Collecting Tips & Some Pics

I wanted and tried to get this post out earlier especially because October is a great month to collect in California, but life just got a bit too busy and I couldn't make it happen.   I've listed a few basic tips or general guidelines below that i'd recommend when collecting trees for Bonsai. This isn't meant to be a definitive guide, more so just what I do personally and some advice I'd give to non-experienced collectors.  I'd love to hear what you think.

Collecting Tips

  • Be respectful of the land - get permission from the land owners, back fill all your holes and make it look like you were never there when you leave.
  • Try and get as many fine fibrous roots as you can.  The more roots you can keep, the better chance the tree will survive (up to a certain point).
  • Bring tools that are appropriate for the collecting site.  Collecting a CA juniper in a desert situation is very different than collecting Sierra Juniper off granite mountains.
  • Wrap the root ball with damp sphagnum moss, an old t-shirt or anything that will hold some moisture.  Then use a plastic trash bag and wrap the whole thing with clear packing tape, this will keep the root ball from getting too beat up on the trip back.
  • Tie the tree to a metal frame pack to hike it back to your vehicle.
  • The best time of year to collect is generally the same time you would re-pot.

Aftercare Tips

  • Use a plastic, wood or ceramic container that will fit the root ball nicely.  I like building wooden boxes so I can make them the same shape as the mass of roots.
  • Your container only needs to be maybe 1/4 inch to 1.5 inches of excess space around the sides of the root ball.
  • 100% washed and sifted pumice is my favorite soil for newly collected trees to start out in.
  • Make sure to firmly secure the tree into the pot so it doesn't move around(sometimes you have to get creative to do this, use aluminum wire or support the tree by attaching more wood to your box).
  • Frequent Misting, or fogging(even better) could be good, but may not be required.  Try not to get the soil wet from misting/fogging.
  • If the tree has a good amount of roots, personally i'll put it into full sun right away.  If the tree does not have many roots, I think some shade or misting house might be better.
  • Light foliar feeding during the first several months is a good idea.
  • Bottom heat maintaining temps between 65-75 degrees F could be a good option, but not required(I don't currently use).
  • Lightly feeding with organic fertilizer one month after potting is good- but don't over do it.

Thanks for taking a look, here's a couple I collected during my last trip.


A couple close up shots.


And a cool Juko Koyo pot, I recently bought:)

Mountains and Workshops

Here's a quick update about what i've been up to recently. If we're friends on Facebook you may have already seen some of these pics.

I got to spend a few days up in the mountains with my wife and dogs which is my favorite way to clear my mind and take a break from the day to day.  Who doesn't like looking at ancient trees growing in the granite?  I particularly liked this naturally dwarfed Juniper that Courtney and Thor are sitting next to.


This little Ponderosa is pretty funny 🙂  These trees grow often grow with a bulbous base because the trunks swell while pinched between the granite cracks.

But... I've never seen one grow into such a nice little round ball.  Would make an odd Bonsai.  


I love seeing a variety of native CA trees up in the mountains.  In this pic there's Ponderosa, Juniper and Manzanita which is a tree I hope to see more used for Bonsai in the future. Anyone have any success with Manzanita?  Smooth red bark, twist, curve, silver/grey deadwood, small green leaves and flowers.  They also show the struggles that mother nature throws at them.  But, most say that their really challenging to keep long term and i've never collected one.


Speaking of CA native trees, here's one of my recent projects that I worked on while sneaking away from working on our house remodeling.  This is a Coastal Red Wood I purchased from Zack Shimon late last year.  This is the pic before working on it.  This time I thinned the tree significantly, selected and wired the branches that were usable.


I also discovered that a large portion of the front had died off.  Because of this I removed the bark to expose the wood underneath and discovered there was some type of insect boring in many section of the dead wood, which created these holes in the trunk.  I don't have an after pic right now, but next time I re-work this redwood i'll post one.


The next project I worked on is one of my favorite Junipers, a twin trunked tree. Here it is after I worked on it last year. You can see a small root graft that we placed on it on the right hand side under the spiky jin.  In the future I'll cut the foliage off the graft to leave it's roots which will feed the main tree.


I put quite a bit of copper wire on this tree, which took me two full days of work .


For this tree I used wire from a new supplier i've never tried before.  It came from a Facebook friend of mine named Aaron Wiley.  I was very impressed with the softness and quality of his annealed copper wire.  If your interested, feel free to email him at  Please let him know I sent you and you'll get a 10% discount.

6 gauge 25 foot roll $28 each
8 gauge 25 foot roll $24 each
10 gauge 50 foot rolls $26 each
12 gauge 50 foot roll $18 each
14 gauge 50 foot roll $16 each
16 gauge 50 foot roll $14 each
18 gauge 50 foot roll $10 each
20 gauge 50 foot roll $8 each

Some annealed coils of Aaron's wire, good stuff!


I also added shari on the left hand trunk around the middle of the live vein.  The plan is to slowly widen the shari over time, giving the tree time to rest and get strong again before widening anymore.


In cases like this it's better to work on your trees little by little, instead of doing everything at once.  I followed the grain of the wood and created a long window of Shari.


Here's the result after styling the tree.  Please note the lovely hand model to the left by Mr. John Kirby who was nice enough to hold the tree stable while I took a picture.  I'm going to re-pot during late winter of 2016 and tilt the tree forward a bit.  I'll also be reducing the size of the box it's growing in and taking measurements for a new pot.


And here we are after loading up in the back of my Tacoma, ready to drive back to the Central Coast.  The spiked Jin features on both trunks are my favorite part of this double trunk and make me look forward to the trees future development.   Here's a few different angles to close this out. Thanks so much for stopping by, really appreciate you taking a look!

Kifu Sierra Juniper 2010-current

This is my Kifu sized Sierra Juniper(Juniperus occidentalis var. australis) that I showed in Oakland at the BIB exhibit.  It was my first time ever showing a tree.   Here's a short history since I've had it up until now. I hope to continue its progression in the future, Thanks for taking a look!


I collected this Juniper back in 2010 with a pretty solid amount of roots from the get go.  This was also one of the easier trees I've ever collected.  It took maybe 10-15 minutes to remove with a large mat of fine roots.  Here's a pic from 2010 of my three favorite that I collected that year.  The middle and right hand side are Sierra Juniper and the lower left is either Utah, California or a hybrid Utah/California.  Lower left now belongs to my good buddy Greg McCleary and was also shown at BIB this year.   The larger tree in the back is doing well and I hope to show it show it sometime down the road.


During the first re-potting, I bare rooted the front half of the root ball and replaced all the pumice with Clay King.  The tree grew well so the following year I wired it for the first time.  That's about as far down as I could bring the key branch because the pot was in the way.  I think I have the correct years on the pictures below, but it's difficult to remember and I need to take better notes:)


The next year I was considering changing the angle to this image below.  The tree was not actually re-potted into the pot below, the pot pictured below was placed in front for visualization purposes.  You can also see the differences in color on the deadwood where we removed a small portion of the live vein that had died back.

2012 or 2013

After this you can see the tree's foliage filling in a bit more.  The apex was kept long in order to increase strength in that area and is covered by a white cloth.

2014-Sorry for poor pic quality

Here's the tree as of last weekend all cleaned up, with the angle changed back to my original plan.  One of my best friends and cousin-Jarett Wright( took this great shot for me the night before the show.  The tree still has a lot of room for development.  Over time I hope to create a fuller, more compact image by replacing leggy branches and develop tighter and more refined pads.

Jan 2016

Here it is with some different lighting in the yard of my new house.

Deadwood close ups

Thanks for taking a look!


Juniper- Fall of 2012 till Now

I'm taking a break from the Visiting apprentice posts, but I still have one more that i'd like to share from my trip to Japan.  For today I want to share a tiny portion of this tree's story.  I say tiny portion because when you're talking about Sierra Juniper yamadori, a few years can seem like a few months or maybe even just a few days to a tree that can live up to a couple thousand years old.

Here it is in Fall of 2012 right before being collected.  The first sign which gave me hope that it might be collect-able was the soil around the tree.  I was hoping to discover a mat of fine roots in this pocket of soil on top of granite. The idea is to get under the mat of roots and scoop the tree up with a nice intact root ball. However, it's difficult to tell with a tree like this until you get down near the base of the tree to clear away the duff around the base and examine what's going on with the roots.  Junipers that are collectable are on the rare side, the vast majority are not in collectable situations.


Fortunately, I was able to remove this tree with a large root ball.  While it might not look that big, It always makes me smile because trees always look smaller to me when I'm in the mountains compared to when get them back home.  Packing this back to my trunk turned out to be an intense work out.


Here we are back home on a rainy day after potting it up in 100% pumice.  I ended up putting it in a wooden box I had laying around from an older project. I added four pieces of fence board along the corners of the box to fit the root ball a bit better.  Looking back on this, I probably should have potted it up in something even smaller.  All you really need is a box to fit the root ball with a tiny extra space and nothing more.  In this picture, the foliage is blocking the majority of the interesting sections of the trunk. Large iced coffee cup for scale 😉



Looking into the interior showing off my favorite sections of the trunk.  when styling this tree, I wanted this section to be much more visible.


Fast forwarding to a couple weekends ago here's the tree as of now.  I jinned a section of branch on the secondary trunk and wired the small section of foliage in the middle of the trunk, moving it to the left.  As you may notice the foliage color has changed a bit from a green/yellow color to a blue/green/grayish color.  Unfortunately the foliage has also developed more of a weeping habit than any of my other Sierras which is something I'm not a fan of.  However, this tree has never been transplanted and has a lot of mountain soil around the root ball.  My other Sierra's have responded really well when I removed the mountain soil and replace it with akadama, pumice and lava over 2-3 repotting sessions.  I hope some of the weeping characteristic goes away with time, or I will likely graft new foliage in the future.


Here's a couple close up shots showing the textured deadwood.


I didn't get a chance to clean up the live veins, but will do in the future.


I finally bought a raised camper shell for my truck, but it didn't come in time for transporting my tree.  This should be the last time I have to use my ghetto pallet structure to block the wind:)


One small feature I'm wondering about is shown below.  Lodged in this piece of deadwood is a funny shaped piece of something.  I think maybe it's metal or lead, any guesses on what this might be?  I think my best guess might be an old bullet, but i'm really not sure.  I wonder when this might have happened.



Here we are back on my bench with my new copper watering can and water basin.  I ordered the can from Japan through, which was the cheapest I could find and got the large pot from a place down in Gardena, CA.  There are a few deciduous trees in my yard that I started using only rain water.  The large pot is only filled with rain water to make dipping the can more convenient.   This tree still has a long way to go, I hope I can improve it over time and eventually put it in a show.  Thanks for reading, take care!



Godzilla, Collecting, Ume and Cuttings

Jeez, can you believe it's 2015 already?  I saw this Facebook post saying that we are now closer to the year 2030 than we are to the year 2000.  It's a trip for me to think about how time seems to go by faster and faster as I get older.   Anyways, I hope your 2015 is off to a fantastic start and you and your trees are happy and healthy!

For this post, first I'm going to rewind to fall of 2014 and throw back a few pictures from then.  The first is this Mikawa Black Pine owned by Mr. Manakitivipart.  This is the first tree I ever saw of Boon's and one of the reasons I decided to sign up for an intensive with him.  I saw the tree at the GSBF convention some years back and remember thinking, "This Black Pine looks like something you'd see in a Kinbon magazine."  One of the coolest things about the intensive series is that you get to work on quality material like this pine below.



This time around, I didn't do a whole lot to the tree, just some needle pulling helping to balance the trees energy and thinning in some over crowded areas.  I think the picture above was taken at a better angle, but here is a before and after the work.


In October I went on my last collection trip of the season.  The first pic is a tree that some might call unique, while others may think it odd.  It's hard to tell what you really have from this picture, but I like it and think it's pretty interesting.  I'll make sure to post updates on it's progression in the future.


This second one is a bit of a back breaker and was collected by one of my good friends.  Forget going to the gym, just start taking something like this back to your vehicle on a daily basis and you'll be set.


This might have been the first Mame size Sierra I stopped to take a good look at. Something this small doesn't normally have natural white deadwood like this one.


Fast forwarding to the first weekend of 2015, I brought my Ume up to Boon's workshop where we cut it back and re-potted it.  Because it stays relatively warm during the Winter on the Central Coast of CA, I made sure to remove all the leaves in December to help push the tree into it's dormant period. While I keep the tree in full sun during Spring, Summer and Fall, I usually place it in a spot that gets more shade during the winter to help keep it from growing new leaves until early spring.


This years new green growth had many small flower buds which would've bloomed into white blossoms if I waited another month to cut back. However because of timing, scheduling issues and the fact that I'm ultimately more concerned with focusing on branch structure for the time being I cut it back and will get to enjoy the beautiful flower show in the future.


The first thing I did to repot the tree was to cut the wire on the bottom side of the pot which holds the tree in place.   After the wire was cut I used my sickle along the edge of the pot to create a very thin channel between the root ball and the interior side of the pot.


Depending on the interior edge and lip of the pot sometimes this can be a challenging task.  Fortunately, because there's no interior lip on this pot, the tree and root ball were removed easily.


The next step in the repot, for me, was to reduce the bottom of the root ball.  It's important to try and keep the bottom of the root ball as even as possible while scraping it with your rake.  You don't want to dig any holes in certain spots or make the root ball too uneven.  The goal is to try and keep it nice and flat all the way across.


After working to reducing the bottom, I used bent tweezers to comb out the root ball creating a gradual downward slope going away from the trunk.  This is also the time to uncross and roots and redirect them so they are growing outward.


I got a smaller pot ready which I bought from Boon on his recent trip to Japan.  To prep the new pot I added screen to the drainage holes, put in the tie down wire and sprinkled some pumice on the bottom for better drainage.


Here's the tree after tying it into the pot.


And finally, here it is below, in it's new pot after it was cut back.  This is a relatively young ume, I'm guessing it's maybe between 10-14 years old.  It hasn't yet developed the desirable old crackly bark that contrasts so well with the delicate flowers.  It still needs more carving and branch development.  In a few weeks, I plan to spray a mixture of lime sulfur and water on the tree as a fungicide to help maintain the trees health.


One question I've wondered about and have heard asked a few times is, "Is this called Ume or Mume" and "Is it actually an apricot or a plum?"  It get's a bit confusing because it is commonly called, "Ume", but the scientific name for it is, "Mume."  In the US I've commonly heard this called Japanese flowering apricot, but I've also heard it called Chinese Plum.  Among Japanese websites that I've browsed using an English translator I generally see it translated as, "Longevity Plum."  However to me the fruit of the tree looks more like an apricot than a plum.  I was interested to recently learn that both answers are correct because the species is related to both plum and apricot.


The past few years i've experimented with taking Ume cuttings.  Here's a cutting that is approx 2 years old above and a 3 year old one below.  I wired movement into them while the growth was still soft and then planted them in the ground last weekend.

That's all for now, I'd love to see some of you at the Bay Island Bonsai show on Jan 24th and 25th in Oakland.  Take care and Happy New Year!

Trip Report

Sooo…Do you say "I recently went to the Sierra"... or "I recently went to the Sierras" ?  Technically it’s just one mass which is why I usually say "the Sierra".  However, I'm really not sure the best way of saying this.  Anyways, I recently took a couple trips up to the most spectacular mountain range in CA for the purpose of collecting, breathing some fresh air and enjoying nature.  While both trips were great, the most recent was wet and cold which I’ll talk about more in a bit.


When scouting around for collectable trees, more often than not, you'll find more nice trees that are not collectable than those that are easily collectable.  If you tried to collect these non-collectable trees you would end up without any roots and find that its extremely unlikely to survive. These non-collectable trees often have roots which run deep into the cracks and crevices of solid rock. Here’s one of these non-collectable trees with some really cool dead wood (above).  With this tree I find myself wondering why certain sections of the tree grew very straight while others have a lot of movement?


Above is a picture of a little guy that I collected from a small pocket of soil in this granite crevice.  I used a snow scraper to help get under the root ball and pry the tree up.  As you can see this tree had a lot of roots compared with the size of the tree.  Junipers that have enough roots to be collected like this one are more on the rare side of trees you find in the mountains.


Transitioning from a very small Sierra Juniper, here's a massive one which might be difficult to determine the size because of the scale in the picture.  Most of this tree lost the battle and died long ago, but the left hand side is still kicking.  Any guess how old something like this might be?


I really liked this smaller tree with interesting movement and shari.  My Wife said this type of deadwood on the shari reminded her of dragon scales which I thought was a pretty cool assessment.


Unfortunately,  I didn't run into the best weather on this trip.   It  rained the majority of the time and was very cold during this Sept. weekend.  On the positive side of things, I think the best time to go collecting is right after it rains, the trees get a nice drink of water and the soil is still moist.  The soil you are working with is less dusty and the pre-moistened root ball will help to reduce the stress of transplanting.


Collecting becomes challenging when its cold and raining especially if your cloths get wet, you can't build a fire and the rain leaks into your tent in the middle of the night...   In general I'm going to try and avoid rainy days when collecting when possible. I also found I was moving around slower because the granite was wet and slippery. Here's my little camp set up, trying to keep as water proof as possible.


My dog Thor is a Husky who loves coming with me on our hikes.  We stumbled across this Ponderosa that decided to grow sideways.  Unlike me, he never gets tired while running around in the mountains.  I try to feed off his motivation and energy so we can cover as much ground as possible.  I'm a firm believer that the more miles you cover while collecting the greater the quality of the yamadori that will be in your collection, which is why I try and keep up with my pup.


"Baby got base!" is what I was thinking when I saw this next tree.  The base keeps expanding as it grows because the tree is pinched in between two pieces of granite.  I think it's an interesting bulb shaped base with really nice bark.  This is another example of a tree that you couldn't successfully collect because of the circumstances in which it's growing.


While in search of trees, this (above) caught my attention.  Besides being pleasing to my eyes, it reminds me of a Japanese style rock garden.  It's interesting to me how flat and perfect the sand around the stones looks.  Also the shape, size and placement of the stones seems to follow some type of aesthetically pleasing pattern that I like.  The scene almost looks altered by man, but I know it's just mother nature.  I wonder.. were the first of these garden types  created because someone long ago was walking around the mountains of Japan, saw something like this and thought, "that would look great in my backyard!."


Hmm.... is this a  good size for Bonsai? This Ponderosa has had a tough life which resulted in a very mangled trunk.   While you can certainly tell a grade A tree from a grade B tree on a collecting trip.  It's much easier to get a feel for the tree once you get it home.  In the field it's difficult to understand it's future design because you can't play with the planting positions of the tree, the dead wood is not cleaned up, it's harder to see where the nebari starts and a challenge to understand the best movement and flow of the tree.

Well that's about it for now, I just wanted to share a couple of collecting trips with you guys.  I've got one or two more trips planned before the season closes.  Below is the little guy from the second picture in the post. Since collecting it in late June, the foliage has thrown out some runners which is a sign that the tree is getting strong and was not too shocked after transplanting.  This is all because I was able to get a good root ball, which is very important when collecting.  I collected some other trees during these trips which will be a subject of future posts.  Thanks for reading!







A Couple Questionable Set Ups

I don’t necessarily recommend anyone actually doing what I’ve done above.  This post is mostly just for comedy purposes and for the fun of showing you what I’ve been up to lately.  I’d really like to buy a nice camper shell that rises higher than the cab of my truck for moving trees around.  I searched for several months all over Craigslist with no luck in finding a used version of what I want.  I also just couldn't bring myself to spend the $2,000 for a nice new one.


So I used long wood screws and built this structure out of some wood crates I had at the house.  I made sure the structure was tied down extremely tightly, so that it wouldn't move an inch and covered it with a mesh tarp.  While it might not be the ideal way to transport trees around, it works better than nothing for now.



Here’s a before shot of the back side of this Sierra Juniper I collected in Fall of 2014 and my wife who just helped me move it to the back of my truck.


And this is the tree after the first styling - inside it's wooden shelter.


These days backpackers use better technology with internally framed backpacks.  This means that you can probably find one of these old metal framed packs  inexpensively.  I think they work really well for tying trees up and hiking them back to your vehicle.  I bent a piece of rebar into shape using a sturdy vice and then used industrial strength zip ties to attach it to the metal frame.  I used electrical tape around the rebar as a preventative to keep it from rusting.  It turned out to be very strong.


A better option and something I’ll invest in for the future would be a nice hunting pack used for carrying large game out of the forest.  That would be a lot lighter option and a better for long term collecting.


Here’s a little Ponderosa I tied to the back of my pack, having the ledge makes things much easier.  I also use a hunting cart for bigger trees when the conditions are right.  Although I’ve found that often there’s no accessible path from the tree to your vehicle.


Can anyone please explain to me how this little guy is growing like this?  This granite is completely vertical!




Chunk of Granite

I just got back home from a great weekend of Bonsai in the Bay Area where I participated in workshops with Boon.  I wired two trees this weekend and one was this Sierra Juniper aka Juniperus Occidentalis Subsp. Australis or Juniperus Grandis depending on who you are talking to or ask.


Here is close up shot of the natural deadwood on the tree. I extracted the plant from a long and skinny crevice in the granite of the Sierra around 2-3 years ago.  I kept as many roots as I could get which extended about 2-3 feet past the trunk.  I used rope to tie the tree firmly onto my old school metal frame backpack so it wouldn’t move too much while I packed it back down to my truck.  Once I got back home I potted the tree up into pure sifted and washed pumice.  The long root system was coiled into this black Anderson flat and secured with aluminum wire so that the tree would not wiggle in the pot and break all the new roots.    


Examining the back of the tree gives us clues about how this tree was growing in the mountains.  The unusual shape of the lower trunk was made because this section of the tree was under the soil line before collection.  The tree was forced to grow around a rock which was in the shape of this indentation.  It wasn’t until I got home and rinsed the dirt off that I noticed the smaller chunk of granite firmly embedded into the trunk.  While some might chisel or pry the rock out, I like it's uniqueness and plan to keep it.


Here's the tree after wiring and styling.  One long branch at the apex was kept to maintain strength even though it's not part of the design. In the picture this branch is hidden by a paper towel and will likely be removed during the next styling.


Hiking in the Desert

Just wanted to share a few pictures I took while hiking around the desert during a recent three day trip.  Personally I never tire and seem to always find myself awe struck when seeing really old junipers up close and in person.  Hope you enjoy!


The image below is probably the tree which I found most fascinating during my trip.  I really like the image with the twisted dark shadow.  Many of the other trees around this size were simply still little bushes or had very straight trunks.  So what caused this tree to grow the way it did and why is it different than the others?

Also, before you scroll down any further and just for kicks how tall would you guess this Bunjin style tree to be?  The last picture in this post will give a better perspective so you can tell if you were right:)

Mostly Big Old One’s

A friend of mine once explained that when collecting native junipers, there are basically three types of trees- little young one’s, big old one’s and little old one’s.  The little old one’s are the rarest and the one’s we seek for bonsai.  While the little old one’s where what I was seeking during my last collecting trip, I could not help but spend time studying the big old one’s as well.  Here are some pictures of the big old one’s from that trip, hope you enjoy.




Cool Pinyon Pine with Jin top.  I have not collected one of these yet, but would like to in the future.


Skeleton of an old tree.  Check out the Cork Screw of the lowest branch!


Here's a close up


Paint Brush sometimes grows near CA and Sierra Juniper.  I would love to grow this as an accent plant.


I debated collecting this thing below.  It's a big twisted ball, a strange juniper that we named Freak Show.