Winter Care Workshop with John Thompson

November 17 starting @ 7:00PM

by Marsha Mekisich

Guest speaker John Thompson (JT) will start out with an informative overview about “Winter Care of Deciduous Trees” possibly touching on other types of trees as well. After his overview you will have the opportunity to work on your tree. As JT works his way around the room other advanced members are encouraged to help if they like. If you do not have a deciduous tree, JT says it’s fine to bring a tree of your choice but let’s keep the focus on winter care. Those of you who don’t bring a tree are sure to learn a lot by listening in as JT assists members with their trees.

JT has been studying and working with bonsai for over thirty years. His first exposure to bonsai occurred while stationed in Okinawa. Over the years he has developed a reputation for his horticultural knowledge and the fine art of bonsai. JT continues to hone his knowledge while generously sharing with others. He is a member of Midori, Sei Boku Bonsai Kai and BABA. JT is also very involved in the biennial Shohin Seminar and at Bonsai Garden Lake Merritt. For me, JT is one of my “go to” people for help with oaks and plant identification. I am sure you will find time with him very informative.

With bonsai of course we have rules and guidelines passed down from Japan. We need to understand and pay attention to these, but these should not constrain us as we examine individual trees for potential that makes them unique. As our deciduous trees drop their leaves and prepare themselves for winter, it is a good time to examine them more fully. Be it styling, potting, health etc.

Bring your tools, trays and trees as well as your questions and have fun. As always if you can arrive early to help with chair and table setup or stay and help with breakdown and cleanup at the end, your help would be greatly appreciated. Working as a team ensures no one gets overloaded


Club News

Club Soil Making Event on Saturday, November 11

Members will meet at Lynne O'Dell's home on Saturday, Nov. 11 to make soil for use at our upcoming potting parties. After sufficient soil has been prepared for the potting parties, participating members can make a bag of soil for their own use buying it at club cost. This is an exceptional opportunity for beginners to learn about the components, the attributes of each and how to remove the fine dust prior to mixing. We’ll meet RAIN OR SHINE starting at 9:00AM until 12:00 Noon. Bring gloves and a sieve set if you have one. Please RSVP to Lynne O'Dell prior to this event to let her know you’ll be there

Club Potting Party on Saturday, December 9

Our first potting party for the 2018 show will be Saturday, December 9 from 10AM – 4PM at the home of Mark O’Brien, 661 Coleman Ave, Menlo Park. When arriving, Mark asks that you walk down the long driveway next door and go thru the gate on the left to enter his back yard. Heavy items can be driven to the gate and carted from there. We will work on material that can be repotted in the fall. That includes fruiting and flowering trees, junipers, pines if protected afterwards, and boxwood and olive if you live in the South Bay.

Club potting parties are held to work on trees that will be sold at our annual show in order to raise funds to support the clubs’ on-going monthly activities and pay for future show expenses. Each club member is kindly asked to donate trees or bonsai related items for sale at our 2018 annual show. First year members are asked to donate at least one tree while we ask longer-term members to donate three trees. By bringing trees you’ll donate to the potting party you can get assistance with styling as well as use club-provided pots, soil and wire.

If you are new to bonsai or a newer member of the club, the potting parties are a great way to meet other members of the club and kick start your learning curve of the techniques for styling, pruning, wiring, and potting/repotting a bonsai. Newer members will have the option to pair up with a more experienced member to learn the process.

Also, bring in any club owned trees you are babysitting that need to be worked on during the fall. Note that if you are donating cash or other items vs. trees, the club still needs your help with the club owned trees.

For those of you who can come early and help with setup or stay late and help with breakdown, your assistance with those tasks will be greatly appreciated too. Remember you don’t have to stay for the entire day.

Doughnuts will be provided but also consider bringing a bag lunch.

The club thanks Mark O’Brien and his wife Carol for volunteering and making their home available for this event.

2017 Show Photos Available

Appologies for the delay in uploading photos from our 57th Annual Show, but they are finally available here.

December Holiday Party

Our December 15th program will be a holiday party to socialize with fellow club members and their families. Each year the club provides a ham for carving, a turkey breast, wine and tables decorated in holiday cheer. Club members are asked to bring a potluck dish for sharing.

Last year’s Silent Auction was so much fun that we’re doing that again this year. Contact Lynne O’Dell if you have an item to donate for the auction or if you would like to volunteer to help with organizing this event.


Timely Work Schedule

Each month there are a number of tasks you need to do to your bonsai - from repotting, to fertilizing to spraying for pests. We have put together a checklist, customized for the San Francisco Bay Area to help you. This checklist is adapted from earlier work by Mitsuo Umehara.

This month: November Tasks

October Meeting Recap

I think we had a record number of trees worked on at our October meeting as eighteen members either brought in a redwood or purchased one from John Planting for the workshop. Other members learned by observing Gordon Deeg in action. Everyone left with great looking trees and all fingers intact. As expected, Gordon’s presentation and workshop was well received. The club extends a big THANK YOU to Gordon along with Donna Farmar, Michael Greenstein, Marsha Mekisich and Jerry Carpenter who helped Gordon with member’s trees. And thank you John for providing some really nice redwoods for members to purchase!

Gordon said that redwood ‘sempervirens’ currently normally grow from Big Sur to the Oregon border along a coastal belt extending only fifty miles inland. The exception is you will find them growing in Sacramento.

Redwoods have shallow roots and get a lot of their water from the moisture in fog. And although they can grow to about four hundred feet tall you will never see large extended or heavy branches on a redwood. Bonsai enthusiasts should remember this and keep branches on a redwood bonsai very small to make it look realistic. Gordon says he sees a lot of redwood bonsai with branches that are way too long.

Ideally your redwood bonsai should be tall, straight and tapered from bottom to top. That’s how they grow in nature. To get that look you must look at each area where a branch is growing out and get rid of other growth around the one branch you want to keep. Otherwise you get a bulge/knob along the trunk/base of the tree where too many branches are growing.
In an area where you have a large gap in the branches, cut back drastically in the surrounding area and you will have lots of new branches appear. Gordon brought in a fabulous redwood that he’s had for fifteen years but pointed out a couple of areas where knobs had developed. Gordon said if he did a major pruning to eliminate those knobs, it would only take a couple of years to get new branches to grow to the current size of those removed.

When pruning, remove branches going straight up or down. The apex should be the only area that has branches going up. Pinch vs. prune new growth that is light green in color. In other words, it hasn’t hardened off. Always pinch back only leaving new growth that points in the desired direction. Donna said that when foliage gets to three quarters of an inch long, hold it in place with one hand and pull the tip off with your other hand. If you pinch it at the right time, it will fill in and you'll never know it was pruned. If new growth has gotten to two inches in length, then you will want to remove two thirds of that growth.

Of course, it is best to look at new buds coming out and remove buds that don't have a future. But never remove all the buds so you always have new growth coming. In short, your redwood will always be in a state of “remove and regrow” as you don’t want thick or heavy branches and foliage.

Gordon said redwoods can be repotted any time of the year but like all other bonsai make sure you don't put a repotted tree in full sun if during the summer. Ideally redwood bonsai prefer three to four hours of morning sun followed by afternoon shade. A redwood bonsai will grow in full shade but just not as fast if it has some sun.

To thicken the trunk of a redwood, pot it in a shallow wide pot versus a deep pot. Lots of us get this confused. You can also grow sacrificial branches at the base of the tree to thicken it up. Note that sacrificial branches further up the tree only result in knobs and do not thicken up the trunk.

Along with Gordon, Donna does a lot of volunteer work at Bonsai Garden Lake Merritt. More recently Donna has been taking care of the five redwoods amongst this collection of over a hundred bonsai. Donna said the Garden is always looking for additional bonsai enthusiasts to volunteer on Thursdays and get lots of experience working hands-on caring for the trees. Contact Gordon or Donna or refer to for more info.

For those of you who got to see Gordon’s fabulous “burnt” redwood that evening, Gordon reported that he had used Min Wax plus “ebony” stain to make his redwood look like it had burned.

Thanks again Gordon! It was a most enjoyable and informative meeting.


Gordon's "Burnt" Redwood
Gordon's "Burnt" Redwood


Members discussing Show-and-Tell trees during breaktime
Club members discussing Show-and-Tell trees during breaktime

Club Calendar

November 11 (Saturday): Soil making party at home of Lynne O’Dell
November 14 (Tuesday): Board meeting at home of Lynne O’Dell
November 17 (Friday): Monthly meeting program by guest John Thompson.
December 9 (Saturday): Potting party at home of Mark O’Brien.
December 15 (Friday): Kusamura holiday party starting at 7:00PM.
April 21-22: Our 2018 annual show with setup starting Friday April 20.

Other Events

February 2 - 4, 2018, Santa Nella
California Shohin Seminar: Biennial shohin seminar at Hotel Mission de Oro. Registration is now open. Workshop sign-ups must be postmarked by December 15. Feb 2: Registration 10 AM – 5 PM with demonstrations from Noon – 6 PM, Exhibit and Vendor areas set-up 11 AM – 5 PM; everyone is invited to share their treasured shohin bonsai in the exhibit. Feb 3: Exhibit opens for Registration, Viewing, Vendor Sales, Workshops, Raffle & Benefit Drawing 8 AM – 5 PM. Feb 4: Sunday schedule not yet announced. Registration forms available on the website. Attendees who only want access to vendor and exhibit may purchase a day pass. For registration forms and workshop info, go to

February 17-18, 2018 Oakland
GSBF Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt: The Annual Mammoth Auction and Sale Fund Raiser will be held at the Lakeside Park Garden Center, 666 Bellevue Ave at Lake Merritt.

Saturday: Auction preview at Noon with Auction starting at 1 PM.
Sunday: Vendor Sales start at 9 AM; Plant Sales start at 10 AM; Demonstrations start at 1 PM.

Everyone is encouraged to submit their bonsai and bonsai related items for consideration to be included in the Mammoth Auction at the earliest date possible. The Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt will be open that weekend 10 AM to 4 PM on Saturday, and Noon to 4 PM on Sunday. Please visit the Garden and observe the many installments under the Garden Revitalization Opportunity (GRO) project.

For more information or to sell bonsai, email and visit

See GSBF Calendar for additional items

We Accept Donations

As a non-profit, we happily take charitable donations to sustain our club. In exchange, we will will get you a receipt to include when filing your taxes.

For more info see Donations

Articles We Recommend

Intro to Bonsai
About Your New Tree
Pine Pests

Other Sites We Recommend

Michael Hagedorn's blog
Bonsai Tonight
Peter Tea's blog

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