National Bonsai Foundation Spring/Summer Bulletin

The National Bonsai Foundation’s latest bulletin is out and features my article further outlining my impressions of the bonsai industry in Japan and what lessons I think we can incoroprate here in the U.S. You can find it here.

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Kinbon Photoshoot

The nicest weather I experienced during the trip was on my third day in Japan, the rest of the trip was either cold and windy, cold and rainy, or cold and snowy. This day however was sunny and pleasant, which was great since the bonsai magazine Kinbon, was coming to do a photo shoot of the trees that were headed for Kokufu-ten.


These trees had already been photographed once before when they were judged a few weeks prior to my arrival. It was interesting to find out that all the bonsai in the Kokufu exhibit are judged and photographed almost a month before the actual show.


Since then they were being kept in the workshop, protected from the elements. This meant that my sempai Takuya and myself would be lifting trees for most of the day.


This needle juniper had some of the tightest foliage pads I’ve ever seen. This tree was from Gashoen, another bonsai nursery nearby, and Mr. Suzuki was taking it to the show for them.


Not the best picture of a very nice japanese black pine. For whatever reason the photos I take with my iphone don’t capture the whole image as it appears on the view finder.


Even from the back this semi cascade white pine looks awesome.


More trees were also being kept in the reception area which is where the photographer set up his backdrop. Since this beech was the closest tree it was the first one to be photographed.


Once things were set up the photo shoot did not take as long as I thought. The displays had been thought out by Mr. Suzuki long in advacnce and it was simply a matter of us removing the tree, Mr. Suzuki changing the stand and then we were there with the next bonsai to photographed. Very effecient.


The next one up was one of my favorite trees. A bunjin white pine which had beautifully old shari.



Since this years Kokufu was a double show, meaning there were two sets of bonsai exhibited, each set was judged and awarded. This already famous Kichou, (Important Bonsai Masterpiece), root-over-rock JBP won “Best Conifer” of the second group.





In addition to the big trees there were several three-point-displays photographed.


Japanese White Pine with kumquat shohin and small fern. The kumquat was kept warm in a small plastic greenhouse inside the Suzuki home along with a few houseplants.


Another killer japanese white pine smiles for the camera.


The same semicascade white pine from above, but now paired with a shohin root-over-rock japanese maple, and perhaps the most famous accent plant ever.



I really liked the character of this tree, great trunk. It is a procumbens juniper or sonare in Japanese, with foliage as tight as your ever going to see.


Once photographed each tree was set out to catch some much needed rays. After we set this tree down I noticed something white around the nebari. It looked like the tree had some fungal issue.


Concerned, I asked Takuya about it, he smiled and said “Strong tree”. I am no stranger to mycorrhiza but I’ve never see it as abundant as this, it was growing up the nebari! Not only is this a strong tree but its another kichou bonsai.


This quince was one of the shohin used in another three-point-display. Not only is this tree top shelf, but check out the patina on its pot. Kokufu trees are transplanted into antique Chinese and Japanese pots for the exhibit then put back into their “growing” containers after the show.


The very last thing I did was give each tree a much needed watering. If you have the chance pick up a copy of Kinbon to see the actual photos. As always, thanks for reading.


Repotting a Kokufu Kaede

With repotting season in full swing, I thought I would give an overview of how I repot a tree using a Trident Maple (Kaede) that was once displayed at the Kokufu-ten.

The Trident Maple as it appeared in 1972 at the 46th Kokufu show. 1972 was the first time the album was printed in color.

The same tree as it appears today, 40 years after the first picture was taken.

The buds are swelling and have turned green, but the leaves have not yet emerged, perfect time to repot.

The first thing I do is make sure I have all the tools I need. The goal is to minimize the amount of time the tree is out of the pot, so having everything you need will allow you to work more efficiently.

In addition to tools, my soil is mixed and on standby. I will be using a 1:1 ratio of akadama and a porous aggregate.

I cut the anchor wires and wire clips that stick out of the drainage holes.

Next, I take a sickle and use long, smooth, shallow strokes along the length of the pot edge and slowly work my way down. I’ve found this more efficient than trying to get the blade all the way down into the soil and then yanking the tool toward you. Anything I can do to save energy helps me later, especially when repotting multiple trees during the day.

Once the tree is loose I lean the tree back and pull the pot down. This is an easy was to remove the tree from the pot. When handling the tree, never grab the trunk, this will damage and discolor the bark. Try to lift the tree by the root ball or at a strong branch junction .

The bonsai is going back into the same pot so I set the tree aside and prepare the pot. If you are changing pots, have the new pot ready before you start.

Its been two years since this tree was repotted and the roots have completely  filled the pot.

I use a root rake to comb out the roots and cut them back with scissors.

For larger roots I use root pruners.

I notice some older soil near the center of the root ball. As soil breaks down it needs to be replaced with new soil so that the roots stay healthy in that area of the root ball.

You can see the difference in the older core soil on the right and soil that was around the edges of the root ball on the left.

I’ve removed as much of the old soil that I feel comfortable with and have cut back some of the larger roots.

With the bottom done I comb out the sides of the root ball

There is a long root that emerges from the nebari and needs to be cut back.

Fortunately there is a better root underneath the long one that  I can cut back to allowing me to improve the nebari.

The root work is finished for now.The tree is tied to the pot using the 4 point tie down method.

The soil is worked into the roots with a chopstick and tamped down. Tamping the soil may seem like an unnecessary task, however it is important because it firms up the soil so that when you water the tree the soil doesn’t wash out. I begin at the trunk and work toward the rim of the pot keeping the tamper at a slight angle which pushes the soil against the pot wall. When I get to the edge of the pot I use my fingers to press down on the tamper and “set the edge” which results in a crisp, clean soil line.The last thing is to water the tree. Make sure to water the tree until the water coming out of the pot is clear, indicating that all the fine dust has been washed out of the pot.