Last month I received a curious, lumpy envelope from Canada. Enjoying curious, lumpy packages, I opened it eagerly. When its contents were on my lap I remembered I’d sent a silly email to a Canadian fellow who was planning on attending a Seasonal Workshop with me. He’d asked how he could make a down payment on the class. I somewhat impishly suggested some alternative methods, such as a string of shells, gold bullion, wampum. This is what I received in the mail:


Until a couple of years ago, I’d never worked with Limber Pine, one of our North American white pines. It’s growing on me. Buds back well, nice short needle, strong. Has a nice name, Limber Pine, which comes more trippingly off the tongue than Loblolly Pine, for instance. And it has great deadwood features.

This Limber Pine was styled in a Seasonal Workshop a couple of weeks ago. It was collected by a student of mine, Steve Varland of Backcountry Bonsai, who was able to be in the Seasonal to help style it. Loads of fun!

Photo essay follows our journey with this tree-


Limber Pine from one side…


…and from the other side.


And a couple of shots of the base, with the ‘helix’ roots.


Other side.


We discovered that a large area of the trunk was dead. That is, not obviously dead. We might call it ‘pre-shari’, because it looked just like the rest of the trunk. The bark was still adhering very well, but 50 years later out in the wilds it would be shari. So we took the bark off in those areas to speed up the process a bit… Steve and Bobby work at it.


Jim and Steve beginning the foliage preparation for wiring.


Some big bends were planned for this styling , so on goes the raffia-


The first big wires…Bobby without stripes for some reason. He did well enough without them. Hm.


Setting the branches…


Finishing up…


Our completed tree. Well, mostly completed. For a container next spring, we were thinking of maybe a deep narrow oval, to show off those curious double helix-like surface roots. 32″ high.

Ponderosa is a controversial North American tree. Mostly the debates swirl around the long needles, and their size being a problem with bonsai. I’m of two minds with this. For one, Ponderosa ramifies rather well over time, and needle length comes down pretty good. My misgivings are that for very small trees, ponderosa foliage doesn’t seem well suited. But, for a modest sized tree and larger, we have a really rough and rugged, really quite exciting, pine character. It’s almost the ultimate pine, in terms of wild ‘piney’ feeling.

This ponderosa is modest in size, 26″. That’s enough size to get beyond the long needles, and then it’s also a bunjin, which is one of the best applications for the species. Needle size will also go down a lot over time.

Before I bought the tree, it had been left to grow for some years without any kind of management. Ponderosa will quickly revert to a strong primary bud and weaken anything on the interior when this happens. A few of the branches were really weak. But there were also small buds everywhere, waiting to push.

And that’s the background for this tree! I’ll fill in how we reset the energy and the styling in the photos:


The tree as purchased. Been in a pot a long time. Strong exterior shoots, weak interior…the usual pine issues when left fallow for a while.


One of the intriguing parts of this tree, a burly base that looks as if it’s coiling to spring off the pot.


The inclination and front that had the most promise.


After branch and shoot removal, and trimming needles in stronger areas.


Bobby and I were working on this ponderosa while Seasonal students had their own project. Here we took a break to discuss what the heck we were doing with this pine, and why. What THEY were doing will be featured in next week’s post—the styling of a limber pine.


I need a haircut. One of my favorite T-shirts, underneath all the little blue yaks are words that run ‘yak yak yak yak yak yak…’


Bobby removing the annoying long jin.


Our final tree. Might go on an interesting piece of rock this coming spring. What I like about this tree is how the trunk meanders all over the place to end at a relatively unlikely location. Leaning tree. Pines are the great individualists of the bonsai world. One of the big decisions of the styling was leaving that low left branch, which in usual bunjin styling would be removed. That would have made a much simpler, easier to appreciate tree. But leaving it adds a lot of tension, counter-pull, and character, which is a pine feeling. It’s tempting to make our collected trees too vanilla and easy on the eyes. They lose a lot of their soul if we do.

Gary Wood Seminar

My apprentice Bobby Curttright and I were looking forward to this all month! Long time friend Gary Wood came west to share his tree wizardry with us in a seminar last weekend. I always thought his last name was a karmic promise…

Gary’s knowledge of trees, their inner workings, and how they respond to stimuli including sharp bonsai implements is nothing short of encyclopedic. And he’s an inventive, nearly prophetic thinker. For one, his own observations had him almost ten years ahead of the research on the role of auxins and sugars in determining plant growth.

A dozen lucky folks from the Northwest converged on my studio for Gary’s fact-filled, humorous day.


Gary has a deeply whimsical, treeish wisdom, as if Mark Twain and Demeter, the Greek goddess of agriculture, had had a love child. He does look a bit like Twain, doesn’t he?


Gary in the backyard on his seminar day. He enjoyed my mug collection. The cats enjoyed hiding his glasses. We all enjoyed his teaching.


Maestro Wood often led 50 ft. ‘field trips’ out into the grounds when he wanted to point out something on a tree.


It was a great fun day! We’re all still nibbling on your thought-provoking presentation. Thanks Gary-

I suppose that title needs a bit of explaining. About 4 1/2 years ago I grafted this Rocky Mountain Juniper (collected by Randy Knight) with some curious shimpaku foliage that I took a shine to. The shimpaku foliage was a bit coarser than we see normally, and I thought it would look good on a tree with a rugged, expressive character.

So that’s the backdrop for the Day of Yikes…

When a tree is grafted with an entirely different foliage type, some day, eventually, the original foliage needs to be cut off. Although with a bit of practice there’s little worry, really, it is still a bit exciting to finally (after years of waiting) yell out ‘Yikes!’ as you make that final pruning cut.

The tree did fine.

And this summer Bobby rewired it for the second time. The following is a series of photos from the last two years, from the Day of Yikes to about four minutes ago, when the last shot was taken.


Mistake number 1, which I’ve repeated I don’t know how many times: Photograph your tree before cutting off that which you’d really like to have in the first photo… Seasonal students ‘replace’ Rocky Mountain Juniper branches cut off in 2012.


…what’s left is the post-Yikes euphoria, and a tree wearing new foliage. The juniper was grafted in 2009 with two small shimpaku veneer grafts on original Rocky Mountain branches that were about 1/3″ (0.8 cm) thick.


And two years of growth later, just before Bobby started to rework the tree a few weeks ago. It was roughly wired in 2013. The jins from the original Rocky Mountain Juniper branches were cleaned of their bark. I think some more jin work might need to be done on this tree, to marry the old and new jins better. I’m still looking at it. They are a bit jarring, but then it’s a jarring tree.


Starting to look like a bonsai. The pads on the bottom still need a bit of time for development, especially the lower left where we’ve let some shoots grow long for a longer eventual pad over there. Will post some updates in the future-

Few plants come without a puzzling issue or two. For ‘Chojubai’ Dwarf Flowering Quince, the most serious issues are in the roots. Chojubai are strong plants that will normally extend 6” (to 18″) per growth surge. If this is not seen, then be on the alert.

A weak tree will not make typical extensions in the spring and might have a yellowish color. Some weak Chojubai are simply in soil that is too fine, are overwatered or underwatered, or are in pots that are too shallow, and those are easy to correct.

Otherwise the root zone of a Chojubai is susceptible to several problems that can weaken your tree. The first is a nematode, the second is a bacteria, and the third is a root gall, and they’re all separate but interrelated parts of the disease known as crown gall. It’s not frequent, but if you have a Chojubai, be on the alert for general weakness. I’ve been looking into this problem for a while, and my apprentice Bobby has been very helpful in discovering some of the links too, so I’d like to offer here what we’re doing now to tackle these root issues.

  • In a quick summary, root lesion nematodes cause wounds in the Chojubai’s fine roots that provides an entry for a truly rascally bacteria, Agrobacterium tumefaciens, which causes crown gall. A wound from a root-pruning tool can also provide entry. The bacteria lives inside the root, and transfers part of its DNA to the DNA of plant cells, which, with cell division, cause the callus-like galls we see on the roots of affected plants. So the bacteria is very sneaky fella, and not too easy to get rid of!

First, there was a nematode… named Nibble.


…then there was a bacteria…named WisFree…


…and lastly there was a gall…named Warty. And they all had a rockin’ party in your pot. Keep reading to discover what mickies to throw in their drinks…

If you see galls (Warty and friends) on the roots of Chojubai, try these treatments:

  1. Shift the tree into a bigger pot. If the weakened Chojubai is in fine soil, a small pot, compacted soil, or a shallow pot, definitely transfer it to a deeper, larger container or box with coarse pumice (1/3” + size) or similar on the bottom and sides surrounding the original soil mass. Let it grow freely, without overwatering it (algae and liverwort are the clues), while controlling the other issues.
  2. Control the root lesion nematode. There are nemacides specific for the control of nematodes, and these may be used. With a suggestion from a friend and a couple of tests I found that soaking the root ball in Zerotol at 1.25 oz / gal will kill the nematodes. This can be done while the tree is still in the pot.
  3. Control the bacteria. The problem with the bacteria is that it’s inside the root itself. Copper is effective for this bacteria, (the Japanese bonsai professionals use Streptomycin, but it’s puzzling to figure the proper concentration for plants since they are made for internal use with animals). I’ve been using Phyton 35, which is a systemic copper bactericide/fungicide. Be sure to read the label carefully—Phyton 35 requires a change in the water we mix it in to a pH of 5.5-6.5.
  4. Control the gall. Cut the gall away with pruners when repotting. It may take several repottings to get all the gall removed.

What seems to be important is to take care of this three-ring circus systematically. First knock out the nematode. Then go after the bacteria. And finally cut away the gall. Even if you’ve killed your nematode and the bacteria, you may still have the gall as the DNA from the bacteria will keep replicating with cell division. But if you’ve killed the nematode and are controlling the bacteria, a weakened Chojubai often shows a very rapid jump back into strong growth. I’ve seen new, large, strong leaves and even shoots on a totally stalled Chojubai in under two months with these treatments.

The nematode is often the primary culprit, which appear to think that Chojubai roots are like crack cocaine, chocolate, nirvana, or all three. They can knock down the root system of a quince quite rapidly, and then you see a weakened tree with a gimpy root system that does not have the typical vigor of Chojubai. Many other Rose family plants are particularly tasty to nematodes.

A few of the nematodes you can see without a loupe (I’ve seen some about ½” long, and look like glassy worms), others are nearly microscopic. If you find the gall you can assume you’ve got the bacteria. Prevention is best, such as being careful about sterilization of cuts, and controlling the nematode.

Hopefully you’ll never see galls on your tree, but if you do, try these remedies to bring your tree back to health!

A few older posts about ‘Chojubai’ Dwarf Flowering Quince:

…but not recently! We did this repotting at the end of March, 2014, and like the last couple of posts, I’m playing catch up with things that we did long ago…

The styling of this juniper was featured in a 2012 post: http://crataegus.com/2012/09/04/special-rocky-mountain-juniper-styling/

Enjoy the photos!


Bobby removing the last parts of the box the Rocky Mountain juniper was in. Bobby Curttright is my apprentice, and for those of you who haven’t been following my blog very long, he’s just past the one year mark studying here.


Excavating part of the roots that had some water-retentive mountain soil. If it’s very fine or has organics in there it can hold a lot of moisture, and then roots don’t grow in those areas very well.


Bobby and Konnor hamming it up. I don’t recall if Bobby was intending to bow to the juniper or not. (Were you? )


Beginning to brace the tree in the pot with bamboo shafts.


The camera unfortunately focused on the deadwood. Oh well. Sometimes this blogging thing seems primarily about showing off my poor photography technique.


Part of the juniper deadwood was used to brace the back of the tree. This operation took us a while. Some are finickier physics lessons than others, and you can end up with tight shoulders having forgotten to breathe for the last couple of hours, and starving on top of it.


Konnor sawing a piece of bamboo. This is my only shot of the front of the tree in this series. I tipped the tree to the right a bit, and tilted it back, so that the tree has better harmony in its jins than the original front and inclination that I had chosen. Inevitably with some trees, such as this one, there is a price to be paid for doing so. The tree comes closer to a ‘C’ design, which is generally to be avoided. I thought the benefits in this case were worth it…maybe not, but I’ve got years before the next repot and having to make that decision again.


Chopsticking, chopsticking, and even some stick chopping oh my!


This tree had grown around a chunk of granite, and now it’s caught in the deadwood at the base. So we left that in there. Actually it helps the tree look more stable.


Finishing touches.


Yes, I do some bonsai too… Going for the Michael Jackson look here. I’m not sure it’s working.


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