Weed and Feed

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No. Not weed and feed like the combination fertilizer and weed killer you put on your lawn. Keep that stuff far away from my bonsai. I mean “weed and feed” as in, “If you feed the critters, you may need to weed more often.”

Can you tell what you are looking at here?


I suspect a squirrel or chipmunk carried as many sunflower seeds as it could shove in its mouth and spit ’em all out into a little hole they dug I the bonsai soil. This is the second such cluster I found this week!

Stay out a my pots ya little whipper-snappers!

Carving Away Trunks

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This Vicary Privet is happy and healthy, and while you may not be able to tell just how many, it has way too many trunks. 


Not sure about the front yet, so here’s another angle. 


It’s time to make some decisions, but HOW?! I took a good long look and tried not to move too fast — a common mistake for me. There were a couple that I knew I wanted to keep, and a couple that really obviously needed to come out because they didn’t have much growth or were interfering with the keepers.


 This got things moving in the right direction, and after removing a couple I could get a better look. Now I could see that one was far too straight. Another was angled counter to the flow that was beginning to develop, and eventually it was clear that I needed to take it down to three. 

I am no pro at carving, but I decided to get a start on shaping all of these large cuts. 


In addition to hand tools, I put this Nibbler bit to work. 


I wired just a couple of branches to get them angled in the right general direction, but I refrained from pruning anything more than the trunks that were removed. 

Here’s how it looks now. 


And to give you an idea of my vision for the future, I will leave you with a sketch. 

A Young Redbud 

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I was struck when I took an initial look at this redbud today. As it is shown below, there is a tip toward the front at the apex and there are branches at textbook locations on the larger trunk: left, back, right, left, back, right. It was almost too good to be true, so I moved it to the bench and grabbed some wire to start this young tree on the path. 


Closer examination told a different story. This next picture shows the base (with some poorly applied wire) from the same front as above. Can you see how it curves under and back as it meets the soil?


On the other side, the base flares out toward the viewer giving a greater sense of age. For now, this will be my front. 


Branches were wired down and new growth pruned a bit to encourage some branching. Unfortunately, the tip at the apex, which now goes in the wrong direction, had to be removed leaving what’s left of the apex rather skimpy. 


This is a very young tree though. It has a long way to go, but this is a fair start. 

Layers of Buxus

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In my years in bonsai, I have noted a consistent interest from non-bonsai folk regarding whether we name our trees. I name trees only when I need to distinguish one from another of the same species. I call this boxwood “Concord2.”


It was retrieved from a trash pile on the curb along Concord Drive. At the time it had three trunks. I split this twin trunk (it got to be #2 because it has two trunks) from its sibling tree, a single trunk tree I call Concord1 (one trunk). Concord1 is the tree in this recent post.

Well, now that I have bored everyone let show you what is am up to with Concord2. (And I’ll try not to explain any future names.)

The photo above is how Concord2 looked when it was shown last fall. Even as it was on display, I was planning changes. I’d like the foliage to be more layered and complex with multiple pads rather than just the three foliage masses it had then. Today I took the first steps toward that goal.

Here’s how it looked with fresh spring growth before work began.


And here it is after.


This is just a step down the road, and it is clearly not refined. Some branches were removed, others were repositioned with wire, and one branch on the back toward the top will be removed eventually, but for now I am going to let it grow out as a sacrifice branch.

It doesn’t look like much at the moment, but it is on a good path for the future. I think I will slip this into a slightly larger pot to grow. I look forward to sharing its progress in the future.

World Bonsai Day Festival

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I spent a good chunk of the past weekend at a bonsai festival but haven’t written about it. I hate to think I have disappointed all three of my loyal followers. 


First and foremost, the setting was stellar. We were at the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum at the National Arboretum in Washington DC. We were literally in the shadow of great trees, including Goshin, above, which is claimed to be the most famous bonsai in the world. 

(Ok, I don’t like when people misuse the word ‘literally,’ so I will qualify the “literally in the shadow” thing. It was cloudy and rainy for most of the weekend, so there weren’t a lot of shadows… and even when the sun was out on Sunday… Well, you might have to bend down to be LITERALLY in the shadow. I mean, they are bonsai!)

Here are a couple shots of the Potomac Bonsai Association trees displayed in the China Pavillion. 



A nice showing. We also had a formal display challenge (apologies, no photos), a great bunch of vendors, and much more. 

Thanks to all those who worked so hard to make it all happen, including dozens of volunteers. This is an event to look forward to each year!

Plans for after the show

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I come from an art background. When an artist submits an artwork for exhibition, it is bad form to change the artwork from what was shown to the juror. 

I don’t really know the “rules” when living, growing things are selected for exhibition. I did some refinement pruning on this tree in advance of showing this coming weekend, but there is a little part of me that says I should not make any further changes before the show… even though there is obviously a branch that has to go. 


Do you see it? Just below the apex the trunk splits in three directions. One of those three has to go. I’m going to remove the one on the right. The question is, when? It can definitely wait. The real question is, do I have the patience to grow it out as a sacrifice branch to thicken the trunk. Maybe get a graft out of it and get a branch down lower on the trunk. 

I guess we’ll have to wait and see. 

Just a haircut

I collected this Autumn Olive, Elaeagnus umbellata, one year ago and it is growing well. 


I’m not sure what the final design of this tree will be, but there is no hurry to decide. Today, just a quick clip to encourage some branching and back budding. More branches closer in will give more choices when I do start making decisions.  Here is what it looks like after the trim. 

Mountain Laurel

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Because there is such an abundance of Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia) in the woods near my home, I decided to collect this small specimen to see how it would respond to bonsai techniques. I dug it last spring (2016) and it did absolutely nothing all summer. 

A push of new leaves this spring led me to remove all of the old and damaged leaves in favor of the fresh, and more numerous ones. Below is what some of those old leaves looked like:


So, one year into this experiment here’s what I know:

  • I can keep them alive.
  • Recovery from digging may be very slow. Be patient!
  • Backbudding will occur. This will require patience as well as the backbudding is very small and will take time to develop growing strength. 

I will watch and learn over this growing season to see how this plant continues to grow and develop. I have a feeling this is going to be a very slow experiment.