Defoliation & Energy Balancing for Strong Bonsai


This photo is the inspiration for starting a new series on defoliation. It's a Ficus and as you can see it's half defoliated. If you live in the tropics you can defoliate a tree like this any time of year. 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. The photo is originally from Eduardo Mourão Guedes's post in Indonesian Bonsai Society (couldn't find a live link for this). I found it in Tae kukiwon bonsai's facebook photos.

As mentioned above this post marks the beginning of a series on defoliation. We’ll start with defoliation for energy balancing. In general, whether discussing defoliation or other techniques, energy balancing is critical for successful bonsai.

Before you get too far into an article like this, the question of when to defoliate is bound to come up. We touch on it briefly under Timing below, but there’s much more that can be said. In a nutshell, when to defoliate depends upon where you live and the type tree. In warm climates people sometimes defoliate the same tree two or even three times in one growing season. In cold climates once is all we can squeeze out. This is because of the need for ample recovery time before the cold weather sets in.

For the rest of this post we’re going to borrow liberally from a defoliation post we put together way back in 2009.


bt3p19defol-1This Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) 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, i.e. 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.

Three primary reasons to defoliate
For styling purposes, defoliation is commonly used for three purposes: reducing leaf size, increasing fine branching (ramification) and redirecting energy. This post is primarily concerned with the third purpose; redirecting energy.

Defoliating for 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.

When wiring
It’s not unusual to remove some leaves when you wire just to get them out of the way.

When pruning
Sometimes it helps to remove some leaves on a branch before pruning so you can better see exactly where to cut.

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; coming soon
Stay posted, we’ll cover the how-to next time. 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.


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.

Stay posted for much more on defoliation and other energy balancing topics.



Japanese maples are prime candidates for defoliation. And even though the tree on the cover is a Trident maple, the majority of this book is devoted to Japanese maples. You can find it at Stone Lantern. On special.

NEW Bonsai Book: Literati Style Penjing


Penjing Master Zhao Qingquan's long awaited Literati Style Penjing, Chinese Bonsai Masterworks has arrived and is available at Stone Lantern. At a glance, we'll give it five stars. Upon further examination, we'll still give it five stars.

I haven’t been this excited about a new bonsai book for a long time. The problem is, we have been writing copy for so long that we’ve exhausted all the superlatives; sometimes on books that don’t begin to measure up to this one. So, instead of saying much more, we’ll just borrow from the publisher:

… the Japanese art of creating miniature trees, actually originated in China, where it’s called penjing. Penjing, meaning “tray scenery,” is a traditional Chinese art of creating miniature potted landscapes including trees and other plants. Brought from China to Japan in ancient times before spreading to the West, bonsai/penjing is now popular throughout the world.

“In China, the art of creating miniature landscapes has evolved in several different ways. Literati Style Penjing: Chinese Bonsai Masterworks focuses on a special category of penjing associated with traditional Chinese culture, such as the painting of the literati, or elite scholar-bureaucrats, of imperial China. Like literati ink paintings, this style of penjing has a subtle elegance distinguished by a lone, lean trunk with sparse foliage exhibiting distinct lines and simplicity….”(continued below)



This image and the two just below are from Zhao's Literati Style Penjing, Chinese Bonsai Masterworks.

“The term “literati style penjing” has been widely accepted by the bonsai community and is becoming more common within the bonsai world. It is well suited to melding concepts from Chinese painting, poetry and Zen into a stunning bonsai work, making it of interest to a wide variety of gardening styles.

Literati Style Penjing; Chinese Bonsai Masterworks explains the concept of penjing with a literati bent, exploring its rich history and aesthetics, as well as cultivation techniques, and care and maintenance. It includes 12 examples of literati style penjing creations, which incorporate a deep knowledge of the art form together with practical creativity and artistic beauty.”




“Lovers of bonsai will find much to inspire and delight within these pages.
Zhao Qingquan is a master of the Chinese art of penjing, a Senior Landscape Engineer, an International Bonsai Instructor at Bonsai Clubs International, and an International Consultant for the World Bonsai Friendship Federation. He is currently on the staff of the Penjing Museum of the Slender West Lake Garden.”

“Zhao’s passion for penjing began at an early age under the influence of his family, and he later received training under the penjing expert, Professor Xu Xiaobai. In Zhao’s four-decade long career, he has focused on the fusion of traditional Chinese culture and contemporary aesthetic sensibilities, and in the 1970s, he pioneered a new form known as the water-and-land penjing.”



Zhao Qingquan's other great Penjing book. On special at Stone Lantern

One Larch, Four Bonsai Pots (plus one)

which pot

One American larch, four pots (plus the original pot below). All this images in this post were borrowed from Boon Manakitivipart's facebook feed (the image above is a composite that we put together).

Boon is at it again. This time it’s our prized local larch (Larix laricina). Around here we call it Tamarack (the Algonquian name that means “wood used for snowshoes”). No matter what you call it, it is in my opinion, by far the best local wild species for bonsai. Bar none.

Which pot do you prefer? If you are ambitious, you might tell us why. (NOTE: So that everyone can benefit from your observations, please put your choice in the comments. Please DO NOT email me with your choice.)

BTW: the more I look at this tree, the more I think it is very possible that it was originally collected and styled by Nick Lenz (his book is below). I might be wrong, but…



Pot number 1



Pot number 2



Pot number 3



Pot number 4



The original pot.


B1LENZ-2While we are on the topic of Larches, it seems appropriate to mention Nick Lenz' benchmark collecting book. BTW; that's not a Larch on the cover (it's a Northern white cedar), but Larch Master Nick is still the man when it comes to Larches and the book devotes plenty to the species.

Bonsai Roadshow


If you spend a lot of time looking at bonsai photos you'll see a lot of trees that look more or less the same. Well done, often beautiful bonsai that vanish from memory after while. And then there are trees like this eccentric old Scot's pine. You could stumble across it ten years from now and immediately recognize it. Not that it's better or worse than most other specimen quality bonsai, just strikingly different. I found it, along with all the photos shown here on Bjorn Bjorholm's facebook feed. Bjorn's caption reads "Today's work - a massive Sylvestris at Minoru Bonsai."

I don’t know if you’ve been following Bjorn Bjorholm’s whirlwind bonsai roadshow (my expression, not his), but if you have, you’ve no doubt noticed just how much he gets around and just how many bonsai he works on while he’s getting around.

The photos in this post have at least two things in common. All appear on Bjorn’s facebook feed and all (except the last one) show the results of Bjorn’s deft touch.



Here's another one that qualifies as undeniably unique, even eccentric. Bjorn's caption reads, "A bit late but here are the results of my demo at Generation Bonsai 2015."

 bj4Great tree, but old collected Junipers with massive amounts of carved deadwood are everywhere. But then there's that shapely hole in the deadwood, a little extra touch that might help this one stick in your memory. Bjorn's caption: "Today's work - Sabina Juniper at Bonsai Sense in Majorca, Spain."



Still a ways to go with this Scot's pine; but it has so much going for it, including its natural ruggedness and feeling of great age (not to mention Bjorn's deft touch), that it's rather obvious that it has a very good future.  Bjorn's caption: "Sylvestris bone-setting in Majorca today."



I like the way Bjorn's wiring has helped create a fluid flow from the base of the trunk to the the branch tips. That and the wonderfully textured trunk make for a great tree. Bjorn's caption: "Workshop at Bonsai Sense."



I couldn't resist. Though this photo has nothing to do with restyling, I thought you might like to have your mind stopped for a moment. Bjorn's caption: "Next up - the monster Stewartia."


One Scots Pine, Four Bonsai Pots


One Scots pine, four pots. Do you have a favorite?

We found these images on the National Bonsai Foundations facebook feed. They originated with Boon Manakitivipart (Bonsai Boon). Over the years Boon has put up several ‘which pot do you prefer’ posts, some of which have appeared here on Bark along with numerous other posts featuring Boon’s Bonsai.

So, without further ado, which pot do you prefer? If you’re ambitious you might tell us why.


Pot number 1



Pot number 2



Pot number 3



Pot number 4

Transplanting: Looking for the Happy Zone

m12Here’s what our friend Michael Hagedorn has to say about this lovely Japanese maple: “This maple in Shinji Suzuki’s tokonoma is in a pot typical of this kind of tree. It works better aesthetically, in two ways. A shallow pot will make the nebari continue spreading, and the delicacy of the trunks is enhanced by a shallower pot. But a maple is also a tree that appreciates water. And a shallow pot will retain more moisture than a deeper one, in a soil-to-soil relative way. It’s a wetter pot.” All the photos in this post are from Crataegus Bonsai.

Rain last night instead of snow, a sure sign that spring might come after all; even for us poor souls who happen to be stuck in the far north. A little late this year due to a winter straight from some cold hell, but I’m betting that it will come and that bonsai potting season is about to break out. So I’ve decided to revisit a transplanting post from last year (edited a little). It’s a good one, thanks to the bonsai wisdom of Michael Hagedorn.

We’ve been talking about basics a lot lately. Specifically watering, fertilizing and bonsai soil. Might as well get into transplanting while we’re at it.

A good place to start is with an article by Michael Hagedorn (Crataegus Bonsai) about pot depth for various type trees. You don’t see much on this topic, but it turns out to be critical when it comes to plant health. BTW: Michael is a real bonsai pro and a very good writer and his article bears that out. I won’t say much more except to quote just a bit from Michael and encourage you to visit Crataegus Bonsai.

“Many trees like their roots far away from anything saturated, which is the bottom of the pot. Two in particular, pines and azaleas. And in muddling about the Western bonsai world I’ve been haunted by the number of pines planted in very shallow containers. “ To dig a little deeper, visit Crataegus Bonsai.


m31This White pine is ready for Shinji Suzuki’s inspection and then Kokufu (Suzuki was Michael’s teacher, lord and ruler during his apprenticeship in Japan). This photo is from the previous Crataegus post titled Kokufu, Matt Reel, Snow. Notice that the pot is suitably deep for a pine.


m22Michael remembering his apprentice days. “You can certainly plant your pine in a shallow pot (loud thwack of a chopstick on my fingers), but consider mounding it.”


B1POST for web

Still the best bonsai read in the English language.
Available at Stone Lantern

While we’re promoting our products we might as well mention that
our 20% to 30% off Roshi Bonsai Tool sale
ends Sunday night.

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The Golden State of Bonsai


Whoa! I am floored. Have you ever seen a bonsai feature more dynamic and powerful than this tree’s massive deadwood swirl? If so, please send a photo. The tree is one of many large bonsai from the private collection of Frank Bardella that were delivered to the Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt in Oakland, California. The image is from Golden Statement Magazine’s facebook photos.

If you love bonsai but don’t know Golden Statements Magazine, it’s time to get acquainted. I won’t say much more, except that Golden Statements has been around for a long time (it must have been one of the first bonsai magazines outside of Asia), as has bonsai in the Golden State (there’s a whole story here, but we’ll save it for another time) and that you might want to take a close look at the photos in this post; they’re just the tip, but they should give you a pretty good idea of the quality of the magazine (sorry about the brutal run-on, parenthetical sentence – any pro-bono editors out there?). You might even want to subscribe and that would be a good thing.

Golden Statements magazine is published by the Golden State Bonsai Federation.



Another great cover. This time it’s a Sierra Juniper from the Redwood Empire Bonsai Society‘s 31st Annual Bonsai Show (2014). No artist’s or owner’s name given. 



This Coastal Redwood bonsai (Sequoia sempervirens) was shown at the 31st Redwood Empire Bonsai Society (REBS) annual show on 23 and 24 August 2014. You can see more photos of redwoods in the Nov/Dec 2014 issue of Golden Statements Magazine. No artist’s name was given on facebook.



This delicious pine is one of dozens of great trees you’ll find at Golden Statements (facebook again). There’s no caption to tell us who the artist is or the type tree, but based on the strong trunk, heavily plated bark and long luminous candles, I’m guessing it’s a Japanese black pine.



Mark you calendar. Here’s a link to the email address above.



Looking forward. The cover of the Spring issue. The quarterly magazine is full of bonsai stories, regular columns, and upcoming activities. And it’s not too late to subscribe for 2015.

Backcountry’s Cork Bark Ponderosa Pine (with a Little Help from Bonsai Mirai)

ponmiraiBackcountry Bonsai doesn’t show any Ponderosa bonsai, so we borrowed this yamadori Ponderosa pine from Ryan Neil’s Mirai, American Bonsai. There are signs of what some people might call corking (see the close up at the bottom of the post), but I don’t think Back Country Bonsai would qualify it as a cork bark Ponderosa.

I just stumbled across a new Backcountry Bonsai post and, in addition to getting all excited about rediscovering Steve and Dan’s excellent blog (here’s the original discovery), I learned something new. Namely that there is such a thing as a Cork bark Ponderosa pine.

Here’s a quote from Backcountry Bonsai. “One could easily be fooled into thinking they had found a cork ponderosa as many can have very impressive bark. But just because there is a lot of great bark doesn’t make it a cork-bark….”  Steve and Dan have a lot more to say about Ponderosas (Cork bark and otherwise) and collecting in general, but rather than trying to steal their thunder, I’ll just encourage you to visit Backcountry Bonsai.



This Backcountry Bonsai photo of a wild uncollected Ponderosa pine shows what real cork bark looks like. There’s even a very prominent wing sticking out on the left (opposite the hand). A sure sign of a cork bark.



A little closer. Speaking of wings, take a look at the branch on the upper left.


branchEven this small branch shows corking.



This wild Ponderosa doesn’t have anything to with cork bark, but I wanted to share this quote about collecting (and not collecting) from Backcountry. “Speaking of un-collectible trees… Here’s another one I stumbled upon this spring. What an impressive tree! But please, if you find a tree like this that does not promise collection with a viable root mass, don’t collect it! Don’t let greed win over reason and ethics. One of the things I love most about the bonsai community is our respect for awesome trees. We have a responsibility to conservation, just as much as anyone else.”


You can see the way the bark is layering at the base of the trunk in this closeup of the tree at the top of this post but I’m not so sure Steve and Dan would call this corking (see the quote above). Still, of all the Ponderosas on Mirai Bonsai, this one has the thickest and most impressive bark.

Speaking of Ryan Neil’s Mirai, American Bonsai, it’s time to remind you once again of the upcoming Artisans Cup Bonsai Exhibition in Portland, Oregon this fall. Given what we know so far, I think this promises to be a seminal North American bonsai event.



The Ponderosa shown on the cover of Larry Jackel’s excellent book has the reddish bark you find on so many Ponderosas. Available at Stone Lantern.


Grafting Bonsai – You Might Want to Wait Until the Fall

graftA few stills captured from Capital Bonsai’s video on grafting that features Ryan Neil owner of Mirai American Bonsai and major player in this fall’s Artisans Cup bonsai exhibition in Portland, Oregon.

I’m out of town visiting friends for the weekend, so to spare me putting together a new post, we’ll jump into our time machine this morning. All the way back to November, 2012. We could just forgo a post today and no one would complain, but I wanted to remind you that our Stone Lantern FREE bonsai wire offering ends tonight at 11:59pm EDT (Just write FREE in the comments when you order – see below for details).

Note from the present: Capital Bonsai blog (next paragraph) has been dormant since Aarin Packard moved from the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum to the Pacific Bonsai Museum (we just posted something from the Pacific Bonsai Museum couple days ago). However, you can still visit Capital Bonsai and enjoy its rich cornucopia of bonsai wisdom.

Now for the original post:

Capital Bonsai (the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum‘s excellent blog) is at it again. This time it’s an outstanding video on grafting featuring Ryan Neil of International Bonsai Mirai.

Fall versus spring grafting. Here’s what Ryan has to say about fall versus spring grafting (loosely paraphrased): Grafting in the fall is more successful than in the spring if you can provide winter protection from freezing. If you graft in spring you have to protect from sun and wind. In the fall you have to protect from freezing.

TBK35706-2 copy

The right tool for the job. A quality grafting knife is essential for quality grafts.


This compelling photo of suiseki at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum is from Capital Bonsai.


Here’s an opportunity to do something that will have a long-lasting positive effect on our world (I don’t think this Campaign is current, but the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum accepts contributions year round).


A word from our sponsor…


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write FREE in the comments
Orders from 10 to 19.99 will receive 100 grams of FREE wire.
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Bonsai Bali – Something Is Afoot in Southeast Asia


Selecting a lead tree isn’t always easy. Especially with so many good Gede Merta (Bonsai Bali) bonsai to choose from. I settled on this one partly because it’s a full cascade and good full cascade bonsai aren’t that common, and partly because of the tree’s overall relaxed feel; the unusual way the foliage seems draped across the top and just how loose all the foliage hangs. Not to say that its wild shape and extraordinary deadwood aren’t enough to make this tree worthy. But then most of Gede Merte’s bonsai show wild shapes and extraordinary deadwood. The tree is Pemphis acidula. A very common plant in Indonesia.

Usually when we think of Asian bonsai, Japan and China come to mind. However, if you’ve been paying attention you can’t help but notice that something is afoot is Southeast Asia. In this case it’s Indonesia, which to my eye is leading a revolution in certain wild styles of collected Tropical bonsai. And one of the undisputed leaders in this revolution is Gede merta (Bonsai Bali). All the trees in this post are his (from facebook).  About three years ago, we caught on to Gede Merta and have featured his bonsai several times here on Bark.



Another extraordinary Pemphis acidula.


And yet another. Gede Merta’s caption says ‘theme: bird.’


This makes four Pemphis acidula in a row. The theme is ‘dance.’


Aha. A non-Phempis. The caption says Hokian tea. A more common name might be Fukien tea.


Finally, another Pemphis acidula. The theme is ‘People.’ Is this because we grow up the first part of our life and then down after that?  Or am I missing something?