This antique tree was collected some years ago by Anton Nijhuis of Vancouver Island, Canada, and was recently brought to Oregon, USA. We reworked it here last week for a client. The dynamism of the low descending branch and its bumping movement definitely made for a fun styling. We couldn’t wait to finish it!

Curiously, the entire tree is a rooted branch. It has somewhat larger needles than most Mountain Hemlocks have, and Anton said that it seemed like a strain of hemlock localized to that one mountain, and he’d not seen it elsewhere.

Here’s a photo essay of our restyling. Enjoy!


This was the Mountain Hemlock before we did anything.


…after shortening a few jins and tipping the tree to our new inclination, and finding our front. Like so many front choices, it was a balancing of goods and bads…


Bobby refining a jin.


…wiring from the bottom up. We did not use anything more than wrapped wire and a few guy wires to restyle this tree.


Matt Reel was in the studio that day…and he was very determined to be seen, as he was in exactly the same place in the next two shots, too.


Bobby wiring the top.


A few finishing touches. At this point we were a bit goofy. Long day.


From this direction, from the left, you can see where the lower descending branch comes from, and how close it is to the trunk. The smaller branches of this tree had very mature bark, so it’s quite old.


Detail shot of the top.


Close in shot of the cascading branch.


And our final tree! 35″ (89 cm) from top to lowest branch. Will be repotting this tree in the spring, either into a box or a pot. A deep square would be nice, eventually. Hopefully something less brilliantly orange than this one…



Beetle Borers and Bonsai-

One of the truly irascible jerks of the insect world (if you love trees, that is), borers will redesign your bonsai without even asking permission. Even worse, they’ll do it without you even being aware there is a major change in progress, since all their nefarious nibbling is done under the cover of bark.


Borer larva in its gallery under the bark, where it eats the phloem.

Most commonly it is flathead borers that cause problems for bonsai. The lifecycle is, for most species, one generation a year. Eggs are laid in the spring. Borer larvae nibble through the phloem of the tree in an ecstatic sugar festival over the summer. After girdling several branches or maybe even the trunk, they will drill deep into the heartwood and pupate there snugly and read trashy novels until spring. They then emerge transformed into the mature winged adult who is ready for the great epic poems and then, having learned nothing of aesthetics, ethics, or propriety, go on to lay eggs on your favorite bonsai. It’s a sad cycle.


Adult borer. There are more than 150 species of borers, some much more colorful than this one.

Flathead borers attack deciduous as well as conifer trees. We have one out here in Oregon (Northwestern USA) that will go after almost any conifer they can find. For the most part, if the tree is strong, the borers ignore it. Stressed trees, weakened by sun or drought, are the most commonly attacked trees. I lost a weakened juniper one year from a borer that girdled the trunk, but this summer lost the top of a relatively healthy hemlock, which gave me pause. Borers cause the majority of ‘naturally created’ jin and shari on collected pines and junipers.


Flathead borer larva that Bobby found in the top of one of our Mountain Hemlocks.

Keeping ridiculously vigorous bonsai does not seem like the best method of prevention, since most bonsai maintenance techniques are designed to slow down the metabolism of the tree—which makes them more susceptible to borer attack. Keeping healthy trees should certainly help, but prophylactic attention might be warranted in areas of high borer activity.

If borers are present where you live, you might consider a systemic like Bayer or the more powerful Safari. Befriending a woodpecker is another possibility, and while you’ll not have any more borer problems, you’ll still, sadly, have a tree full of holes.

This sweet little pine has been in the Puget Sound (Northwestern USA) area since 1989. It was collected by John Muth. Some of you might remember it from the 1992 cover of Bonsai Clubs International. I remember seeing it in a bonsai exhibition years ago in Seattle, sitting off in a corner, looking quite distinguished. Recently this tree passed to a client of mine, and we reworked it.

In 1992 fewer possibilities for the styling of this tree existed. Just a few unramified branches were present, as is often the case with newly collected Ponderosa. Now we have more complex branching options. It’s a good example of a Ponderosa that over time has done pretty tidy job of growing out branches and ramifying.


Early image of this Ponderosa pine, 22 years ago, on the cover of Bonsai Clubs International.


Before we started work on the tree.


Like the thinking in the original styling, we agreed that this inclination was best.


Here’s the final shot. Sorry for the grainy photo; low light and all. A new, slightly deeper pot will be its home this spring-


One of the major events in North American bonsai is only 10 months away! The long awaited Artisans Cup bonsai exhibition will be held at the Portland Art Museum in Portland, Oregon, USA on September 26-28, 2015. Our five international judges will be David DeGroot, Colin Lewis, Boon Manakitivipart, Walter Pall, and Peter Warren. And quite shortly, in a few days, a new Artisans Cup website will be up to give you details (and I’ll give you a heads up when that happens).

The 2015 Artisans Cup is going to be even better than ever so get your trees ready, choose your pots carefully, get perfect stands for them, think innovatively if so inspired, and then dust off the lenses on your cameras as we’ll need some nice photos. This coming spring Ryan Neil and I will be reviewing the entries and deciding which bonsai are in the show, then on the show weekend our five judges will politely bicker over which of them are best. Which should be terrifically entertaining as well as educational.


In addition to a top-flight bonsai exhibition in the Portland Art Museum, there will be a huge spread of vendors to tantalize your tastes, and Portland Bonsai Village tours to explore Portland’s numerous bonsai studios and nurseries. Buggy tours drawn by lions, tigers, and bears will chauffer around the curious. Should you have animal allergies or a fear of predation we’ll have safer, combustion engine options.

Do stay tuned for the new website…which is coming shortly. Again, get ready! Choose your trees! Choose your wardrobe! And join us for our Portland bonsai smorgasbord, Sept. 26-28, the Artisans Cup 2015!

Al fin, después de muchas peripecias ocurridas en el transcurso del trabajo, “Post-Datado: el adiestramiento de un irreverente monje bonsái” ha sido traducido al español. Estamos en las últimas etapas para la publicación del e-book. Mi amigo Felipe Rodríguez de México ha sido el traductor y su gran entusiasmo y pasión por el proyecto ha sido en verdad contagioso. Y ha sido un gran honor que con entusiasmo similar David Benavente ha accedido a escribir el prefacio.

Finally, after many threats that this was in the works, ‘Post-Dated: The Schooling of an Irreverent Bonsai Monk’ has been translated into Spanish. We’re in the last stages of creating an e-book. My friend Felipe Rodriguez of Mexico has been the translator, and his raw enthusiasm and passion for the project has been truly infectious. And it’s been a great honor that with similar enthusiasm David Benavente of Spain has agreed to write the Foreword.


I used the yellow pie slice. I just didn’t trust the advice to add an ‘o’ to everything.

Para aquellos que no lo saben, ‘Post-datado’ es acerca de los años que viví, sobre-trabajado y casi-sin-dormir, como aprendiz de bonsái con Shinji Suzuki, de Nagano, Japón. Es una extravagante/filosófica forma de asumirse aprendiz como extranjero y trata no tanto sobre como hacemos bonsái sino las razones por las que lo hacemos. Y, como digo en mi prefacio a la edición en español, es también sobre ‘el tipo de problemas que podemos llegar a tener como extranjeros lejos de casa’.

For those not familiar with it, ‘Post-Dated’ is about my years as an over-worked, under-slept bonsai apprentice with Shinji Suzuki, of Nagano, Japan. It’s a whimsical/philosophical take on apprenticing as a foreigner, and is less about how we do bonsai than the reasons we do bonsai. And, from my Preface to the Spanish edition, it’s also about ‘the kind of trouble we can get into as a foreigner far from home.’


It’ll look something like this, but translated…

Dentro de poco publicaré una entrevista con el Sr. Rodríguez acerca de Post-datado y temas afines, para posteriormente hacerles saber cuando estará disponible el libro. Aunque no hablo español, quien desee hacer comentarios en este idioma puede hacerlo, que tratare de darles respuesta usando Google Translate.

Shortly I’ll be posting an interview with Mr. Rodriguez about Post-Dated and related things, and then of course we’ll let you know when the book is available. Although I don’t speak Spanish, anyone who wishes to comment in Spanish may certainly do so, and I’ll attempt to answer using Google Translate.

The Hype over 0-10-10

This is one of our grand leaps down the rabbit hole…0-10-10 fertilizer for bonsai. It has very limited uses, and yet it’s often touted as THE fertilizer for all bonsai in the fall.

The 0-10-10 fertilizer is essentially for maximizing blooms, or perhaps, when you plant a perennial, you might get its roots better established without much top growth. For a bonsai garden with many non-blooming species present, the recommendation to use it exclusively in fall is on very shaky ground.


One of many 0-10-10 fertilizers, which do have their uses, but is NOT the bonsai fertilizer for fall.

The urge to outthink how a plant works is fairly common to most who grow plants. We all do it. Certainly this is where the mis-use of 0-10-10 for bonsai started.

0-10-10 has no nitrogen in it (nitrogen is the first number of the three).

  • And yet every cell process, even those going on in the fall, require nitrogen. 

The building blocks of life are carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen. That’s what makes up your amino acids, which run the ball game. Potassium and phosphorus are necessary too, but they come into the game later.

Fear of tender growth late in the year is at least one of the claims in support of using 0-10-10.

  • But if you’ve used a fertilizer with all three macronutrients present consistently throughout the growing season, continuing to do so in the fall will not bring about a flush of growth in the fall that is susceptible to cold. 

After all, nitrogen does not disappear in the landscape in the fall. The use of fertilizer cakes or something similar (roughly 5-5-5) throughout the growing season, and in the fall, is the accepted standard of bonsai professionals in Japan, and will never push late growth.

So nitrogen is necessary for your plants in all phases of growth, even during the fall. Bonsai are no different than any other plant. Don’t be lured into thinking, ‘Oh gosh, I don’t SEE growth happening in the fall therefore they must not need nitrogen.’ Everything that goes on in a plant requires it.

‘Everything in moderation’ is a good Greek standard to apply to fertilizing. And ‘everything’ would definitely include nitrogen.

On the other hand even moderate amounts of Twitter would kill me, so maybe the Greeks were daft after all. Oscar Wilde modified the original idea by saying ‘Everything in moderation, including moderation,’ which sort of gives us free reign to live expansively, but this has nothing to do with fertilizer and should be reserved for dancing, ridiculous dinner parties, movies featuring Judi Dench, etc.

A tree prequel….here are three trees that have me intrigued and looking forward to playing with: A Mountain Hemlock, a Vine Maple, and another Mountain Hemlock-


We brought back this massive Mountain Hemlock from the PNBCA convention in Victoria, BC a couple weeks back. Very curious descending branch. This tree was collected by Anton Nijhuis. We’ll be restyling this tree soon, and will be sure to have photos up here for you to laugh and jeer at-


This was an interesting recent capture. I collected this in the Cascades this fall, a Vine Maple in the rocks. It had a massive tap root which I recut when we made the box, and out of curiosity I took a loupe and counted the rings… 180 years old! And with some strong young branches, too. One of those examples that makes you rethink the common conceit that understory trees and shrubs have short lifespans. It’s all about how that tree grew, what the local environment was. Quite thought provoking.


Another recent capture, this Mountain Hemlock nearly slaughtered us trying to move it. Nearly 8 feet tall, it has apexes that all go to the right by pure happenstance. But they all go back at 45 degrees as well, so when you’re standing at this front, it feels like the wind is at your back. One of the most evocative trees I’ve encountered in a long while. Looking forward to doing very little with this one…as opposed to doing quite a bit with the other two!


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