Fertilize Your Bonsai for Health & Beauty

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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. I know the tree is from Japan, but don't know who the artist is.

Time for a reminder from one of our archival favorites (July, 2015). Nothing has changed since then, except our new lower fertilizer prices.

Many, if not most people underfeed their bonsai. There are many reasons why ample fertilizing is critical to developing healthy and beautiful bonsai…

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.

Continued below…

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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.

Continued from above…

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).

Continued below…

maplewalter2

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.

Continued from above…

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).

MarioHB770

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.

*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.

Feed your Bonsai!

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

You can also supplement with liquid

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Two Satsuki in Full Bloom & More Impressive Nebari

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Satsuki azalea in full bloom. Nice natural looking nebari too. Artist unknown (for the moment at least). You can find this photo and other great shots like it on Bill Valavanis' Bonsai Blog.

Here’s what Bill has to say about the photos shown in this post … “The Bonsai Society of Upstate New York is holding their 44th Upstate New York Bonsai Exhibition on May 27-28, 2017 at the Monroe Community Hospital in Rochester, New York. Some of the finest bonsai in New York state will be on display for the public to enjoy and learn from too.

“These photos are from past Upstate New York Bonsai Exhibitions, since this year’s has not even been set up yet. Since this is a society show, bonsai from all levels of development will be displayed from our membership.”

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mapleJapanese maple with a very impressive nebari. I don't think I've seen that many great nebari on bonsai that reside outside Japan. We're supposed to be taking a break from our nebari series, but somethings are hard to stay away from.

 

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Another Satsuki azalea and another excellent nebari

 

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Shohin display. We've shown Mark Arpag's little Japanese maple before, so it wouldn't be a stretch to assume that this display belongs to Mark.

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Still Searching for the Perfect Nebari

stewartia

Stewartias often have strong nebari and this one is no exception. This photo is from a post we did back in July 2014. I didn't know who the artist was then and I still don't know. I tried Image Search, which recognized that it's a Stewartia, but didn't find this particular tree.

This post is a continuation of yesterday’s Bottoms Up! More Nebari How-to. which was taken in part from In Search of the Perfect Nebari – part four, a 2009 Bark post. (In Search of the Perfect Nebari parts four and five are from Bonsai Today issue 64). The tree that is being worked on here is a Japanese maple.

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From the bottom....

 

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...and the top. After combing out and pruning the roots, there are still a few things to do before potting.

 

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A final washing with a concentrated stream gets rid of stubborn soil particles. When that's done, it's time to carve the base of the trunk. This allows for a lower, flatter planting and discourages roots from growing down.

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The carving is finished. Notice how Mr. Miau carved the bottom of the nebari in several places.

 

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Now it's ready to plant...

 

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...into a very low pot. Notice how shallow the soil is and how all the roots are lying flat on top.

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Left: before the rest of the soil is added. Right: after all the soil has been added. Notice how the nebari is exposed but all the roots that extend from it are covered.

As long as we’re talking about a Japanese maple…

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Another impressive Stewartia nebari. That's Brad Pitt's Bjorn Bjorholm’s thumb. We originally featured this photo in a post from April 2015.

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Bottoms Up! More Nebari How-to

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This natural scale nebari (surface roots and flare at the base of the trunk) stands in contrast to some of the more exaggerated nebari that we've been featuring (including the one at the bottom of this post). Bill Valavanis, who seems to spend half his life in Japan, took this photo at the Uchiku-Tei Bonsai Garden at S-Cube Bonsai Garden in Hanyu, north of Omiya.

Continuing our discussion of nabari, here’s another how-to post from our archives (with the exception of the photo above and the one at the bottom of the post which we borrowed from Bill Valavanis’ Bonsai Blog). It was titled In Search of the Perfect Nebari – part four and was originally posted in April, 2009.

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Bottoms up! This somewhat intriguing shot is from Bonsai Today, issue 64. This photos below explore how Mr. Harumi Miau arrived at this point

 

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Before. Close up of the uneven and unattractive nebari. The dark color of the exposed roots is a sign of poor vigor caused by lower roots stealing energy from top roots

 

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This shot clearly indicates the cause of the problem; too much energy has flowed to the densely matted lower roots

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After removing most of the lower roots, an iron root hook is used to untangle and comb out the top roots

 

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The combing is completed. The arrows indicate the direction of the roots

 

153Here’s what could only be discribed as a super nebari. Bill Valavanis took this photo at Hiroshi Takeyama’s Fuyo-en Bonsai Garden, Omiya Bonsai Village. Here’s Bill’s caption: “I noticed a well known famous Trident maple masterpiece with an unusually large wide surface root display. The bonsai looks like it was recently transplanted this spring and the widest ends of the surface roots were shaved back to fit into the container leaving a narrow edge of soil around the roots. There must be some surface area where water can easily reach the feeder roots. Bonsai with such a large surface root area must be carefully monitored for watering. Also, the surface root are of many bonsai with a prominent surface root displayed are protected with moist rags during the hottest summer days. Moist rags are simply draped over the surface root bark.

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Begin Work on the Nebari the First Time You Transplant

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This Trident maple (Acer buergerianum) is sporting a rather impressive nebari. Does it look a bit like a clown's oversized shoe? Or does it suit you just as it is? The original appears in Bonsai Today issue 70 in an article titled "Transplanting to increase the feeling of age," by Kazunori Kamiya.

Continuing our series on nebari. This one is originally from April 2009 (with a few changes today). It was titled, In Search of the Perfect Nebari 3. For some more good how-to nebari tips, take a look at our last post.

No matter how you view the nebari in the photo above, most trees look older and more stable with a flaring base and exposed surface roots

The graphics below are part of an article entitled Improving a Nebari by Oishi Kazo, that appeared in Bonsai Today issue 32 and issue 102
Continued below…

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bt23-p045-06At first the roots are all beneath the soil
bt23-p045-07As they thicken, you begin to see their tops...
bt23-p045-081...until you have a fully developed nebari
However, example presupposes a perfect world
Normally, to get this kind of development
you need to begin to work on the nebari
the first time you transplant

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Still Searching for the Perfect Nebari

bt35-quince-nebari1-1This Chinese quince (Pseudocydonia sinensis) presents a number of striking features, not the least of which is its powerful nebari (surface roots). The photo originally appeared in Bonsai Today issue 35.

Yesterday we featured a post on nebari, part of a long history of posts on the topic. Today we’ll go all the way back to April 2009 (our infancy) for our third ever nebari post. It was titled In Search of the Perfect Nebari – part two (Part one was comprised of An Ingenious Technique and An Ingenious Technique part 2 taken together).

Continued below…

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This post is part of an article that originally appeared in Bonsai Today issue 23. It was later revised and republished in Bonsai Today issue 102.

Improving a Nebari
by Oishi Kazo

Nebari are often under-appreciated, especially in the west. In Japan, bonsai artists will sometimes talk about nebari as though it is the most important feature when looking for bonsai material. If you think about it, this is not far-fetched, as excellent naturally occurring nebari are harder to come by than excellent naturally occurring trunks.

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I doubt it is even worth mentioning, as everyone knows this—but because bonsai are grown in very confining containers, regular transplanting is absolutely necessary.

What is frequently forgotten is that transplanting is a time to elevate the quality of your bonsai. In this short article, I would like to share with you some thoughts and advice about nebari (surface roots) and tachiagari (lower trunk, from the nebari to the first branch).

Quality bonsai start with the roots. How many bonsai on exhibit have you seen? Whether live or in photos, have you ever seen one with a bad nebari? Assuredly, the answer is no (the author is referring to exhibits in Japan).

Two defects that will not correct themselves over time

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When the pot is too small and the roots look like this…

bt23-p045-031….lower the soil line and gradually push the protruding humps down.

bt23-p045-04When the pot is too tall and narrow, and the roots grow like this…

bt23-p045-05…lower the soil line to below where they bulge out.

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Grotesque? Or Alive & Absolutely Awesome?

juan2

Here's part of what Juan Andrade wrote about this highly unusual Trident maple... "4 generations in the making, 120+ years old... this tree was started by my Oyakata's great grandfather.... Nowadays its very hard to find 'Miyasama' Trident maple of this caliper in Japan.... This Miyasama encompasses a lot about Aichien deciduous style: power, ramification, age and uniqueness." See below for your link to Juan's untruncated quote. 

I suppose I need to get over my ideas about what is and isn’t grotesque. At lease when it comes to nebari. After all, highly respected bonsai artists – mostly Japanese – seem to favor what some might call over-developed nebari. How these nebari actually look seems to take a back seat to how big, how old and how unusual they are. Or to quote Juan, how much power, ramification, age and uniqueness they express (here’s your link Juan’s quote).

Continued below…

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I'm loath to admit that my first thought in seeing this was tumor. True, after a while and after reading what Juan had to say, I've softened a bit...

Back to what is and isn’t grotesque, and thanks to Juan’s eloquence, maybe I can come around to realizing that this very strange nebari is truly awesome in its own right. Some things are more important than ideas of perfection and superficial beauty.

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Soft & Squishy

juan

Juan Andrade's caption for this photo is... "Keto, mochi and wet cement. Soft and squishy was today's theme." We'll skip the mochi and wet cement for now, and focus on the Keto. BTW: I don't know if you noticed, but this is a very unusual tree (eccentric works)... one feature that stands out is the trunk's horizontal thrust and then the sudden shift to vertical. This abrupt effect is softened by all the movement. In particular the way the live vein snakes along the deadwood and the curlicue vertical section. There are other striking peculiarities, but we'll leave those to you.
The photo above is from Juan Andrade’s timeline. What follows is a discussion in the comments on Juan’s post and a definition of Keto.
 
Neil Dellinger…Juan- why the keto over the soil when the tree is in a pot? I know it is necessary for rock plantings- can you explain please. Thanks!”
Juan Andrade…Hi Neil! Oyakata wants this tree growing slow and tight. And it becomes natural looking faster too, if you plant shredded moss on top.
Neil Dellinger…thanks Juan. So does the keto prevents it from needing watered as frequently? Just trying to understand how this technique achieves the result
 –
See below for a definition of Keto…

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juancuClose up of the deadwood and the keto on the soil surface. BTW...Juan doesn't mention the type Juniper and the foliage is a little fuzzy and my eyes aren't that good, so we'll spare you our guess.
Keto defined by Kaizen Bonsai… “Often called Japanese peat clay or peat muck. This unique product is neither peat or clay. Keto comes from rotting vegetation lying deep in waterlogged ground, typically rice paddies. The material has soft clay like qualities but unlike clay will not cause water to puddle. Use when constructing plantings on slabs or rocks. Use to build a retaining wall to contain standard growing medium and create landscape profiles prior to the application of moss covering. In time the trees roots will grow into the Keto and moss and bind everything together.

 

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A Study in Deadwood

luisjunprocrop

A great tree for a study in deadwood. It's a Juniper procumben from Luis Vallejo's website. I cropped the photo a bit, but you can see the full size original just below.

Very busy right now with little time to put together a new post. Yesterday it was the remarkably talented Luis Vallejo’s bonsai, so today we’ll stay on the same track. This post originally appeared in June, 2015.

I just spent the last digital hour or so wandering around Luis Vallejo’s Bonsai Studio (Estudio de Bonsai) and his Bonsai Museum (Museo del Bonsai). Given just how prolific Luis is, we need to narrow our focus for this post. So I’ve decided to feature two Junipers with great deadwood.

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luisjunpro

The tree above the way it appears on Luis Vallejo's website. I picked this tree because it's beautiful and because it shows truly remarkable deadwood. Not overstated but strong and in good proportion to the rest of the tree. And white! (blame it on lime sulfur). Sometimes when deadwood is too white it looks unnatural, but it works here. And then there's that snaky dead branch on the right.

 

luisjunprocu

A fuzzy deadwood close-up (mea culpa) with guy wires.

Tanuki? I don’t think the tree above is a tanuki (phoenix graft), but you can’t tell from the photos one way or the other. Many people frown on phoenix grafts, but some people accept them as a legitimate bonsai technique.

 

luisjun

Powerful (to say the least) fluid sculpted deadwood with a strong living vein and some playful action lower right. This one is a Chinese juniper (Juniperus chinensis). Looks like the Shimpaku variety.

 

B1DEADWOOD

If you're interested in learning about deadwood, this excellent book by Francois Jeker is the place to go (short of a workshop with Francois, that is).

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The Difference High Quality Professional Photos Can Make – Especially with Such High Quality Bonsai

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luiscu

This and the other trees in this post are from Luis Vallejo's Bonsai Collection. The caption for these (and some others not shown here) is "Some of the Bonsai trees that will be displayed at the Bonsai San Show. Saulieu . October 2017 - Luis Vallejo Bonsai Collection - Photos By Miguel Krause"

Luis Vallejo didn’t list the varieties when he posted these remarkable photos, and because I’m still licking my wounds from the fiasco of Sunday’s post, I’m going to dispense with any guessing today. But don’t worry (not that you were), I’ll recover soon enough and resume guessing until the next humiliating episode…
Continued below…

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We’re including a closeup of each tree along with the original photo. We can do this without distortion because the high quality professional photos by Miguel Krause make it possible. If only everyone could afford professional photographers for their bonsai, it would make our job a lot easier

 

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