. The left one is actually a stunted candle which came out normal in the spring, but because of a lack of water actually shut down and stopped growing. I am trying to revive it. The right hand one is more normal growth for a vigorous candle.

De-candling is a refinement technique on multiple flush pines only. JBP and Japanese Red Pines are the only pines we can do this on because they are so vigorous. Shore pines, Limber pines, Ponderosa and most other pines are single flush pines and are not vigorous enough to withstand this kind of treatment and respond in the same way.

Taking off the candles, in a sense, re-sets the tree back to the beginning of the growing season. If you cut candles earlier than June 1 the new set of candles have longer to grow through the summer and will be bigger and longer. If you wait and cut the candles off in July or later the new candles will have less time to grow in the summer and will be shorter when they mature.

De-candling is only used when you are trying to grow shorter needles and produce tighter and denser foliage. If you want bigger trunks or longer branches – don’t cut the candles!

These are candles on a pine in development. I will not be cutting these.

This exposed root pine was weak last year and was transplanted this spring. There are no new growth that has come out this year, but the yellow color is now a barker green. I will not do anything except water and fertilize this the rest of the growing season.

This exposed root pine has grown well and normal this spring. It has been fertilized well up until a few weeks ago when I stopped all fertilizer. No more fertilizer until mid-Fall. I will cut the candles on this the first week of June. The needles have opened up and begun to harden off. There is no further growth or extension of the candle going to happen. If left alone the needles will continue to lengthen but the candle will not lengthen much if at all.

I will cut all candles on the same day and each will be cut to about 2 mm into this year’s growth.

This is the typical technique of cutting candles. Within a few weeks there will be small rice-like buds happening at each cut site. If there is enough vigor there may even be needle buds activated further back on each stem or smaller buds further back in will begin to grow.

This is one of two times during the year you can add some wire as needed and reposition your shoots. Just be careful not to damage any interior buds.

This tree has long candles at the top of the tree and very little growth on the lower branches. In this case it is alright to de-candle the top and not cut the lower branches. This will begin to balance the growth throughout the tree and it will be more uniform top to bottom next year. Cutting the top this year will encourage growth on the bottom for the tree this year.

Cutting back vigorous growth on Black Pines at this time of year is a way to use that vigorous growth to start a second round of growth that will be smaller and denser. When that density and compactness grows out for the rest of the year without any further pinching or cut back it will be necessary to thin out that growth when the end of the growing season has passed. The next major work will be about October or November.

Pines look best when shown in mid-winter when all growth is fresh and healthy from the late season growth.

I hope this gets you to thinking about working on your pines in the next few weeks. If you have any questions I am available to talk. If you want to post photos of your trees I am sure we would all like to see what you are doing.

Stay safe and stay sane. Michael

Demonstration by Jonas Dupuich – Exposed Root Japanese Black Pine

On February 25, 2020, at the Luther Burbank Art and Garden Center, Santa Rosa, California, Jonas Dupuich was the guest bonsai artist and instructor for the members of Redwood Empire Bonsai Society (REBS). Jonas demonstrated on creating and growing exposed root Japanese Black Pine bonsai. He has been growing Japanese Black Pine from seeds for the past 26 years. The exposed root bonsai technique is most popular with the Japanese dwarf flowering quince or Chojubai bonsai. It is used with Japanese Black Pine and Satsuki Azalea bonsai as well.

Jonas brought to the demonstration two of his own examples of mature exposed root Japanese Black Pine bonsai. Each 16 years in training, grown from seed. See photos.

In addition, he also brought Japanese Black Pine exposed root plants, one 10 years in training and the other one-year old, both from seed. These two plants were raffled upon completion of the demonstration. See photos.

Style – exposed root bonsai can be given the story as falling off the side of a cliff or even damaged from a flooding. It can be with long versus short roots depending on design. The roots may be thick and large or slim and small. There can be a certain balance of roots supporting the trunk.

Pots – suitable pots are usually round in shape and can be grey, red or brown.

Jonas began his demonstration with a slideshow depicting various exposed root Japanese Black Pine bonsai from a recent trip to the Kokufu Ten 2020 Exhibition and Green Room in Japan. The pictures showed different shapes and paths for the exposed roots. No one bonsai looked the same.

The first demonstration plant was the one-year old. Jonas used a one gallon nursery container and blocked the large holes in the bottom with construction sheet wall tape to prevent soil from leaking out. He then filled the bottom with a small bonsai soil mix (Clay King premix and pumice). Next, he inserted larger pieces of Japanese Hyuga (pumice). Jonas used a long nursery container popular with nurseries for Blueberry plants and placed it upside down (narrow bottom with a hole on the up side) in the one gallon container. By placing the second container upside down this would prevent the roots from growing wide to narrow or like a reverse taper. This second container was then filled with the Hyuga large pieces. Finally, the one year old Japanese Black Pine plant was inserted through the hole with all its roots attached. With the roots planted in the second container, it is then filled with more of the small bonsai soil mix. The latter will help keep the roots moist.

Jonas commented on watering by citing less water was needed. It should never be allowed to dry out completely.

Jonas said the planting should be checked three to five years later unless you want a smaller exposed root bonsai, like a Shohin. Once you established the size of the roots desired, then you must remove the small bonsai soil mix and large pieces of Hyuga. This is best done with a pick tool or chopsticks.

The exposed roots can be then manipulated in many ways to style your bonsai.

Jonas moved on to the 10-year old exposed root Japanese Black Pine demonstration tree. This plant was contained in a round terra cotta pot with the exposed roots partially planted inside plastic bonsai drainage screen material. The plant was allowed to grow without much attention. There were two large sacrifice branches for thickening the trunk still attached. A number of smaller branches were located near the base of the trunk.

Jonas first wanted to choose a front view and there were two options based on the shape and flow of the existing branches. The front view was marked with a chopstick. Of the smaller branches, two long branches near the base of the trunk were selected to wire. A single piece of Aluminum wire was used to wrap around the two branches. Starting at the back, Jonas wrapped the wire around the two long branches. He cut off several of the smallest branches as they were not needed. Once wiring was done, Jonas had REBS member Diane Matzen to establish movement in a downward direction and end facing the front view. Then, on the other wired branch REBS member Michael Murtaugh established movement in an upward direction, ending towards the front view. These wired branches gave the future owner choices in styling the bonsai, either downward for a cascade or upward for an informal upright style.

Jonas discussed the technique of bending branches and putting movement in the bonsai. He said bending should always start at the trunk and move in a downward or upward direction. There should be no flat wiring or straight areas. Always check your bending of branches afterwards and fix any straight areas. Black pine branches are very flexible but always support with your fingers the bends.

Upon completion of the demonstration, Diane Matzen won the 10-year old bonsai and REBS member Mike Nelson won the one-year old bonsai. Congratulations to both.

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’.