V Tree Progression

You'll probably see pictures of my trees on Facebook before I throw them up on my Blog.  I hope you can find some value in these posts, or at least you don't mind looking through the pictures. Personally, I'm a big fan of the fact that I can look back on my blog and it helps me keep track of dates, see what I was thinking at the time and see the progress of my trees.  Here we are just after collection a few years ago.  The trees large root ball was wrapped in trash bags which contained moist New Zealand Sphagnum moss and tied to my metal frame pack to hike it back to the trunk.


Fast forward to summer of 2016.   Here it is before the work, growing vigorously and ready for some initial frame work and setting branches into place.  Notice all the branches growing straight up towards the light, I could have worked on the tree earlier, but just didn't find time to make it happen.  This Western or Sierra Juniper is the most vigorous species of Juniper that's native to the U.S.


I decided to bend the live vein/branch in the center of the tree so it could be incorporated into the design, using it's foliage to create the new apex of the tree. I wanted to protect this important area so I wrapped it with raffia and used thick aluminum wire as a supportive spine.  The aluminum wire allows the pressure of the bend to be divided more evenly throughout the length of the branch, so no one area should be taking more force than other areas.


After adding the wire spine I used more raffia to hold the spine in place. While it wasn't an extremely severe bend, I was still relieved that it went well and the end result was a success.  If this branch died, the tree would have lost a ton of what makes it unique and interesting.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture right after bending this branch and wiring the other branches into place.



Fast forward to Dec 2016, when I cut off a significant portion of the root mass. You can see how the tree grew out again.


And the final fast forward to last weekend when I worked the tree again.  The first step was to remove this back branch which is located too high up to be incorporated into the design.


I replaced about 20% of the existing wire on the tree, because it was biting into the branches.  I cut the tree back in certain areas and adjusted the branches into place.


During this adjustment, I erred on the side of caution and didn't remove all the branches I normally would have if I didn't work the tree so much recently. The blue towel is covering one branch that I definitely want to jin, but that will happen next time.  This tree still has a ways to go before it's show ready.  I'd like to develop the branch on the viewers right hand side and likely shorten the foliage on the left hand side.  The tree is too symmetrical right now, but lengthening the right hand side and likely shortening the left hand side will help create the asymmetrical style i'm looking for.  The tree also needs a good cleaning and removal of bark in several areas.  I expect it to look a lot better in the future.


Lastly here's a closer shot, showing the live vein V, dead wood and spiky jin.  I've only seen two junipers that have reversed their sap flow like this in order to survive.  It will be cool to see the V enlarge over time and to see the tree get more refined.  Thanks for taking a look!

For my next trick, I will saw this in half

Because of our moderate climate here on the Central Coast, we can get away with re-potting anytime between winter and early spring.  This year, I'm glad to get started early because I've never been so busy with tons of little projects that need repotting like this little coast live oak.  Future award winner in the year 2045;)


I've been collecting Junipers for about seven years now, and I'm always trying to learn more about how to work with them. Generally speaking I've always tried to error on the side of caution which is the reason for this super long and skinny box. It seems like the more roots you collect, the better chance the tree has of surviving after collection.  However, I think I was a bit too cautious with this one.

Because the tree has been growing strongly, I decided to re-pot and put it into a small box.  The first thing I did was to take the box apart. Using screws makes the box stronger and easier to take a part.  


If I could go back in time, I probably would have reduced the length of the root mass by about 25% at the time I boxed it up.  That way I could get it into a Bonsai pot more quickly.


Here's a closer pic of all the roots growing in pumice.


Once again staying on the side of caution, I cut off about 1/2 the roots and then bare rooted the front half.


Here it is after cutting off half and combing out the front of the root ball out.  I built a new box and used Clay King as the soil medium.


Now being in a smaller box it's much easier to move around now.  I tilted the tree a bit more forward which changed the profile of the foliage for now.  The next time I re-pot I'll bare root the back half and shorten more length off the sides. The tree still has a long way to go and I look forward to wiring and styling in the near future, stay tuned for more updates.  Thanks so much for reading and Happy Holidays!


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 abw8182@gmail.com.  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!

Which Front?

Last weekend I was happy to be greeted by a beautiful show of flowers from this old Wisteria.  Evidence that Spring has officially sprung.   This tree was relocated from Boon's old house to his new house, 2-3 years back.  I was there the day they brought it by truck and planted it next to his workshop.  The relocation process took several men and a big metal tripod to move and transplant it to it's current spot.

Beautiful drooping flowers and rugged old trunk make me envious that it's in Boons yard and not mine 🙂


While at Boons house last weekend I styled this juniper, pictured below. This pic shows the back side shortly after collection.   I really liked the feature right at the base of the trunk, however the other side has really cool dead wood.


It wasn't till the day after I potted it into this Anderson flat that I noticed the granite at the base which was still covered in mountain soil. Can you tell how this tree was oriented when it was growing in the mountains, or what caused the larger recessed section on the trunk?


This is the other side, which I was thinking for the front.While I could be wrong, I'd assume that the majority would use this side as the front because the deadwood is more visible and more attractive.  Although, I always found myself checking out the back side of this tree as well.


For me, exercises in finding the best front have always been fun and thought provoking. Ultimately, the best viewing angle is a subjective decision.  However, there's still a method behind the madness and not all fronts are created equally. With this tree I was a unsure of which side I wanted to go with and found myself with some questions that were fun to ponder, at least to me.  Below shows the tree after transplanting into a clay growing pot in Jan or Feb of 2015.


Getting back to this past weekend...

I decided to change things up and make what I originally thought would be the back into the front.  Ultimately, I decided to change the front because it interested me a bit more than the other side.  However, I think either side could be a good option.  One of my favorite features on this side is this twisting upper section.


The rock is much more visible after being cleaned off.  It's the only tree I have with this characteristic and I like the quirky uniqueness about it.


We also added some shari to the trunk, which I'll likely extend in the future.


Here we are after the first wiring with the back as the new front.  Still a work in progress. It will look more powerful in a smaller pot.    Thank you for taking a look and reading, I really appreciate it!

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(www.jarettwright.com) 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  J-bonsai.com, 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!

Coffin Tree

Here’s a quick pic of my Sierra Juniper that I worked on this weekend with Boon. I collected this tree in 2010 and placed it in this box I made from fence board.   I made the box to fit the root system and didn’t realize at the time how much it looked like a ½ coffin. During next year’s repotting season I’m going to repot the tree which will allow me to get a better look at the root system and develop a plan for eventually getting the tree into a Bonsai container under Boon's guidance. While this is going to  be a challenge to get into a pot I’m confident that it will happen over time. There is currently one root graft on each side of the tree which is an option for getting the tree into a smaller container, however many more will have to be placed in order to succeed.


Unfortunately I’m pretty slow when it comes to wiring and had to work quickly to finish over two days . This was part of the reason I didn’t get a before picture, however here's the tree last year right before Peter Tea bent down the larger branches to start the shaping process. The tree still has a long way to go and I will update along the way.


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.


“Let it grow, then cut it back”

"Let it grow, then cut it back." A simple quote I've heard from Boon on multiple occasions which has helped me to better understand branch development.

I recently did some work on this Prunus Mume which I’ve had for about five or six years now.  When I first purchased the tree it was just a stump without much branching that I selected from the growing fields of Muranka Bonsai in Nipomo, CA.  Here's the tree shortly after being dug from the field, I believe in either 07 or 08.


This tree is relatively young in Bonsai years and has not yet developed many of the characteristics of old Ume that I love so much.  Most of the trunk currently has smooth bark which gives off somewhat of a juvenile appearance.  Like with many aspects of Bonsai there is no substitute for time when creating that crackly, rough bark which contrasts so well with the beautiful flowers.

Here's the tree the last time we left off in winter of 2012, right after cut back:


Ume don't heal their scars over as well many other types of Deciduous trees especially when grown in a container.  They are also often shown with deadwood or hollow trunks which help to create the feeling of age.  Rather than leave the current scars on the viewer’s right hand side of the trunk, I decided to pronounce this area more by creating a hollowed feature.


To do this I used this Makita Die Grinder and carved the area in Summer 2013.  Boon helped me mark the outline of the area to be hollowed with a red pen.


I carved out the area between the red lines, making grooves in the carving to try and make it look more natural.  Next, I sanded the carved area with a small piece of sand paper to try and get rid of the tool marks and smooth out all the wood.


I used my large Kaneshin root cutter to remove most of the area which died back from the last trunk chop.  The goal was to create more tapper up to the new leader.  I took several small bites out of this hard dead wood so I didn’t damage the root cutter, then used a Dremmel bit to finish smoothing this area.


Over the last several years the first 2-3 inches of each branch were wired to create movement and structure.  The branches were then allowed to elongate and grow out well past the final design outline each year.  During late fall I removed the leaves, then in winter the branches were cut back.  When cutting back, the trees energy is pushed further into the interior creating more budding and future branches.  Untill now, this Ume's branches have been created by letting the tree grow out each year and then cutting it back.   I've heard that old ume generally have a more difficult time back budding, and at that point grafting is the best option to continue building branches.

Below is the tree in Dec of this year right before cut back.  If you look closely, you might be able to see small flower buds starting to form on some of the branches.  I could have waited until after the flowers bloomed, however because of scheduling issues and the fact that my primary focus is currently on branch structure I decided to cut the tree back before the flowers.

Here is the final image for now after Boon helped me cut the tree back. When cutting back we payed attention to the outline of the tree.  We also examined whether the branch buds faced horizontally or vertically and removed the downward growing branches.  The new leader was left alone to continue thickening the apex which should help create a more natural taper from bottom to top.  In the future I hope to continue working on the branch structure and show the tree in a smaller pot while the tree is in full bloom.



Here's a short progression of the tree with the pictures I have.  Thank you so much for reading, wishing you a very Happy New Year!!!