Repotting a Callistemon

Regular readers will have seen this callistemon before. It was started many years ago to replicate the river callistemons that grow in and along the creeks and rivers in my area.

This spring it has been wilting badly most days so I decided it was time to repot to give the roots more room.

With many other things demanding time this spring and hoping it would flower (flowers quite late, usually early December) I didn’t get around to repotting many of my natives until early December. I’m quite comfortable with this time as I’ve done most of them in December and had very few problems.

Here it is before pruning and repotting

Hoping to get some flowers this spring the tree has been allowed to grow without pruning since Feb last year. Callistemon flower at the tip of last year’s shoots so pruning through winter or spring will remove any flower buds even before you see them. there’s no sign of flower buds so I can go ahead and prune. this tree was pruned and root pruned on December 8th.

after pruning

The whole idea of this bonsai is to show the elongated, sparse branches that the trees in our local rivers have. When it gets too bushy the effect is lost so each summer I drastically reduce the new growth and thin out entire shoots to try to return the tree to the river swept image. i know this treatment is OK for Callistemon sieberii because it buds extremely well after pruning.

The Roots:

The pot was not quite as packed as I expected but i still went ahead with the repot.

I forgot to take a photo of the root ball after but I pruned more than half the roots and soil away. Given that most of the space is occupied by that rock that’s a significant root reduction.

Prepare the pot. The tree will go back into the same container. I use fibreglass plaster tape to retain the potting mix. you can see the pieces of tape over the holes in the photo below.

Add a layer of fresh potting mix then place the tree. Fill the remaining spaces with more mix then water it in well. there’s no need to wire this tree into the pot. With those roots clasping that rock it won’t move anywhere.

After watering the tree is returned to its normal place. This year I already have the 35% shadecloth up as temps were getting high quite early this year.

final after a summer prune and repot

It is now 2 weeks later. We’ve had some very hot weather with record temperatures through South-east Australia and temps here into the low 40Cs for a couple of days.

The tree has been watered well through those 2 weeks. I’ve aimed to keep it on the wet side rather than slightly dry. This species is a tree of rivers and creeks so it likes to have its roots wet.

New buds are now forming along the thinner branches.

This species always produces lots of buds. They are also sprouting further back on the branches.

and even way back on the main trunk.

As soon a those shoots on the trunk and older branches are large enough I’ll rub them off to try to retain the open look I’m aiming for. Terminal shoots usually get pinched a couple of times over the next month or 2 until it is time to leave them to grow hoping for flowers next summer.

River bottlebrush – a great tree for bonsai.

New 2019/20 Catalogs

After a number of failed attempts to upload some new catalogs I’ve managed to get them onto the catalog page and actually work – Yay!

Just go to the catalog page and click on the blue links to see what Shibui Bonsai has available this season.

As usual, please be aware that some of the trees featured in the catalogs will already have been sold. I’ll attempt to update the files whenever I can but the reality is they will usually be way behind the actual stock. Thank you for your patience.

Tree house

Last Sunday I moved a Japanese red pine in preparation for decandling.

Japanese Red pine (root over rock style) before decandling.

When I went back with the shears to start work a female fairy wren started scolding. She was soon joined by her mate and both proceeded to give me the evil eye and a good telling off.

male superb fairywren sitting in the waterswept callistemon.
female Superb fairywren

I soon found the reason for their agitation.

A nest among the branches
nest entry

Wrens build a ball shaped nest with a side entry. Usually only a metre or so from the ground among dense vegetation. This red pine was obviously just right for this year’s home.

It was interesting to note that the parents had been able to find the nest when I’d moved the tree about 10 metres from the growing area to where I was working. After decandling the tree I moved it back to the bench and the parents have continued to feed the chick(s?)

These guys are quite welcome in my garden. The males provide a welcome splash of colour for most of the year and they consume quite a lot of insects.

Don’t forget that new Shibui Bonsai catalogues are now available – Trident maples, Root over Rock trident maples and Chinese elms. Email if you’d like to see what we have available this year. Younger starter trees for bonsai are always available – many different species.

New Shibui Bonsai field grown Trident maples

I’ve finally found time to take photos and put together a catalog of the new field grown trident maples and the new Root over rock trees but having trouble getting those files onto the wordpress site.

Until I can work out how to do it, if you’re interested in Shibui Bonsai field grown tridents in 2019 and 2020 please email and I’ll send you a copy.

Here’s a sample of trees from the Root over Rock listing

Root over Rock trident 19-9 20cm pot $300
Root over Rock Trident 19-4 20cm pot $300
Root over Rock trident 19-25 15cm pot $180

spring trimming

It is now mid spring at Shibui Bonsai and trees are all growing. That means I spend a fair bit of time trimming new growth.

My maples were pinched as they started to extend new shoots but I haven’t been able to continue trimming for a couple of weeks so the shoots have now extended.

The long shoots are now cut just above the first leaves.

After trimming the outline of the canopy is now neat again.

Buds at the base of each remaining leaf will now start to grow so where there was one shoot soon there will be 2 growing. In this way we add ramification to our bonsai.

This one is a developing pre bonsai. It is one of the tridents I dug from the grow beds last winter.

It has grown well and roots are now out the bottom of the pot.

That means it is now safe to do some pruning.

The shoots I intend to keep for branches have been left long but I’ve bent the tips down so that the base of these branches now comes away from the trunk at a better angle. i could wire each one and bend it that way but this is far quicker, just as effective and there’s no danger of the wire marking the tender bark. the initial bend will usually be set in just a week or 2. after that the shoot will be pruned back to leave 1 or 2 pairs of leaves.

At the apex I’ve left one selected shoot a bit longer. that one should grow quicker than the others to develop the future apex. when it is stronger the others will probably be pruned off.

Native bonsai are also growing strongly. Here’s a banksia with plenty of new shoots that are ready for trimming.

Trim these similar to the trident maple by cutting back just above the lowest leaves.

After trimming

Kunzea parvifolia has many growing shoots.

Far too many to cut each one individually so I just shear these like trimming a hedge.

I’ve tried to trim so there’s some different levels on different branches rather than just giving it a smooth, rounded top.


Today is the spring equinox. days are definitely longer and getting slowly warmer. The bonsai have noticed and many of the deciduous trees have started to grow.

Trident maples are among the first to leaf out.

Chinese elms also have new spring clothes on

And some of the Japanese maples are also starting to put on new leaves.

Watering becomes important when the trees are making new leaves. They seem to use more water now than later in summer when growth starts to taper off so monitor your pots from now on and water when needed.

Field grown pre bonsai stock

By spring sales stock at Shibui Bonsai are usually at the lowest levels. Most of the trees Shibui offers are grown on site. We dig new trees from the grow beds in late winter and pot them up but it takes a few months for those trees to grow new roots. Shipping trees with tender new roots would likely damage those fragile roots as the tree is jostled and shaken in transport. To give you the best stock I don’t ship trees until I am sure the new roots are strong enough to handle the rigors of the postal service.

Quick growing, resilient species like maples and Chinese elms are usually ready for sale around November. Pines and junipers are much slower to re-establish so those are not usually offered until well into summer.

Right now Shibui Bonsai only have a few pre bonsai trees left from the previous season’s list. Photos below show what we still have as of early September. You can find individual pictures of these in the current catalogues or email and ask for current individual photos. just quote the numbers from the pots so i know which tree(s) you want to look at.

Trident maples including the last 2 root over rock trees for this year.
Last 2 Japanese maples for 2018-19
Only one Chinese elm left

The good news is that new Shibui trees are currently settling into fresh pots. In the pictures you can see the new buds just starting to emerge. This crop of Root over Rock tridents look like some of the best I’ve produced but I have only potted up a few Japanese maples and Chinese elms this year. As mentioned, these should be ready for sale in November this year. The rest of the field grown trees went back into the grow beds to continue developing so they will be bigger and better next year.

some very nice root over rock trident maples
field grown trident maples, Japanese maples and Chinese elms

For those looking for smaller and younger trees there are always plenty of starters in 11 and 15 cm pots so just let me know what species you are interested in. Some clues as to what shape and size you are thinking of will help narrow down the possibilities as well.

Spring 2019

It is officially spring here at Shibui Bonsai and, this year, the trees match the calendar. Most of the trident maples have begun to open new buds with those lovely red new leaves. Here are a couple of my trident maples today.

Trident multi trunk
trident maple
trident maple informal upright
Smaller informal upright trident
Hollow trunk trident shohin size
A really small trident with contorted trunk

Most of the Chinese elms have also started to unfold new leaves. Chinese elms start off with brilliant green buds.

shohin broom style ‘Seiju’ elm
Another shohin sized twin trunk style ‘Seiju’
Another Shohin ‘Seiju’ but slightly behind in budding up this year
Slightly larger ‘Seiju’ elm. First season in a pot for this one.

Finally for today, a crab apple. Leaves have opened fast this year. Flowers should follow soon after. This one is old enough to have developed plenty of fruiting spurs so it is usually a mass of flowers. Crab apple flowers come and go pretty quick but I’ll try to catch it at its best for you.

Crab apple

Root over Rock tridents – 1 year on

In the last Shibui Bonsai post I showed how I start root over rock trident maples. They are then planted in large pots or boxes in the nursery for the summer. I find the nursery is the best place because the trees get regular water that can trickle down between the rock and foil and keep any of those shorter roots alive until they grow long enough to reach out the bottom and into the potting mix.

I generally leave these trees untouched for the entire summer. More growth up top means more root growth below soil level and that’s exactly what I want.

Here are a couple of the root over rock trees I started last year.

This is the part I really look forward to. These trees have been growing all year but we can’t see what is developing below the soil. Will the results be great, OK or terrible?

A good spread of roots all over the rock
Strong roots with good placement
Another nice set of roots with a well placed trunk

At this stage, after just a year of growth, it is still possible to move some roots if necessary to improve the look. You can see that in many cases, new white roots have started to grow down the rock. In some cases I’ll remove some roots if it looks like there are too many. I want to see that there is a rock in amongst those roots. Too many and, as the roots thicken, the rock will be completely covered.

Now the trees are wrapped again with fresh foil and planted for another year of growth and thickening. All of these had plenty of roots from the bottom of the foil so could go into the grow beds for maximum growth. If few roots have extended to reach the bottom of the rock I’ll put those back into the nursery for another year of intensive watering.

New root over rock tridents

Spring is rapidly approaching at Shibui bonsai nursery. Some of the Chinese elms already have tiny green shoots opening so the trident maples can’t be far away from starting to grow too. That means I need to get on with any jobs that involve root work.

Making new root over rock plantings is one of those jobs, so this week I emptied out a polystyrene box of last year’s trident seedlings to select some candidates for new root over rock plantings.

Raw seedlings rarely have enough roots to wrap over the rocks so I prepare for root over rock plantings a year ahead. I take one year old seedlings and cut the thickest root so the seedling now has just a couple of lateral roots then plant it into a deeper container to grow for another year. Because I do a few of these each year and because it is good to have some choice to get the best match af tree and rock I usually put a few trees into the box.

raw seedling before root pruning
after cutting the long roots

With some care and a little luck I end up with a bunch of seedlings with lots of long roots. Perfect for starting root over rock bonsai.

There will probably also be some that are not so good. This one has one really thick root that will make it quite difficult to sit properly on the rock.

I can prune those roots back hard and plant that one as a normal starter tree.

Now I need to look at the rocks. Not all rocks are good for Root over Rock bonsai. The best rocks have some character – peaks, hollows and shoulders. Avoid rocks that are likely to weather and break up as they age. No point putting time and effort into a root over rock arrangement if the rock falls apart before the tree matures!

Look at the rock from all sides to identify the best aspects and shape. Rocks can be upright like a mountainside or horizontal. Find some spots where the tree will sit well and roots will look good running down the surface. It will help the matching process if you have several rocks and a number of trees. Often the shape of the trunk and roots means a tree just won’t sit well on a particular rock but another tree may just be the right sahpe for that one. Soak the rocks in a tub of water. Dry rocks will suck any moisture out of the fine roots as you arrange them on the rock.

Now to match the tree and rock. Aesthetically, the rock will provide the visual weight for the composition. That’s where the viewer’s eye will start, then follow along the rock and on through the trunk of the tree so it is important to have good angles and visual flow where the trunk sits on the rock. Roots flowing along the same lines rather than across will also help the design.

Try a few trees in a few positions on the rock looking for the best arrangement. At this stage I’m really only looking at the angle between the rock and the first section of the trunk. It may help to try to imagine a future canopy above the rock. Will the tree and rock harmonise or compete? Do the roots allow the base of the tree to sit well at the desired angle on the rock? Sometimes just cutting 1 or 2 roots will allow the tree to sit better.

Now arrange the long roots over the surfaces of the rock. It is important to have roots right round the rock. Some down the front and some down the back so as they grow they will really hug the rock tight. At this stage try to avoid straight root runs which don’t look good when the roots have thickened. Roots that twist and meander over the rock following crevices and hollows look more natural and interesting. Bear in mind the visual flow of the rock and try to arrange roots to enhance the flow rather than cross it.

Prepare a length of aluminium foil. It needs to be long enough to wrap around the rock 2 or 3 times. Unless you have selected a really tall rock the foil will be way too wide. For most of my rocks I fold the foil in half lengthwise but for taller rocks you may just need to fold 1/4 or 1/3 down so that the lenght of foil is now as wide as the root part of your rock is tall.

The next part may require some practice or another pair of hands. Sit the tree in place and position the roots on one side of the rock while laying it onto the foil. Cradle the foil and rock in one hand. The weight of the rock should now hold thos eroots in place. use your free hand to position the next roots and fold the foil over to secure them. Continue to position roots and trap them in place as you roll the foil round the rock until you wrap right round the rock. Make sure the foil is pressed into all hollows as you go so that roots are pressed right up against all surfaces of the rock. Continue to wrap the foil round and round until you have 3 or 4 thicknesses holding the roots in place.

Don’t worry if there are no roots showing out the bottom opening. Water can run in the top to keep the roots alive. sooner or later they will grow long enough to appear at the bottom of the rock. The beauty of the foil is that any new roots must grow right along the surface of the rock which is ideal for root over rock style bonsai.

Pour some water into the top opening to make sure the roots are still damp then plant the foil covered rock into a deep container and fill it with potting mix right up to the top of the foil. The pressure of soil against the foil will help press the roots closer to the rock as they grow.

New root over rock trees planted in a polystyrene box

Feed and water well all through the growing season and allow the top to grow freely to maximise root development.