Back Budding – Feed Your Bonsai!

Carpinus-coreana-shohin-Mario-KomstaThis shohin Carpinus coreana (Korean hornbeam) by Mario Komsta has appeared here on Bark before. As a companion plant no less (see below). No problem though. Any tree this good deserves to be shown more than once. As a companion or by itself.

You might wonder why we’re headlining a dormant tree in mid-summer. Well, it’s a great tree and it goes with this post which has appeared twice already here on Bark (with some value added each time).

I have been trying to get a few of my trees to back bud lately. So far to no avail. But then, they are varieties that don’t readily show buds on old wood. One in particular is a promising Hinoki that has almost all its growth out at the tips of the branches. So I’ll keep trying.



Speaking of Mario Komsta, this instructive photo about back budding, a lesser known benefit of fertilizing, is something he cooked up. I don't remember where I found it. It and the text below (edited just a bit) originally appeared here on Bark in October, 2010.

Fertilize! Skip ahead to the fourth point unless you are a beginner.
Many, if not most people under fertilize their bonsai. I imagine it’s laziness on some people’s part and ignorance on others (they’re related). There’s nothing we can do about the laziness part, but, maybe we can help with the ignorance.

First, we’ll state the obvious: fertilizing helps keep your bonsai healthy. Plants need a range of nutrients to sustain themselves, stay beautiful, help resist pests and disease and so forth.

Second, you don’t starve bonsai to keep them small. Bonsai are kept small by pruning (top and roots) and by growing in small containers.

Third (you’d be surprised how many people don’t quite get this): fertilizing encourages growth and growth is critical in developing quality bonsai. You want trunks to thicken, branches to develop, nebari to develop, and so forth. Unhealthy plants don’t grow much, or worse, their growth is leggy and weak (Note from 2015: there’s a lot more to say about this, like what kind of fertilizer, when, how much and etc, but we can’t say everything in one post. If you search fertilizing on Bark and elsewhere you’ll find a wealth of information. Be careful though! Not everything you read is true).

Fourth (the purpose of the photo above): ample fertilizing can encourage back budding (budding on old wood). Some trees don’t back bud easily (pines or hinoki for example) so they need some encouragement. In the photo above, Mario points out a bud that popped up on eleven-year-old wood (on a pine no less!). He attributes this not very common occurrence to fertilizing.

Here’s a comment from the original post by someone named Mark: “It doesn’t seem like 11 year old wood. And that’s exactly why the bud came out. Had the growth been strong, the wood would’ve mature and those sleeping buds would’ve had inactivated (for lack of a better word) long ago. Bottom line: it’s not an absolute age that’s the decisive factor. It’s all relative: one has to take other factors (besides age and fertilizing) into account.”

105-1511A great companion for a very good Red pine. Here's the original caption from just over six years ago right here on Bark: The main tree in this display by Mario Komsta is a Japanese red pine (Pinus densiflora: Akamatsu in Japanese) and the secondary tree is a Korean hornbeam (Carpinus coreana: Iwashide in Japanese). The photo originally appeared in Bonsai Today issue 105 under the title; Dreams of Kokufu-ten - A Western Bonsai Artist Exhibits at Japan’s Most Prestigious Show.



Three of our favorite fertilizers
Green DreamBonsai ProMaruta Rape Seed Cakes

One more thing about fertilizing. Virtually all bonsai should be generously fed in the summer. It’s a little different in the spring when you want to generously feed younger trees but wait on old well-developed tree until the summer to feed (fertilizing too early on old trees can force rapid growth and cause them to start looking young again).

Bonsai Flower Dreams


If you can get past the flowers, you might pull your eyes down to the trunk. While you're down there, you might also notice the pot. The photo is from an exhibit called “Japanese Flower Dreams – 1st Azalea Festival” in Schwetzingen, Germany. I found the photo on The caption reads: "A lovely example by Udo Fischer Bonsai Design."

Lots of azaleas lately. Response is good and who’s to argue with all the brilliant colors? You can see the photos shown here and others on

blaudekor001It's not always about the flowers. Some azaleas are powerful enough to hold their own year round. This one could be displayed anywhere, anytime.





You can most likely figure it out, but just in case: Japanese Flowering Trees. 1. Azalea festival in Schwetzingen.

Our famous and immensely popular scissors are finally back…
...and on Special


Three Ring Bonsai Circus


Luminous Bougainvillea. Yesterday we featured a Buttonwood by Paul Pikel. Today we'll stay with Paul (while inviting some other Florida artists) and we'll start with this Bougainvillea at the Epcot (2009). You can read about it and more at Orlando Bonsai.

Yesterday and today could be called Paul Pikel day here at Bark. Yesterday we headlined a famous Buttonwood of Paul’s (a better photo is below) and today I borrowed the Three Ring Bonsai Circus title (above) from an article by Paul at Orlando Bonsai.

In the course of exploring Paul’s bonsai and his writing, it was a very short trip to Bonsai Societies of Florida and a whole host of other accomplished bonsai artists. I guess we could’ve titled this post; Paul Pikel & Friends.



This shot was lifted from a Bonsai Societies of Florida video by Jackie Barret. The photography is by the eminently accomplished Paul Pikel. As you can see, the tree belongs to Randy Clark, an old regular here on Bark.



Same video.



And once more... There are plenty of other trees on the video.


ficusThis little Ficus belongs to Paul.



Here’s a better shot of Paul’s famous Buttonwood. It won the All American award at the 4th U.S. National Bonsai Exhibition and this is the photo that appears in the Exhibition Album.



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Bonsai Banter, Buttonwoods & Summer Dormancy

paul pikle

This dynamic Buttonwood (Conocarpus erectus) is one of four trees from Florida that were selected for the upcoming Artisan's Cup in Portland, Oregon (go! it's going to be great). It belongs to Paul Pikel. Image courtesy of Mary Miller (Bonsai Mary of Bonsai Banter).

Florida is more than a refuge for snowbirds and hormone bedeviled college kids; it’s also home to most of the best tropical and semi-tropical bonsai in North America, and of all the great bonsai varieties you’ll find in Florida, Buttonwood is king.

Something else you’ll find in Florida (and some other north American hot spots) are long periods of extreme summer heat and resultant summer dormancy, where, in order to conserve water, plant growth slows way down or even stops for a while (this is not unlike winter dormancy, where water conservation is also part of the picture).

Below are some comments borrowed from Mary Miller’s Bonsai Banter, one of my favorite bonsai reads.

ed_ButtonwoodThis now famous buttonwood belonged to Ed Trout. Sadly it was stolen back in 2009. On a happier note, many of Ed’s other bonsai have become famous and are featured in Bonsai Today magazine, here on Bark and numerous other places.

Summer Dormancy
by Mary Miller, Bonsai Banter

“You may find some of your trees wilt in the heat. Before you water, check the soil moisture, you may be surprised!

“Many years ago I noticed a dormancy period with my legume and buttonwood bonsai. The trees had seemingly shut down. They “pouted” and even shed a few leaves. Another symptom was little to no new growth.

‘Summer dormancy’ is a temporary inactive phase caused by chemical changes within the plant cells. This growth arrestment is caused by high temperatures.

“During this time, allow your bonsai to rest. They have stored up enough nutrition to sustain themselves. Do not try to wake them up with fertilizer, it won’t work!

“Don’t overwater either. Before you water, make sure your bonsai need it.”


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An Impressive Collection of Delicious Little Trees


These delicious little trees (shohin bonsai) are all from Cliff Chong’s bonsai gallery. I don’t know if all the trees are his, but his or otherwise, it’s a very impressive collection of photographs. Cliff lives and practices the art of bonsai in Malaysia.










Here’s another impressive Shohin Bonsai
it’s Morten Albek’s classic and it’s full of
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Pointing the Way

Juniperus-Sabina-Patrick-CremersThree years ago when we originally showed this tree we didn't have any idea who the artist was. We were none the wiser until someone offered this in the comments (from the second posting last year ): "The first sabina juniper you mention is from Patrick Cremers.." Once we had a name it was easy to find this newer and better photo (the original is below).

This post is worth a third time. It’s rich in bonsai beauty and information. First time was titled The Trend Only Gets More Outrageous (be sure to read the comments). The second was There Are No Rules (but What About Guidelines?). Some people keep insisting on rules, but of course rules are made to be broken (in art for sure) and even guidelines, though often useful, are never cast in stone.

Speaking of guidelines, we've got a brand new bonsai book that is the best on guidelines (principles in this case) that we've seen for a long long time. In fact, we can say with complete confidence that it's destined to be a bonsai standard. It's titled Principles of Bonsai Design and it's by David De Groot (more below).

One thing I failed to mention in both earlier posts is how the main tree (above) points (with at least two pointers no less) to the secondary tree which in turn points to the mysterious little companion. You don’t usually see the relationship between objects so obviously stated, but it works for me.

The old rules of bonsai, if they ever really existed (they didn’t), were broken as soon as they were made and the trend only gets more outrageous (in whatever sense you prefer: out·ra·geous: shockingly bad or excessive, wildly exaggerated or improbable, very bold, unusual, and startling).


harry1As you can see, this common Privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium) belongs to Harry Harrington. It was developed from an old hedgerow tree collected in 2004. At the risk of stating the obvious, it's the way the pot by Victor Harris) and the base of tree play together that gives this one its cachet. 


taikanBillThis lonely persimmon is from the recent Taikan Bonsai Exhibition. I borrowed the photo from Bill Valavanis, who was there (Bill is everywhere) and who took the photo, along with a whole bunch of other photos. In any case, I'm scratching my head a bit about this one, though knowing how much Japanese people appreciate fruit and flowers on bonsai, I guess you could say it's about being touched by fleeting beauty. Something like that.


walter13This collected Norway spruce (Picea abies) belonged to Walter Pall when this photo was shot. I don't think Walter considered it styled at this point, but there's something about its flowing naturalness that I like. Walter traded it Mauro Stemberger who said, according to Walter, that "he wanted to 'Italianize' it and he did. Together with his friend he worked for three hours and the result (below) speaks for itself."


piceaThe Spruce from just above, that belonged to Walter and now belongs to Mauro. Tamed a bit now.


longNot a great photo, but a remarkably unusual tree. Like the one at the top of the post, it's from Estação Bonsai and also unattributed.



The lead photo from the original post.



Brand NEW – Principles of Bonsai Design is now at Stone Lantern

By David De Groot. If you know who Dave is, you’ll have a
pretty good idea of just how excellent and thorough this book really is

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.

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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
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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.