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.

It’s been a busy spring! Portland’s bonsai scene is humming, and I’ve had less time to blog about it than I should have. When you are sticky with sap and dirt, it’s easier to put it off another day…

We’ve had several Village Tours, and only a couple of which we’ve had cameras clicking away on. A few of them have been group tours (the largest with 19 people!), and others have been private tours. Our latest private tour features guest Roland Folse from the east coast.


Roland visiting Ryan Neil in his garden-


…and Roland in my garden.

Check out our past posts on the Portland Bonsai Village:



…our wonky earlier post about the Village:


…and then have a gander at the Tours we’re offering (including our new Tour, the Tree Whimsey, a meandering tour of unique, ridiculously old historic trees in funky Portland neighborhoods, with potentially frequent brew pub or wine bar stops):


New spin on slabs-

A couple years ago I tried a nylon cooking board as a slab for a twin-trunk Mountain Hemlock.

Last year we had some fun here making a Vine Maple Tower, using an internal nylon board framework.

And earlier this spring we took a new spin on that idea, using this time a countertop material called Corian. Here are a few photos of a large Mountain Hemlock that I’ve yet to feature here (eventually…) being placed on a Corian slab:


Konnor (solids) and Bobby (stripes) bringing the Mountain Hemlock into the studio. It’s been on this plywood board since designing it a couple years back, and this year it was in danger of simply rotting away.


After sliding it onto the Corian board, Konnor traces the shape of the soil mass.


Bobby trying out a new idea, cutting the board at a 45% angle.


Glueing on the feet, just pieces of Corian-


I’m having a ridiculously hard time lifting the camera. Whew.


Our completed slab. We painted the cut 45% edge a dark grey. We rather liked the floating feeling of the large mossy mass, what do you think?


Well, mostly no.

I used an automatic system for bonsai while living in Arizona. I did not have any dreadful experiences, and I only used it on trips, but I learned some of their shortcomings from that and from watching others use them.


Reverse osmosis? Bah. I think this is the ticket.

The main reservation with automatic systems is that each species needs different care, and then each specimen will require slightly different care as well. Watering bonsai is an art. And a system can’t manage an art.

An automatic watering system for bonsai is always a very distant second choice. Watering by hand is always preferred. BUT, a system can be useful for a very specific purpose, for instance, to water during the middle of a hot day while you’re away at work. Whenever you can, water bonsai by hand.

There are two arguments going on here, one about the safety of automatic watering systems, whether they can be relied on, and another about how well they take care of our trees. Neither are impressive.

Try to avoid relying on automatic systems, exclusively. If you must use them monitor them frequently, and when gone on vacation have someone, a neighbor, anyone, to check that it is working while you are gone. Too many glitches make their sole use a cautionary tale, with power outages when gone on vacation the worst (I know more than six people who’ve lost entire collections this way).

What are the risks of a system to tree health? If relied on, the main problem is you’ll have some bonsai that are over watered and others that are under watered, and that this will not be corrected by a system but be made worse. A few pro/con points:

  • Those of us who water everything the same—as automatic watering systems do—tend to have some bonsai that are weaker or stronger than they should be.
  • Younger plants that are NOT YET bonsai and are the same species, of the same age, in the same soil, and with the same the growth goals might be watered effectively with an automatic system.
  • They may prove useful for the busy lifestyles of the non-retired-
  • If you use an automatic system, check it constantly.
  • And try to use it only as an adjunct to hand watering.
  • And check for trees that are not doing well. They might not be getting water, or they might be getting too much. Those will require special care.

How to water bonsai is something I’ve shied away from speaking about much here, as it’s a learn-in-person kind of thing. Hoses and cans, with a skilled, thinking person operating them, will give the best results for bonsai.




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