September 2019: Jay McDonald rock planting

Marin Bonsai Club and guests were treated to an educational and entertaining presentation on bonsai rock planting by Jay McDonald at the September 2019 meeting. In the Japanese tradition this is called a saikei (sigh-kay) and in the Chinese tradition penjing. The volcanic stone Jay used had a dramatic arched shape and he chose a small, shohin-sized shimpaku juniper for the signature planting. Jay discussed the various positions he had considered for positioning the tree before deciding that a placement just off center showed the tree to the best advantage and flowed well with the lines of the stone.

Ever considerate of his audience’s limited attention span, Jay had done extensive preparation on the stone and tree before the meeting. Screen platforms or pockets for soil were created to provide growing material and stability for the tree, and drainage holes created to keep the roots healthy. Jay had purchased the tree in August, pruned and styled the branches and cleared the roots of old soil so it would be in prime condition for planting on the stone.

It was clear that Jay had done considerable thinking about his composition and the elements needed to create a composition that would be a real show stopper. He had purchased several accent plants that mimic larger plantings one might see in the woods, and had accumulated some prize silverback moss to fill in and secure some of the plants.

Continue reading
Posted in Meeting Recap | Leave a comment

August 2019: Peter Tea on Junipers

Peter Tea joined us in August to talk about the work that is appropriate to do on junipers late in the summer. He brought three Kishu Shimpaku junipers with him, plus an olive for contrast, and to illustrate how different trees need different approaches.

Peter began with a quick recap of the importance of working on healthy trees, listing once again the six things we can manipulate to ensure that we get the most out of our trees and the changes we make to them: sun, water, soil, repot interval, fertilizer, and cutting.

The Kishu Shimpaku is, like most junipers, highly valued for how great it looks with foliage pads, those perfectly shaped bundles of foliage that are so iconic in bonsai. As he drew front and side diagrams of them on the whiteboard, Peter pointed out that creating those perfect pads always begins with branch division, lots of division. But it’s not enough to just create division, it must be planned carefully. For instance, you have to bear in mind that all that division will add girth to the tree. Depending on where you begin the division, that girth will either be close in to the center of the tree where it looks good, or it will be far out at the ends of the branches, where it will only look good in the most extreme of compositions.

With that in mind, Peter turned to the least developed of his junipers and asked the audience to imagine where we would want the outer edge of the final canopy for that tree. He held his hands open around the tree to help us envisage where its perfect silhouette would be. With that goal established, he told us to imagine how much further in we would have to start dividing the tree’s branches to allow enough division and subdivision to create the dense pads achieved on a mature tree. He moved his hands in to where that would be, and many of that tree’s young branches were already bare beyond that point. Clearly, some of those branches were going to have to be sacrificed. Peter’s ultimate point: you might have to cut deeper into the tree to get the ramification to peak where you want it. Additionally, he added that you can’t work on one isolated area without regard for other areas, or else you’ll waste your time perfecting something that might end up getting sacrificed in service to the larger design.

Returning to the importance of working on healthy trees, Peter sidetracked to a discussion of spider mites and how to deal with them. Various types of oil are effective. “Year Round” and “Neem” are two popular examples. Peter recommends using only 60% of the listed dosage and avoiding using oils under direct sunlight. Douse the tree thoroughly, but then wash it off an hour later, again to avoid sun exposure. It will have done its job of suffocating the mites within that hour. Be sure to repeat the process a week later to catch new hatchlings. According to Peter’s experience, miticides (Floramite, Sultan, Hexagon) are less successful in the long run, the problem being that mites build up resistance to them over time. Peter also says that Malathion doesn’t work at all.

Awesome Olive trunk
Continue reading
Posted in Meeting Recap | Leave a comment

June 2019: Bill Castellon on Pines

Our June presenter was Bill Castellon, a professional landscaper, aesthetic pruner, and shohin fanatic with extensive experience growing and pruning pines of all sizes and varieties. The topic of the evening was decandling black pines and Bill brought a vigorous young black pine for demonstration, which was raffled off at the end of the night.

Bill went straight to a discussion of decandling timing strategies and never gave the down-and-dirty on what decandling is and why it’s important. A quick explanation for those newer bonsai enthusiasts reading this: Decandling a pine means cutting the new growth shoots of a vigorous pine, referred to as its candles, so that when the needles developing inside of them open up later, they are noticeably shorter. It is done because simply cutting the needles after they are fully developed will result in unsightly brown tips on the needles. The proper timing of this procedure is a topic of much debate, with as many opinions as there are microclimates in the San Francisco Bay Area, but the one agreed-upon constant is that the later you make the cut, so long as you don’t wait too long and miss the developmental window, the shorter the needles you will get. Decandling is also done to encourage division, being the pine equivalent of tip-pinching on deciduous trees.

Like many of our other favorite presenters, Bill does not like to state absolutes like, “You must decandle in June.” Rather, he likes to set general guidelines and emphasizes that you must consider the individual tree and its specific environment. As an illustrative example, he points out that shohin artists in Japan wait until as late as July 15th to decandle, to get exceptionally small needles. They can do that there because their climate supports it, but here in the Bay Area, Bill suggests we don’t push our pine candling past July 4th at the absolute latest. If you decandle your pines too late, you’ll get malformed or otherwise unhealthy needles, or even an entirely failed growth tip that eventually withers and dies. When in doubt, or if you absolutely must go by a specific date, Bill says that June 15th is a safe time to decandle pines in our area.

Continue reading
Posted in Meeting Recap | Leave a comment

MBC Auction and Sale

August 6, 2019,  7pm          San Rafael, California

Marin Bonsai Club will conduct their annual bonsai auction and sale Tuesday, August 6 from 7:00 to 9:30 pm at the Terra Linda Community Center, 670 Del Ganado Road, San Rafael, CA. Quality bonsai, bonsai-related items and pots, pots, pots… Preview at 7:00 pm and live auction starts at 7:30 pm. In addition, there will be silent auction and sale items. Public is invited.

TIP: Come early and have dinner at the many great restaurants across the street, featuring Thai, Mexican, Italian, and Japanese food, and deli selections at Scotty’s Market!

Posted in Events | Leave a comment

Marin Bonsai Club 2019 Beginners’ Workshops Recap

On July 16 and 23, at the Terra Linda Community Center, San Rafael, California, Marin Bonsai Club (MBC) conducted its annual beginners’ workshops. This year there were two workshops, one with 10 students and the other with 11 students, all learning the living art form referred to as bonsai. Each student worked with a senior member of MBC on creating a bonsai from nursery stock. The trees were Prostrada junipers, roughly five years old and having been repotted by the Calaveras Nursery, Inc., located in Sunol, California. The junipers were repotted in five-gallon nursery containers about two and a half years ago and had well developed root systems.

The workshops were laid out in five tables with two and three students per table. A senior MBC member/instructor was assigned to each table. Many thanks to John Doig, Janice Dilbert, Dan Keller, Alan Voight, Michael Murtaugh, Chris Ross, and George Haas for volunteering their time and experience in teaching the workshops.

Beginners’ Workshop #1

John prepared the junipers in advance of the workshops by cutting the root ball in half, reducing the size of the nursery containers and wiring to secure the trees in the container. He also exposed the nebari by scraping away some of the surface soil from around the trunk base. This preparation saved a lot of time and avoided the mess of the students dealing with the same. It allowed for the instructor to begin the teaching of bonsai creation.

Prostrada juniper (Juniperus horizontalis) has a low horizontal growth pattern. The plant is used in landscapes. The numerous branches provide extreme movement and is quite suitable for bonsai.

Instructions basically started with cleaning the branches of unwanted foliage; dead foliage, downward growth, crotches. Once the heavy foliage was removed, unwanted branches were removed entirely or made into jin (deadwood) features. Some proceeded to select a front view, while others delayed identifying the front view and continued to work on structural and primary branches.  

Students had input into the bonsai design with some choosing cascade or informal upright styles. John brought two Prostrada juniper demonstration trees to aid the students in their creations. These were junipers that were created by John and Chris during demonstrations conducted in conjunction with the Marin County Fair earlier in the month.

Beginners’ Workshop #2

MBC provided aluminum wire for the workshops. Wiring was a critical part of creating the student’s bonsai. The instructors demonstrated the application of aluminum wire on the trunk and primary and secondary branches. The students then followed by wrapping the wire around the branches.

The students expressed great enthusiasm and enjoyment in their creations of bonsai. A number of them showed interest in joining the club. In fact, there were several students who joined MBC during the workshops. All of the students were invited to join MBC’s winter repotting workshops in 2020.

George Haas

Posted in Workshop Recap | Leave a comment

2019 MCF Bonsai Show Photos

We’ve just wrapped up another very successful show at the Marin County Fair!

Here are a few photos to enjoy and there are many more in the 2019 Marin County Fair gallery on our Visuals page. Check it out!

Photos courtesy of Craig Thompson, Dan Keller and Sharon Bone.

Posted in Member Trees | Leave a comment

May 2019: Peter Tea on deciduous trees

Just before his May 7 presentation to the Marin Bonsai Club, Peter Tea wrote on the board nearly the same basic bonsai manipulation tactics he has written up there, and discussed, since his first lecture in our ongoing educational series with him. He listed the three methods of direct manipulation most relevant to the current discussion: Cutting, Pinching, and Defoliation. And then there were the five other main overall ways of inducing change in bonsai: Sun, Water, Soil/Pot, Repot Interval, and Fertilizing.

Not that he was being redundant. Quite the opposite, he was showing the foundation of bonsai methods we have been studying with him for a few years now, and foreshadowing the way in which his talk was about to focus on Cutting and how it really stands alone in contrast to all the other methods he listed. Note that for purposes of his present discussion, Peter minimized his discussion of Pinching and Defoliation, since they’re essentially variations of the same technique: physically altering your tree by removing part of it. His ultimate point was that cutting is a little more dramatic than simply feeding your tree differently or giving it a larger pot, and therefore should be treated as the alternative to those other methods. To emphasize his point, he referred to cutting as “Tactic 2.” The other methods, which Peter collectively referred to as “Tactic 1,” he said may not be as exciting as cutting, but they are ultimately more powerful and controllable in a lot of important ways and should therefore be your first means of altering your bonsai.

But when changes in fertilizer, soil, etc. aren’t accomplishing your goals, it’s time to pick up your tools and do some cutting. And May is certainly the right time of year, because any tree or area of a tree that is getting too much energy will be growing like gangbusters. May is a real busy time for owners of deciduous trees.

Peter makes a point to differentiate between cutting and thinning. Cutting a branch back causes division, which leads to ramification and other desirable aesthetics, but it also slows the tree down, which is often the only real reason for cutting back the branch of a fully developed tree. Thinning, on the other hand, is not just a more widespread approach to removing growth tips from the tree, it’s an important method for revigorating what’s left after you’ve trimmed. What’s left will be stronger, an effect that is particularly helpful if that area was struggling.

This cutting/thinning distinction set Peter up for his conclusion later on, when he discussed the way interior growth can suffer despite your isolated attempts to cut back the ends of the branches. If you’re trying to encourage an individual piece of secondary growth to divide and thrive, cutting the end may not be enough, because the tree still does not consider that area to be part of the exterior, or canopy of the tree. In other words, even though there’s nothing growing further out on that particular branch, and you may have cut areas back above, the fact remains that, in relation to the rest of the tree, it’s not at the “outside” of the tree, which is where the tree wants to put its energy. That is why sometimes you just have to cut way back all over the tree and essentially start over. The way Peter puts it, sometimes you just need to “make the inside the outside.”

Continue reading
Posted in Meeting Recap | Leave a comment