Article 18 – ‘Adjustable bonsai clamps update’

In the article ‘How to make adjustable bonsai clamps’ information was given on their construction, since then those particular clamps have been put to use. (Shown in recently posted images) Now new stock has been acquired more clamps are needed, but before production takes place a thought occurred of how to improve their versatility bearing in mind the variety of the stock.

The original clamps are able to incorporate different bends in a trunk or branch, but what if more acute angles could be achieved. This would mean designing a new pressure plate in order to be able to move the ‘hooks’ closer or further away from the centre threaded bar, hence the plate would have to be larger than before. At this point the ‘weight’ factor of the finished clamp would be a concern especially if use on trees whose trunks and branches are rather delicate.

The original steel pressure plate no 5 shown in the image below has been replaced by an aluminium plate (300mm wide x 4mm thickness) but all the other components were kept because they are interchangeable.


Two different pressure plate sizes were made at 10cm and 12cm, the 10cm plate has 4 holes for the hooks to be inserted 2 on either side and the 12cm plate has 6 hook holes 3 on each side. (Shown below)


This hole arrangement allows for the hooks to be positioned closer or further away from the centre as needed. Of course one can dispense with a series of holes and cut a slot as marked out below that would allow for further hook adjustment, which is found in some clamp designs. Although the new pressure plates are bigger in size, the weight factor is minimal compared to the original steel design.


In addition to the ‘new’ pressure plates, a variety of hooks with different size apertures were made to accommodate various trunk or branch thicknesses as shown in the next image – Red small yellow large.


Of course one may argue that bending trunks or branches can be achieved by using heavy grade wire but, there are factors where wire alone is unable to do this for example. The thickness of the branch or trunk in question, wire capabilities, how long can the wire be left in place before it leaves scar marks and has to be removed and does the area in particular need to be rewired. The clamp does have advantages over wire especially on thick trunks and branches because, it can be left in place for long periods doing little harm to the xylem. Which is the vascular tissue in plants that conducts water and dissolved nutrients upwards from the roots and also helps to form the woody element in the stem. Nevertheless, wire is preferable when shaping thinner trunks and branches in order to define a tree’s design but, a ‘home-made’ clamp or two in the tool box can be considered a bonus. Until next time – BW, N.

Article 17 – ‘New Material For Bonsai Part II’

In a recent trip to the southern part of Finland much time was spent exploring the ditches of forest roads and tracks. The ditches have to be maintained to allow for water run off and snow placed there by the ploughs. These ditches were abundant with small trees both deciduous and coniferous and had been cut by machinery, but had survived. The average height of the trees is approximately 30cm with many having potential as bonsai due to their characteristics; deformity and compact foliage – a ‘smorgasbord’ for any bonsai collector. But my search was for Betula nana (Scrub birch) and Betula pendula (Silver birch) shown below.

Betula nana (Scrub birch)
Betula pendula (Silver birch)

When we look at these two specimens one may say ‘What is there here to get excited about – this is not potential bonsai material’ but, my viewpoint is that one has to look for possibilities that may be there for example. Moreover, such specimens have substantial growth and their characteristics can be developed with further training.

Betula nana is/was a ditch excavating machine’s victim simply discarded. On examination it was found that this specimen still had a good root ball intact, its robust trunk base has the possibility to be divided into 2 or 3 plants. There are 6 healthy young branches that can be used to aid a potential design including the three main trunks although they are badly scarred, which arguably does add character. This plant (2 metres tall) was placed in a box with new soil added, then covered with hessian to act as a barrier against freezing. No pruning has been done as it needs to recover from its ordeal.

Betula pendula was also a casualty from machinery onslaught, that had caused severe splitting at the apex, which had to be bound with tape to prevent attack from disease and frost. As was the damaged lower branch as shown below.


This specimen was rescued not just for the movement in its trunk, but because there are several nodes still able to produce new shoots in the coming spring. This plant was given the same treatment as Betula nana.

Some may argue ‘why go to all this bother when there are many bonsai available on the market’ and yes you have a valid point of view. But purchasing bonsai costs money, a tree with an average age of 8 to 10 years can cost anywhere from 60 to 150 euros even more depending on the species. Furthermore, one does not know if there are any hidden infectious problems that may arise, be it from your environment or that from whence it came. In addition, do you have the knowledge to care for it or them? Obtaining specimens either from seed or from other sources does have much the same risks, but plant research and caring for them is a learning curve broadening your experience as a horticulturist furthermore, they are free.

Another specimen rescued from the scrap heap is this ‘Cherry’ or Prunus. There was no information as to its actual order, but this will be determined in the spring/summer of 2017 when it begins to produce flowers.


This tree was given the same treatment as the other two specimens described above. Meaning new container, soil and left un-pruned. The trunk had little movement, which has now been corrected by the use of a clamp and wire and the branches have been given their first shaping, but will need further adjustment at a later period.

We now turn to specimens that are unable to survive in cold conditions – these are temperate/tropical and in the next image we see 3 Ficus ginseng that are under full spectrum lighting. The image has been change to monochrome to remove the very strong magenta colour and to give a better definition.


The tree on the left (32cm tall) is approximately 7 years old, which is estimated by the circumference of its trunk. The tree in the centre (42cm tall) is a cutting that was taken from the tree on the left. The cutting about 10cm long was taken in February 2016, placed in a rich soil mixture and planted in a large container to allow for root-run. The cuttings on the right (8cm tall) were taken from the tree in the centre.

The tree on the left and the cuttings on the right of the image do not remain under full spectrum lighting, there are placed under CFL lights (Compact fluorescent light); CFL lighting and its potential is discussed in the article ‘Lighting for Bonsai’. The reason why these same subjects are kept under different conditions is to determine not only the efficiency of full spectrum lighting regarding the growth rate. But to monitor any side effects including disease or fungal problems that may occur. Nonetheless, when we compare the 7 year old tree against the ‘yearling’ (Tree in the centre) we see a big difference in such a short space of time and Ficus ginseng can be quite prolific in its growth if given the right conditions.

The image below courtesy of is a 1000 year old Ficus ginseng that resides at Crespi in Italy.


To conclude this article, a final thought is given. The skills required for every-day life once learned come naturally for example, a carpenter, chef or musician. But for pastimes and hobbies including bonsai, such information can easily be forgotten if not used regularly. Moreover, it is said that as the ageing process catches up with us we tend to forget what we learned recently. To solve this a piece of paper is used to write down what actions were taken when caring for trees in my collection; this is then logged on a computer. These notes are beneficial as they are a record or history of your bonsai’s development that you can refer to at any point. Until next time, BW, N.