I know very well that most folk have a great deal of difficulty in bonsai when it comes to sorting out the way forward for their raw material. A few people are seemingly blessed with a sixth sense when it comes to such issues. I have no answer for this but I do know that it’s often an excuse for inactivity. I have lost count of how many times I have heard something along the lines of, ‘Oh I could never do that, i’m no artist’. My retort would normally be a forthright “When was the last time you tried?” Way back in the beginning of my bonsai career I literally binned no end of piss poorly designed and badly executed examples of my fumbling bonsai attempts. I’m just too stubborn to give up and after about thirty years I started to get the hang of it. A wiser man than I has said you learn more in life from your failures that you do your successes. I am aware of the esteem within which some folk hold my skills, what does that tell you?
Perhaps my greatest asset in the early days was my impressive lack of funds. I had a lot of dreams but I didn’t have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of. Therefore my bonsai dreams were built upon skip rats, shit I was given and stuff I got from the tip by hanging around the green waste bin. That’s some ugly stuff so I had nothing to loose by letting my imagination and power tools run riot. To this day I still get excited when I see green sticking out of a skip. I am still a sucker for a bargain as I suppose most of us are. However in my experience opportunity usually presents itself wearing overalls.
Being late summer it’s a good time to be messing with the roots of sabina juniper. Therefore I could not put this off any longer, I had to sort this mess out today. I bought this in Spain earlier in the year, only collected a year ago, it was a good price, I suppose nobody wanted to sort it out. Time to roll up those sleeves….
I left this out by the front gate and everyone who came here over the last few months walked right by it. Insane trees tend to have that effect. First thing to note is that there appear to be two junipers in here. I am happy with the growth rate considering it’s early days so time to jump in.
Once out of the pot the first thing to notice is just how much root there is considering the tree has probably not been in this massive pot for even twelve months. Secondly there are fresh new white root ends. This shown me the tree is actively making root and so my timing is good. If a tree is actively making root, after our intervention it’s just going to continue.
Next, from this angle it’s easy to see we have two trunks. Sadly these don’t go well together so this will need to be separated into two pieces. Thankfully juniper root wherever they touch the soil so roots should be no problem. An hour picking through masses of roots revealed a powerful Y shaped trunk with each arm forming a separate trunk. This was easily split along it’s length producing two root masses. Both parts of the tree were roughly potted up into an akadama, pumice, bark mix. These will be put in a shady part of the warm greenhouse for a couple of weeks before going outside in the full sun for a couple of years. Sometimes you have to roll the dice and just part with the cash whilst trusting your instincts. I have a feeling that in this case my gamble may well pay off which will make a change 😉
A lot of people tell me they like my regular rantings posted here. I like to keep them related to bonsai but this time not. I got very angry recently and as I am weird I just sat down and typed. I guess that’s better than going out and breaking heads. So here’s my cathartic diatribe for those with time on their hands.
Over the years a lot of life has passed me by largely unnoticed. I started life after leaving school on the back foot, largely because I was a prat, not because I had bad parents or anything like that. I just did’t understand how the world worked or how I could ‘work’ the world. Being largely overwhelmed I just got on my motorcycle are rode off into the distance every time I came upon something I couldn’t handle. That went on until I was about nineteen years old when I literally fell into a job by accident. I was raised to be polite, respectful and a hard worker and that got me down the road, but only so far. I have never been a people person, preferring the company of a bike or a bonsai tree. Everything to do with people gets complicated and even today I can’t cope because I simply do not understand and cannot read people and find social situations excruciating. A mail order business was always my dream job and here I am. ‘Lucky me’? Not likely, it took gut busting hard work and constantly risking the shirt on my back and relentless worrying. Over the last fifteen years I have lived my largely sleepless existence in a constant state of muted blind panic. Today the ‘world’ isn’t exactly helping me get any sleep….
Having more years behind me than in front I have seen a lot of change. I am guessing it’s a part of being the age I am that life and the world around us can get frustrating and confusing. It’s that old thing about coppers being kids. I remember a world without mobile phones, the internet, personal computers, a thousand TV channels, catalytic converters and don’t even get me started on ‘smart’ technology. I grew up in a ‘dumb’ world that was largely full of SMART people. Now I live in a smart world largely full of DUMB people. You’ve all seen the videos and heard the stories and sadly seen the devastation and chaos over reliance upon technology has caused so you really don’t need me to go there. Because I come from a simpler time I find this modern age extremely frustrating and very depressing. Life went along just fine in the seventies and eighties when the only reason to have a password was because you were some kind of secret agent or needed to get in to some dodgy underground sex club. Bank fraud was pretty much unheard of on a personal level, if you wanted to get money out of a bank you had to kick the door in but then you ran the risk of getting you head kicked in with no hope of compensation.
In our new world where pretty much anything is possible, predictably, stupid people are ruining it and it will bring about our demise. Back in the eighties i had to get on with the business of living, largely in a small local community of people. If I wanted ‘friends’ on the far side of the world I had to write a letter. Picking up the phone wasn’t easy because if I needed to find an international number I had to call someone to get it or go to the library to get an international directory. Not only that but long distance calls were extremely expensive and we all had less money to burn back then. Visiting a far flung country could easily cost a months wages just for the flight so mostly we stayed home which was actually nice and the environment breathed a sigh of relief. Technology may well have moved on but we people remain the same daft bumbling, stumbling, worrying, fearful farting meat sacks we have always been. Are we really any better off knowing all about everything, ever, everywhere? I think not.
Many folk would suggest that today at least we little folk do have a voice and, being old I have the chance to vent my frustrations to the world, you’re reading it now. That’s great right? We can get our opinions out there into the world and influence the way of things for the better? Join the conversation as they say. So, here I am venting the frustration of middle age upon you who have time to read my drivel and in an ideal world my opinion goes ‘viral’ and somewhere a plotician makes a choice to change things. Trouble is we are ALL looking to our elected leaders to make things better. The mantra of our age is ‘Somebody needs to DO something about this (that, or the other)”. Sadly those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. When did ANYTHING get better because a politician actually did something? These people could fuck up a cup of coffee and they are certainly doing that with pretty much every country in the world just now.
It’s no good expecting the government to do anything for YOU, they are NOT the answer, they ARE the problem. It’s US that have the power of change but sadly we cannot change the world, we can only change ourselves. All of the wars of history have come about because some idiot decided he wanted another idiot to be different or do different. We have absolutely NO influence over the actions and opinions of others, nor should we. Just last week I had to go to my dentist for an MOT. My lovely old guy retired and now there is some new young buck there. I actually used to love going to my old dentist where ever six months we would spend thirty minutes talking shit whilst I got my choppers cleaned. This new dumbass spun me around in ten minutes, spent that entire time preaching to me about interdental ‘devices’ and bollocking me. With his foot up my ass I shot out the door and just to give me a totally fulfilling experience I got charged twenty quid more that I did for a half hour with my old friend. My new plan is to let my fucking teeth all fall out before I go back there. I don’t like being hustled, i’m old, I still believe in respect and in order to get respect you do not need a university degree or letters after your name you need to GIVE respect. If my old dentist said he needed to cut my head off I would have agreed. After ten years we had mutual respect for each other, this new guy can go stick his interdental devices in his own crevices, he’s certainly not sticking them in mine. So, perhaps this new voice I have is good because now I don’t have to go punch my dentist in the mouth for being such a tosser because I have told you, dear reader, all about it and now I feel better.
I have now realised I am a long way from the point I intended to make at the beginning of this diatribe. To recap, being older gives one a sense of perspective and experience that informs a certain degree of wily intelligence in one’s own affairs. Technology has given us all a sense of having a voice and the illusion that that voice matters. Being older my cynicism tells me that voice is actually entirely irrelevant but it can at least offer us a channel for venting our frustrations thus helping us decompress, but actually expecting anything to change or for anyone to actually give a shit is fanciful.
Part of the problem of unrest in the modern first world is what we call the media. In this context I refer to the mainstream news media. In the UK that’s the likes of Sky and the BBC. These organisations have gone WAY beyond their remit of reporting the news and spend the lions share of their time promoting their VIEWS and in today’s noisy world, in order for something to become a ‘fact’ it just needs to be repeated enough times irrespective of wether there is any truth to undergird the point. As an Englishman of some advanced years now I am confident in my opinion that, at least of late, the BBC is the worst of the lot. I understand in the USA, CNN might be the BBC’s equivalent. Social comment is one thing but the agenda of this publicly funded broadcaster has gone way beyond that. On a slow news day the headlines are always populated by stories generated by a “BBC investigation”. Don’t get me wrong, we do need a strong media to defend us from the evil whims and machinations of politicians but when the net outcome is a sustained campaign to change society I question who is in charge. Let’s face it, nobody actually trusts politicians and their empty promises and blatant lies. Their proven track record of treachery over the last couple of hundred years simply drowns out their empty rhetoric. The media however are much more credible and much more intelligent and clever at getting their agenda of social change into motion. Much like my new dentist, politicians are perennially in danger of getting a smack in the mouth but my old dentist could simply wrap me around his little finger.
So, to my point……. recently the BBC were running a story about the demise of cash in British society. Apparently only about 34% of ‘financial transactions’ are now conducted with the folding stuff (a broad, arbitrary number without any detail or clarification). Last week the story was about a hipster bar in Manchester where cash is no longer accepted as a means of payment because everyone is using new technology to stump up. Something called app’s apparently. Other stories are constantly being aired about cash machines being ripped out of walls and drug dealers having duffel bags stuffed with cash. Alternative weeks we hear stories of rogue traders, particularly builders (for some reason) doing work “for cash” and defrauding the VAT man. The net story is that physical cash costs business money and is synonymous with criminal activity. Using modern payment methods makes you a better person, it’s fashionable, convenient and secure and saves business money. These new things also enable you to “manage” your money better, are convenient and save you time because apparently we are ALL SO BUSY! So a cashless society is good for us all right? Particularly now the banks are closing all their branches and have put the management and administration of your account firmly in your court.
This is what might be called ‘fake news’. Where i was raised we call that a ‘lud of ol’ tosh’ or, in modern vernacular, BOLLOCKS. This story is being constantly repeated until it becomes entirely socially acceptable and ultimately a fact in our lives. In case you are not sure go out and try to spend a fifty pound note. In most places you get a look like you handed the assistant a dog turd. If you even own a fifty pound not you ARE a criminal in the estimation of many folk. BBC radio hosted an item recently concerning the story of who is to appear on the back of the new plastic bullseye. The presenter was very smug in stating they had never actually owned a fifty pound note, implying it was like having an embarrassing but well deserved sexually transmitted disease. Surely no upstanding citizen of a whiter than white moralistic society should be caught dead with such a symbol of dubious working class low level criminality.
When I was young the only way scum bags could get into your bank account was by nicking you cheque book, making a cheque out to cash and turning up at your local branch, standing in front of the window and waiting whilst the clerk counted out the money. Trouble was we all had a local bank and you went there every week to put your wages in and transact your business. Some spotty dickhead standing at the window with a hastily scribbled cheque and fake signature scrawled in crayon and covered in sticky sweet stains would raise an eyebrow, the bank manager would then give you a call at home to verify wether this ner-do-well was just that or in fact your legitimate offspring. Bank fraud at a personal level really did not exist back then. Sure it was a pain to have to pop into the bank once a week but in reality it didn’t take long, you had chance for a quick chat, the bank kept a paternal eye on your account and there was a genuine sense of community and safety garnered by the whole affair. If your account got into the red, next time you went in, the bank manager would call you into his office and check how things were going and wether you needed help or advice. They might have only been protecting their position but the net result was somebody cared enough to give you their time and that was nice. A casual word with the bank manager or a cuff around the ear from a copper was largely all that was needed to keep the lid on.
Just this week we had cause to contact our bank because some knucklehead in the USA had tried to make a transaction using the debit card allied to our personal account which Catherine uses to buy groceries. It took most of an hour to sort that out on the telephone. How exactly did that happen? We don’t use that card or account for online transactions in any way and we don’t travel. At least once a year we get issued with new credit cards because of attempted fraudulent transactions. My parents always had a set of encyclopedias on their bookshelf, we have something similar and almost as extensive just for passwords. All the modern ‘convenience’ of managing our account online is absolutely NOT convenient, it takes hours on end. As a business Catherine spends close to a day a week dealing with all this crap. Back in the day our bank did the bulk of this for us and I used to enjoy a trip out to the bank to pay in cheques and have a yarn. They sell this as customer convenience and reducing the administration burden on business
Here is the big issue, something you will NEVER hear the media reporting. The provision of clever and customer convenient payment methods, wether a Visa card, Paypal, debit cards or the plethora of phone apps are being touted as ‘convenient’ for customers, more secure than cash and better for business which is simply not true. It’s certainly not secure as most of us can testify, managing all these things is not at all convenient and it’s certainly NOT quick or convenient at the checkout. We have all been held up by someone struggling to get a card payment processed. Just last week I was out on the road and popped into a drive in to get coffee and sat there for a full five minutes whilst the guy in front tried to pay with a contactless card. For ages he just kept rubbing it on the terminal before after a good four minutes of rubbing he finally put the card in the machine and put in a pin. Turns out he only bought a drink so didn’t spend more than a couple of quid. Bearing in mind he was in a builders van I would assume he would be paying with a crisp fifty pound note fresh from a VAT dodging job, or is that just a media stereotype? Problem? These things are putting someone else in between you and the business you intend to patronise.
The media seem to suggest that all these new fangled payment providers are out there doing this just for us, for our convenience and security. Are folk really that stupid, perhaps we are beyond caring. Just last year our little business Kaizen Bonsai Ltd which we run from our own family home, and employs just four of us, had to pay out over eighteen thousand pounds (£18,000) in what is termed in accounting speak as ‘Bank charges’. In actual fact that was largely the cost of commission from payment providers like Visa and Paypal. Sure there were some minor bank charges for things like foreign exchange payments etc’ but most of it was our customers money being creamed off before we were given what was left (and usually a few days late). I do appreciate we run a largely online business and so security is important and paying for someone to provide that for us obviously has a cost. But we managed to survive for decades without all that expense and many of these new system providers are expensive and don’t even get me started on American Express. Commission on a company Visa card is about 5% of total transaction value. So called customer convenience means I cannot afford to employ the extra pair of hands I need and so Catherine and I have to work three hundred and fifty five days a year and on average about thirteen hours a day. These clever bastards have wedged themselves between us consumers and the businesses we use and are literally drowning in money whilst I, as a business owner suffer and you, as a customer of my business end up paying more because I have to cover that excess overhead and still maintain the need to make a viable profit. Without wishing to brag, seeing as my business account is very healthy wouldn’t you think i am entitled to at least a modicum of interest? Not a bit of it, the more I have in the bank the more they charge me to manage it. I think the phrase “organised crime” has been mis-appropriated and pointed at the wrong business sector don’t you?
We hear a lot about personal debt these days. Part of the trouble is the very easy access to credit. The sole purpose of many financial based businesses is to get us into debt. Without that debt they don’t get paid. I know personal debt can be crippling but for sure a lot of it can be avoided by going without. It’s nice to have nice things, for sure, but if having those things means racking up debt where’s the joy? The media push a lot of opinion on us here about what they call “poverty” and suggest the answer is a higher minimum wage, greater benefit payments, rent controls, minimum hours contracts and the like. Trouble is it’s human nature to push the envelope. We are all raised to believe we are entitled to the good things in life. In reality you are entitled to nothing you did not earn. If you don’t earn enough (I didn’t for years) it might be time to go without, go back to school, retrain, learn something new or take a risk. If there is too much month at the end of your money it’s time to do what businesses do from time to time, rationalise, consolidate, cut costs and retrench. Learn to use a calculator, one of the greatest inventions in human history.
As a parting shot here is another thought. Back when I started work, every Friday afternoon my boss came around and gave us all a little brown envelope stuffed with notes and coins (not many in my case). I always felt good riding home on a Friday afternoon with that little envelope safely zipped up in the breast pocket of my leather jacket. My first job was a paper round I did seven days a week starting at age twelve. For that I got one pound and fifty pence a week (£1.50) paid, of course, in cash on a Saturday morning. I remember one week cycling home feeling flush only to discover I had lost the pound note and only had a fifty pence piece. My dad, being a bit of a hard bastard, didn’t just give me the quid, he let me learn the value of money and to this day I have never, EVER lost a single penny. Once I got married and bought my own house (age 21 and a whole other story) Tina and I would pool our little brown envelopes, bank enough for bills and live off the rest and trust me, every time a single note came out of my envelope it pained my heart. Spending cash is much harder than spending on credit, a card or some stupid app’ that won’t work without battery or signal. The value of cash is much greater than the numbers stamped upon it. Cash creates huge amounts of quality employment, not just call centre jobs, as well as making financial crime less attractive* (who needs to hump tons of cash around in a truck) and prevents faceless organisations creaming off the profits earned by the hard labour of businesses and their customers. Cash was the backbone of a community and it’s benefits to society were far reaching and extremely valuable and we are all the poorer as it disappears from our pockets in so many and immeasurable ways.
*The Great Train Robbery was the robbery of £2.6 million (in cash) from a Royal Mail train in August 1963. At the time one of the largest financial crimes committed. Compare that to “unauthorised financial fraud losses across payment cards, remote banking and cheques totalled £844.8 million in 2018” That’s just the UK retail banking sector. Nick that in cash and you need pallets, a fork lift and a big truck.
For probably the first time ever we are having something of a sale. We are so rammed with new stock this year that we are severely struggling to find space. Therefore we have decided to cut prices on some very nice raw material and bonsai that we hope to find new homes for quickly. It’s against my religion but something has to give. Some of these prices represent my own cost price + VAT and delivery. We will not hold these prices for long so check out the links below, grab a bargain and make a grown man cry 😉
Around here we start re-potting trees around the end of February and stop around the end of November. I am a bit of a stickler for doing things at certain times based on my experience of successful (or not) outcomes. Scots pine yamadori needs to be bare rooted at some point in order to remove the old mountain soil and to get rid of dead material and begin the process of creating a root system suitable for life in a bonsai pot. Yesterday evening once it cooled down a bit we set too on this little chap. The candles are extending in the top of the tree so time was good (August is the other good option). Enough root was uncovered to allow a good prune and the removal of some big lumps of wood. Getting it set up in the pot was something of a wrestling match there for a few minutes.
You’ll see this one again
The Green Dream range of bonsai tree fertilisers has been a mainstay of the UK bonsai hobby since Colin Lewis introduced the Original product way back in the 1990s. As we expanded the range our primary concern was always the products integrity, value and environmental credentials. To that end we have now changed the packaging for the larger units. Previously packaged in plastic buckets we have now gone to a purpose designed unbleached corrugated cardboard that has a large proportion of recycled material and is easily 100% recyclable pretty much everywhere. Believe it or not this has cost us slightly more than the old plastic buckets (price has remained unchanged) but it has reduced our plastic output by approximately a tonne every year. The product is contained within a light weight re-sealable bag within the box thus maintaining the packages convenience and storage ability.
We do appreciate this may not be to everyone’s liking but we believe it’s important we all do our bit to help keep our wonderful world clean and tidy.
To find out more about using Green Dream Fertilisers see …
No ‘bloke’ would admit to owning a bonsai tree just because he liked the flowers. I know we are all supposed to have our radar tuned to ‘sensitive’ these days but bonsai, in many circles, remains a macho sort of pastime for ‘real men’. I was bought up in a place where flowers were for girls. But take a look around social media at this time of year and bonsai pages are awash with images of flowers. There’s a mixed message here perhaps but in my book flowers on bonsai trees are great so long as the bonsai beneath is a good one.
Scots pines are coming along early this year. I’m not normally troubled by them until the beginning of May, but this year we are definitely early, probably spurred on by last summers good weather and a mild winter here.
This big lump arrived here about four years ago. I took a risk on it simply because it looked very weak and was not long since it was collected. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained. If everything in life were as simple and reliable as a scots pine I think we would all be a lot happier.
This image tells the story. Three years of needles 2018 on the end preceded by a gap where there were flowers, next 2017 and the little tiny ones are 2016. The needles the tree came with were HALF the size of those tiny ones, about 6-8mm. Notice no significant extension growth at all. Because the tree was so weak, dealing with the root system would be impossible even though the pot was largely filled with heavy clay and rocks. The improvement in the trees health was achieved with some very careful management of the trees growing environment and soil management.
Today we are at the point that I can deal with that soil. The tree has good buds for this year that are now turning green and elongating but there is not a single adventitious bud on the tree. Left to it’s own devices this tree will lose what little strength it has from this point onwards unless we deal with that field clay. I have been here a hundred times before with collected scots and this operation is critical to finally getting this pine firing on all cylinders.
New white root ends and greening buds along with a warming forecast means there is absolutely no risk involved in this work. The soil is also nice and dry which makes the work much easier and more pleasant.
The grass has been an important element in managing this trees very poor root system. Anyone who turned up at the workshop with weeds like that would normally get a slap but here I used it to suck moisture from the soil. Without it, even in summer I only needed to water about every 7-10 days simply because the pine roots were not drawing any water. By having the grass dry the soil, I could water every time it wilted which was every couple of days in summer. That meant I was getting more oxygen into the rootball which helped develop the pine’s roots. Grass is also good at supporting fungal activity in soil.
Look closely at this image it tells the whole story right there if you can read it? Here are the bullet points…. Either end of the rootball consists of perlite and pumice mix the collector used. This has good root growth. In the middle the grey patch is field clay with very little root growth. The upper part of the rootball shows the grass roots, mostly in clay and very little, if any, pine root but good root development just below that. Roots grow in the most suitable zones of a rootball like this one where there is the most adventitious mix of water, oxygen and nutrients. One thing that is very evident is the absence of mycelial hyphae. It is there but only just, and in small pockets. I would guess that 80% of this rootball is not working at all and explains the poorly condition of the tree as a whole.
Here we are directly beneath the trunk. Solid clay with no root development whatsoever. This clay consisted of about 70% of the pots volume. I entirely stripped the rootball down removing every little pocket of clay and rocks. I will NEVER wash a scots pine rootball like this but it’s absolutely vital to clean ALL of the soil away at this stage. Once this was done the cause of the trees serious problem became evident. A large root just under three inches in diameter had been cut when the tree was collected. This left behind a tiny amount of small roots which in the long run proved insufficient to promote growth. However with careful management it was enough to keep the tree alive and that’s now the start of a fledgling ‘bonsai’ root system. I would stab a guess this tree lost 90% of it’s roots when it was collected and that resulted in this drawn out process.
Now potted in 1″ pumice and bark with a light surface dressing of our No3 Bonsai Soil Mix. Going forward this tree goes outside into full sun with minimal watering until the new seasons growth is fully developed. From then on watering (by thorough soaking) will only be done when the soil is very dry. For this year that will help develop the trees all important mycelium and draw out strong root extension. I may give a very light fertilize with Green Dream Original probably just once. Next year if all goes to plan I will ramp up the watering and fertilising. Based on previous experience, in the second and third year after this work the tree will literally be lifting itself out of the pot and so I can go to re-potting in the normal way with root pruning to develop the correct root structure for bonsai. This year the tree will make those adventitious buds and hopefully if I did my job right the needles will be nice and long this summer.
Watch this space.
I have spent most of the year so far bitching about not re-potting bonsai or at least not re-potting too often. The whole notion of Bonsai trees and free draining soil seems to be one of the top mis-understood aspects of bonsai tree cultivation but I’ll save that for another day. Why we actually re-pot bonsai and when that should be done, by and large, seems to be deeply immersed in ignorance. However what we call bonsai trees and their long term maintenance and the situation with trees in development towards becoming bonsai are two entirely different things.
Where development of bonsai is concerned, the most important aspect is that of developing a ‘bonsai’ root system. By that I mean a pot full of fine dynamic feeder root mass largely free of big chunks of wood or old mountain or field soil. Anyone who has re-potted an old Japanese bonsai tree will be familiar with this. Developing such a root system can be very easy with something like an elm or maple but in the case of evergreen varieties and in particular pines I regularly see folk struggling. Trouble is most of what is written about re-potting pines is based on working with existing bonsai trees. Working with yamadori seems to scare a lot of people in my experience.
Simple rules apply here. Never mess with the roots of a tree that is not showing strong growth and annually improving vigour. If you have not owned the tree long enough to do this or cannot read the signs wait until you have or can. Secondly never work on the roots of pines that are dormant. Fast swelling buds and thick fleshy white root ends are good indicators if working in spring. Summer re-potting is also a good prospect particularly with European natives like scots and mugo pines.
Root work for yamadori such as this big scots involves the complete removal of old mountain soil. This is an important step in order to develop that valuable ‘bonsai’ root system. Many folk go white at the prospect but in my experience a pine will never grow properly in a small pot OR develop that root system until this is done. Where first root work with yamadori is concerned simply allow the soil to dry out prior to beginning work. Then patiently pick out all the old soil right back to the trunk. NEVER wash the roots at this stage unless you really want to kill your tree. Then all that is required is to cut out as much thick wood as is possible and shorten large thick roots where they exist, cut back to where roots emerge closer to the trunk. Be patient, this is going to be as long process and this shortening MAY have to be done in several stages. Finally gather up ALL the root and put it into a suitable sized pot and work it into a suitable soil mix.
This work will increase a pines growth rate, make larger needles and more back budding very quickly. All important factors in pushing a pine tree down the bonsai road. Subsequent potting can focus more on root pruning for development of fine root mass and having cleaned out the old soil completely this becomes the work of minutes rather than hours as in the case of this beast I did yesterday.
Folk often ask me about mycelium in relation to pines. In my opinion those of us who keep pines do not actually keep pine trees we keep their mycelium. If that fungi is happy your pine will be happy. If a pine tree has no fungi present chances are the root system is too wet or full of junk not conducive to it’s well being. In the case of this tree the original mountain soil was largely devoid of hyphae but the pumice and perlite around that was solidified by a huge mass of hyphae. Now that the growing medium is consistent and correct mycelium will colonise the ENTIRE root ball. Seeding mycelium is not necessary, creating a good environment for it to thrive absolutely is.
Few things in bonsai are as simple as the cultivation of pine trees. Sadly few things are less understood in bonsai that the cultivation of pine trees.
Back in the day, when I had more hair on my head and less on my chin I thought life would work out a certain way, probably not unlike my father perhaps. Then I stumbled ass first into bonsai and, given a few years it ran away with me and became a business. I had hoped that by now I might be taking life a little easier, trouble is the bonsai business doesn’t make shit and so here I am working harder than when I was a spotty teenager with no prospects other than a life of drudgery and grunt work, got that right then. Because of bonsai Catherine and I have never had a holiday in any way despite being together for well over twenty years now. Both of us are working like slaves every single day 24/7/365 as modern parlance goes. I don’t mind, men were made to work, not retire to an easy chair and die of boredom and the doctor said, just last week, I am in very good shape. Don’t laugh, round is a shape! So the hard graft must be paying dividends in some respect.
Bonsai is a hard task master and making a business of it puts one under the iron fist of a slave driver. What saddens me a lot is that I don’t get the time to spend on what I love the most, doing bonsai my way. I rather wish I had kept bonsai as a hobby which I have now lost. Just yesterday I spent fourteen hours straight working on bonsai trees but that was all commercial stock (some of it very good). In the last four days I have spent forty four hours working on trees, good for honing one’s skills (and aggravating my tendinitis) but not exactly rewarding to my artistic sensibilities (don’t laugh). However I guess most of us spend the bulk of our waking hours at work, it just happens my work is everyone else’s hobby. There are worse ways to make a living!
Recently we had a rather large delivery of new bonsai and material turn up at the house. At a guess I would think this lot is over two hundred pieces. It’s certainly the most money I have ever spent on something not made of bricks. This year we have a lot more small and mid sized bonsai, ideal for all the old blokes who keep telling me they can’t lift much these days 😉 Quality is good this year but increasingly we are seeing top quality costing a lot more. Simply put, the demand for quality bonsai is outstripping supply and as always in that case prices are rising. Even the cost of legitimately collected yamadori is going through the roof. Collectors costs for things like permits are rocketing and since demand is high stock is going to the highest bidder. Like for like I would estimate prices have risen this year by a high single figure which considering exchange rate movement is pretty impressive. That’s great news for anyone who owns good bonsai trees and bad news if you are in the throes of building a collection. But, in comparison with a lot of the mass produced, ultimately worthless shit we fill our lives with bonsai trees still represent astonishing value for money considering the time invested and skill expended in their production. Buy a new car for a good five figure sum and watch that money dwindle to nothing in ten to fifteen years. Spend that same amount on a good bonsai tree, take care of it properly, allow it to enrich your life and in fifteen years sell it for a bonafide index linked real world profit.
Here I have taken a few snap shots of what arrived. There really are all sorts here, good, very good, average and even some ugly trees too. Within the next two weeks we are expecting a (literally) lorry load of yamadori. This lot is, by and large Japanese bonsai, Chinese bonsai and other nursery produced stock with a smattering of yamadori and even a few pieces from a private collection and some PX stock too. This year I have also lifted a hundred little trees I was growing in the ground. There genuinely is a lot more but so far I have not had a chance to drag it in from the drive way. By the time spring actually arrives I would estimate there will be close to three and a half thousand plants in the yard. This will all be for sale sooner or later. Perhaps if I sold it all and didn’t replace it I could retire like my old man did at 52 but that ship sailed already. There might be the kernel of an idea there though, where’s that calculator?
P.S. If you need to know the prices of anything shown below and are too impatient to wait until I list it on our web site send an email to – email@example.com – include the image you are interested in, no image no reply. Then be patient and respectful it may take me up to a couple of weeks to reply. Ranting, raving, being arsey and wasting our time on the phone will ensure you do NOT get what you hoped for. We get sick of being treated badly and abused, politeness and respect go a long way around here!
It’s been more than thirty years since I bought my first indoor bonsai tree and began my journey into this amazing hobby. One of the things that has helped me enormously is a funny quirk in my head that allows me to remember all the little details. Even now I remember everything about my special trees. Where they came from, every little thing I did along the way and how they responded to my actions. This also includes the effect of weather which, especially in the UK is an ever present phenomenon that has an impact upon our activities. Don’t assume that good weather is good for trees and bad weather is bad. Most hardy trees need the winter as much as they need the summer. What I have learned is that the weather is not to be trusted but trees are and will thrive regardless of what the sky throws at them.
Where that goes wrong, on occasions catastrophically so, is when we start messing with things we don’t really understand. Putting our impatience upon a tree and expecting a certain level of ‘performance’ allied with an ill founded and inexperienced understanding will cause problems. I despair at the amount of desperately sad plants I see being slowly tortured to death by fumbling hands, it genuinely breaks my heart, right at the outset I got into bonsai because I have a powerful love of trees and their place in the world and because I believe they can teach us how to be better people. Every day it saddens me to see suffering trees in our hobby wether that be through ignorance or the strutting pride of their owners. Since the advent of the internet things have become much worse as ignorance has spread faster than time honoured and long understood wisdom. Bonsai really is an anachronism in this fast moving modern age, though i would argue, so are we.
In my experience the single most destructive activity in bonsai cultivation is the unhealthy obsession folk seem to have with re-potting. I have written at GREAT length on the subject of Repotting Bonsai and the requirements of the growing media we choose to use in Choosing Soil For Bonsai Trees. I have also covered correct timing in When to Re-pot Bonsai. What I didn’t really cover was the effects of weather on the process and that’s where a good memory comes in handy.
Just a few days ago I was advising folk hang fire on re-potting. In the UK SPRING IS NOT February despite what the weather looked like and in spite of climate change pundits telling us that’s now normal. It’s certainly not unusual to have something of a false spring here. I have seen it in five of the last six years here on the east coast. As we all know it’s more likely to snow at easter that at Christmas. Creating beautiful bonsai trees is all about doing the absolute best we can for our trees and that means every choice has to be our best. Re-potting bonsai early will NOT make spring happen any sooner no matter how much we wish it would. When I started bonsai we would re-pot around end of March going into April and May. Today folk start right after Christmas and by end of March (still the optimum time for most deciduous species) it’s all over.
Most re-potting work is entirely unnecessary, especially for older trees, many of which will give their best after five or even ten years in the same pot undisturbed assuming we have the appropriate skill required to cultivate bonsai at that level which is rare. The obsession with ‘free drainage’ is entirely unhealthy and largely only appropriate to accelerated growth regimens used with raw material. Any recently re-potted bonsai has, by default, a well draining soil. For mature bonsai this phase has to be managed so as not to encourage too much coarse fast growth which can ruin a trees maturity and fine ramification. In time drainage will reduce as pore space within the soil is filled with root and normal care can resume. For mature bonsai, re-potting once drainage reduces looks like the work of a mad man to me and guarantees ultimate failure in the quest for old mature and magical bonsai.
Before I run myself down a rabbit hole with all that let me get back on subject. The weather was unseasonably warm here a couple of weeks ago but now we are back to normal. Gales, freezing rain, heavy daytime rain followed by hard overnight frosts and constant temperatures in single figures. Normal fare for an early British spring time. So if you were seduced into re-potting bonsai too early because of the nice weather some consideration needs to be given to those trees now. What might that be?
In the case of most, simply moving into a greenhouse seems ideal. If you have the facility it’s a good course of action. However be aware that warm temperatures may bring on fast growing varieties too soon and then moving them outside later in the year can cause problems, certainly not ideal. A closed greenhouse with little air circulation is also bad and will encourage fungal problems, particularly with overly wet soil and freshly cut roots. Putting trees in the shade is a seriously bad idea in the UK, they need sun to recover. The ideal situation for most species is under a light open cover with direct natural sunlight protected from the wind and rain. Soil should be kept just a little more dry than normal. In this situation the cold (for hardy plants) is immaterial. The primary concerns should be the wind and the wet. Control these aspects correctly and all will be well. As foliage develops a preventative fungal and pest control spray is a very good insurance.
Think carefully about re-potting, it’s important but largely misunderstood, mis-used and unnecessary and can prevent bonsai trees reaching their full potential. Learn your horticulture, time your actions correctly and consider after care, it’s just as important as the task itself.