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  Bonsai Care

Creating a bonsai from a pre-bonsai  |  Defoliating  |  Insects, Diseases, Pesky Things and Solutions  |  Recipes for Pest Control    |  Pruning  |   Re-potting  |  Soil  

Watering  |   Fertilizing  |  Winter care | Wiring


Creating Bonsai from a Pre-Bonsai

Submitted by Nanci Strickland, Former
Club President
Work at your Level by raising or lowering your work area.
Comfortable chair/stool at proper height for table.  No leaning over your work.
Table large enough to hold everything you need.
If standing, get a short step (yoga or jazzercise), place under table shift weight while working.

Locate pre-bonsai from nursery stock
D&L, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Porters, garden centers, or yard.
Look for plants with interesting trunk line; NOT necessarily roots that are bulky or weird.
Push soil away from main trunk base to see what is below the soil line.
Select one with a wide trunk base or potential for one.
Purchase, take home and STUDY it, sketch the line BEFORE you do anything.
Make notes: such as date purchased and why you selected it.

Other Supplies
Plastic (cover table), newspapers, plastic pan, turntable, tools, wire, and screen.
Assortment of pots, good bonsai soil mix, chopstick.

Find Root Base
Clean off soil from trunk base down to the main roots.
Study all angles looking for widest part of trunk base.
Determine the front of tree, the side of the tree facing the viewer. If can’t find the front, look for the back which gives you the front.
Remove “basals” (suckers) growing from roots which take nutrients from tree.
Look for alternating limbs/branches, left right, back, etc. going up the tree.
Very low branches on trunk will widen the base, called sacrifice branches, but should be removed before they may produce large scaring.

Light Trim
Narrow down style options by beginning to clean out growth absolutely not wanted.
Give special consideration to removing branches growing on inside curves of trunk, in middle of tree, overlapping or multiple branches from one union.
Better to leave more on the tree than removing too much.
Good rule: When in doubt, leave it on; it can always be removed later.
Remember it can always be wired and twisted or moved to a proper location.
As pruning progresses, have a clear idea of the style you want to achieve.

Begin wiring branches which need to be placed differently. DO NOT move them yet.
Visualize the tree; check your sketch, tree options may have changed. You or the tree may have changed your mind.
Completely wire the tree where needed.

After completely wiring tree, shape it by keeping the intended style in mind.
Trim as needed.

Always Style Tree before potting it
Prepare pot by covering holes with screen & wire in place. You may want to prepare all your pots in advance.
Using root hook, pick out main roots from root ball.
Begin by placing/positioning tree in a pot in various positions appropriate for style and type of tree (Masculine, feminine, width, thickness, color) keeping in mind the 1/3 vs. 2/3 proportions.
Never position the tree in the middle of the pot unless it is a round pot.
Remove appropriate amount of roots, reposition/recheck in pot.
Pull tree out, place a mound of soil under where the trunk will be positioned.
Position tree, add soil, use chopstick in circular motions to tighten soil, repeat, going round & around tree until soil is tight.
Spray with water thoroughly until water runs out the drain holes of the pot.
Keep out of direct sun approximately 2 weeks or until new growth is seen.
A good re-potting guide is if you remove 1/3 off top, remove 1/3 roots

Bonsai Aesthetics
The tree will appear in a formal container, relatively small compared to the tree.
Except for the tree(s) and optional patches of moss, no other plant should appear in a bonsai container.
Except for the vegetation, soil, and natural-looking rocks, no other object should appear in a bonsai container.
The tree will have a distinct "front" from which it is intended to be viewed.
The trunk should taper significantly from base to top.
The tree's rootage should be exposed at the base of the trunk and should flare wider than the trunk as it enters the ground.
No visible roots should cross each other.
Branches should begin about one-third of the way up the trunk, and be continuous from there to the tip of the trunk (this guideline is specifically broken for the literati, or Bunjin-gi, style).
Branch size should diminish from the base to the top of the tree.
No major tree branch should cross the trunk when viewed from the tree's "front".
Branch ramification, particularly in deciduous trees, should increase towards the tip of each branch.
Branch shape should reflect the weight of age, particularly in conifers, and branches may be shaped to tend downwards toward the tip in support of this practice.
The trunk may be a straight vertical shape or may be contorted in different directions over its length, but in styles where the tip of the tree is above the container, the tip should tilt slightly forward at the top (toward the viewer).
Foliage (leaves or needles) should be small and to scale with the tree and its branches.
All trees in a multi-tree bonsai planting should be of the same species.

by David VanBuskirk, Owner of D&L Nursery

You defoliate to reduce the leaf size and to promote ramification. In deciduous trees it will help enhance the fall color. It will also help prevent shock when transplanting during active growth season.  You can defoliate most deciduous trees and broadleaf evergreens. You shouldn't do it to most flowering, fruiting or berry trees and not at all to conifers.  Only defoliate a young and healthy tree. You are forcing the next years growth, so an unhealthy or very old tree may fail to re-sprout and die.

When you defoliate cut every leaf off, leaving any leaves, especially the young tips, will encourage them to grow instead of others re-sprouting. You should cut at the base of the leaf, leaving some of the leaf stem, this will protect the dormant bud at the base of the leaf stem.   While the tree is defoliated you can get a good view of its branch structure, so it is a good time to wire or make any other styling changes.  

After defoliating, keep the tree in a shady spot until new sprouts emerge and then start giving it more sun. The more sun the tree gets the smaller the leaves will stay and the better ramification you will have. Do not fertilize before or after defoliating. Be careful not to over-water as the tree will not dry out as soon with no leaves to transpire water.  

Partial defoliation can be done on all species, but more commonly on species that cannot be totally defoliated. Do so by removing the larger leaves through the growing season until late summer. Also, you can partially defoliate larger or stronger branches to aid in the development of smaller or weaker branches. Reducing the leaves on the top of your tree will let in more light to the lower branches and encourage more growth there.

It is best to learn as much as possible about the species of trees you are growing so you will know when or if to defoliate, when to re-pot, wire and style. Doing so will enable you to keep your tree healthy for many years.  

I defoliate my deciduous trees in April after the spring growth has completely hardened off. That is when the leaves have lost their spring green color and are getting stiffer. Waiting too long will actually increase your leaf size and lengthen your internode spacing.  

I defoliate my Ficus in May after the night temperatures have been steadily in the 60's. 
You can defoliate Schefflera, Fukien Tea, Philippine Jasmine, Bougainvillea or just about any of your tropicals at this time of year. I have done it right up to October without any problems but early summer is the best time.

After you have defoliated your tree and the leaves are growing back keep your growth tips pinched off. This will keep your growth further back in the branch, keep your internodes short and improve your ramification. In spring you will constantly be doing this to your deciduous trees, especially your Maples. Most of your tropicals and all of your Ficus will need their tips pinched throughout the entire growing season.  

Insects, Diseases, Pesky Things and Solutions   
        by Nanci Strickland, Former Club President

Note: Prevention is best by using Systemic Insecticide all the time         contains detailed information on control of Insect and Related Pests
Pests of Foliage Plants       
Insect                         Solution   
Ants                            Household Ant & Roach Spray, Ant Bait Stations.  Only spray the soil, NOT the foliage.     
Aphids                        Blast of Water (Very Temporary), Systemic Insecticide (Bonide)   
Fungus Gnats              Clean cultural practices and lack of excessive watering usually will prevent fungus gnat infestations.
                                   If you get a serious infestation, the best way to clear it up is to re-pot completely replacing the soil.   
Fruit Fly                      Purchase organic fruit fly sprays from a garden center or organic growing supplier.   
Nematodes                 Nemeticide - keep your bonsai off the ground   
Mealy Bug                  Rubbing Alcohol applied with Q-Tips and Systemic Insecticide (Bonide)   
Moths                         Anole lizards.  Don't discourage the little lizards love to eat moths. Keep an eye out and just pick them off   
Roly Poly                    Systemic Insecticide (Bonide)   
Scale - Brown             1/2 Gallon Water with 1 TBS Formula 409 & 1 TBS Dishwash Liquid - Mix & Spray   
Rubbing Alcohol applied with Q-Tips, and Systemic Insecticide (Bonide)  
Scale - White              1/2 Gallon Water with 1 TBS Formula 409 & 1 TBS Dishwash Liquid - Mix & Spray   
                                   Rubbing Alcohol applied with Q-Tips,
and Systemic Insecticide (Bonide)
Spider Egg Balls          Remove by hand or use tweezers (after killing spider)
Spider Mites               1/2 Gallon Water with 1 TBS Formula 409 & 1 TBS Dishwash Liquid - Mix & Spray
                                   Rubbing Alcohol applied with Q-Tips,
and Systemic Insecticide (Bonide)
White Fly                    For particularly troublesome situations, try insecticidal soap or an insecticidal oil such as neem oil or narrow-range oil.
Worms in Soil             Systemic Insecticide (Bonide) - May have to change soil
Common Diseases   
Azalea Leaf Gall          Cut off ENTIRE branch with gall - back to the first main junction
Black Leaf Spot           Systemic fungicide
Brown Leaf Spot         Identify problem, then treat - see

Pesky Things   
Birds                           Sitting on Tree Tops & Breaking Branches or Crunching Tops - discourage birds - do not feed, etc.
                                   cover fruiting trees to prevent birds from eating fruit
Brown/Black Jelly       1/4 cup Apple Cider Vinegar in 1 Gallon Water - scrub
Brown Leaf Edges      Watering Too Infrequently - Water more often & thoroughly
Brown Leaf Stems      Watering Too Frequently, Place Bamboo Stick under one pot edge to help drain
Caterpillars                 Chewing Leaves - Remove Caterpillars, wear gloves
Lichen                        Rubbing Alcohol or Lysol applied directly with Q-Tips or leave it - it looks cool
Rabbits                       Move Trees Higher (off the ground) - bonsai outside should always be on stands or benches
Sooty Black Mold      Rubbing Alcohol or Lysol applied with Q-Tips
Squirrels                     Digging in Pots - see birds

Beneficial Things      There is no want these
Bees    Lady Bugs    Lizards    Praying Mantis    Stick Bugs    Frogs/Tree Frogs   

Recipes for Pest Control

Recipe for ants, aphids, scale, spider mites

2 tablespoons of 409 or Fantastic.
2 tablespoons of anti-bacterial dish washing liquid (Dawn, Joy, others, (BUT DO NOT use Dove or Ivory or anything with lotions).
1 gallon water pour tablespoons of appropriate amounts into gallon container (either before or after water is in it).
Mix thoroughly. Pour into a sprayer and keep it handy from spring through fall. Place the tree in a shady area THEN spray the leaves (including underside), branches, trunk and you can drench the soil. Keep in the shady area until dry, otherwise the solution will burn the leaves.

Recipe for brown and black "sludge" on Top of Soil

4 Tablespoons of apple cider vinegar (white vinegar doesn't work as well).
1 gallon water mix thoroughly.
Spray on sludge (NOT on leaves or trunk - only on portions of trunk with "sludge") If the "sludge" dries out on top of the soil, it doesn't let the water go through so your tree can be dying for a drink of water and you don't even know it. If the "sludge" dries out, you can pull it off, throw away and top dress with new soil.


Pruning and trimming must be performed on every tree sometime during the year. In the case of deciduous trees, such as maples and elms, pruning and trimming is best performed throughout the growing season. Juniper, pines, and cypress are finger nipped throughout the growing season to keep the tree shaped. Trimming the under & inner growth is needed monthly.

Re-potting bonsai
Bonsai can be transplanted when the roots in the container have become root bound. A root-bound condition is one in which the roots have extended themselves to the point where they are no longer able to gain sustenance from the soil. This becomes apparent when the roots are seen growing out the sides of the container.  For most bonsai, this occurs approximately every three to five years. Most bonsai can live in this root bound condition, providing they get ample water. However, this is an unhealthy situation and should be avoided. Root pruning is not a hazardous operation if it is done at the right time of the year and if one is careful not to take away much of the soil from the soil-rootball. One can safely take away one-third of the total volume of soil from the tree providing it is done just before the growth starts in the spring.

Pick a day that is overcast if you are re-potting outdoors.
1. Carefully take the tree out of the container without disrupting the soil around the roots. The soil should be moderately dry. Tree placement in the container is important, so before removing the tree from the container, take a good look at where it is placed.
2. Untangle the roots from the soil-root-ball.
3. Using an unsharpened pointed stick, pick away the soil from the soil-root-ball on side and bottom of the ball.
4. Remove approximately one-third of the soil from around the soil-root-ball.  Be careful not to disrupt the soil around the trunk of the tree.
5. Carefully trim off the roots that are now exposed due to the soil removal with a pair of sharp scissors, leaving one-inch of the roots still extended beyond the soil-root-ball.
6. Using a good grade of potting soil mixture designed for bonsai, place enough soil in the container so that when the tree is replaced within the container, the top surface of the soil is even with or slightly below the edge of the container.
7. Place the tree back into the container and locate it where it was prior to it’s removal.
8. Fill the sides of the container with the soil mixture.
9. Pack the soil firmly into the container to ensure that there are no air pockets around the roots.
10. Water the soil to saturation. Water the bonsai after packing the soil, not before.
11. Keep the tree in shaded location through the spring and summer.
12. Continue to water the bonsai as you did before re-potting.
13. A vitamin called “SuperThrive” or a stronger dose of “Bonsai Master” fertilizer is recommended when re-potting your tree.

A table showing when best to re-pot specific species of trees is presented for guidance - Select Table

Submitted by David VanBuskirk, Owner of D&L Nursery

The soil in which you choose to grow your bonsai is in effect its sole 'life’ support; and as such you cannot pay too much attention to its preparation. It should be considered very carefully in terms of the function it has to perform for a particular species of tree at a particular age.
Before going into the specifics of soil preparation there are certain key points to take into account. The soil has to physically as well as nutritionally support the tree; it must be able to drain freely; it needs to contain oxygen in the form of air; it should have the capacity to remain comfortably damp without becoming waterlogged; it should have within its properties a 'buffer' capable of reserving nutrients in a dissolved state; it should be possible to control its pH value; it should not be unsightly in its appearance; it should be capable of retaining its physical state for as long as possible to reduce any tendency to compact.  

Having said this, there is no single bonsai 'magic mix,' and most bonsai enthusiasts tend to arrive at their own conclusions concerning the right soil.  This, to a great extent, is dependent on the local availability of the necessary ingredients. What is important is that the function of the soil is fully understood and some of the points mentioned will serve as a useful guide.

I use grimson stone and crushed lava rock for my aggregate, but any natural colored stone less than 1/4" in size will do. I have heard of people using cat litter, Turface, or Oil-Dri which are all calcinated clay. My experience with calcinated clay here in Florida is with our summer rains it stays too wet and breaks down too quickly. Clay is good at holding nutrients in the soil but it also holds the salts and other unwanted ingredients from your fertilizer which could toxify your soil, so I found a little clay is good but to use it as your main aggregate I didn't care for. I found the natural rough aggregate works good. I sift the aggregate through a 1/4" screen, what stays becomes my aggregate for my coarse mix, what goes through is sifted again through a 1/8" screen, what stays becomes my medium mix and what goes through is for my fine mix.

For my organic component I use dried, aged, chipped pine bark. I sift it through a 1/4" screen, what stays goes into my coarse mix and what goes through is sifted again through a 1/8" screen, what stays is put into my medium mix, what goes through is my fine mix.

The proportions of each are as follows:
    60% aggregate
    30% pine bark
    10% Turface

The proportions of each of the basic ingredients, however, will vary according to the species of tree grown and as to which stage of development the tree is in.  Younger trees in early stages would need more organics for faster growth, whereas more mature trees will do better in less organics to control growth.  Conifers generally prefer more aggregate for better drainage, maples and other deciduous trees prefer more organics. Experimentation, followed by observation, is the best way of finding out which soil mix is best suited to a particular species and location. However, one can have good results by using just a standard mix.

For the hobbyist with a few trees one would probably be better off finding a source of standard, ready-made soil, suitable to your area and then amending it to your particular species and age of tree. If you have a large collection then doing all the work to make your own soil might be beneficial.

THE ART OF WATERING  by David VanBuskirk, Owner of D&L Nursery

Watering is the most important aspect of bonsai care. If you are like most people, and you don't have a green thumb, here are three simple rules you might find useful:
Don't let the soil become bone dry.
When watering, water thoroughly. Make sure the water soaks all of the soil.
Allow the soil to dry down to almost dry between waterings.
Check the soil for moisture daily. Don't just check the surface, but stick your finger into the soil and see if there is moisture beneath the surface. Then decide whether there is enough moisture to hold the tree until the next time you can check. Be aware of conditions like sun and humidity. If you think there isn't enough water in the soil to hold the tree until you can check again, go ahead and water. Otherwise wait.
Though there is much more to the art of watering, if you follow these simple instructions, you'll be off to a good start.

Though some books advocate soaking the pot in a tub of water, we don't recommend this technique. We prefer top watering. Here's how you top water:
Use a watering can, hose with a nozzle, or any gentle stream of water.
Water through the leaves into the soil. This mimics rain by washing the leaves. Do this for a few seconds, then wait a few seconds until the water has soaked into the soil. Repeat 3 or 4 times or until you are satisfied that all of the soil is well soaked.
Once the soil is soaked, wait until it is well dry before watering again. If you don't let the soil dry down between waterings, at least most of the time, then you run the risk of causing root rot.
Conversely, if you wait too long between waterings and allow the soil to become bone dry, you run the risk of severely stressing your bonsai (or worse).

There are several ways to check the soil for moisture. Most people, myself included, prefer sticking their finger a little way into the soil. 

Another good technique, especially with deep pots, or when the soil is somewhat compacted, is to use a chopstick. Push the stick way down nto the soil and then pull it out. Feel the stick and the soil that comes off onto the stick. If it is damp, wait to water. If it is dry, water now.

If the soil is only slightly damp (no matter how you check it) then you need to consider the risk of it drying out too much before you have a chance to check it again. If it is a hot dry day, and you are not sure, it is better to go ahead and water. One of the worst things that can happen to your bonsai is for it to cook in the sun with no moisture in the soil.  When a bonsai dies, more often than not, it is because of watering problems.

Persistent over watering will gradually kill your bonsai. If you don't allow the soil to dry down between waterings, at least some of the time, then your bonsai will develop root rot. This is a fungus that thrives in persistently wet soil, and is anathema to roots.

However, the biggest risk of all is drying out. All you have to do is forget to water it once. If the soil becomes bone dry, then your bonsai will suffer. The longer it stays dry the more it will suffer. The risk is particularly high if the tree sits in the hot sun with dry soil. What actually happens is the dry soil sucks the moisture out of fine white new feeder roots. After awhile these delicate new roots lose their turgidity, and collapse. When these fine roots collapse, they begin to disintegrate. When they disintegrate, they die. Without these fine feeder roots your bonsai cannot absorb water, gasses and nutrients, and your tree stresses and begins to die.  So don't let the soil become bone dry especially on hot dry days. If you notice before there is any serious damage, you can still save the tree.

When you discover that the soil is bone dry and you suspect that there is stress, here's what to do:
Don't soak the soil! Instead, immediately move the tree into the shade and mist the leaves.
Then gradually introduce water into the soil. A good way to do this is with your mister (if you don't have one you probably should, but in the meantime use a small cup). Mist the surface of the soil right after you mist the leaves. Wait a few minutes and mist the soil again.
Do this over and over again, waiting a few minutes between each misting, until the soil is gradually (emphasis on gradually) moistened throughout.
Make sure that the water has soaked all the way through. Now mist the leaves again, and keep misting them every hour or so (if you can't do every hour, just do whatever you can). Keep up the misting for a few days.
Next, be sure to wait until the soil is just slightly damp before you water again. Repeat the gradual watering procedure the first three or four times you water. After that, just water normally.
With stressed trees, your margin of error is reduced, so you must be very careful to water only when needed. Don't water too often and conversely, don't wait too long to water.
The key, as always, is paying close attention. After three or four weeks you can gradually re-introduce your tree to more sun.

by David VanBuskirk, Owner of D&L Nursery

Fertilizers come in organic and inorganic forms, all have the same three main nutrients, those are the three numbers you see on the front of the package. The first number is nitrogen N, which goes mainly to vegetative growth, second number is phosphorus P and promotes flowers and root growth, third number is potassium K and is for root growth and helps the tree to overcome stress. Also contained in most fertilizers are secondary nutrients, micro nutrients and minors, all are needed. There are pros and cons in using only organic or inorganic. Organic fertilizers tend to break down and may eventually clog the soil. Inorganic fertilizers are bound by salt and may result in a salt build up in the soil. Best to use some of both to assure your trees are getting all the nutrients they require.

 The two most common inorganic fertilizers used are: granular time release, such as Osmocote and water soluble fertilizer. Granular time release has a temperature soluble covering that releases fertilizer in proportion to the ambient temperature and gradually feeds the tree every time you water. Water soluble fertilizers provide a more immediate dose of nutrients. The nutrients do linger in the soil but are quickly flushed out with each watering.

 Most organic fertilizers used are: cottonseed meal, bone meal, blood meal, fish emulsion and composted chicken manure. Generally these are used more for specific species at specific times of the year. They are mainly nitrogen and are good for promoting growth.

 How much to fertilize is based on certain criteria, what stage of growth your tree is in. A younger tree needing to grow out will require much more fertilizer then a more finished tree in a bonsai pot. What time of year is it? Trees primarily feed throughout their active growing season, hence no need to fertilize a dormant tree. Main objective is to fertilize to maintain optimum health. Too much fertilizer will result in rapid growth, long internodes and large leaves. Too little will result in an unhealthy tree. Application rates should be full strength as per instructions listed for houseplants. Root feeding in general is best, foliar feeding, acts immediately and promotes more active leaf and root growth. If a tree is in need of nutrients quickly, then foliar feed.

Winter Care Notes

All Bonsai Trees

Watering: Mid-October-early November, depending on weather (heat and winds), begin reducing amount of water on an as-needed basis. Check with “dirty forefinger” into soil. Dirt on finger indicates moisture in the soil. Remember, some trees only need watering every 2-3 days.
Pots & Tools: Clean & sterilize, sharpen & oil tools. Pots left outside may crack & freeze.
Greenhouses: Garages with sunny windows, rolling trays with covers, pop-ups from 3’x5’ - 8’x8’x8’.
Heating Greenhouses: One bulb electric line, space heaters, thermometer – Do not “cook” the trees.

Northern States
Need cellars, cold frames, sunny side of garages, “heel” or mulch into ground.
Check occasionally for watering if it hasn’t snowed, no fertilizers except on tropicals lightly.

Southern States
Temperatures are milder although they may dip to 28 degrees in central Florida.

Cold Hardy
Deciduous Hardwoods: Birch Crepe Myrtle Cypress Elms Gingko Hollies Hornbeam, Ilex, Schilling, Loropetalum, Maples, Pyracantha, Serissa ,Texas Ebony.
Evergreens/Conifers: Cedars, Junipers, Pines, Redwood.

Temperature: Deciduous hardwoods and evergreens/conifers can withstand the cold unless it is below 28 degrees for more than 3 hours in our Central Florida area, specifically The Villages.
Fertilize: Osmocote mixed into soil when repotting & top-dress.
Hardwoods need no liquid fertilizers in winter.
Evergreens with active growth in winter, ex: Junipers, feed accordingly.
Repotting: Cold Hardy Trees – In LATE Winter just as buds start to swell & just as sap starts to rise. Root pruning a dormant tree too soon causes it not to have the stored nutrients needed to come out of dormancy, or it will come out & die. DO NOT Root pruning before tree goes dormant or all of its nutrients will bleed out the roots.
WARNING: Evergreens/Conifers (except pines) Repot ONLY in coldest months:
January and early February.
Pines: Repot when white tips begin to grow on roots, usually late February into March.
Pine schedule for this area - winter (late November-December): pull last year’s needles.
February-March root prune & repot.
June (Father’s Day) cut candles.
Wiring: Cold Hardy Trees - Winter is best time since trees have stored up all nutrients needed to begin new Spring growth plus leaves are not in way of wiring.

NOT Cold Hardy
Tropicals & sub-tropicals:Bougainvillea, Black Olive, Brazilian Raintree, Cherry(Surinam, Malpighia, Barbados), Ficus/Fig (Benjamina, Green Island, Narrow/Willow Leaf), Fukien Tea, Kumquat, Mandarin Hat, Natal Plum, 
Palms, Nea Buxifolia, Powder Puff,  Scheffleras, Tamarinds, Succulents, Desert Rose, Epiphytes, Euphorbias, Ferns, Jade, Orchids.
Temperature: Tropical, sub-tropical & succulents CANNOT withstand the cold and generally must be brought indoors or placed in a greenhouse at 48 degrees or higher.
Some tropicals DO NOT like it below 50 degrees (Black Olive, Brazilian Raintree, Fukien Tea, Nea Buxifolia and others (check each tree’s requirement).
Fertilizers: tropical, sub-tropical & succulents indoors & in greenhouse – YES, Fertilize throughout the year just a slightly lighter application during winter months.
Re-potting: tropicals, sub-tropicals and succulents are repotted in spring and summer depending on tree species. Black Olive, Brazilian Raintree, Fukien Tea, Nea Buxifolia & others - Repot ONLY during hottest summer months.
Wiring: Tropical, Sub-Tropical & Succulents may be wired anytime necessary. Just watch to prevent “biting”

WORDS OF WISDOM: Look all around you at the large trees in nature and treat your bonsai tree better than those in nature. Our bonsai do not have the protection of warm Mother Earth beneath them.


Submitted by David VanBuskirk, Owner of D&L Nursery

Wiring is mostly applied in the initial stages of structuring a bonsai, but it will continue to a lesser degree throughout the life of the tree. So mastering the technique of wiring really is a necessary evil.  The sole purpose of wiring a bonsai is to change the direction and shape of the branches and trunks to make them conform to your concept of the perceived design. Therefore you should have in mind what you want the tree to look like before you start.  Before you wire a tree it will be helpful if you stop all watering for a day or two beforehand.  This will stop the turgidity (swelling with moisture) in the tree causing the branches to become slightly limp and therefore less likely to snap when bent. However, do not be too enthusiastic in this practice or the tree is likely to be droughted and will die.

The way wiring works is that in bending the wood you stress and sometimes damage the cells.  The tree, while repairing the damage, grows into the shape you choose. Bonsai wire is available in sizes from 1.0mm to 6.0mm. The wire you use should be about one third of the diameter of the branch to be wired. Some drastic bends may require multiple wires placed tightly together.  A way to determine the proper size wire I use is to hold a wire which you believe to be the proper size, about one inch from the end of the wire and push on the branch you are going to bend with the end of the wire. If the wire bends you will need to go to the next larger size. If the branch bends, then you should have the proper size. With practice you will learn which wire to use by looking and by knowing the species.

When wiring, consider the tree's individual characteristics. Some trees are easier to wire at certain times of the year. Different parts of a tree will vary in the length of time necessary for the branch to set. Some varieties will tolerate drastic wiring and others will not. You will learn all this by reading and experimenting.  Older, stiffer branches will take longer, and you may have to bend them little by little every few weeks. Younger branches will bend easier but the wire will have to be removed sooner. Every plant is individual and it is only with experience that you will learn just how far you can go without snapping a branch, so take it easy at first.  If your branch does break, leave it as it is and apply sealing paste. Do not move the branch for the rest of the season and it will likely heal. Quite often, if you are making a drastic bend, you will hear the wood cracking. If you do, stop and examine the limb for any breaks in the cambium, if so leave the branch alone. If not, 'carefully' continue the bend and listen carefully. If you hear any additional cracking stop and wait for next year.

The best wiring is evenly spaced, has no crossing wires, is unobtrusive and has the end of each wire before or at the end of each branch. The most important thing to remember is that the starting wire should be secure to either the trunk or to a branch by at least two turns.  Wiring should be slightly tight but not so tight as to inhibit growth. If it is too loose there will be no strength and the branch will not hold in place. The ideal angle is 45 degrees when viewed from all sides.  In order to make wiring easier there is a general order for wiring trees. Start at the bottom of the trunk and gradually move upwards. After wiring the trunk, wire the first branch from the base to the tip. Proceed to the second twig on the same branch and so on. When you have wired all the twigs on the first branch, repeat the process with the second, third and fourth branch. Finally, start wiring the top, beginning at the base and proceeding to the tip.

There are basically three different modes of branch growth: forked, alternate and opposite. You can find diagrams in many bonsai books that show you how to wire different branches. Cut a couple of branches from your yard to practice on.  Forked- By wiring two branches of the fork with one wire, each branch holds the other. The important thing here is that wiring at the crotch of the fork should be secure and firm. The procedure is to begin at the fork, holding the wire at the back of the fork with one hand and when bringing the wires around and through the fork from the front, to form an upside down "V". Wire a couple turns on one branch and then, after wiring the other completely, return to complete the first one. If you are going to wire only one of the branches, wrap a couple of turns on the one that is not to be wired which should be enough to hold the other.  Alternate- This is the most common wiring that you will do. When you are wiring, you should try to wire two branches at a time since this acts to secure the beginning of the wiring on each branch. Start by treating the lower branch and the main trunk as a fork. After doing a couple of turns up the main trunk, wire the lower branch. This is the same procedure that you would use if you want to wire only one branch, or an opposite branch. After wiring the bottom branch, continue up the trunk to the higher branch.

Before bending a branch make sure your tree and pot are secure. Carefully and slowly with both hands bend the wire, NOT the branch, where you want the branch to be. Avoid twisting the branch or trunk. Think about the bend you want to accomplish and bend it once. When bending a branch downward, the first half turn of wire should come over, then under the branch. When bending a branch upward the wire approaches from below.

The amount of time to leave the wire on is dependent on several variables. One is the size and age of the branch or trunk being wired. Conifers, especially junipers, may take several years to set, during which time the wire may need to be removed and reapplied several times to avoid damaging the bark. Some deciduous species and tropicals may set in a matter of a few weeks.  It is better to leave the wire on longer than you think is necessary, as long as it is not cutting into the tree. Sometimes the tree will revert back to its original form over a period of a few weeks, so it is better to wait as long as possible. You will find that if wire is left on a trunk or branch for too long it is likely to bite into the bark causing unsightly scarring. This is not to bad on coniferous species which will usually heal over in time. On deciduous species the scarring is likely to be permanent. Always keep a watchful eye out for this problem and remove the wire immediately if you see this happening.  If the branch moves back replace the wire in a slightly different position until the branch has set.

Wire can be expensive so it is tempting to unwind it once it has served its purpose in order to use it another time. However this is risky business since it is much easier to damage the bark or snap the branch when working in reverse. The branch will have grown, so the wire will be tighter than when you first applied it, and will be full of kinks making it difficult to manipulate. It is much safer to snip the wire away using wire cutters which cut right up to the tip of the jaws. If you are concerned about the expense of ' wasting' wire in this way, ask yourself this question: Which is more valuable to you, a few inches of wire or a developing bonsai which you have labored for hours and nurtured for years.