It’s a Buyer’s Market (well, depending on where you live)

yenusdSince August I’ve been buried with MBA school work and haven’t had a moment to break away and work on my trees. Which was ok during the winter, but now buds are on the move, so I’m back to the blog! Well, I’m not promising a comeback just yet, but here’s a short post in the meantime.

Anyone who’s been following the financial news lately has probably already noticed that there’s some really unusual things afoot in the global market. Crude Oil commodity prices has fallen significantly, and although they are currently moving side ways, many analysts expect them to fall further in the coming months due to a supply increase caused by refineries changing their production allocation from heating oil production to gasoline production for the summer. The trickle-down effect of this is cheaper gas prices, which will make those long-haul drives to bonsai shows and vendors even cheaper this summer! The only downside is that it will likely have very little effect on overall shipping costs to the consumer.

More importantly however (at least for the US) is that the the Yen has fallen from the dollar roughly 15 yen since November. What does that mean for us bonsai folk? It means that if you’ve had your eye on that perfect pot from Japan, or expensive tool, you’ll now be paying roughly 9 cents less per dollar than you would have in November.

One important caveat to this is that many Japanese vendors that are used to selling to customers in the US often price their products in dollars. If the products are priced in US dollars, the currency exchange will be done on the vendor’s end and you may or may not receive the benefit of the exchange rate. On the other hand, if you’ve been planning that vacation to Japan (or Euro-denominated Europe for that matter), you’ll definitely be able to do it cheaper than even a few months ago!

Sorry for the only quasi-bonsai related post, hope everyone is off to a good start for spring!

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Behind the Scenes With Shuuhou

Just a couple videos I picked up from Hidemi Kataoka’s Facebook page. Hopefully I’ve gotten this to at least a couple of you before you saw it yourself. You can follow his Tokoname page here.



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Merry Christmas to Me

So I decided to give myself a Christmas present… back in October. But I knew the 2-3 month journey via maritime shipment would hopefully deliver this pot to me just in time. As soon as I can get the root ball properly sized, I’m going to put my hornbeam in this. It’s a Yamaaki. Nothing old or expensive, but it has seen some use and has a nice patina starting, and it was a steal for the size. Sorry about the resolution, had to use my phone.

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Yes school has consumed me, so my posts have been few and far between. Unfortunately I don’t have any words of wisdom this time, only a few shots of my trees as winter approaches.

close up on the beauty berry.

close up on the beauty berry.

Japanese maple, not sure of the cultivar. it's actually really big but I'm hoping to get it in shape within the next 10 years.

Japanese maple, not sure of the cultivar. it’s actually really big but I’m hoping to get it in shape within the next 10 years.

little hornbeam. starting to get very leggy, will have to do a haircut before spring.

little hornbeam. starting to get very leggy, will have to do a haircut before spring.

Satsuki, imported,  pink if I remember. The pot is something generic.

Satsuki, imported, pink if I remember. The pot is something generic.

Beauty berry. little 3 year seedling I got last spring. I put it in that perfect Koyo pot, maybe one day it will grow into it.

Beauty berry. little 3 year seedling I got last spring. I put it in that perfect Koyo pot, maybe one day it will grow into it.

Hornbeam, you may recognize it from a post last winter.

Hornbeam, you may recognize it from a post last winter.

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You Have to Love the Fall Colors. Red, Orange, Yellow…. Purple?

Beautyberry (Callicarpa sp.)

Beautyberry (Callicarpa sp.)

Just thought I’d add a cool little picture of the fall color on my Beauty Berry. I forget the specific cultivar, I purchased it last year as a seedling online. I let it grow a few berries this year, just to see what they look like. I’ll have another photo when all the leaves are gone.

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Two Years of Bonsai Prelude

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

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

Has it really been two years already?

If I’ve been working on my trees for 3 years (2 writing about it) is this really still a Bonsai Prelude? Yes. And it always will be. If there’s anything I’ve learned from my time in the kitchen, with my trees, and in all other parts of life, it’s that you should never stop learning or striving for more. In fact it’s a common thread throughout bonsai professionals. You’ll hear many of them talk about how even the simplest task takes decades to master or how there’s always more to learn.

In year three of Bonsai Prelude, let’s all dedicate ourselves to practicing the cultivation of little trees at a higher level than before. Stop settling for sub-par, stump-with-twigs material, and don’t show our trees until they’re at their peak. We can always do better as a bonsai community, we just need to hold ourselves to a higher standard.

Thank you again to all the followers of my blog, I hope I’ve brought a higher caliber of information to you over the past two years. I’ll strive to do even better in year Three.

As always, good luck with your trees!

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Bonsai Books


If you’ve read my blog from “cover to cover”, or know me personally, then you’re familiar with how much I detest bonsai books. I have read a great many bonsai books and they all seem to have the same flaw. They start like this “bonsai is a Japanese word that means….” Then they say “this is a picture of a tree in an informal upright style” then “good drainage is important” and “do not wrap wire too tightly or too loosely.”

I read about bonsai to learn about bonsai. What does that teach me? nothing.

My distaste for printed material ultimately led me to the internet and the rest is history. After diligently searching for information online for the past 3 years I sort of feel like I’ve reached “the end of the internet.”

So about a year ago I decided to do something crazy. I had recently bought a white pine, which is my favorite variety of pine, and was scared to death of killing it. I’m an over waterer, live in a humid climate, and can’t always depend on the quality of nursery soil. So I decided to give books another try.

My affinity for Stone Lantern led me to their pine and juniper book set. I will tell you now, without a doubt, these are two books that you MUST have, regardless of your skill level. I’m not trying to provide a product plug here, but seriously go buy them… they are on sale… I promise you will learn at least one thing that you won’t find on the internet or in any other books.


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16 Of The Most Magnificent Trees In The World

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

I don’t often post non-bonsai related things on the blog, but this is a very cool gallery my girlfriend sent me. Take a look!

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

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

*Hello bonsai world,

Time seems to fly! It’s been a little while since my last post and this one has been floating in my drafts for quite some time. As I’m embarking on a Masters program this fall, my already crazy schedule will be significantly pinched even further. So hopefully I’ll still have time to provide some good info as I come across it, but just a forewarning that I’ll unfortunately slow down a little. Please feel free to shoot me an e-mail as well, located under the “contact me” tab at the top. As always, good luck with your trees*


I don’t remember the first bonsai tree I ever saw, or what exactly it was that sparked my interest in little trees, but I definitely remember my first trip to the U.S. National Bonsai and Penjing Museum in D.C.  I was amazed at the shrunken trees, and if you’ve been following my blog you’ve probably noticed that the majority of my pictures were taken at the museum. As a child I didn’t understand very much about the process behind creating bonsai, or the history of the trees in the museum, but I was certainly amazed.

Of particular interest to me was the swirling, twisting, white parts on some of the trees. I remember thinking that the thick pads of foliage looked as if they were being tossed around in a frothy ocean. At first I thought they were rock plantings, or carved stone of some sort. Maybe it was just a species of tree that grew multi-colored bark? When I realized it was part of the tree, carved and bleached, I was able to see bonsai as an art, not just growing little trees.

I think there’s kind of this weird schism in the bonsai community. I’m not sure if it’s an American thing or a global thing, but I feel like whenever the topic of deadwood is brought up everyone has to “take sides.” You’ll have those that say “It doesn’t look natural, it’s too white” or those that will say “it looks great, every tree should have it that can.”

I don’t like to get involved in the politics of bonsai. For those of you that know me personally, it’s the main reason I’m not a member of any bonsai clubs. All I really want is to do is make my trees the best they can be. While opinions will abound, there are some facts in regards to deadwood. In my Juniper post I pointed to “distinguishing features” as being a consideration in styling your tree. On Junipers, deadwood is the distinguishing feature. Why is it a distinguishing feature? Because there aren’t any old junipers in nature that don’t have deadwood. And as we all know, the whole POINT of bonsai is to make trees that appear old. There are probably 0 famous juniper bonsai without deadwood.

Another bit of food for thought, and this is where I’ll stop. We often look at bonsai as a single discipline. But I think you’ll find that in all forms of art, quality examples proliferate throughout artistic preference.  What I mean is, sure, bad examples of deadwood on bonsai exist out there. But I would hope that regardless of your preference for natural or abstract deadwood, you could appreciate outstanding examples of both schools. Even if you believe bonsai should only look like trees in nature, I hope you can appreciate some Kimura trees.

Ok so on to the lighter stuff, all of which I picked up from some combination of Ryan and Marco at this year’s Rendezvous.

Tracking Down That Live Vein

Trees are efficient and adaptable. What is the fastest distance between two points? A straight line. And so it is with the live veins on trees. If you could grow a tree in a bubble, it would be perfectly straight. The water and nutrients would run up from the roots, in a direct line to the underside of each branch. But in the real world, outside factors affect the growth of the tree. Wind, water, sunlight, other plants, and animals will all change the direction of the trees growth and it will have to adjust the direction of the live vein in order to maintain the branches. A twisted trunk did not develop by chance. Some outside factor forced it to grow that way.

So if the tree you’re working on is extra twisty, how do you find the live vein? There are a couple options for determining how each branch is fueled.

1.       First of all it’s important to note that the live vein for any single branch will run down from the bottom of that branch. Where it goes from there will vary, but at least initially it will go straight down.

2.       This may be obvious, but as a branch grows the live vein fueling it also grows. A huge branch will have a correspondingly huge live vein. The un-balanced growth of various branches leads to trunks and roots that are un-uniformly shaped. As the live parts of the tree grow, the trunk expands, the old bark cracks and dries, and the new vascular tissue expands underneath. So here’s the tip! The direction of the cracks in the bark is the direction of the live vein. On a juniper this will be hard to see unless you have left the old fissured bark on the tree. But if you follow a single crack from the branch to the root, there’s your live vein.

3.       Specifically for Junipers, if a section of tree has recently died, or the live section has not grown strongly for very long, it may be difficult to distinguish the live section from the dead. A good way to identify the live section is the scratch test. Using the tip of your scissors, or similar small metal instrument, make a very small scratch into the bark. If it separates smoothly and the wood underneath is bright white, it’s a live section. Otherwise it’s deadwood. It’s a really simple process, and it doesn’t harm the tree at all.

So let’s get to work! One of the challenges with deadwood work is determining design and size. It’s especially difficult sometimes on trees that are being styled for the first time because it’s difficult to match the deadwood style with a branch style that hasn’t fully emerged yet. Just as with the rest of our tree’s design, we should still approach deadwood work with a “work with what we got” attitude. Here are a few rules of thumb when doing deadwood work.

1.       Live wood is significantly easier to work with then deadwood. Don’t start styling and have the “I’ll go back and work the deadwood later” attitude. It’s much easier to get in close and work on deadwood if you don’t have to worry about accidentally misplacing a wired branch.  Live wood also offers the advantage of being able to be bent, wired and hold its shape after drying.

2.       A great approach for making Jin is to make your structure branch decisions early, cleaning foliage from branches you won’t need, and leaving enough branch to use for potential jin Later on.  Then you can go back in and strip the bark from each branch you’d like to use as jin.  Finally you can go back in and finish the branch tips by gently grasping sections with your pliers and peeling back the wood fibers along the grain. Remember, you can always take wood away but you can never put it back, so take your time.

3.       Give your deadwood a few days to dry out before trying to apply the lime sulfur. Lime sulfur is a drying agent and a fungicide. It’s used to prevent the dead wood portions from rotting or getting invaded by insects. The idea is that you want to apply it to dry wood so that the wood will soak it up like a sponge. If you try to apply it freshly peeled deadwood (which is still full of water-resistant sap) it won’t soak in. Once dry, it also helps to spray the wood with a little water before applying the lime sulfur.

4.       When developing shari, a good rule of thumb to remember is 50%. You can remove (generally) up to 50% of the live vein supplying any single branch without killing it. So if your desired shari line weaves over into a live vein, don’t stress too much. As long as you’re not cutting off more than 50% of the branches fuel, you should be fine.

5.       Want to get an extra twisty jin but it just won’t move in the direction that you want? Try this:  use trunk splitters to crack a lateral line on either side of the branch. The idea is to cut about 50-75% of the way into the branch, but not all the way through. Then make the same crack on the top and bottom of the branch. By separating these additional fibers you’ve increased your ability to twist this section of branch. After twisting and drying the cracks shouldn’t be noticeable at all.

6.       Even if you don’t like to use power tools to make your deadwood, I’d recommend trying out a stainless steel brush tip for your rotary tool. It really gives that clean, smooth look to your deadwood, that’s extremely difficult to duplicate with any other tools. It can also be helpful in removing bark from already dead and dried areas of the tree where the classic bark stripping techniques do not work. It also has a smoothing effect on fresh wood, where sand paper is useless.

7. Ever wonder how they cram huge trees into small pots? In terms of trees like junipers which have significant deadwood, one strategy when developing shari is to carry it all the way down the trunk to the roots. That way, you can identify exactly which roots are needed to supply the deadwood portions, and remove them completely. This will definitely save some room in your pot.

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More Pots From Japan

I’ve been slowly growing my collection and haven’t really had the time to post the new stuff. Here’s a few of the pots I’ve picked up over the last few months.

First up is another Satomi Terahata, almost like the brother pot of the oval one I have. The single or double drip is sort of a Satomi signature.

IMG_6791reUp next is a Kusamono-sized pot I received as a gift from Yuki! The potter is Hidemi Kataoka (more popularly know as Shuho). He has some very cool glazes if you ask me. You can buy some of his work from Yuki’s Etsy site.


A photo of Hidemi from his Facebook page

IMG_6817re IMG_6820reFinally a couple new Koyos. No explanation needed here, you know I’m obsessed with his work.

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