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.

Eric Schrader – Raft Style Bonsai

On October 24, 2017, the Redwood Empire Bonsai Society (REBS) held their monthly meeting and demonstration, featuring Eric Schrader as guest bonsai artist. Eric Schrader is past president of the Bonsai Society of San Francisco (BSSF), San Francisco, California. He is a bonsai grower, artist, instructor, and lecturer.

One of Eric’s favorite topics involving bonsai is the creation of bonsai, whether from seeds, air layering, cuttings, or collected from wild and urban environments. Pros and cons of creating bonsai – pros include starting is fairly simple, variety of species available, relative costs are low over time, control of the environment for growing, and creativity. Whereas, cons include time period is lengthy, crop failure, size, and cost over time.

Eric discussed the various styles – formal upright, informal upright, slant, cascades, grove or clump, root over rock, exposed roots, and raft. All of these styles can be obtained through collecting, nursery stock or growing them yourself. Eric said among his favorite styles of bonsai are the exposed roots and raft.

He spent some time on discussing the differences of development versus refinement in bonsai. Eric described the techniques of both development and refinement. Using the Japanese black pine as an example of refinement, he described cutting and wiring needle branches to gain the desired style of bonsai. He used a juniper raft to describe development of a bonsai by growing it in a somewhat large flat wooden box. Using a juniper young whip plant, one side of the whip has its branches removed. It is then potted in bonsai soil mix having the remaining branches point upward. The root ball at one end and the length of the whip planted with bends from side to side and up and down. Eventually, rooting takes place on the underside of the whip.

Eric shifted from the juniper to an elm raft he started a number of years earlier. He pointed out the curves in the laying out of the original elm branch. From the original elm branch he allowed an uneven number of branches to grow upward. These upward branches appeared as individual plants. Eric used wire to instill movement in the individual branches. He described having the largest branch in the middle and suggested ways of training and cutting the branches to have the middle branch appear as the largest and oldest tree with the smaller branches (trees) surrounding and off to the side. It does not look natural to have all the branches lined up in a straight line. That is the reason for putting curves and bends in the initial layout of the single whip. Eric placed some wire on the upright branches to give them movement and to control their direction of growth around the centered branch. He did little or no cutting at this time. Eric said he would like to see more growth and girth to the individual branches.

Eric Schrader illustrating the design and layout of a raft style bonsai
Elm raft style demonstration bonsai
Example juniper raft style bonsai
Placement of wire to instill movement and direction of growth
Bob Shimon and Eric Schrader conduct a raffle for the elm raft style demonstration bonsai

There was a raffle held upon completion of the demonstration. Peter Naughton won the elm raft demonstration bonsai.

 

Rock Plantings by Master Masahiko Kimura

As a follow-on to Randall Lee’s great demonstration for creating a Juniper rock planting on September 26, 2017, I wanted to show some photographs of rock plantings by Master Bonsai Artist Masahiko Kimura of Japan. During the 8th World Bonsai Convention, April 27-30, 2017, at Saitama City, Japan, Kimura performed the first of many demonstrations by Master Bonsai Artists. He chose to demonstrate how he creates a Juniper (Juniperus chinensis ‘Shimpaku’) rock planting. Kimura builds a rock formation using Feather Rock (the landscape boulder is a porous, pumice boulder, sharp and coarse, which is much lighter than most stone). He carves out pockets at various locations and heights where he intends to plant trees. The rock formations are usually formed in a stable, upright position. After carving the rock, Kimura pours a liquid motar cement over the entire rock formation which seals it and makes handling the feather rock easier. The motar cement is colored grey to charcoal. After the motar cement is set, the planting of trees can begin. Muck (Sphagnum moss and clay soil mixture) is used to hold and grow the plant roots. Low carpets or mounds of green Moss are finally pinned in against the muck to hold it in place. Sprays of water are used to keep the plants and muck moist during application and after care.

Photo by George Haas
Master Masahito Kimura’s Shimpaku Juniper demonstration rock planting, 8th World Bonsai Convention, Saitama City, Japan (April 2017)

Other rock plantings by Kimura were photographed at his home and bonsai nursery located near Omiya, Japan.

Randall Lee on Juniper Rock Planting

Front view of juniper rock planting

On September 26, 2017, Bonsai Artist and Instructor Randall Lee of Alameda, California, was the guest demonstrator for the Redwood Empire Bonsai Society (REBS) general meeting and demonstration. Randall chose to demonstrate on how to create a bonsai rock planting.

 

 

 

What I observed first were the preparations Randall undertook for his bonsai rock planting demonstration.

Materials required:
One interesting black lava rock with anchored tie down wires
Several small junipers (Juniperus chinensis procumbens nana)
A variety of companion plants
Plenty of muck (mixed clay and Sphagnum moss)
Sprayer containing water
Turn-table
Aluminum wire
Various bonsai tools
Gloves
Collected moss

Preparations for juniper rock planting

Randall said various kinds of rocks can be used for rock planting, and that you can usually find suitable rocks at bonsai club shows that offer vendors or at local rock landscape material businesses. For the demonstration, Randall chose a black lava rock that was stable enough to stand up vertically and contained a number pockets and crevices to hold the plants. He particularly liked the rock’s peak or top and the cliff like feature for the front. Prior to the demonstration, Randall anchored tie down wires at a number of locations on the front and back sides. To secure the tie down wires to the rock, he used DryLok Fast Plug, a fast setting hydraulic cement product.

Front view
Back view

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He was ready to layer the muck (a mixture of moist clay and Sphagnum moss). Randall said the Sphagnum moss comes in long strings which he cuts in shorter sections so that it mixes better with the clay soil. He layered the muck to cover the tie down wires and fill the crevices and pockets. Randall cautioned about leaving air pockets, and so he pressed the muck tightly against the rock. He often sprayed the muck with water to keep it moist during its application. Sufficient muck should be made beforehand so that you don’t run out of it in creating your rock planting.

Applying the first layer of muck to cover tie down wires, pockets and crevices
The first layer of muck covers those locations where plants will be placed on the rock

Randall completed the first layer of muck, covering the tie down wires and locations intended for plants. At this point, he placed one of several junipers on the back side near the top of the rock, exposing the branches in the front, like a cascading tree, and some foliage around the rock’s peak. He tried another juniper in the same location, this time there was less cascading of the branches. After getting the opinion of the audience, Randall decided with the latter juniper showing smaller portions of foliage in the front and back sides of the rock. Randall said he had trimmed some of the roots before the demonstration, but that the roots remained long and at different lengths. He checked the position of the juniper a couple of times to ensure it was as he intended it to be, and then he used the tie down wires to secure the juniper to the rock. He pressed tightly a second layer of muck around the roots. He pushed the muck into place to cover the roots and ensure there were no air pockets. Randall added a second juniper and a few companion plants in the same manner.

First, adding the cascading juniper
The smaller of two junipers was chosen and wired on to the rock
Additional juniper and companion plants were added

Randall explained that high mountain plants were placed towards the top of the rock, whereas lower mountain plants were located near the middle to low parts of the rock. Companion plants were added in the same manner.

Once the above was complete, Randall covered all the muck with moss he collected for the demonstration. In the vertical locations on the rock, he used wire staples made from aluminum wire to insert into the moss to hold the moss in place. After a good spraying of water over the moss and plants, Randall’s juniper rock planting was complete.

Finishing touches with soft wiring and light trimming of branches
All eyes on Randall as he creates the juniper rock planting

 

Front view
Back view

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A raffle was held and member Suzanne Waxman won the juniper rock planting.

“How am I going to carry this rock planting home?”
Suzanne and Randall pose with the juniper rock planting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For reference, rock plantings by Master Noboru Kaneko are covered in the book “Junipers, Bonsai Today Masters’ Series, Growing & Styling Juniper Bonsai” 2007 by Stone Lantern Publishing, pg. 137.

Intermediate Workshop, Thursday, September 21, 2017

On September 21, 2017, I went looking for the REBS Intermediate Workshop held at the Bennett Valley Senior Center, 704 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa, CA. I parked my truck at the rear parking lot and entered the building. Several groups were conducting meetings at the Senior Center but it was easy to find the room where the REBS members were working on their own bonsai. Senior Instructor Ivan Lukrich was there working with each individual member. Michael Murtaugh was assisting Ivan. There were six members with several bonsai each to work on. I arrived about 7:45 pm to observe their work.

Kurt and Sally Kieckhefer were assessing an old cedar (Cedrus sp.) that appeared to be a collected specimen. It had two primary branches forming a big “Y” and interesting deadwood features. With Ivan’s help, they tried to angle the tree in a manner that would best show off the trunk and branches and foliage. It was difficult finding the right angle to set the tree. Another approach was to separate one live branch from the deadwood and twist the live branch towards the center to fill a large gap. This was the approach taken and Ivan skillfully separated the live branch using a large root cutter. A guy wire was used to hold the live branch in place. Now, the big “Y” was less apparent.

Suzanne Waxman had several bonsai at the workshop. I stopped by when she was working with a small Junperius chinensis procumbens nana or garden juniper that she was cleaning and thinning. A dozen years ago we would be pinching the foliage tips. Now we use a sharp scissors to cut and remove the center foliage tips and leave two prongs in the thinning process. It is tedious work but it so much improves the growth of new foliage and helps in the overall styling of the bonsai.

Jim Gallagher was working on his tall, cork bark elm (cultivar Ulmus parvifolia ‘Cork Bark’). Jim was thinning the foliage and cleaning the bonsai.

Michael was helping Mike Nelson work on his newly acquired cork bark elm (cultivar Ulmus parvifolia ‘Cork Bark’), which he purchased from Lone Pine Bonsai Nursery. A little soft wiring was applied to some of the branches.

Jim Scholz was observed wiring his Japanese black pine (Pinus thunbergii). Jim said he has worked on this black pine for over 20 years. The bonsai was wide open with lots of negative spaces between branches. Michael was helping with the wiring. One section of wiring was complete and other branches still required some wiring.

Finally, new member Chris Garrett had two bonsai, a small, oak (Quercus sp.) and redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), which he purchased from the member sales at the REBS annual show in August 2017. Ivan worked with Chris, showing him how to cut and shape the raw materials. Slight wiring was done on the redwood to put movement in the young branches.

The Intermediate Workshop is scheduled for every third Thursday of the month. A small fee covers rent of the room. Members are required to bring their own tools, wire and bonsai. The workshop is from 7 to 10 pm. Everyone seemed to get a lot done on their bonsai. It was rewarding to observe the ongoing bonsai work and training.

— George Haas