Bonsai Beautyberry & Other Little Gems


This brilliant little Japanese beautyberry (Callicarpa japonica) is well named indeed (it's nice when the name of a plant says something about how the plant looks; an onamonapia of sight). 
I found this photo on Bonsai Empire They attribute it to AR&B*, but I think AR&B picked it up somewhere else and failed to attribute. Looking at the tree, I'm almost certain that it's a Japanese bonsai.
The rest of the photos in this post are from an old Bark post called Luminous Fruit. The artist is Katsumi Komiya.

If you’ve ever tried to grow fruiting bonsai, you know that getting perfectly healthy, beautiful fruit to grow and stay on your trees is no mean feat (birds, wind, insects and other problems will surely conspire against you). Especially on such small trees (Shohin bonsai).


kk3 Another very sweet little tree with luminous fruit and a great pot. I think I can say with complete confidence that it's a crab apple.


kk2-770Another little gem in a great pot. Looks like a quince. The size of fruit brings up an interesting point; you can dwarf leaves by defoliating, allowing the roots to become pot bound, etc, but you can't dwarf fruit on an individual tree (you can dwarf fruit genetically, but that's another story). Thus the very large fruit on a very small tree.


kk5-770At a glance I thought those little red things were fruit, but on closer examination, I'd say they look a lot like little quince flowers. Most likely a Chojubai.


kk1-770Most def another crab apple in yet another great pot. The tiny tree makes the two little apples seem huge.

*Associazione Rock’n’Bonsai

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Only the Surface Waves


These three trees belong to Masahiko Kimura. I lifted (and cropped) this photo from El Tim Bonsai. It's a Spanish language blog with an English language option.

The Tim. I have long admired the great photos and great dedication to bonsai expressed on the El Tim Bonsai blog (the original Spanish language version and an English language version).

The photos shown here are from El Tim’s visit to Masahiko Kimura’s nursery on a recent Japan trip. They are the tip of the Kimura iceberg and only the surface waves on El Tim’s vast ocean of great bonsai photos.



If you could only see the trunk on this pine, you might think it's a juniper (deadwood dominated trunks are very common with junipers and less common with pines; in part because deadwood on pines tends to decompose much faster than juniper deadwood).



The whole tree.



More deadwood. This time it's a juniper (Shimpaku).



The whole tree with some Seussian strangeness behind.



We’re on a bit of a Kimura roll these days. If your appetite is
properly whetted, you just might enjoy this wonderful book.

Unlocking Valuable Bonsai Wisdom


This remarkable Satsuki azalea belongs to Teunis Jan Klein. It’s not very often you see a cascade with such a long reach. What’s more remarkable is the mass of flowers around the tip, which seems to be as strong as the crown. That much strength so much lower than the base is no mean feat. This photo is from Hans Van Meer’s blog. It was taken at the 7th Het Westen Bonsai Show in Delft.

The photo above is to grab your attention. Now that we’ve succeeded in that, we’d like to help unlock some valuable bonsai wisdom (borrowed from a 2009 Bark post). Not exactly secret wisdom, but you might be surprised at how few people understand the importance of sacrifice branches for thickening trunks and branches, and for developing good taper.

b1kim2p36The huge girth and dramatic taper on this powerful Satsuki azalea, were achieved primarily through the use of sacrifice branches. In fact, you'll notice that some are still being employed to help thicken the primary branches. This photo is from The Magician: The Bonsai Art of Kimura 2, by Stone Lantern Publishing.

In energy balancing #3 we showed a juniper with a single sacrifice branch at the top. Single sacrifice branches are often used, especially to thicken trunks, and they can work quite well. However, one problem with using single branches is that, in order to be effective, they can get quite thick and can leave an unsightly scar when removed.
One solution to the scarring problem is to use many small shoots as sacrifice branches. None need ever get so big that they leave a scar. This technique works particularly well on azaleas and other types of trees that put out a profusion of buds on old wood.


Before (apologies for the fuzz). This is what Master Kimura started with. Though you can see the beginnings of the powerful nebari and base of the trunk, the overall appearance isn't up to much. Kimura cut off almost all the foliage in order better see what he was dealing with. With azaleas and other prolific budders, this isn't a problem.



One year later. The profusion of shoots shows how easily azaleas bud on old wood. Kimura has already removed some shoots and left others as future branches and as sacrifice branches (sacrifice shoots might be a better term in this case). The little clumps of sacrifice shoots just above the soil, are being employed to thicken the base of the trunk.



Some time later (the original says one year after the photo just above, but I find that hard to believe; perhaps it's a translation error). Now that the trunk is where he wants it, Kimura leaves selective shoots; some as future branches and some to help heal some large scars (another use of sacrifice branches). Also, and as you can see, Kimura has decided that it's time to start developing the apex.

If you want to see the entire chapter on sacrifice branches and the development of this old Satsuki azalea, you might want to consider The Magician, the Bonsai Art of Kimura.

Bonsai Guessing Game at the Montreal Botanical Gardens


This vivid close up was taken by Bill Valavanis at the Montreal Botanical Gardens. The tree is a Chinese privet. To see a photo of the whole tree and a whole range of other great photos, visit Bill's blog.

Bill Valavanis is up to his old tricks. Exploring and promoting bonsai with flair and dedication. The result is one of the best bonsai blogs you’ll find. This time it’s the famous bonsai collection (collections actually, though the Penjing section was closed) at Montreal’s Botanical Gardens.

I didn’t start out to turn this post into a bonsai varieties guessing game, it just turned out that way.


There's a lot to like about this tree. The smooth reddish bark, the natural looking shari (deadwood on the trunk), the nebari (spread at the base of the trunk) and the tree's overall balance. Base on the leaves, I'm going to guess that it's a Hemlock, though my guesses are a 50-50 proposition at best.



A hefty old Trident maple with typically strong nebari. No need to guess the variety, the leaves are a dead giveaway.



Another maple with a strong nebari. This time it's Japanese. Again, the leaves are unmistakeable.



Based on the bark and leaves, I'll stick my neck out and guess a dwarf Norway spruce (aka European spruce). And don't worry; if I'm leading you astray Bill will set me straight.

spruceThis one scares me. I'll take a wild guess and go for Scot's pine.


 baldBald cypress. This one is easy, with or without the plaque.



I would have guessed Tamarack, aka American larch (Larix laricina) on this one and I would have been wrong. As you can see, it's a Japanese larch (Larix kaempferi).

The eight photos shown here are a small fraction of what you’ll find on Bill’s Montreal trip (39 photos in all).



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Our Masters Series Juniper Book Is Due Back in December – Bonsai Wire & Tool Sale

kimjunThe Magician again. This sculpted Shimpaku juniper is by Masahiko Kimura, a master of stylized and not so stylized bonsai. From our Masters’ Series Juniper book (out of print, but due back in December). There are also numerous examples of Kimura’s bonsai in The Magician, another Stone Lantern Masters’ Series book.


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Master Bonsai Magician

bt56-p031-011This powerful and famous Yew by is by Bonsai Master Masahiko Kimura. It's from The Magician (below). It also appears in Bonsai Today issue 56.

Archives plus today. Most of this post originally appeared in February 2010 and again last year. It was originally titled ‘Eccentric Bonsai: Fearless Master Kimura Again’. I’ve added some copy and killed some of the original copy in an attempt to reduce the wince factor. I’ve also added another photo for your enjoyment.



Same species but very different tree. Though it's not as powerful as many other Kimura trees (see above and below), nor is it considered one of his classics, still... there's that unusual trunk that give pause for thought. It's a Japanese Yew that appears in The Bonsai Art of Kimura (long out of print). There is no explanation given for how the trunk was formed. My guess is that Kimura split the original trunk and re-joined the two halves.

The following is from The Bonsai Art of Kimura (still out of print) in a section titled ‘Some future bonsai masterpieces.’

“…this Yew was a favorite tree in the artist’s collection. He sold it once only to buy it back again.

“In the summer of 1984 the back branch died because the wire Kimura put on originally had not been removed (this no doubt happened during the time when someone else owned it). Although it was an important branch that provided balance, it was compensated for by changing positions of other branches. The tree’s height is 26″ (66 cm).”


kim51Shooting the Magician at night. This astounding tree is originally from an El Tim album that we featured in 2013.



Dig in and let yourself be inspired by the bonsai brilliance of the The Magician. On special at Stone Lantern.

Don’t Starve Your Bonsai

Lush summer foliage and impressive deadwood on an old Shimpaku juniper.The lush foliage is the result of timely feeding. The photo is from our Masters Series Juniper book (due back in print in December). I know the tree is from Japan, but don't know who the artist is.

Many, if not most people underfeed their bonsai. There are many reasons why ample fertilizing is critical to developing healthy and beautiful bonsai. I’ll list a few (if I missed something important, please let us know in the comments).

1. It’s up to you. Most bonsai soils don’t contain nutrients. This means your tree’s nutritional requirements are completely dependent on you. If you do use a soil that contains nutrients* (organic matter), these will eventually get used up or leach out.

2. Healthy foliage is beautiful foliage. You want vigorous healthy foliage. The foliage on underfed trees will lack color and luster.

3. Rapid thickening. Fertilizing promotes rapid growth which promotes trunk and branch thickening (younger trees and older trees are treated differently**).

4. Ramification. Healthy growth (along with skillful trimming) promotes the development of fine branching (secondary, tertiary and so forth).

5. Pest resistance. Healthy well-fed trees are better able to resist pests.

6. Stress resistance. Same goes for heat, cold, wind etc.

7. Human error. Healthy well-fed trees with strong roots can better resist forgetting to water or over-watering (but only up to a point).

*Organic matter in soil tends to inhibit aeration (aka drainage) and is not recommended by most bonsai professionals.

**With younger trees you want rapid growth so you start feeding in the early spring and keep feeding right through the summer. With older more developed trees too much growth can cause loss of shape, but you still want healthy trees with beautiful crowns. The secret here is wait until the summer to start feeding.


maplewalterYou can bet that this luxurious crown is the result of generous feeding. This lush Kiohime Japanese maple belongs to Walter Pall, so I'm guessing that's his arm and hand. It (the tree not the hand) is 45 cm (18") high and more than 50 years old (again the tree, though if it's Walter's hand...). It was originally imported from Japan. This photo and the one below are from Walter's blog. They are part of a series of photos on the development of this tree.



Walter's maple after he reduced the crown and turned it around. Now the proportions are better and you can see the bones better too. This shape and crown will be maintained by proper feeding (more summer less spring) and skillful trimming. The pot is by Petra Tomlinson.



This hornbeam belongs to Mario Komsta. I lifted it from an old Bark post (2010). It's an great example of a powerful trunk and an extreme example of fine branching, the result of ample fertilizing and skillful trimming. Once the trunk and branching are well developed you can stop spring feeding but continue to feed in the summer.



Feed your Bonsai!
Organic slow release fertilizers are the best
(Green Dream pellets & Rape Seed cakes)

You can also supplement with liquid

More Deadwood & Six Reasons to Love a Bonsai

nicolaThe uninitiated sometimes wonder how a tree like this stays alive. The answer; excellent care and that live vein that snakes its way up the trunk.
The feature that really sets this tree apart (taking nothing away from the live vein and the tree's overall beauty and balance) is that delicious deadwood reaching into the sky. I think it's the fluidity of the movement that keeps it from being over the top (so to speak). The tree belongs to Nicola Kitora Crivelli. It’s from a gallery on  Bonsai Empire.


More deadwood. We’re on a roll so we’ll just keep going.


jin1Going down? I can think of at least six reasons to love this tree: that little piece of wood that hangs over the edge of the pot, the remarkable texture and color of the bark, the way the powerful old trunk seems to cling to the pot, the radiant health expressed by the foliage, the fact that it's Southwestern white pine (Pinus strobiformis) a variety that's new to me, and that remarkable jin that seems to point in the direction the rest of tree is headed. The tree belong to Greg Brenden. The photo is from the 2010 2nd U.S. National Exhibition Album (out of print but we still have the 3rd and 4th).

B1-SET2ALBUMS2The 3rd and 4th U.S, National Bonsai Exhibition Albums


jin2Going up? When I let go of my notions of naturalness and try to look with unprejudiced eyes, I’m struck by the way the whiteness (fresh lime sulfur) of the deadwood sets off the delicious slick live vein (a tough brush and some camillea oil?). Then there’s the story behind the partially hidden twisted deadwood stump. Something happened to this tree before it was discovered clinging to its little patch of soil somewhere in eastern North America (it’s an Eastern red cedar that's really a Juniper (Juniperus virginiana). Oh yeah, and there’s those three jin. The tree belongs to Juan Calderon. The photo is from the 2008 1st U.S. National Exhibition Album (out of print).


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Carving Deadwood – How About Yew?

yewEvery time I open Bonsai Today issue 106 and lay my eyes on this wickedly powerful, dynamic old English yew, my mind does a little double take. It may not look exactly like anything you'll see in nature, but it certainly jumps off the page. It's by Kevin Willson, bonsai artist and deadwood carver extraordinaire. Photo by Simon Carr.

We’ve been flirting with deadwood a lot lately, so let’s keep going. This time we’ll dip back into our archives and resurrect a post that originally appeared in 2011.

A labor of love
Yew wood is very hard. Harder than almost any other  type of wood you might carve for bonsai. In this light, take a look at the photo below and then at the photo above. Now imagine all that carving with only hand tools…. Okay, I’m kidding. Kevin used power tools. But still, it’s a labor of love (and considerable skill).

There’s much more
The sequence of steps that take us from what you see below to what you see above is covered in great detail in Bonsai Today issue 106. 13 pages of photos (38 in all) and informative text.




yew3Getting started.

How about yew?
Okay. I know this pun is a little lame…. but if you are interested in deadwood carving (and why not?) we suggest you start with hand tools. Once you get the hang of it (there’s more than meets the eye) you can graduate to power tools.


TC5CS-CarvingHand tools work fine for smaller jobs and to supplement power carving. This set of 5 Bonsai Aesthetics carving tools are on special for only 59.00


The Sensationalism of Deadwood?

fjThere's deadwood and then there's deadwood. This photo is from Francois Jeker's website. Judging from the bark and the leaves, I'd guess this is a Yew. Probably European (Taxus baccata).

Dick Matthews wrote this in the comments on a post from a few days ago (from my personal facebook feed). “Sometime I think that in a bizarre sort of way, bonsai is evolving into the sensationalism of dead wood. The more bizarre looking the dead wood, the more it represents the age of a bonsai, but I don’t think that the dead wood should be the central theme and eye-catcher of a bonsai.”

It’s always good to read comments that are thought provoking, and this one qualifies. I won’t say more; I’d rather read what you have to say.

fj3Francois Jeker’s illustrations on natural aging of deadwood. Originally from Bonsai Today issue 103. All remaining back issues of Bonsai Today are now 50% off.



The cover of Francois new book aptly illustrates his skill with deadwood, as does the inside of the book. Today is the last day of our 25% off Book Sale at Stone Lantern.



A lot less deadwood on this pine. From Francois' website.



What do you think? Does the deadwood enhance or distract from this tree?



Power carving tools are now the standard when it comes to deadwood. This photo is also from Bonsai Today issue 103. That's Francois' finger.



Francois’ three excellent English language bonsai books (another reminder; our 25% off Book Sale ends tonight at 11:59pm EDT).