Shimpaku Air-Layer Separation

The Shimpaku air-layers I’ve prepared early Spring are developing very well, with roots filling in the sphagnum moss, and even crawling out of the plastic wrap. Now that fall is here, the roots are not developed much. I wanted to separate the air-layers, and provide them an opportunity to get accustomed to their new pots before winter hits. From one of the trees, I’ve been able to get two air-layers from it. I was very pleased that these two growths have put out a lot foliage over the growing season.

Shimpaku with Air-LayersAs you can see below, the roots have filled the whole sphagnum moss ball.

Roots on Air-LayerAfter removing the two air-layers, I can concentrate on developing the tree, and not worry about the two air-layers getting in the way.

Shimpaku Air-Layers RemovedThe two air-layers have a lot of foliage on it, but they also have a lot of roots. I wouldn’t worry about them getting dried up. I ensured that I caused the least amount of disturbance to the roots as possible. I did not remove any of the sphagnum moss, and basically buried the air-layer into the pot (sphagnum moss intact), and surround it by a little bit of soil to secure it in the pot. Come next June, I’ll repot the these into colanders, removing the sphagnum moss, layout the roots, and use some real bonsai potting medium. When repotting, I’ll make sure to pot it into more granular soil, such that the roots don’t stay too wet.

The next air-layer I separated is from another Shimpaku I had. The upper portion makes a mame, while the lower part makes a good literati. With the separation, I’ll end up with two better trees, rather than one awkward tree.

There are substantially less roots in this air-layer, but I think there should still be sufficient roots for it to survive. I’ll find out come next Spring. For now, I’ll let the air-layers grow, while I work on the parent trees.


Fine Tuning the Shimpaku

I’ve been looking at the Shimpaku and it’s becoming ever more obvious that the upper half of the tree is very disjoint from the bottom half of the tree. In hopes to bring in some unity between the branches of the tree, I opted to lower some of the branches from the upper parts, such that the observer won’t be experiencing a break in their flow as their eyes move upwards from the base of the tree. For the thicker branch, I did the usual raffia wrapping before proceeding to bend it down. I also wired the back branches such that the pads are tighter. I’m now much happier with the tree and where it’s heading. It’s now a matter of letting the foliage fill in. The left picture is the “before”, and the right picture is the “after”.

Wiring Shimpaku Juniper

Earlier this year, I’ve decided to air layer the Shimpaku Juniper. I didn’t do much to the tree other than repotting it into a bigger pot. The Shimpaku has since put out a lot of roots, so I’m pretty sure the tree up top will survive. I’ve decided to work on the bottom tree a bit, such that it’s not too unsightly. Although the branches still maintained some of the form I put in a few years back, it needs some refinement.

Shimpaku Before Wiring

I wired the branches and moved the them into place. The goal is to form foliage pads that allow the viewers eyes to follow the trees movement to the apex.

Shimpaku After Wiring

I’m pretty satisfy with this arrangement.  The composition has both bones (branches) and meat (foliage pads). Shimpakus branches don’t thicken very fast, so I can leave the wires on the tree for quite a while, probably revisit it again next Spring.


As the healthy trees are putting out new growths, I figured it’s a good time to defoliate the trees to allow it to put through another set of growths. Which will add one more season of ramification, and hopefully produce smaller leaves. I decided to defoliate my larches first. I basically pulled out all hardened leaves, forcing the tree to put out a new set of leaves. This opens up the canopy and allows light to reach the inner parts of the tree, to produce back-budding and new growth.

I also worked on my berry bush, it’s ramifying quite nicely, squeezing in another round of ramification will make it look more impressive. I left the very small leaves intact, the larger hardened leaves are all taken out. I’m now leaving it in full sun to help its new buds pop.

Acquired My First Cedar

During this month’s TBS meeting, there was a silent auction for the trees owned by a member who wishes to get out of the hobby. All the other trees looked pretty wimpy to me, and I ended up bidding for a cedar. The cedar had some interesting shari, but the branch arrangements was very 2-dimensional. There were no front or back branches at all, all the branches were extending left and right. The tree’s starting bid was $45, and gradually got bid up to $75 by several new members… At the end, I got the tree, because I saw the bonsai in the tree.

Cedar From Auction

I didn’t care much about a formal upright tree. I also didn’t like how the shari was covering the live vain. So, I decided to pick another side as the front.

Cedar with Interesting Deadwood - New Front

This side showed more taper, and exposes the live vain for the eye to follow up the tree. I still wasn’t too interested in a trunk that goes straight up. I began digging around the base of the tree to look at the roots, and found that due to negligence, the base of the deadwood has rotted away.

Obviously I can’t have deadwood that just protrudes out of no where, so my only option was to hide the rotted base. I contemplated using a rock, but the evidence of human intervention would be too great. I ultimately decided to slant the tree to hide the rotting base. To do so, I had to take the tree out of the pot, and repot it into a colander.

I started with taking the tree out of the pot. I was surprised to find that the tree was very pot bound — another sign of negligence by the previous owner. After some persuading and prying, I finally got the tree out, and started to rake/comb out the roots. After working through the badly decomposed soil, I found myself with little to no roots at the base of the tree, but with long running roots all around the root ball. I never saw a tree with such long roots before, it’ll be quite a task trying to reduce the root ball back towards the base over the next few years. Since it’s already quite late in the season, I decided to not do anything more to the roots to reduce the amount of shock to the tree.

I simply curled up the roots, and planted the tree into the colander, properly securing with wire. I ensured I planted it in an angle such that it’ll hide the rotting deadwood at the base.

The movement already looks much more interesting with a spire that juts out to the left. I then proceeded to work with the branches I intend to keep. The branches were very straight, with no interesting movement, so I got my raffia ready, and started to do some extensive bending. The lower most branch was already very brittle, and any bending of it would result in a broken branch. Therefore, I decided to let it be for now, and then make it into a jin in a year or two.

The second branch can be persuading to come down along the trunk, and to counter-balance the movement to the left. The third branch can be reduced and provide some greenery to the left, but I got to ensure it doesn’t become too overpowering, because there is already substantial movement to the left. The forth branch will be my new leader, and I will be building an apex off the branches (eventually). Everything else above the forth branch will be turned into a jin once the tree is healthy enough.

Cedar with Main Branches Rearranged

In order to allow more light to reach the inner buds, and eventually promote inner growths, I proceeded to reduce the foliage by pinching/cutting. I also put on some lime sulfur to the deadwood to help with preserve the wood. I’ve done a lot to this tree, now it’s just to give it lots of light, and let it recover from the abuse. Hopefully all the branches will survive and I can start cutting back the unwanted growths next growing season. I’ve also read that it’s best to prune in August, so that the tree doesn’t lose the foliage you want to keep. I’ll observe the health of the tree before deciding whether I want to prune back this August, it might be a bit premature.

Cedar with Small Branches Rearranged


Potting Up Shimpaku Cutting

I created this cutting last year, and before the beginning of winter, I separated it from the parent plant, and planted it with sphagnum moss intact, into a pot. I didn’t know how much roots have developed, all I could see was some roots on the outside parameter. Since the Shimpaku has started to put out growth, I’ve decided to pot it up into a colander.

I first took it out of the terracotta pot, removed all the sphagnum moss and combed out the roots, such that they radiate from the trunk. Over time, this would ensure a good nebari.

After lining up all the roots radially from the trunk, I secured the tree in place with a wire, and then filled in with bonsai soil. This tree will be growing in this colander for a long time until it’ll need another repot.

Utilizing Small Colanders

I found a store which had small colanders in stock, so I ended up purchasing twelve of them in preparation for repotting this Spring. Now is the time to put these colanders into good use. I had some Japanese Quince cuttings growing in a pot along with a few Shimpaku Junipers cuttings for two years now. Since they’ve survived two winters, I’m pretty sure they have some roots and are viable. Transferring them to colanders will help them further develop finer roots to support more vigorous growth.

When I pulled the plants from the pot, there was a big mass of Japanese Quince roots. It is to be expected that deciduous trees tend to put out roots more readily than conifers. The challenge was to separate out the Shimpaku cuttings from the root mass without damaging the Shimpaku roots.  After an extended period of teasing and combing out roots, I was able to separate the six Quinces from the Shimpakus. I cut back the Quince roots heavily to promote more fine roots growth. I largely left the Shimpaku roots intact, with the exception of cutting short a few running roots, to try to balance the thickness of the roots (or else the running roots will significantly thicken in the expense of the other roots). All the Shimpakus fit comfortably into a single colander. Since Shimpakus roots tend to grow slowly, I’m not too concerned that they’ll be too intermingled.

I also had another Japanese Quince which seemed too over-potted into a big colander. Also, it was potted in the crappy potting medium I had last Spring which tend to breakdown quickly and saturate the pot. So I decided to repot it as well, it now looks more inline with the size of the colander.


The two years old Japanese black pine (JBP) seedlings have also started moving as their candles extend. I figured I’ll pick a few to repot into the colanders to see how they respond in comparison to the other JBPs which remained in their nursery pots. The most vigorous JBP looks to be a year or two ahead of its cohort, so I started with it first.  Indeed, it had a very healthy root system, but the roots are somewhat tangled, it’s timely that I decided to repot them now, or else the roots would have gotten too thick to reshape.  With some wetting of the roots, and some persuading, I was able to rearrange the roots into a radial form around the trunk. Hopefully, in a few years time, they would develop into a nice radial nebari.  I saw some books that suggests tying the roots down to a rock would force the roots to grown sideways rather than down. So I decided to tie the roots to a ceramic dish, but I quickly found out that strings are really difficult to maneuver, especially around a round dish.  So, I decided to use wire instead.  Just one piece of wire is sufficient to hold the tree down against the dish.  I just need to ensure that I cut the wires as the trunk thickens.

All in all, I repotted three JBPs. As I go from the most vigorous to the least, I began to noticed that there are substantially less roots as well. The other remaining JBPs will have to wait till next year before they’re ready to be repotted into colanders. For the second JBP onwards, I didn’t even bother with the string, and just went directly with using the wire to secure the tree to the dish. After securing the tree into the dish, then it’s just a matter of tying down the combo into the pot the old fashion way, using the cork screw method to secure it all down. I purposely left the wire ends longer, such that they can help hold down the dangling roots. These JBPs will be resting under shade for a week, before they’re reintroduced to the sun.