Video of John Naka Repotting Goshin

The National Bonsai Foundation in collaboration with the U.S. National Arboretum have digitized several VHS tapes taken over the years here are the Museum. It only seems fitting to have the first be of John Naka re-potting his world famous “Goshin” here at the Museum in 1995. It was filmed by the late Dr. Bill Orsinger, a dedicated museum volunteer who had the foresight to capture this event on tape.

Ezo Spruce Maintainence

Ezo Spruce are one of my favorite trees grown as bonsai. Ezo are found growing north of Japan on the island of Sakhalin. This island was once part of the empire of Japan but was annexed to Russia after World War II. Prior to WWII the collecting of Ezo was promoted by the late Saburo Kato and his father Tomekichi of Mansei-en . Despite the many qualities of Ezo Spruce for bonsai, mature specimens are not commonly seen in the U.S.

Saburo and Tomekichi Kato with collected Ezo Spruce, circa 1930’s
(Photo from Thomas S. Elias’
“Mansei-en and the Kato Family: Part One” article, pg. 16)

One reason for the lack of Ezo in the U.S. is that Spruce are prohibited from being imported into the country with a few exceptions.The other reason is that even though Ezo can be propagated by cuttings they grow very slowly so mature Ezo bonsai are rare in North America.

One place you can see specimen Ezo bonsai is here at the  Museum . Our three Ezo bonsai  do not begin to push new growth until late May and are some of the last to come out of winter dormancy. Trees found growing in very cold climate  have developed this trait to  ensure their tender spring growth is not damaged by late frosts.  The way we handle their new growth consists of pinching new growth and cutting back where possible.


This Ezo is flush with new growth and ready for pinching.


Timing is everything in bonsai and there is a specific window of opportunity to pinch Ezo. This image shows the ideal time to pinch the new growth. The buds have elongated enough to pinch but have not started to harden off.


Simply pinch the tip of the new shoot  and pull.


Make sure to leave a portion of new growth.


Selective pruning is also essential in maintaining Ezo bonsai.


Prune back to smaller buds when possible so that the trees stays compact and energy is balanced throughout the tree.


Before pinching and pruning


The same section after.


The total amount of material removed as well as few small  faulty branches.


Before we began


and the finished product.

Ryan Neil @ Nature’s Way 2.0

Earlier this year I wrote about a work shop with Ryan Neil at Nature’s Way Nursery in Harrisburg, PA. Recently Ryan was back for another round of classes and this time I came with a video recorder.  The first video contains, in Ryan’s words, a “crash course” in Japanese Black, Red, and White pine care. I’ll be posting another video of Ryan explaining his grafting techniques.

The gradual progression of a literati pine bonsai

When caring for bonsai on a daily basis I find it important to look at pictures of the trees taken in the past so I can see how much they have developed. In this post I wanted to show the progression of a Japanese Black Pine in the literati style.

MaYuan “Scholar by a Waterfall”-13thCentury

The subject of literati is too broad, requiring its own post for me to adequately describe it here, but I did want to give a basic idea of what it is. The word literati means a “man of letters”. The Chinese literati were scholar-bureaucrats involved in politics, literature, and art. The paintings created by these men featured trees with slender, angular trunks and branches, with sparse foliage. I admit this definition does not encapsulate all that the literati style is, but as I said, that topic is for another time.  For more information about literati bonsai see the Art of Bonsai Project’s “A brief exploration of the Literati Style.”

This Japanese Black Pine pictured in 2002 upon the death of its creator, local penjing  artist, Stanly Chin, was among 10 trees donated to the Museum by the Chin Family after Stanly’s passing.

Sometime between 2002 and this photo in 2006, the apex died back as a result of a twig girdler.

The pine was allowed to grow and regain its vigor. Here is the tree in 2008.

Since the apex died back, the tree was needing to be restyled. In 2009 the branches were wired and the needles plucked. Initially all the branches were used in this first design.

In keeping with the literati style it was decided that the branch on the right should be removed in order to accentuate the trunk and minimize the amount of foliage.

The next stage was choosing a more suitable pot for the tree. Literati are typically planted in round pots, such as the rustic nanban style or the rivited drum style pot. Drum pots are one of my favorite type of pots, so I selected two that could work with the tree.

Since this bonsai belongs to the Chinese Collection I wanted the tree to have a more classical Chinese style . I think this iron oxide colored pot is more along the Japanese  aesthetic and is slightly larger than I would like.

This other round pot has the riveting like the first and is better proportioned for the tree. I also like the cloud feet that elevate the tree and give the feeling that the tree is growing all alone on mountain top.

July 2012, the pine is ready for candle cutting.

There are a variety of de-candling techniques when working with pine. I have been using the stub (peg & neck) method in which a stub from the candle is left in proportion to the vigor of the candle. The more vigorous the shoot the larger the stub. You can see a medium strength shoot on the left and a strong shoot on the right.

The strong shoot is removed leaving a 1/4 inch stub.

For the medium shoot  I leave a stub 1/8th inches long.

The small shoot is removed completely leaving no stub.

Obligatory shot of strong, medium, and small pine shoots.

With the spring candles cut, the pine is ready to send out its second flush of growth. You can be sure more photos of this tree will be taken as it continues to develop. Now grab your camera and snap some pictures of your own bonsai before they’re all grown up.

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New Plant Hardiness Map

Good horticulture is the foundation of good bonsai. When growing bonsai it’s important to know what types of trees will thrive where you live. In order to do this you need to know the hardiness zone you live in. Your hardiness zone is determined by the average coldest temperature in your part of the country.

The USDA has just released an updated and interactive Plant Hardiness Zone Map (PHZM). This new map will allow you to search by your zip code or zoom into an specific location to see the variety of zones within that area. The data for this map is…” a result of new, more sophisticated methods for mapping zones between weather stations. These include algorithms that considered for the first time such factors as changes in elevation, nearness to large bodies of water, and position on the terrain, such as valley bottoms and ridge tops. Also, the new map use[s] temperature data from many more stations than did the [previous] map.”

The entire press release can be read here.

Post exhibit clean up

All good things must come to an end. The bright reds of autumn have faded into drab browns signally the approach of winter. Once a bonsai has past its peak of fall color it needs to be cleaned up before we put it into winter storage.

This Japanese Maple is one of my favorite trees and always looks great in the fall. To keep it looking good, the foliage needs to be cleaned up. The leaves on the main trunk are already brown and falling off, while some of the leaves on the secondary trunks are still green. With mutli-trunked bonsai its common to see this variance between the trunks.

The leaves on the main trunk are brown and dry. Leaves at this stage can be plucked off with very little effort.

The leaves should come off by gently plucking them with your fingers.  If you encounter any resistance while pulling you will need to cut them off with scissors.

Within a few minutes the main trunk is devoid of leaves.

Some of the leaves on the other trunks are green and cannot be plucked without the risk of breaking branches or buds. They will need to be cut off instead.

When cutting the leaves make sure to leave a portion of the petiole or leaf stem.

A finished branch. The petioles will fall off in a few days

All the leaves have been removed and now we can fully appreciate this tree’s branch structure.

The soil surface of each bonsai exhibited was covered with moss in accordance with proper bonsai display etiquette. Once the exhibit is over, the moss is removed so that the soil does not stay too wet during the winter.

With the moss removed, the tree is almost ready to be placed into our Chinese Pavilion where we overwinter the majority of the bonsai. The last thing to do is scrub off any green algae with a toothbrush and water.

Removing old leaves and moss from trees before being put in winter storage is a good habit. This level of care will help reduce the risk of harmful pathogens during the winter and give your bonsai a head start going into spring.