How to Start Simple Bonsai Projects

Why Not Start Your Own Bonsai Project?

{WATCH VIDEO] How to start simple Bonsai projects? Somebody who is given a tree – while living in an apartment no less – and right away feels anxious about keeping it alive, to the point of taking cuttings for safety, and then managing to keep said tree alive and thriving for 25 years, without any training – is someone who truly cares about trees.

You can sense his commitment and pride in them. thanks for sharing this humble but inspirational video – I enjoyed it much more than watching some bigshot American ‘bonsai professional’ show off their perfect junipers. and thank you peter for being so considerate and supportive when discussing the trees with this man. it was a pleasure to listen to you both.

simple trick produces healthy bonsai

That first tree is just a beautiful natural-looking tree, like the one you’d find someone on a green grassy hill. Just nice looking from all the sides not this heavily styled tree even though it’s clear that there’s been a good bit of wiring done to it.

I really liked this episode. Having the owner showing his trees and what he has done in trimming and most of all… you showing the wiring and having the owner doing wiring while you give helpful instructions and tips was very helpful!

Video Transcript

this is a rather unusual video that i’m doing and i have here vessels of us and he’s come really for a one-to-one class with me today and i didn’t want to waste the opportunity because rarely do i come across an enthusiast or an amateur who is almost professional and i’m so impressed with the things that he has created over the last is it 25 years so you’ve been doing bonsai 25 years yeah all on your own and you bought some small trees and started from there and buy one or two other trees but the quality of the trees that he has made has literally astounded me so much so that i’ve asked vassar’s permission to do a little video together so that we can give other youtube fans encouragement as to what is possible now tell me something about this tree and that tree because there’s a long history okay so this this tree was originally bought uh for me as a gift so 25 years ago 25 years yeah 25 years and at that point i had absolutely no knowledge or experience of keeping bonsai let alone styling how big was it when it was this size um a little bit bigger than that okay um but i’ve always i’ve always kept it in a the same size pot just to kind of restrict the growth so i had no idea about even how i’d go about pruning the tree um so kind of self-taught trial and error and i was living in a flat and i remember specifically at the time thinking you know i love the tree absolutely the tree i remember thinking to myself i hope it doesn’t die and as a as a security i took some cuttings from this tree and grew this tree so this is a cutting from this tree yeah amazing about 20 years or more just over 22 years okay so it was a tiny tiny little cutting cutter okay typical yeah i can well believe it yeah i again i had no idea what i was doing i just put it into a little seat plug it it striked and grew this but like i said this was grown as a security in case i ever killed that one all right so it was a backup um but yeah as as the years went on i started to uh read more learn more um but i never took any kind of formal training i never went to see anyone with trees so in a way that is good because sometimes when you are trained and follow too much the conventional wisdom you get into a rut where you’re producing everything the same i like the trees that you’ve made because you have broken a lot of rules you’ve done it inadvertently but those of you who remember my book bonsai master class in fact one or two people who are great bonsai artists in their own right they told me that they were inspired by my bonsai master class book which was published in 87 and i devote quite a few pages about breaking the rules where you’ve got to know the rules to break it and once you break those rules they become fresh and really different now in your case you probably didn’t even know the rules so you didn’t know what rules were so you just done it automatically if we were to look at some of the elms that you buy from china they come imported they’re all the same this is completely different this you must admit is quite quite different from the chinese elms you can buy in the open market so this is why this tree is so fresh looking and so vibrant i was going to suggest a few things if you come closer and have a look look at this tree for instance now this tree let’s look at the positive points first the shape is very good the nice triangular shape and it’s got a beautiful movement in the trunk which probably you’ve added a little more and it is a very full tree normally one would not make the tree so full but because it’s so full and dense it looks a very mature tree i can give you some examples of where there are what we call the conventional force some people who know all the rules but don’t appreciate bonsai there’s big difference between that they know the rules but they don’t know what is art so they will say that this branch straight away is a fault why because it comes straight out at you you don’t nearly read it you don’t need it look at it you don’t really need that tree if we this branch sorry if we were to use the bag trick you don’t need it you could open out the trunk more but because it’s there half hiding the trunk it makes it beautiful so for that reason i would leave it i would not take it out what would you like to say what are your thoughts on why you put it there i guess it just felt too bare here oh absolutely right you’re right so because it was bare you broke a rule by putting a branch coming out at you and it works if it’s not there it would not work now another fault i can see that this is from the inside of the branch and probably this whole tree is very dense i like this tree because it’s dense but for some other people they would say that it is too dense you really don’t need this branch at all you see you can create more space by taking this branch out and giving more space you could create much more space much more gaps between successive branches but because it’s a nice dense tree i like it okay there’s nothing wrong with it you could take it out because it’s coming from the inside of the bend if you come close you see from inside the bend that really is a fault but it works it works so i would not take it out same with this one this is also coming from the inside that i would leave but this there’s a case for taking this out but i wouldn’t it would spoil the tree and as we look right through the tree like this one this pad here this is called the pad now this pad there’s a branch jetting upwards going up there to form another pad now most people would not think of doing it but the way you’ve done it is perfect you could take it out and create more space but again i like it there now let us look at this side okay this could possibly be a front you if you wanted to there’s no reason why you can’t make this the front and if i were to make this the front i would possibly take this out to make it more open make it more open so this is how i analyze the tree but i won’t i won’t but i still think this tree is nice from every side and i think a rectangular or oval pot would fit it we might just change the pot and see if it looks right but then these chinese spots have a character of their own a lot of people you know don’t think that chinese spots are nice because they’re rather crude but these are traditional ancient chinese cantonese green glaze pots and many of the elms are planted in there so if you analyze the tree you can find lots of supposed falls to the tree let’s look at this one looking at this one if you come close jack you see over here see that branch there what’s it doing it’s doing nothing really but okay you might cut it off you might lose that that’s the only thing that could be lost without affecting it by why it’s filling a space i’m not bothered about that so as i said this maybe this could be the front this could be a front because it’s coming that way and then kicking back on itself so you probably don’t need this but i don’t know what do you use as the front which side do you usually it depends i try and rotate the tree just so you know all sides get the sun um but yeah i always i work on all sides so it’s beautiful so this is another thing we’re breaking another very fundamental rule we always tell people oh you’ve got to have a front you’ve got to have a back i remember when i met john knox in 1976 when he came to uk for the first time he had a very famous saying he says sometimes the backside can be as pretty as the front side you know i don’t know what he meant by that but you we knew what he meant because sometimes the back of the tree can be as nice as the front of the tree so you don’t have to have a front you don’t have to have a back a tree is a tree yeah whichever way you look at it it’s beautiful from all sides so that’s another thing that we can debunk straight away so i’m glad you brought this tree but frankly apart from that little branch that i mentioned but why cut it off it’s growing well so this the beauty of this tree it looks nice from every site it’s got a beautiful shape and these are now the new leaves so they’re very small and you’ve been keeping it in very good condition i wouldn’t even change the pot i would say i would still leave it in the spot and how often do you repot this tree um i’ve i haven’t repotted this for probably six years six years okay that’s perfectly all right again another great fallacy people say oh i’ve got to repot the tree every time i have customers who bought a tree in november and they repot it straight away and then they say oh my tree is dying i said did you repot the tree they said yes i said why did you repot the tree they said oh i thought you have to repot it every year you don’t have to repot the tree every year if the tree is growing well why do you touch it it’s like if you’re healthy why do you go to the doctor and ask him to open your stomach up and cut you up you don’t have to do that so if the tree is growing well it can stay in the pot for a long time provided you feed it it will be okay and in fact keeping it pot bound will reduce the size of the leaves so this as i say nothing wrong with it so although you’ve come for a one-to-one lesson with me i feel bad charging you even because there’s nothing to tell except to reassure you now this here’s your beautiful cutting that you made okay now which do you use as the front this side again i i just view it from all sides okay let’s look at the other side again you must admit it is beautiful from every side okay if i were to use this as the side i like the beautiful movement of the trunk if we were to use this at the front people would say that this is a fault because it’s hiding the trunk see this is hiding the trunk but does it matter does it matter it’s still a beautiful tree it’s still a beautiful tree okay if i use this at the front okay you see more of the trunk there this is also nice but if you look at the tree critically either from this side or that side both sides are nice in fact this side which most conventional bonsai people would argue is the front i prefer that this is the front because it looks fuller to me this side looks more like a natural tree although that branch is hiding the trunk this side is not as nice as the other side in my view i know you’ve done little gin there yeah okay okay that’s fine okay and again see people would keep that branch clear so that you see more of the trunk but it’s hiding the trunk is perfectly okay the balance is nice the lines of the tree is very nice so there you go on this one okay now you’ve brought several trees yeah we will look at all those trees as well let’s see we need to work bring the white pine first make sure i bring the right tree yeah okay okay tell me the history of this tree so i haven’t had this one as long probably six years six years okay and has it grown much since then loads okay where how big was it when you bought it probably up to here not quite maybe did you grow all this yeah because then i got rid of the original leader okay and created a new one okay the tree was much narrower yeah um the branches were a lot thinner a lot spindlier it was also a lot more crowded yeah there was a lot of growth down at the lower part which i got rid of and there was another huge branch coming out from here yeah you took that out which was crowding it so i took that out and then um i tried to pull this one a little bit further into the middle and this one was sat a lot lot higher so you’re pulling it down with a guy down guy rope yeah and i’m pulling this one down as well yeah um but yeah i’m this is probably so you’ve had it six years you say something like that okay and it’s grown has the trunk thickened in the time yeah i can see the pot was like a round pot this size here yeah um but i i found this a lot more difficult to work on okay i didn’t understand the concept of the candles and how you needed to so how have you been dealing with the candles so originally um i didn’t even understand that if you took the candles off completely on this white part that the branch would die or there’s no it’s not necessarily true no so what have you been doing removing some candles no so what i do is pinch them to about halfway yes initially i don’t do it all at once yes i sort of work over a stage of yeah a couple of weeks when we look closely at the candles yeah so it doesn’t stress the way out too much so i just literally break them with my fingers um yeah okay so these are the new candles coming so this is the ideal time perhaps okay you’re doing all the right things the the one thing i really struggled with this tree is that this is the first year it’s never done it but usually it will produce these little red flowers flowers that’s right and the candles get really long from that flower yeah and leggy yeah and the needles don’t start until the very end of the candle yeah so that’s the thing i’ve always really struggled with with the white pine but but it’s very healthy it’s very healthy now what you’re going to do with it now i don’t know don’t you remove some candles so what you told me now is perfectly okay so a halfway house rather than remove all the candles is to remove half the candle like that then it will keep it tight otherwise if you don’t remove or don’t control the candle it becomes a long branch like that would be a candle from last year so you need to keep it trimmed back or also remove it completely if you remove it completely that’s also okay because there is green it will produce more but back further down the the branch so don’t worry about that you can do that so i always reading the books yes it’s always said that the white pine rarely no that’s not true yeah you see look this branch here see that branch is but back from say two years back so it does happen so from here you can get butt back so don’t worry about that so they will burn back of course these mass-produced pines they’re grafted you see the graft here the graft is rather ugly but you can’t help it you can’t do anything about it it’s one of those things you know you can score it and help to thicken it i used to do like with a standing knife just cut zigzag lines and that will help to swell the trunk to make it thicker that you can probably be paired down with a branch cutter remove some of that but you could endanger the tree but that’s something you’ve got to live with that little dead branch is doing nothing you might as well remove it but you’ve done a good job keeping the pads and the levels quite spaced so i don’t keep the tree taller than that the front is this side because it’s more open and this is the back really that’s leaning that side so there’s one pronoun i like this typical uh you know ingenuity that the japanese girls would have done they take a branch up and then take the pad there to fill that space so that is perfectly acceptable perfectly acceptable this typical commercial tree but it’s very healthy and i see you just done minimum wiring and use using these strings guys to pull it together yeah so this tree is okay and again how often do you repot this this one i haven’t repotted since when since i bought six years yeah there you are this is what i would like to tell you a lot of people think that you’ve got to repot every tree every year or at least once every other year i always maintain that pines and junipers are one are the two evergreens or the two species that you don’t have to repot that often now i’ve got some junipers and pines that i have not done for 10 or 12 years and they’re perfectly fine as long as you feed it well that’s okay with the five needle pine or the japanese white pine they don’t like their roots cut too much in japan where they get a lot of rainy weather in the summer they can prune with impunity and cut the roots with impunity and it survives but in the west if you cut too much root the trees die so where most people go wrong with japanese white pine in the western hemisphere is that they are too enthusiastic cutting the root so when you repot the japanese white pine take the minimum amount of root off and just repot it like that without going to extremes so again this tree is doing well let’s look at all your other trees and then we will see what needs to be so this is a chinese lodge yeah was it like this with the two trees together it was but uh this one was much smaller okay and this was much taller so i’ve tried to just compact it a little more yeah the pot was much smaller okay um but yeah okay again what i’ve been trying to do with the wiring get the pads flat yeah get the pads flat and then just have it yeah very nice just droop down a little bit yeah so this is not a twin trunk it’s two trees and it’s very skillfully planted it’s very natural a lot of people put twin uh two trees almost like a twin trunk touching but being spaced like this it works i like it i like it maybe this one could be removed so that you show more trunk there that one may be taken more that side yeah that’s okay again you’re doing your own thing which is perfectly okay your wiring is good to bronze principle throughout nothing really to complain about i think this tree was put in a little longer slightly shallower oval pot would make a nice landscape so that would suit the style of this tree so that’s the only comment i would make maybe make a little more of a corn to the top i have noticed with this tree i’m getting for no reason sometimes i’ll cut the sheets back and die back there yeah the bronzer that’ll go back yeah maybe uh when you prune you need to make sure that there’s another shoot behind like this one you can prune up to here because there are shoots there but if you prune over here it’ll die back to there so you’ve got to leave some green there so i always like i’ll let these extend out yeah a little more then i’ll sort of prune it back down to maybe one or two okay see supposing if you were to prune this here it’ll die back there yeah so you got to make sure that there is some growth there see if if i were to prune this off it’s okay because i’ve got that growing but if i were to prune it here this will die back from here to there that one inch space so just make sure there’s something behind it before you pull like this one you can prune here because you got these growing yeah okay yeah so that is the general principle so again this one may be you can still do it now if you want to repot because we won’t disturb the root we just spread the salt out you can consider that yeah and then one more which is a fairly new one this is um de shojo was it was it red one or just a green one i don’t know peter okay all right so this is my most recent yeah it’s a nice tree it’s imported i think it’s a japanese tree yeah so what do you want to do with it you want to refine it yeah this is it’s a lovely tree because the nebari is good the root base is very nice here have a close look you see root base is excellent beautiful nebari yeah the roots are very good roots are in good condition uh did you do the wiring yes okay i did that uh this christmas okay um and but i’ve not got much experience with maples at all i grow maple trees in the garden and i do it’s what’s making this a slightly bigger bonsai and because the base is nice there are one or two uh obvious things you can take or like that one is doing nothing let’s do it it’s very congested so i think that can come out this one here yeah let’s bring you the can you have let me have the red circuitous okay if you can cut this off you do that this one yeah yeah yeah from the trunk from the trunk cut the whole thing off you don’t need it okay so we do that okay and then we just want to remind you that this tree is being grown for the future to make more of a specimen now this is okay this is a bit coming up we try to keep the branches down even these can be kept more going downwards this can be kept for now there’s some weak branches around these can also be wired to make it go flatter if you use a thick wire wire those flat and we wire these also a bit flat concentrate on a leader this is going inwards we don’t need this one maybe cut it there but eventually that can be taken out maybe just let everything grow but you need to control these upward growing branches you’ve done right over here these you can also wire more flat like that and this one may be because it’s growing too strong you may need to cut that off and train these branches this software over there over certainly it’s rising too much it’s rising too much it may make it look like a very bushy tree so let’s decide on the front first before we make any drastic decisions or mistake if we look at it in fact the base is so nice it’s nice from virtually every side if you come close you look at the base here that’s very nice so this is a possible front if we were to use this is the front this is also nice very nice space very nice base from every side this is hiding it a bit but then we want to grow the tree a little taller so encourage this to be the new leader up here this one this one to be the leader they say yeah grow that as the leader so there are some inward growing branches like that i would take out anything going inwards we take out also if you have too many branches in one spot you can get inverse taper so you got to watch that maybe don’t let it grow so vigorous don’t make it too vigorous so reducing the number of shoots or branches can reduce the vigor so it reduces this is all liter here yeah that’s the leader there so your front is here that’s your leader so this really can take it off completely and then we should encourage to the tree to start doing this so with thick wire so that one you don’t need see you see obviously you don’t need this sir okay you’ve done those okay now this branch worries me but it makes it full but maybe leave it and encourage branches to grow sideways so we can get another level there so this one certainly you can flatten it with one these two you can flatten with wire so let me just show you with a piece of thick water now when we do wiring on these maples we try to do what is called an open coil wiring so that it’s not strangling the branches okay i’m just trying to look for an anchor point i never knew open coil wiring was a thing but that’s the way i always used to do it yeah not tight not tight i’ve made that mistake before in the past so don’t worry about what it looks like because we’re only training the the tree we’re not showing the tree so the wire at this stage is not i’m important to follow the same path of that wire so that it doesn’t look unsightly so by open coil i mean open coil like that little like a big spring and then use it to flatten see like that i’m not going to mark the worst the natural tendency of all branches of all trees is to spring upwards and because in bonsai we’re trying to create an image of an old tree where the weight of the branches makes them hang downwards we make the branches down hang down their natural incarnation is to grow up with so can you see how i flatten these two yes so it’s flattening so this is a problem here it is isn’t it you know uh i would bite the bullet and take it out so you’re going to get that you can see you’ve opened that outer and then you can do the suit you have a go just try to do these two together okay maybe use this wall let me just see how much i’m using thick wash so that there’s no doubt that it’ll work go around the trunk so now this one you don’t need these little ones see they’re just rogue shoots so this one here yeah and then go down to that part so open coil yeah anchor i would anchor the other branch first and could just one loop to just give it an anchor so it doesn’t flop about always give a little anchor there now you can work on this more comfortably and i think this you don’t need to keep on for more than a year i think you can keep it a bit tight around the trunk okay okay let’s do maybe tighter electronic yeah it could have been tighter on the truck i always support it with two hands in case it snaps maples are very brittle you know they can snap yeah they’ve done it okay see we have flattened it yeah we flapped it we flattened that now this i would draw on for the time being what about this one peter this is that that’s a problem yeah that one’s probably shooting up but it’s filling the space there for now i think we can deal with it later on by removing this in fact there is too much see the more you analyze the more you see the faults yeah potential falls okay we’ve let more light in so that’s going to let it grow well this is still the front this is still a problem branch but i would leave it for now it’ll help to thicken that part so i’m not too worried about that because these are i think we can overcome that by doing this see how we opened it up more huh see huh yeah and i would suggest rather than that pot to give it a chance to grow we will find a training pot of some kind either a plastic one we will do it for you but just plant it in a bigger pot much bigger pot okay so i’m going to put this in a larger mica pot training pot and i’m simply going to loosen the roots the nibari is very good so although we’re in the first week of may today is the sixth of may i’m not repotting i’m just putting it in a bigger pot and loosening the roots i’m not cutting the root not doing anything of the salt and this i reckon you can do throughout the year without harming the tree provided you don’t cut the root okay i’m not even touching the bottom of the tree so it’s going to be a bit proud but this is only a temporary thing to make the tree strong and grow the tree strong i’m even going to find a bit of sphagnum moss you know the old sphagnum moss trick to put it around the roots just to help it along so we do different things to bonsai different times of the life of the tree to achieve different ends so what we’re doing now is to make this a larger tree because it deserves to be a nice specimen tree this good points about this tree is that the nebari is very good the taper is excellent and we’ve just trimmed away some of the unwanted branches and we’re going to grow it on into a bigger tree and because i haven’t cut the root you can feed it in a couple of weeks time keep giving a lot of feed throughout the year not throughout the year we’re now into may maybe we’re going to feed end of may and then one more feed i would say around july time and if you wish to put a very low nitrogen fertilizer in end august early september that would be nice now let’s look at the tree on the turntable now and if we can recollect what the tree was like before we should see a difference so there’s your tree potential specimen tree beautiful okay so we’ve improved that we’re going to repot this and the pot is a bit shorter than the root ball so i need to take some off and although we say that outside the repotting season i don’t cut much root but certain species like the elms are such vigorous trees that we can do this so it’s my famous cake cutting process there’s hardly any root there so not much damage has been done some of these thick ones can come off and as always i simply loosen the edges and the roots will mesh with the new soil all the roots are very healthy so it’s a good sign i need to take a little more off what so we tied just to prevent it getting knocked out accidentally so so changing the pot is like changing the clothes that a person wears it gives it a different look so we will now look at all the trees and if i can get the film editor to compare to what it was before you will see the difference so here is the maple in a mica pot it was in this spot before so it looks quite different and we took quite a few of the small branches off so that’s the amount of stuff i took off that tree i’ve opened it out hoping it’ll grow a little more so that’s that one and then this was the elm which was grown from a cutting it’s in a nice japanese tokonoma tokoname bonsai pot oval shallow oval and as i said it’s nice from either side this is a tree that looks nice from this side all that side makes no difference and then the two tree chinese large we put in a nice yi xing glaze pot so that looks different and then the bigger chinese ham we’ve changed it from that guangdong green glaze pot to this yeashing dark blue cobalt blue pot again this is a tree that looks nice from either side so there you go we’ve changed the look of these trees and i hope you’ve been pleased with what you did [Music] you

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