Ever wonder what it’s like to work on bonsai every day? Plus weekends and evenings? On some of the best trees in the world? Now’s your chance to find out.
Tomorrow evening Daisaku Nomoto, a bonsai professional living in Miyazaki, Japan, will do his best to answer your questions on any topic, bonsai related or not.
Daisaku Nomoto at his Kyushu nursery, Nomoto Chinshoen
The best and worst things about working with trees every day? Advice for beginners? Whether or not his favorite pop star is still Adele? You get the idea. The AMA (Ask Me Anything) will be held online at Ask Bonsai Tonight. The rules are simple – post your questions here.
For those unfamiliar with Nomoto and his work, Nomoto is Boon Manakitivipart’s senpai, or senior. The two apprenticed together with Kihachiro Kamiya at Kihachi-en in Aichi prefecture, Japan. After completing his apprenticeship, Nomoto returned to Kyushu to work with his father at the family nursery, Nomoto Chinshoen.
Bending a student’s juniper in a workshop
Nomoto’s skills are impressive, and his sense of humor makes him a pleasure to work with. I met Nomoto on my first trip to Japan in 1999 and we’ve kept in touch through his many trips to the US and my visits to Japan. If you’re interested in learning more, I’ve collected links to a number of posts about him and his work. For a look at some of the trees at his nursery, see:
To see some of the work he’s done in the US:
Some of his thoughts on styling:
A look at one of his workshops:
And notes from one of my favorite conversations with Daisaku:
The fun starts tomorrow – post your questions now.
Every summer Bay Island Bonsai members are invited to Boon’s house for a barbecue. It’s one of the two most important events of the year – the other being the annual exhibit in January. The barbecue is a great opportunity to catch up with other members. The focus: planning for next year’s exhibit.
Morten at the flipboard
Morten has been doing a great job guiding BIB through the exhibit process from the very beginning. Together, we cover small but important topics such as when and where we will meet and who will load and unload trucks. We also discuss larger topics and outline goals for improvements. The main order of business, however, is finding leads for show-related responsibilities including photography, sales, auction, hospitality, front-door, security and docent program. Once the leads are selected, members sign up for show duties to ensure all of these areas are well staffed. We encourage this volunteering with food and sometimes ice cream.
Post-lunch coma – and yes, that’s Yusuke Uchida with the shades at center
After the meeting ended, we continued to talk about the show, wondering if there are more efficient ways of getting trees from the trucks to their displays or how best to identify material for the sales area. We also enjoyed the bonsai. Boon’s garden is full of super trees – more on that Friday.
I find watering this time of year to be challenging. Yesterday only about 6 of my trees needed water – the others were fine. Before and after work it is dark out. This morning the hose was frozen and no water would come out.
Watering in spring – how nice!
In colder areas, trees are moving into winter storage areas and facing increasing amounts of snow. Whatever the climate, the cold or dormant season poses challenges to tree health. If I don’t water trees selectively, over or under-watering can stress trees and facilitate fungus growth or infestations – problems that are hard to address in winter for trees that are semi-dormant. Insects are a particular problem where I live because it doesn’t get cold enough to discourage pests like pine needle scale. Even though fall is a great time to perform many bonsai tasks, tree health comes first.
What to do? Good question. I often spray insecticides in fall or winter to get ahead of pests that can take over quickly in spring. When I plan ahead, I give my trees a dose of systemic pesticides toward the end of the growing season to inoculate them through winter and early spring. When watering, I try to identify trends relating to which trees dry out quickly and which dry out slowly. Even if like sizes and varieties aren’t grouped together in the garden, knowing which need the most water helps me stay on top of the task.
A particular pine in my garden has been thirsty almost every day this month – possibly a sign that it needs repotting. If the soil has broken down over several years, drainage can decline making it harder to give trees a proper dose of water. A quick chopstick test can help determine whether or not a tree needs repotting (if the chopstick goes in easily, the tree is less likely to need repotting).
If I’m not around the garden during daylight hours, I’ll sometimes dig into the soil a little ways in the dark and feel how moist the soil is. I’ve also relied on assistance from friends and neighbors when I need help with the watering.
A good hedge against many of these challenges is soji – removing the top layer of soil to encourage good drainage (see “Summer soji”). One of the best benefits of this is simply interacting with trees that may not otherwise need work this time of year. Taking these trees off of the bench for a few minutes and looking them over can reveal nascent infestations and make clear whether or not a tree is thirsty. When the work is done, it’s far easier to gauge the drainage which can help determine whether or not spring repotting is in order. Soji can also help with weeds and make the garden look tidy.
Winter remains one of my favorite bonsai seasons because trees prepped for exhibit this time of year can look fantastic. I’ve found it’s not, however, a time to take much of a break from basic maintenance activities.
I’ve enjoyed bonsai auctions for a long time. You never know what material will show up or how much it will go for. They are a great way to gauge the market for given trees within a given audience and can be a great source for new material.
Bay Island Bonsai holds an auction every year on the first day of their annual exhibit – typically the Saturday before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I got to help with the event this year, logging purchases as bidding on each lot closed.
A mix of medium sized trees
As I was busy before the event, I didn’t get much of an opportunity to look closely at the trees for sale. I noticed there was a good mix of coniferous and deciduous trees for both large and small budgets, but I didn’t plan to bid on any – I have plenty of trees to keep me busy in my small garden.
Pine, ume, junpier and maple on the block
Going once, going twice…
As so often happens, I watched lots come and go only to get caught up in the bidding. That one looks interesting, I thought as I tried to catch glimpses of a white pine on the other side of the room. And the price seems reasonable, I told myself as my bidder card rose into view. Before it was over, I had two new trees.
The first was a white pine that upon closer inspection revealed teeny, tiny, green needles surrounded by the previous year’s yellow needles. The tree was healthy, but not vigorous. More interesting was the tree’s bark. Turns out the tree was grafted, but onto what stock I do not know. Jimmy Inadomi performed the graft years ago so I may have an opportunity to investigate further.
The main reason I bid on the white pine was that I like the variety and they are hard to come by. With nice movement and some interesting deadwood, I figured the tree could make a nice project.
The second tree I bid on was a Utah juniper. Although it lacks the twisting so characteristic of good juniper bonsai, it has interesting deadwood with some age on it. It’s also a reasonable size – easy to carry and a nice potential addition to a medium display.
Both trees need plenty of work to get them into shape, but it’s the kind of work I enjoy – getting the trees healthy and making key styling decisions.
If you missed BIB’s auction, fret not – the Golden State Bonsai Federation is hosting their Annual Fundraiser at the Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt on February 23-24. The event includes an auction on the 23rd. See you there?