Some TLC


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Last summer I picked up this little juniper for a couple bucks from the section of the garden center where they put the plants that don’t look so good. In fact, this particular garden center calls it the TLC area.

At the time, it had several dead branches that extended from that hook at the top. It had a couple of healthy branches though so I thought I’d bring it home and give it a shot as a bonsai. I removed the dead branches and just let these remaining branches grow for the remainder of the season. Today, I gave it a little of that TLC it’s been needing.

The first priority was to get it out of the nursery pot. As I expected from having mostly dead branches last year, the pot was largely filled with dead roots that just fell away as I loosened the root ball. I was happy to see many white growing tips as well. That’s my sign that there are healthy roots, and they have started growing already for the spring push.

For this potting, I didn’t cut any roots. I just removed the dead roots and most of the nursery soil.

I prepared a small round training pot, and strapped it in at a bit of an angle with my growing mix.

It’s not super clear in this photo, but it has a nice little flair of roots that should develop nicely over time.

The branches are a bit haphazard still, but I definitely don’t want to remove any. This is all just to set up this tree for continued recovery. However, since I am giving a little TLC, I could do just one piece of wire, right? I want it to feel pretty.


Only February and I’ve already got my Taxus done.


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See what I did there? That’s right. There’s more than one way to have pun with yew!

My taxes really have been filed already, by the way, but my wife gets credit for that. We made a deal a long time ago — and at times each of us regrets it — I pay the monthly bills, and she does our taxes. It works for us.

Anyway, to business and to taxus! I already posted about the yew dig on Bonsai Iterate. You can read that here if you like. Now I want to share the tree I got. Here it is before digging:

I’ve been watching the yews on this site for some time. As you can see from the photo above, this one had a clear sight line to the base, and that’s probably why I was bent on taking it. I have to admit, though, that many of the other trees that were collected on the same day had even more potential, and I might have looked harder before jumping in. Ah, well. One more rookie mistake for the old man.

Don’t get me wrong. I am excited for the potential in this specimen!

Above, you can see a big cut I made before I started digging. The cut branch/trunk was very straight and was not going to be part of the final design. That got a lot of branching out of the way so I could get to work.

If you look a little closer you might be able to see that I had to dig down quite a bit before I found the root flair. It was a good 8 inches below the soil line. It is important to find that flair in any plant you dig or you could find yourself lifting a rootball without any roots. In this case, it meant I had to move that much more dirt.

Here we are (just yew and I) after pulling it out of the hole. (Many thanks to James for his help!) In this photo, the plant is tipped up at a different angle than it was in the ground so it looks a good 6 feet tall despite being pruned at 4 feet for decades. In fact, I had to remove a big chunk of that thick crown to get it into my vehicle. Sometimes practical considerations make the decisions for you!

Digging and moving this thing was no easy task and I was exhausted by the time I had it in a grow box at home. It will stay in this box to recover for a couple of years at least.

From this angle you can appreciate the root spread at the base. It’s one of those plants that has a really strong taper from front and back, but looks too narrow from the sides. That big branch going to the upper left in the shot above is deadwood, so it will likely be shortened dramatically into Jin and Shari when styling begins… but that’s a couple of years off. Until then, I will do everything I can to get this tree healthy and strong. With any luck, I will get lots of back-budding down on the older wood and get a really strong taxus return!

No? Not funny? Oh well. I tried.

Diggin’ Yew (pun intended)


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I spent a long day digging yew from a site that is about to go under construction. In all, eleven members of the Northern Virginia Bonsai Society came out to get their hands on some really fantastic material.

I estimate that these shrubs have been on the site for 40 to 60 years, and their size corresponds as you would expect. The base measurement of most of the specimens was somewhere around 8 to 10 inches, and while they all have multiple trunks, we were all able to find plants that had one or two dominant trunks that will inform the future design of the trees.

As you would imagine, getting material of this size out of the ground and into your vehicle is no easy task. These folks really earned these trees! I can’t wait to see them show up at NVBS workshops in a couple of years after they recover.

Glazed pots


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I love taking glaze ware out of the kiln!

The round pots, especially, were just made as training pots so I feel able to play with colors and have some fun.

I love the way the green glaze, above, allows textures to show through.

This little bit was just a test piece of a dark brown clay – no glaze at all. Look at how dark that is! I will have to build some pots with that.

The variation in this one is so much fun it deserves a video so you can appreciate it all.

Fun with glaze, and a few more bonsai pots to boot… it won’t be long before I get busy repotting.

A Late Announcement


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While I have told many friends, and no doubt posted the news to social media long ago, I realize I have never made a notable, bonsai-related announcement here on Bonsai Iterate. I am now the president of the Northern Virginia Bonsai Society!

NVBS is an active club with strong membership numbers, well attended meetings, and a long history so I am honored and humbled to be able to serve in this role.

It was a great pleasure to present to the club during the January meeting, my first serving officially in this role. And this morning we had a fantastic February meeting with 40 people in attendance and new members arriving at every turn.

So, yes, the news is quite old, but a benefit of sharing with you now is that I can also report that the world has not ended and our meetings continue to be successful despite who they put in charge!

I look forward to sharing some of our adventures along the way, and truly hope I will still find the time to spend with my trees and share their development as well.

Stay tuned, and sign up to follow Bonsai Iterate if you haven’t already. I’ll see some of you at the next meeting!

Is there a bonsai class I could take?


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The thermometer on my patio says it is 8 degrees Fahrenheit this morning as a very cold stretch of weather is finally about to let up here in Northern Virginia. With all my trees in deep freeze, I was glad to get a question that could break my bonsai boredom. From a person with a new found interest I was asked, “Is there a class I could take?” Well, yes and no.

Continue reading

Now I Know Why Pots are So Expensive.


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Maybe not a perfect quote, but that was the gist of a comment during a recent ceramics workshop with some bonsai society members, “Now I know why pots are so expensive!”

Some of the content below is modified from a write up on that meeting that will be shared with the membership. I am going to take a risk and hope that if a couple of you readers are members, you won’t be offended that I share it here first.

The sunny, mild afternoon of December 3rd and Gary’s back yard provided the perfect setting for the second-ever NVBS Ceramics meeting. A small group met in Gary’s heated shed to continue developing basic ceramic hand-building skills. The focus of this meeting was a slab construction process which involves rolling out slabs of clay, designing and creating a paper template, then using the template to cut and assemble the slabs to create rectangular and oval pots.

The pots will be allowed to dry slowly and then loaded into the kiln and fired along with the pinch pots made during the first meeting. The next time we meet, we will be able to glaze and finish the pots that have been constructed.

Thanks to all who have expressed interest in getting involved. The instructors and host are working to develop a practical approach to extend this opportunity to additional members who want to learn this rewarding craft.

To close if like to share another quote from Gary who was talking about this work, “What is Bonsai after all? A tree in a POT!” We spend significant energy focusing on the tree. Why not also learn to build the pot?

Winter Protection 3 Ways


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For a hot second I considered calling this post “A Winter 3-Way” but I’d hate for a poor choice in title to keep this post from getting through someone’s filter. Of course, putting it in the first paragraph is probably no better. Oh well.

It’s the last week in November in Northern Virginia (in most places, truth be told). While the weather has been rather mild here, this is about the time of year I tuck my trees in for the winter by putting them in a place and manner that will provide some protection from the coldest weather of the season.

This year there are three ways I am arranging trees that will each provide different levels of protection.

#1 Least Shelter – some trees are just placed on the ground with a couple of my benches tipped and arranged to offer a slight barrier from strong, desiccating winds. Simply being in the ground will keep the roots (the most sensitive part of the trees in winter) several degrees warmer than if they were still up on benches. This arrangement also provides the most sunlight and is my choice for the larger conifers that will continue metabolic activity whenever the temperatures are warm enough (above 42 degrees by most sources).

#2 Light Shelter – For the first time this year I am using this temporary greenhouse structure to provide shelter for a number of smaller bonsai. Trees inside the greenhouse will have more protection from wind and will still get a good amount of light. The jury is still out on temperatures, though. The trees on the shelves don’t have the benefit of being on the ground like option 1, but the shelter will moderate temperatures to some degree when it is closed up for a cold spell. I will be monitoring this as we go through the winter.

#3 Most Shelter – Finally, I have this plastic covered shelter up against the house. Because it benefits from the warmth of the house, this space can easily run 10 or more degrees warmer than outside air temperatures. It is built below the deck, however, so gets only minimal light in the morning. This is my choice for most of my deciduous trees.

No matter where they are stored, all trees will still need to be checked for moisture throughout the winter.

Here’s hoping for successful protection, and a strong response in the spring!

Leaf Removal on a Collected Beech


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It could be argued that maybe a bonsai enthusiast should stay away from a species named for its large leaves. Ok. That’s fair.

The North American beech is just that – Fagus grandifolia – pretty much translated as “the large leaf beech.” I will concede right from the start that I should look into getting a European beech, but at home, in my immediate surroundings, the American beech plays a big role in defining the woods I love to walk in. It’s a beautiful species, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to collect this young tree that displayed a very full mass of persistent beech-brown leaves when I found it this past spring.

It has done exceedingly well in this first year. In the photo above, I am about halfway done removing the leaves in advance of winter storage. It’s rather surprising how much green you can still see even in the middle of November in Northern Virginia. Nevertheless, a significant amount of color change has occurred and I am confident it won’t miss the leaves at this point.

Just as when I found it, most of the leaves would stay on through the winter if I left them, but I prefer to remove the leaves before putting deciduous trees into cold frames. This reduces the amount of litter inside which can help reduce potential for pest and disease problems in the spring. Besides, I wanted to get a good look at the branching and structure of this tree!

Really not bad for a tree that has not been styled! Removing leaves also gave me a good look at how many buds are set for spring growth. Every indication is this will continue to be a strong specimen. I look forward to helping it develop!