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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Re-potting Bonsai

Repotting ones bonsai is crucial for achieving continual successful growth, year after year. Bonsai roots need to be trimmed to prevent the tree from becoming pot-bound. A pot-bound bonsai leads to nutrient deprivation and eventually causes ones tree to starve to death. Re-potting ones bonsai will not stunt its growth but rather provides it with new nutrients, which allow the tree to grow and become healthy.

The organic matter in soil continually breaks down over time, causing the soil to become compacted. Compacted soil means that the soil will lack aeration and loses the ability to drain excess water. This leads to ill-health in bonsai, which is why re-potting, escpecially in organic soil mixes, is so necessary.

There is no definite schedule which one can follow on how often to repot a bonsai. Each individual tree has its own needs. Most articles one reads, will say  to re-pot about every 2 years, but personally I do not agree.  The most full-proof way of telling when to re-pot a bonsai is by lifting it out of its pot/container- if the roots are still contained within the soil and are not yet visible around the edges of the soil line, then it is not quite time to re-pot yet.

The best time of year to re-pot a bonsai is early spring. The reason for this is that the tree is still coming out of its winter dormancy, thus reducing the potentially damaging effects of root-ball trimming. It also allows for the tree to grow new roots for sustaining itself right at the beginning of the growing season, therefore decreasing the chances of any damaging effects that may have been caused during this process.

"What root-ball trimming?" one may ask. Well in the opening paragraph I mentioned that roots need to be trimmed to prevent a bonsai from becoming pot-bound- this is the most important part of re-potting. Remove the tree from its previous pot and gently remove all the soil, leaving just the roots exposed.  NEVER REMOVE MORE THAN 70% OF THE TREES ROOT SYSTEM. You should ALWAYS have 30% of the original root system remaining to ensure the survival of your tree.

If you are worried that you have removed too much of the root system, remove some of the trees foliage, this will help it to cope. Another thing to bare in mind is that the total surface area of those delicate little roots, far exceeds that of the larger roots, thus increasing nutrient absorption, making them more important than the thicker, longer roots. When re-potting always keep the trees roots moist- if they dry out, they will die. Therefore the faster you can complete this process the better. So try to prepare your potting soil mix beforehand and have your selected pot ready ...

The best way to ensure a successfull repotting is by placing a mound of your selected soil medium in the centre of the pot, this helps ensure that  there is not a large empty space under the base of the tree. Open up the now-trimmed roots and spread them out around the pot. Work the soil in between all the roots, gently but thoroughly. Upon completion, soak the entire bonsai- pot-and-all in a basin that is deeper than the height of the pot. When all the excess air has stopped bubbling to the surface, remove the tree and place it in your en.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Planting Demonstration at the Companys Garden

From left to right: Dillon Race, Jonathan Cohen and myself.

This photograph was taken by our groups leader, Paul Parker, at a bonsai exhibition held at the Company's Garden in Cape Town where my fellow bonsai-men and I did a Pomegranate forest planting demonstration.

Pot Selection and Preparation

Pot Selection

It seems logical that one would assume that the bonsai tree itself creates the entire composition of what constitutes a finished bonsai, but in actual fact the pot is just as important! For a tree to reach its full potential a harmony between the pot and tree must be achieved. Finding the perfect pot is possibly one of the most difficult tasks a bonsai enthusiast can be faced with. The pot that you eventually choose to make your bonsais' permanent home will ultimately be one that reflects your personal taste. The four main things to look at when choosing a pot are the pots dimensions, shape, texture and colour.


-The pots depth should be equal to the diameter of the trunk at the base of the tree.                                                                              

-For oval and rectangular pots, the pots length should be 2/3 of the height of the tree.                                                            

-For round pots, the pots diameter should be 1/3 of the height of the tree.                                                                                          

-A shallower, wider pot can help compensate for trees with extra-wide canopies.                                                                                                                                                                      

-These guidelines are based purely on aesthetics and are not suitable for all species!

Pot shape

-To choose the correct pot shape, one must first decide whether the tree is masculine or feminine.

-More often than not, a tree will be a combination of both masculinity and femininity- but one will always be more dominant than the other.

-Masculine trees should be potted in rectangular pots and feminine trees should be potted in oval pots.


-Choosing a pot with the correct texture, once again, comes down to whether the tree is masculine or feminine.

-A feminine tree will suit a smooth clay finish, whereas the wildness of a masculine tree is brought out by the roughness of a pot.


-The colour of the pot is used to pronouce certain features of a tree, be it the bark, foliage, or even the fruits/flowers.

-This can be created by either using colour harmonies or by contrasting colours.

Choosing a suitable pot is a difficult process but it is one that can be mastered over-time. It will always come down to an individuals personal taste and no-one can ever tell you that you have made a bad decision as there is no right or wrong.

Pot Preparation 

Preparation of your selected pot is a much easier process, thankfully. Simply wash out and dry the pot. Place gauze tape over the drainage holes and cover the bottom of the pot with a thin layer of small 2/3mm stone to aid in drainage.

Friday, September 9, 2011

10 Year Old Wild Olive For Sale

Selling my 10 year old Windswept, Wild Olive.

Bonsai Potting Mixture

Bonsai are grown in pots and therefore have a limited space from which to aquire water and nutrients. Unlike plants which grow in nature or in your garden, your bonsais' root system cannot obtain water, nutrients or air beyond its containers walls.

When selecting a suitable medium for potting bonsai, there are certain criteria that your mix will need to meet. It must be able to retain water and nutrients for your tree to grow and provide adequate airspace for drainage to prevent water-logging. To achieve this balance, one must find the correct mixing ratio of organic and inorganic matter.

'Good' water retention is important because it will keep the soil moist between waterings. This is crucial because the trees roots require moisture to survive. Too much water retention however, can become extremely damaging to the tree.

For this reason good drainage is necessary. Your potting mixture must allow for all excess water to drain from the pot immediately. Soils which lack good drainage become too water-rententive and therefore lack aeration and tend to cause a build up of salts.  Water-logging can also lead to root-rot.

It is also critical to the survival of the root system that it has access to sufficient amounts of oxygen. For this reason aeration in the soil is necessary. To allow for aeration there must be enough space between particles to allow for tiny air-pockets.

Although all trees require free-draining, water-retentive soils, different species have different water and nutrient requirements. Therefore there is no 'one-fits-all' soil composition, which makes describing the perfect soil mix for your specific bonsai an impossible task.

A good example of this is that Junipers and Pines require significantly less water than most other species and therefore require a less water-retaining soil mix. Alternatively, flowering and fruit-bearing species require a lot more water and should be potted in a higher water-retaining mix.

Adding course, inorganic matter, is an efficient and suitable method of achieving better drainage for those Junipers and Pines. Increasing the amount of organic matter in the mixture allows for a more water-retentive composition but becomes risky as it can lead to water-logging.

Every individual bonsai artist will have to discover which mixture works best for each of their individual species. This is why making your own potting mix becomes so much more economical and beneficial.

Try to find someone in your local area who is also a bonsai enthusiast and find the potting mixture that works best for them. Alternatively, contact a bonsai nursery and find out what potting medium they would recommend you use, in your region.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Kei Apple

This is a new idea that I'm trying. This Kei Apple is a very unique specimen and I have an equally unique end-product in mind, although there is still much work to be done. 

Will keep you updated on my progress. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Bonsai Size Classification

One of the many great aspects of learning about bonsai is knowing all the technical terms that go with it. Being able to classify your bonsai in regards to its size and by using the correct terms is a great way of showing off your knowledge!

Bonsai height is generally measured from the base soil level up to the apex of the tree.

Here is a brief guide:

  • Keishi Bonsai can be up to 2.5 cm in height. (Miniature)
  • Shito Bonsai can be up to 7.5 cm in height. (Very small)
  • Mame Bonsai can be up to 15 cm in height. (Small)
  • Shohin Bonsai can be up to 20 cm in height. (Medium)
  • Kifu Sho Bonsai can be up to 40 cm in height. (Medium-large)
  • Chu Bonsai can be up to 60 cm in height. (Large)
  • Dai Bonsai can be up to 100 cm in height. (Very large)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Crassula Forest Planting

The theme of this forest is windswept. It features 5 Crassula trees.

The centre or 'father' tree was placed on a mound in the centre of the planting. He is one of few fully intact trees, showing that he was able to adapt to the forests conditions. The other two unbroken trees are adolescents which were able to receive enough shelter from the father tree to stay intact although they still show signs of strain due to the windy conditions.

On the left is a large stocky trunk which has been blown over. This particular Crassulas trunk was too sturdy to bend under the windy conditions so instead it was blown over. Its fall was broken by a large boulder allowing some of the trees roots to remain intact, therefore prolonging its life.

On the right hand side is a broken Crassula stump. This stump, being positioned on the edge of the forest received the full force of the wind and was unfortunately not strong enough to withstand it and therefore broke under the strain.


To achieve a successful forest one must envision a story and use that story as a theme to develop the forest. Using themes to design forests helps to achieve an authentic look which is crucial to creating a champion forest. Best of luck to all those who wish to create a forest! :) 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Kei Apple

My Kei Apple, planted root over rock.

Planting Demonstration

My fellow bonsai-men and I created a wonderful forest planting at a bonsai exhibition. The planting was done as a demonstration for the public, in The Company's Garden in Cape Town on the 3rd of September 2011.

Our planting consisted of 10 multi-trunk Pomegranate (Punica Granatum) trees. The forest was planted in soil which was held together by mutton cloth, onto a large slab of black natural rock which was found about 2 years ago. 

The forest will take between 1-3 weeks to settle in and for the roots to take hold of the soil. The mutton cloth will take about 6-8 months to decompose leaving just the soil and rock. Moss has been planted on the surface which will hopefully grow successfully, adding some character to the planting. 

Creating the forest was good fun and a great learning experience, receiving advice from top bonsai artist, Rudi Adam. Hopefully all those who got to watch the process were inspired and enjoyed it as much as my fellow planters and I did. 

* Photos will be added shortly once the forest has settled. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Kei Apple Growth

Lots of new growth on my Kei Apple. 

Bonsai from Seeds

Bonsai does not have to be expensive an expensive hobby. Bonsai trees can be grown from seeds and with a considerable amount of patience and effort, you could be the owner of a prize-winning bonsai that you started from scratch. Now what could be more rewarding than that?

This method not only provides a cheap solution to aquiring your very own bonsai but also the knowledge and satisfaction of knowing that you grew your bonsai from scratch. Starting a bonsai from a seedling is no simple task, after all true beauty and authenticity is never easily achieved. Bonsai is an art form that requires much patience and many, many years of hard work. Some people lack the time and interest to take up bonsai seriously, although I do stress that the reward far exceeds the effort.

  • The first step in raising a bonsai from a seedling is to pick a species that is well suited to the environment you intend to raise it in. Treat it as you would any other living thing, you must nurture and care for it.
  • Float the seeds in a tub of water overnight. I have read that the seeds that sink are more likely to survive than the seeds that float. So throw all the floating seeds away. Hopefully this will increase your success rate. 
  • Be prepared for failure. Not all your seeds will grow, but always keep in mind that the few that survive might eventually become those incredible prize-winner bonsai.
  • Plant the seeds into a growing container- one of those plastic flower containers from the nurseries tend to work well and sprinkle a layer of fertiliser over the top of the planting. 
  • Give the seedlings a good watering. You should always keep them moist as drying out could be devastating to the delicate seedlings.  


Something to remember is that the success of your seedlings will be relative to the effort and time you put into taking care of them. Do not expect to see results immediately as this is a long process. Always remember that there is nothing stopping you from purchasing a bonsai-in-progress or a finished bonsai in the meantime to keep you inspired.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Fig in progress

The first few carves have been completed but there is much work to be done to this tree.

Monday, August 1, 2011


Bonsai, like any other plant, require moist roots to survive. Therefore, knowing when to water your bonsai is extremely important to sustain a beautiful tree.  Reversely, over-watering can also be incredibly damaging to your bonsai. There are many factors that will influence the time intervals between watering. In fact, correctly watering your bonsai is a skill in itself but hopefully by the end of this article you will have a better understanding of when to water your tree.


Below are some of the factors that influence watering:
  • Soil mixture- the amount of drainage or water retention will affect how often you must water your bonsai (bonsai prefer well draining soil). 
  • Plant size and foliage density- the larger your tree the more water it will require, also the more foliage your tree has, the more it will transpire, therefore it will require more frequent watering.
  • Fertilizer- as fertilizer is meant to accelerate plant growth it also accelerates the rate at which your soil dries. Therefore depending on the growth rate of your bonsai, you may need to water more frequently. 
  • Root rot- if you do happen to over-water your bonsai and you cause root-rot, the rate at which your bonsai absorbs water will be reduced. Therefore your soil will take longer to dry and you should decrease your watering intervals. 
  • Sunlight- as the plant and pot are heated by the sun transpiration and evaporation increases, therefore your tree loses more water, faster. If your bonsai gets a lot of sunlight for many hours, you should increase your watering intervals. 
  • Humidity- if the humidity of the environment your bonsai grows in is high, your bonsai will lose less water as transpiration is decreased. Therefore, you will have to water less frequently and vice-versa. 

A general method for testing the dryness of your soil is by sticking your finger about 1cm into the soil. If the top 1cm of soil is dry, you should water your tree. Another method involves sticking a chopstick into the soil, if it comes out and is nearly dry, it is time to water.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Owner: Paul Parker
Artist: Paul Parker
Tree: Solanum

Artist: Paul Parker
Owner: Paul Parker
Tree: Bouganvillea

These two beautiful trees belong to the man who introduced me to bonsai.

Bud Nipping

When one is creating bonsai, one of the most attractive feautures are dense or compressed canopies/foliage. To achieve this genuine look, one must nip off new buds and shoots from the tips of the foliage. The best way to do this is by using your fingers as cutting the buds off with scissors turns the tips of your foliage brown. 

Nipping off the buds stimulates back growth. This will help you to thicken up your  canopies and also help you to maintain the shape of your bonsai. Another attractive feature of bonsai is good leaf reduction, leaf reduction will occur when your canopies thicken this is because the tree has more leaves so it will want to retain as much water as possible, therefore it reduces the surface area of its leaves to decrease transpiration. 

Once the buds are nipped off the production of auxins is brought to a halt (Auxins are growth hormones that make plants grow in length). Once the production of auxins has stopped,  the production of the hormone cytokinin begins. This hormone stimulates  axillary bud growth (Back growth) and also causes apical dominance. Therefore the trunk of your tree will thicken. 


Caution: nipping forces trees to use stored energy, therefore it should only be done to healthy trees. It is also not advisable to nip buds during winter because the trees recieve less energy/sun. 

Wild Olive

My 10 year old Wild Olive, grown in the windswept style. 


Wiring is a technique used to bend and  hold branches in a certain position. The technique of wiring has only really been in use for the last 100 years, therefore it is a relatively new technique considering the art of bonsai has been around for thousands of years.


In most cases, one would leave the wire on the tree for one growing season, although some trees are slower growing and take longer to hold the wired position, in which case the wire will remain on for longer. When wiring one should always be cautious for wire bite- this occurs when the branch grows to the extent that the wire cuts into it. Wire bite can leave ugly scars that may never grow out. If you feel that your wiring is beginning to damage your tree, you should remove it immediately. 

Bending thick branches drastically is likely to put a lot of stress on the branch. To aid the process, one should split the branch down the centre in a lengthwise direction. (To do this, use branch-splitters or a sharp knife). Then wrap moist raffia around the branch to protect the new wound. The next step is to wire the branch and proceed as normal. The raffia will also allow for the wire to remain on the branch for a longer period of time. 


I would suggest the use of proper bonsai wire as opposed to copper wire because it is easy to work with, corrosion protected and can be re-used. When selecting the correct wire to bend a branch, keep in mind that the gauge of the wire should be 1/3 of the thickness of the branch. Essentially ones aim is to bend the wire around the branch and not the branch around the wire. Application of the wire is relatively simple. First make sure the wire is anchored to the trunk, the wire is then wrapped around the branch in a spiral at a 45 degree angle. Sometimes in the case of thick branches, a second or even third piece of wire is required. These are applied using the same technique I mentioned above and should mirror your first wires positioning. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Jade Tree

The wonderful, succulent leaves of the Jade Tree. Sadly, my Jade tree was subjected to the honed blade of my bonsai scissors for propagation reasons. 

Age in Bonsai

I think one of the most fascinating aspects of bonsai is the old, rugged look that can be achieved or even naturally created through many years of growing, training and care. This aged look is vital in creating authentic bonsai that mimic something one would see growing naturally in the wild.


Of course there are certain characteristics a tree will possess that are a portrayal of its age. This also means that we can manipulate our trees growth to create an illusion of age. Below is a list of characteristics we want to achieve to create this illusion.
  • A rounded/domed apex.
  • Curved and angular branches.
  • Individual, dense clusters of foliage.
  • Mature bark texture.


The Japanese have 3 different techniques for ageing bonsai, these are known as Jin, Sharimiki and Sabamiki.
  • The Jin technique is used for killing branches. One can also use this technique to reduce the appearance of height in a bonsai that may be too tall. To do this simply remove all foliage from the branch you wish to Jin and strip its bark (Once the branches have died/dried out, you can carve them into a more rugged shape). Then carefully apply citric acid/furniture bleach to the Jinned branch to prevent rotting.
  • The Sharimiki technique is used for giving your bonsai a more interesting appearance. To do this, simply make two vertical incisions in the trees trunk, spaced relatively close together. Then take a sharp knife, working from the top downwards and remove the bark between the two incisions. The final step is to paint the strip of exposed wood with citric acid/furniture bleach to prevent rotting (Apply only to the exposed area).
  • Finally, the Sabamiki technique. Sabamiki means hollow/split trunk. If your bonsai has a damaged trunk you can hollow out the damaged area (Be cautious of penetrating live veins) you will find that the carved area dies back slowly and if you are not satisfied with the depth of the carve, in time you may be able to go slightly deeper. As with the preceding techniques, any carved area should be treated with citric acid/furniture bleach to prevent rotting!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Wild Olive

This is a photograph of my 10 year old, Windswept, Wild Olive. My pride and joy at the moment. As you can see I have carved out the trunk of the tree to create taper and give it some character. I'm really enjoying this specimen. All that's left to do at the moment is to thicken up the canopy and then it will be ready to be potted in it's final resting place. I look forward to this tree's transition from a 'bonsai in progress' to a 'true bonsai'. :)

Sunday, July 24, 2011


A photo that was taken on our 2011 (June 23rd) dig for bonsai in nature (Yamadori). We left at 7:00am at got back home at about 6:00pm. It was a long, tiring day but in the end was rewarding for all. Everybody managed to find and dig wonderful Wild Olive specimens. A great experience for any aspiring bonsai artist. :)

Kei Apple

One of my favourite pictures- A wired branch on my Kei Apple.


Bonsai is an art-form that I have recently become hooked on. I believe it is to do with the fact that it is such a versatile and ever-changing way of expressing nature in the most amazing ways. I will be using this Blog to archive and share my creations, progress and knowledge as I begin to unravel the intricate and beautiful art of Bonsai.