Seasonal Notes from Shibui Bonsai

Watering is once again top of the list as the days get warmer and longer. I have found that rain often does not provide enough water to keep my bonsai watered. I guess the leaf canopy of my bonsai shelters the pot so most of the rain probably does not even make it to the roots. That means I still water, even after it has rained.

Feeding should have started by now. I’m feeding my trees every 2-3 weeks to get optimum growth. I like to use different fertilisers to make sure my trees are getting a full range of nutrients. I use Thrive, powerfeed, chook poo pellets and worm juice at different times during the growing season. There’s no need for half strength fertiliser on bonsai. Apply it at the recommended rates for best results.

One species I am not fertilising at the moment is advanced pines. These are the ones I intend to decandle next month. Reducing fert for a few weeks before removing the candles should give me smaller new candles and shorter needles when they sprout again. I’ll start feeding them again after the new shoots have developed and started to harden off.

In the last few weeks I’ve root pruned and potted most of the azaleas. I’ve also trimmed them up top to get plenty of new shoots. Cut all long growth short so you’ll get lots of new shoots that will flower next spring.

I’ve also started repotting my natives. They seem to do far better when roots are pruned in warmer weather. More at our meeting next week where the topic for the evening is native plants as bonsai.

Trimming continues. Maples just keep growing so they also need pinching back every few weeks. On many trees I let the shoots grow to around 15 cm long which is about 3-4 pairs of leaves before trimming the shoot back to just a single pair of leaves. Chinese elms have an alternating leaf pattern but are treated in a similar fashion – shoots grow to around 10-15 cm then cut back to only 1 or 2 leaves near the base of each shoot.

Trees that are still developing (where you want the trunk to thicken or branches to grow and ramify) can be allowed to grow even longer before cutting the new shoots. For much older trees where I don’t want the branches to get thicker I usually try to pinch the shoots when they are even smaller, often as soon as they grow a couple of sets of leaves they get pinched back to the first ones on the shoot. On those trees I also hunt for any stray new shoots that have sprouted from the trunk and branches. Leaving many shoots to grow from the trunk can cause it to thicken in that area which gives ugly thick areas on the trunk which can really show up when the tree is bare in winter.

Late winter and early spring cuttings are starting to develop roots so I’ve been potting up the ones with roots so they can grow bigger. Last week I potted up Chilean myrtle, zelkova and pomegranate cuttings.

I cut back some of the developing pines. They’ve been allowed to grow without trimming for 2 years so the lowest needles are getting ready to drop later in summer so now is the time to cut right back to the older needles and they should sprout new buds from those needles.

Looking forward to bonsai tasks for the rest of November and December:

Continue watering and fertilising. I’m currently watering most bonsai once each day. As it gets hotter I’ll step that up to watering each morning and evening to make sure they are getting properly hydrated.

Mid December is when I decandle the more advanced pines here at Shibui Bonsai. Every candle is cut right near the base to force the trees to grow new shoots. Those trees are also put on a diet for a few weeks before and after decandling which will help to restrict the size of the new shoots and needles.

As the azaleas sprout new shoots after the initial post flowering prune I’ll cut the new shoots as they grow longer. Like other species, the more you cut the denser the foliage will become and on azaleas lots of shoots means lots of flowers next spring. Embryonic flower buds are forming in autumn so if I want plenty of flowers I’ll stop trimming them in February and start feeding with a flower type fertiliser to promote lots of stronger flowers.

Pot up some pines

Most of the trident maples now have tiny pink buds where new leaves are emerging to show that spring has arrived at Shibui Bonsai.

I’ve repotted most of the deciduous trees that need doing this year so it is time to move on to the evergreens. Some growers now repot pines in autumn but I’m still doing most of mine at the traditional spring repot time.

Today it was time to get a few pines into their first bonsai pots.

This twin trunk Japanese Black Pine has been developing slowly over the past 15 years or so. It has an impressive nebari and some well placed branches and now it is time to start developing better ramification. I think the restricted space in the smaller pot should help control the new growth and help the process.

Black pine after root pruning















Among the roots lies a clue to the origins of this tree.

This is one of the pines mentioned in the previous post. Seedlings were threaded through a hole in stainless steel disks to see if pines could be developed in a similar way to the maples as outlined in previous posts. Pines do not root quite as well as maples and only 2 out of 5 survived the process but the experiment did prove that it can be done.

In this case I put 2 seedlings through the same hole. In the process of growing new roots they have fused into a single twin trunk tree.

the steel disc









I’ve selected a round drum pot which has adequate size for a developing tree but still a reasonable match to the tree.

Now we wait until December for the first round of candle pruning to start the process of developing branches with full ramification.

Trident nebari

Spreading basal roots, known by the Japanese term ‘nebari’ is considered very important for maple bonsai. Surface roots are prominent features of old maples, pines and elms so these features are also valued in bonsai of these species.

Nebari should, ideally, spread evenly all around the base of the tree, showing enough to give the tree the air of age and stability. Continue reading

Chojubai – Dwarf Japanese Quince

The autumn colours are gone and winter is usually pretty drab in the bonsai garden unless you have flowering Japanese Quince. Also known as Chaenomeles, most of the garden varieties flower later in winter, before the leaves sprout but this variety, called ‘Chojubai’ has occasional flowers all year round and a more concentrated display right through winter.

Chojubai flowers

The brilliant orange flowers are small which is an advantage for bonsai.






Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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.