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Club News – August 2020

No August Meeting Or Garden Tour

In August, we typically have a Garden Tour for our monthly meeting. Due to COVID-19 we will not have a tour this year. At the Kusamura board meeting on July 28, the club decided that we would forgo hosting a Zoom meeting also. In the meantime, members are invited to post photos of their own gardens or one of their favorite bonsai trees on Kusamura’s Instagram site. 

In order to do this, Christine Weigen reminds us:

  • Go to Instagram online on your computer (or down load the Instagram app on a device).
  • If this is your first time, you will need to create an account with a name and password.
  • Once on the instagram site or in the app, go to the search (magnifying glass icon) and type in kusamura_bonsai
  • You should now see the Kusamura site.
  • Once there, you can scroll through the photos that have already been shared by Christine, Ryan, Jerry, Idris and others.

Instagram is a fun way to share current photos and, if you like, add a little text about the photos. Everyone wants to see what you’ve been working on, whether it is your individual trees or the environment in which you are displaying/storing your trees.

Monthly Tasks

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: August Tasks

Club Potting Party Update and Tree Count

Obviously, the status of COVID-19 will determine when our potting parties can resume. At this time the club doesn’t anticipate holding a club potting party until sometime in 2021.

But the club would like to inventory how many trees club members may be taking care of. Richard Phillips is leading this effort. So please email Richard the total count of trees you have. If you have trees with a number on it such as #52 and a price listed please send him that info too. The number probably indicates that it is a Bill Scott tree and the price is its original appraised value.

Club Matching Donations to Bonsai Garden at Lake Merrit

The Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt (BGLM) was established in 1999 and not only offers a year-round display of bonsai and stones by outstanding masters and collectors but ensures that the collection will be maintained for future generations. Kathy Shaner is Curator of the collection. In addition, the site is one of the locations in which the Golden State Bonsai Federation (GSBF) offers bonsai classes to current and beginning bonsai enthusiasts. The Bonsai Garden is currently in need of a modernized security system. To support this effort, it was decided at our recent board meeting that Kusamura will donate $200 plus match “dollar-for-dollar” up to $300 of donations from Kusamura members. So if members donate $300 or more, Kusamura will donate a total of $500 and the garden will receive a donation of $800 or more.

To donate, make your check payable to Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt or to Kusamura Bonsai Club. On the check memo include the words BGLM Security System. Either way, mail your check to club Treasurer Hal Jerman at 3056 Ramona Street, Palo Alto, CA 94036. This will allow Hal to keep track of donations for matching purposes. BGLM and Kusamura Bonsai Club are both 501(c)(3) non-profits so your donation is tax deductible. Please send Hal your check by September 15.

To learn more about the Bonsai Garden, go to GSBFbonsai.org, click on “Collections”, and then click on “VisitTheWebsite” under Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt.

Local Japanese Garden Estate with Bonsai Collection

Recently friends of mine ran across the property Kotani-En while walking in the hills of Saratoga. They had never heard of it and neither had I. The property is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and was documented by the United States Department of Defense as one of the most authentic Japanese Gardens in America. It also has a fabulous bonsai collection and includes a photo with Kimura touring the collection. I hope this has enticed you to take a look at their website because it is truly an amazing property and collection. Unfortunately it is a private property and not open to the public.

Recap of Our July 17 Zoom Meeting

On July 17 Jonas Dupuich presented a program on “The Ten Things I Wish I Had Known When I Started Bonsai.” Here is his very informative list:

  • Don’t overwork your trees and only do certain tasks when it is healthy. When you overwork a tree, you impact the trees health and cause the tree to slow down. So focus on its health before focusing or wiring and styling.
  • Understand why/when to use extreme solutions. Make big cuts incrementally.
    Jonas talked about an olive tree he got about five years ago. At that time most of the tree was already dead but he made drastic cuts to it. The tree didn’t start growing again for another four years. This experience taught him to consider the stress the tree is under before working on it.
    Jonas also pointed out that you should make sure the bonsai advice you read online, in a book or magazine is appropriate for the area in which you are growing your trees. For example, if you read an article written for Japan and translated to English, remember that article was probably written for the climate in Japan and materials available in Japan. As an example, he mentioned an article that mentioned using sand in the soil mix. However, in Japan, the term “sand” doesn’t refer to the same material that we know here. Instead, it refers to black pumice from Mount Fuji. Using that in a soil mix will give different results than river sand.
    Trees respond differently based on their species. A juniper for example needs vigorous shoots on it to encourage root growth after it is repotted. So don’t prune a juniper just before you repot it. Refer to further discussion of junipers in Bonsai Heresy by Michael Hagedorn. Wait a year to repot it if you’ve just done a major prune back on a juniper.
  • Keep up with the seasonal work on your trees. If you can’t, downsize your collection; you have too many trees.
    Again, make sure you are following the seasonal work specified for the type of tree you have. For example, the work you do on a black pine is different from the work you do on a red pine. If done properly, you can get two seasons of new growth on a black pine. But you will only get one season of growth on a red pine and timing is everything or you have to wait another year to do the desired work.
  • Buy the best available tree you can afford when you see it because you don’t know if you’ll see the same quality of material down the road. For example, we can no longer import trees from Japan.
  • Value the young trees you have – Don’t devalue them because they’re not perfect. Make sure “YOU” value them.
  • Put in all the necessary amount of effort needed to improve the trunk – get it right from the start. If you don’t, you will never get those highly prized lateral roots that imply age in the tree without a lot of painstaking efforts later on (we’re talking about grafting roots here).
    Jonas pointed out that trident maples and azaleas are the only two species that he knows of that respond well to root grafting. However, some bonsai enthusiasts have had success grafting additional lateral roots when there were good roots on part of the trunk.
  • Respect the trees climate needs. For example, to grow tropicals such as a ficus in the Bay Area you need to create a tropical-like environment to grow the tree in. At a minimum this means you have to bring the tree indoors during the winter season and keep it in the shade part of the day other times of the year.
  • Create good habits for watering and fertilizing. Your trees will be much healthier throughout the year if you pay attention to the pH level of your water and modify it accordingly. The optimum pH level for most bonsai is in the 6 – 6.5 range. Municipal water generally has a much higher pH level to prevent water pipes from rotting. For example, Palo Alto water is ~9.6 pH. It is harder for the tree to absorb fertilizer when the pH is too high. So by lowering the pH level to 6 – 7 range you will use 30% less fertilizer and have healthier trees. Household vinegar is a great acidifier of water – cheap and without side-effects. To determine how much vinegar to add you can use a pH test kit for home aquarium, spa or swimming pool. Ones that use a solution seem to be easier to use than test strips. These kits are fairly cheap, but a digital instrument will be faster and easier to use, and probably cheaper over the long run. Jonas prefers the Apera Instruments AI209 Value Series PH20 Waterproof pH Tester Kit. It is available from Amazon for $46. You probably also want the Soaking Solution to extend the sensor life.
  • Don’t be afraid to use chemicals when necessary. When you need to spray do so immediately. Spider mites can cause immediate danger in one afternoon and cause your tree to take two years to recover. Watering pines and junipers from overhead will wash them away. Try to include overhead watering during really hot temperatures because dried out foliage attracts mites. Spraying infestations with oils or soapy water works well too. When purchasing other types of treatments, make sure the label specifically states “for getting rid of mites” because mites are not insects, they are related to spiders.
  • When buying trees, make sure they are healthy. Be particularly wary of this when buying trees in an individual collection. Understand the circumstances leading to the trees sale. Find out if the tree has been properly cared for before being offered for sale.

Six Things Beginners Should Know

  1. Pay attention to the health of your tree. If you’re not getting the growth you want to see, try something different. Figure out if it needs more shade, more sun, less water, etc.
  2. Learn by doing/practicing. If you’re interested in trying a new technique, just do it. For example, practice grafting on branches you don’t plan to keep in the long run. Carving is another example. Practice further out on a branch before creating the desired jin on the same branch.
  3. Grow trees in batches – This is the cheapest way to learn. Observing the growth on lots of trees of the same species will enable you to better understand how that species grows.
  4. Purchase good trees. You don’t have to start with twigs or young trees. Having trees further developed means you can start wiring, styling, improving branch ramification, etc immediately. So purchase the best trees you can afford.
  5. Handle trees with more care. Use tweezers when pulling pine needles and don’t press against the tips of the remaining needles. Learn to “feel” the pressure on that branch when you bend it.
  6. Don’t be afraid to be more aggressive your design goals. As you “feel” the pressure on a branch when you bend it, aim for more aggressive results. I find this works best if I make an initial bend, pause for a few seconds, bend it some more, and then repeat these steps until I get the desired result.Put fun movements in your branches, especially on junipers.
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