Photos can be clicked on for a larger view.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Years end

Like probably most of you I'm finding it hard to believe that the year is at it's end. Maybe its just part of getting older, but it seems as if the clock has been speeding up. I'd like to take the opportunity now to thank all of you that have been reading these posts. 2010 was the year I finally decided to join the 21st century and start to take advantage of some of the technology that is available. Finally after 15 years I got a website for the nursery up. This coming year I 'm going to redo it and make it more user friendly and to have more of our inventory available on it. I also started this blog in the past year.  I even joined Facebook, which I never thought I would do. Look for a Kimura Bonsai Nursery page to come in 2011. I draw the line at Twitter though, you won't find us there. The landscaping side of the business has also joined the 21st century with updates to our website, and email newsletters. In the new year I'm going to start learning how to use the computer to help in the design process. I've even started a web forum with some partners about my other passion, bass fishing. You can check it out here if you'd like .
 This year has been tough business wise as I know it was for many others, but we hung in and got through it. I'm hopeful the coming year will be better for all of us. At the nursery we'll have more material specific workshops, some with guest teachers. The ongoing class schedule will also be expanded this year. We'll  be doing more workshops geared towards beginners  to the world of bonsai. I'll be doing a number of club programs as well as a workshop at the Golden State Bonsai Federations convention in November. I'm also talking with several organizations in other parts of the country about possible workshops and demo's.
 In the coming year I will do more  posts on the process of creating a bonsai ,from choosing  the material and giving it the initial styling, then following up with posts showing the development, potting etc.. I'll also be doing some work on some really exciting pieces of older material, some never worked on, others needing a restyling. As always I'm interested in what you would like to see so I'm open to suggestions.
 I want to wish all of you a healthy, happy and prosperous 2011. Talk to you all next year.

Bob Pressler

Monday, December 20, 2010

Working with less than ideal material

I'd like to take the opportunity to wish all of you all the best in this holiday season and in the new year.  I also want to thank you all for taking the time to read my blogs. I hope you will join me in the coming months as we continue to explore the art of bonsai.
Todays subject is going to be about improving some less than ideal material. We all want to have the perfect tree, with great nebari, good taper throughout the trunk, good branch placement etc.. The fact of the matter is more often then not we don't get to start with  ideal material. One of the challenges to being a bonsai artist is learning how to bring the most out of the material we have to work with.  The tree we are going to work on today is a Japanese Black Pine that I acquired a couple of years ago after its owner passed away. Its an old tree that was started by a older Japanese man from 5 gallon nursery material in 1980. The roots were not in good shape at all, and worse they are so old and large there isn't much that could be done with them. The tree was also not in the best of health when I received it. It was about a foot or so taller than it is now and the needles were long with not too many interior buds.
The above photo shows the present front of the tree as envisioned by the original owner. To try to hide the hollow caused by the raised roots a stone was placed under them. Here is a view from the other side of the tree.
On this side there is a large shari at the bottom of the trunk as well as a large scar from a chop in the trunk made to  shorten the trunk, add movement to the trunk and to create create a new leader. This cut was made in 2008 just after I got the tree. It was last transplanted then as well.
To start todays work I'll begin by pulling old needles. Starting at the top of the tree I begin pulling out all the old sets of needles from the tree. There are several reasons for pulling needles- its one of the major tools we have for balancing out the growth of the tree. On the upper stronger parts you can pull more needles to slow down the trees energy, on  weaker lower areas you would pull less. In this way you can help to balance the energy going to each part of the tree. On the strongest parts I even remove some of the new needle sets. Another important reason for pulling needles is to allow air and light into the interior of the tree allowing inside buds to get stronger. The photo below shows the tree after needle pulling.

The next step is to thin out the buds that grew as a result of last springs candle cutting. Some areas have 4 or even 5 new buds that grew. These I'll reduce to only 2 buds. One of them will become the new leader of the branch and the other will form a side branch. If they are really strong buds, especially in the top of the tree I may pick the weaker ones to keep and cut the stronger ones. This is also another way we can help to balance the trees growth. On weaker areas I'll take off the smaller ones and keep the stronger ones.
The next step will be to wire all the branches and put them in place. This photo shows that process starting. When wiring I'll start at the bottom of the tree and work my way up. I place each branch in it approximate place as I wire it.
As can be seen in the above photo there is a piece of stone filling in the hollow under the roots. What's not so apparent is the smaller hollow under the left side. I'll fit another piece of stone under there.
I made the decision to change the front of the tree. Even with the rock under  the two big roots it's still ugly. I like the shari at the base of the tree I think it adds great character to a tree that could use all the help it can get. The scar from the major trunk cut will probably take another four or five years to completely heal over. Here is the tree after the wiring and fitting another piece of stone under the roots.
The next step is to transplant the tree and to change the planting angle to go with the new front. There is a bunch of roots growing around the bottom of the pot, definitely time for a repotting. On the floor you can see the mass of encircling roots that I cut off
After repotting with its new front and angle the tree looks like this. Notice how nicely the two pieces of stone fit under the roots. I think that this is a major improvement over what we started with.
After a couple of years of candling cutting and needle removal the needle size should be shorter and more uniform throughout the tree.
I hope you enjoyed todays post. I'm always interested to hear any comments you may have about todays work or suggestions for future posts.
From Kimura Bonsai Nursery- a big Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Restyling a California Juniper

Today I am going to work on a major restyling of a California Juniper.I collected this tree in January of 2005 in the Palmdale, CA area. This tree is probably several hundred years old with the natural shari and jins created by Mother Nature to show it.
It was initially planted in the pot shown and roughly trimmed. In 2008 I did a basic styling in the informal upright style. At that time the primary branches and some secondary branches were wired.  As is often the case with collected CA Junipers, most of the usable branches come from very close to the same area on the trunk. If you look closely at the picture below you can see that the foliage  is all on a few branches all coming from the same general area.
The tree was well fed and allowed to grow with very little interference other than to remove the wire and a light pruning once. Which brings us to now. Here is a picture of the tree prior to todays work.

As you can see it has grown vigorously since the last work on it.  There is lots of strong new growth. Here is another view.

From the above view you can see on the right a long straight heavy root. On the left side the deadwood continues below the soil line. The image below shows some of the deadwood in detail.

Having deadwood below the soil line is just a problem waiting to happen. The wood can't help but to rot at some point because of the constant contact with wet soil.

If you look closely at the above image not only can you see some rot on the trunk at the soil level,  but also some reverse taper. Since this is a several hundred year old collected tree I could probably get away with the reverse taper, but it kind of bugs me. Thinking of a solution to the reverse taper and the rot issue got me to thinking about doing something different with this tree. I started to wonder how it would look as a semi cascade.  So out came the milk crate to hold the tree and I placed it inside the crate standing on the end of the pot. This was kind of interesting as you can see below.

I started poking around the soil and find a little rot and more reverse taper but no roots on the left hand side. All the roots are coming off that large root on the right. Its looking more and more like this may be the way to go.

Here I have a pot placed in front of the tree to get a better idea of how this might look. I'm really starting to like this idea.

After letting this sit overnight I made the decision to go for it. Here is the tree after some pruning  and wiring on the lower branches.

I continued with the trimming and wiring until the whole tree was wired and trimmed.

Here in Southern California we are blessed with a large window of time that we can safely repot in. Since this tree has already been in a pot and I don't plan on removing any roots not absolutely necessary, I feel its ok to transplant this now. Sorry I don't have any pictures of the repotting process but its hard to take pictures and repot at the same time. The tree winds up at a bit more of an angle then originally intended but I like the result. Take a look below and decide for yourself.

I still have reverse taper but that can be taken care of with some carving next fall. For now I'm going to let the plant recover and develop the foliage pads.
So lets take a look a the before -

and the after-

I think its a big improvement and am happy with the results.

I hope you find todays post interesting and as always I welcome any comments.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A bad hair day

Today it rained here in L.A. which meant staying in the classroom and working on trees. One of the trees I worked on today was a California Juniper that was definitely having a bad hair day.
I bought this tree about 7 years ago at a Descanso Bonsai Society auction. I think it's too tall now at 42", but you should have seen it when I got it. 58" tall! The branch that makes up the present top of the tree used to be the first branch. You can see the big bend I made then to turn the tree's foliage mass upside down. I still think it's too tall; one of my goals is to shorten it and reduce the visual weight of the foliage. I also need to do something about the stark whiteness of the trunk. I think that my assistant didn't wet the wood before applying lime sulfur as a preservative on the deadwood and it ended up too thick. Luckily some scrubbing with a wire brush should solve that problem.

Here are a couple of shots showing the whole tree not just its head.

I think that because of the amount of deadwood on this tree,  the foliage needs to be reduced. It just seems wrong for such a tortured looking tree to have so much foliage. This, like most California Junipers, is pretty old - probably 150-200 years - so I usually take my time removing large amounts of foliage.

Here I've removed the old apex. I was thinking about using the foliage mass on the right for a new apex,
but the trunk line and base didn't really work with it. So I removed the foliage on the right and turned the branch into a jin.
I've also scrubbed the trunk and removed most of the white color.

There is still too much foliage, so I used a towel to cover up some areas to see how it'll look with that foliage removed.

This is getting to be more like it. I think that this provides a better balance between the foliage and the trunk.

Now I need to wire and position all the branches, but that will be done in a later post.

I hope you enjoyed this post! As usual, I welcome any comments.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Bonsai Tool Basics

I wanted to do something about initial styling of nursery stock but the weather is not being cooperative. On this past Monday it was 118* at the nursery. It's cooled off to the high 90's and really muggy which is not something we are used to here. So I figured this would be a good time to go over what some of the tools we use are and what they are used for.
 Good bonsai tools, like any other good tools, are not cheap. However if properly cared for a good set of bonsai tools can last a lifetime. Beware of cheap imitations they will end up costing more in the long run. You don't have to go out and spend hundreds of dollars to start.  If necessary buy your tools one at a time as finances allow. When you take into consideration how long they last they really don't seem that expensive. Most all good quality bonsai tools are made in Japan. There are several brands of Japanese tools, most very comparable to each other . Yoshiaki is the brand I use and sell at the nursery. Most companies have two or three  levels of quality in their tool lines. I  suggest you buy the best quality you can afford to though. While we can and do use other tools, many found in our garages and basements I am going to concentrate on tools specifically made for bonsai.

To start with I would suggest the following basic tool kit. First of all start with several of the most versatile and inexpensive tools we'll use...chopsticks! Some of the many uses of chopsticks are, checking the moisture in a pot, removing soil from rootballs for repotting, working soil into the rootball, separating surface roots, remove weeds and countless other uses. One should always have a handful around.

The next tool would have to be a concave branch cutter. This is probably  other than chopsticks one of the most used tools you'll have. They are designed to leave a clean concave cut so that over time the wound can heal without leaving a large ugly scar.  We use these on branches that need shortening as well as for complete removal. We also  use them to cut larger roots. They are also sometimes used to help shape deadwood to make it look more natural. Branch cutters come in various sizes for working on various sized trees from small thin headed ones for shohin or smaller trees to large 12" long one for big branches. The most commonly used ones are 6-7 inches long and will handle 90% of what you need a branch cutter for.

The next most important item would be your shears. These are used for trimming smaller branches, general thinning and trimming of twigs and foliage on the top as well as on the roots. There are several shapes and sizes that are available, but basically which one's you use boil down to personal preference. I usually use the longer thinner version because I feel it allows easier access deeper into the tree interior. I do use the short squat type when working on roots though.

The next most important tool to have is one that people baulk at the most and that is a wire cutter. Everyone has a pair of dikes and wonders why they need to spend $50.00 or so on a wire cutter. The answer is simple, so you cut only the wire and not the branch. Typical dikes or other non bonsai wire cutter have an elongated pointed blade which is fine for cutting wire off a roll. But after the wire is on the branch and needs to be cut off then you find that except for the smallest wires the dikes are not strong enough on the tip to cut the wire, you have to move deeper down the blade which puts your branch right in the middle of the cutting blade. Bonsai wire cutter have a short rounded head with all the strength at the tip so you can cut the biggest wire without having to go deeper down the blade. So you cut only the wire not your branch. You may say well why not just unwind the wire? That can be very dangerous and will likely cause damage to your branches. Its much safer and less frustrating to cut it off. Why chance ruining years of work to save a few cents in wire? I never unwind wire it always gets cut off. If you work only with small wire there are less expensive smaller wire cutters you could use.

After the above tools comes a wide assortment of tools for a variety of purposes from cutting to bending.

My next suggestion would be a knob cutter. Its main use would be in cutting off branch stubs leaving a spherical , concave cut allowing for healing with minimal scarring. Its other main use is to eat away at jins and large cuts to help give them a shape and hide cut marks. It comes in very handy when making a large cut branch into a much thinner jin.

Speaking of jins, jin pliers are another useful item. Designed to crush and remove bark and peel off slivers of wood to create jins or dead branches stripped of their bark. They also come in very handy when wiring especially larger wires.

Though not pictured a rooter cutter is handy especially for those bigger roots. They also come in handy for splitting, ripping and tearing wood in the creation of jins and sharis. They look similar to knob cutters except the blades are flat and meet rather than concave and overlapping.

A trowel and hemp broom help finish off your potting chores.

There is also a variety of tools designed to help bend branches or put movement in trunks.
Some such as the jacks are put on the tree and are adjusted little by little over time to get the movement
wanted. Other such as the two pictured benders provide leverage to help bend the branch into the desired shape.

There are a variety of Japanese saws specifically made for bonsai for cutting branches too big for a branch cutter. Some fold, all cut on the pull stroke and make super clean cuts.

From here where you go with your tool collection is only limited by your checkbook and storage capacity. There are power tools for carving, at least 5 sizes of all of the above tools and a million assorted bits and pieces you can and probably will acquire. Just remember it is always better to get the best quality tool you can. No matter if its for bonsai or woodwork or plumbing quality tools last and make the job much easier.

One suggestion, if there is ever a chance of your using your tools around other bonsaists say at a class or workshop, make a distinctive marking on your tools. Just about all bonsai tools look alike and its really easy for someone to mistakenly pick up the wrong tool. All it takes is some paint or even a dot of nail polish and you'll be able to distinguish your tools from everyone else's. It also makes finding them in piles of soil or cuttings easier. You'll notice most of the tools shown above are painted green. Those are used in classes here and now you know why they are green.

I hope you all enjoyed todays post. As usual please feel free to leave any comments or questions.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Small leaf olives

Today's post is going to deal with a couple of small leaved Olive trees. The first tree is about 15 years old and was developed by judicious use and pruning of sacrifice branches to build up this massive trunk. The width at the base is 5 inches and the height is 10 inches. The first picture shows the tree after almost a years worth of mostly unchecked growth.

After a really good trimming the essence of the tree really start to reveal itself.

The trimming also revealed the fact that the pot was too deep. I really like the shape and was lucky enough to have one with the same shape but half the depth.

I think the new pot really shows off the massive trunk.

The second tree is also about fifteen years old and was also developed by judicious use and cutting of sacrifice branches only this time as multiple trunks.  This style is known as a Kabudachi or turtle back or stump style.

The first photo again shows the trees after a period of unchecked growth.

Here is the bonsai after several hours of pruning.

These trees are a good example of the variety that can be found in a single species of tree.

I hope that you enjoyed today's post and as always I welcome any and all comments.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Ficus defoliation and wiring

There hasn't been much going on the past week, mostly watering. It was 105+ for a week or so until Friday when we had a 20 degree drop in temperature. Its been a really strange summer weather wise for us. Mostly cooler than normal which I didn't mind. It got hot a week or so ago but this morning I wore a flannel shirt while watering! Go figure.
Before we get to today's subject I want to announce our annual Dog Days of Summer Sale here at Kimura Nursery from now until Labor day.  Everything is 10-25% off with some items such as in-stock bamboo at 50% off. So come on in -just in time to stock up for fall transplanting or that new fall project tree.
Today I want to talk about defoliation, what is it, and why we do it. The tree I'll be using to demonstrate on is a Narrow Leaf Ficus that is about 15-16 years old from a cutting. The tree has some inherent problems as a bonsai; some I can work with, others I have to live with. The biggest problems are the two lower branches. These are known as bar branches and can be problematic - with so much of the tree's energy being pulled into one area, the likelihood of reverse taper is great. If I were to just cut one off it would be even worse than doing nothing. It would effectively ruin the tree as a bonsai. Luckily, the base below these two branches being is as big as it is cuts down on the possibility of that happening before I can do something to correct the problem. I am considering doing what is known as a thread graft above those two to help create taper in the trunk and as a possible future replacement for one of the bar branches. I'm also considering an approach graft instead. One of these will be the subject of a future blog if I do it.
Defoliation is removing (in this case) all of the leaves of a tree. It can be done on most healthy deciduous and broadleaf evergreen trees. The main benefit of defoliation is that it very often helps to increase ramification. It also helps reduce the size of the next crop of leaves. It allows air and light to penetrate to the interior of the tree and to stimulate those buds that create the new ramification. It also makes it much easier to wire. I have to stress though that it can be very taxing on a tree to defoliate it so it is imperative any tree that you do this to is healthy and growing vigorously.
Here is the tree before any of the work. As you can see the root base is impressive and gives the appearance of an old powerful tree.

You can really see the bar branches here, as well as a better shot of the nebari.

The trunk above the two branches doesn't have any taper from above them until about 2/3rds of the way up the tree, which is one reason I'm considering a graft . In this next image the wiring has started and the tree is completely defoliated. The wiring is time consuming because I'm wiring just about every branch and twig on the tree.

Here is a shot looking down from the top. There is a bunch of wire on this tree! Since we still have a couple of months of active growing here I'll start checking the wire in about 30 days and will keep an eye on it so it doesn't scar.

Another shot of the wiring detail.

This is what we have at the end of all of this phase of the work:

I expect that in 2-3 weeks the tree will be completely leafed out again. I'll post a follow-up picture then.
That's it for todays post. As usual, comments and suggestions are always welcome.
And don't forget the sale through Labor Day at Kimura Bonsai Nursery - come on by!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Making a big bend

Todays post is about making large trunk bends. The material is a 12-15 year old grafted Atlas Cedar. The height is 48" and the width of the base at the soil line is about 2 3/4". The area above the graft has a slight reverse taper which I hope to be able to hide.
Here is the tree before work started.

The first step is to prepare the trunk for bending. I begin by wrapping wet raffia  tightly around the trunk being careful to overlap each turn so that there are no gaps.

After the raffia wrapping, I placed three large wires parallel to each other on the trunk to give added support to the area to be bent.

I then add more raffia on top of the wires at the areas where there will be the most stress. A piece of rebar is then placed on the trunk being tied on at the place where we want the bend to be . Because of the thickness of the trunk we need the extra leverage provided by the rebar.

Using the bar for leverage I make the first bend. I do this slowly and carefully listening for any cracking sounds. This is one slight cracking noise just before I stopped but it should be no problem. Its not the first crack that is of concern but the second one right after the first.

At this stage I use a guy wire from the tree to the top of the pot to hold the trunk in this position. I removed the rebar to reposition it for the next bend.
Again using the leverage provided by the rebar  I slowly bring the trunk further down towards the ground.  Again taking my time and listening carefully for any sounds of cracking. At this stage I use a wire tied around the pot and to the trunk to hold the tree in position.

Now I will use the guy wire to pull the trunk even closer to the pot. After I get it into the  desired position I lightly trim and  wire all the branches, and position them . You can see the difference from the above picture.
This will be the new front of the tree when it is repotted next spring. For the next couple of months I will leave the tree to recover from the stress of being turned upside down. By next March I anticipate that the tree will be healthy enough for repotting. Other than water and fertilizing and light pinching I won't be doing much until then.
This same technique can be used on pines, junipers and other trees as well.
I hope you enjoyed todays post. Please feel free to leave any comments.