Bonsai Tonight

Pinching spring candles on black pine

Posted in Bonsai Development by Jonas Dupuich on March 31, 2015

The basic premise behind developing material for bonsai is straightforward: first build the trunk, then focus on the branches. When building the trunk, encourage vigorous growth to thicken the trunk rapidly. When focusing on branch development, encourage less vigorous growth to ensure good branch density. Sounds easy, but there may be a bit more to it than that. When making the transition from trunk development to branch development, many bonsai will be quite vigorous. What are some good strategies for decreasing vigor? A reduction of fertilizer sounds like a good idea, but reducing it too much can weaken trees. And when developing pines, it’s important to keep them strong enough to withstand decandling. Reducing sunlight or water is another strategy, but to keep trees healthy, plenty of sunlight and water are required. The main thing is to avoid over-watering at this stage as it can lead to excessively long needles. One way to slow down pines is to shorten the spring candles. After the candles begin to elongate, simply break off some portion of the candle with your fingers. How much to break off depends on how long the candles are. Here’s an example on an 11 year-old black pine. Young black pine

11 year-old black pine

The idea for this pine is to make a small-sized bonsai. As the trunk has reached the desired size, I can pinch the longer candles to reduce the amount of food the pine produces. Pinching a candle

First grab the section to be removed

Pinching a candle

Then snap it off

I shortened the longest candles on this pine by about half, but left the shorter candles alone. Young black pine

After reducing the longest candles

I could have reduced the longer ones a bit more, but I didn’t want to remove too much foliage at this point as I’ll have another opportunity to balance vigor come decandling time. Do note, candle pinching is distinct from what is commonly referred to as decandling. Whereas decandling is the removal of fully developed shoots in spring, pinching refers to the partial reduction of candles before the needles elongate. Once pines are further developed, it’s more rare for extra-long candles to develop as the vigor is generally better balanced in more mature trees. When these long shoots do show up, I snap them off.

Today marks post #600 – thanks for reading!

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Mame bonsai at BSSF’s 55th annual exhibit

Posted in Exhibits by Jonas Dupuich on March 27, 2015

The Bonsai Society of San Francisco’s recent exhibit featured a display of mame (“bean” sized) and other small bonsai. In it were some of the best tiny trees I’ve seen.

Shohin display - Japanese maple, Japanese boxthorn, coast live oak, trident maple, bougainvillea, fuji cherry, japanese ivy

Mame and shohin bonsai
Japanese maple, Japanese boxthorn, coast live oak, bougainvillea, trident maple,
fuji cherry,  Japanese ivy

Not only are the trees small, but the trunks are incredibly thin.

Japanese maple

Japanese maple

Trident maple

Trident maple

Japanese boxthorn

Japanese boxthorn

I can’t imagine trying to water these in summer, and I have no idea where one would shop for such tiny pots.

Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea

Coast live oak

Coast live oak

The exhibit also featured a number of fun accent plantings, including the following.

Accent

Accent

Accent

Accent

Accent

Accent

Accent

Accent

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Bonsai Society of San Francisco’s 55th annual exhibit

Posted in Exhibits by Jonas Dupuich on March 24, 2015

Last week the Bonsai Society of San Francisco held their 55th annual exhibit as part of the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show held at the San Mateo Event Center. This was the first time I was able to attend the show in recent years, so I was excited to head down to San Mateo.

For those unfamiliar with the Garden Show, it’s a large event with over 200 exhibitors featuring all things garden-related, including sample display gardens, an ikebana exhibit and BSSF’s bonsai exhibit.

The Bonsai Society of San Francisco is among the older bonsai clubs in the Bay Area. It has a large membership and a strong beginners’ program featuring day-long courses suited to the current season (details at bssf.org).

One can also find great bonsai information on the club website. Club president Eric Schrader has been posting great how-to articles on the site for years. Many of these articles focus on creating bonsai material from scratch, and Eric’s posts about developing pine bonsai are as good as any I know of – I recommend you read them all. If that’s not enough, see more from Eric at phutu.com.

Like so many local clubs, the Bonsai Society of San Francisco includes members from a number of local bonsai organizations. As such, a number of the trees from this year’s exhibit will look familiar. What may not be familiar is how the trees look this time of year.

Here are selected highlights from the exhibit, starting with some of the larger trees on display, including the impressively vigorous black pine below.

Japanese black pine

Black pine

I think the tree looks even better now than it did at the BABA exhibit just one week ago.

Below is a twin-trunk coast redwood.

Coast redwood

Coast Redwood

Here’s the same redwood at the REBS bonsai exhibit in 2012.

Japanese maple

Japanese maple

Here’s a photo of the Japanese maple as it was displayed last year at the BABA exhibit.

Black pine

Black pine

Black pine bark

Trunk detail

Here’s the black pine as displayed at BIB’s 2011 exhibit. Quite improved, yes?

There are lots of examples of local bonsai improving over time, and BSSF is a good place to see this in action.

Without further interruption, here are more highlights from last week’s exhibit.

Wisteria

Wisteria

California buckeye

California Buckeye

Larch

Larch

Japanese white pine

White pine

Hawthorn

Hawthorn

Japanese maple

Japanese maple

Star jasmine

Star jasmine

Black pine

Black pine

European hornbeam, cork bark black pine

European hornbeam, cork bark black pine

Korean hornbeam

Korean hornbeam

Cork oak

Cork oak

Catlin elm and shimpaku grafted on California juniper

Catlin elm, Shimpaku grafted on California juniper

Each of the trees in this display deserve a little more attention.

Shimpaku grafted on California juniper

Shimpaku

Catlin elm

Catlin elm and accent

Cork bark black pine

Cork bark black pine

Dwarf Asian pear

Dwarf Asian pear

Cork elm

Cork elm

Black pine

Black pine

Ume

Ume

Cork oak

Cork oak

Star jasmine

Star jasmine

Korean hornbeam, black pine

Korean hornbeam, black pine

Cotoneaster, Kingsville boxwood, olive, Washington hawthorn, Japanese grey bark elm

Cotoneaster, Kingsville boxwood, olive, Washington hawthorn, Japanese grey bark elm

BSSF’s exhibit also included some very small bonsai – photos Friday.

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Evaluating bonsai at BABA’s 34th annual exhibit

Posted in Exhibits by Jonas Dupuich on March 20, 2015

Things we look for at bonsai exhibits: healthy, beautiful trees in well-thought-out displays, clean pots and attractive top-dressings. This much is true for almost any bonsai exhibit. It’s when we start to consider criteria for evaluating individual trees that things get interesting.

I have yet to visit an exhibit that lined up the trees on display by variety. I wouldn’t recommend it from a curation perspective, but it could be a great learning experience. Likewise if the trees were lined up by style. Seeing what works and what doesn’t can jump out when comparing like specimens side-by-side, and it’s a great way to highlight trees’ best points.

Below are bonsai displayed at the Bay Area Bonsai Associates’ 34th annual exhibit shuffled roughly by variety along with some notes specific to each group’s style or species.

First up – the junipers. What do we look for in juniper bonsai? Deadwood and movement. Taper and branch development count too, but deadwood and movement are key features of the variety.

Shimpaku

Shimpaku – note consistent taper and movement along the trunk

Shimpaku

Shimpaku – good deadwood and movement
The silhouette suites the movement of the trunk well

Shimpaku grafted on Sierra juniper, Jim Gremel pot

Shimpaku grafted on Sierra juniper – Jim Gremel pot

California juniper

California juniper – the deadwood shows great age

California juniper

From the side – note the slender lifeline

California juniper

California juniper – good contrast between the life lines and the deadwood
Bringing the foliage closer to these key features could heighten the effect

Pines are prized for quite different features. For pines, age is best conveyed through the bark.

White pine

Japanese White pine – note the bark developing on the upper trunk and branches

Japanese black pine

Japanese black pine – great trunk (and healthy candles!)
Note the consistent downward angle of the branches

Japanese black pine

Japanese black pine – the semi-cascade approach is well-suited to this specimen

Atlas cedar

Atlas cedar

Deciduous trees too are prized for their trunks, but it’s in the branch development that we can see deciduous specimens at their best. Although it can be tricky to evaluate ramification after the leaves emerge, the young leaves are beautiful and do a great job of conveying the season.

Trident maple

Trident maple – silhouette mostly in place

Trident maple

Trident maple – silhouette in development

Trident maple

Trident maple – silhouette in early stages of development

Japanese maple

Japanese maple

Korean hornbeam

Korean hornbeam – the silhouette is looking good

Korean hornbeam

Korean hornbeam – silhouette in slightly earlier stages of development

Chestnut

California Buckeye

Flowering varieties are much appreciated when shown in bloom and make great highlights for the exhibit hall.

Wisteria

Wisteria

Contorted Japanese quiince, Jim Gremel pot

Contorted Japanese flowering quince – Jim Gremel pot

Ume

Ume

Beech are among the last deciduous varieties to leaf out in spring and remind us that we’re not completely done with winter.

Japanese beech

Japanese beech

Contorted hazelnut

Contorted hazlenut

As broadleaf evergreens are typically shown in leaf, the idea is to show them full with beautiful silhouettes. Depending on the variety, a number styles are available, though informal upright makes for one of the more natural approaches.

Yaupon holly

Yaupon holly

Ficus

Ficus

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