Root on Rock shimpaku

I started this bonsai as an entry in an Ausbonsai shohin competition in 2016. You can follow the original development in this Ausbonsai thread but you will need to log in to view the pictures. –

Trees planted on rocks often don’t do well because the rocks act as a wick to suck moisture away from the roots. This tree is also in a very shallow pot and has no potting mix or soil. Just gravel in the tray. I think it has survived so well because the pot is actually a suiban – tray with no drain holes – so when it is watered th tray holds a small reservoir of moisture for long enough for the trees to get a good drink before the water evaporates.

All 3 trees have grown quite a bit over the last year or so and it is in need of a trim. i was not entirely happy with the original style but there was not enough on any of the trees to make changes. Now it is time for a restyle.

Currently all 3 trees flow in different directions and each tree also has several conflicting branch directions but now the trunks and branches have grown enough to allow some to be removed or converted to small jins.

after pruning and wiring

The top tree is now shorter to simplify the outline of the group as a whole and the others have been reduced in proportion. I’ve also redirected all the trees in a single common direction – hopefully that will convey a more consistent idea of wind and conditions in this landscape.

There’s not a lot left right now but if these trees continue to grow as they have it should not be long before they are full and bushy again.

I would like to develop at least 2 separate foliage pads on each of these trees as they grow to add some further complexity to the arrangement. The jins are still pretty thin so they may not actually last many years. I’ll still paint with lime sulphur and see what happens.

Collecting Banksia

Banksias are a great Australian native species for bonsai. Not only are they an iconic Aussie plant but they also respond well to bonsai culture and techniques.

Here at Shibui Bonsai I have been experimenting with timing and techniques for common banksia species. So far I have found that they can tolerate radical root reduction provided it is done at a suitable time of year. Some years ago I investigated this by root pruning a couple of seedlings of Banksia integrifolia each month to see how they reacted. Seedlings that were root pruned in October and November grew strongly afterward. Seedlings that were root pruned in the heat of summer – December, January and February also grew strongly afterward despite having active new shoots on the plants. Seedlings that I root pruned in March and April as temperatures dropped in Autumn responded poorly with no new shoots, some even dropping most remaining leaves. those plants did survive and, eventually, started to grow the following summer but were left well behind their siblings.

From those trials I concluded that banksias respond best to root pruning in warmer weather. Since then I’ve repotted my banksias in late spring or summer and have no trouble with the trees post repotting. I repot even when there is active growth on the trees.

Since then I have also tried growing banksias in the ground to increase growth rates with mixed success. It seems that banksias grow and thicken rapidly even when kept in containers. Ground growing reduces the amount of care and watering but does not significantly increase growth rates of the banksia species I’ve tried in my climate.

This year, after a trial last season, I collected self sown banksias. These come up through our garden beds from seed dropped by the larger trees we planted years ago. After a couple of years they get just a bit big for the head gardener to overlook and she starts to agitate for removal. I’m happy to oblige. All the banksias I collected this year came from beds that do not receive additional water so they have all survived on natural rainfall up to this stage. They are probably 3-5 years old.

Here’s one of these banksias. I’ve chosen this one only because I really cut back the roots on this one. Far more than usual just to see how it would respond. These banksias were pruned about 3 weeks before I intended to dig the trees. This is probably not strictly necessary as earlier trials showed that digging and pruning the top in one operation was also successful.

At the time I dug this one it had new shoots just starting to grow from dormant buds on the trunk. This one was dug on December 10th 2019. For a couple of days after daytime temperatures dropped to the low 30s C then rose again into the low 40s C the following week.

active growth at the time of digging

The ground was hard and dry at the time so it was tough going getting this one out. The fact they will tolerate severe root reduction is a bonus as the hole required can be smaller.

Out at last!
Plenty of roots.

I could have opted for a larger box to fit the mass of roots but, as mentioned above, I decided to test the response to severe root pruning at the time of transplant so I cut back the roots enough to fit into a 30 cm orchid pot.

after reducing the roots
potted up

You can see that this trunk is quite large and very tall. I do not usually tie plants into the pots but this one was too unstable to move so I’ve tied it tightly to the pot so it won’t topple over.

After an initial watering the trees were placed just under the nursery benches where they will get regular watering and afternoon shade.

It is now 2 months since this banksia was dug, pruned and potted. A couple of those fresh shoots shrivelled and died but the remainder have continued to grow slowly and are still alive.

Other similar banksias dug around the same time have also continued to grow. These are also in 30 cm orchid pots but had less roots removed at transplant.

Banksias can be rewarding plants as bonsai. I believe this trial shows that ground grown banksias are quite tolerant of transplant and corresponding root reduction, at least during the warmer months.

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