spring trimming

Deciduous trees grow fast in spring. Knowing how and when to prune and trim is one of the most important bonsai skills. This post is a tutorial that should improve your knowledge of what to do when.

The first concept is one that is often overlooked in many bonsai blogs and courses – Stage of development.

Good bonsai growers do not treat all trees the same. We use different techniques and timing on young, developing trees and change as the trees become more advanced. Unfortunately many bloggers focus mainly on techniques used for older, advanced trees and seem to forget that the vast majority of the readers are relative newbies with young trees.

It is the end of September here at Shibui Bonsai and I’ve been spending quite a bit of time pinching new growth on Japanese maples.

Japanese maples have some unhelpful growth habits that can quickly spoil the look of a great tree. New shoots grow very fast. If allowed to grow unchecked they can develop very long internodes and large leaves. Excess growth can also thicken delicate twigs and cause unsightly bulges on branches and trunks. On advanced trees new shoots are pinched as soon as possible to reduce vigor and slow excessive thickening.

Japanese maple before pinching new shoots

Usually I pinch the extending shoot tips as soon as I can get hold of them. I’ve even seen photos of growers using tweezers to get hold of the tiny shoot as early as possible.

Sometimes the shoots are already too strong and long. Don’t be frightened to nip those ones below the first leaves. There are always plenty of dormant buds at the base of any active shoot which will activate when the shoot is gone.

after pinching

Pinching new shoots is time consuming on older, well ramified Japanese maples but is an important technique to maintain fine ramification and avoid unsightly thickening. Trees do not just stop growing after pinching. Some slower shoots will still be growing so I’ll usually need to pinch every day or so for a few weeks. Buds at the base of the leaves will also activate after the tips are removed and in a couple of weeks a whole new crop of shoots will begin to grow and the process happens all over again.

Younger trees that are still developing need different technique. Shoot pinching is designed to slow growth and avoid thickening. When growing younger trees for bonsai we want just the opposite so development pruning is aimed at increasing growth.

In this case new shoots are encouraged to grow. Don’t start pinching. Don’t worry about the trees looking overgrown or having large leaves. Both those things are actually contributing to faster increase in trunk thickness so let all the shoots grow when the tree is young.

In the earliest stages I often let shoots grow for a whole season and only prune after the leaves drop in autumn. That approach will give maximum trunk thickening. Unfortunately it often also produces long internodes and much of the new growth may have to be pruned off completely at some stage. fast thickening and good structure can be hard to balance.

At some stage in the development of any bonsai the grower will begin to change from this ‘growth’ technique to ‘refinement’ or ‘maintenance’. There is no set age or size when such change take place. You as grower need to decide when is right for you and for your tree. i generally base the timing on trunk development. When trunk thickness is approaching the size I want in the completed bonsai I start to change pruning technique. Change does not have to happen all at once or over the whole tree. Often I will be trimming upper branches while allowing lower shoots to grow free to help thicken those lower branches. Some shoots may be pinched while others are allowed to grow longer before pruning back. Knowing the results of different techniques can help you choose the appropriate technique and timing to deliver the result you need.

Trident maples grow in a similar way to Japanese maple but do not pose the same growing problems. Even on the mature trees I rarely pinch emerging tips really early. On trident maples I usually let the shoots grow a few sets of leaves before trimming back with scissors.

Spring at Shibui Bonsai

After the cold, bleak winter spring seems to arrive suddenly. The first green shoots on Chinese elms are the heralds then, suddenly, everywhere is new life and color.

Late winter and early spring sees an ever changing pallette of color as flowers come and go. Prunus are some of the first quickly followed by forsythia, crab apples and azaleas. If you happen to have a green thumb you may even be able to get wisteria to flower reliably as a bonsai

Shibui Bonsai has an ever changing list of flowering trees suitable for bonsai. Email Neil to see if I have the one you are searching for. Please don’t ask if you can buy the trees pictured above. They are all from my personal collection and hold far more sentimental value than monetary. I do, however, offer younger stock at reasonable prices, some already at flowering age and size.

Azaleas also make great bonsai if your conditions are right. At my last property something was just not quite right and azaleas slowly deteriorated over several years until they died. Moving just a few Km saw a miraculous change and now they thrive under similar care. I cannot work out the details, just that it is so.

Azaleas have been grown by gardeners all round the world for many years so we now have a bewildering array of types with a wide range of flower colors and shapes. Here are a few from Shibui Bonsai nursery this month.

Azaleas transplant really easily. It is one of my favorite species for collecting from gardens as they seem to transplant successfully any month of the year. Don’t bother trying to retain a large root ball – azaleas don’t need it. Shake off as much garden soil as will come away without undue damage to the roots, cut damaged roots to fit the container and pot with good quality potting soil or your favorite bonsai mix, water well and place in a semi-shade area until the roots recover.

Azaleas will also grow new buds on old wood so taller stems can be chopped hard with confidence knowing masses of new shoots will usually appear all over the stumps. i currently have some quite large collected azaleas for sale. Most are planted in large polystyrene fruit boxes and are too big to post but there are also a few in 15, 20 and 30 cm orchid pots. POA

Many other flowering species suit bonsai. Here are few I occasionally have available for sale.

Spring at Shibui Bonsai

It has been some time since I posted here. Spring seems to have arrived a bit earlier than usual this year so I have been busy trying to get through all the early spring bonsai work. I have completed the annual harvest of trees from the grow beds and they are now potted up and on the benches for recovery. Most have very few roots after the hard root prune at digging so it will take a few months before the new roots are strong enough to cope with movement and transport. watch for the new Shibui Bonsai catalogues around the start of December.

We usually take a trade space at Canberra Bonsai show but the spread of Covid has now impacted the capital and this year’s show has been cancelled. In an unexpected twist resulting from restricted movement in Melbourne and Sydney online sales of Shibui Bonsai stock has surged with many enthusiasts taking advantage of the time at home to look for new trees to add to their collections. Bonsai customers can order online and have their trees posted direct to home. There are still some trees from the 2020 catalogues available so email neil@shibuibonsai.com.au to find out what is left.

For those starting out in bonsai Shibui has plenty of smaller starter trees that have been grown specifically for bonsai. Choose from old favorites like trident maple, Japanese maple, Chinese elm, cotoneaster, crab apple and shimpaku juniper. Prices from $15 through to $30 + delivery costs. I am happy to discuss what might be suitable for your situation, skills and price range but if you already have a good idea just email your requirements and I will try to match your ideas with trees from the sales benches.

I have always liked something a little different so I’m always on the lookout for rare and unusual species so I now have a range of rare and unusual species available, including: Buxus harlandii, Huon pine, Chojubai dwarf flowering quince, Prunus ‘elvins’, a few different satsuki azaleas, Cotoneaster damerii (tiny leaves and compact growth habit), Luma apiculata (Chilean myrtle) and more………

More recently my efforts have turned toward smaller bonsai. That also means I tend to pot up more trees that will suit the smaller sized bonsai. If you are also looking to expand your bonsai interests into shohin sized trees I may have suitable stock. Pictured below ar e just a few of the trees that would be suitable to develop shohin sized bonsai.

Repotting season

It has been some time since I posted here. Spring seems to have arrived earlier this year so I’ve been concentrating on getting my seasonal repotting done before the trees start growing in earnest.

Each year I try to repot a portion of the larger bonsai.Each tree doesn’t usually need doing every year so I can usually get away with only doing around 1/3 of the larger trees each year on a rotating basis which spreads the repotting load.

The smaller bonsai seem to do much better when they are repotted each spring. Rapid root growth soon fills the smaller pots and it can become really difficult to water these if the pots are still crammed with previous season’s roots. My shohin trees have done so much better since I’m repotting annually.

I’m always looking for new and better or different trees to add to the Shibui Bonsai show tables. Each year a few new trees reach the stage where I think they deserve a proper bonsai pot. This year a couple of collected plums made the transition to bonsai pots for further development. The restricted space in the smaller pots should mean shorter internodes that will make it easier to build better ramification on the branches.

I also had pots suitable for a couple of Root over rock trident maples that have spent years in plastic pots while I developed ramification on the branches.

Trident maple Group planting

I’ve done some previous posts about starting a group planting but posting this year’s offer of seedlings https://shibuibonsai.com.au/?p=2338 prompted me to put together the group shown here.

I’ve found bonsai groups a great way to get a reasonably acceptable bonsai specimen in just a few years. No waiting for decades for the trunk to grow or branches to develop. Lots of trunks together help to provide the visual bulk and canopy so your group can look presentable relatively quickly.

Bonsai groups can be any size and have any number of trees but more trees together tends to look better sooner.

I’ve started here with the group pack shown in the previous post. Shibui Bonsai forest packs consist of a mix of trunk sizes. If you are finding your own seedlings try to get a similar range of trunk thicknesses – a few thicker ones and a range of thinner ones to fill out the forest. there’s around 20 trees in the forest pack but you don’t have to use all of them. Spares can be used for other projects.

As well as the seedlings you’ll need a tray. I use these nursery seedling trays because they are easy to get and a convenient size, durable and easy to get but any convenient container will do. For different sized groups consider an appropriate sized tray. Your container does not need to be as shallow as this. My older trident groups were established and grown on in much deeper polystyrene fruit boxes. Larger, deeper containers will allow your trees to grow and develop quicker if you want to speed up evolution.

Start by sorting an root pruning the seedlings if they have not already been done. tridents are really resilient and pruning thick roots short will help promote more finer and surface roots vital to good bonsai.

Some of the trees for this project after root pruning

The thickest, tallest tree becomes the focal point for the group. Usually placed around 1/3 from either left or right and just in front of the mid-line front to back. I’ve gone with a 1/3 left placement this time as shown.

Now add the other thicker trunks. This is where you can add your own creativity to the group but they will generally be towards the front and closer to the middle than the edges. It is easier if all your trees are relatively straight but if you have trunks with some movement you will also need to try to create harmony by arranging the bends so they look similar.

Pay particular attention to spacing. I’ve found this is particularly difficult as we seem to have a natural tendency to plant things equally spaced so I have to think carefully and force myself to put some trunks quite close together to create a random spacing within the group of trunks. intertwining roots of adjacent trees is no problem but if your trees have lots of roots don’t be frightened to cut roots on one side so you can get the trunks close.

Keep adding trunks with smaller ones mostly toward the outer edges and back. Thinner trunks at the rear helps build an impression of greater depth and size. If some of the trees have branches try to place those so the branches grow into spaces or out of the group. That won’t always be possible so keep branch cutters handy to remove any that are growing close to other trees.

Keep checking that you are not making rows of trees. It seems to be another human trait to line things up but nature is more random so if you see rows forming just move trunks a little to break up lines.

view from the front

Check from the side as well. Look for lines forming and check that all the trees are standing at a similar angle to create harmony. I often need to add more potting soil to prop up trees as they don’t have many roots for support yet.

view from the side

After I’m happy with placement and angles I trim the trunks to final height. Try to make the thickest focal tree the tallest then work out toward the edges, pruning each tree a little shorter so the overall outline will be a rounded dome. Don’t forget that your trees will always grow up so pruning shorter than required now can be a good thing.

After watering your group into the fresh soil do another check and reposition any trunks that have sagged or leaned over. Now put your new forest in a protected place to settle in. Check occasionally to make sure trunks have not fallen over. Just push any problems back into position and add some more potting mix if required.

Another trident group planting a few months after assembly.

I generally find some faults during the first year. Things I should have seen but didn’t. Spaces that don’t look great and trunks at odd angles that clash with the overall look. Any of these things can be corrected next spring when the group can be chopped into sections and re positioned or new trees added to enhance the composition.

The groups above have been assembled from relatively young trees but groups can be made from more mature trunks which will give an even better look sooner. Here’s a shohin (under 20cm) trident group I put together last winter with trees from the Shibui Bonsai sales tables.

If you would like to create a trident group from more advanced trunks talk to Neil to see what we have available that would suit. I’ve supplied larger trees for client group projects and I’m happy to select trees that I think would work well together.

Eventually your trident group could end up looking something like these.

Olives as bonsai

There has been lots of interest in olives as a commercial crop in this area because they love the conditions. Olives also make great bonsai.

Olives were first planted in North East Victoria over 100 years ago. They liked the climate and soils here so much they quickly spread as birds carried the seeds. Local councils, landowners and Landcare groups now recognize olives as an environmental weed in many areas. While that is not such good news for the native plants that feral olives compete with it is great news for us as bonsai growers because we have lots of wild grown olive stock to collect.

Olives are great for bonsai. They are generally really hardy and can survive short periods of dry that would kill many traditional bonsai favorites. They are very easy to transplant and can survive radical root reduction. Olives also have the ability to produce new buds on older wood and generally respond to trunk chops with masses of new shoots. On the down side olives are slow to grow so starting from seed or tiny seedlings will probably lead to frustration. Fortunately older trees are readily available as weeds in many places now so starting with well developed trunks is a much more viable option.

Our local Bonsai group has organised a number of ‘digs’ where members can help remove some of the ferals and get some good stock to develop future bonsai. I’d just like to share some of the trees I have obtained this way

Digging trees for bonsai is not always easy. Some of the best trunks are found on steep or inaccessible terrain. Some tools make the job easier. A shovel is usually the minimum tool kit for would be bonsai collectors but a crowbar may be required in rocky or harder soils. Pruning tools help reduce the mass to a manageable size. Many collectors find a chainsaw or battery powered reciprocating saw invaluable, especially for larger trees.

Mitch showing Tools of trade

Here are some photos of Albury Wodonga Bonsai club members digging feral olives

Rutherglen olive dig – November 2015
Club members at Allan’s Flat olive dig March 2017
Ian with a great olive from Rutherglen

As mentioned earlier olives can be chopped to bare wood and will soon produce new shoots. The trees shown below had some good surface roots but they will still survive with far fewer roots if necessary and it is not uncommon for collected olives to be ‘flat bottomed’ meaning the trunk bulge is cut horizontally through the widest part and the trunk planted as a virtual cutting. Surprisingly, most olives survive this rather drastic root pruning, even when there are no small roots left.

Some freshly collected olives

A few years later, with care and good pruning you could end up with something like this.

Shibui winter 2021 Seedling sale

We have plenty of self sown maple seedlings in the garden beds at Shibui Bonsai again this year. These have all grown without any help so I can supply them at reduced rates. These seedlings will only be available until they start to grow in spring or until sold out.

First up let’s deal with quarantine. We cannot send trees to either WA or Tasmania due to plant quarantine rules and before you start complaining it is best to remember those restrictions are there to protect you and your wonderful environment from a range of pests and diseases that we battle daily here in the Eastern Mainland.

Trident maple seedlings are supplied in a range of different sizes

Small: seedlings with trunks under 3mm thick only 50c each. These are still flexible so suit wiring and bending or as smaller trees in a group planting. Also useful for root grafting.

Medium: trunks 3-6mm diameter approx $1 each

Suit group plantings, growing on, threading through plates, fusion projects and more.

Large: trunks 6-10mm thick $2 each

Great for larger trunks in a group planting or to grow on for larger bonsai trunks in future.

There are a few trunks larger than 10mm. $5 each while they last. Please note that thicker does not always mean better. These will usually have a large trunk chop and may have less attractive roots than the smaller ones.

Forest packs $20. A mix of different sizes suitable to make your own group planting. Usually 3 large, 10 medium and 10 small trunks.

Bent trunks: While most of these feral seedlings are pretty straight some have bends. These bent ones could be better for approach grafts to roots or to grow small trunks with good low bends. Price as per trunk thickness above.

I am happy to select seedlings with specific characteristics if you let me know exactly what you require so the more info you can give me as to your plans the better I can tailor your order.

Japanese Maples: These are not as prolific so numbers are limited and most are smaller size than tridents above. All JM seedlings $1 each and you get whatever sizes come up.

Please don’t expect too much from these feral seedlings. They will be packed just as they come out of the garden as shown above so some have lots of roots, some have fewer but all should survive as tridents are really tough. Even those with just a very few roots have great survival rates. The roots are only trimmed roughly to fit in bundles. You can’t expect me to do detailed root work at those prices so that’s up to you when they arrive. Trunks will be chopped to fit into a 50-60 cm long pack. Further detailed pruning to size is also up to you.

Trees are sent bare root. I’ll bundle the trunks, wrap the roots in wet newspaper and wrap in a plastic bag to retain moisture. Trees will survive quite comfortably this way during delivery and for several weeks if necessary. On arrival please check and refresh root moisture if necessary. Trees can be stored in a cool place for a few weeks or even longer if you are not ready to pot up straight away. For longer term storage roots should be buried in damp soil, sand or sawdust until planting is possible.

Delivery: Please allow for the cost of delivery in addition to the tree price. Trees are sent direct to your mailing address via Auspost. Price depends on the size, weight and destination of the order so I’ll need to quote each package to give you the best price so please supply your delivery address or at very least a postcode when ordering so I can calculate a price for delivery. typical cost is likely to be: smaller packages under 1kg $15 regular mail or $20 express. More than 1 forest pack or larger numbers of individual trees could be $25 or $30 for delivery.

Email neil@shibuibonsai.com.au to place an order or to discuss your needs this season.

Digging 2021

The winter solstice has come and gone and that is a prompt for me to get into the grow beds and start digging the deciduous trees. I don’t think the trees mind when I dig. I just use the solstice as a reminder to get started or I won’t have enough time to dig the beds and do whatever repotting is required in the nursery before spring.

I usually start with the root over rock trees, just because I can’t wait to see what has happened under the soil and foil wrap. Opening these is always like Christmas.

Mulch scraped back and the trees have been loosened with a shovel
Closer look at some of the trunks

After cutting roots with a shovel I can lift the trees and shake the soil off the roots.

as they came out

To make them easier to handle the long roots and long branches are pruned roughly before making any further decisions.

after a rough trim top and bottom

Now comes the moment of truth. Unwrapping the foil will reveal how well the roots have developed over these rocks. these trees have been in this bed for just one year. Note that the aluminium foil wrap is starting to deteriorate. Some have split the foil as the roots and trunk expanded during the growing season. Roots have also penetrated through the foil in a couple of places.

roots escaping!

This is a good reason for checking every year. The closer to the surface the stronger trident roots grow. If this was left another year that escaped root would get huge and would distort the roots closer to the rock, possibly making this a dismal failure.

Now it is time to do some more detailed work on these trees. I assess the whole root/rock/trunk arrangement to find the best possible lines. At this stage I’m just looking for a trunk. branches come later.

from one side – nice possible trunk line, good roots.
This one also looks good from the other side.

I think the curving trunk looks far better than the straighter section so I’ll prune to remove the straight section. Pruning like this also gives some taper.

After final pruning

Now these are ready for potting and the start of the next phase – branches and ramification.

pruning small tridents

The leaves have fallen so it is time to trim and prune the maples. There are quite a lot of small tridents being grown on at Shibui Bonsai. Over summer they are allowed to grow with only occasional rough trims to limit the height of the new shoots. Now it is time to look more closely and prune for direction and taper.

There is not just one way to create bonsai. Much will depend on what style you want to grow, how big the bonsai will be and how well it has grown. With most developing trees there are a number of legitimate alternatives when pruning for shape.

The original tree has a right angle bend at the top which will not give an attractive trunk line so I cut back to a lower shoot with better line. Now the trunk has a slight change of direction and better taper above that cut. That cut would be quite suitable to grow on as a larger sized bonsai. Further down the trunk is another suitable side shoot with good angle. The lower cut provides even better trunk bends and taper starting lower. It can now be grown on as a larger tree or as a possible shohin sized bonsai.

Those tridents will be allowed to grow again next summer. If all goes well some of the new shoots will be selected to develop beginning branches.

This time I am selecting carefully for shorter internodes. As this is intended to become a shohin sized maple bonsai pruning is rigorous. Any straight sections are removed. All long internodes are removed, even if they are growing in desirable locations and angles. Remember that buds can only grow from nodes so long internodes severely restrict ramification of branches. This is particularly important when aiming for smaller sized bonsai where everything must be reduced. The lowest branch on the right above curves up and out and still has a long internode. I have left it this year to strengthen and thicken the start of that branch. With luck some smaller side shoots will emerge from the nodes at the base. If they develop with shorter internodes I will cut back the stronger one next winter. If nothing emerges next summer the long internode will be chopped anyway and the branch developed the following year from new buds.

These photos show a small trident another year on from the previous example. You can see that branches have started to form. Again some shoots were allowed to grow long to thicken selected areas of branches or the trunk. Those thick shoots are now pruned right at the base. Again, long internodes are rigorously removed to give better structure to the developing branches. To save wiring, shoots growing in desirable directions are kept while those growing up or down are generally removed. I try to select thinner shoots further out on branches and near the apex to provide taper where possible. Development of this trident is advanced enough to think about finding a proper bonsai pot for the spring repot.

winter trimming – maples

It has been so long since I posted here. Life just seems to get in the way.

late autumn now at Shibui Bonsai and the leaves have dropped off trident maples. That means it is time to start the winter trimming. Some growers wait until later in winter or spring but an early start is good for me as winter and spring get really busy when I dig the field grown trees and start repotting in spring. I’ve also found that maples don’t bleed quite as much when cut soon after leaf drop.

My winter trim is aimed at refining already well ramified trees. I take out any long shoots, thin out crowded shoots and remove thick shoots from the ends of branches and near the apex.

Trident maple before and after trimming shoots. This one is around 35 years old. It has really well ramified branches. By the end of summer the new shoots are quite crowded and need thinning to allow room for next year’s shoots to get adequate space and sunlight.

This one is much younger. I had a few upright tridents so decided to develop one with more trunk character. The upper trunk of this one has been grown from just the first branch of a younger tree.I think the bends give it a unique character and I’m happy with progress so far. The branches of this one are still developing ramification so less thinning to do here. Emphasis is on pruning for direction and removing overly long internodes so the future ramification will be better.