A Common Mistake?


This image showing three tropical bonsai, each with two different crowns, was originally borrowed from Robert Steven.

This post is worth another airing (here’s the original from last year). The topic is something many of us don’t think about that much when designing bonsai, though maybe we should. We’ll let you be the judge.

The three trees on the left (above) are tropicals that are shaped like conifers. To Robert Steven and to many others, this a mistake. A common mistake to be sure, but still a mistake.

The three trees on the right have more rounded and therefore natural looking tropical tree crowns. This more or less rounded look is also generally found on deciduous (see below) and broadleaf evergreens.

Many very serious and highly accomplished bonsai artists (even bonsai masters) take these basic principles very seriously when it comes to designing bonsai. Other people don’t seem to care all that much.

rob2Two deciduous bonsai. The one on the left has a conifer shaped crown. The one on the right has a broad crown, more like what you find with most deciduous trees.

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American Tropical Bonsai, Hurricane Andrew & One Penjing


Would you say that this prize winning Ficus neriifolia by Ed Trout looks relaxed and sensuous? Maybe, but it's hard to deny its powerful trunk and nebari which lend stability to the tree's natural uncontrived look.

Monday morning and too much going on around here, so it’s time to dig into our archives once again. This one is from all the way back in April 2010. It was titled Tropical Bonsai with Mary Miller & Friends.  I’ve enlarged and brightened the photos a bit, and done a little rewriting. All the photos were originally from Bonsai Mary

Mary Miller is one of genuine Florida bonsai mavens. Her years of experience as a bonsai teacher, author and grower come together very nicely in her website. One of the things that sets Mary’s site apart is the personal touch that she lends to her discussions of bonsai, of life and even to her experience (good and not so good, including seeing her entire nursery blown away in hurricane Andrew) with putting together her own website.


Mary's Pixie bougainvillea.



You can find this beautiful Serissa penjing (not really a tropical, but close) by Qingquan Zhao at the the Montreal Botanical Garden (and on Mary Miller's website). You can also find out how Zhao made it (and make your own) and much more in his excellent book: Penjing: Worlds of Wonderment.


One of the very best, if not the very best Penjing books in the English language.



An award winning Neea buxifolia by Christian Casellas.


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So Many Great Bonsai Offered in One Place at One Time


I would like to encourage you make the trip (long or short) to Suthin Sokusolvisit’s upcoming Private Collection Sales Event. Not because there’s anything in it for me (there isn’t) but because Suthin is one of our most accomplished American bonsai artists and so many great trees offered in one place at one time is a truly rare occasion. And though I don’t like to get all dopey about people, still, if you’ve met Suthin, chances are you consider him a friend.
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The dates are June 25th and 26th. The place is Suthin’s Royal Bonsai Garden, in Stoughton, Mass. It’s not too late to make you plans!

We’ll just show you a handful of photos of bonsai for sale at this stupendous bonsai event and encourage you to take a look for yourself (the selection shown here is by no means representative, there are numerous varieties offered).

trident-1This massive Trident maple is one of approximately 200 bonsai offered at Suthin Sukosolivisit's upcoming Private Collection Sales Event.



One of many juicy Shimpaku junipers offered



Arakawa Japanese maple. For some reason I chose the only two of these offered, when there are so many other great trees. Must be the bark.



Tiger bark ficus



Root-over-rock Trident maple



Another Shimpaku



And the other Arakawa Japanese maple...

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A Magnificent Monster & Bjorn’s Online Bonsai Course


The magnificent monster was sent to us by Oscar at Bonsai Empire. It's part of a package about Bjorn Bjorholm's upcoming online intermediate bonsai course.

This post is not so much about this tree above (or the others shown here) as it is about an upcoming online bonsai course by Bjorn Bjorholm. However, I will assume a connection… that Bjorn at some point had a hand and scissors in them all. He has been fortunate in that regard; his six plus years of apprenticeship under the famous Bonsai master Keiichi Fujikawa afforded countless opportunities to advance his hard earned skills on some of the best bonsai in the world. Now Bjorn can help you advance your skills. All you have to do is sign up and show up!
Continued below…


That's Bjorn, all smiles. And why not? He has had the good fortune of some of the best bonsai instruction anyone could ever ask for. And now he's offering to share what he knows with you.

Bjorn Bjorholm’s Intermediate Course is sponsored by our friend Oscar at Bonsai Empire and this is the first day to register. It’s as simple as clicking here.

Course format

Introducing the Bonsai Intermediate Course, an online tutorial featuring the best of contemporary Bonsai design and the techniques needed to create outstanding works of living art.

This expansive online tutorial builds upon the previous Bonsai Beginner’s Course and features hours of in-depth technical and practical content never before presented in such an exciting, easy-to-use platform. The Bonsai Intermediate Course features focused, species specific lessons on some of the most popularized plants used for Bonsai, including Junipers, Pines, Hornbeams, Apricots and Maples, as well as many obscure species, such as Stewartia, Cypress, Chojubai, Dwarf Kumquat, and Pyracantha. Each species includes information regarding its evolutionary background, necessary horticultural maintenance and developmental techniques, design and styling principles, and applied progressions.

For $49.99 you get unlimited access to the online course, without any recurring fees or hidden costs. Don’t forget to watch the two free lessons, see the curriculum below!

  • Learn about the mechanics of wiring and pruning
  • Delve into the aesthetics of design
  • Evolutionary info and horticultural maintenance per tree species
  • Recommended by the American Bonsai Society and BCI (and now Bonsai Bark)






Our last post featured Juan Andrade and his now famous rock planting and this post features Bjorn (the one with his feet on the floor). Now here they are playing basketball. Juan claims he made the shot...

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For years Bonsai Today was the premier English language bonsai magazine. Fortunately we still have a selection of back issues that feature how-to articles and world class bonsai from many of the world’s greatest bonsai masters (East and West). However, our selection is limited. Some issues are already gone and many others will be gone soon
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Dancing on the Edge of Balance


Juan Andrade's precariously balanced Japanese white pine stone planting. If I understand the translation from Spanish, the stone is not bolted, glued or tied down in any way. Though when someone asked if it is stable in the wind, Juan replied "Yes, the stone is very heavy. But still it is tied down for safety." This photo was cropped. The uncropped original is below.*

Here is what the artist Juan Andrade said about the rock planting above: “Sometimes as artists we struggle to find our own voice… Bonsai that dance in the edge of balance satisfy me the most. I made this rock planting for Kinbon magazine (Jan 2016 issue). It was my first publication (and only one so far lol!!) in a printed media, after 18 years of Bonsai study.

All three photos in this post are from Juan’s facebook feed.

juan2The art of Bonsai! Here's Juan's translated caption for this elegant construction: "Can you tell me your thoughts about this Bonsai (?) we put together one of these days. Oyakata said it best: the most important thing is to enjoy!"



*This uncropped version (of the lead photo) gives you the whole picture. I cropped it with an eye to how it appears on social media (dimensions are altered when photos are automatically transferred from Bonsai Bark).


The artist and his masterpiece.


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An Old Ponderosa Engulfed by 31 Little Mugos


There's a very cool old Ponderosa pine hidden in there somewhere. The handiwork is by Colin Lewis. Here's his caption: "Thirty-one approach grafts of mugo onto ponderosa. Got fed up with long needles that get longer as the season progresses. Wish I'd done this years ago."

I discovered the photo above at about 6am this morning while perusing facebook (the NY Times of bonsai news). Just looking at it and reading Colin’s caption (also above) begged more questions than I was prepared to answer. My solution was to bother Colin with 7:00am phone call. As always, Colin was gracious and what follows is a bit of what I learned.

It all happened over two days. About 12 hours total. Just Colin, no assistant “there isn’t really any room for more fingers in there.

Colin says he’ll wait until late summer next year to separate the mugo scions from their roots. The grafts will most likely take in one growing season, but “there’s nothing more frustrating that separating a scion from its roots only to discover that it hasn’t taken.” Better safe.

Meanwhile Colin is concerned that the parts of the ponderosa above the grafts could switch their allegiance (my words) to mugo roots; a less than ideal situation. His solution is to weaken the link between the mugo roots and the graft by gradually scraping away bark between the roots and the graft. A slow weening process.

There’s much more that could be said, but who reads that much nowadays anyway? You might however, want to take a look at an earlier photo of the ponderosa (just below) before it became engulfed by thirty one little mugos.


Here it is four years ago. Shot from a different angle and in a different pot, but the same tree. From Colin's web gallery.


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Don’t Do It Too Soon but Don’t Wait Too Long


You don't often see half defoliated trees. You also don't often see photos of bonsai with both side chopped off, but there was too much noise in the background so this is my solution (you can see the uncropped version here).
The tree is a Ficus and the photo is originally from Eduardo Mourão Guedes's post at Indonesian Bonsai Society. I couldn't find a live link there but I did find one here.

If you live in the tropics you can defoliate a tree like the one above any time of year. However, if you want to defoliate a Ficus or other tropical bonsai here in the north country, you need to wait until it’s pretty warm (let’s say until night temps are over 50F, 10C). If you defoliate too soon, cold nights could hamper recovery. Conversely you don’t want to wait too long into the summer as you want full recovery before nights starting getting cold.

You have a little more latitude with temperate zone trees, like maples for instance. You can stretch the defoliating season a bit, but otherwise the same rule applies (not too early and not too late).

If you live where the growing season is quite long, you might even be able to defoliate more than once in one season, but not everyone recommends this and if you do, it is essential to start with a very healthy tree (this applies to any defoliation).

Much of the information in this post was written today (6/7/2016). The rest, as well as the images, are borrowed from a number of Bark posts on defoliation.

bt3p19defol-1This Japanese maple has been partially defoliated. The first branch is too small relative to the rest of the tree, so the purpose of the defoliation is to speed up the development of the first branch while slowing down the development of the rest of the tree. This works because energy flow decreases in areas that have been defoliated. Conversely, because the energy from the roots has to go somewhere, energy flow increases where leaves are left on. The photos in this post are from Bonsai Today issue 103. The article that the photos are taken from is by Hiroshi Takeyama.


bt3p19defol2-281x300Before defoliation. Too much energy is flowing to the upper reaches of the tree. Without redirecting this energy, the top will continue to strengthen, while the lower branch remains relatively weak. This occurs because most trees, including maples, are apically dominant (most of the energy flows up towards the tree's apex). Because of this disproportionate energy flow, it would be impossible to style most bonsai without some sort of energy balancing.

Defoliation defined. Defoliation is simply cutting off foliage (leaves). Though the word defoliation is used outside of bonsai to describe conditions caused by chemicals or disease, it is distinctive to bonsai as a styling technique.

Styling. For styling purposes, defoliation is commonly used for three purposes: reducing leaf size, increasing fine branching (ramification) and redirecting energy.

Health. Defoliation can also be used to remove diseased or insect infested leaves. Or leaves that have been damaged by sun, wind or other factors.

Wiring and pruning. It’s not unusual to remove some leaves when you wire just to get them out of the way. Sometimes it also helps to remove some leaves on a branch before pruning so you can better see exactly where to cut.

Timing. If you plan on doing extensive defoliation, be sure to give the tree plenty of time to recover and develop strong new leaves before cold weather starts to set in. Here in Vermont this means we need to defoliate in the early summer. In warmer climes you can defoliate well into mid-summer.

How to defoliate. For more information before you start defoliating, we have posted a series of articles on defoliation. Meanwhile, if you insist on going ahead, by sure to use sharp shears and to cut the petioles (leaf stems) at the half way point. Here’s a good illustration by Kyosuke Gun that originally appeared in Bonsai Today issue 3.


Sharp shears are essential. We recommend any number of brands, but if you are interested in saving some money, our Roshi Tools are currently 25% off (see below).
bt3p22defol4-255x300Only the apex has been defoliated on this maple. Because maples and most trees are apically dominant, it is sometimes necessary to redirect energy downward. You could accomplish this by simply pruning off the top of the tree, but in this case, the artist wants to keep the top as it is (at least for now) while encouraging growth in the rest of the tree.


Bonsai with Japanese Maples

Japanese and Trident maple bonsai are prime candidates for defoliation,
as are many other deciduous trees.

B1FICUS-6Ficus the Exotic Bonsai

Ficus and some other tropical bonsai are also excellent defoliation candidates. Though we grow Ficus indoors in the winter here in the north, it’s important to get them outside as soon as temps allow so they can strengthen up before you defoliate (tropicals left indoors all winter are seldom at full strength unless you have greenhouse like conditions). I usually get mine out in late May (keeping my eye out for a late frost) and wait until there ample robust new growth and other signs of full recovery (late June or early July) before I defoliate (if I defoliate at all). Conversely, waiting too long to defoliate will not allow ample time for full recovery before cold nights set in, which can happen as early as late August here.

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Not to Swamp You with So Many Flowering Bonsai…


An exposed-root, semi-cascade Satsuki azalea with passionate pink flowers. The photo was taken by Hiroyuki Suzuki at the recent Ueno Satsuki Festival.

I don’t mean to swamp you with so many flowering Satsuki photos these days, but this is (or just was) their time to shine. And most are high quality bonsai that would be worth a look even without the flowers. With the flowers they are brilliant (unless of course, you’ve become completely jaded).

For a little change of pace, we’re intentionally staying away from the heavy trunks and featuring exposed-root and other unusual trunks this time.

I borrowed all the photos in this post from Hiroyuki Suzuki (facebook).


Another exposed-root Satsuki with pink flowers. Though there are other colors to be sure, Mr Suzuki's photos seemed to favor pink.



Yet another exposed-root bonsai. But this time the flowers are white (with only a touch of pink).


Exposed-root trunk up close


This might be my favorite from this year's Satsuki Festival. Not only is it a rare raft-style Satsuki, but there's so much more than just the flowers, with it's undulating exposed structure and majestic spreading crown that demands your attention. Especially with the brilliant (pink again) flowers



Another unusual trunk and more passionate pink flowers (you can tell by the background's pinkish glow, that this photo was shopped).


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“There’s an intimacy to bonsai that is largely invisible…”


Portrait of a Trident maple by Stephen Voss

Stephen Voss seldom shoots the whole bonsai and though I can’t speak for him, it seems as if he searches for the the heart of the tree in details. Like the way bark cracks and flakes, or the sheen on a Trident trunk when the light is just right.

We just got our complimentary copies* of Stephen Voss’ remarkable new book, In Training. If you are familiar with Stephen’s work, it’s almost needless to say that it is stunningly beautiful, but we’ll say it anyway… it is stunningly beautiful and to my eye, captures the heart of bonsai.

The photos shown here and all the rest of the In Training photos were shot by Stephen at our marvelous U.S. National Bonsai and Penjing Museum. You can enjoy more of Stephen’s remarkable bonsai art photos and buy your very own copy of In Training at a site devoted to just this beautiful book. And if you would like to know more about Stephen and his photography, here’s a link to his formal, yet surprisingly intimate portraits of some extraordinary people.

The title of this post is from a quote by Ryan Neil. You can read the whole quote below.


Delicate beauty of a Red maple forest

There’s an intimacy to bonsai that is largely invisible. It exists in those sacred moments between artist and tree in partnership; an understanding of what is and can be as it unfolds over seasons and years.

Stephen’s photographs shed a quiet, respectful light on these wonderful moments. I feel fortunate to see such beauty being put into the world with the careful intention these trees deserve.
– Ryan Neil, Bonsai Mirai


Everything you need to know about this Shimpaku juniper



Seduced by azalea flowers



Ancient crabapple



A very famous and very powerful old Japanese white pine

*We contributed to Stephen’s Kickstarter campaign and promoted the project here on Bark

We could easily end this post here, but we still have a mortgage and Ric, Corey and Martin still expect their paychecks. So…
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More Stunning Bonsai Brilliance


In addition to its stunning (some might say gaudy) floral display, this Satsuki azalea possesses some other powerful features. Though when it's in full bloom like this, they might be easy to overlook.

A couple posts ago we featured some flowering bonsai brilliance from the 2016 Satsuki azalea Bonsai festival at Ueno Park in Tokyo. To continue in the same vein, I thought we would dig up last year’s post on the 2015 Ueno festival. Not only does it have information you might find interesting, but most of you probably haven’t seen it anyway. And if you’re anything like me, even if you have seen it, you would have forgotten by now. 

Satsuki means fifth month (May) in Japanese. In this case late May (the dates on the sign below say May 27th to June 1st), though you might imagine Satsuki would bloom a little earlier in more southerly environs.

Satsuki, almost more than any other plant, show just how far humans will push nature in the quest for beauty and distinction. Robert Callaham’s benchmark book, Satsuki for Bonsai and Azalea Enthusiasts (out of print) lists over 1,600 cultivars and no doubt new ones are being developed as you read this.

But is it all too much? After a few moments of simple amazement when you first see these spectacular flowers, you might notice just how far from natural these cultivars have come. Some seem gaudy or even synthetic and such solid masses of flowers appear unnatural.

This might be one of the reasons Satsuki bonsai have their own shows. They have gone so far in their own direction that comparing them with other more subtle or less colorful trees just doesn’t make sense.

You can see the photos shown here and other photos from the festival in several places on the web. I took the easy route and just borrowed from Empire Bonsai (who as it turned out, borrowed from Do-ria on Reddit and Makoto Tsuji on Facebook).
















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