Bonsai Blog

All posts by Thomas J.

I started doing bonsai in 1991 after buying my first Chine Elm from Dallas Bonsai, who at the time was selling trees and supplies at a local mall.

At the time I was mostly interested in deciduous trees but after a few years moved up to working on junipers. My last holdout was the Japanese Black Pine which I began to work with in 2007 after acquiring a specimen from a friend.

I've had a few of my trees published in the "Gold Awarded Penjing of the World". Some call bonsai an art and some call it a craft, but for me it's a little of both with some high anxiety thrown in, at others times a world of peace and beauty right outside my backdoor.

Spring is in the air!

Wow, what a winter huh? Even here in the Lone Star state we had it rough. Temperatures way below normal most of the time and a crazy ice storm right at the beginning to start things off.

Well that’s a thing of the past now as we move right along into spring. As soon as the first week of March arrived,I could hardly wait to repot my one year old Japanese Black Pine seedlings. If you remember from last years posting on the blog you saw the seedlings as they were planted and then as they blossomed forth into new life. Take a look back if you need a refresher.

They were babied in last years Texas heat as they were so tender at that time. Then when winter came it was in and out of the garage to protect those tiny roots from freezing. But now their tender little stems have hardened and the fun begins.

Here they are getting ready to be released from their little home together where they will go on by themselves to become an each individual tree that hopefully will show forth their beauty.

potted

The potting soil I like to use for my J.B.P’s is 1 part Akadama, 1 part Lava, and 1 part Pumice. But because of the cost of these three components, I decided to do half with this mixture in individual colanders, and the other half in a mixture of haydite, sand, (not play sand) and sifted pine bark, and a little turface thrown in for good measure. This was put into two large containers where the seedlings would be planted together with enough room for them to spread their roots individually.

Temporary tub

But before they were replanted, they began to be trained into the shape I wanted them to be. Their stems although hardened, were still a bit tender for a radical change. I decided to try anyway because if you remember what I said last year about these seedlings, that my plan was to make most if not all into cascade JBPs. Just sticking them in the soil straight up was not an option for me. This next pic shows me applying #16 copper wire around the trunks of each seedling. (notice that nice candle on this one?)

Cleaned roots

After the wire was applied came the moment of truth; the bending process, and whether or not the trunk would be able to withstand such a harsh bend. As you can see it worked out perfectly. I was totally surprised to see how flexible each seedling was in my twisting and bending.

ready to plant

So from this point on we’re going to try something new here. From now on whenever it’s possible I’ll be taking you to a video of some of my work as part of the blog. The small video will allow you to see the final part of this blog. You’ll be able to see up close the little seedlings in their new home along with their new shape as they start their beginnings into cascade Japanese Black Pines.

See you there. πŸ™‚

It’s That Time Of Year Again

It’s a bittersweet time because the weather has started turning cold and doing this chore anywhere but outside is not an option for me.

As I look at how nice and full the JBPs are with all those needles I sort of cringe, but then I think of what they will look like after the plucking and the new wiring and I feel much better about it.

I’ll start this blog with the littler ones and save the bigger ones, the ones that are more refined for next time.

This first one and the few that follow are trees that were given to me as three year old seedlings back in 2009 I believe. Their shape was started by the original owner so I didn’t have much to say about the style that was chosen. All I could do was to try and refine them a little more each year and hope I would get something that would look halfway decent some day.

So here’s tree #1, first the before and then the after.

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JBP 2

I wonder how many of you after looking at the first pic are saying are saying to yourself ” I think he should have left it the way it was because now it looks a little skimpy with all that nice foliage gone.” I too liked the fullness of the first pic, but when we get down to tree # 4 you will see why it’s important to not let your eyes decide for you what is right when it comes to JBP maintenence work.

Now tree # 2 looks like it needs some help for sure with all that foliage. The after pic shows a much better looking tree but with still some years of work needed to bring it where I want it to be. You can see that my design plans for this tree is to extend that bottom branch downward to give the tree a flowing motion if that’s the correct word for it, so that the viewers eye will naturally go there rather than at the untapered trunk which is quite a distraction.

JBP 3

JBP 4

This next tree has come a long way as far as I’m concerned. When I took this tree I said to myself, “this tree will never amount to anything”. Well with a lot of care and determination It turned out better than I ever thought it would.

JBP 5

JBP 6

It really looks a lot better in person than I can make it look with even a professional camera. I guess it’s that thing they call 3D. πŸ™‚

Well here’s the last tree for this article and it’s the one I mentioned above about all that nice foliage having to come off. Even this tree is very full with nice small foliage.

JBP 7

But as with the others the foliage had to be greatly reduced for no other reason than to let light into the inner branches to help produce back budding and to give the artist a specimen that loks like a tree and not a bush.

JBP 8

Notice the real nice refinement of the branches on this little guy? You only get this with dedicated work on your JBPs twice a year, in summer and fall. Of course I don’t mean to belittle the fact that a good fertilizing program is also a must because without it you wouldn’t have much to work with since the summer work is wholly dependent on the strength of the tree at that time and that can only happen with a good healthy fertilized tree.

I would just like to add that this tree is now ready for a much more suitable pot, something a bit smaller for sure.

Next time I’ll be showing the work on the mature trees.

See you then.
Thomas J.

Bees, Bees and More Bees

Well I’m back from my hiatus from the hot weather here in Texas that makes me want to do absolutely nothing except what has to be done, and for bonsai that just consists of watering three times a day and nothing else as far as I’m concerned. The trees fared rather well during the hot dry heat which is more than I can say for myself. The three times a day watering is a must with the type of soil I use, and especially since half of my collection is JBP which of course means they are in full sun constantly and have a really good free draining soil.

My wife is a big help when it comes to watering that often because while I’m at work, one or sometimes both of the three times a day watering is left to her to do. This really hasn’t been a problem for her up until the bees started showing up. If you recall in one of my last blogs I mentioned the problem I had with my neighbors bee keeping hives right behind my house. Bees need water too and they found a paradise only a couple hundred feet from their nesting place in my bonsai moss and soil.

My wife made it plain to me that she’ll water the trees when I can’t up until the time she gets stung, after that I’m on my own. For the most part these bees are pretty docile and will only buzz around your head during watering, but of course there always has to be one that will make life miserable for me and he did when he laid a stinger on my wife’s thigh. My wife is one who says what she means, and means what she says, after that I was on my own when it came to watering. πŸ™

I made a deal with her that if she could at least turn on the water which is no where near the trees, I would set something up so she could stay as far away as possible from the bees.

The picture below is what I came up with, and of course little Bailey has to sniff it out and give me his approval, but it’s a three piece sprinkling system that I thought would work if I condensed all my trees together on the days I’m not home for the watering that I must now do myself.

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The first thing to do was to tie the hoses which also came with the sprinklers, to the tops of bonsai tables.

Bonsai Benches

There was plenty of hose supplied so the extra length was wound neatly up and attached to the back of the tables at the top.

sprinkler hose

Finally each of the three sprinkler units was attached to the top of three of the tables.

Sprinklers attached to top of each table

After connecting the hoses to each end we were good to go. The system worked like a charm. Since I have six tables for all my bonsai I decided to try three more with a total of six sprinklers, one for each table, but as luck would have it, it wouldn’t work. By the time the water got to the fourth sprinkler the pressure started going down and by the time it got to the last sprinkler there was only a squirt of water coming out. So it was back to the three where it worked just the way I needed it. As long as I condensed all my trees together on the three tables, there was no problem.

Now that the heat of the summer is gone and for that matter summer itself is now gone, I can sit back again outside with a nice cool breeze at times and enjoy looking at my trees again. Of course Rosita enjoys spending outdoor time with me too, and she even gives me a thumbs up on her approval of the trees.

Arosa Perched

One bonsai I especially like looking at is this procumbens juniper that I’ve been working on since 2002. I really like the design of it.

While checking my trees one morning, I was surprised to see my little Pyracantha full of flowers.

Flowering Pyracantha
Flowers are something you don’t expect to see in early fall, but then I remembered it did the same thing last year around this time.

Speaking of fall, it won’t be long before I have to start thinking about needle plucking time on my JBPs. Once the new growth hardens off, that’ll be the time to get at it.

I don’t know if you can tell on these two pics, but the new growth is nice and light green now. By the end of November they should be ready for the task that awaits them.

JBP 1

JBP 2

Another big task I have waiting for me is this shimpaku.

Shimpaku

A few years back the summer heat really got to it and it weakened the tree considerably. Branches became very weak and foliage was turning brown and dieing off, especially on the inside. I moved the tree to a more shaded area and didn’t touch it since then except for watering. The few years rest allowed it to come back and now I think it’s time for a haircut. That won’t happen though until early spring. The pic below shows what the tree should look like.

Shimpaku - Old Photo

So make sure you check the blog often to see the update on this shimpaku.

Well that’s it for now. See you next time. πŸ™‚

Thomas J.

Thomas Summer Bonsai Updates

Wow is hot here in my neck of the woods. We dodged most of the summer without very many 100+ degree days, but now they’re here and looks like they’ll be here for some time too.

During this time of the year it’s really hard for me to do too much in the way of bonsai, simply because they slow down too and other than the three times a day watering, that’s really about all they need.

I just finished the decandling on my JBPs and am I glad this year wasn’t that hot during that time like it usually is. It allowed me more time to really make sure everything was done right rather than hurry up and get it done before I die in this heat. πŸ™‚

Here’s a pic of one of the decandeled JBPs and you can probably notice that I left one branch without decandling it.

That candle will play into my styling for this tree and needed to be left to grow out longer.

As for the other JBPs, they are popping new buds like crazy. I’ll have my hands full this fall when it comes time to pull needles. πŸ™

As for the JBP seedlings, you can see here they are coming along really well. They are finally starting to harden up their little trunks and should be ready for their first trunk wiring at repotting time next spring. At that time they will also be individually put into collanders for the start of their new life as bonsai. The collanders will help thicken up the trunks on these little guys. They will stay in the collanders for about six years. Of course during this time they will also be repotted as needed.

The little guys above are just regular JBP seedlings while the ones below are Mikawa JBP.

The Mikawa variety has a more flaky type bark giving it a more aged look than other varieties of JBP. For whatever reason the Mikawa seedlings seemed to be more robust the than the others. Many of the others seemed weak while the Mikawas looked good from the get go.

If you can recall from one of my earlier blogs, somewhere around March 16th I believe, you’ll see this Chinese Elm that I mentioned that had a serious scale infestation a few years back.

Because of that I got a lot of die back on the back side as you can see in the photo above. But with some loving care and again a good fertilizing regiment, you can see that I’m getting some good new growth to fill in the infested area.

I really love the Chinese elm, but they can be a lot of work at times just to keep them looking more like a bonsai than an upscale weed. πŸ™‚

In my last blog I mentioned that I would show you an update of one of the six junipers that I recently worked on. That would be juniper 2 the cascade with the large pot. If you’re new to the blog here or if you can’t remember which one it is, take a quick run over to juniper # 2.

In order to keep the tree in proportion with the trunk, it needed to be shortened.

I saw a good area with a nice flow in the trunk and that’s where I made my cut. Now it will have a good chance after repotting it next spring into a much smaller cascade pot, to become a really nice shohin juniper.

You always have to keep the future of the tree in mind, and always think about keeping things in proportion. You can be a beginner, but your work can look outstanding if you do it right. That also goes for the pot, don’t put the tree in oversize pot, but keep it also in proportion to the height and width of the tree.

As I finish up here, I see little Bailey has found a nice place in the shade to try and keep somewhat cool.:-)

See you next time.
Thomas J.

Keeping my bonsai watered in Texas

Now that the six juniper procumbens are behind me, I can now concentrate on my other trees as before. Here in Texas we’re deep into summer with temps quite often in the 100F range. Because of this, watering has become a three time a day chore – leaving no room for anything less.

During the hottest time of the day most of the trees are in shade, but that’s not the case for the black pines. They must be in full sun all the time.

Because of this, certain precautions must be taken. The main one being keeping the pots of those trees from becoming too hot. If they become excessively hot, the roots inside that sometimes straddle the sides of the pot on the inside and will become damaged and possibly cause the death of the tree.

For this reason all the pots that are in full sun are covered with thick towels to protect them from that unbearable heat, as you can see in the following two pics:

Bonsai protection from sun

Bonsai protected from sun 2

The towels, when wet from watering, actually keep the pot humid and cool for a few hours and can be very beneficial in this instance as well.

While your at it, look at the foliage on those pines. These trees are very healthy and ready for decandling. Decandling should never be done on an unhealthy pine. What you are seeing here is the result of a good fertilizing program and the correct type of soil for these particular trees.

I recently took a little time to work on one of my juniper procumbens since I was more or less in the mood after working on the other six for the series. I really felt this tree needed only one thing done to it at this time, and that was a new and slightly bigger pot. All that was needed was to slip it from the smaller pot to the bigger one with new soil.

For this reason the term slip potting is used by bonsai enthusiasts. The pic below shows the tree in the new pot:

Juniper Slip Potting

Go back to the introduction of the six junipers to see this tree from its beginning at purchase, to the recent pot it was in.

Finally, doing bonsai in my little part of the world can be somewhat challenging at times. This is what I sometimes have to wear to water my trees, part of a bee suit.

Bee suit

My neighbor behind me has been raising bees for the past few years and since then they know where to come for that desperate drink of water. Just about all of my pots look like what you see below, thirsty bees enjoying some fun time in the moist soil and moss.

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Photo 6

So as I’m watering, bees are buzzing around me as though I was in the midst of their hive. So far no stings as of this writing, I just hope it stays that way.

Now this next pic made me make a run for the nearest door to the house. At various times bees will swarm from their hive and look for a new place to take up residence, and that’s usually in my back yard bald cypress. During the swarm it can be pretty scary until they settle down like you see here.

Photo 7

Next time I hope to give you an update on the JBP seedlings and one of the six junipers from the recent series. πŸ™‚

Thomas J.

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