A Few Sweetgums For 2018

It’s not time to dig trees yet, certainly not Sweetgums (Liquidambar styraciflua), but it’s not a bad time to scout for specimens to dig when the time comes.  Here are a few that I expect to lift in 2018.

This one volunteered four or five years ago, and I finally chopped it earlier this year to begin stunting it.  Sweetgums like to grow straight and tall, and very fast, so you have to be prepared to rein in that growth or the tree can get away from you quickly.  By this I mean the trunk will lose its taper, usually by the time the tree gets to be about six to ten feet tall.  Up until that magic moment, you can harvest nice upright specimens with subtle but suitable taper and create a nice apical tapering transition.

This one has a 2″ trunk base at the soil level.  Most likely it has nice radial roots as well, but I’ll know more about that this coming May.  When I chopped it earlier this year, it produced two strong new leaders.  Today it was time to eliminate one and chop the other.  I like the one I’m looking at in this photo.

 

 

 

 

 

Here I’ve sawed off the leader in back, leaving a stub that will be reduced in spring.  I don’t want to chance cutting it flush now; the tree may object and die back at the bottom edge of the cut.  By leaving the stub, I can carve down this coming spring and the tree should respond by throwing buds near that fresh cut.  Then I’m assured of proper healing.

You can see I also chopped the new leader down.  I also left this leader long, as it won’t bud right at the chop but rather at an internode below the chop.  I can remove that stub next spring once I have a new leader going.

The trunk of this tree is just over 1″ at the transition point, by the way, which is 14″ above the soil surface.  This will allow me to finish out this specimen at about 18-20″.  I plan to train the tree in the typical Sweetgum columnar style.  It’s actually just beginning the process of barking up, so that will lend a lot of character to the trunk.

Here’s another specimen I chopped recently.  Also with a 2″ base, this one got chopped at 10″ above the soil to a new leader.  I need this leader to continue running, in order to make the tapering transition look right.  Although the photo doesn’t show it, the trunk is about 1″ across at the transition point.  Nice taper in another nice upright specimen.  The bark on this one is also starting to roughen up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, here’s a triple-trunk specimen that volunteered two or three years ago.  I didn’t chop it to the ground or anything, it just decided that three trunks were better than one.  I like its appearance, and I think it’ll make a nice bonsai starting in 2018.

Let me know what you think.

 

One Way To Better Bonsai – Draw A Picture Of What You Want

Here’s a nice little Sweetgum bonsai, Liquidambar styraciflua, that I potted up a few weeks ago.  I’d been growing it for a couple of years prior, liked the base, and it struck me that I might just have a decent broom-style specimen in this tree.  So I chopped the trunk and wired up two leaders to get the ball rolling.  It’s resumed growth, so I expect to be able to make some good headway as the season progresses.  And I can envision what the structure of this tree is going to look like.

For those of you who aren’t yet experienced at looking at a bare trunk or newly styled starter bonsai and seeing a developed specimen, there’s a good way to create a roadmap to your goal – just draw a picture.

Yes, I’m hearing all the “I can’t draw a straight line” protests out there.  Drawing is art.  Art is tough, unless you’re artistic.  But I don’t think this is a very good excuse.  After all, you set out to grow bonsai, and bonsai is high art.  So you must have thought you could learn to do this high art, or you wouldn’t be here reading this.  If you can grow bonsai,  you can draw bonsai.  And I’m here to tell you, if you can draw bonsai you can grow them and grow them well.

Here’s what I think this tree could look like.  It’s a classic broom-style design.  And it didn’t take all that long, maybe 10 minutes.  The best part of this effort is, I now have a plan for styling the tree in a way that I know will make it look like a real tree.  Not only does it take a lot of the guesswork out of doing the design, it also will help me keep the proportions of the tree in check.  As I’ve written before, I’ve seen more overgrown trees than I can count.  It’s a natural mistake to make, because our trees keep on growing and it’s not in our nature to cut off the work of many years.  But I can tell you this: if I compare this drawing with the tree a year or two or three down the road, if it’s overgrown I’m going to know it immediately and exactly what I have to do to correct it.

Here’s another one I recently potted, from a tree lifted last fall.  It already had good roots so I didn’t have to defoliate it.  Now it’s growing again, so within a few weeks I’ll be able to start doing some of the detailed design work.  But what exactly will this entail?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the plan.  So as I make wiring and pruning decisions, I can refer to this drawing.  And I always know that if I can make the actual tree look like this plan, it’s just not possible to go wrong.

So does this inspire you to pick up pencil and paper?  Or do you already practice drawing design plans?

 

 

Ground Growing For Size – How To Make Them Fatter Faster

I posted this photo last December of a Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) I had been growing in the ground for a few years.  The tree started out as something just beyond a seedling, in a nursery pot.  I was developing it in the pot, using directional pruning techniques to create taper and movement.  But the tree just wasn’t fattening up as I wanted it to.  So I put it in the ground, knowing that the fastest way to make a smaller tree into a bigger tree was to give it room to grow.

This photo shows one classic way to get thickening in the base of your tree: letting a low shoot run.  And boy, did this one run!  In the process, I now have a 3″ trunk base whereas I started with a 1″ base just a few years ago.

So I chopped off the low leader in December and sealed the chop, with the idea of lifting the specimen in May (the best time to collect Sweetgums).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And so, on May 1st I sawed this tree out of the ground.  Here it is with its root mass and soil ball (I shook off what I could).  It’s grown like a weed, as you can see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First I gave the root mass a good washing off.  I don’t want any native soil, as it’s not needed.  The tree will go into a fast-draining coarse bonsai soil, which will promote regrowth.

I also cut back the long leaders; they aren’t necessary at this point.

Take special note of the branch growing from beneath the large cut.  This is important to ensure I don’t get any dieback into the root from this area.  I was careful to leave the branch collar when I chopped the big leader, also for this purpose.  But this branch is my insurance policy.  I’ll leave it for a year or so (though I will keep it cut back while developing the structure of this tree).

 

 

 

The next step.  All of the foliage is gone now.  This is absolutely vital when collecting deciduous trees that are in leaf.  If you fail to do this, the tree continues transpiring moisture through the leaves and will literally dry out.

I’ve also cut back the roots in the first stage.  You can see one of the coiling roots that will need to go.

You can also see the trunk line of this specimen and the massive taper from the base.  The trunk measures 3″ across above the root zone – so I’d say my ground-growing effort succeeded.

 

 

 

 

Now I’ve got the root zone cut down to size.  Notice how much smaller it is in this photo than in the previous one.  It’s a common mistake to leave too many and too long roots on a collected tree.  Remember two principles when working on the root zone of a newly collected tree: 1) the roots need to be cut back enough so that they will fit in a bonsai pot in the future, including cutting them shallow enough for that same purpose; and 2) they need to be 2-3 diameters long so you can build taper in them when smaller roots sprout from the cut ends.

 

 

 

What’s the best front for this tree?  I have at least a couple of options, and I don’t have to choose now.

Should the trunk be chopped back farther?  I can see a likely spot for a chop.  But again, I have options and don’t have to choose now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a good dusting with rooting powder, here’s the tree all potted up.  All cuts 1/4″ and over were sealed with cut seal.  This has to be done every time you collect a tree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And a third possible front.  I’m thinking this is my favorite.

Sweetgums are great to work with.  They grow fast and will regrow from chops very well.  It does take some time to build ramification and get some leaf size reduction.  But all in all, they are one of my very favorites.

Today this tree is showing signs of pushing new buds, so it looks like the harvest was successful.

Slip-Potting A Sweetgum – How To Make A Nice Composition

Bonsai design is a hugely complex subject.  The good news is, we have some tried and true rules to help get us through the process even if we’re not the next Rembrandt (I’m certainly not).

Last October I published a blog titled Designing Your Bonsai – Not To Not Miss Better Options, which featured this pretty decent Sweetgum.

As I noted at the time, the usual idea with a piece of material like this is that it becomes an informal upright bonsai.  There’s nothing at all wrong with this idea.  But with all of the foliage emerging from near the top of the trunk, I got this strange idea while looking at photos of the tree from different angles.  I ultimately decided that this angle might make an ordinary Sweetgum a little less so.

 

 

 

 

 

This photo was taken in October, when I published the blog referenced above.  It had grown out enough to get an initial wiring.  And that’s what convinced me to do something different.

Take a few seconds to study this photo.  Does anything look odd about it, or not quite right?  Remember our principles about potting trees in bonsai pots.  For oval and rectangle shaped pots, you always pot the tree slightly off-center.  The idea is that the very tip of the apex of the tree should be right about in the center of the oval or rectangle, which helps you choose where to place the base of the trunk in the pot.  Now, depending on the specific degree of “informality” your tree possesses, the apex may not end up precisely over the center of the pot.  And in the case of slanting style bonsai, this definitely does not happen.  Not only does the apex shift away from the center of the pot, the trunk base shifts farther away from the center of the pot in the opposite direction.  The key is always balance.  In the photo above, does the tree look balanced in its nursery pot?  It appears the trunk may be emerging from near the center of the pot, and this throws the apex far off-center.  Taken as a whole, it looks like the tree and pot are going to tip over.  And this gives us all of the guidance we need in order to make a nice composition out of this Sweetgum with the right bonsai pot.

Here’s the result of applying compositional principles to a slanting style bonsai.  I’ve restored the balance of this tree and pot as a whole.  Notice that the base of the trunk is a good bit off-center; this is to counterbalance the thrusting movement of the trunk toward the left.  If the tree were planted in the center of the pot, as in the photo above, it would appear as if the whole thing were going to tip over.  Balance is vital to making a nice composition with your bonsai.

The buds of this tree are starting to open, so in order to avoid any unnecessary disturbance of the roots I slip-potted it into its pot.  It shouldn’t skip a beat.

I’ll be posting this Sweetgum bonsai for sale in about a month, so stay tuned.

 

Thank You For A Great 2016 – This Year Will Be Even Better

Happy New Year to all of you!

And many thanks to all of you who helped Bonsai South grow in 2016.  We’ve been doing better each and every year since I relaunched the business in 2010, and I’m happy to report that 2017 looks like it will be another record-setting year.

What can you expect this coming year and into the future?  The mainstay of our business is obviously larger collected specimens of various species – Bald cypress, Hawthorns, Oaks, American hornbeam, Sweetgum, Elms, and so on.  We’ve also done well with field-grown specimens of not only these but also non-native species such as Chinese elm.  Our plans for 2017 include adding more species along with greatly expanding our growing field; obviously we will also continue the tradition of collecting the best material we can find.  We expect to roughly double 2017 production, with plans for much more in subsequent years.

I get a lot of inquiries about new material, as you can imagine.  The Winter 2017 collecting season begins now, so in the coming weeks I’ll be posting photos of new collects.  When spring gets here there will be lots of new material for sale.

As always, we welcome any specific requests for trees you may have.  Just send me a note via our Contact page.

 

 

 

Grow And Chop – How It’s Working For Three Bonsai-To-Be

I’ve written often about developing bonsai from the ground up.  Today, following our first couple of freezing nights for the year, we warmed up enough to make working outdoors pleasant.  Here are a few bonsai-to-be that I’ve been growing in the ground for a while.  Today it was time to do the next round of chopping.

Here’s an American elm, Ulmus Americana, that I’ve been growing for a few years from a volunteer.  American elm grows quickly in the ground if left alone to grow.  From a seedling it grew strongly in the typical upright fashion.  Last year I chopped it back hard – you can see the chop point in this photo – and then selected the strongest leader and put some wire on it in order to create just a little movement in the trunk.  Then I just left it alone; I did remove the wire once it started to bite.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s the tree from another angle, after I cut off the other leaders that had emerged from the chop point.  I could have left multiple leaders on this tree and grown it in the classic “vase-shape” style of the American elm in nature.  But instead I opted for a more typical informal upright style.

Now, as you can tell this new leader loses it taper pretty quickly once it leaves the original chop point.  This is all right – I needed the leader to thicken sufficiently to produce a nice tapering transition.  But if I don’t chop the tree again now, I’ll lose that transition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I left the leader extra-long here, but it is cut back enough to prevent loss of taper.  Next spring I’m going to get buds all up and down the leader, at which point I’ll select one and cut the excess off.  For now I’ve done all the needs doing.

The trunk base is 1.5″ and the new chop is at 8″ from the soil.  When I cut back again next year the new chop point is going to be around 4″ from the soil.

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve shown you this Sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua, before.  This past year I chopped back the main trunk line to about 12″ from the soil, and allowed a low branch to take off in order to thicken the base.  Boy, did that work!  I got a base of 3″ by doing this, and the new leader literally took over the tree growing about 8′ tall.  We’ve reached a point, however, where I had to put a stop to this.  By allowing the new leader to continue growing, the main trunk line would begin to weaken and could possibly die.  So today I felt it was a good time to eliminate the sacrifice trunk.

 

A closeup of the trunk base, from the other side.

 

 

 

 

 

This is a very important photo.  If you’ll look at the point where the trunk changes color from gray to green, you’ll notice just below that point there’s a circular bit of wood that forms a ring below the green part (which is the new strong trunk I need to get rid of).  This is the equivalent of a branch collar.  For those of you familiar with arborist work, when large branches are removed from trees they’re always cut just beyond the branch collar.  Why?  Simply to preserve the sap flow from the roots up past the branch.  If you remove the lower part of the branch collar, you run the risk of killing off part of the trunk below the collar.  In the case of this Sweetgum, I could kill all of the roots below this leader.  So I’ll be careful to avoid this when I chop.

And here we are, in just a few minutes.  Now I’ve got a great tapering trunk line on my Sweetgum.  The original chop on this specimen was at 12″, so with a 3″ trunk base I can finish out this specimen at 18″ and have a perfect base to height ratio.

I don’t plan to lift this specimen until next May.  I’ll post a follow-up at that time.

 

 

 

 

I collected this Hackberry, Celtis laevigata, in 2012.  To be honest it was pretty ugly, more so when I got it home.  But there’s always hope.  So I planted it out a few years ago and just let it get established and start to take off.  It’s been a few years, but I finally got strong growth in a leader and I’m beginning to think there may be something to this specimen after all – in a few more years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A shot from the other side.  Doesn’t look like much, does it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just a quick chop later, I think 2017 may see this specimen begin to look like wanting to be a bonsai some day.  It’s going to take several more years, but that’s just part of the fun.  Patient work.  Grow and chop.  Grow and chop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And finally, the tree from another angle.

This specimen has a 2.5″ trunk base and has now been chopped to 8″ above the soil surface.  In the spring the leader is going to push a number of buds, which will allow me to choose the next leader for growing out.

 

The Awesome Beauty Of The Deciduous Bonsai In Winter

Fall in the Deep South is an iffy affair.  When we do get fall, it typically comes and goes in short order.  This year we actually got perfect conditions for a nice season of color, a lengthy drought that ended around Thanksgiving.  In the past couple of weeks we’ve seen our trees in the landscape produce nice yellows, reds and purples.  Then the rains came, and those colorful leaves have been falling quickly.  The gray, somber winter is just about upon us.

For the bonsai artist who loves deciduous trees, winter is actually a good time of year.  The well-ramified trees get to show off their development.  Those trees still in development get to show off where they are in the process, plus what they still lack.  All in all, I love deciduous bonsai in winter.  Here are a couple of nice examples.

This is my Riverflat hawthorn, Crataegus opaca, that I’ve been working on for five years now.  You can see the state of ramification this tree has achieved.  The final step in developing this bonsai is going to occur in the crown, which has come along very well over the past couple of years.  I’m confident that by the end of the 2017 growing season, this tree will be “finished.”

 

 

 

 

 

This Sweetgum forest, Liquidambar styraciflua, was put together in 2015.  In just two growing seasons, it’s reached a pretty nice stage of development.  With the leaves just about off all of the trees, it’s much easier to see the state of development of the individual trees.  This is important to any forest composition.  While it might seem easiest to grow a forest as simply a mass of foliage, this will never fly with deciduous species.  Winter will always rat you out.  So today I was able to get “inside” the forest and do some strategic pruning.  Each of the trees in this forest has its own structure, which I’m developing over time.  It’s only going to take one more growing season to get this forest to the point where constant pinching will finish the development.

I’d love to hear of any experiences you might want to share with regard to your deciduous bonsai in winter.  Just leave a comment below.

 

Sunday Bonsai Fun – A Little Fall, And Bleaching The BC

The weekend’s almost over.  I spent a good bit of time yesterday and today cleaning benches and reorganizing my trees.  We seldom get fall color around here, which I guess is the price you pay for not having excessively cold weather each winter (*brrr*), but here’s one exception:

crapemyrtle11-6-16-1This is Allen Gautreau’s Crape myrtle, and it’s put on some yellow and red this past week.  A lot of the leaves are already off the tree, so it won’t be much longer until it’s bare.  But it’s still nice to see the change.

As I mentioned in an earlier post on this one, it needs a semi-hard pruning next year and to be repotted.  It’s a great old bonsai.

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Here’s one of my lemonade Bald cypresses from a couple of weeks ago.  I had stripped off the dead bark as part of making something out of it.  Yesterday and today I gave it a couple of coats of lime sulfur, in order to bleach and help preserve the wood.  It’s turned a nice white color now, which will fade a bit over time.  This is more or less what the color looks like in the wild once the main part of the bole has died.

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I’m frequently asked about leaf size reduction on Sweetgums.  In the wild, their leaves are usually about 5″ long, and because they are attached to the branches by petioles these too are about 5″ long.  This makes for a real challenge in creating proportionality.  The good news is, however, once you have your Sweetgum branch structure established and are working into tertiary ramification and beyond, the leaves get nice and small.  It also helps to let the tree get a little pot-bound.

The tree pictured here has a 1.25″ trunk base and is about 13″ tall.  The largest leaves on the tree (many have fallen since, of course, it’s fall) are just over 1″ long, with most not more than 1″.  And petiole size reduces in step with leaf size reduction.  This is another good reason for growing native Sweetgum as bonsai.

I hope you’ve had and enjoyable Sunday with your bonsai.

 

 

Designing Your Bonsai – How To Not Miss Better Options

Even after 25+ years of collecting trees for bonsai, I still do crazy/risky things.  I mean, this is all for fun, right?  Here’s one of my latest examples.

sweetgum8-15-16-1I usually collect Sweetgums (Liquidambar styraciflua) in May and June.  Winter collecting has resulted in poor survival rates for me, as low as 20-30%.  So having learned that lesson the hard way, I wait till May and wrap it all up by June.

In the case of this tree, I got a wild hair in August and sawed it out of the ground.  The trunk base is 1.5″ in diameter, and it’s 12″ to the chop.  I really like the trunk character.

The tree is pictured from what I figured would be the front.  It seemed to show off the best features of the trunk.  This is always important when you’re creating a bonsai.  The trunk of a bonsai is the foundation of it.  The size, the shape, the movement, the character, all of these things play a role.  Without them, it’s very hard to make something that looks right.  So it’s only natural that I would be careful when deciding on the front of the tree.

sweetgum9-25-16-1Here’s a photo of the tree from September.  It obviously survived my craziness (I don’t necessarily recommend this; I’m just reporting on what I did).

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Fast-forward to today.  All of those shoots just starting to push back in September are elongating.  That’s a good sign.  So today it was time for another wild hair – can I make something out of this unusual piece of material?  You see, my original idea for this tree was of a fairly standard informal upright or even slanting style tree with the requisite branch structure: first branch (on the left), second back, back branch, and so on up the tree finishing in the crown.  Nothing at all wrong with that, either.  But considering where all the new growth appeared, is there something more to this specimen than what I saw in the beginning?

This is where photos and a little study can help you to not miss better options with your trees.  Here’s what I mean.

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First I turned the tree to have a look at the back.  Anything here?  Well, not really.  But you do have to look.

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How about from this angle?  Now I think I’m seeing something better – something a little out of the ordinary.  So I figured I’d wire the shoots and the leader to see if I was right.

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Here’s the result, and now by turning the tree just a bit I see the design of this one.  I envision a shallow oval, fairly long to give the impression of a landscape scene.  That should make for a dramatic presentation.

What do you think?  Do you like where I went with this one?  And have you ever used photography to help you design your trees?  Leave me a comment below.

Survey Results – What Are Your Bonsai Friends Up To?

Last weekend I posted a survey in order to get a better idea of what you’re interested in bonsai-wise.  Although I communicate with many of you either occasionally or even often, it’s not for sure that I know exactly what it is you really want out of bonsai.  I mean, I know what I want for the most part – but I also know that that’s not necessarily what you want.  So it made sense for me to just ask.  The response was very good, with 20% of you taking the time to share your preferences.  Here’s what I learned:

How long have you been in bonsaiFirst of all, I thought it was worth finding out how long you’ve been actively involved in bonsai.  I was a bit surprised, but glad, to see that over 30% of you have only just begun in the art and hobby.  Bonsai is a wonderful pastime, as you know, but without newcomers it eventually “dries up” as its older practitioners pass on.  There always needs to be “fresh blood” in the bonsai world, and I think this is clearly happening.  I know this because when you add the newbies to those who have been at it for five years or less, the total jumps to over 50%.  I think this is just wonderful.

What size bonsaiNext I wanted to find out what size bonsai you prefer.  Bonsai come is all sizes up to about 48″ tall, so there’s a size for everyone.  But there are certain very dedicated bonsai folks who are really into either tiny bonsai, the mame/shohin sizes, or massively large ones.  The results of the survey bear this out, with about 10% liking really small trees and 10% liking really big trees.  Fully 80% of you like them all, and I have to count myself among you.

What species do you likeThe next obvious question is what species you prefer.  The answer on this one was pretty substantially skewed toward deciduous species.  Now, it’s not clear to me if this is related to my own preference.  I make no bones about my love of deciduous bonsai, and therefore that’s what you mostly see written about and shown on my site.  It would only be natural if the site attracted bonsai enthusiasts who also share my preference.  But I do think it’s a good indication that 30% of you like all species – and to be truthful, I really love great pine bonsai and certain tropicals.  I just don’t work with them often.

What are your sources of materialNext I thought it was worth finding out where you get your bonsai material from.  This is obviously important to me, because I’m here to serve those needs for you to the greatest extent I can.  But it’s pretty clear from the chart that over half of you collect and grow at least some of your own bonsai material.  I think this is to be expected – after all, while I collect a lot of my trees I also grow from seed and cuttings and every now and then I’ll even buy some material.  No one has or can provide every species worth growing as bonsai, and I sure don’t plan to try.  I know what I’m good at and what I do a good job of providing.

What do you buyHere’s an interesting chart.  For those of you who buy material, the overwhelming majority go for either pre-bonsai or bonsai-in-training.  To be honest, that’s just what I would answer.  The design, the shaping and compositional creation of bonsai, is almost all of the fun of the art, at least for me.  And this seems to be true of you as well.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I can spend hours viewing finely-wrought bonsai.  There’s nothing like the quiet dignity of a tree growing in a shallow tray that looks for the world like its massive counterpart in nature.  But at some point you can’t help but want to take a piece of raw material and bring it to that state yourself.  Hence the 85%-plus of you who buy either pre-bonsai only or a mixture of pre-bonsai and partially trained trees in bonsai pots.  Once it gets your personal touch, you’re connected.

What size is your collectionThe next question I asked was about the size of your collection.  As many of you know, I’m a huge proponent of having at least 50 trees to work on (and not solely for mercenary reasons).  This is because of my dedication to the bonsai principle of benign neglect.  I challenge anyone to overwork more than 50 trees.  It’s a snap to overwork one or a few.  This is especially a problem for beginners to the art and hobby, because they know their job is to “train” their bonsai.  The problem with training our bonsai is that it’s not a full-time job.  You wire, then shape, then wait.  And wait.  And wait some more, until that branch gets set or that leader is thick enough to require removal of the wire.  If you have one or two trees and you wire them out, each day as you look at them you get that old itchy trigger finger.  Bonsai can only take so much love before they keel over.  So I say make sure you have enough trees.  About 85% of you agree, and that’s just outstanding.

What is your skill levelNext it was time to find out how you rate your skill level.  Again I was very pleased with the results, because they tell me that most of you are relatively new to the art of bonsai.  This is wonderful.  I see from this chart that about 75% of you are well into the basic learning phase of your bonsai journey.  This is one of the purposes of my website and business, to pass on things I’ve learned and to help you get better if I can.

What age rangeAge (yours, not your bonsai): I’m 61 and soon to be 62, and in almost 30 years of pursuing the wonderful art of bonsai I have heard countless times, “We need more young people in bonsai.”  Well, I think this chart speaks for itself.  Almost half of you who responded are, from my current outpost in life, what I would deem young.  I got really hooked myself at age 33.  At that time I would have considered young to be 15, plus or minus.  And you do occasionally see teens whacking at trees in newbie workshops.  But the most reliable source of new bonsai enthusiasts is that demographic who catch the bug after about 25.  It gets better once child-rearing is over, because with kids in the house you spend most of your shaping work (and about all of your money) on them.  Once that’s over, you move on to organisms that stay put, never talk back and never wreck your car.  What’s not to like?

What is your biggest challengeNow we come to the final, and perhaps most interesting, question of the survey – What is your biggest bonsai challenge?  The overwhelming majority of you, 70%, said that designing your trees is the biggest challenge you face.  If you add the 10% who said maintaining the design of their trees is their biggest challenge, it’s pretty clear that for most bonsai enthusiasts it’s all about making our trees look right.  This is hardly surprising.  Bonsai is a representation of a mature tree in miniature size.  So how they’re designed, and how that design is maintained over time when the tree wants to grow differently, is what it’s all about.

Doing a Better Job for You

I’ve devoted a lot of effort in my blog posts to show the process I go through in designing bonsai.  This seems to fit very well with your own biggest challenge, so look for more of the same.  I will try to do a better job of explaining the design principles that go into my thinking as I illustrate the steps in training my trees.

Also, it looks like most of you are interested in bonsai that fit the “in-between” sizes, rather than really big or really small.  So I’ll focus on expanding my stock of in-between’s.  I don’t like lugging all that many huge bonsai around, especially as I’ve gotten older, so this should save some wear and tear on my back.  Win-win.

Once again, thank you for participating in the survey.  As 2016 starts to get long in the tooth, I hope your bonsai collection has gotten bigger and better and you’ve learned a few things from my posts.  I’m always available to answer questions, so feel free to email or post comments.