Developing Deciduous Bonsai


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Do you ever have those moments when you learn something new and want to run right out to the garden to apply it? I finally got around to listening to the Asymmetry podcast with Dennis Vojtilla. If you have deciduous bonsai you should give it a listen! Dennis is a deciduous genius and he shares several concrete tips in his interview with Ryan Neil of Bonsai Mirai. Listening made me realize I have several deciduous trees that are due to be cut back.

The one I was able to tend to this evening is a very young plant, so it is hardly a refined specimen, but I thought I’d share it nonetheless.

This Korean Hornbeam, Carpinus coreana, was given to me by Steve Miller as a 2-3 year old seedling a couple of years ago. I guess that makes it only 5 years old. Even in this small pot, it is growing well and is definitely due to be cut back. Today I am cutting back to two leaves on each new branch.

If you listen to the podcast referenced above, you will hear Dennis recommend cutting back to one, but I am going to assume he is talking about trees that are far more refined than this!

Cutting back this hard after letting the branches harden off, as I have, should result in buds at the base of (hopefully) both of the remaining leaves push out. This will mean twice as many branches which will, over time, create a nice full tree.

You can see that the pile on the left now has far more leaves than the tree, but I am confident the tree will grow well and be just as strong in a few weeks.

I’m not too concerned about the design at this early stage of development, but I might be tempted to repot it to the angle shown below next spring. What do you think?


Quality Time at a Quality Site


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I had the pleasure of spending most of the day at the U. S. National Arboretum and Bonsai and Penjing Museum. The task at hand was setting up for (helping vendors set up for) this weekend’s Potomac Bonsai Festival. Lucky for me, there wasn’t a lot of work every moment of the day.

During one of those quiet times, I had the pleasure of helping my friend LeAnn prep a couple of trees for the PBA member show. The odiferous task was applying Lime Sulfur to the deadwood on those trees. Some complain about the smell, but I rather enjoy the task. It’s pretty much painting a tree. What could be wrong with that?! Besides, I got to do the work here…

…among the plants and trees “behind the scenes” of the bonsai museum.

Of course I also found some moments to enjoy the collection.

All and all, a beautiful day. I look forward to more days like it this weekend. Come on out, see the trees, and check out the vendors. For more information, go to the PotomacBonsai website.

Crepe Myrtle – First Repot


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‘Tis the nature of bonsai that even after 20 years of experience you can have real uncertainty about a routine procedure like root pruning. In this instance it was over root pruning a dwarf crepe myrtle I picked up on sale last fall. The uncertainty was over the date. I don’t usually do root pruning and repotting this late in the year (except on tropicals). The only thing I had to go on was the one concept I have depended on for years… repot deciduous trees just as they start to push buds.

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How do they stay so small?


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There are many common questions and misconceptions about bonsai. For many, after they learn that bonsai is not a special species of tree (rather nearly any kind of tree or shrub trained in a certain way) the next question is, “How do they stay so small?”

Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

Even better, let me show you!

In the fall of 2015, I got two Japanese maples from a club raffle. They were the same variety, the same thickness, and the same height. I kept them both in pots for the 2016 growing season, and they stayed on par with one another. But in the spring 2017, I decided to plant one in the ground and keep the other in a pot. Just 14 months later, let me show you the difference.

This is the one in the pot.

Yes, it is quite tall for a potted tree, but I need the branches down low to fill out more before I reduce the height through pruning. Nevertheless, this is about the height of the tree when I first got it, and about the height of the other maple as well. Notice how compact the growth is.

Now, this is the other tree just 14 months in the ground.

Can you say, “Wow”? It is still about the same height, but the way the branches are extending, it will quickly become a much bigger tree.

This is, in my opinion, a fantastic illustration of one of the fundamental concepts in bonsai. A tree in a pot will not grow as fast as a tree in the ground. This, and the techniques used to grow and train bonsai, are how they stay so small.

Any questions?

Air Layering a Boxwood


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The boxwood in today’s post and video was collected from a suburban yard about 14 months ago. You can read about the collection HERE, and a related article about getting it into a box this spring. I have been very happy with how well it is doing. It has a strong root system and has good growth this spring. Many of these long branches need to be removed as I reduce the plant back to the large trunk. Air layering will help move this process along while propagating new plants at the same time.

Bonsai Best with Others


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I confess, at times I am skeptical of the oft repeated notion that “bonsai is an art best undertaken with others.” (Credit Gary Reese for its repetition.) I am usually content to work on my trees in the quiet of my garden, and find the hours spent there to be very therapeutic. Then again, my office mates know full well that I love little more than “talking it out.”

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NVBS 2018 Spring Show


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Mark down the Northern Virginia Bonsai Society 2018 Spring Show as a success. There were beautiful trees on public display, and many folks came to visit and learn more which gave us a wonderful opportunity to share our passion. NVBS even got a couple of new members as a result!

Our photographer in residence, David Lieu, who also happens to be our Vice President for Membership, brought along his camera and took the amazing pictures included in the video below. All credit to you, David! Thanks for letting me share this.