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.
11 year-old black pine
First grab the section to be removed
Then snap it off
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!
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.
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.
I can’t imagine trying to water these in summer, and I have no idea where one would shop for such tiny pots.
Coast live oak
The exhibit also featured a number of fun accent plantings, including the following.
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.
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.
Here’s the same redwood at the REBS bonsai exhibit in 2012.
Here’s a photo of the Japanese maple as it was displayed last year at the BABA exhibit.
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.
European hornbeam, cork bark black pine
Catlin elm, Shimpaku grafted on California juniper
Each of the trees in this display deserve a little more attention.
Catlin elm and accent
Cork bark black pine
Dwarf Asian pear
Korean hornbeam, black pine
Cotoneaster, Kingsville boxwood, olive, Washington hawthorn, Japanese grey bark elm
BSSF’s exhibit also included some very small bonsai – photos Friday.
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 – note consistent taper and movement along the trunk
Shimpaku – good deadwood and movement
The silhouette suites the movement of the trunk well
Shimpaku grafted on Sierra juniper – Jim Gremel pot
California juniper – the deadwood shows great age
From the side – note the slender lifeline
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.
Japanese White pine – note the bark developing on the upper trunk and branches
Japanese black pine – great trunk (and healthy candles!)
Note the consistent downward angle of the branches
Japanese black pine – the semi-cascade approach is well-suited to this specimen
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 – silhouette mostly in place
Trident maple – silhouette in development
Trident maple – silhouette in early stages of development
Korean hornbeam – the silhouette is looking good
Korean hornbeam – silhouette in slightly earlier stages of development
Flowering varieties are much appreciated when shown in bloom and make great highlights for the exhibit hall.
Contorted Japanese flowering quince – Jim Gremel pot
Beech are among the last deciduous varieties to leaf out in spring and remind us that we’re not completely done with winter.
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.