Saturday, December 29, 2007

One of the best bonsai's for beginners, the Hawaiian Umbrella tree

The hawaiian umbrella tree, schefflera arboricola, forms a nice dense canopy of dark green leaves year round which make it great for forest banyan plantings as the picture to the left shows. One of the best aspects of using this species in bonsai is how easily it can grow indoors (lower lighting) and at the hands of beginners. Read the following article to learn why the hawaiian umbrella tree is great for beginners.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Yaupon holly bonsai

The yaupon holly, also known as cassena, is an evergreen bush that has an irregular branch pattern and small oval leaves.

An interesting fact about this tree is that although parts of the tree are poisonous, especially the berries, the Seminoles have made tea from the leaves. The leaves of the yaupon holly have a high caffeine concentration. The tea occasionally caused vomiting giving it the scientific name vomitoria.

It takes pruning and shaping well which is a good characteristic for a bonsai tree to have. This outdoor bonsai grows in USDA zones 7a-10b and is a Florida native.

Learn more about the yaupon holly.

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Juniper torulosa (hollywood) project

Against the advice of everyone and my own research I am going to try and bonsai this interesting juniper torulosa, hollywood, tree that I found at the home improvement store.

Apparently their branching and foliage are not very interesting to most experts. Consequently, most agree that your time can be better spent on other species.

I am going to give it a shot anyway for some practice at the very least.

Here is a picture of a much older one created by artist Shig Mia.

So I started by seeing what the most interesting branches were and thinned out the others. After, I took 2mm gauge aluminum training wire and wired the branches. Admittedly, I was very sloppy with the wire, but it got the job done. I stopped here because I don't like doing too much at once. This still needs a lot more work.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Trident Maple bonsai

The trident maple has shallow root system that does well in compacted and poor soils which makes it great for bonsai. This bonsai should be kept outdoors in full sun to partial shade.

It naturally forms a pyramid shape as it grows. Trident maple are not known to have many serious pests and grows in USDA zones 4B through 9B which allows it to grow in most parts of the country. The trident maple is known for its Autumn colors eventually losing all its leaves in the winter.

Learn more about trident maple bonsai trees.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Juniper Bonsai for beginners

This is a good primer on Juniper Bonsai from bonsaisite forums

Why Can't I Keep My Juniper Bonsai Inside?

Many bonsai vendors tell beginners that Junipers can be kept inside year-round. Unfortunately, this just isn't true. Keeping your Juniper inside permanently will result in your bonsai developing a sickly appearance over time and dying. If your juniper’s needles have turned yellow and are falling off, it probably died weeks ago.

Junipers need a dormant period (a state of growth where the plant rests and grows very little, if at all). Juniperus communis, or the Common Juniper, grow as far north as Greenland, Newfoundland, and northwest Alaska. In the Northern Hemisphere, the farthest south a Juniper can survive is Houston, Northern Florida, or in the mountains of Mexico. They are not a tropical or sub-tropical plant and should not be treated as such.

Some people who live in areas that receive heavy snowfall during winter, where temperatures frequently drop below freezing, might be advised to keep a Juniper indoors to protect it over this short period. To do this, you must simulate its natural environment. If you have an unheated room, it can be closed off from the rest of the house and the window left open. A garage can also be used. Remember to keep your Juniper away from any heat vents of any kind. Exposure to heat during a juniper’s normal winter will prevent the plant from going into dormancy.

If you are keeping your bonsai outside (probably the best option) and are afraid of it getting harmed by the winter weather, there are several things you can do to protect it:

1) place it in a flower bed and bury it until just the pot is covered with soil (this will insulate it from the cold)

2) place it in a sheltered area, i.e. under a low-hanging tree, or anywhere else where it will be protected from the weather such as a shade house.

3) make a frame for it and cover the frame with shade cloth so heat won't build up inside it and place mulch around the bottom edge. Generally if you live in a warmer climate (like USDA zone 6-7), you shouldn’t have to worry about winter protection.

If you keep you Juniper in a garage or closed off room, you should be careful how you introduce it back outside. Place the Juniper in a location that doesn't get much sun and out of the wind. Over a period of a few weeks slowly move the Juniper back to a more open location.

Why Did My Bonsai Die?

Your bonsai may have died as a result of negligence from yourself, or negligence before you bought it. The majority of bonsai sold in malls or by small-time bonsai vendors are sold only as a novelty and are only grown to look good at point of sale. These are commonly known as ‘mallsai’.

When you purchase a bonsai, make sure to get it from a genuine bonsai dealer, or at least someone how knows what they are talking about. They will be able to tell you how to properly care for your bonsai and can help you pick out a plant that is suitable for your location. They will also know what species of plant your bonsai is, which is the first thing we want to know when you are asking a question about your bonsai on the forums!

The worst places where you could buy a bonsai are malls, department stores or anywhere else where the people selling the bonsai know little or nothing about their care. These are normally mass-produced bonsai that have been shipped over from one climate to another. Placing the bonsai in a warm environment at this time can disturb its dormant period and send it into shock.

The manufacturers of these ‘mallsai’ may have placed tags that read "indoor bonsai" on the Junipers even though they are outdoor bonsai. They may place them in a pot that doesn’t have a drainage hole, plant them in the wrong type of soil, and place a layer of gravel on the surface and glue it down to stop the soil from falling out of the pot during shipping. The layer of glue and rocks prevent the water from getting to the soil and can kill the plant if not removed after purchase.

Juniper care

There are some basic requirements that need to be adhered to so that your bonsai can survive and grow well.

1) Your bonsai needs to be in good soil. Proper bonsai soil does not contain any peat material at all. This is because peat retains too much water. It also hardens if dried out and once this happens is very difficult to get wet all the way through again. The best soil to use is a loose, free draining soil. You need one part fine pine bark to one part small gravel (such as small aquarium gravel) for this. Otherwise, try to buy a bag of ‘bonsai mix’ from your local nursery.

2) Feeding your bonsai is important. Fertilize your Juniper with a weak slow-release fertilizer of 10-10-10.

3) Non-tropical bonsai should be primarily kept outdoors and need a period of rest each year during wintertime known as dormancy. The easiest way to ensure your Juniper receives a dormant period is to keep it outside.

4) Water your Juniper regularly, but make sure you do not over-water. How often you water depends on where you are, how hot it is, and what season. Watering could happen every day or it could happen every three days. If you are not sure on when to water your juniper, feel the soil by poking your finger in it. If it feels dry or nearly dry, you should water.

5) Lighting is important: Keep your Juniper bonsai in either full sun or partial shade.

6) Repotting your Juniper depends on how old it is and how long it has been in training. For a young bonsai – less than six years old, you ideally should repot every year. Repotting involves changing the soil (although keep it in the same type of soil) and trimming the roots. This encourages growth. If the bonsai is older, you should repot it every 3-4 years.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The tea you shouldn't drink--Fukien tea bonsai

The fukien or fujian tea tree makes an excellent starter bonsai. This native to the Chinese Fujian province can grow well in areas without freezing winters, but it also makes a good indoor bonsai if you provide it the right conditions. This bonsai is not as picky as others to keep alive and can be shaped into most styles. The most common form you will see for sale is the ehretia microphylla. It produces red berries, white flowers, and naturally small leaves. Learn more about fukien tea bonsai trees here.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Japanese black (pinus thunbergii 'kotobuki') pine as bonsai

The japanese black pine bonsai is distinguished from other pine trees by its large, candle-like buds which are silvery white and showy. The kotobuki is known to have short and dark green needles with white winter buds.

Its fragrant needles are twisted in groups of two. This tree is considered an evergreen and should be kept outdoors. It does well in USDA hardiness zones 6A through 8B and is not native to North America. It can tolerate drier soil and can be grown in a clay, sand, or loamy bonsai soil mixture that is well draining.

Learn more about the japanese black pine.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Schilling Holly

The branches of the schilling holly are gray with small oval leaves with sawtooth edges. Female plants have white blooms and red berries. These bonsai do best outdoors in USDA zones 7 through 10 and can be found natively in Florida. It has good drought tolerance and does best in part shade and part sun. It is not particularly sensitive to any known insects or disease. The schilling holly can be grown in a sandy, loamy, or clay based soil which makes them great for bonsai.
Click here to learn more about schilling holly

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Serissa foetida bonsai trees

Serissas make excellent bonsai with the right care and shaping. They are an evergreen shrub native to China, Japan, and Indochina (Southeast Asia) where it may be found growing in the woods and wet fields. The serissa foetida has small oval leaves which are slightly larger than the serissa japonica's. It may erupt with small white flowers several times per year giving it the nickname the "thousand star" serissa. Additionally, it naturally grows surface roots and an interesting bark pattern on the trunk which give them the desirable appearance of age.

Click here to learn more about serissa bonsai trees.

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Monday, November 5, 2007

Bonsai terms

Here are some definitions of some common bonsai classifications

Mame - tiny bonsai
Shohin - small bonsai
Kifu - medium bonsai
Dai/Daiza - large bonsai

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Bonsai gnats

Gnats can be a common problem in plants kept indoors including bonsai. If you notice little flying bugs around your indoor plants and trees you probably have fungus gnats. Their young feed off the fungus in the soil. Hence the name, fungus gnats. They are a problem indoors because there are a lack of natural predators to control them and soil conditions indoors are more favorable for them. Learn how to get rid of gnats in your soil

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Choosing the type of wire to train your bonsai

As a general rule, the thicker the branch, the thicker the wire it will require to hold it in place. Copper wire is stronger than aluminum wire of the same diameter. As a result, aluminum can be easier to work with, but you may need a thicker gauge wire to do the equivalent work that a lesser guage copper wire could accomplish. One advantage of a thicker gauge wire is that it has more surface area to distribute the pressure of the wire onto the bark with so it may bite into the trunk less than a thinner wire would. For bonsai wiring, the thinnest usable aluminum gauge would be 1mm and .5mm would be the lowest recommended copper gauge. Often times it is better to wire a branch using two wires in parallel than use a heavier gauge wire. More training and wiring information.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Ginkgo biloba

Ginkgo biloba are a very ancient tree species and a living fossil-the oldest tree species known. The straight ash-gray trunk has cracks running down the bark. The branches are spreading and horizontal. Female trees have a wide crown with more deeply incised leaves, turning yellow a month later than those on the male tree. The light-green leaves turn golden yellow in autumn, and the Chinese have called it “tree of the forty gold crowns.” As a tree ages, it often grows aerial roots.

Learn more about ginkgo biloba.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Concave Pruners

Concave pruners are, in most cases, the most used of all the tools in a bonsai artists arsenal. They are designed in such a way that promotes quick healing. However, most important is the fact that they allow the pruned area to heal flush with the bark--no bumps. As the name suggests, the pruned area leaves a concave region. When the tree forms a scab or callous it tends to be raised from the normal surface of the bark. The concave depression compensates for that which is one of the reasons why it heals flush. The concave cutter also promotes faster healing because of the shape of the cut it makes which tends to be taller than it is wide. Trees heal faster from the sides rather than top to bottom. Click here for concave pruners and branch cutters.

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Friday, October 5, 2007

Defoliating a bonsai tree

The art of bonsai attempts to grow full scale trees in miniature. One not only needs to make the size of the overall tree and branches smaller, but the leaves as well. Full scale leaves on an otherwise miniaturized tree tends to ruin the perspective. People who practice the art of bonsai use a process called defoliation as one of the techniques to produce smaller leaves on their bonsai trees.

Read the full article on bonsai tree defoliation

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Monday, October 1, 2007

Succulent watering tip

It is best to wait for the soil to completely dry out before watering again to avoid rot in succulents like mini-jade in lower lighting conditions.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Want a thicker bonsai trunk?

Try planing your bonsai in a shallow, but wide pot. This promotes the development of a wider trunk.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Alternative bonsai rooting hormone

I read an interesting tip recently for an alternative to store bought rooting hormone. The next time you want to grow your bonsai from a cutting you may want to give it a try. I haven't tested this myself, but supposedly it will nourish your bonsai cutting better than commercial rooting hormone.

3/4 cup boiling water
1/4 cup honey

Mix together and refrigerate 6-8 hours.

Coat your bonsai cutting with this as you would do with storebought rooting hormone. If you try this and it works please share your comments here!

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Mini-jade (Portulacaria afra) update

Here are my mini-jade (Portulacaria afra) cuttings that have grown up considerably since I last posted photos of them. I placed one in a ceramic pot and will be doing so with the other one eventually. I still have the second in a temp plastic pot filled with 100% perlite. For the potted one I am using a mixture of perlite with a top dressing of gravel. I give them just a splash of water every other day. I recently moved so I have them on my back porch instead of a windowsill now. Unfortunately, the back porch does not receive direct sunlight. As a result, they are growing slower than before.

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Monday, July 23, 2007


I'm a big fan of perlite. Did you know it's a volcanic glass that is heated until it pops like popcorn? That is why it is so lightweight. The process also gives it its white color. All my rootings that I have put in it have done excellent.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

I just got word that KnowledgeOfBonsai magazine is having a progressive styling contest with $3,000 dollars worth of prizes you can win.

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Friday, July 6, 2007

Portulacaria afra cutting pictures

Here are the cuttings from my mini-jade (Portulacaria afra) that as you can see are budding and doing nicely on the windowsill.

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Thursday, July 5, 2007

Mini-jade propogation update

The two pruned branches I put in the perlite + sand mix along with rooting hormone have grown new buds so it looks like they are taking. Rather than throwing out your pruned branches this is something you could try too. I've read this is easier with some species than others. I think Jade is one of the easier ones.

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Monday, July 2, 2007

Project Mallsai Part 2

I added some decorative gravel to the top so you don't see the perlite anymore and did some minor pruning. It still needs more work in that area to reverse the mallsai styling. I am going to try propagating a new mini jade from the branches I cut off. I dipped them in rooting hormone and placed them in small pots of perlite. We'll have to say how they do.

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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Project Mallsai Part 1

At work I received a "mallsai" (mass produced bonsai from a mall). The ones with the rocks glued to the top of the soil. It was a nice looking mini-jade. It is putting out new growth, but it is also dropping a lot of healthy leaves so today I decided to repot it and see if it helps with the leaf drop.

I took it out of the pot and noticed it was mixed in with a black soil and woodchip combo. The roots weren't quite potbound and there wasn't any kind of odor or visible issues.

I decided to also test a theory I've been reading on several bonsai sites that you don't need to use any organic matter in your soil as long as adequate fertilizer is used. I decided to make this part of the project. I planted the bonsai in about 70% perlite and 20% sand. I mixed in time release fertilizer pellets in the "soil".

I didn't need to do any root pruning as most of the roots were already feeder roots and there was enough margin between the root ball and the pot edges. I placed a small mound of my soil in the center and placed the bonsai on top. After, I worked the soil in between the roots by working the end of my root rake in between them.

Last, I watered it in and placed the bonsai on the back patio where wind and rain wouldn't disturb it. The picture at the top of the post is how it ended up. I am going to get some decorative gravel or something to top the soil with.

Comments are welcome :)

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Friday, June 29, 2007

Preferred bonsai soil types

The best bonsai soils should both retain water and let excess water drain through it. Additionally, it should resist compacting. This will allow it to stay aerated which will keep the roots healthier.

Inorganic Soils

Inorganic soils are preferred because they have all these qualities. Considered the best in this category, akadama soil, baked clay, is imported from Japan and can be found at certain bonsai suppliers. That is not to say it is your only option. Other types of fired clay soils may work, but akadama is considered the standard. Some people even use clay kitty litter.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Ficus aerial root tip

If you want to help your aerial roots to stay alive as they attempt to root try splitting a drinking straw and placing it around the root until it takes hold in the soil.

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When to repot bonsai

Generally bonsai need to be repotted and root pruned every 1-5 years. Fast growing and younger bonsai are closer to 1 year whereas older bonsai are closer to 5 years. You should carefully lift the bonsai out of its pot yearly to inspect the roots to see if it has become pot or root bound. This means that the root system has nowhere else to go. You will notice the root ball encircling the pot and possibly also coming out the drainage holes. That is a good indication you need to root prune.

Pruning the roots allows your bonsai to develop finer feeder roots. This allows them to more efficiently absorb nutrients from the soil. If you don't root prune it will be harder for water to soak into the soil. Additionally, when the roots can't grow anymore the bonsai will begin to show signs of stress and may eventually die. Trees in the wild are used to making new feeder roots every spring. Similarly, if you root prune your bonsai you should do it in the spring. This is when the tree is ready to regrow the roots you cut back.

How to repot

1) Root rake
2) Sharp dedicated scissors
3) Chopstick or pencil

Once you gently remove the bonsai from the pot you scrub the walls of the pot. Next, start to rake out the roots using a bonsai root rake or chopstick (I like the root rake). This should untangle the roots and free them from the compacted soil. Now, take your scissors that are only used for root trimming and cut all the thicker roots back leaving the finer ones. The goal is to create some space between the remaining roots and the pot wall. Try not to cut more than 20% of the roots away.

Now that the roots are pruned put some fresh soil in the middle of the pot and sit the bonsai on top of that. Try and work the soil between the roots using the chopstick to remove any gaps or spaces. If you plan on wiring the roots (not covered in this article) now is the time to do it. This will help secure the bonsai in place so it doesn't fall over when being moved. Fill the remainder of the pot with soil.

Last, water your tree very well and place it somewhere pleasant where the roots can heal. It won't like being moved around by wind or rain. Also, it is important that the soil doesn't stay very wet while the roots are healing. Do not fertilize your bonsai for awhile after either.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Your bonsai may be on shrooms--and thats good

Mycorrhiza - the friendly fungus

Not all fungus is bad for your bonsai. Mycorrhiza fungi can form a symbiotic relationship with your bonsai's root system.

Bonsai store excess sugars from photosynthesis in their roots. The mycorrhiza attach to the roots to absorb these sugars, but in return the plant gains the use of the fungi to uptake nutrients from the soil. This is more efficient than if they were to use their roots alone. This is partially because the fungus is so fine that it can get to parts of the soil the roots otherwise couldn't.

It is believed they are especially beneficial to the host (bonsai) in drought conditions and poor soils.

If you repot your bonsai and notice a thin white film between its roots it could be mycorrhiza.

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Knowing when to water your bonsai

Sometimes it is hard to tell when you should water your bonsai. You don't want the roots sitting in a large amount of water because they could rot, but at the same time you never want the bonsai to completely dry out. There are two low tech methods for figuring out when to water and one high tech one.

Chopstick method

Take a chopstick that has no coating on it and stick it in the soil of the pot near the edge. After 15-20 minutes take the chopstick out of the soil and see if it feels damp. If it is damp you don't need to water.

Wick method

The next time you repot your bonsai take a strand from a string mop and thread it through both drain holes in the pot so that the string hangs out each side. You can tell if it is wet inside the pot if the string still is.

Alternately, for a more scientific approach you can purchase a moisture meter for around $15.00 dollars or so.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Selecting a bonsai pot

There are many different materials used in bonsai pots. You can find them made of mica, terra cotta, stoneware, porcelain, wood, and plastic. Most people use mica and plastic pots when their bonsai is in training. If you plan on showing your bonsai you will want to invest in a ceramic stoneware pot. Some people also like terra cotta, but stoneware is fired at a higher temperature which means it is less likely to crack in low temperatures whereas terra cotta may.

Picking the right size

For tall trees:
Pot width = .67*(tree height)

For wide trees:
Pot width = .67*(tree width)

The depth of the pot is generally based on the width of the tree's trunk. A wider trunk should be planted in a deeper pot than a tree with a skinny trunk base. Generally, you should consider getting a larger pot if the trees roots will need to be drastically pruned in order to fit. It is safer to scale into a smaller root ball over time (a few years) instead of drastically doing it at once.

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Home made spider mite cure

Below is an interesting article I found that I am reposting here. The comments and opinions stated below are from the original author.

Natural Spider Mite Miticide

By Carl L. Rosner


-Dish Detergent

-Rubbing Alcohol


Fill a gallon jug with water and add one (1) or two (2) tablespoons of dishwashing detergent and one (1) tablespoon of vegetable oil (or Neem oil). Shake up the gallon jug to mix the ingredients.

Fill this solution from the gallon bottle into a spray bottle and just before using add 1 to 2 two caps full (from the rubbing alcohol bottle) of rubbing alcohol and spray immediately. If you do not use the full bottle of spray, I suggest the next time you are going to use the soap/alcohol solution add the same amount of rubbing alcohol again, since the alcohol will evaporate. I store this soap/oil solution in the gallon jug for months on end. It does not seem to go bad.

Spray on plants covering all leaf and stem surfaces. You may have to spray from three to four times with intervals of three days. I have eliminated almost any kind of pest that has attacked my trees, including scale.

I do not wash off the spray and have seen no adverse reaction to the trees from this mixture.

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We added a blog!

This is our first post on our blog. We hope it provides a valuable resource to let our customers know more about bonsai care and our bonsai products.

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