Club News – August 2019
No August Meeting – Garden Tour and Picnic, August 17
As is usual at this time of year our club takes a break from formal meetings and instead visit the gardens of a few of our club members to see their trees and then have a picnic.
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
Recap of Our July Meeting
At our July meeting Kathy Shaner talked first about how we often bring home a tree that’s a bit overgrown and then leave it in our yard until we know what we want to do with it. Over time such trees will become more leggy, shaggy, etc. Instead, she recommended immediately pruning the tree to force new growth. She sometimes does this pruing in the nursery parking lot!
She demonstrated what she was talking about using an overgrown Juniper Prostrata. FIrst, she cut each branch back to about half the original length. On a branch that has several inches without any green, she wants to force some growth to make it interesting. So, she cut most of the green off – leaving enough so that the branch will remain alive and sprout again.
Branches without taper (same diameter the entire length of the branch) are boring. So, cut those back – leaving a minimum amount of green.
She suggested removing the tree from the nursery pot and remove enough dirt to see something of the nebari. Use a chopstick – or even a screwdriver if the soil is really compacted.
One way to save a long branch that has the same diameter – create a long jin.
Part Two – Restyling a Bunjin Pine
The remainder of the demo focused on restyling an old bunjin style black pine. Most of the demo focused on how creating a jin and shari made use of a dead branch to add interest to the tree’s design. Kathy reminded us that although jin and shari are less common on pine bonsai than on juniper bonsai, if you look at old pines in a forest you will see lots of dead wood.
Before Styling – Do some physical therapy on your trees! Branches that haven’t been moved much will be stiff. It is a good idea to gently bend them back and forth all along the length of the branch. Start by making gentle bends and over time the wood will become more flexible and allow more dramatic bends later.
Where to Begin – In nature the top surface is more exposed and will erode more than the bottom or sides. To mimic that we need to our jins by working first on the top side of the branch.
Jins Should be Rough – You don’t want a jin to look too smooth. Kathy recommends using a root cutter or branch splitting tool to remove the bark from the dead branch. She continued using the same tool to remove the soft outer layers of the wood – until she got down to the heartwood. Then gently nibble away small bites at a time. This creates more interesting detail and exposes scars where smaller branches used to be. To begin, bite into the branch with the root cutter along the direction of the grain. The cutter should remain in place if you remove your hand. If it doesn’t you haven’t bitten deep enough. The split should be small, less than half the diameter, because as you pull the split towards the trunk it will become larger. You can always make it larger later.
Now slowly rock the cutter back and forth along the grain to cause the branch to break away. Start first at the top surface of the branch because the top would erode away sooner than the bottom or sides. Grab the wood with the tool and pull the wood following the grain. Slowly peel away some of the wood in small strips. Keep any knobs remaining behind from branches that have died back. They give the jin character and show age in the tree. Using a Dremel you would carve / sand those away.
Practice is important so experiment using dead branches you find in your yard.
Creating a Shari – As she was working on the jin she decided it would look natural to have the dead wood extend further down the tree – a shari. To create the shari the continued stripping the bark as she had done previously for the shari but now she was careful to not remove too much. The live branch needs a good connection down the trunk to the roots so the shari is on the back side of the trunk from the branch. She used a wood gouge (a form of chisel) to clean up the edges of the shari so that it would heal properly.
Cure for Dry Wood – If the wood is too dry it will be difficult to work. You can strip off the bark and wrap wet paper towels around the exposed wood. Ten to fifteen minutes will make the wood easier to work. After you’ve finished splitting, use a stiff wire brush to scrub and texture the jin.
Preserving Dead Wood – Historically bonsai jin and shari have been treated with Lime Sulfur to preserve the exposed wood. Unfortunately, it has to be reapplied over time and the wood looks unnaturally white. For many years Kathy has recommended using other treatment such as Minwax Wood Hardener or PC-Petrifier. Both of these products are clear and don’t change the color of the wood. Tonight Kathy talked about how to use Minwax wood stains when you want to add color to dead wood.
Kathy does NOT shake up the can. She lets the pigments settle to the bottom of the can. Then using a thin bamboo skewer like used for cooking, she dips the blunt end into the can and picks up color from the bottom. Then she can paint very small amounts onto the wood. Clearly this will need a lot of practice first before tackling your best tree! Note, Kathy didn’t say whether she uses oil based or water based stain or any topcoat.