Now that the roots have been thinned and adjusted it’s time to take a more thorough look at the overall shape in case trunk lines need any work.
When I initially planted these I tried to match trunk shape to the shapes of the rocks while also trying to get good root lines. Since then strong growth of new shoots and trunk thickening have often changed the appearance so they need to be reassessed. Some will obviously need to have slight adjustments, others may need more radical pruning and a few will just be so bad I’ll scrap them.
Many readers will already be able to assess and prune for developing trunk lines but for newer growers I’ll try to work through some of my decisions with the following tree.
Check the appearance, roots, rock, trunk line and any branching from all sides and angles.
The main trunk line seems to compliment the shape of the rock from a couple of viewing points so that’s a good start. I can see that the original trunk was wired and bent (thinner upper section) but a new shoot has grown strongly vertical. Both those lines would be Ok as a trunk but the new, thicker shoot is almost the same thickness of the lower trunk meaning almost no taper in the trunk. Also that new shoot has long, relatively straight internodes so I would not be able too develop branches where I want them if that’s chosen as the main trunk. I decide to chop that new part just above the first node. New buds will sprout and grow in the coming growing season and I’ll reassess again next year.
Both trunk and roots would be better with some more thickening so I decide to rewrap and plant it in a grow box for another season.
This one has also grown a few strong new shoots over summer which have done a great job of thickening both roots and lower trunk.
The new lower left branch is not a good candidate as new leader because it would make the new trunk line too straight and leading in the wrong direction to compliment the shape of rock and roots. It is also way too thick to be a branch on that trunk so I’ll cut it close to the trunk.
Thinner branch to the right is in a position to be a possible branch but the sweep upward won’t work and it also has long internodes so I’ll chop that one above the first node too and hope for better results next season.
After pruning the top. I’ve elected to leave 2 possible trunks to see which one looks better after another year.
A final tree to look at for this post. Note the thick lower trunk.
A closer look reveals something interesting.
The thicker trunk has spiral marks. The thinner part has more pronounced wire marks and near the end is a piece of copper wire protruding from the trunk.
This trunk is the result of some experiments with wiring very young seedlings the previous year to get really twisted trunks suitable for shohin sized trees. This is one that grew so quick I was not able to remove the wires in time and the trunk has grown right over the wire. That’s not something I would normally do or recommend but, in this case I think the results might possibly be good.
The twisted part of that trunk comes down too close to the top of the rock now. As it thickens it might obscure the view of the top of the rock. The new part is more upright so probably a better trunk line. I chop the thinner section.
After chopping the thinner part a close look shows the copper wire is now right in the middle of the trunk.
The remaining stronger, upright trunk has little taper or movement so I cut it back hard. Fortunately it does have some shorter internodes as the lower part so I’ve retained 2 nodes this time. Depending how many buds break in spring and which directions they grow I may cut further.
Removing the foil wrap is easy. Unlike some other methods the roots do not get tangled up or grow over and through the bindings.
Here’s the first after unwrapping.
And some more.
Now I can assess the shape better. Look at shape of the rock, flow of the trunk, flow of roots, etc to determine which side looks better. That can determine where the longer shoots will be chopped. These still have some growing to do so they may still change appearance. At this stage I’m just making some guesses and anticipating what may happen in the next few years and trying to direct future growth along the lines that I think will look best.
After preliminary pruning the tops.
Look at the mass of roots. Many of those finer white roots have grown since I wrapped it last winter. Provided moisture levels are adequate conditions between the rock and foil are ideal for root growth.
Roots do not actually need soil to grow. Humid conditions is all they need and that’s what foil wrapped rocks provide in abundance. Some of these did not even have roots sticking out the bottom of the foil last year but have since grown down and out into the soil.
From experience I know it is important to assess and manage the roots now. Too many roots may seem a good problem to have but over time they will all thicken and spread to completely hide the rock. No point having a root over Rock planting if nobody can see there’s a rock!
Also need to deal with crossing roots. As well as being confusing to the viewer, a root growing under another will push the overlying root out away from the rock as it thickens and spoil the arrangement.
After cleaning many of the new, smaller roots and removing some that cross over or under. This should allow the rock to show through the spaces even as the remaining roots thicken and spread.
The reverse side of the same tree before cleaning excess roots
and after cleaning the roots on that side.
Here’s another case of crossing roots.
A closer look at the root marked with blue….
Shows that it comes from the other side of the tree, ender the base of the trunk, under another important root then down the front of the rock.
That’s one root I will definitely remove now, before it gets the chance to start lifting the entire tree away from the rock.
A few of these little ROR starters are already good enough to pot up and begin training trunk and branches. Others still need some more grow time so those are rewrapped with fresh foil and will go back into pots or boxes so the roots and trunks thicken a little more next summer.
June marks early winter here at Shibui Bonsai. The leaves have fallen off most of the trident maples and that means it’s time to start work on the developing trees. Most years I start with the Root over Rock plantings because it is always great to finally see what has happened over summer.
The box of potential shohin trident root over rock
After clearing fallen leaves you can now see the trees and rocks wrapped in alfoil.
I use aluminium foil because it conforms very closely to the shape of the rocks. even into crevices and hollows and holds the growing roots very close to the rocks.
Roots have grown through the bottom of the polystyrene box over the summer indicating good growth of at least some of these trees.
After cutting the roots under the box I gently ease each tree out of the soil. Breaking a few of the roots at this stage doesn’t matter as I intend to cut them back much further in the next step
Just a quick, rough trim of roots hanging out from the foil to make the trees easier to handle.
I won’t trim the tops at this stage. I really want to see the shape of both rocks and new roots before deciding where to prune the long trunks and branches.
Next time I open them up to see how the roots have developed.
Occasionally my back reminds me I’m not as young as I once was. I can still do most things but the message is clear: think about downsizing the bonsai.
Large bonsai look spectacular. There’s no doubt where the eyes go at any bonsai show and it is usually backed up by the peoples choice votes. Bigger bonsai give us the potential to catch eyes with thick trunks and real ramification but the downside is the effort needed to move and repot such trees, not to mention the cost of large pots to suit them.
Smaller bonsai are more of a challenge. Harder to keep alive through summer as the tiny pots dry out so much quicker. Styling is also a challenge – giving the impression of an entire old tree in less than 25 cm is a real challenge.
I’ve finally worked out the techniques and care needed to keep these little guys alive and healthy and accepted the challenge to develop some real quality shohin bonsai. Shohin is a size classification in bonsai which is accepted as around 25cm tall (from rim of pot).
One of the downsides to shohin bonsai is that they are rarely shown as individual trees because they get lost among the larger trees on a show bench. Shohin sized bonsai are often shown as a collection of 5 or 7 trees on a multi- layer stand so that means having more small bonsai in order to be able to pick out enough in prime condition for a show.
Today I’m sharing some of the trees I’ve been developing for the Shibui Bonsai shohin stable.
I’m really enjoying the challenges that shohin bonsai pose – containing long shoots, styling well ramified branching is limited space, growing trunks with good taper in less than 20 cm, etc.
The next challenge is finding suitable pots. I’ve contacted several of our Aussie bonsai potters and asked them to design and make some pots for me to use with these and other developing shohin bonsai. I’ll let you know what turns up when they do.
Please note these trees are NOT FOR SALE. If you want to get on the small bonsai wagon I do have plenty of smaller trees with trunks with good potential to develop your own shohin but for now the trees I’ve shown today will stay on the Shibui Bonsai show benches.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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.