…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.



Last year I wrote a post about fertilizing, Refine your fertilizing this year! I wanted to expand on that and offer a few more notes, since, after all, it’s a brand new year for dung related issues-

Right, just off to the east field to muck spread!

Blogging is really a bit assumption-ridden, because we make one simple statement as if it’s unconnected to a million variables. For example, when I say ‘fertilize’, I assume that we’re using a fertilizer that has all 6 macronutrients, Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), Potassium (K), Calcium (C), Magnesium (Mg), and Sulfur (S), which, if I don’t say that, or some other variable you’re assuming and I’m not, we’re NOWHERE. And we are better if we’re somewhere. At least.

  • There are very few instances in bonsai, in early training or maintenance, where you don’t want a fertilizer with at least all 6 macronutrients. (i.e., without magnesium your tree can’t create chlorophyll, and without chlorophyll the idea that your plant can create food for itself is sort of unconnected to reality, and hence, bending a branch is cosmically silly-)

Ok, covered that variable.

A few fertilizing comments for this 2014 season:

  • Many problems we might see—burned leaves, browning needle tips, leaves that are too dark green, etc.—are very often basic care issues that have nothing to do with fertilizing. Just to take that last one, very dark green leaves is an indication a bonsai that is not getting enough sun.
  • There’s rarely a need to slam a tree with twice as much fertilizer as the directions suggest. More of enough is not better in the world of plant nutrition.
  • Normally, flowering trees are first fertilized after the flowering period. But this is another general statement. Some plants are nearly perpetual bloomers, like the quince I’ve talked about so much here, Chojubai, and those should be first fertilized when they are growing shoots in the spring even though they might still be flowering.
  • If we fertilize flowering accents randomly or broadcast, you may diminish the blooming of some. Fertilize them like your trees, when they finish blooming, not before.
  • If we fertilize an old tree too much—a pine with craggy, old bark for instance—it may shed that old bark and begin looking young. Many plants are perennials in ways we cannot be, for they can be restored to youth quite literally.
  • If we under-fertilize a young tree it will begin to look older than it is…for one thing, it will develop bark faster. But it may take much longer to achieve the other goals we seek in bonsai, too, like substantial trunks, etc.
  • Get your water and soil tested! Fertilizing will be different for different pH ranges. For example, recent research suggests that phosphorus (P) from bone meal is only available to plants in soils with a pH below 7.0. In fact, for most bonsai, if you can get close to 6.5 pH, most plant nutrition problems are greatly minimized.
  • Finally, fertilizing is much less important than optimizing the big ones: Sun and water. If we optimize the big ones, we won’t be turning to fertilizer as if it were a magic bullet. It isn’t one. It’s a distant second stage booster on our little rockets.

Are you yawning yet? Well, I know it’s not jazzy stuff. The world of bonsai has more exciting parts to it, and can get pretty romantic, too. Hybridizing with flowers, for instance, is a sure way to make at least a few people blush. But hopefully you’re yawning more interestedly now about fertilizing.

Fertilizing incredibly well is only for really cool people. Join the Smelly dorks! We’re a band of organic fertilizing rebels called the Secret Smelly Society, and we’re not growing very fast. Ironically.


After the major period of flowering in the cooler months of the year, ‘Chojubai’ Dwarf Flowering Quince will begin to grow. At the end of this period the plant is usually multi-tasking, flowering and growing. What you will see first are whorl growths of several leaves. These do not have an extension. About the time the tree begins slowing down on flowering, the major growth period ramps up and it will create extensions. They start as a pinkish white bud that grows fatter.

chojubai extension 2

Two types of growth on Chojubai: Whorl growth which does not extend, and shoot growth which does. There is only one shoot growth in this photo. All the others are whorls. These may produce flower buds, or might later in the year extend themselves.

chojubai extension

In spring you want to see many extensions on your Chojubai. Not all tips will extend, though, just about 10 percent of them.

What do we do, then, with our Chojubai at this time of year?

  • Let those extensions run freely!
  • No pinching…
  • Then, when they harden off (usually around June), take your bud scissors, the skinny pointy ones, and cut them off, leaving a stub of about 1/2″ (1 cm), which will have as many as three and as few as one leaf on it. That’s on an established tree. A young tree is another story. You may want to leave extensions on for a year to build trunk caliper. Most Chojubai will have a second flush of extensions over the summer, but there won’t be as many.

Why do we let the extensions run?

  • They build energy for the tree, and it will flower better, too
  • You can develop your branching, and create more ramification

What if we’re not seeing these extensions?

  • Be sure the tree is getting enough water and fertilizer. They like both.
  • Make sure your tree is in soil that is not compacted, or too fine
  • Upsize your container
  • Stop complaining! Make those changes, and wait. Chojubai is very responsive to changes in husbandry.

Want more about Chojubai? Take a look at Chojubai Notes: Part 1

Chojubai Test #372

Continuing our tradition of sharing the worst, most abysmal results from Chojubai inspired experiments…here’s Bobby trying out our Chojubai Test #372: Chojubai Chai. Given our multiple brewings and tastings, it’s probably wise not to patent our ingredients: Organic Chojubai petals, cardamom, sugar, organic moss shavings, non-organic nickel tool plating, used organic fertilizer, organic vegan earthworm castings. We tried, but, admittedly, not nearly hard enough-


Well, it is a pretty darn big place. Bonsai Mirai has just announced something we’ve been lacking in the United States, and that is a yearly jaunt moving bonsai and bonsai related items around the country on wheels, hither and yon!


I don’t see Chelsea in that old photo, perhaps she’s in the wagon, but I think that might be Ryan up on the horse. He’s an old soul and has been around a while. They were working on a draft of the following letter back then, on an old typewriter. It ran out of ink for about 150 years and they’ve just completed it, which I copy here for anyone interested in this valuable service, now gas-powered:

Bonsai Mirai is proud to announce The Covered Wagon, the first bi-coastal bonsai shipping service in America.  Until now, private gardens have been limited by what could be packed in a box and shipped.  Sadly, those voyages often end badly for trees.  Deadwood breaks.  A box is delayed and a tree is left in the cold.  Trees suffer and even die.  The Covered Wagon provides reliable delivery that aims to enable enthusiasts to expand their personal collections and to close the distance between America’s bonsai communities. 
The Covered Wagon will take two trips each year, spring and fall, to deliver trees, pots, soil, and other bonsai accoutrement from East to West and West to East. With The Wagon expertly packed and drivers who are well-trained on tree care, your tree will enjoy a safe and quick ride to its final destination.
The inaugural Covered Wagon will roll out of Portland, OR on May 5, 2014, make several stops along a northern route, and end its eastward journey in New York. An East to West route is currently unplanned, but if you have a need for something to be delivered in that direction, let us know and we will see if we get enough orders to plan an East to West Wagon.  
If you have a tree or something else that you need moved and would like to reserve space on The Wagon, please click on the this link to complete a request form.  We’ll get back to you with a shipping quote and confirm your delivery.  If you don’t live near any of the scheduled stops, if you have an East to West delivery need,  if you’d like to reserve space on the Fall Covered Wagon, or if you think of a shipping need that you’d like to bring to our attention, please email chelsea@bonsaimirai.com.
Again, fill out this delivery request form if you’d like to have something shipped.
Let’s get bonsai moving, America.
Very Truly Yours,
Ryan & Chelsea Neil



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