April 2009 Newsletter

President’s Message
Quick Branch Development

By Ken Fuentes

 Ken Fuentes

We had a great March meeting and a fantastic demonstration by Kathy Benson, who restyled an old San Jose Juniper that had some very thick, poorly placed branches. She also shared a technique that has shown promise in healing large scars. This idea couldn’t have come at a better time for me because I have several trees on which I am going to be removing large branches. This is a great time to develop branch structuring by pinching and pruning. A diligent investment in this area will pay great rewards in quick branch development. This process helps develop branch structuring on growth that is still too tender to wire. You can plan your branches and when they have hardened off you can carefully refine the movement of the branch with wire.

If you have sacrificial branches that are growing too strong and the main tree is not developing vigorously, begin by pulling all leaves and buds off the sacrificial branches. If after a few days you do not see the main tree gaining strength, cut a few inches from the sacrificial branches and every few days if there is no visible improvement continue to take a few more inches off until the main tree begins to grow vigorously. I am planning to bring in a few examples of the above mentioned techniques to share.

Ted Matson is scheduled to be our demonstrator for the April meeting, so I look forward to seeing all of you in attendance.

Club Progrms
Matson To Work on Boxwood

By David E. Whiteside

Ted Matson, our April meeting guest speaker / demonstrator, will be working on a mature, single trunk boxwood (see photo, right).

Ted is one of the best-known and sought-after bonsai professionals in California with a fast-growing reputation nationwide. He is dedicated to teaching bonsai and has an extensive knowledge of horticulture. One of his specialties is carving deadwood, and this box has potential for that. But whether he carves or not, this is a not-to-miss demonstration.

Club Progrms
Benson Gives Two Trees Major Restyling

By David E. Whiteside

At the Conejo Valley Bonsai Society’s March 2009 meeting, demonstrator Kathy Benson treated attendees to two major makeovers of challenging material: a twisting pomegranate and a San Jose juniper. Adding to the fun, both trees have a CVBS history.

Starting with the twisting pomegranate (Punica granatum), which Kathy had worked on in a prior CVBS demonstration, she explained that over time she had become dissatisfied with the original styling. While the base and trunk have good taper and an appealing, curving line, the overall effect was not pleasing and the top seemed to her to be the problem.

remove the old top and restyle the pomegranate into a bunjin like style with soft, swirling curves.

One possibility would be to air layer the top for a separate tree, but Kathy explained she didn’t want to wait to get the new style started the air layer couldn’t be removed until September. So instead, she simply removed the top and divided it into small cuttings for club members to take home and root.

The top of the twisted pomegranate has to go. With the major surgery done, Kathy works on some old wounds that need help healing. A stub of the old top was retained to anchor a guy wire that will bend the new top into position. To promote healing, some bonsai pros are experimenting with moist bandages. All photographs for this article by Verna Murrell.

Kathy Benson started her bonsai practice while living on the East Coast, and during that time was largely self-taught. She confesses that because the books she read said to use copper wire, she simply went to hardware stores and bought un-annealed copper wire. It wasn’t until two or three years later when she moved to California in 1975 that she connected with the bonsai community and learned about the annealed copper wire that’s commonly used on bonsai. While pomegranates are fast growers, they are slow to heal wounds where branches have been removed, Kathy explained. She suggested several things to deal with this issue:

• Most of the healing takes place in the summer, so major branch removal can be timed to take advantage of this.

• Smooth scars tend to heal over better than rough ones—on this pomegranate Kathy scraped the old scars with a knife to remove some of the roughness but she also uses sandpaper.

• Fresh cambium cells produce most of the new bark that covers a wound, so she scrapes the edges to reveal the green, and then covers it quickly with cut paste to prevent the newly exposed cells from oxidizing and keep them moist.

• Some bonsai professionals are experimenting with ways to keep wounds moist on the hypothesis that this encourages more rapid and complete healing. For example, Northern California bonsai master Kathy Shaner has developed a technique of covering wounds with cloth bandages over the cut paste and then keeping the bandage moist. Benson learned this technique in a recent Shaner seminar and is trying it for the first time on this pomegranate, making it look a bit like a wounded war veteran. Proponents of this method claim it works even on old wounds (after scraping the edges down to the cambium). At least one bonsai professional is known to be experimenting with seaweed extract on refreshed wound edges to speed healing.

• On old wounds, Kathy suggests cleaning out old deadwood in the center, refreshing the edges, covering immediately with cut paste, and then trying the moist-bandage technique. Asked about fertilizing methods, Kathy said that she uses an organic, slow-release 5 -5-5 fertilizer from February through November. (She uses one sold under the “Dr. Earth” brand.) Because it takes about a month for the nutrients from this type of fertilizer to become available to the tree, Kathy pointed out that it has to be applied a month earlier than when you actually want the nutrition to start—in February, say, so that the tree gets the added nutrients starting in March.

At this point, Kathy set the pomegranate aside and turned to the San Jose juniper (Juniperus chinensis var. ‘San Jose’), which has an even deeper connection to the CVBS: the club gave it to her as a thank you for an earlier demonstration. And this tree also has some good qualities: a good base and nice trunk.

This San Jose juniper has a nice base and trunk, but poor branching. CVBS members study the juniper to decide whether it should become a semi-cascade or windswept—windswept won. Kathy Benson converts all the stubs left from removed branches into Jin. And the end product is a pretty dramatic windswept.

But there are some problems. First, after she originally took the tree home, Kathy moved it into a larger pot and pruned it to open up the canopy hoping for fresh growth inside; that has not happened. Second, as Kathy delicately put it, the San Jose has “lousy branches in the wrong places.” After some study, Kathy said, she had come up with two possible styles that would overcome these weaknesses: either a semi-cascade or a windswept. She invited attendees to come up and study the tree and then vote on which solution to try. The club voted for the windswept style.


In short order, Kathy:

• Removed all the branches on one side (leaving stubs)

• Took out the middle of three branches vying for the No. 1 position it was too thick and straight while the others were thinner and have some movement.

• Jinned all the limb stumps—which she lets dry out for a month or two before applying lime sulfur On the windward side of the tree, Kathy said she plans to do a Shari but with the removal of all the branches on that side the juniper will start that process naturally. Over time, she explained, indentations in the bark will appear where there is no longer a demand for water and nutrients to travel up the xylem. (Xylem is the layer of bark that carries water and nutrients up to the foliage, where it is converted into food that then flows back down another layer of bark, the phloem.) In the end, the San Jose juniper may not be a show-stopper, but the new style certainly is an improvement and the tree now has some real potential.

More Photographs from Bonsai-A-Thon XIII

By David E. Whiteside

If you’re like me, you cannot get enough of the Huntington Garden’s new bonsai court and Chinese garden. Here, courtesy of the Descanso Bonsai Society, are some more photographs taken during the tour conducted during Bonsai-A-Thon XIII. In the first photo below, taken outside the main entrance to the Chinese garden, gardens director Jim Folsom addresses about 100 people who joined the tour on Saturday. The rest of the photos are of the new bonsai court. — David E. Whiteside


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