Diggin’ up pines

Talk to anyone who’s been practicing bonsai for a number of years, and they’ll tell you that the best trees are the ones that are found in nature. Not only because of the natural character that they acquire through years of being left alone to deal with the elements, but also cause they usually only cost time and effort ūüėČ

Around my area there’s a number of different species that I can readily dig up but without doubt for me the pines hold the most character and interest. If you live near a plantation of sorts then there’s an almost guarantee to find interesting trees to dig up (provided that the owner allows it).

Here’s a few examples of pines that I’ve dug up.

The first I found of the side of the road

From these two photos it shows that it was cut by someone who probably thought it’d kill it and then a branch started to grow and take over as the trunk.

What interested me about this plant was the fact that there was a lot of deadwood because it had died back. Unlike many deciduous trees, pines won’t shoot new branches from an area that doesn’t have anything growing further up/along.

As shown here. The small amount of bark on the bottom left of the tree is alive but the rest is dead.

One other advantage of collecting trees (yamadori) is that they can often grow very nice surface roots (nebari) like this tree.

Just a couple quick pictures of the branches I have to work with and a couple dead branches (jins) I made.

Before I finish the post I’ll just include a couple more trees that I’ll probably write a bit more into in the future.

The one above is a nice twin trunk which I reckon has a lot of potential

The second is a larger tree with no real taper but really interesting surface roots (buried in the soil) and small needles. So we’ll see what happens with it.

This is the last one for the post and it was actually growing between the two trunks of the pine above. I reckon that it’s a future small literati.

All of the pines in the post were radiatas and I’m still experimenting with how to prune, pluck needles, etc. If anyone has any techniques that they use for this species then please leave a comment it’d be greatly appreciated.

If you’re actively reading this blog and would like to know anything then leave a comment and I’ll try my best to give you an answer.

Creating a larch forest

This is a time lapse of the Japanese larch forest that Kim and I made together. It was made to look as realistic as possible which is easier with a rectangular pot and trees that naturally grow in a forest style. Surprisingly it only took 2 hours to put together not counting the creation of the pots and getting the plants.

This is what it looked after putting it all together, and for ordinary nursery stock, a couple rocks from a paddock, wood from the hardware store and a bit of moss I’m pretty happy with it. My opinion of a forest style bonsai has a bit of texture to the ground (hills, rocky areas, creek bed/valleys, etc).

This is a neat little section on the right side of the planting that adds a bit of visual interest. I guess it’s one of those valleys I mentioned earlier. For not much work it creates a feeling of a landscape.

In this picture it has the main tree and a couple slate rocks from the side of the road which serve as a miniature set of steps.

And now for the back. I wanted a bit of interest all the way round so I put another set of steps to lead the pathway (which I’ll put in later) down out of the viewers eye from the front.

And finally it’s what I imagined it’d look like.

From now on this forest will just be grown out and cut back to create a nice framework for at least 2 years until it needs to be repotted. It’s always two steps forward one step back with bonsai.

I can’t recommend more to try and make your very own forest it’s a very rewarding experience especially if you get plants that look good all year round.

The forest planting in this post isn’t for sale but if you’d want one made for you then I’ll try my best, just leave a comment as to what you’d be interested in and we’ll go from there.


Bonsai for $20

One thing that is constantly discussed in bonsai is the cost of trees. Even at specialist bonsai nurseries plants can be expensive and in this post I’ll try my best to explain what I looked for in ordinary nursery stock.

I went down to one of the local nurseries (who at the time were having a sale) and started to look through plants.

A few rules I follow:

  • Go in with an open mind (don’t expect to find exactly what you want because more than likely you won’t. Look around and see if there’s anything that stands out)
  • Price (try to get a reasonable budget and stick to it)
  • Size (if you’re new to bonsai maybe buy something that can look good after a bit of wiring and cutting so don’t buy something that’ll take 10+ years to make nice)
  • Species (this might sound like I’m going against the first rule but if you live in a tropical climate, a species of tree that naturally lives on the snow line probably wouldn’t be the best idea and visa versa)

Once those general rules have been applied it’s onto the more specific rules that aren’t really necessary but would be nice

  • Small leaves or dense branching (if the species is good for your area but has large leaves and a lot of bare branches then it’ll be hard to turn into bonsai). A lot of the time the leaf size can be reduced but if the species leaves are too big then it’s probably a better idea to chose something else
  • Nebari/surface roots (this isn’t necessary but if a tree already has a good nebari then it could save years of work)

Remember the main rule with shopping for nursery stock is to not look for anything specific or you might miss out on something you might like. That being said I went looking for a conifer of some sort because I didn’t have too many. One species stood out to me the most. A dwarf Alberta spruce. This is even better due to it being my first spruce.

  • It was very compact and had extremely small needles so it had one of the more specific points ticked off.
  • I dug under the layer of needles in the pot and didn’t find any nebari, which is fine cause at least that leaves me to improve something with the tree.
  • Because the nursery was having a sale I got it for half price at $20 and looking at it that’s probably what it should’ve always been priced at normally, but never mind that’s another major point.
  • It was about 50-60cm high so it was a good size for bonsai.
  • And last but not least, being a spruce it was a perfect species for the cold climate that I live in.

Sounds too good to be true right? Well take it from someone who shops at nursery a lot, sometimes you won’t find anything and sometimes you’ll hit the jackpot ;). The trick is to just keep dropping in at any nursery you pass by whether it be just a drive through another town/city, still take a look. You might be surprised sometimes.


Here’s the tree that this post is based around. This picture doesn’t show it in the greatest light but you’ll just have to trust me when I said I found a good tree, and I’ll explain why throughout the post.

Even though it’s a good tree, it sat in the garden until I decided that it should be potted.


So I dug down past the needles when I started repotting and had a really dumb moment. Working in a nursery, I can say first hand that there isn’t any real care when potting a tree and 99% of the time the true surface roots are well below the soil surface. How didnt I think of this?! If you look closely at the photo you can see a line on the trunk. Where it’s darker on the bottom of it is where the soil line was. This is what I mean by ¬†how the surface roots are buried. But now it looks like I’ve got some nebari to work with which is better than I had before.


Here’s the tray I planted it in to start horizontal root developmentIMG_0177

The drainage layer goes on first


You may notice that even though the pot was full of roots before there aren’t many roots in the picture above. That is because the large surface root that was shown a few photos above went all around the pot which I had to cut off to further develop its root system and push the tree’s development further forward.


This is what the tree looked like after repotting. I used organic matter, perlite, ant rock, a very small amount of charcoal and larger rocks which were used for the drainage layer.IMG_0179

Here’s a bit of perspective for how tall the tree is. About double the size of an ordinary watering can.

After repotting the tree I had to go and do something else so I put it away and left it there for a few weeks until I could decide what to do with it. During repotting I also found that the low foliage was covering a big aspect of the tree. At the start I had a plan to make it into a formal upright or slanting style.


So here’s the tree after being cut back and wired. Yes it turns out that it’s also a twin trunk!!! I couldn’t have asked for anything else from a regular nursery tree. This photo is when I got to the apex problem. Yes I could’ve kept it like that and kept wiring branches horizontally like I’ve been doing but there was a few problems with that.

The first problem was that the main trunk would be too tall in comparison with the secondary trunk. The second problem was that there was a large section of the apex with no branches on it


Here’s that section now cut off.


And here’s the rest of the tree after the cut. Much better looking.

Here’s a quick before and after.

Looking at the pictures a tenjin was possible but bonsai is all about personal preference, and I didn’t really think that something like that was what I want on this tree.


Here’s a better shot of the tree.¬†IMG_0255j

This is the area that the main trunk was chopped down and as it shows there’s plenty of new branches that can be the new apex.


This is after the wiring and looking at it for a while, I think that this’ll be the back, only because the roots on the other side look better.


One of the major improvements of the tree was pushing the two trunks further apart to give them both a bit of individuality. They were almost touching before so by doing this it becomes a clear twin trunk instead of a confused looking tree. No big deal but this bit of wire might have to stay on the trunk for a number of years moving it up and down the trunk every couple of months so it doesn’t leave a large scar.

Here’s what it looked like when I bought it and after styling. To turn nursery stock into bonsai successfully you need to be able to see what possibilities a tree has. Sounds hard but it’s all experience.

If anyone wants me to write a post about something leave a comment and I’ll do my best


Picking nursery stock

One of the most rewarding experiences with designing bonsai is the choosing of nursery (untrained) material, styling it and then putting it into a suitable bonsai pot.

This post will be exclusively about picking nursery material, what to look for, when to buy and what to expect after buying a tree.

What to look for:

  • Good looking surface roots or roots that aren’t crossing over each other or the trunk. Remember surface roots (nebari) can be made overtime.
  • A good trunk taper. For a smaller tree this isn’t as important but it’s always one of the first few things that people look at.
  • Even branching. This means that branches are all up and down the trunk and on all sides.
  • Small leaves. A lot of the time nursery stock will have normal sized leaves and would look out of proportion on a bonsai. Remember leaf and needle size can be reduced.

Some things are nice but not necessary. These include:

  • Good bark
  • Fine branches
  • Good leaf characteristics
  • Etc

When to buy

This isn’t saying don’t buy at certain times of the year but it’s sometimes better to buy at these times. Everyone has their preference and there isn’t a wrong answer, but some times provide more information than others.

For deciduous trees the best times would be between early spring and autumn. The reason why these times are the best is because the tree shows it’s leaf characteristics (size, colour, shape, etc), if it has anything wrong with the leaves, if the growth is extremely fast or extremely slow. My personal favourite time is just as the buds have broken and this is because I can see what the leaves look like and therefore can see if there’s anything wrong but also it is still in the dormant looking stage so the framework of the tree is easily visible.

For evergreen there isn’t really a specific time but to buy one before the candles have set¬†would give a bit more control over the size of needles.

What to expect after buying a tree

A lot of the time a tree won’t look that good after the first year or even the next few¬†especially deciduous species. This is because with bonsai there’s a lot of letting a branch grow out then cut it back, wiring, repotting, etc. The amount of time it takes for a tree to look nice could take years and don’t be disheartened because that’s the main reason people do this hobby. To grow and style the tree over years and to see the finished product. By going into bonsai you will inevitably learn more and more over the years and the nursery stock that you decided to buy this year will inevitably become better and better over time due to your experience and knowledge growing; hopefully from reading this blog. ūüėČ

One of the main things people don’t take into account is what it takes to look after a bonsai. These include watering whenever it needs it, fertiliser at times of the year (between the time that the leaves harden off in the spring to when its lost most of it’s leaves), wiring, pruning, repotting, etc.


The first thing to look for is the cost. Yes it’s all well and good to buy an untrained tree but if it costs a lot more than what you want it for then it becomes too expensive. Its always good to shop around or ask locals who shop for nursery trees where they go. The general rule of thumb that I use is that if it’s going to be a small tree (can be carried in one hand) once it’s the finished product, I wouldn’t spend anymore than $10. A larger tree (to be carried in two hands) $20-$30. And any larger up to $100 as long as they’re in good health. If you’re starting out bonsai or in the first year I’d highly recommend taking someone who has experience with the hobby, and if that isn’t possible then then only get a medium sized tree at most to gain your own experience and to understand the limits that untrained material has in it’s first few years of training.


A buxus like this is a perfect example for a very good choice for a beginner to buy. It’s hard to see in this picture but it has a nice trunk, surface roots and small leaves.


And to cap off this tree it already has nice looking bark and there are a few smaller roots that can be seen and in a few years will turn into surface roots giving the tree an aged look. Something that I didn’t talk about before is the shape of the trunk. If you look at a table of bonsai then those with reasonably straight trunks and no real character don’t stick out and seem uninteresting. This tree here has a nice curve to it which immediately gives a sense of interest.


In most larger nurseries there’s an abundance of common species (buxus, maple, elm) so there’s always a number to choose from. In this case multiple species of box (japanese, english, dwarf, faulkner)


Here’s a trident maple that was bought from a bonsai nursery as untrained stock. The problem with this is that it was in a bonsai nursery so everything will definitely be more expensive and doesn’t give the same amount of accomplishment as a tree from a regular nursery. That being said some things can only be found in bonsai nurseries.


So to cap off

Buying nursery stock is a very rewarding experience as you get to grow with the tree knowing that you were the one who did the work to get it to where it is today.


p.s if you’re actively reading this blog please leave a comment on what you’d like to read about or anything I could improve upon. Most trees in these posts are for sale and are at a very reasonable price so if interested contact me and I’ll try and write back as soon as possible.


Starting a hornbeam

In bonsai there are a few different categories such as deciduous, evergreen, flowering, broadleaf, conifer, etc. So when someone says a deciduous broadleaf usually the first tree people think about is a maple and more specifically the Japanese maple. But this post will be about two particular Japanese hornbeams that I had to get ready for a customer before early spring.

The first Hornbeam


Here’s the first of the two and the reason I chose this plant was because it has a reasonably good amount of lower branches. Plus the apex of the tree can always be adjusted or pruned. It had just lost it’s leaves so I decided that it was the best time to prune it even though I would’ve liked to have done it in spring-mid autumn when the tree can heal the quickest.


Here’s a shot of the apex and where I’m pointing is the section of the trunk where it’ll be pruned. The reason it was at this point is because if I cut any higher there will be a lack of taper which is what the main aim of pruning is.


And now it seems more compact now that the leggy area of the tree has been cut off. Although the apex still seemed to have a lack of taper. So I decided to make another cut.


Here’s what was cut off and can you see how by replacing the branch with a smaller one starts a much needed taper? This is what pruning a bonsai (especially deciduous) is really all about, trying to get a lot of thin branches.


And the tree after pruning and a little bit of correctional wiring. Now looking at it I don’t really like how straight the trunk is so I’ll probably put a thick gauge of wire of it and try and give it a few twists and turns for show. ūüėČ

The second Hornbeam


Alright so now to the second. I’ve been thinking about what this tree could look like every time I walked past it. And now after a few months I finally get to cut, wire and style it. Unlike the first tree there are a lot more lower branches to work with. Time to start the cutting.


So as I was cutting it occurred to me that I had never really explained how and why. Bear in mind this¬†is in no way a pruning or a wiring post though and in the future I’ll write one exclusively about methods to do all that sort of stuff. But for now here’s a quick demonstration on how I cut these trees.

Here’s an example of a branch that I cut and in the photo you can see six large buds ready to break next spring and a few dormant buds very close to the base of the branch. I haven’t had much experience with hornbeams but seeing as they resemble elms closely I decided to prune them the same way.


The branch after it’s cut is down to three buds including¬†a smaller one that mightn’t break dormancy in spring. Now when an elm is cut like this the first two¬†buds behind it from were the branch was cut will start to form a branch from each. This starts a fork like shape. So during the growing season it’s necessary to constantly let it grow out to 4-5 buds then cut back to 2 to get taper and in the tertiary branches a good ramification.


And after a bit of wiring and cutting back the way I explained just before here’s the tree finished for now. The reason there was a lot of smaller gauge of wire on the one main branch instead of a thicker one is because for some reason the hornbeams I bought mark easily when wired.

Before and after



And to finish off the post a quick before and after of the two trees.

p.s if you’re actively reading this blog, interested in any of the trees or have anything that you’d like me to go over please do leave a comment it would help a lot.

Thanks for reading


Bonsai in the making

I was recently asked what trees I was selling and I didn’t really have a good enough response for them. So in this post I’ll write mainly about what I have at the current time available and then a list of the species that I’m either looking for or some that I’m going to buy but need to wait to get to the local nursery. If you know of or own a business that you believe would benefit from selling bonsai (whether it’s in Australia or not) please do contact me because that would help me out enormously.


In this photo I don’t have all the trees that I’m selling, but those that I have bought this year and will be ready for potting in the spring. In this photo left to right there is:

  • European beech
  • Common hornbeam
  • Japanese hornbeam x3
  • Coral bark Japanese maple
  • Swamp cypress x3
  • Juniper
  • Leighton green
  • Zelkova serrata (Japanese elm)
  • English elm

The smaller ones in the front row there is:

  • Korean box x2
  • Japanese hornbeam x2
  • Box honeysuckle


It’s hard to take a good look at each individual tree from that photo, so to solve that I decided to single out each species to see what they all look like.


This is the only European hornbeam that is available although there are always more like this that can be obtained from local nurseries. As it shows in this photo the plant hasn’t had any training but has a nice shape already so when it gets potted up it would only take a few cuts and bends to make it look reasonably nice.


These are the hornbeams that are available. Same as with the beech and all plants if I’ve got it then I can no doubt get more in if the size, shape or look doesn’t suit what you like. In this photo there are actually two types. The one on the far left is the only European hornbeam and the rest are Japanese. As far as I can tell these are the only two types of hornbeam that I can get where I live which is a shame but two is enough for now.


Although it doesn’t look like much this is one of the coral bark maples (sango kaku) that’ll be air layered in the next year (which means to make a branch or trunk develop roots which can then be cut to form a new tree) to get a few smaller trees from it which would suit a beginner bonsai size more. At the moment there aren’t many maples that are ready to be trained and there’s only two coral bark and multiple regular Japanese maples. In the next few months a good amount of Trident, Japanese and any other varieties that are a bit more specialised will most likely be purchased and start their training.


The only three swamp cypresses available and most likely will be in short supply from the local nursery who sells them due to a very small amount of them that actually sell. Even though they’re seperate at the moment I think that this species would look very nice in a forest style. Well if I’m wrong I can always take them apart the following year. They won’t be cut down at all so they’ll stay this size but will build up more ramification and gradually look better. Building up ramification means basically to get more branches ¬†forming on the one branch which then makes it look life size.


These are a part of the box varieties that are for sale. In this picture are two Korean box and a box honeysuckle which would make a nice very small bonsai. Even though it isn’t in this post the large Faulkner box that I wrote about before is also for sale. These trees are a hedging species and stand up very well to pruning so are perfect for a beginner to appreciate the art of bonsai. After a few years they begin to get a nice looking trunk and can have a nice shape to them if pruned correctly.


Although this isn’t the greatest example of a juniper, this is unfortunately the only one that is for sale at the moment. It needs a bit of work and could look quite nice if it’s given some attention. Junipers are one of the few species of trees that are very flexible and can withstand harsh treatment. That being said if they’re given good care and the right environment they will flourish.


Leighton greens which closely resemble junipers also have the same characteristics. The ability to be bent easily, harsh conditions etc. Again if given good conditions they will flourish. This photo shows the plant has been bent at a number of violent curves and can still survive and will more than likely be potted in time for selling this coming spring in this position.


English elms. They’re a remarkably tough tree from experience and can handle surviving in extremely clay based soil, harsh winds and the hot summers sun. This specimen¬†was collected and I’ll hopefully do a post solely on this tree in the future but for now this is just an example of what they look like.


And the last one that I’ll write about today is Zelkova serrata or Japanese elm. It’s had no training and is just but a small nursery plant. This photo should be able to give a good enough idea as to what the leaf shape looks like and some possibilities.

The plants that I’m either looking for somewhere to buy, to arrive so I can buy them or waiting for them to grow to a good enough size are:

  • Trident and Japanese maples
  • Larch
  • Junipers
  • Pines
  • English oak
  • Chinese and English elm
  • Weeping willow
  • Poplar
  • Spruce

Even though I wasn’t able to get all the plants I’m selling in this post I’m still happy to give any information needed on what size, species, style¬†and price they range in. I’m also very happy to provide any stores with bonsai at very reasonable prices for what they’re worth. I’m happy to sell overseas if it is possible.

If interested please do leave a comment and I’ll hopefully get back to you as soon as I possibly can.

Styling a large buxus


This is the large Faulkner box that I’ll be writing about in this post.

A bit of background information:

I was working at the back of the local nursery and found what I thought was a tree with a lot of potential and asked what I could do with it and it turns out that it was going to be thrown out. So with a bit of talking I was able to obtain it and it’s been sitting in the garden being fertilised and watered ever since just blending in. I had cut off all the dead branches coming out of it before the photo.

As it shows in the picture it’s a bit leggy and had a lot of patches of orange/yellow leaves which finally I decided to do something about.


Due to this tree having this type of growth (a long branch with short healthy branches and no taper) all over it I only took one photo which should show what I did and why I did it. img_4608

This is the same branch after being pruned. It wasn’t taken all the way back because compared to the rest of the tree the branch had already been shortened to a point where it would barely get any light. The reason why it was pruned and not left to grow was because by doing this it starts to develop a taper which is the main reason why I pruned this tree and stops a long thin branch getting out of control.


Here’s a good example of a long branch with a large area with no foliage and no taper. Although is doesn’t show it that well at the end of the branch was a long dead section so even though I didn’t want to cut it back as hard, if I didn’t there would just be a long area with nothing growing there. At least with smaller healthy branches they can always take over that patch.


And this is what it looks like after I cut it back, which would not only force the new leaves closer to the trunk to start to grow (because of the light let in), which they hadn’t had the chance to do before, but also start a much needed taper along the branch. This will help the overall look of the tree if those long branches with next to no foliage on them become shorter with a mass of secondary and tertiary branches.


Here’s an example of a section with three branches growing out of it. Some don’t mind having a lot of strong healthy growth, but with this tree needing to be pruned back fairly hard I decided to only have two coming from one section. The left branch has healthy green leaves going up it to the end, the middle branch had a short section without any leaves and then some that were healthy and finally the right branch that had a few short growing sections and then a large amount of healthy foliage that goes further out of the picture.


This is what I cut it down to with the shortest branch, the middle branch cut out and just a small section of green growth to extend as the second section of the branch which by doing this starts a finer branch structure.IMG_4812

After all the pruning and all this is what it looks like and I think that I’d like this to be the front. Well it’s always a possibility at least.

And this is a quick before and after. I know it doesn’t look like much in the photo but a lot of internal work has been done which will make a big difference maybe not immediately but over time will definitely benefit the tree and the overall look.

This spring which in Australia starts in September, I’ll repot it into a bonsai pot and then train it from there so it’s ready for any upcoming shows and so it isn’t in the basic plastic nursery bag.

p.s this is one of the trees that I would be interested in selling so if you think that you’d be interested in it please leave a comment because it’s got enormous potential and it’s always fun working with new untrained material ūüėČ If anyone has any ideas on this tree I’d love to hear them.

Rescuing a juniper

Don mac juniper1

In this post I’ll be writing about this juniper here. In the picture it doesn’t look like all that much but it’s definitely not a finished product, and I guess with bonsai a tree is never finished. A little history:

It was generously given to me by the local bonsai club and I was told that it was owned by a previous member who had unfortunately passed away and his family couldn’t take care of it. It’s 26 years old which means that it was created in 1991 and a juniper of an unknown variety. It was in a pot which was way too small for it and by looking at the roots had spent maybe up to 2-3 years pot bound which was the reason for the lack of vigour in the foliage. So as soon as possible it was taken out of its pot and put straight into a larger one with more room to grow and fertile soil with nothing done to the roots.

As someone who had spent maybe three to four months at this stage doing bonsai, I didn’t know what to do with it but I did know that it was an amazing gift to start me off. And with some guidance a tree which I could put my own spin on. So I decided to write about it and this is what it looked like halfway through the year, not exactly the prettiest tree around but it was alive.

don mac juniper2

Fast track a month later and to my surprise it had started to turn a lot greener and looked a bit healthier. Bear in mind that all it was getting was water and any nutrients from the soil, no extra fertiliser, and no pruning or wiring.

Don mac juniper3

After some wiring, fertilising, pruning and general maintenance this is what it looks like by March the following year. At the current point in time, because it has its health back, all I’m trying to do it create a nice structure to it before it goes into a pot this spring. This is the angle that I think I’ll plant it in because it shows a bit of the deadwood, a larger surface root on the left (nebari) which because of the light and blurry picture can’t be seen, and has a nice look on this side.

As I was going ahead taking photos of different angles noticed that the branch on the right was sticking out and not really in the triangle shape that I’d like it to be in.


So with a bit of wire the triangle shape can now be seen and one problem was able to be fixed. Here it shows the angle that I like the most with it slightly tilted to the right to help keep the apex of the tree over the base of the trunk.



Here’s a few more photos. At the top is the branch that gives the tree a more three dimensional feel to it.

And while I’m posting pictures has anyone seen these small bumps on junipers before and if so what are they. I’d love to find out.

So here’s a quick before and after of what it looked like not even 8 months ago and now. There’s still a long way to go with repotting, minor shaping and pruning to name a few for the next year to come.

Hope you all enjoyed and if you think you know what species it is please share it with me.


Just as an update, in the spring of 2017 it was potted and now looks like its on its way in becoming a genuinely nice tree.