Start a bonsai forest

The trident maples in the garden at Shibui Bonsai produce huge quantities of seed each year. This results in lots of seedlings growing in the garden beds. We usually leave a few hundred to grow on for use as bonsai.

You can germinate your own seedlings under controlled conditions but I find it far easier to let nature do that for me and I just harvest the seedlings I need from our garden beds.

Today I used some to put a trident group together. It will take a few year for this group to develop into show quality bonsai but groups are one of the quickest ways to get good results from immature material.

Primary tree

Start with a couple of larger trunks, a number of medium and a few smaller ones to give your group variety and perspective.








cut the roots fearlessly

Tridents are very hardy. You may be lucky and get a tree with plenty of radial roots but if not, just cut the roots back fearlessly so that you have the best radial root system the tree can give you.

cut the trunk near a bud






Also cut the trunk if it is long.



Cut the roots to make the best radial roots possible.

Secondary tree

Lay out your trees













Trim all the trees you have and line them up from thickest to thinnest.






seedling tray 30cm x 25 cm

You can put your forest into a seedling tray or any suitable wide container. A polystyrene fruit container is large enough to allow your little trees to develop quite quickly if you want to grow a larger group with thicker trunks.

add some potting mix





Place a layer of potting mix in the container and place the largest tree which will be the focal point of the group. This largest tree usually looks best around 1/3 of the way along the tray. Some more potting mix will help stabilise the tree while you work with the others.


Main tree a little to one side, secondary tree is toward the other side of the tray. Start adding the other trees in order of size.

Add the second largest tree. In this case I’m making a group with two subgroups so the second tree is further away from the main one.

Add medium sized trees to complement the 2 primary trees. Try to leave different spacing between the trunks. You’ll probably find that you tend to space all the trunks equally so keep moving them until you get a good, random looking arrangement. Putting some trees very close together will really help. keep adding mix to hold the trees in position as you go.

All the trees added but the central gap is too prominent.

Try to avoid planting straight lines. Check from the sides as well as the front to check that you can see all the trees. If you spot any lines, move one or more to make the placement appear more natural.

I was happy with the placement of trees in each of the sub groups but thought there was too much open space in the centre of the group so I moved all the trees in the secondary group closer to the main tree.

Move all of the secondary group closer to the main trees.


I’m planning for a small trail to wind through this group to add another layer of perspective to the arrangement and I want it to wind through the tree trunks between the 2 sub groups.






View from the side to make sure there are no rows of trees.

Finally water the tray well and put it aside to wait for the expected surge of growth in spring.

I’ll allow all these trees to grow freely for a few months in spring then start selectively cutting back long growth to create more branches on individual trees and to control the thickening of the trunks. I need to make sure that the focal trees stay thicker and taller than the rest of the forest to maintain the overall look of a natural forest.

This starter group is made from 17 trees worth less than $20 but should develop into a worthy bonsai in just a couple of years.

During winter Shibui Bonsai can supply raw seedlings like this straight from our garden at very reasonable rates. This year I’m offering seedlings with 6-10mm thick trunks at $2 each, 3-6mm medium trunks at $1 each and thinner seedlings for just 50c each. I can put together a selected bundle of 20 different sized trunks for just $20. Delivery costs will depend on the number and size of your order so email with your needs to get a fixed price and assemble your own, unique bonsai trident maple forest this winter.

Bonsai Week

I was fortunate to get a place with Tony Tickel at this year’s Bonsai week workshops. Thanks to the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection of Australia for making these bonsai activities possible. I think everyone who attended took home a lot of new information and ideas.

I finally decided to take an old black pine. I’ve had a couple of these trees since they were small seedlings but because I did not understand pine maintenance techniques properly they both gradually grew long, bare branches with foliage only at the tips. The trunks are thick and have mature bark which is highly desirable in pines. This one also has a large, spreading root mass so I thought it was worth taking some time and effort to try to resurrect it for bonsai.

I have spent the last 7 years forcing the foliage closer to the trunk to make the trees more compact. Pruning stimulated a few back buds on bare wood which were then nurtured until strong enough to remove the longer branches. I also resorted to grafting and inarching to get growth on other branches that had refused to bud.

Here is the tree before the workshop.

Black pine before

You can see that there was plenty of branches and foliage to choose from. The tree was well fed and healthy to cope with a major restyle.

black pine nebari





After checking several options we decided to try to keep the current front because the nebari on this side is far better than the other side.






There were several options for trunk lines and we have used a fairly standard informal upright trunk line with some jin and shari.


The first branch had a really nice shape but was far too heavy for the remainder of the tree so it was removed leaving a short jin.

The apex of the tree leaned too far forward and was an awkward shape so it was also jinned. Because the old main trunk was so strong it had thickened the trunk in that area giving a slight reverse taper to the new trunk so a small area of shari surrounds the jin to reduce the visual weight and maintain better visual taper.


After the worshop

Spring should see this pine grow strongly. I’ll begin my pine maintenance schedule with this one now to try to maintain density and promote inner buds – Early summer candle pruning and needle plucking followed by autumn thinning and more needle plucking should produce more even energy distribution and promote shorter growth and smaller needles. has moved

We recently moved to a new server. It appears that not all the images I have used in the posts have survived the move. It will take me some time to replace the missing files. In the meanwhile you will just have to use your imaginations to fill out the visual details of some of the posts. Please let me know if you have found a post that is vital to you and desperately needs the images to make sense and I’ll see if I can fast track replacing those files.

Apologies for the inconvenience and thanks for your patience.


Banksia and fertiliser

For many years there has been a myth that ‘normal’ fertiliser will kill Australian plants.

The truth is that most Aussie natives don’t care. Many actually grow way better when they have access to reasonable levels of P so they grow better when fertilised with standard fertilisers. I have actually come to the conclusion that many of my early failures with Australian native plants can be attributed to starvation because I was too frightened to fertilise. Continue reading

Repotting natives

I usually repot any native plants in November or December. There were plenty that needed doing this season because I had not repotted for a couple of years. I find that many native plants grow lots of fine roots in the pots and quickly get to the stage where there is no room in the potting mix for water or air to penetrate. This mans that it becomes increasingly difficult to keep the mix hydrated and I have lost quite a few trees because I have not repotted often enough. Continue reading

2016-17 Catalogue

Spring has been very busy for Shibui Bonsai. We had a trade table at Canberra Bonsai Society show and supplied more stock for Bonsai North West spring show in Melbourne at the start of November. Our local Albury Wodonga Bonsai Society staged exhibitions at both Albury Show and Myrtleford show.

Now that spring is over I have finally managed to find time to take photos of the trees on the sales tables and get them up on the Catalogue page. No descriptions yet this time but I think you can probably get a pretty good idea of the trees from the pictures. Just email if you need more info on any of the trees featured.