Workshop Juniper

Smaller, regional clubs have limited access to new ideas and expert advice so the AABC visiting tutor program is a great way for clubs to get some outside influences for our members. Our local club has just held a workshop with Joe Morgan-Payler.

6 of our members took advantage of the opportunity and brought trees for Joe’s ideas, advice and assistance.

Some years ago, when he returned from his first stint as apprentice in Japan, Joe began talking about growing better stock for bonsai as is done in Japanese bonsai nurseries. As a result I began to wire and bend young shimpaku cuttings with the aim of growing them on to develop something like the wild twisted shimpaku bonsai we see at Japanese bonsai exhibitions.

Now that some of these have grown and thickened a bit I though it would be fitting to take one of these to get Joe’s first hand input into a suitable style.

This one is in a 15 cm pot. The trunk has many turns and twists in just 10cm of height and I’m aiming to keep it as a shohin sized bonsai. the question is what to retain and what to remove.

First priority was the trunk angle. After looking at all sides a view that showed more of the trunk was chosen.

The 2 lower bends are almost opposite which spoils the line a little so the tree is tilted toward the right which brings the left hand bend higher than the right one giving a better flow.

Many of the longer branches have been grown as sacrifice branches to hasten thickening of the trunk so they were first to go.

Other sacrifice branches have previously been converted to jins but now appear too long so these are shortened. Some of the branches with foliage closer to the trunk are wired and bent into position to give a spread of foliage around the tree. A couple of upper shoots become the crown of the new tree.

Note that not all branches on junipers need to emerge from the trunk where they are required. Branches are often wired and brought through down or around from other locations to give branching where it is needed.

As a final touch a couple of dead wood areas are started on visible bends. Joe feels that these will draw attention and highlight the bends and twists. Over a period of years these will be widened and lengthened until they join and form one or more deadwood strips along the length of the trunk. Building dead wood areas over a period of years gives texture and appeal to the dead wood as further layers of sapwood grow and are subsequently revealed as more bark is peeled back.

After the workshop this shimpaku is now a compact little bonsai with a highly intricate trunk. It will still take a couple of years for the foliage to thicken up and the shari will gradually develop as the tree grows and thickens.

Layering for bonsai

Layering is the term used when we grow new roots on the stem of a plant so that we can produce a new plant.

There are 2 main methods: Air layering and Ground layering. There are also many variations of each of these methods.

Layering has many uses in bonsai:

  1. It can be used to propagate a new plant that you can then train as a bonsai. Because you can layer large branches you can start off with a nice thick trunk.
  2. It can be used to grow new roots at a point on the trunk that is better than the current root level.
  3. If a bonsai has poor nebari, a modified version of layering can be used to get new roots to fill in, and improve the nebari.
  4. When you have a bonsai with a really nice top but poor base you can layer and remove the good upper part as a new tree.

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Japanese Black pines

The black pines have been growing slower than usual after summer decandling. It is possible that is a response to less fertiliser than previous years. I am pleased to have small buds on these pines but I’ll try to feed more often through next winter and see if that makes a difference next summer.

Here are the clusters of buds that are growing after candle pruning in mid December (early summer here). Note that these summer buds do not have the bare ‘neck’ that the stronger spring candles have. Not having bare sections means I can have much more compact growth and better ramification. Needles should also be smaller on these smaller buds which will add to the impression of a mature tree.

Towards the end of summer I will reduce the number of buds in these clusters. Like all bonsai I try to only have 2 shoots at any place on the tree to reduce the chances of bulges and inverse taper in the trunks and branches.

I have mentioned before that decandling is only used on more mature trees. For the trees that are developing, where I want the trunks to thicken as rapidly as possible I allow them to grow freely for 1-2 years then prune back hard to the lower needles. Pruning like that also triggers new buds to grow from the remaining needles and those new buds can be used for either a new growth cycle if the tree still needs to grow or to start making branches.

If pruning is done in autumn or winter the new buds will grow in spring and are usually strong. If pines are pruned in summer the resulting buds will be smaller and more compact similar to the ones that grow after summer candle cutting.


These pictures show the shoots that have grown after winter hard pruning on 2 of the developing pines at Shibui Bonsai. You can see that these shoots are quite strong but have plenty of needles close to the base that will give me somewhere to prune to next time.

Banksias as bonsai

Summer has proved to be a good time to repot banksias and a couple of the shibui bonsai banksias were due for it this year.

When I first started to grow banksias for bonsai they were not very successful. Most just lasted a year or two then suddenly died. Given that banksias have a reputation for being quite sensitive I just thought the genus was not suitable then I started to see some great banksia bonsai and gradually pieced together a couple of important facts about banksia bonsai. Continue reading

Repotting Callistemon

Today is the last day of 2017 which means it is well into summer at Shibui Bonsai and that means it is time for repotting some of the bonsai.

Last week I gave my Callistemon its annual after flowering prune. This one is Callistemon sieberii – River bottlebrush which flowers later than most Callistemon species, normally Early-mid December here.

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More pine cuttings

Some say it cannot be done…..

Here at Shibui Bonsai I’ve often found that much of what ‘they’ tell us is not completely true so I’m often putting aspects of bonsai wisdom to the test.

Pine seed is currently very difficult to obtain here in Australia so many growers are looking for alternative ways to propagate pines for bonsai so even though the ‘experts’ tell us it cannot be done I’m trying to grow more pines as cuttings. Continue reading