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Club News – February 2021

“Tips and Tricks” by Richard Phillips 
February 19, Zoom Meeting Starting @ 7pm

Ever struggle with some aspect of bonsai and then suddenly have someone show you a trick for getting it done with less effort? Or, gotten a tip from a presentation that enabled you to advance your bonsai practice? If so, then our February meeting will be the time for you to share what you know with the rest of us. The goal for the meeting is to capture as many “Tips and Tricks” as we can. We will then assemble them into a pdf document that will benefit not only our club, but visitors to our website as well, now and in the future.

Tips and tricks can be from any part of bonsai from grafting to pruning to fertilizing to you name it. The more we can collect, the smarter we will all become. You’re welcome to submit as many ideas as you have. The more we can collect, the smarter we will all become. BTW – the source of the information can be anyone or any where. Or maybe you came up with it yourself! Just make sure that we can acknowledge the source if it’s from outside the club.

And if you are the shy type and would rather listen than explain on Zoom, then email your tip to Richard and he will present it at the meeting. We’d like everyone to feel comfortable participating!

You can also refer to the February 2016 newsletter on our website for information regarding proper bonsai pot selection per Valerie’s instruction. This will be the perfect time to ask Valerie questions if you need more information regarding this topic too.

Here are some categories, from Michael Greenstein, to get you thinking:

Potting and Repotting | Wiring | Pruning | Fertilizing | Watering | Carving/ Working with Deadwood | Propagating | General

Note that this meeting will be recorded to ensure all your tips are captured but the resulting video will not be made public.

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: February Tasks


Upcoming March Club Meeting: “Preparing For Our Virtual Show” by Richard Phillips

As you’ve no doubt heard by now, Kusamura will once again be unable to hold our annual show in the spring. However, plans are afoot to create an online “virtual show” that will showcase our member’s bonsai talents at every level from seasoned veteran to brand new beginner. Check out this At-Home-Bonsai site that will be the inspiration for our show. You will notice that the bonsai range widely from beginner bonsai to older well- developed and maintained trees. And the photographs are taken “at home” by their owners, not by professionals. To pull this off with our usual style, our March meeting will be about how to prepare your material for the show and tips and ideas on how to photograph your bonsai at home. Topics will include how to make those last little adjustments to the tree, how to choose a stand and accent plant, and how to decide if the pot needs to be changed. We will also feature a presentation on how to photograph your tree or trees to their best advantage. More on this as we get closer to March. Our goal is to have as close to 100% participation as we can and to provide whatever support is needed to make that happen. Stay tuned for further updates.


International Bonsai Magazine Free Online

After publishing International BONSAI for 42 years and producing 164 issues, Bill Valavanis has decided to suspend the printed edition and allow everyone to subscribe for free. To sign up and/or to order printed Back Issues, go to www.internationalbonsaionline.com


Recap of Our January Zoom Meeting

Valerie Monroe who just finished a four year tenure as Sei Boku Bonsai Kai President and has over thirty-five years of experience in the art of bonsai was out guest speaker at our January meeting. Valerie started her demonstration by narrating a previously recorded video of her potting a grove of redwoods in a landscape style bonsai pot. She also covered issues such as dealing with a pot having only one drain hole, tying-down of a grove of trees when working solo by holding your tree(s) in place using a grid of chopsticks or a simple mesh grid snuggly fit into the bottom of the pot.

Valerie’s redwood group was made up of cuttings started by Gordon Deeg. Each trunk had re-sprouted and turned into a clump of trees. Valerie’s goal was to create a bonsai landscape group with a mountainous feel to it.

Redwood grove from cuttings

When cutting back its’ roots, you want to keep the fibrous roots of the redwood and remove the heavier roots. Redwoods create a mat of roots at the upper level of the soil. So it’s always better to start at the top and remove enough soil to expose the flare of the trunk and then look for where the roots start to grow down. You want to retain the upper portions of the roots that are growing down. If you start removing roots from the bottom first, you run the risk of removing too much length of the desired roots and will end up with only a “mat” of roots at the top. On subsequent repots you should have a pot full of fine fibrous roots which are the desired roots to promote good water and nutrient uptake. Valerie removed one and a half to two inches of roots off the bottom of the roots during her demonstration.

Heavy roots being removed

Valerie said the “mountain” could be as high as she wanted it but the soil should be able to take on water or it will obviously just run off when watering. You will also need to cover the soil with moss or a combination of stones and other vegetation to prevent soil erosion starting out.

It’s very important to remove all the fines in your soil mix when working with a shallower pot because these fines will cause a buildup of moisture in a shallow pot and impact the long term health of the roots of the tree(s).

Valerie also suggested that if you are growing redwoods in a hotter climate, you might want to use a larger portion of akadama in your soil mix. Marsha Mekisich said she grew her redwoods in 100% akadama in San Mateo and that has been successful for her. Remember redwoods drink a lot of water. Valerie also said she had recently converted to an osmosis system to improve the quality of water for her trees. Water quality is a topic in and of itself and should be explored if you are just starting out in bonsai. A good resource for this subject is “Bonsai Heresy” by Michael Hagedorn.

How to Tie the Redwood Grove to the Pot

As the redwood grove covered a good portion of the surface area of the bonsai pot, Valerie decided she only needed to put tie down wires in the two holes on each end of the pot. But as is the norm, she screened all five holes of the pot using typical screen we are familiar with and copper staples she demonstrated making. When placing each screen over a hole, Valerie suggested placing the screen so that it is curling toward the pot in order for the screen to lie flat and prevent soil from getting up under it. If you’re working with a larger rectangular drain hole, Valerie suggested using two staples for a single hole to properly secure the screen.

Container with drainage mesh and tie wires

Valerie used #2 aluminum wire for her tie down wire. Each tie down was inserted from the underside of the pot through the two drain holes on either the left end or right end of the pot. Once soil was added and the group was wiggled in place on top of the soil, the ends of a tie down wire were pulled toward each other, twisted together where they met and tightened with pliers to take up any slack thereby enabling the redwood grove to be securely tied into the bonsai pot.

Tightening the tie down wires

Normally one would use a “pig-tail” wire and the group would have been tied in place by running the tie down wires and the pig-tail around the perimeter of the roots but that was not needed in this case.

What to Do When a Pot Only Has One Drain Hole

Valerie also showed us how to wire a tree into a cascade bonsai pot that had only one drain hole. The key is to create a drain hole staple with super long legs. Valerie created two such staples. Then she inserted the two staples into one drain hole from the underside of the pot. The legs of the staples can then be used as the tie down wires for the tree. Place two chopsticks crossed in an ”X” across the bottom the pot. Then wrap each wire around the end of a chopstick. This will enable you to spread the four wires out to four corners of the pot versus all originating from the center of the pot. You would then add soil, your tree and tie the tree in. Note that you should use bamboo chopsticks for this procedure as they won’t rot within a year like cheaper chopsticks would do. Valerie used #18 copper wire for this demo.

Tie wire technique for a one hole container

Chopstick and Mesh Grids

You could also put the chopsticks parallel to each other and create a chopstick grid which works well when working with a group planting. This prevents the need to epoxy tie down wires to the pot itself.

Bamboo grid as alternative to gluing tie wires

Mesh grids are also useful for a landscape tray. Cut mesh grid in the shape of the bottom of the pot. The mesh must be a good fit for the pot. Too loose and it won’t work. First tie the mesh into the pot. Then tie plants to the mesh. Don’t allow soil to get under the mesh or the mesh will end up entangled in the roots of the trees as they start to grow. This technique is faster to implement.

Alternate method for wiring trees into a container

Valerie also suggested an easier way to create a group planting, especially when you are working alone. First tie down the trees with larger size trunks. Then spiral wire around the trees with smaller trunks and connect this wire to the heavier trunked trees.

Wire to hold trees in place after potting

San Jose Garden Club Zoom Presentation

In January, Lynne O’Dell and Richard Phillips presented a two-part program at the invitation of a friend of Lynne’s. Richard narrated a “Bonsai Basics” slide presentation and Lynne narrated a video of a Kingsville Boxwood group planting potting. This format seemed to work because Richard presented the basic information and Lynne showed how a potential 20+ year old tree can be styled and grown in a two-inch pot. Says Lynne “Richard’s technology skills are amazing and appreciated now and in projects to come”.

Completed boxwood group planting by Lynne O’Dell

San Jose Garden Club Zoom Presentation

In January, Lynne O’Dell and Richard Phillips presented a two-part program at the invitation of a friend of Lynne’s. Richard narrated a “Bonsai Basics” slide presentation and Lynne narrated a video of a Kingsville Boxwood group planting potting. This format seemed to work because Richard presented the basic information and Lynne showed how a potential 20+ year old tree can be styled and grown in a two-inch pot. Says Lynne “Richard’s technology skills are amazing and appreciated now and in projects to come”.

Completed boxwood group planting by Lynne O’Dell

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