Spring Growth Management!

We can divide the bonsai year up into significant periods of activity and equally significant periods of wine and tea drinking in anticipation of periods of activity. Right now, in many temperate parts of the northern hemisphere, we’re just ending a period of bonsai inactivity.


Let’s call this period of inactivity between the start of growth in late winter and the hardening off of leaves in late spring our ‘Spring Break’. If we were to remove shoots and foliage in April, usually we’re a bit ahead of the ball and we’ll swing with a whoosh and no CRACK that would indicate a hit. (For those of you overseas who are now scratching your heads wondering what the heck I’m talking about, I’m referring to baseball, which is a delightfully strange game involving a bat and a ball. It’s incredibly easy to miss the tiny ball as it whizzes past your midriff.) If we cut shoots and leaves too early, just as it begins growing, we often dampen the energy of the tree too much. We miss!


If you approach your tree (swing) at the right time—and that has as much to do with the date on the calendar as how strong or young the tree is—then your results with bonsai will improve dramatically. The nuance of this stuff is why having an on-site teacher is best. We can write all day and still communicate less than 50% of what we need to know. Writing about bonsai is a dangerous business. I sweat all day long.

Essentially, it comes down to this:

  • End of repotting to hardening off of leaves: Sharpen scissors
  • Month when leaves begin to harden off: Use scissors

Disclaimers: Naturally, I’ll end this with the now routine ‘But there are exceptions…’ and there are. Many. We do pluck the buds on our mature Japanese maples as they begin to grow. We do cut off the root suckers of Winter Hazel and Chojubai whenever they appear. We do scold pests. Fret over frost warnings. Water. Relocate slugs. Invite frogs. There is a lot to do in our periods of ‘inactivity’…it’s just a useful word to distinguish those moderately busy periods from the frantically busy ones when we’re cutting candles, applying more fertilizer, and defoliating. Then, afterwards, sometime in July, we can sleep a bit again and drink our favorite beverages while lounging in hammocks.

And if my teacher were reading this he’d practically groan with embarrassment.

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  1. Hi Michael
    Now that the artisans is off me and my wife have decided to go to Spokane in the fall. Hopefully we will get a chance to finally meet you in the flesh. Will Matt reel be there as I met him and Tyler this spring while in Japan on a bit of a vacation .. What a great spot Mr. Sazuki San has made there.
    Hopefully we will meet
    Qualicum Brian

    • crataegus says:

      Hope to see you there, yes- Matt will still be in Japan, he’s returning in February of 2014 after the Kokufu show. Suzuki has been a great support to all three of his American apprentices, and I agree, he’s made a beautiful place up there. He bought an adjacent grape vineyard where the new tea house and big greenhouse are positioned. None of that was there when I was an apprentice. And the studio no long has wind whipping through it in the winter… It’s fun to go back-

  2. Words of wisdom! Well said. Now let me re-read it and make sure I captured it all. 🙂

  3. bonsai eejit says:

    Reblogged this on Bonsai Eejit.

  4. Walton Brainerd says:

    Please change my email address from wkb@winfirst.com to waltonbrainerd@att.com. Thanks!

    • crataegus says:

      I think you’ll have to sign up again with your new email address. I don’t know how to change the emails WordPress sends notifications to.

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