I know many do remove the autumn leaves before they drop. I do not. For the obvious reason that the tree needs all the back flow of nutrients it can get before going into dormancy. It is a natural process, where the decaying leafs turns off their photosynthesis as days gets shorter and colder. Nutrients flow back and are stored for the following spring in stem, trunk and roots. There the stored nutrients will change their balance of frost protection for variations in temperatures during the cold period, and when spring arrives they will be activated and be the first gasoline for a fresh start of a new seasons growth.
Removing leafs before time, is therefore a little too hasty in the wish of getting trees nice and tidy for the winter, taking away the last feed for wintertime.
I clean of the withered leaves from the pot surfaces and benches when they are dropped, too avoid pests and fungus. But not before. Only trees that do not drop there leaves when they are entirely brown and dead, are cut off, for the same reasons. Beech for example keeps most of their leaves on during winter, but that is not necessary when overwintered as bonsai in a protected place, away from snow and cold sallow winds.
Always make an autumn clean up, to secure the health of the trees, but in time – not before time.
The Cotoneaster is among my all time favourites for shohin-bonsai. especially for Mame-bonsai (from 9,5 cm and down), because it is slightly draught tolerant, and can develop a fine root system for the extremely small pots used.
Cotoneaster × suecicus ‘Coral Beauty’ is one of the varieties among the Cotoneaster specimens that are particularly good for Shohin bonsai. It is a summer flowering specimen, and therefore it sets its flower buds during spring. If you want flowers, you should not prune after the dormant period in winter, when leaves have dropped.
Other (but fewer) varieties are evergreens, as it is the case with the Cotoneaster microphylla. As other types of Cotoneaster it has white flowers followed by red or orange fruits in autumn. C. microphylla is a spring flowering specimen, and therefore it is necessary to stop pruning before fall, when the flower buds for spring are produced. If pruned in autumn/fall, you risk pruning away the small flower buds that are prepared for spring.
Cotoneasters are very tolerant regarding soil types and watering. They also willingly produce a massive amount of new growth when pruned hard. As long as they are fed well and taken care of, this the tree every shohin grower should have in their collection, if the specimen is available in your location. They are found in nature from western China towards Northern Europe.
In midd-summer it is advisable to keep the pot and tree semi shaded during the hot part of the day, were the sun will heat up the soil and roots. In winter keep the tree from freezing in several days, and place it protected from winds (best choice is a greenhouse) because the leaves still will be evaporating trough the leaves, especially if exposed for the sun. Leaves and branches will dry out when the soil is frozen and cant take up water for evaporation.
June means a high level of new growth. Sometimes it is necessary to let trees grow more than normal before trimming, so the health of the tree is ensures. Watch the video where a Cork Bark Elm and an English Yew is trimmed.
For a number of years I have been growing a small Juniperus Shimpaku, and followed the original position until now. The tree was purchased as a semi-finished piece at the Mansei-en nursery in Omiya, Japan, of late Saburo Kato in 2005, and mainly bought as a memory of the time spent with this most respected bonsai artist. One of a few I could afford.
I named the tree “Kato” for the very same reason. To remember a personality and respected artist who as one of a few, deserved to be entitled master. A misused phrase put on too many people nowadays who still needs to deserve this predicate after proving years of dedicated high quality work.
Back to the tree. After a few years of training, a tree in this size usually needs some restoration, some work that brings it back in shape. I originally had to reduce the slightly overgrown canopy after the purchase, and after that I managed to keep it in it`s form for some time. The shari (trunk deadwood) was only worked on sparsely, and I enhanced the deadwood some years ago to add some interest to it. I also extended it a little to make it better.
Time gone, and the tree needed to be reduced a little again in 2017. New growth was developed further back, so I now had the opportunity to reduce the length and keep the size limited. This made me think of a new possible style of the tree. A simple change with a huge effect, with little effort done.
Where growth was removed new jins (deadwood branches) have been created, and this opened for a new vision of the tree. Same pot, but new position changes the view and expression of the tree. Only rearranging the left part of some roots was necessary. I was able to tilt the tree, so it performs much better now to my taste.
The repotting was done carefully, not disturbing the roots much. The new inclining position also lifted some older roots to the surface, that in future will be a good visual nebari adding strength to the image when the soil carefully is removed little by little over time.
Mind the gap. When positioning a cascade or semi-cascade bonsai it is of great importance to leave air between the trunk and the pot. A convincing cascade bonsai shows it`s strength only if it is able to hold it self and not supporting it by resting at the edge of the pot. Keeping air between the pot and trunk is therefore an important detail.
Click the gallery below for larger pictures.
2005. Original bonsai after purchase at Mansei-en.
2005. The original shari before it was reworked.
2005. Working the deadwood to bring in more age and interest.
2007. The canopy reduced and jins made at the end.
2008. The canopy beginning to fill in nicely again, and in proper size.
2016. Regularly thinning is necessary.
2017. Before changing the position.
Rootball left almost undisturbed.
Anchoring wire applied.
Using this method of applying the wire, takes less space at the soil surface, when the wire is fastened beneath the pot in stead of at soil level.
Trying out the new position.
Changing the angle slightly makes a big difference.
Time to pull the wire so the tree is fastened securely in the pot.
Here it is visible how little the wire is seen at soil level. Afterwards easy to cover with moss.
Final image. Notice the important gap between the pot and the trunk, that should not rest on the pot, but balance by itself.
You see these beautiful aged bonsai set for sale by private bonsai enthusiasts from time to time. For bonsai pros it is naturally a part of the business. But for private collectors I find it disturbing to see a personal tree set for sale. There can of course be a number of very good reasons to do so, and I will not be the judge off why it is so.
I just hope it is not for the one reason that you get bored with a tree. Bored of its development or bored of seeing at the same bonsai year in and year out. Bonsai attracts many artists who wants to create, being creative, making changes and event something new. I too enjoy the journey of starting something fresh and new, finding the way through the branches, discover the beauty of a tree within, challenging my visions and my artistic soul. But I find it even more rewarding to be there when the real beauty of a bonsai develops after years of training and care, and being there all the way.
Back to the business side of the subject. In Japan there is a food chain of pros developing bonsai in different stages. Stage one nurseries propagate new trees by seeds, cutting i.e. that they field grow and develop in containers to a certain stage. Stage two nurserymen then buys what they find interesting, and take the trees up the quality ladder. Step three is when the high end bonsai nurseries steps in and take over such a qualified bonsai, and put it up another step. Finally, already great bonsai are bought from private collectors that might have mistreated a bonsai, or no longer can have it because of age i.e. Or they buy it from another nursery on an auction. That’s how business is.
A few years ago I was asked about selling a good bonsai of mine. I was tempted for the money, but something in me said I shouldn’t. Maybe that’s why I gave it a price tag that was so high that it wasn’t sold, and after a few days I regretted and took it of the very short time sales list. The best decision I could have made.
My point is that I find it such a rewarding journey to stay with a bonsai throughout my lifetime, that I will not sell that rewarding experience.
The tree hopefully will shift hands when I am gone, but the reward in bonsai for me is to stay with the tree as long as I can. After a certain time of development, a bonsai will for years just have small adjustments from time to time, that not changes much of it´s overall expression. No big changes, just care and the ongoing small developments and corrections of twigs and branches, repotting, feeding and so on. No big artistry skills challenged, just daily care and steady commitment to the tree. Maybe the most difficult of all. Keeping the tree healthy and just caring.
This is where the big reward is found. Being with a tree for a long time, after developing it from raw material. Watching small changes happen over time, when bark ages, even on the finer branches developed over time, knowing the tree in the bones and enjoying watching it at a daily basis. Seeing it as it matures and becomes majestic.
There roughly are three types of bonsai people. The professional nursery growers who do not have trees they follow from scratch to mature high end specimen bonsai because they are sold before that happens or buys trees others have trained. Next there is the enthusiast who buys finished trees for pleasure and finally the enthusiast who do all the work from beginning to an established tree. The last one is the one where I find it difficult to see a personal developed tree over many years, just being sold because you get bored with it, not collecting the final reward of staying with the bonsai into the stage of ageing and perfection.
The absolute highest reward I get with my bonsai, is after some years where I can’t do much groundbreaking shaping and creative work to my bonsai for a long time, when the bonsai steps into the aged stage and needs steady daily care as the main effort.
Meanwhile I work creatively with other younger trees, and have the pleasure of this part of bonsai. This is when I begin noticing small changes in the bark structure, watching how it is spreading throughout the former young and now older branches. When the tree gets the Japanese wabi sabi feeling of age and imperfectness. When the nebari (root surface) develops with an aged expression you can’t force, and just have to sit and wait for. The same goes with pots that gets patina after years outside. Only time makes the changes.
I would miss all that if I sold a tree, so I don’t. I’ll leave that to the business people, and the enthusiasts who loses their interest in their trees because they rush to something new. But what I learn from trees I have developed and nursed for years, watching the beauty of nature as it ages and matures, I will not change for something else. Just a friendly reminder of thinking twice before you rush into something new, skipping the past and the history.
A tree with many of development ahead, that I will enjoy following.