Category Archives: Where to Start

Brazilian Pepper Bonsai

Starting a Brazilian Pepper bonsai from scratch

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Brazilian Pepper Bonsai National Bonsai MuseumIn Florida the Brazilian Pepper Tree is an invasive species and is hated by all those Floridians who posses even a fundamental knowledge of gardening, landscaping or environmental conservation.

State, County and City governments cut them down with vigilance but the tree is nearly impossible to kill and new shoots will spring up from stumps in just a couple of weeks. I too hate the Brazilian Pepper and would enjoy seeing them all eradicated from the Florida Peninsula.

And with that attitude in mind, can you imagine my surprise as I stood in the National Arboretum recently in Washington D.C. admiring a beautiful bonsai only to read the sign and discover that it was a Brazilian Pepper?

Needless to say I was shocked, yet at the same time I was inspired by it because it was a really nice looking bonsai. And if there is a positive to be said about Brazilian Pepper being used for bonsai it is that they are so prolific that even cut branches left behind on the ground can sprout new roots and start growing again. So I decided that I wanted to start a Brazilian Pepper Bonsai, and here’s how it went:

After returning home to Florida; one evening I tucked a folding pocket saw into my back pocket, hopped on my bicycle and rode through my neighborhood to a few empty lots. I stopped at each one to inspect the Brazilian Peppers that were growing there. At my third stop I found a tree with thick branches. One branch in particular had a bit of a curve to it. With folding saw in hand, I spent about ten minutes cutting through the branch and eventually separated it from the tree. I got back on my bicycle and struggled my way back home dragging nearly twenty feet of foliage behind me, no doubt a curious sight to my neighbors.

Once I arrived home, I grabbed the pruning loppers from the garage and cut off all the foliage. I then put the branch onto my table saw. Adjusted the saw blade to the steepest angle and cut what remained of the branch in half. I was left with a piece of wood 7 inches in diameter and 15 inches in length. (If you’re listening only to the audio version of this article, you can visit The Bonsai Garden Podcast website to see pictures of it).

I had an empty bonsai pot in the garage. I ran some thick bonsai wire through the drain hole of the pot to be used as an anchor for the rootless branch. I secured the branch to the pot using the wire and then filled the pot with bonsai soil. If you try this yourself, it’s really important that the branch be right side up in the pot. In other words, the branch needs to be in the pot in the same orientation it was on the tree. The vascular system within the branch will not work in reverse. If you plant the branch upside down it will die.

Brazilian Pepper Bonsai from scratchSo I planted this bare log into a bonsai pot on March 26th and by April 11th, just two weeks and two days later, I noticed the first bud beginning to open on the side of the branch. To the new bonsai artist this process of cutting off every leaf and every branch may seem strange or even harsh, but the reality is that new buds will eventually pop from all over the branch giving me perhaps a dozen or more options to choose from once I begin to have a vision for how I want the bonsai to look. But I won’t do any branch wiring or even any branch selection until I know that the tree has had plenty of time to develop a new root system. So I will most likely leave the tree untouched for about one year before I do anything further to it other than applying fertilizer.

Brazilian Pepper Bonsai? Who would have ever thought? But the one featured in the National Arboretum was outstanding. So if you want to make one yourself, give it a try.

P.S. – *The family Anacardiaceae contains poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, and Schinus terebinthifolius, or Brazilian pepper-tree. People sensitive to poison ivy, oak or sumac may also be allergic to Brazilian pepper tree because it also has the potential to cause dermatitis to those with sensitive skin. Some people have also expressed respiratory problems associated with the bloom period of pepper tree.

*Reference Source http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/node/405

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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