All posts by Eugene Howell

Bonsai Root Pruning

Part 19 of a series by Eugene Howell

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Bonsai DisplayBonsai root pruning is the one task, above all others, that can cause the death of your tree very quickly. However, avoiding the task may also readily kill your bonsai. Let’s discuss how to properly prune the roots of a bonsai to minimize the possibility of killing it.

Periodically every bonsai begins to outgrow its pot. Either the tree becomes too large for the pot it’s in or the tree’s roots become too crowded. Of these two conditions, overcrowded roots is the one you’ll most frequently encounter and it means you’ll need to remove the tree from its pot, wash all the dirt off it, untangled all the roots and then prune those same roots. If this task is not done carefully and correctly, your bonsai can die within a very few days.
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Fertilizing Bonsai

Part 18 of a series by Eugene Howell

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Brazilian Rain TreeConsidering how little soil a bonsai tree lives in, fertilizing bonsai trees is especially important. But which fertilizer should you buy for your bonsai? When you look at a bag of fertilizer you’ll see a set of three large numbers written across the front that look something like “8-6-4” or any other combination of three numbers. Every bonsai enthusiast must know how to relate these numbers to the needs of each type of bonsai tree they’re growing.

In a previous article we learned that these numbers represent the content of Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K) contained in the fertilizer, in that order. The numbers written on fertilizer labels are actually percentages. So, for example, the number 5-3-15 means 5% of the weight of that bag of fertilizer is nitrogen, 3% is phosphorus, and 15% is potassium.
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Bonsai Wiring

Part 17 of a series by Eugene Howell

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Bonsai WiringBonsai wiring is what gives the bonsai artist nearly total control over the shape and design of his or her bonsai tree. By using wire, we can implement a curve into a branch where there hadn’t been one before. We can force a branch to lean one way or another. We can even coerce branches to begin growing in a direction different from where they originally wanted to go.

Wiring can control movement in the trunk, branches and sometimes even the roots. Wiring is to bonsai what a steering wheel is to a car. It allows you to tell the bonsai in what direction to go (grow).

Bonsai wiring works because, when done properly, it allows the artist to bend a branch to a desired shape and direction. The wire itself holds the branch in the desired position until enough new wood is grown to solidify this new shape. But wiring can be both a blessing and a curse because if it’s left on too long it can cause terrible, unsightly scarring on a tree.
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Bonsai Pinching

Part 16 of a series by Eugene Howell

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Satsuki Azalea {rhododendron indicum}One of the techniques that a beginner in bonsai learns early is that frequent pinching of growing tips is essential to the development of good ramification. The general rule is that when there are five to seven leaves on a branch; pinch it back to two or three. This is easy enough to understand, but is there any other reason for bonsai pinching, or a need to worry about when to pinch? What happens if you neglect this task for a few weeks? There are two answers to these questions.

When developing the plan for how you want your newly styled bonsai to look three to five years from now, you must remember that in nature, the branches on the lower part of a tree are large in diameter and are long. In examining the tree further up, you’ll notice that the branches progressively get thinner and shorter as they get closer to the top of the tree. This concept of nature is one of the main considerations in selecting which branches are to remain when styling a pre-bonsai for the first time: larger diameter branches at the bottom and thinner branches near the top.
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Bonsai Lessons for Beginners

Part 15 of a series by Eugene Howell

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Ficus BonsaiIn the previous post we began the discussion of how to start a bonsai by first identifying where the front of your new bonsai will be. The front of a bonsai tree is defined as the side of the tree you want to have facing the viewer when your finished bonsai is on display. By determining where the front is, you’ll then be able to perform the tree’s first styling. We learned that the root flair gives the first indication of where the front may be. We also learned that if the roots don’t fulfill this mission then we next look at the trunk. In today’s bonsai lessons for beginners, we’ll find out how the trunk can help us find the front the bonsai tree.

The characteristic that most people observe first about a bonsai tree is the trunk’s movement, meaning the trunk’s curves and twists. Observe your tree from all sides and decide which view provides the most interesting curves and twists. This will likely turn out to be the front, but there are a few more considerations that need to be made before the final decision such as large unsightly scars or if there’s any reverse taper which is always unwanted in a bonsai. If your tree has any of these you may need to select a different front that helps to hide those blemishes.
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How To Start A Bonsai Tree

Part 14 of a series by Eugene Howell

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Bonsai ExpoYou’re a newcomer to bonsai, you’ve joined a club and attend meetings, you’ve looked through bonsai books and magazines, you’ve even attended bonsai demonstrations and yet despite all of this, when you look at your tree you don’t have the slightest idea where to begin or how to style it. Added to this is the fear that whatever you do might be wrong and may ruin it.

But things are not as bad as they seem and the art of bonsai is meant to be an enjoyment rather than a stressful anxiety. The first thing you need to get over is fear. Almost any mistake can be corrected with time and planning. There are obvious exceptions to that statement, but assuming you have a tree that’s merely a pre-bonsai there’s no need to worry about ruining it when it isn’t yet even a finished bonsai.
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Bonsai Pot Selection

Part 13 of a series by Eugene Howell

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Bonsai Pot SelectionBonsai pots come in so many shapes and sizes that it can sometimes be difficult to decide which pot to put your tree in. This is particularly true for people who are new to the art of bonsai. Some of the factors in bonsai pot selection are obvious, such as selecting a pot capable of holding the volume of roots your tree has. But there are several very important artistic considerations in bonsai pot selection that have been handed down through generations of experience and expertise from Japanese bonsai masters. By applying these rules you can have a bonsai tree that’s perfectly complimented by the pot it sits in.

First of all, there is a bonsai rule concerning the relationship of the size of the pot to the size of the tree. Therefore, you should always style and shape the tree first before selecting the proper sized pot.
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Bonsai Forest

Part 12 of a series by Eugene Howell

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Bonsai ForestTrees live a long time and many of us don’t have 30 or 40 years to wait for a seedling to grow into an impressive bonsai. For those who do, they may not have the patience to wait that long. Fortunately, in the art of bonsai, there are ways to shortcut the process. One of those ways is to create a bonsai forest. One of those ways is to create a forest planting. Typically a bonsai forest will use much younger trees that are not nearly as well developed as a single planted bonsai.

A bonsai forest is frequently set on a natural slab of stone rather than in a bonsai pot. This arrangement often leads the novice to have two questions: “How do I keep the trees in place on a natural slab?” and “How do I prevent the soil from washing over the side when I water it?”
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Bonsai Ramification

Part 11 of a series by Eugene Howell

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Dwarf Procumbeus Juniper One of the techniques that beginning bonsai artists find hard to understand is how to develop leaf pads. Questions concerning this come up more than any other when we work with newcomers to the hobby. So let’s take the time to discuss a couple of the key points in developing bonsai ramification since this is key to having good leaf pads.

Ramification is the repeated division of branches. As a tree grows in nature, the original branches divide and begin growing secondary branches. These in turn divide to produce third and forth branches, and so it goes until the tree is fully grown and covered with thousands of small twigs. By this time each of the tree’s main branches might themselves be branched six or more times before terminating at the leaves. When one looks at the canopy of a tree in nature, you see tens of thousands of leaves held by thousands of small twigs.
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Meristem Cells

Part 10 of a series by Eugene Howell

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Acer BonsaiTo be a good bonsai artist you must first understand how a tree will respond to what you’re doing. This means you must understand the basic parts and functions of a tree. Superficially this may seem to be an overly simple topic. After all, everyone knows a tree has leaves, branches, a trunk and roots. But don’t be fooled, understanding how these parts respond to pruning, wiring and cutting is a bit more complicated and deserves some discussion.

As I stated in the last post the trunk is made up of five layers. The outside layer is the bark, next is the phloem, and the third is the cambium. What the cambium does is extremely important to the bonsai artist.
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