Chairman's Tips

Chairman’s Chat

Here we are the last newsletter of 2019 and almost the end of the bonsai year. All we have to do now
is inspect the trees for pests and clean away debris, so the little devils have nowhere to hide.
I hope, sharing with you some of the pleasures and knowledge I have gained during the past 37+ years
have helped in some ways, I am no expert.
Over the past year I hope you enjoyed the talks on displaying bonsai. I have tried to answer some of
the questions that I have been asked by members, through this newsletter. I hope it has been helpful,
and to remind you that they are still available on the club website.
This is also a good time to thank Anthony for all his hard work as Webmaster and to Keith for his
monthly newsletter. He also kindly prints out a few for me and the other dinosaurs in the club.
It has been very gratifying to see so many members bring along their trees to the club shows. The
standard and condition of the trees has greatly improved.
I would like also to thank all the committee members for their help and hard work, Lynn and Alison
for manning the door and prizing the entrance money from the members each month, Jean and Jock
for all her efforts selling raffle tickets each month and to Jackie for manning the ‘watering hole’ each
month and those kind members who helped her. Many thanks to Collette for attending meetings and
bringing all manner of things that you may need for your Bonsai and her kind help. Last, but not least,
many thanks to Enid for overseeing the “Tree of the Month” results.
We, the committee, are here to run the club for you the members, so we would like to know what you
would like in the program for the coming year and any other suggestions for the direction of the club.
I would like to wish you all a very happy Christmas and a successful bonsai growing year in 2020.


Chairman’s Chat

Bonsai is often referred to as the Japanese art of miniature trees. Its origins, however, are in China.
The word bonsai comes from the Chinese words pun sai. It was the Chinese who developed many of
the creations and training techniques and then exported them to Japan over 500 years ago. The
Japanese mastered the techniques involved and introduced them to the western world, where the
creation of bonsai is now an ever - growing hobby, if the unintentional pun can be excused.
In biblical days trees and shrubs were grown in pots to make them transportable and probably to allow
ready access to leaves and bark for use in medicinal preparations.
Growing a tree in a pot solely for enjoyment was a progression, and the development of training
happened gradually as people saw ways in which they could make minor improvements to what
Nature has already created.
Originally trees for bonsai were collected from the wild, and usually from quite inaccessible and
dangerous places high up in the mountains and from the faces of sheer cliffs. Much skill and nerve
were needed, and precise rituals were followed prior to collection. At one time collecting the creations
of Nature from the wild was a recognised profession in Japan. In the collecting areas there were even
nurseries set up for the specific purposes of acclimatising trees before bringing them down to the
plains and putting them in decorative pots. Those collected plants were, and still are, more highly
prized as bonsai than those created by people.
Nowadays in Japan, and in most other countries, collecting bonsai from the wild is usually prohibited
unless a special permit has been granted. Most of today’s bonsai are not found, but created with
human skill, starting from seed, cuttings, layers or grafts. In Japan the art of bonsai has become a
sizeable industry that includes growing of quality starter material and partially trained trees, both for
export and for further development by the Japanese bonsai trade. Superior quality and older material
goes to the top - class bonsai nurseries for development into bonsai masterpieces.
A bonsai consists of two elements, the living plant and the container. The plant may be a vine, a shrub
or a tree. The container is usually a conventional pot or a slab of flat but interesting rock. Or the plant
may even be growing on a rock with the roots buried in pockets of soil. A bonsai should not be
referred to as a bonsai tree. The word already includes the living element. Also once out of the pot a
tree ceases to be a bonsai.
The word Bonsai should be pronounced with the accent on ‘sai’ as in sighting. It is Japanese and
when translated means a tree in a pot. The two elements have to be in harmony and the selection of
the right pot for a tree is almost an art in itself.
To understand that a bonsai is not just any miniature tree, growing in any container, one should see
top quality Bonsai in Japan. There, trees several hundred years old are found growing in containers.
They are truly living works of art, having been carefully attended to over the years and handed down from father to son. Most bonsai encountered in the west will only be shadows of what a bonsai should be in form and spirit.
Age is a factor in Bonsai, but it is not important in itself. Being old does not necessarily mean that it is a better bonsai than one that is much younger. What is important are the characteristics of age. While people can do much to enhance the illusion of age, true age is accompanied by the formation of mature bark, solid trunks and buttressing roots. In certain species the bark may be deeply furrowed and raised as much as 5cm (2 in) in really old specimens. The quality of bark only forms with the passage of time, and its production cannot be rushed, however, growing the bonsai in the open ground for a number of years helps considerably.


Chairman’s Chat
The art of display

The tokonoma is an alcove in the principal room of a Japanese house and is used to display treasured objects of art. Bonsai are often displayed, accompanied by a scroll, companion plant, viewing stone, incense burner or some other ornament. It is the total composition that is important and by featuring a bonsai as the principal element the owner is able to capture and express in a defined space his own stylistic impression of a scene in nature. The dimensions of a tokonoma are not rigidly defined, but they are traditionally about 9 feet wide and perhaps 3 feet deep. The compositional considerations of displaying bonsai in the space defined by the tokonoma apply to the display of Bonsai in general.
Understanding these considerations is important for this very reason.
The principles for displaying Bonsai in a tokonoma are based on traditions that have been passed down orally In Japan for many generations.
There are basically three classifications of display styles which also relate to styles in calligraphy.
The formal style or SHIN is one of austere, rigid composition. The main tree is generally a conifer of formal upright style. It is used for very formal occasions.
The informal style or GYO has a free, but not exaggerated composition. Informal upright, inclined, broom, group and exposed root styles are accepted. In addition to conifers, flowering and fruiting trees may be used.
Accent plants and other accessories such as figurines or suiseki are also frequently used.
The casual style or SO provides much more flexibility in plant material and arrangements. Windswept and bunjin styles are often used. The display may also feature suiseki, accent plants, bamboo, members of the palm family etc.
In Western terms, these categories may be linked to printing in which the formation of each character is
rigidly defined, script in which the lines are more fluid and hand writing where the effect is very
Even though tokonomas are not regular architectural features in the West, it is valuable for enthusiasts to study tokonoma displays of Bonsai because the tokonoma provides a defined framed space in which the artist must work to create the desired impression.
When Bonsai are displayed in any setting, it is the overall effect on the viewer that is important. It is not only the exhibition of the tree, the pot, the little table or the suiseki, but the creation of the grandeur of a natural scene in a limited bounded space.
The first step then in displaying Bonsai is to evaluate the space in which the Bonsai is to be shown. One
bonsai is then selected to be the focal point of the exhibit, two Bonsai of equal stature would compete for the viewer’s attention.
In selecting the tree, consider its size, height, style and colour and how these attributes relate to the space in which it will be shown. The season is also important, some deciduous trees with fine branches are best appreciated in winter after the leaves have fallen.
Decide on a theme based on the characteristics of the Bonsai.
The theme may be in celebration of the season of the year or the expression of a particular scene from nature.
Then select accessories, either lesser Bonsai, or other plant material or other objects that will complement and augment the importance of the principal motif, the main bonsai.
For example, if the Bonsai to be exhibited is a cascade, then the accessories ought to lead the viewer into surroundings where such a tree might be found in nature, perhaps a rugged suiseki with cliffs and mountains. A forest planting might be displayed with a shallow tray of grass, expressing the feeling of a forest and field. A leafless tree could be accompanied by a snow-capped viewing stone.
Once the primary tree and its accessories have been selected, the mechanics of positioning each of the elements within the defined exhibit space must be considered.
Here the scalene triangle immediately comes into play. The use of triangles to define space is a method for implementing the Japanese artistic principle of asymmetrical balance. The triangle is an essential element in the design of Japanese gardens, in the composition of flower arrangements and in the styling of trees for Bonsai.
In styling a bonsai, an asymmetric triangle provides imaginary boundary lines which the grower may use to establish limits for branch length and foliage.
The apex of the triangle may be coincident with the apex of the tree, or, if the top is rounded, the apex of the triangle may be defined by the intersection of the lines which bound the foliage on either side of the tree. The other two points of the triangle may be clearly defined by the intersection of these lines with an imaginary line drawn along the lower limits of the foliage. But frequently greater subtlety is involved with the lower point of the triangle defined by the edge of the container.
Similarly when displaying Bonsai, although the points of the triangle may be defined by the apices or focal points of each element in the display, often the of the table or the edge of the display itself is employed.
The apex of the primary Bonsai forms the apex of the display triangle. Just as in a group planting where the number one tree is planted off centre in the pot so must the apex of the primary bonsai on exhibit be placed to one side of the display area.
If the edge of the shorter side of the display is to be one of the points of the triangle, then an accessory planting or lesser Bonsai may be placed on the opposite side in the more open area to create the third point in the triangle. If however the edge of the longer side of the display is to be used, then an accessory placed in the open area should have its apex positioned on the imaginary line between the apex of the main tree and the edge of the display.
Whenever a bonsai is displayed it is placed on a stand. The stand is chosen based on the desired height of the apex of the display triangle.
The accessory plants or a second bonsai should be placed on a very low stand, a slab or perhaps a bamboo mat. The use of stands provides great flexibility in establishing appropriate relative heights of each element in the display.
When viewed from above, or from the side, no two elements should form a line parallel with the outer edge of the display area.
A good display should invite unhurried contemplation and create a feeling greater than simply the sum of the individual elements.

Robert’s Tokanoma
Swindon Show Best Shohin Display
Swindon Best Overall Display

Chairman’s Chat
My little favourites

Tiny bonsai that fit in one hand are known as shohin bonsai. These measure roughly 10 - 20cm in height,
trees of less than 10cm are referred to separately as mame bonsai.
Shohin bonsai are a popular choice amongst the Japanese. But don’t think the no-fuss image of shohin means
they are easily mastered. The minimal quantity of soil in the pot means that in high summer even one day of
watering missed can kill a shohin bonsai, and if exposed continuously to cold winds in winter, the soil will
freeze, destroying any hope of healthy budding in spring. Growing one of these tiny trees can be
unexpectedly challenging. Which of course only makes a shohin bonsai carefully nurtured over several years
all the more impressive.
The compact dimensions of shohin bonsai mean that in terms of natural ambience they will inevitably be
inferior to ordinary bonsai. As if to compensate, they surpass ordinary bonsai in forming interesting shapes
that make the most of a tree’s unique character. We may contemplate a thick-trunked moyogi shohin bonsai
and struggle to recall a similar tree anywhere in nature, but still feel drawn to its seductive beauty. Learning
to appreciate the singularly weird and wonderful shapes of shohin bonsai is part of the pleasure of these
quirky trees.
Like larger bonsai, finished shohin bonsai are displayed indoors. The designated space for a sekikazari
display of shohin bonsai is roughly the area of a single tatami mat-180cm wide and 90cm deep.
Ordinary sekikazari of three components employ a main tree known as shuboku, a second counterbalancing
tree, or uke, that receives the “flow” of the main tree and anchors the display, and an accent plant. Displays
of two components are simpler, containing just a single bonsai and accent.
In both cases, the accent plant can be swapped for an ornament or suiseki stone, depending on the scene.
When assembling the display it is important to ensure pots are wiped before placing on a low or high stand,
or a jiita (flat board), for presentation in clean, tidy condition.
High stands, associated with topographical features such as precipices and valleys, are used for kengai bonsai low stands or tables intended to resemble hills for the likes of moyogi, chokkan and shakan bonsai, and boards, which suggest flat land, for bunjing bonsai and accent plants.
Sekikazari displays on racks are known as hakokazari or tankazari, literally, box on shelf displays. In the Meiji period (1868-1912) when cultured, literati-like pursuits where all the rage, people displayed antiques, suiseki stones and other such treasures in their homes, and the racks they used provide the prototype for those used in the display of shohin bonsai.
Timbers used for racks include rosewood, ebony, and Chinese quince. Lacquer-coated racks are the most highly prized. The top level is known as the tenba, and is used for displaying a sturdy main tree, generally an evergreen of some kind. The chudan, or middle tier, is for shrubs, and the gedan, or bottom shelf, for shrubs or grasses with a lighter, more airy quality. Care is taken with the flow of the trees to direct the eye naturally from top to middle to bottom, and to ensure that the different elements of the display are not cramped. As a rule the same species of tree is not usually used more than once in any single display

JULY 2019

Cultivating Healthy Habits
1. Before you water, make sure the tree actually needs it. If the soil is damp, don’t water. If its bone dry,
ensure that it doesn’t dry out again. If it rains for days, tilt the pot at an angle to encourage drainage.
2. Check the foliage and shoots for anything unusual, an odd colour, distorted leaves, wilting etc. Drying
winds and/or hot sun causes species like maples and hornbeams to develop dry leaf margins, if this
occurs, move them to a more sheltered spot.
3. Strip disfigured leaves and try to discover the cause. Examine shoots and foliage for aphids, if you see
any signs, treat immediately.
4. Check the inner areas, especially of conifers, for dry or dead leaves. This may be natural wastage, but
could also be caused by spider mites. Remove dead leaves. While you’re at it, clear the inner areas of
5. If some foliage is sick, while the rest of the plant is in good health, find out why. There may be a tight
wire or a branch might have been damaged at a fork, or where it meets the trunk. Or, the roots directly
below one or other of the branches may have died off.
6. Check trees for the tell-tale white specks left by scale insects and scrape them off.
7. While you’re looking for signs of insect damage, check that wires are not digging into the bark, cut
them away.
8. Clean the soil surface, remove weeds, fallen leaves or debris that might harbour spores or bugs. This is
important in the autumn and winter.
9. Are organic fertilizer cakes breaking down? If not, put some earth or pieces of fresh moss around each
cake to introduce microbes. Don’t worry about cakes that seem to be growing hairs or those full of
worms, this is part of the natural process and will do no harm.
10. Is your tree vigorous? If not, are you feeding inadequately? Is the soil too wet, or dry? Don’t
automatically feed or water again, until you are sure what is causing problems, or you are sure what is
causing problems, or you might make things worse.
11. Do any shoots need pinching back? During summer, broadleaved trees grow almost all the time and it’s
essential to keep the pinching under control. Junipers, too, grow all the time and it is a good idea to pinch
out the new tips daily, right through to mid-autumn.
12. In winter, check all trees at least once a week to make sure the soil is moist and that there is no evidence
13. Finally, stand back and take pleasure in the admiration of each of the trees in turn, this is what bonsai
trees are for! Visualize the possible future development of each of them, and think about the most likely
route you will take to achieve that objective, until the final, near-perfect image is firmly fixed in your


JUNE 2019
Chairman's Chat

Here we are, halfway through the year again, sounds familiar, I have said this before no doubt.
Our next meeting is a workshop, pruning, wiring and preparing for our show in July. You all know about
accent plants and ornaments from my previous talks, we’ll see who was sleeping at the back.
When you display trees, follow these guide lines to ensure they are in pristine condition.
Clean containers thoroughly (don’t overlook their feet!).
Unglazed pots can be burnished using a little vegetable oil and lint-free cloth.
Clean any debris from the soil and plant new moss if the old is not in mint condition.
Remove training wires that are no longer in use. Any wire that must remain in place should be as unobtrusive
as possible.
Clean the bark on both the trunk and branches with a toothbrush and water.
Trim the tree carefully. In summer, the trees should be trimmed a week or two before display, so that new
leaves emerge to freshen up the colours so the plant looks at its best.
Snip off any dead or discoloured foliage as well as any faded or overblown flowers.


MAY 2019
Chairman's Chat

Accent plants are often herbs and grasses grown in small containers. They are considered nearly
indispensable in the formal display of bonsai, as are suiseki (viewing stones).
The purpose of displaying suiseki and accent plans with bonsai is both to establish a feeling as to the natural
landscape in which the bonsai might grow, and in combination with the bonsai to form pleasant lines of
defined visual movement.
Accent plants are naturally small in size and when flowering plants are used those with relatively small
flowers are selected. Some are seasonal plants that are only green or flower in a specific season of the year
(like bulbs or white water-lilies) and therein lies their special quality.
Their function is as important as that of a suiseki in a display because it helps place the viewer in the exact
season in which the artist intends that his bonsai be observed and appreciated.
If, for example, the artist wishes to put us in autumn, or produce the sensation of melancholy, calm, slow or
deliberate change, he will use an autumn herb, yellowing and perhaps beginning to wither.
If he uses violets, the combination explodes in the joy of winter’s end and the marvellous aroma of flowers
in a field.
A water lily represents the freshness of a neighbouring pond in full summer.
However, let’s not forget that accent plants are just as their name suggests and should not stand out more
then the main subject, the bonsai - but rather complimented it.
Because of this, accent plants are most often used with medium or large size bonsai. The size of the plant
ought to be much smaller than that of the main tree, but even so, its shape must be consistent with that of the
bonsai. In the case of grasses, they can be trimmed in a way that the lines of the pair (the ideal triangle that is
the basis of the entire composition) will be pleasing.
Any question or query arising from this article, I will try and answer at our next meeting.


APRIL 2019
Chairman’s Chat

Pruning to Promote Flowering

In the UK hawthorn has to be our finest native deciduous species for use in bonsai. However, there is always
some trouble in paradise. The species exhibits two characteristics that can conspire to spoil our enjoyment
and reward for the work we expend. Firstly, the tree has a habit of forming heavy knuckles around the ends
of the twigs where pruning is carried out year on year. Secondly, many trees refuse to flower, or will only
flower occasionally.
Fortunately both of these poor characteristics can be remedied with a single technique. I have heard many
theories concerning how to make the species flower, some are just old wives tales, others are downright
barbaric. In bonsai we have to encourage the tree to be beautiful rather than forcing it into submission. This
will ensure long term success.

In order to ensure success with hawthorn it is necessary to look at some old pruning techniques for fruit trees
from the past, but first we need to understand the growth habit of the tree.
Grown in favourable conditions the hawthorn will endeavour to expand rapidly by way of strong, vigorous,
fast growing smooth branches traditionally termed ‘water shoots’. These don’t exhibit any side branching of
note and are apical dominant. A more mature tree, or one growing in a more restrained situation, will
produce less water shoots and more short stubby branches, which are not overtly apical dominant. Finally we
have little fruiting spurs. These are short, stubby and generally have larger buds at their tips.
Hawthorns grow with relatively short nodes and so produce many buds. Depending upon the hormonal
messages that the bud receives it can develop into leaves, a flowering spur, a secondary branch, a water shoot
or perhaps just a thorn. Controlling these hormonal messages within the tree will ensure good development
full of character and, as a side benefit, it will flower.

Flowering declines quickly.
Often when we collect old hawthorn it will flower very well, but this declines over a few seasons. This
happens because the trees’ situation will have improved and it gradually reverts to a juvenile state of
expansion growth. Over time, energy is diverted away from mature fruiting growth towards expansion
growth and flowering quickly declines.
The following technique should only be applied to relatively mature trees with a fair level of secondary
branching, not raw material in need of primary branch growth. The hawthorn resents root disturbance and
will only need to be repotted every 3 - 5 years. Fertilise the tree very well with a balanced fertiliser from
February (late winter) until late Autumn.
1. In spring allow shoots to extend until the growth at the base just begins to harden off, then cut back by
three quarters. Prune harder at the top of the tree, less hard lower down. Do not leave pruning too late or
you will not see the strong second break of growth that is very important.
2. Leave the second break of growth intact without pruning unless you see a very strong long shoot. The
second break will be more balanced and even than the first.
3. In late January prune the growth back to create your desired branch profile, but leaving a little of the previous year’s development to increase ramifications. Year by year, prune one or two twigs back harder to prevent knuckles forming. Always prune close to a bud and seal cuts. In the initial years of using this technique your tree is going to look a little out of shape for much of the time. As the tree matures and ramification increases the situation will improve greatly.

Apical dominance.

The technique relies upon controlling apical dominance and will distribute energy throughout the tree evenly, while still allowing it to fuel strong growth and maintain vigour. The idea is that the secondary growth will mature over the autumn and early winter. Strong apical buds will form at the end of the shoots. In late winter these are removed and as a result the tree will fuel development of all growing points rather than just the branch tips. In the first season you will not see flowering, but in the second year it should begin and will subsequently increase. A strong healthy tree will easily make two breaks of growth in a season as long as you prune the first break fairly quickly.

MARCH 2019
Chairman’s Chat

Part 3 of 3
The process of leaf hardening off has an important bearing on leaf size in bonsai. Ideally we want the leaves
to grow to a limited size before they become mature, harden off and cease to expand. To help this and to
keep new growth really tight, keep the bonsai in full sun, not for very delicate leaves species like the red
maples. The new leaves then expand slowly and harden off before they get too big. The reason for this is that
the process of photosynthesis is slowed down during exposure to really bright light because in such
conditions the chloroplasts in the leaves pack themselves close together to avoid radiation damage and thus
making them less efficient.
However the surest way to achieve small leaves in proportion with the bonsai is to do all you can do to
encourage the development of a very high density of fine twiggy growth through the repeated soft pruning
techniques described earlier.
The way this works is as follows. Imagine a bonsai with a certain size rootball, limited by its pot and with
just four branches each bearing five buds. These buds each produce a shoot with four leaves, a total of 80
leaves on the tree. As the tree starts to grow in spring, each of these developing leaves will receive 1/80 of
the supply of water and nutrients available from the rootball and, if given enough light, will grow and expand
to the limit that this allows.
Now imagine the same tree two years on, in the same pot, with the same size rootball, but now each branch
bears 20 twigs and each twig has ten leaf buds on it. When the tree comes into growth in the spring 800
unfolding leaves are dependent upon the same volume of water and nutrients supply from the rootball and so
each gets only 1/800 of the available supply and can only grow and expand to the extent that this allows.
They are therefore bound to be smaller when they reach maturity and harden off.
Quite simply, there is no point worrying about over large leaves on your bonsai while it still has a low twig
Defoliation is the technique of cutting off all of the leaves once they have expanded fully and hardened off.
In effect the process deceives the tree’s hormonal system into going through two springs in the same year, so
twig and leaf numbers can be increased more rapidly under this regime. A second crop of shoots and leaves
develops mainly from the axillary buds, at the leaf bases which are developing for next year’s leaves. These
buds will not be fully developed at this time and so this second crop of leaves and twigs will be smaller and
finer than the first.
The timing is very important and it is generally best done between mid June and mid July. If it is done too
early and the tree is short of stored food, it will not have had enough time in leaf to accumulate sufficient
new sugars to begin the development of the next crop of buds, or to start them off into growth.
If it is left too late, the tree will probably leaf out again, but less completely and there is then a danger of the
new soft growth being caught by early night frosts. A late defoliated tree will also have a very short period in
leaf in the late summer and autumn in which to lay down its food stores and develop fully formed buds for
next spring’s growth. The tree may also react as though it was simply an early autumn and become dormant
until spring, thus losing a considerable period of growth, thickening and maturation of wood-it will certainly
A major part of the art of bonsai is the creation of particular style and an illusion of age in the tree and in order to achieve this the major branches may need to be helped into a particular direction as they develop.
This can be done by repeating pruning back to a suitable bud and/or by the standard technique of wire coiling and bending or by weighting or tying down preferably when the branches are young and therefore more flexible.
The best time to shape most species is just before bud break in the spring, though it may be done in early autumn. Scots Pines are best wired in late August or just after complete defoliation in mid-summer for those deciduous species where this technique is used. The reason for this is that thickening growth of the branches is necessary for the technique to work.
When the branch and wire spiral is bent into its new position and alignment, the branch is held there by the wire, which resists the natural elasticity of the wood and its tendency to return to where it was. The wire has to stay in place until such time as the tree has laid down new woody tissue (xylem) along the new alignment of the branch. Once enough new wood has been produced, it will retain its position and the wire may be removed. The trick is to do this before so much wood has been laid down that wire begins to be buried in the branch, but not so soon that the branch gradually moves back to where it was. Only by practice and close observation can you learn this.
Remembering the structure of wood as concentric cylinders of fluid conducting tubules (xylem and phloem vessels) you can imagine the internal damage you can do if you bend a branch in several different directions tubes will be alternately stretched and scrunched up and will soon fail to work, so when you make a bend, decide on the new line, bend it gradually and bend it once.
The trunk and branches of a tree are amazingly well formed to carry out their function. Fortunately for us trees have been around for millions of years and have evolved to cope with a great variety of different conditions. This means that basically most of the outdoor species that we use for bonsai are very robust and tough with inbuilt mechanisms to help them survive storms, drought and attack from insects, fungi and curious, browsing animals.
The trunks, branches and leaves are remarkably tolerant of the cutting, scarring, abrasion, bending, carving, hollowing and all the other techniques we use in bonsai and it is a good job as without this toughness we would find it very difficult to work with them as bonsai in the way that we do.

Chairman’s Chat

Part 2 of 3
If watered and fed correctly and given enough light bonsai continue to grow and each year’s summer growth
has to be controlled in order to maintain the bonsai style and appearance. I find the removal of excess growth
in summer causes more uncertainty than almost any other aspect of bonsai care, how much should be
removed, how often and when.
The answer is, as usual, it all depends. The degree of shoot reduction necessary depends upon the age and
stage of development of the bonsai. In a young vigorous one where the structure is still being built up new
shoots have to be cut back to reduce the tendency of the tree to produce all of its growth at the apex. Upper
shoots once they have extended to at least five leaves are therefore cut back very hard, mid-level ones are cut
back by about 1/2 and lower level ones by about 1/3. This keeps more leaves on the lower tree, which feed
the lower trunk and branches developing trunk taper and building up the size and complexity of the lower
branches, while keeping the upper ones from getting too heavy and coarse.
If the bonsai basic structure is formed but you need to build up the twig density, leave the new shoots to
grow fairly long until the earliest leaves have hardened off and then cut them right back to just above the first
or second leaf. In this way the new shoot will be present long enough to build up some energy in the tree and
it will be mature enough for the buds at the leaf bases to develop properly. In addition, removal of the shoot
removes that bud inhibiting hormone and so more buds become active on the older wood of the established
branches producing yet more twigs.
In a really mature, fairly slow growing bonsai, the picture is a little different. If shoots are left to extend
freely in the spring, its vigour will be increased and the internodes of the shoots will become too long, all of
the growth will tend to be made at the tips of the branches and the inner branches will gradually lose twigs
and leaves. It is important in such specimens to groom them by soft pruning through the season. New shoots
need to have their tips pitched out almost as soon as they appear. This stops further shoot extension, keeps
internodes short, foliage pads tight and compact and leaves small.
The soft pruning process can be summarised as a number of simple options. If you want a branch to extend
and thicken, leave the new shoot to develop freely, if you want the branch thicker, but not longer, leave the
fully developed shoot all summer and cut it back to the desired length in autumn, if you want just a little
lengthening leave the shoot to extend and then pinch out the soft tip when it is almost as long as you require,
and if you want virtually no shoot extension, remove the shoot tip as soon as they appear.
Soft pruning techniques like these can be applied two maybe three times in a season, depending on the rate at
which the tree produces new shoots, and this differs with species. In any event soft pruning should be
stopped in mid August. If you do it later the maturation of the summer’s wood will be affected and any new growth that may be stimulated will be weak and will therefore die back over the winter.
Soft pruning of new shoots on species which flower on last year’s wood should be confined to the early growth just after flowering. If it is done too late, once the shoots have hardened off a Little, it will remove a proportion of the flower buds which are developing for next year, or it will stimulate the production of more leafy summer shoots that year, instead of the buds which should produce next year’s flowering shoots.
Many species, like Oaks, Pines and Ash develop small lateral shoot buds at the base of the leaf stalks, plus a much larger terminal bud at the shoot tip. In these species the large terminal bud contains, in a compressed form, the whole of next year’s shoot. Their growth strategy is therefore rapid shoot elongation early in the season, followed by leafing out and quick leaf maturation and then the tree can concentrate on collecting energy and using it to develop the large terminal buds for the following year, ensuring that they can pack away large stores of food that will be needed for the growing of entire shoot from these large buds.
On trees like these you can ensure finer twig development by removing all of the big, fat terminal buds and those adjacent lateral buds which point in the wrong directions in the winter or early spring, before they begin to develop. In this way all of the new shoots will come from smaller lateral and adventitious buds and, because these contain a smaller compressed shoot, the new shoots and leaves will be of a tiny size.

Chairman’s Chat
By the time you read this newsletter we will be at the end of January. I hope you all had the Christmas and
New Year you wished for.
I started this article before Christmas after being asked what we should be doing with our bonsai this year, so
here we go!

We can look at some of the basic bonsai training and grooming techniques and consider how and why they
work. The basic techniques which are used to shape bonsai and keep them small are, limiting root volume,
root pruning, branch (hard) pruning, shoot (soft) pruning or grooming, shaping by wiring and leaf size
reduction by increasing twig density, by control of light supply and defoliation.
The supply of water and dissolved plant nutrients from the roots to the leaves is the main factor which limits
tree growth, so keeping the roots of bonsai confined in a restricted soil volume helps to slow down growth
and keep them small. However, for the tree to survive, its roots must function properly and to do this they
must keep growing so as to be able to produce new absorptive root hairs. This means they need fresh soil
space to grow into. A young bonsai will be vigorous and will fill the available soil with roots quickly, while
an old mature one will have slowed down, and will take longer to fill its pot with roots and this is why root
pruning and repotting is necessary every year or two for young bonsai and less often for old ones. It allows
room for fresh root growth in the bonsai pot and replenishes old soil.
Without it all of the soil becomes pot bound and will die.
The tree’s need is for lots of fine new feeder roots and so this is why it is advisable to cut back any thick
roots hard, stimulating the production of many new roots from the cambium around the wound edges.
If you are developing a root over a rock style, the rock and trees should be left completely covered by soil
until such time as the required size is reached. This is because roots can expand and grow in thickness more
easily without the constricting effect of a thick bark layer, and under moist dark conditions the outer
covering remains thin, only developing into a thick bark when exposed to the light and air.
Despite the confinement of the roots, bonsai do continue to grow and so we need to control this growth and
shape them by pruning unwanted growth to create and maintain the desired structure for the chosen style.
The general aim of this structural pruning is usually to maintain the balance of branches in the crown of the
tree, thinning the crown and keeping the apex lighter than the base, diverting vigour to the lower part of the
tree and developing increasing twig density. The way this works is that the larger buds at the end of the
branch produce a hormone that inhibits bud development back down the branch so removal of the branch tips
removes this hormone source and the dormant epicormic buds on older wood are allowed to develop into
new shoots.
Also, during the development of most species as bonsai, even if you have soft pruned continuously through
the growing season it will be necessary to shorten the branch growth made each year, cutting them back,
sometimes quite severely to a suitably placed bud. This is one positioned to give growth of the branch in the
desired direction next year.
The timing of branch pruning is important and late winter, when the tree is dormant, is the best time to remove any of the larger branches, particularly in the deciduous species.
This is because most of the stored energy material (starches) in the tree are laid down in special cells in the medullary rays of the oldest wood, deep in the trunk and heaviest main branches.
This stored Energy is mobilised as sugar in the spring to allow the buds to develop new shoots and leaves before the tree can begin to produce more sugar by photosynthesis. If therefore, you remove any of the surplus branches in spring, when the energy-rich sap has started flowing into those branches, their removal will also remove and waste part of the tree’s stored energy resources which it needs if it is to get off to a good start.
Branches which are removed in the dormant season should be cut to leave a short stub. Trees have the ability to internally seal off any damaged areas and stubs will die back and dry off and can be cut off flush later in the summer, when growth is at a peak. Then because it is actively growing, the tree will quickly cover the wound with protective callus tissue. If for any reason you decide to remove a branch in the summer, cut it flush with the trunk, and the wound will soon begin to callus over. If you leave the stub in summer it is quite likely that adventitious buds will develop around its end and it will produce more unwanted new shoots.
The process of wound healing by callus formation naturally occurs faster when the tree is in active growth. This is why it is recommended that major pruning cuts be made just prior to growth in the spring. The process of wound healing around pruning scars uses lots of energy and so it is aided by a supply of sugar rich sap. This flows best vertically downwards in the trunk and not so well laterally, so a long vertical cut interferes less with sap flow then a broad horizontal one and thus usually heals quicker.
Trunk wounds just below large branches will heal faster due to the good supply of sap from above and if you get an adventitious shoot developing from the top side of a large callus, leave it for a season or two as it will nourish the callus tissue and speed up healing. You will however need to remove it before it becomes too large or you will also have a second scar to hide.
New callus tissue is not constrained by an outer layer of bark, so it naturally bulges and swells out over the wound. This natural appearance of a raised callus on the trunk can be an attractive indication of age in some trees, but in order to get a flat callus surface where you need one it is necessary to make a hollow into the centre of the woody part of the wound. The new callus tissue will then grow out from the cambium on the wound edges and will roll over into this hollow, leaving it level. If the process of callus formation stops before all exposed wood is covered, just rewound the edges of the callus slightly and the trauma will stimulate more cell division from the cambium.
Larger trees can cope with damage by compartmentalising it and sealing it off from the healthy tissue, so do not need wound sealants. However with bonsai it is a good idea to cover large injuries with a wound sealant or soft clay. This acts as an instant callus and its main benefit is that it reduces drying of the exposed cambium tissue at the wound edges. This is vital as it keeps the cambium cells alive so they can form callus and adventitious buds. If the edges of the wound dry and shrivel, new shoots will not be formed there. They will arise further back from the wound, and this is no good if you want to develop a broom style by chopping off a nice straight trunk, when it is important to get the new shoots arising right from the edges of the cut trunk, not halfway down it.
Sometimes you find that an otherwise attractive bonsai has a thinner section of trunk near the base, detracting from its otherwise ideal taper. Such localised depressions can be encouraged to thicken up by gently but regularly beating! A few light taps with a blunt instrument through the spring growing period wound the underlying cambium slightly, releasing the hormone which stimulates callus formation and causing localised thickening just where you want it.
Sometimes it is advisable to delay the removal of unwanted branches which are superfluous to the final design. These surplus branches carry leaf area which will feed the tree, making the trunk thicken up and mature much more rapidly. The best ones to keep are those which arise low down on the trunk, as the effect of the sugar rich sap that they produce will be greatest below their point of origin, and so they help to thicken the trunk base, helping to create good taper from the base upwards. All unwanted branches should of course be removed before becoming so large that their eventual removal would leave a large obtrusive scar. Leaving the terminal buds on the lower branches so that they extend unchecked throughout the growing season means that they carry many more leaves then they would if pruned. This induces much greater caliper (thickening) growth in the base of those limbs and in the trunk below them. So if branch thickening is the main aim the selected branch may be left to extend fully for a whole season, even if it gets to be several feet long after which it can be cut back in the dormant season to a suitable placed bud closer to the trunk.