I rarely do this. In fact, this might be the first time, to reblog something.

But, I have a reason. I think Jonas Dupuich’s post on Bonsai Tonight about akadama is a very clear, inclusive, and informational LONG post that anyone who is curious about this weird and wonderful stuff should probably give a careful read:

Akadama particles

All about akadama

After three years here at Crataegus Bonsai, Bobby Curttright has finished his apprenticeship and is setting up his bonsai business of Cascadia Bonsai.

I am sad to see Bobby go. Bobby weathered his being my first apprentice with his native stoic nature, resilience, and good humor. We did have quite a bit of fun. There were some epic adventures, from long trips to pick up random trees, to galumphing around collecting, to putting in some major superstructure pieces in the yard that needed a man with multiple talents, which was not me. And then for the last three years Bobby has worked on every tree of note in the yard, maintaining them and the yard in general. I’ve full confidence in his ability to run a bonsai yard with care and boldness.

Someone once said to me that there’s wisdom in knowing when to let something go, and in truth I’ve learned as much from Bobby as I could, so keeping him any longer is just blatant selfishness. He’ll just have to move on to teach others. Sigh.

For those of you who will also miss his unending striped shirt wardrobe, I can commiserate.

Here’s a few photos that will be nostalgic for some who know Bobby well and had the luck to work with him during his time here:

DSC_0793 DSC_0348 DSC_0749 DSC_0973 DSC_0558 DSC_0716 IMG_2379 IMG_2442 IMG_2577 DSC_0097 DSC_0132 DSC_0255 DSC_0300 DSC_0339 IMG_2687 DSC_0171 DSC_0887 IMG_1402 DSC_0852 DSC_0793 IMG_1906 DSC_0329 1439945739569

Well. I’m not sure what to call Black Pines grafted onto Ponderosa stock. Frankensteins? Frankies? Feel free to suggest…

When I first started grafting Black Pine onto Ponderosa, I was unsure whether one could decandle them the same as Black Pine on its own roots. Before I went to Japan to study I grafted a small tree (not this one) and have now decandled it 10 years in a row. So there’s the answer: It’s the same. The tree becomes a Black Pine, it has the same powerful energy.

This gnarly little pine has been in the garden a while, collected by Randy Knight in the Rockies (back when it was a Ponderosa.) Several years ago, about four I think, I grafted two Black Pine scions onto it. This year we potted the tree for the first time, and then we decandled it a few months later, because it was showing a lot of strength. Here are a few photos of the pine this year:


Black/Ponderosa Frankie tree early this spring, testing out this round pot for suitability…


…we liked that pot, so in a Seasonal class we potted it up.


Potting finished.


Now we jump ahead three months…the pine has long candles and is ready for decandling.


All these photos are with Seasonal class students (we used to call them SeaStudents but haven’t in a while for some reason.)


The small pile of needles on the lower left are the pulled needles from this tree, before cutting the candles. (Be sure to leave a lot more needles on a tree with this few branches, not 3 or 5 pairs.)


And now we’re jumping ahead again, about four weeks—the brown stub in the middle is where the spring candle was cut, and the new shoots are coming out on the sides which will be fully needled by the fall, but with much shorter shoots.



What follows is a brief review of the new Intermediate Course, a solid educational opportunity freshly available from Bonsai Empire.


I’ll get to my review in a second, please forgive me for offering some general comments about bonsai study first. All content being equal, if one were to sketch out a ‘utility-meter’ based on the actual usefulness of the method of bonsai study, from best to worst, it would run like this:

  1. In-person study
  2. Videos
  3. Blogs
  4. Books

Videos rank pretty high in teaching about physical activities. As many do not have the opportunity to study bonsai in person with an expert, either because of logistics or finances, videos are really the next best thing.

Bonsai Empire has chosen to offer highly produced and accurate bonsai information using the skills and knowledge of Bjorn Bjorholm. Many of you bought the Beginner Course, which was a smash hit, and this is a continuation of that. ‘Lord of the Rings’ fans will appreciate the gold-morphing text in the opening frames, although the absence of swordplay throughout will remind one that this is, actually, a bonsai video. Detailed classification, care commentary, and progressions from unworked bonsai through to finished work are offered in learning bursts from mini-videos. Examples centering on older, developed bonsai so rarely seen in the West is one of the Intermediate Course’s cardinal virtues. It’s a well-made and thoughtfully produced learning tool, far above standard YouTube fare, and delivers on the promise of deepening the information from the first Beginner Course.

My friend Jonas Dupuich of Bonsai Tonight has written a far more extensive review, which is excellent: https://bonsaitonight.com/2016/06/14/review-bonsai-intermediate-course/

Or go right to the Intermediate Course:  http://www.bonsaiempire.com/courses

Do you have a film of white buildup on your pots or leaves? Pale, yellowish, and lackluster growth on the bonsai? If so, you may have very hard water, and that can be a limiting factor for plant health.


Above 150 ppm (parts per million) of hardness (Ca + Mg), we get beyond the zone where container plants may be maintained in good health. Over time the roots of containerized trees begin to be coated by the same minerals that coat the outsides of the pots, usually calcium and magnesium…which is essentially liquid limestone. Imagine that: Coating our roots with rock. (Which is less cool than it sounds, really.)

Hard water is a common problem in arid areas of low rainfall, but it can happen in many other places, too.

What’s the problem, then?

  • In extreme cases, very hard water may limit the root’s ability to draw in water (an osmotic issue)
  • Even moderately hard water can pose limits on the uptake of nutrients (If you fertilize with hard water, the combined total salts ppm is often very high, with attendant nutrient deficiencies)

These are serious issues that limit the health and growth of bonsai. And although there are some semi-effective ideas like flushing your soil out occasionally, there are really only two effective solutions this problem:

  • Collect and use rainwater for your bonsai
  • Set up a reverse osmosis (RO) system
  • Do not use a water softener, which introduces sodium into your water

The first is great if you get enough rainfall. In some areas even the rain might be suspect, but it’s often better than what comes out of our pipes or wells. Collection tanks may be set up, and then pumped or gravity fed into a hose for watering. Years ago I set up a gravity fed rainwater tank when I lived up in the mountains of Arizona, and I’ve fond memories of it as my most efficient and low-cost watering system.

Reverse osmosis systems will cost something to set up, and also to run (needing electricity and a loss of water in its functioning), but they do work very well. We get very high quality water out of these units which can almost magically change the health of bonsai in areas of very bad water quality, including a very acceptable pH. (Which is a double plus, as hard water is generally accompanied by high pH.)


Do pH and hardness tests on any reverse osmosis system to be sure it’s doing what you think it’s doing. Water coming out of them should have a pH of 7 or slightly lower, with almost no dissolved salts. Because of this nearly complete lack of minerals in both rainwater and RO systems, one does need to be consistent with fertilizing.

It’s worth investigating what’s coming out of our faucets. Proper pH and water hardness are game changers in growing bonsai. Try this post about pH:

One Essential to Plant Health: Water pH

Postscript: Definitely educate yourself on RO systems if you choose to use them, most need their filters changed periodically, with more frequent changing if the water is very hard. Definitely do not go for the low end units. They do not provide very good water at all.


Tam Juniper Bunjin-

Tam Juniper, Juniperus sabina ‘Tamariscifolia’, is a commonly planted conifer for foundations and gardens. The foliage grows upright from the branch, giving it a sprightly appearance.

Once upon a time this Tam Juniper had a mirror image partner…it was a multiple trunk plant connected at the base, and we separated it long ago in a study group.

The day these photos were taken was a basic ‘clean up day’ for the juniper—no wire was applied, removing only old and dangling foliage and shortening shoots that were overlong, and also sanding the bark, cleaning deadwood, and applying lime sulfur. This is yearly work on any juniper.


Tam Juniper as it is usually seen, as a spreading conifer in a garden


Having grown for a year, the juniper has gotten raggedy…


…after touching it up

This charming terrestrial orchid, Epipactis gigantea, is name-appropriate…in the wild it may reach 3 ft/ 1 m. In a small container, like this red dish, it tends to be more diminutive, 10″/25 cm. It is native to the west coast of North America from British Columbia south to Mexico.

Available at nurseries specializing in unusual orchids, Giant Helleborine can be a stand alone plant, enjoyable for its own merits on the bonsai benches. It likes a lot of water, a bit on the acidic side. The one pictured here is in a shallow dish without drainage holes, so some water may stand there for half a hot day. It grows well with a couple other plants in the pot, as long as they are not too vigorous or competitive.


Giant Helleborine, a terrestrial orchid from the western coast of North America




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