Club Meeting Novermber 2013

by Pieter Loots

Carl Morrow was up first discussing conserving bonsai heritage. He quoted Roy Lichtenstein saying, "I want to make my work look like it was programmed, to loose the look of my hand". Trees are ever changing, unlike some art. The question Carl raised was do we keep the original style of the artist or do we change it? Very good question, and worth more discussion in the future I am sure.

Amith Ramballie spoke about creative growing containers. He showed us how we can up cycle old car tyres. Although not a real pot, as it still has a hole at the bottom, tyres can be turned inside out, painted, the edges can be cut, and they can be quite beautiful long lasting planting containers.

Defoliation-How and why? Was the topic Trevor Venables spoke to us about. We do it because it is stressful for the tree. Which means we should only defoliate a healthy tree. It is done to increase ramification, to reduce leave size and to provide good autumn colours and also to regulate growth. Mainly on deciduous trees.

Partial defoliation is done by taking off the bigger leaves. It is done to regulate growth. Best times to do it is mid or late summer, or in the middle of the dormancy period. To strengthen a weak branch, you defoliate all branches but the weak one.

Risks involved are that you might not get the desired growth, you might get die back, leaves might get bigger or an increased risk of pests.

We had quite a few club members attend the SABA convention. Guest speakers included Walter Paul, Michael Hagedorn, Rob Kempinski and quite a number of South African speakers.

Michael Hagedorn designed a classical shimpaku juniper. His handling was elegant and sensitive. He explained that in order to create vigour and ramification it is important to pinch the tree. Big cuts invigorate and small cuts weaken. Junipers will gain vigour if grown like this. With carving try to remain as invisible as possible. And with yamadori it is important where the branch ends up not where it comes from. " Work with the tree to find a balance, do not dominate the tree, rather have a conversation with the tree."

Walter Paul was one of the highlights of the convention. He says open your heart when designing a tree, for a bonsai to be good it is essential that it brings out the spirit of the tree. Explore new ideas and concepts. Do not make pads look like broccoli, allow space and air through the canopy so that it is transparent and not fully green. He explained a hedge pruning method where in early spring he prunes the outline, and does this 3-4 times through the growing season.

There was also a young designers competition at the convention, and our very own Amith Ramballie came second, congratulations on that Amith.

I hope you all have your trees ready for the show as that will be our next meeting place, enjoy working on your trees.


Club Meeting September 2013

by Pieter Loots

All the die hard club members got together on another cold and wet Thursday evening to talk about small trees. Hopefully the cold weather is behind us now!

The first talk of the evening was by Jan-Jurie Loots and DJ Visser who spoke about Bonsai First Aid. In their opinion a bonsai generally develops problems when there is a lack of observation, knowledge, experience and care. Sometimes factors beyond our control can cause a problem. In other words a bonsai maintained and grown in the right manner should not require first aid. In order for a bonsai to grow optimally it needs good soil, sufficient light and the correct amount of water. Possible problems requiring first aid could include, insect infestation, viruses, tip die back, a broken pot, root rotting or fungus.

They divide possible problems into three, natural, human and unforeseen. Natural factors include temperature, light, wind, insects and frost. Human factors can be avoided if proper repotting is practised, frequent watering is done and regular fertilizing followed. When unforeseen factors occur it is best to go to a specialist grower or immediately determine the possible cause, and hope for the best. Situations like these can cause severe problems e.g. Like using a contact or systemic herbicide on bonsai or trees in the soil. Other remedies to doctor an ailing bonsai will include Suprthrive, Alliette, Rose care, Wiltproof, shade or and in rare occasions an emergency repot.

Risk reducing pointers include getting into the right routine, practising discipline, and dedication.

So in other words a healthy tree is less likely to need first aid.

Next up was Francois Voges discussing some guidelines in creating a forest. Francois suggests when creating a forest that it is good to use the idea of a family when placing your trees in the pot. Start by placing the largest or father tree, then the mother tree or second largest close and behind the father, and placing the other trees around these main trees. Make sure you leave enough space between your trees, to ensure sunlight to penetrate. Ensure all tree trunks are visible. When placing the trees in the pot make sure they are where you want them as it will be hard to move them later on. When choosing the right specie for a forest, pick something with a slow growing root system. Always place your bigger trees in the front and smaller trees at the back, this creates better depth perspective. Francois brought with a very interesting Maple forest which has a very three dimensional look to it, caused by the placement of the trees.

Last speaker of the evening was Trevor Venables and he spoke about the '100 Day Countdown to our year end Kirstenbosch show' and preparing your tree for a show. Things to prepare are your tree, your pot, ground cover and a stand for your pot. You are able to select a large variety of species for the show as it is held in summer. So firstly select the tree you want to show. Start by doing wiring, and make sure you get no wire bite. Wire is allowed at shows as long as it is not obtrusive. Now is a good time to trim and prune your tree. You should fertilise your tree three times weekly up to three weeks before the show. If you need to repot your tree you need to do it now. Make sure you repot the correct specie in the correct season. You should not repot less than two months before the show. But sometimes you could get away with a late repot, just be careful. Remove weeds regularly as it is a continued battle. Make sure all pests and fungi are regularly checked for and removed. Try to have a balance between your pot and tree, asses positioning and negative spaces. Start introducing some ground cover, moss works well, and should be trimmed. When you have chosen your stand oil it.

The last three days before the show is the time when everything should be ready. Spray your tree with pesticide. Trim it one last time. This is the time to oil your pot. Woodoc or any oil works well. Trevor uses Ludwig's, an organic pesticide that repels, kills and gives his tree a shine. Some people use Wiltproof.

The warm weather is here to stay, I hope everyone enjoys the coming months as it brings with it the joys of working outside on our trees again. Until we meet again.


Club Meeting June 2013

by Pieter Loots

In this cold month of June we had quite an eventful club meeting with some very interesting talks.

The evening was started off with Vicky. She gave a talk on a root graft progression of a maple which she dug out at the wine farm Boschendal. The tree had great taper on the top part, so she air layered it. The next step was to grow some roots. She attached young cuttings of the same plant at an angle of the large maple. The cuttings were less than one year old. She removed some of the bark of the cutting and the mother tree. Then she screws the cutting on being careful not to injure the cutting. Two years after the young cuttings were attached, she cut off the top part, and her roots are ready to fatten up.

Then Terry Erasmus gave us a talk on growing Nebari which is the Japanese word for roots. Nebari provides the appearance of maturity. We normally use nature as a reference. The best time to work on roots is when we repot. Things to try and avoid when growing roots are some of the following:

  • When there are no surface roots
  • Roots on only one side
  • Coiled or exposed roots
  • Roots at different heights
  • Heavy surface roots – rather divide large roots
  • Roots with sharp angles – roots should be straight

One method of creating better nebari is ground layering, which is the method Vicky used. It is important to make the cut where you will attach the young plant at least the thickness of the trunk, preferably thicker. Also using fast draining soil helps with growing good roots. It will also be better to use a young plant that is growing at a slight angle. You could also grow quality nebari by growing your trees in an open field, and then placing the plant on top of a tile or any flat surface, thus forcing the tree to grow lateral roots. The tree is placed on top of the flat surface; a little soil is placed on top of the roots. And the roots are then forced to grow over the surface into the soil; you achieve extra growth using this method.

Our next topic was treatment and care of Yamadori (a tree collected in nature) by Hennie Nel. The following are steps to follow after you have dug out your tree. Make sure you remove all surplus branches and roots, also removing dead roots, spray with Wiltpruf and water on roots and foliage and then wrap for protection. Make sure you cover up the dig hole and remove any debris.

Once you arrive home leave the tree in water for one to two days in a Superthrive solution. After this is done cut any surplus branches, and make sure you cut them at a 45 degree angle, and then seal the cuts. Also seal any cuts on the roots. Cut the base to fit into future pot, doing this now will save time and effort in later years. Plant your tree in the largest container possible to encourage growth. Make sure you use a fast draining soil; Hennie uses a gravel, course sand and compost mix. Secure your tree in the pot and use the soil mixture of choice. Once planted place tree in a warm but protected area. Make sure you water the tree properly, you don not want any dry pockets. Once finished, leave the tree to grow for at least 2 years.

Finally we had Rudi Adam finish off the evening with a demo on Maples, a few points Rudy raised, was to look at a tree in different seasons before choosing it as bonsai material. You want to choose stock that has not only beautiful colours in spring and summer but also beautiful reds in autumns. Something to note is that all Chinese Maples have different size leaves. When choosing plants for multiple plantings make sure they come from the same stock. It is advised to shape trees when they are young.

There was a call out for anyone interested in helping with the Africa Bonsai Convention, they urgently need volunteers and also people to help with administration and communication, if anyone wants to get involved please contact Peter Bruyns.

We once again had a raffle, R10 bought a ticket and there were some very nice tools up for grabs. Better luck next time for me.

Thank you everyone for attending, and bringing your trees with, make sure to bring even more next time! Thank you also for all the speakers, we look forward to hear and learn more from you again soon. See you next month.

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Club Meeting July 2013

by Pieter Loots

Even though it was cold and rainy we still had many people attending our monthly club meeting.

We had some interesting talks this month; the first was by Peter Bruyns talking to us about one of his trees and its history. It was a Juniper which he initially trained into a windswept style. He says the tree was inspired by Robert Stevens at the Africa Bonsai Convention. Peter had some excellent photos showing the progression of the tree, he also used photo editing software to see other design and style options, including trying various pots, also included was making a pot from moulded chicken wire, with the idea to plaster it and to create a cracked round pot look, which he did not finish. The tree took on a cascade effect which he liked and decided to go with. He finally created a pot from a large piece of polystyrene which he moulded and then covered with a fibreglass mat finish and planted his tree in it. The end product is quite interesting and unique. When asked what he would do differently if he had to do it again, Peter said he would add some dust to his mat finish to create more texture to his pot, and he would take his time when applying the mat to avoid an uneven finish.

Next we had Amith Ramballie who spoke about plant propagation and building your own cold frame. Plant propagation consists of a few propagation techniques, these include growing from seed, making cuttings, layering and grafting are some of the most commonly used. When using seeds always make sure your seeds are viable. Also remember plants from seeds might not always look the same as the mother plant as cross pollination do occur. When germinating your seeds make sure you give them the optimum conditions, a little moisture, the right temperature, some light and oxygen. Make sure your equipment is sterile and your pot has ample drainage. Sow your seeds in a sterile growing medium and cover with a plastic bag or dome to ensure sufficient moisture. Spraying with a fungicide could also be useful. When making cuttings use sterile tools when cutting from the mother plant. It is normally useful to soak your new cuttings for a day or two in a water and Superthrive solution to ensure a higher success rate. Then dip your cuttings in a rooting hormone and put them into the growing medium. Keep out of direct sunlight at first then slowly introduce them into the sun once you know they are rooted. Amith also mentioned honey can be used as a rooting solution.

Another propagation technique is layering. Amith discussed three different types of layering. Air layering is something we are all familiar with. It is useful when you have a nice branch or apex on a large tree and you would like to train it as a bonsai. By removing some of the bark and then covering with rooting hormone, and peat moss or coco peat, even soil could work. And then covering the growing medium with a plastic bag or in some cases even a pot cut in half. Make sure the growing medium is moist and ensure it stays that way constantly. Hopefully after a few months you would have root growth and you can cut off the branch and plant it in a pot. Simple layering is another method of layering, in this method you take an already growing branch from a tree, scrape some of its bark off and apply a little rooting hormone, then you put that piece of the branch under some soil ensuring you have some of the branch sticking out on the other end. You can attach the branch with a wire of a v-shaped stick to secure it in the soil. When it takes root cut it off from the mother plant. Compound layering is similar to simple layering but you loop the branch more times into the soil to create more cuttings. Amith also discussed various methods of grafting. Whip graft, cleft, veneer and side grafts are but a few of them.

Next Amith told us a little about cold frames and about one he has built. Cold frames are used because they create a nice micro climate for plants to keep warm in during those cold winter months. We can also use it to germinate our seeds and grow cuttings in. It can be built using cheap materials, or if you want to you could buy an expensive green house, depending on your needs. Amith built a cold frame from PVC pipes. His biggest problem was the wind.

Terry Erasmus spoke about his apprenticeship at Aichi-en bonsai nursery in Nagoya, Japan. It was his second visit to the country. Peter Tea was also an apprentice at this nursery. Terry's day started at six thirty in the morning with breakfast and various tasks around the nursery, and lunch at twelve thirty. Watering was not a job given to a new apprentice (just shows you how important the task of watering is!). Work went on until late at night. Some interesting points Terry raised about bonsai nurseries in Japan was that more and more are closing down. One of the main reasons is a fifty percent inheritance tax, so keeping property you inherited is quite expensive. Japanese pot makers are dwindling and the Japanese are mostly importing their pots from China. Most bonsai nurseries buy in complete trees which they then style, refine and resell. Growing trees from young is not a luxury that can be afforded because of space restrictions.

Terry also had the opportunity to work on some trees. He did wiring and styling on trees which in turn was monitored but a more senior apprentice and then finally the owner of the nursery did the final adjustments. Some of the things he learnt included using a gasket sealant as a tree sealant and using rapeseed as a fertilizer. When working with pines Terry said they should be de-candled in the beginning of summer (although this does not count for white pines). When working on pines needle picking is used and up to five needles is left when doing so, it is done with the hand. Pine needles are almost never cut with a tool, only when really necessary before a show. Terry also learnt a good way of securing copper wire to a drainage hole when you need to bend a branch. Another tip when fine ramification is needed on a tree is to use a dense soil mixture, feed it less and water the minimum required amount.

A bonsai apprenticeship would usually last 5 years in Japan, at which stage a certificate of completion would be awarded to the student. It is also possible to do short courses, a typical two week stay could cost you around sixteen thousand rand. Be prepared to eat a lot of tofu! I am sure Terry learnt a great deal in Japan and we will hear more about his trip in the future and share more of this knowledge.

Sounds like I have a lot to learn still. Back to pruning maples, and reading my International Bonsai magazines. Until next month!

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Club Meeting May 2013

by Pieter Loots

The meeting was opened by club president Terry Erasmus. He welcomed two new members and also made apologies for those not being able to attend. And if you are interested in helping with the organizing of the upcoming SABA bonsai convention held in October please get in contact with the appropriate people.

He also raised a strong voice to all club members to get more active in club meetings, bringing more trees, give talks even if just a short one.

Next we had Jan-Jurie Loots who gave an informative talk on caterpillars.

Carl Morrow then gave a talk on bending branches, or trees. He brought a large black pine to work on and showed us how he goes about bending the trunk of a tree. He drilled two holes in the trunk, and then attached a thin wire; you can also use cable ties. Then he connected turn buckles to the wire and turned them until he achieved the desired bend. You can also use the turn buckle to push branches away from each other. If you still need to bend the trunk more you could cut out a wedge from the trunk or branch, and use the wedge to bend it more, just make sure the specie is suited for this. Instead of drilling holes you can also use brass screws to anchor wire and then attach it to the turn buckle. Carl used aluminum wire but noted galvanized wire would work best.

We had another lucky draw this week, with one root over rock fig, one olive group planting and one pot, congratulations to the winners.

The last speaker of the evening was Dorothy Franz talking about Penjing. The term penjing refers to a single tree or more in a landscape; it could also be a rock in water with plants. It usually has small figurines like boats, bridges or people. Most penjing convey a feeling. They portray nature or a struggle for survival. They depict rivers, landscapes or even stone forests. Penjing originates in China.

To start a penjing you need to decide which scene you would like to portray. Most penjing pots are shallow and contain water. Trees need to be small with a flat root system. If you are using rocks they should be natural in appearance, and you could cement or wire them onto the pot. Normal bonsai soil is used. And some moss or small rocks and figurines to add the finishing touch.

The following combos can be chosen from,

  • a rock in water, two rocks,
  • more than two rocks or
  • a mountain style, also
  • a rock with a tree and water,
  • a creek where trees and rocks flank the water or
  • a coastal scene.

On the note of penjing I would like to quote master Masahiko Kimura,

"Every country should see bonsai differently, since bonsai is something that can be easily linked to one's own culture. So, I would like to see each country develop its own style and people express their own feelings about nature. It would be exciting to me if I saw something new to look at."

In the spirit of this master I urge all growers to come up with a uniquely South African penjing.

Thank you to all, see you next month.

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Tenderly, lovingly

raking up dead leaves

in his Bonsai forest

Random Bonsai Tip

When you have too thin trunks, you could twist two or three saplings together, fasten them together with wire and allow them time to fuse; or graft two trunks together.