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Japanese Black Pine Grafting

Posted Jul 6, 2008 by matsubonsai

The following tree was grafted this Spring.  The bag has been trimmed to let the emerging candle to fully extend.  More of the bag will be removed this fall.  The grafting tape will remain until the following Spring.

In February a suitable bud was selected from the apex.  Before the tree was too far out of dormancy the bud was grafted onto the back of the tree to form a new back branch.  The scion was cut into a "V" and a slice was placed into the trunk.  The bud was then securely attached to the tree.  A plastic candy bag was placed over the graft and sphagnum moss placed inside.  This helps keep the moisture level high.

Here is the tree just after the graft was attached.

The graft:

And the graft as of July 2008:

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Fish Emulsion and Happy Neighbors

Posted May 8, 2008 by matsubonsai

For the past few days I've been doing quite a bit of thinking about bonsai fertilizers. I've posted about my feeding schedule and a recipe for fertilizer cakes. All the ingredients that I use to fertilize my trees have some sort of an odor. The cottonseed meal and the fish emulsion are among the worst offenders. These two ingredients are enough to catch the attention of just about anyone and everyone. There are a few things to remember when dealing with these smelly items.

  1. Wear gloves. Whenever mixing fertilizer be sure to wear gloves. The organic materials that I use aren't necessarily harmful to the skin, but the smell has a way of attaching itself to you.
  2. Outside only. Fertilizer should be mixed and applied outdoors. If you are growing tropicals indoors you may want to seek alternatives for your fertilizer. Fish emulsion and cottonseed meal are just not something you want to find their way into your home.
  3. Deodorized. Neptune's Harvest and a few other suppliers offer "deodorized" versions of organic materials. Deodorized fish emulsion is the only way to go. Trust me, I speak from experience. There is a big difference between deodorized and not.
  4. Charcoal goes a long way. My bonsai soil mix contains a little horticultural grade charcoal. A dash of charcoal added to your soil mix goes a long way towards filtering out some of the odor that fish emulsion and other fertilizers will add to the soil.

If you have neighbors in close proximity to your bonsai collection you may want to try your best to stay on their good side. A note in their mailbox or a friendly wave and a chat about the new smell in your backyard could ease a potentially awkward conversation later.

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Bonsai Fertilizer Cakes

Posted May 7, 2008 by matsubonsai

In my last post on Bonsai Feeding Schedules I mentioned the use of organic fertilizer cakes. I have written about my recipe for fertilizer cakes before, but have since tweaked the recipe a bit.

I no longer allow an extended period of fermentation.  I've found this to be unnecessary as well as yielding a more foul smelling result.  You'll find that you have better relations with your neighbors if you allow the cakes to dry quickly in the hot summer sun.  Once dry, the fertilizer is far less pungent.


  • 5 gallon bucket
  • Paint stick
  • PVC pipe
  • Dowel rod
  • Drying tray
  • Storage container


  • 4 cups Cottonseed Meal
  • 4 cups Bone Meal
  • 3 cup Fish Emulsion (deodorized!)
  • 1 cup baking flour
  • 1 packet of yeast

Combine all ingredients into the 5 gallon bucket and stir with the disposable Paint Stick.  Once you're satisfied that everything is mixed thoroughly you can add the Fish Emulsion.  A fair amount of water should be added until you reach an even cookie dough type consistency.

The latest trick of using PVC pipe and a wooden dowel rod was sent to me by my friend Timothy in Dallas.  Essentially you will make a Play-Doh factory from these two items.  Take a PVC pipe with an inner diameter of 3/4" to 1" and a wooden dowel rod with an outer diameter near the same dimensions.  Cut the PVC pipe down to about 8-10" in length, and the dowel rod a few inches longer. 

With your new PVC tool you're ready to form the cakes.  Fill the interior of the PVC tool with the fertilizer mixture.  Next, insert the dowel rod into the end of the PVC tool.  Press and pack the fertilizer, and break off an inch or two cakes from the open end of the PVC tool.  You should be able to press out several cakes each time you fill the PVC tool.

You may choose to dry your cakes in the sun or apply them directly to your trees.  I find it's best if I make several batches of fertilizer, dry, and store in a dry location.  An old plastic bucket with a lid makes a great storage container.


I would love to hear what others are using to fertilize their bonsai.  Add your comments below to join in on the conversation.

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Bonsai Feeding Schedule

Posted May 6, 2008 by matsubonsai

This year is absolutely flying by.  It seems like only yesterday that there was snow on the ground allowing only daydreams about bonsai.  So, here we are in May already.  With May comes heavy fertilizing, something that I feel isn't done nearly enough in the United States.

Proper fertilizing is the subject of far too many debates.  In bonsai we want healthy trees.  The healthier a tree is the quicker it is to recover from wiring, pruning, defoliating and decandling.  Healthy trees are stronger and can take much more abuse.  Also, increased ramification can be obtained in far less time when optimal growth is achieved.

With a nod to Michael Persiano (oh how I wish he would get a proper website) and his Superfeeding routine, here is my fertilizing schedule.



Week 1

Liquid Seaweed

Week 2

Fish Emulsion

Week 3

Liquid Seaweed + Iron

Week 4

Fish Emulsion

Start with 3-6 fertilizer cakes, depending on the size of the tree, evenly distributed across the surface of the soil.  Add 2 cakes ever 2-4 weeks onto open areas of the bonsai soil.  Fertilizer cakes can stay on the tree for 4-6 weeks before they need to be removed.  At the time of their removal they may be replaced with new cakes.

This schedule is adjusted somewhat through the growing season to control growth on different species.  For example, defoliated maples and decandled pines will get a little different treatment to control the size of leaf and length of needles.


Over the next few posts I'll be discussing several topics related to bonsai fertilization.  What does your schedule look like?  Add your comments below to join in on the discussion.

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10 Ways to Improve Your Bonsai Trees

Posted Apr 14, 2008 by matsubonsai

Improving bonsai trees is our main focus.  Why else would each of us spend countless hours watering, fertilizing, trimming, wiring, and repotting our trees?  It takes quite a bit of work to improve your trees.

Here is a list of 10 things that can be done to improve your bonsai.

  1. Fertilize, heavily - Fertilizing at different times can control growth at certain stages.  For the most part however a healthy tree is a well-fertilized tree.  I prefer to rotate a series of organic fertilizer cakes, fish emulsion, and liquid seaweed fertilizers.
  2. Cull - Your better trees will be greatly improved by removing lesser specimens.  Time can be spent on improving the better trees.  Also by comparing trees left on your benches with better specimens, this will greatly improve the overall outcome.
  3. Repot - Currently my trees are on a 2-3 year repotting cycle, with an overwhelming majority being repotted within a 2 year time frame.  By correcting problems below the soil surface and developing more feeder roots, the health of your tree will greatly improve.  A well-draining inorganic soil mix and proper watering routine will help to increase the health of your trees.
  4. Insecticide - From time to time it may be necessary to treat your trees with a dose of insecticide.  I prefer to do this once pests are discovered instead of helping the pests develop immunity to the insecticide.  I find Ultrafine in the spring and lime sulphur in the fall to be highly effective.
  5. Fungicide - Fungicide, especially in spring, can be a necessity for some species.  I have found that Chinese Elms and Satsuki Azaleas can benefit from a little preventative treatment.  A light spray can go a long way in eliminating black spot, petal blight, etc.
  6. Wire often - Deciduous trees grow incredibly fast and wire may cut in and scar branches much faster with conifers.  Wire should be applied and reapplied often to keep the desired shape of the branches.  If wire starts to cut in, then remove the wire and reapply to a separate section of the branch.
  7. Pinch - Some species, such as Japanese Maples, should be pinched regularly during the spring growing season.  This applies mainly to finished trees, as the pinching action will slow down any elongating growth.  Careful timing and proper planning should be used to determine when best to pinch, if at all.
  8. Prune - Pruning can direct growth and help reclaim the silhouette of a tree.  Pruning at appropriate times will dramatically improve a tree's appearance and improve it's future.  There are also special techniques for pruning, such as Japanese Black Pine candle pruning in summer.
  9. Ramify - A well ramified branch will improve the appearance of any bonsai.  Careful pruning and pinching should increase the ramification, adding secondary and tertiary branches to your final design.  Branches should end in a pleasing shape with well defined branching.
  10. Clean - Keeping the bonsai soil free of weeds and other debris will help maintain the visual appearance of your bonsai.  The pot should also be kept relatively clean.  Staying on top of the cleaning chores will decrease the amount of time spent in preparing for a show or display.

What else would you like to see added to this list?  Do you have any tips or tricks that you use to quickly see improvement in your trees?  Please leave your comments below.

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Show Prep Checklist

Posted Apr 10, 2008 by matsubonsai

The Greater Louisville Bonsai Society annual Spring Show at Yew Dell Gardens is coming up later this month. This got me thinking about the chores involved with getting trees ready for display. I've put together this checklist for easy reference.


checkbox Neat Wiring - Branches should be wired neatly so that the wire does not distract the eye. Wire should start, end, and cross towards the back of the tree. Loops should be evenly spaced and firm against the branch.

checkbox Arrange Branches - Branches should be arranged in a natural and pleasing shape. Foliage pads should be clearly defined and neatly spaced.

checkbox Clean Soil - This may be obvious to some, but the soil needs to be clean of weeds and other debris. Fallen leaves, needles, and flowers should be removed. A suitable top dressing should be applied. Top dressing can consist of fine moss and fine akadama particles.

checkbox Clean Pots - Make sure the pot has been cleaned of dirt and water deposits. A light coating of walnut oil on unglazed pots adds a nice touch to make the pot more presentable.

checkbox Bonsai Stands - Multiple stands should be available to choose from. Matching the correct stand to tree based on height, style, color dramatically improves the overall composition.

checkbox Accent - An accent plant or companion stone should be added to complete the scene. These should be matched to the native environments of the trees. Alpine flowers can be shown with trees that are native to high altitudes. Field grasses and small stones representing distant mountains can be used to compliment lower lying species.


Are there any tasks that you find essential? How do you prepare for a show? Feel free to give feedback on how to improve the checklist.

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