Preparing bonsai for exhibition

by Calvin van Moerkerken

Preparing one's bonsai trees for an exhibition takes much longer than one thinks, especially if you are expecting your tree to look it's best.

The first thing you have to do when selecting bonsai for an exhibition is to evaluate your tree to see if it is up to standard. If you are unsure, I can advise you to attend the nest Adjudicator's Symposium, put together and run by Lionel Theron. The following are criteria to help with the judging of your tree as per the Adjudicator's course:

  • Pot or Container
  • Ground cover and surface
  • Rootage
  • Trunks
  • Primary branches
  • Secondary branches
  • Tertiary & smaller branches
  • Foliage, flowers and fruit
  • Apex of tree
  • Overall aesthetics or visual impact.

One should start preparing and evaluating the tree 3 to 3.5 months prior to the exhibition. Consider all of the above criteria when selecting the tree to see where the tree fails to make the grade. Starting 3 to 3.5 months early gives you time to possibly correct such faults as the wrong style or colour pot by repotting (of course ensuring it is possible to repot the particular species at that time of year). If it is possible to repot, the roots can then also be adjusted and the tree's placement in the pot can be checked and corrected. The tree should not be repotted later than 2 months prior to the exhibition so it has time to settle.

Branches and apex can be corrected with wiring at this 3-month stage, however if there is major wiring to be done it would be better to do this long in advance. This is to allow the branches etc. time to set and hold the position and shape. Trees may be exhibited with minimal wire on, as long as the wiring is neat and follows the rules of wiring.

At this 3-month prior stage treat all deadwood with Lime Sulphur. Continue to fertilize as per your usual programme for example organic or inorganic. Replace or trim moss at this stage and also do regular weeding if needed.

At the 2-month prior stage fertilize again. Check your moss making sure that there is no moss growing on the tree trunk or roots that you want exposed. Also check the draining holes for clogging and blockage.

At the 20-day mark clean and oil all your bonsai pots. Remove wire if necessary and do a final fertilizing. It's also time to prepare complementary plants and their pots etc. Select and oil your pot stand if you are using one.

In the last few days before the exhibition remove large, dead or yellowing leaves. In his book 'Bonsai in South Africa', Rudi Adam recommends placing one's tree in semi shade with the front facing the sun. The foliage will tum slightly towards the front, giving a fuller appearance. He also advises spraying one's tree with an oil-based insecticide; this will ensure that there are no insects that could be transmitted to other trees during the exhibition and it also gives the leaves a gloss, which helps reduce the rate of transpiration. Soaking the tree to ensure that the root ball absorbs enough water is also a good idea. After the soaking check that the moss or any other ground cover like gravel is still in place. All that is left to do is wipe the pot clean. Take care while transporting your bonsai to the exhibition. Make sure they are well wedged and protected from falling over.

In exhibiting our trees we allow others to also enjoy our trees and share in our fascinating world of Bonsai.

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Right at my feet -

and when did you get here,

snail? ~ Issa

Random Bonsai Tip

To thicken thin branches make a cut just below the branch or a bud on the branch. The sugars produced in the leaves of the tree move down to the roots through the phloem, this flow of sap is interrupted by the cut and the accumulation of sugars above the cut increases the vigour as it is used by the bud, forcing it into action. As soon as the wound heals the normal sap flow resumes.