You might be into bonsai if….


…you spend the first 45 minutes of decorating making sure all the branch tips on your artificial tree point up.

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Year 1

IMG_5125 bw

Man has it been a year already? It doesn’t feel like it!

One year ago today I sat down and decided to do what little I could to contribute to the growing online community of bonsai enthusiasts and teachers. If my posting has given at least one person a little edge on getting started with this fulfilling hobby, I’ll be very happy.

There are a whole mess of people I have to thank, I’ll try to hit on all those I can think of and I apologize if I miss anyone. Here we go!

The biggest and most prominent thank you to Bjorn Bjorholm for his persistent Bonsai art of Japan Video series, which fueled my interest, provided great lessons, and opened a little window into the world of bonsai culture in Japan. And in conjunction with that, a HUGE thank you to the rest of the crew at Fujikawa Kouka-en: Keiichi Fujikawa, Owen Reich, Naoki Maeoka, and all the others who have taken part in the Bonsai Art video series.

A huge thank you to Mr. Brussel Martin, who’s incredible bonsai nursery plays host every year to a grouping of the world’s best bonsai teachers, and allowed me specifically to take some instruction from Mr. Fujikawa and Mr. Bjorholm back in 2012. If you’ve never made it to Rendezvous, MAKE IT HAPPEN! I’m looking forward to my juniper class with Ryan Neil in 2014.

And while I’m at it, a thank you to Ryan Neil for his insightful teaching, and the people at OfBonsai Magazine for their video taping of his teachings. A huge thank you is also due to Lindsay Farr and Graham Potter for their wonderful additions to the bonsai video collection on youtube. Thank you, were it not for you, I may never have picked back up my old hobby.

I cannot forget my 3 local influences. First and foremost, The National Bonsai and Penjing Museum. Thank you for my first glimpse of real bonsai, and for continually allowing me to come back anytime to see my favorite ancient trees. Second, thank you to Wolf Trap Nursery, for being a tree source, gear source, soil source, pot source…everything at the last minute source. And Finally Meehan’s Miniatures. Sure its a one and a half hour drive, but where else can I get my hands on so MANY different trees all pruned for bonsai. Thank you!

While I’m at it I want to thank all the vendors that have helped me get my hands on just the right products. Stone Lantern, New England Bonsai Gardens, Dallas Bonsai, Adam’s Bonsai and those folks over at home depot (for my makeshift pots).

My deepest thanks to all of my favorite bonsai bloggers. Information, support, and a constant flow of new posts from all over the world! The biggest thanks belongs to Ian over at Bonsai Eejit bouncing my hits from 3 or 4 a day to over a hundred just from one repost. WOW man! One of these days I’ll get to Belfast and see that famous blue-walled garage. And a big thanks to all my favorites: Jonas Dupich’s Bonsai Tonight (one of my first to follow, great work man), Peter Tea (amazing details, lengthy discussion, love it!), Matt Reel (as famously interviewed on Bonsai Prelude), Tyler Sherrod, Capital Bonsai, Bonsai Bark, Nichigo Bonsai, Tom’s Bonsai, The “Italian Stallion” of Bonsai Nicola Crivelli’s Kitora no do, Little Trees from Sweden, Tony Tickle, Bonsai Baker, The guys over at Backcountry Bonsai (excited to see all your Yamadori), Peter Warren’s Saruyama Blog, Walter Pall, Eschmidtpabonsai, Tree The People, Nebari Bonsai…. there are just too many greats!

And finally a thank you to my parents for “renting” a rather large section of their back porch to my trees as apartments are not conducive to bonsai. And a special thanks to my girlfriend for enduring my time consuming tiny trees :)

Thanks to all my readers, I hope you enjoy!

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True Grit (this is a soil post… get it)

Credit: Dylan Fawcett at the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, D.C.

Credit: Dylan Fawcett at the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, D.C.

There are really two bonsai topics that I hesitate to write about. One is soil and the other is fertilizer. The cause of my anxiety is two fold. first of all, I’ll be the first one to say that I really haven’t studied these two topics to the extent that I have read, watched, and taken classes about some of the other topics. With my own trees I haven’t had a lot of hands on experience with either as well. I’ve never mixed my own soil, and my fertilizer regiment is essentially green dream slow release once a month. Secondly, the topics are both incredibly susceptible to argument, criticism, etc. Essentially everyone has their own ideas about what is the best technique (my suspicion is that 80% of the variance doesn’t really make any difference what so ever). As we all know, this community of ours tends to attract those who are ever too eager to argue about “who knows best.” and I’m not interested in being a forum for that. There are plenty of those….

But alas! Though I didn’t choose to write about dirt, dirt sort of chose me. In my neck of the woods (right outside D.C.) its been a very weird growing season. I feel like every time I turn around it’s raining. As I may have discussed in an earlier post, unfortunately my tendency is to over water, and I fear that this year I have inadvertently pushed some of my trees down the wrong path. I’ve been getting yellow-falling-off Juniper foliage and similar pine needles. This is no good at all, and it’s taken some drastic measures to get things (sort-of) back in order.

I think we should really go back to the beginning. Sometime in the fall of 2011/early 2012 I began amassing a collection of “bonsai.” I’ll be 27 in December and as you may imagine my funds are strained, which is not particularly conducive to an expensive hobby like bonsai. But I really love growing little trees, and as a result I set out to do what I could with what I had, and now I have somewhere over 40 little green mounds on my porch.

My collection consists of probably 40% trees from “bonsai focused” sources, 45% regular nurseries, and 5% trees I’ve collected (mostly seedlings). This means that the majority of my collection was not raised with bonsai in mind, and thus is currently growing in non-ideal nursery soil. You can tell that at least some effort was made with some of the conifers, to put them in a mix that contained a bit more grit than average. And in a few cases submersible pots were used in an effort to increase drainage. Even many of the trees from bonsai focused nurseries were planted in soil that I felt wasn’t really ideal.

But I was relatively new to bonsai and thus scared to repot. It can be scary! I mean you’re essentially gambling with how much of the plants life giving material you can remove without seriously injuring or killing the plant. There are plenty of trees that I know of where you can essentially cut off every branch and the tree will survive. There are significantly fewer that I know of that can survive all the roots being cut off! But if you have a little luck, a little knowledge, and a little confidence, you don’t have to be scared of repoting. In my case I pushed the limits of how long I could leave my trees in bad soil, and I’m certain that I’ll pay the price next spring.

Credit Dylan Fawcett National Bonsai and Penjing Museum D.C.

Credit Dylan Fawcett National Bonsai and Penjing Museum D.C.

So what should you do to keep your trees healthy?

1. If you’ve recently purchased a tree from a non-bonsai source, repot within a year of purchase.

2. What are your short term and long term plans for the tree? A good rule of thumb to follow is that you can either repot or do a total restyling of your tree, but not both in the same year. Obviously the longer you have a tree, or have worked with a species of tree, the better idea you’ll have about what it can take. Until then, keep it simple.

3. Do your best to plan your repot for the early spring (March-April where I’m from). If that doesn’t fit your timeline a good alternate would be early fall (September).

4. If you’ve recently repotted, Hold off on doing any substantial work on top of the tree until you know your tree is doing well. During the growing season it should take 1-2 months for you to get a good idea about how the repot went. Some species like pines and junipers can stay green a long time after they’re suffering. If you don’t believe me, cut off a branch and see how long it takes to turn brown. Hold off on any work until the next growing season if possible.

My earlier trepidation in regard to repoting has more or less forced me to do a substantial amount of fall repoting over the past couple of weeks. If you think repoting is in your future there are a few important considerations. First and most importantly, what stage of development is your tree in? The question to ask yourself in order to figure this out is: are you happy with the overall size and trunk size? If you are happy with the size, then you’re probably moving into the Refinement Stage. If not, you’re in the Development Stage.

This crucial distinction should guide every action you take with your tree. If you’re in the refinement stage, the considerations you take when repoting will probably be guided by your concerns for aesthetics and long-term sustainability. In the development stage its important to use larger pots so your tree has room to run and grow exponentially faster. I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of various improvised pots. Everything from terra cotta garden pots, to homemade wooden boxes, to spaghetti strainers. Regardless of the device, the strategy is to maximize growth at the cost of root size. If you want a larger tree with thicker branches, this is the way to go. Even many refined trees are cycled between “grow pots” and “show pots” to help maintain their vigor.

Credit: Dylan Fawcett National Bonsai and Pejing Museum D.C.

Credit: Dylan Fawcett National Bonsai and Pejing Museum D.C.

But I digress. Back to the topic of soil. what do we fill the pot with?

For the purposes of bonsai, soil should be broken-down into two logical categories: Water retentive (WR) and non-water retentive (NWR). In reality, the water retaining qualities of various types of particulates land on a spectrum. Nothing is black and white. But for the purposes of this explanation of soil, let’s pretend that they are. The central idea behind blending soil particulates to create the “perfect blend” is to make a soil that is both well-draining and will provide the perfect mix of moisture and air (yes air) for your trees roots.

My problem which kicked off our discussion of soil, came from my trees being in a soil blend that had a high WR particulate concentration. Essentially the soil held on to the water for too long and drowned the roots. And my remedy for this was to replace as much of this soil as possible with a higher concentration of NWR soil. On average bonsai professionals use very high NWR soil. Initially it may puzzle you. It’s not as if their trees like it dryer than our trees.

The reason is control. You have more control over how much water your tree receives and when it receives it with high NWR soil than with high WR soil. No day is the same. Length of daylight, temperature, humidity, wind, position of tree, size of container, type of tree, time of year…( you get the point, everything effects how quickly the soil dries out). Some days your soil will stay wetter longer, and on others it will dry out quickly. The problem is, you can never make your tree drier, only wetter. So if you’re suddenly hit by a cool streak in the summer, followed by lots of rain, your trees run the risk of staying soaked for extended periods and possibly getting root rot. With NWR soil, you’ll always be safe, because you’ll always have the problem of having to apply water (which you can fix) and not the problem of having to remove water (which you cannot).

Many people, especially novices, will prefer to use a pre-blended bonsai soil. Many bonsai nurseries and online stores sell their own proprietary blends. In many cases they will even offer multiple blends. Sometimes the blends are differentiated for deciduous, conifer, or tropical trees. In other instances they may be differentiated by the tree’s size class. One soil for shohin (smallest trees), one for Chuhin (medium), and one for Ogata (large). If the Soil is divided by family classification, it is likely that the differentiating factor is water retention. Tropical soil blend would hold the most water, deciduous would hold the second most, and the conifer blend would hold the least. If the blends are divided by size class, the mixes likely use the same general material blend, only with differing particulate size. In this case the Shohin blend would have the smallest particles and the Ogata would have the largest particles.

I haven’t yet delved into blending my own soil. Mainly for lack of time. But if you’re looking for a guide, this PDF from the bonsai learning center is a good place to start.

Have a safe and successful fall repoting season!

Credit: Dylan Fawcett National Bonsai and Penjing Museum D.C.

Credit: Dylan Fawcett National Bonsai and Penjing Museum D.C.

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Wild Strawberry Kusamono

If you scroll down a bit, you’ll notice the small white wild flower Kusamono that I potted and posted back in March. As it turns out, I didn’t take quite enough of the root and the plant eventually wilted and died. I was going to dump it and try something new, but i was surprised to find one or two sprouts of a wild strawberry plant underneath the massive weed. I recognized the leaves from playing in the woods as a child. After clearing out all the other plants I gave the strawberry a little room to run and was rewarded today!

Wild Strawberry

Wild Strawberry

Being that I am from Virginia, I want to say that it’s Fragaria virginiana, but unfortunately I don’t seem to have a wild strawberry identification key handy (ha!). From my experience throughout my life these wild strawberries begin as small white to yellowish flowers. They do not grow much larger than the one in the picture, about the size of the tip of my pinkie. They are edible; but taste much more sour than the store bought variety.

Wild Strawberry

Wild Strawberry

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Species Profile: Acer buergerianum (Trident Maple)

Credit: Dylan Fawcett National bonsai and Penjing Museum D.C.

Credit: Dylan Fawcett National bonsai and Penjing Museum D.C.

I’m confident now that with the exception of wiring,  which I plan on addressing later in the season, I’ve provided the best ground work possible for getting started with bonsai. There are certainly volumes of knowledge to be learned in regards to bonsai, but I’m confident that if you use the articles published so far you’ll at the very least be in an excellent spot to grow your knowledge (and trees).

Having said all that I’m excited to post what I hope will be a great new segment for the blog. One of the most important facts of bonsai you’ll realize soon after you get your first tree, is that the tree is going to grow the way it wants to. The key is figuring out the best way to trick it into doing what you want. A lot of the “figuring out what to do” is going to depend on the tree’s species, how it grows and how it responds to different techniques.

Acer Buergerianum commonly know as the Trident Maple (or Kaede in Japan) is a species of maple native to eastern China. It gets it’s common name from its three lobed, trident shaped leaves. Maples in general are widely used in bonsai due to the ability to reduce their leaf size and create compact branching. They also create superior and intricate nebari. Amongst the maples, tridents and  various cultivars of Japanese maple (acer palmatum) receive the most frequent use in bonsai. Like any deciduous tree the trident maple will loose its leaves in the fall displaying a wonderful array of yellows, oranges, and reds.

Credit: Dylan Fawcett National Bonsai and Penjing Museum D.C.

Credit: Dylan Fawcett National Bonsai and Penjing Museum D.C.

I’ve heard trident maples referred to as the “tanks” of bonsai and I think the name is justified. You can cut them back to a stump, defoliate 3-4 times per year, completely bare-root and remove 2/3 of the root ball and your trident will keep on ticking. Obviously harsh treatment isn’t advisable, but these maples can really take some punishment. For that reason, and many others, I always promote tridents as a good starter tree.

Another reason tridents are great to learn bonsai on is that they have an opposite pair leaf structure. This means that leaves grow two at a time directly across the branch from one another. This makes the process of rammification fairly easy to perform on a maple. You simply find a growing end, cut above the desired leaf pair and watch two new branches sprout from the base of the petioles. Let your tree grow back out, rinse and repeat (so to speak).

One of my tridents

One of my tridents

Tridents also require a little less patience than other species because they grow so fast. In the wild a Trident can easily put on a foot or two in the growing season. The great thing about this is it means you can prune or defoliate 3-4 times per year on healthy trees. This defoliation will be necessary during the process of refining your tree in order to reduce the leaf size. Typically defoliation is also a great time to prune and wire as well.

During the growing season Tridents can drink a hefty amount of water. Always be careful not to let them dry out too much, especially during the peak of summer heat. On especially hot summer days its a good idea to provide some shade through the use of a shade cloth or repositioning the tree. The new leaves of the trident are particularly susceptible to scorching in the hot mid day to late afternoon sun.

One word of caution on tridents and really maples in general. They love to swell. And they do it quite effectively. By this I mean that its especially important during the growing season to watch the wired areas of your tree. Wire applied in April or May could be swallowed up by August and will likely by biting by late June. Remember, it’s much easier to reapply wire at a later date than try to re-grow a branch because its badly scarred.

Below are (in my opinion) two of the best sources for working with maples. The first is from Peter Tea’s Blog, and I’ve posted the video before from the Bonsai art of Japan Series, But it’s worth a review!

**Also brand new Bonsai Art of Japan episode 35**

Peter Tea’s “The Trident Maple Project and Summer Maple Work


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Hello again all! I know I’ve been delinquent in my posting and I apologize. Between work and study I’ve barely had time to keep my trees watered, let alone write about them. But fear not, I’ll be back. In the meantime here’s some early spring photos to hold you over.


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First Quince Blossom of Spring


Well despite my earlier comment about spring being on its way, winter has decided to have at it one last time and drop the temperatures down in the 30′s. But on the upside, the first quince blossom of the year has decided to pop out! I’ll be heading up to my favorite nursery next weekend to spend some saved up Christmas money, so hopefully some new posts on the material will be upcoming.

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Spring Time Kusamono


It’s spring time! Well, it was about 60 today so I’ll call it spring. I’ve never made a Kusamono before (primarily because I don’t have any show quality trees so it seemed a little pointless). But, on the other hand, they do look pretty so why not. I believe the scientific name is weedium backyardicus (HA!). I really wish I was better at tracking these things down, in fact, as a high school intern I used to identify fish specimens using a key written entirely in Spanish at the Natural History Museum in D.C. So it really is a little sloppy that I couldn’t figure this little guy out. Apparently googling “small white Virgina native wildflower” yields results for every other imaginable plant except this one.

**UPDATE: I think I found it, Cardamine hirsuta**

On second thought, perhaps that’s the point. From my very limited understanding of the art of Kusamono I believe they are used to “set the scene” so to speak. They can help establish a place (mountains, fields, ocean-side) or a time (spring, winter). They can be a single species or even a blend of multiple species. So I guess regardless of the specifics of the plant’s lineage it is indicative of spring, my home state of Virginia, and specifically my very own backyard. On that note, I’ll wish everyone a happy potting season!

On an unrelated note, here is a photo my girlfriend took of a squirrel I feed peanuts to while working on my trees outside.


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Spring: A Seasonal Checklist


It’s so cold. When you get into that long stretch from New Years to late March, you start to convince yourself that perhaps it will just be miserable and cold for the rest of your life. You look outside at your once vibrant bonsai collection and you see the lonely stares of skeletal deciduous trees looking back. Even the junipers have turned that funny greyish-redish-purpleish dormant color and the Pines are a dark matte green.

But fear not! Spring is on its way! And now is the prefect time to make the necessary preparations for the coming growing season, and you’ll be busy. It was about this same time last year when I was trying to wrap my head around what to expect in the growing season. I had had my new trees for all of a month and they hadn’t really done much more than sit in my garage in the dark. What tools would I need? fertilizer? watering devices? soil? pots? ….. more trees?!?!

(You can always have more trees *wink*)

Hopefully This post will help demystify the spring prep process and get you started on the right foot.

Tools of the Trade

“The finest workers in stone are not copper or steel tools, but the gentle touches of air and water working at their leisure with a liberal allowance of time”     ~Henry David Thoreau

I think the first thing hobbyists of all types get excited about, are the tools of their trade. Amongst the chefs and line cooks at my restaurant, it was always about who had the sharpest knife or scissors, or the spatula that was the most pliable while still being able to hold up to the weight of a thick steak. I would imagine that were I to get into cars or woodworking perhaps I would be emptying my wallet in the the Home Depot tool section. While surely your first thought is that the best (most expensive) tools make the best product, perhaps your second thought is the opposite. Perhaps its the artist, who has total control over the product. Maybe expensive tools are the suckers game? But I don’t agree with either of these schools of thought.

I think the truth lies some where in between. In the context of chef cutlery a carbon steel knife is likely more expensive and sharper than a stainless steel knife. The molecular characteristics of carbon steel allow it to be honed thinner and sharper than stainless. It will also hold its edge much longer than stainless. So common carbon steel knives may run in the $200 range while stainless may be closer to $100. This is factual. Now, if you can tell me that a hand made $5000 Bob Kramer knife is worth $4,920 more than a machine stamped $80 Misono Chef’s knife, in terms of utility, I’d be excited to hear your argument. I think in many walks of life we find these types of examples. The disparity in price between a bad product and good product is relatively low, while the disparity in quality is high.  The exact opposite is true between a good product and a top of the line product. In that case the disparity between cost is high and the disparity between quality is lower. You will see a huge difference in the quality of a product by upgrading from the lowest to the middle, but the price you will pay to upgrade from the middle to the highest is astronomical in proportion the benefits you will receive.

In the example with the knives, I could go to the store and buy a $60 Wustof knife, and for $20-$30 more I could buy a Misono. When you use a tool for 10-12 hours a day, in a fast paced environment like the kitchen, you find out very quickly which products cut it and which ones don’t. On the other hand you could buy a $90 Misono knife or spend 2,000-3,000 more on a hand made “one-of-a-kind” knife, and my feeling is that you’re paying mostly for uniqueness and not for an astounding $3000 more of utility value.

The same can be said for bonsai tools. you could jump on amazon and buy a 10-piece set of low quality tools for $60 or you could spend $300 on one nice pair  of concave cutters. Really the choice is yours, but at the end of the day sometimes cheap tools do the job and allow you to save money to spend on trees! Now that I’ve boiled it down, here is a little inventory list for your first spring as a bonsaist. I’ll list the essentials, the rest is optional.



If you’re going to buy just one nice tool it should be scissors. You will use your scissors more than any single bonsai tool in your box. Your scissors must be very sharp so your cuts are exact and not overly damaging to your tree. Also keep in mind that depending on the size of your collection you may be using these for hours at a time, so buy a style that feels comfortable to you.


Wire Cutters:

Wire cutters are probably the second most important tool in your bag. It’s critical that you buy wire cutters with a snubbed nose that are designed for bonsai. The last thing you want to do is scar your tree by cutting into the bark when you are trying to remove wire. You also want to make sure you have cutters that can handle the 5 mm wire you’ll be cutting at times.


Branch Cutters:

Branch cutters are generally the tool shaped like a pair of pliers, that have a beak-shaped nose. They are critical for cutting off any large branches and making the cut flush with the trunk or limb. It’s absolutely necessary to have these because you cannot make flush cuts with your standard garden store branch cutters.

Beyond these 3 tools, there are many more to consider. Root cutters, trunk splitters, concave cutters, carving tools, power tools, a root rake, and many many more! But the tools I’ve outlined above should be sufficient to get you through your first season.


You will need lots of this, especially when you’re starting out. If you do any reading you’ll find that copper wire is the best. However, it can be upwards of $50 a roll. If you’re a novice you do not want to spend that kind of money on wire, because I guarantee you’ll be screwing up so often, half of it will end up in the trash. As a general rule copper wire is used for conifers, while aluminum is used for deciduous and tropical. For expense sake, you should go with Aluminum to start out. The wire generally comes in .5 mm increments from 1-5. If you have the money, buy 1 kilo of each. If not, I would recommend starting with 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, and 4. It’s best to bottom load the thinner wire, because most of the branches you work with will be the finer ones initially. It’s good to have a 4 mm wire as well for the larger limbs and a combination of 4mm and guy wires should be able to handle almost anything you get yourself into.

Watering supplies:

A watering can, especially one designed for bonsai is a good buy because it allows you to fine tune your watering practices. However, once you get into the 10+ trees range, you need to move into getting a hose with attachment. I’m certain everyone has their favorites but any nozzle that allows you reach, and delivers a lot of water is a soft shower should work perfectly. What we’re going for here is water to be delivered quickly to saturate the soil, but not so quickly that it washes away the soil.

Cut Paste:

Cut paste is one of those things that I think may often be over-looked. The basic idea is to have something you can use to cover the wounds left from removing branches on your tree. There are many types of cut paste. Some are hard like modeling clay, others are syrupy like Elmers glue, and there are a few in between. My recommendation here is simply to have something to make use of. Cut paste helps to keep out water that could create rot, keep out bugs that could damage your tree, and helps trap the tree’s natural moistness to heal the wound quickly and completely. If you’re curious as to the pros and cons of a certain brand, check the manufacturers recommendations on the labels.


I don’t want to get too deep into fertilizer. Like many bonsai topics, it’s one that everyone has an opinion on. Honestly I haven’t had enough experience or put enough research into fertilizer to really give a thorough review of the options. I will say that in my limited experience it’s a good idea to buy a balanced fertilizer. Basically something like a 10-10-10 or a 5-5-5 fertilizer will do a fairly good job of providing most of the necessary nutrients your tree will need to thrive. Generally a slow release fertilizer will do a better job for bonsai than a water soluble one that is watered in (and quickly runs out). Again, there are various schools of thought on this, but a 4 week fertilizing regiment generally does the trick. If you’re using a slow release, this means re-applying every 4 weeks. If you’re using a water solution this would mean applying every 4 weeks.

Where to Buy

Despite it’s recent surge in popularity, the community of bonsai enthusiasts is relatively small. Sometimes it can be difficult to find exactly what you need when you need it. As Owen pointed out in his recent interview, a great place to look is your local businesses. If you can find a bonsai store, nursery with bonsai products, or even some local enthusiasts to point you in the right direction that would be great! It’s very important, with such a small community, to support each other; especially those engaging in bonsai as a business.

Having said that, shopping local will not always do the trick. If you’re having trouble finding something I would suggest checking out Amazon, or definitely taking a look over at Stone Lantern. I really like stone lantern; they have great prices and you can find almost anything you’re looking for.

*And by special request for any of my readers from our neighbor to the north, check out Lee Valley Tools.*

A Note

I’m excited with spring approaching, and I can’t wait to hopefully fill the blog with the whirlwind of upkeep and styling that I’ll have going on. Stay tuned for much more! On another note, I received a wonderful question on my watering post, and I’d like to share it here in case anyone missed it.

Q:      Can you make a few recommendations for the person who works 9-5 mon-fri and isn’t able to check on their trees during the hottest part of the day?

A:    Thanks for that great question! I happen to have a regular day job as well and do not get to spend very much time with my trees either. I would suggest a few major things that should help keep your trees from drying out:

1. If possible select a spot for your trees that gets the most sun in the morning and gets less sun throughout the day. The summer sun is hottest after 12 noon and can scorch delicate leaves like maples. You could also put your trees in a spot that gets partial shade or broken light (this is what I do). I find it works pretty well even for trees like pines that may prefer direct sunlight.

2. Use a blend of soil that contains a larger proportion of organic ingredients, like pine bark. Pretty much all the professional sources you read will promote the use of mostly inorganic soil that holds very little water. It’s true that this is ideal for growing and sustaining professional bonsai because it allows you to finely tune the amount of water a tree receives. Unfortunately, we don’t all have the time to care for our bonsai like the pros. A soil mix that retains more water can save you in the summer!

3. A less evasive measure, especially if you won’t be repotting soon, would be to cover the surface of your soil with damp sphagnum moss. you can buy it dried at many garden shops and it’s relatively easy to pull apart, soak, and place. It basically helps by retaining a good amount of water and also shielding the top soil from the scorching sun.

You could always install an automatic watering system, but that is expensive, and more importantly you won’t learn anything by watering that way.

Hope this helped, and best of luck!

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Today My Thoughts Are

Credit: Dylan Fawcett at the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum D.C.

Credit: Dylan Fawcett at the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum D.C.

If you’ve been following my “bonsai topics” posts, you may have noticed that the most recent lesson was on style. The wonderful folks over at were generous enough to feature my “A Theory of Style” article a few days ago. As Bonsai’s largest online magazine I’m honored that they considered my views worthy of being published. Even if you’ve read my article here, you may want to venture over and take a look at the retrospective introduction I’ve added exclusively for



While you’re there DO NOT MISS the awesome progression contest they have going on right now!

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