Wiring practices (part 2 A)



Wiring practices is an important subject that requires detailed explanation to make the message clear and precise and considering the amount of pages required, (10-12) which in reality is too long for a single post, (5 pages max) it will be divided into 2 sections A & B. apologies for any disappointment caused, but it is imperative that what is written covers the topic thoroughly especially for the beginner.

In part 1. a discussion was held on climate zones and the temperatures that effect the fauna endemic to those regions in addition, shrubs or trees from warmer climes can be cultivated in colder regions providing they are kept in warm temperatures during the winter months. Also discussed was the difference between softwood (conifers) and hardwood (deciduous) and how their cellular structure differs in the amount of flexibility within a particular species; Scots pine Pinus sylvestris a conifer very pliable and a Japanese maple Acer palmatum extremely rigid.

Bending or pre-stressing

Continuing on from part 1., a tree pre-stresses its trunk and branches quite naturally as it has to combat the forces of nature, more than 90% of a tree’s cells are long thin- walled tubes closely packed together, arranged along the direction of the trunk or branch.

Their function is to transport the nutrients and water from the leaves (Phloem) and roots (Sapwood) respectively. They also provide support because, no matter which way a trunk or branch is bent, the internal forces always act parallel to the cells and are able to adapt to tension and compression. In addition, because the cells are hollow, the tree’s trunk and branches can be thicker as opposed to it being a solid mass.


However, when bending the cellular structure of the xylem becomes disrupted meaning the outer radius of the bend will be in tension whilst the inner radius is held in compression. With conifers this is not so much of a problem but with deciduous, the chances are that the branch will either snap at the weakest point or actually break away from the trunk if not supported.

In addition, if a bend is too severe, the cortex may splinter or break resulting in damage to the phloem and a damaged phloem is not just open to attack from Lepidoptera and Fungi, it can disrupt the movement of nutrients. Therefore any bending should be done in stages to eradicate such problems and this can take several growing seasons depending on the species.

Another point worth considering when shaping a tree, is the container in which it is kept. Applying minor bends to a tree in a pot is not too much of a problem as the root ball should stay undisrupted if wired in. But for heavy or serious bends the tree should be moved to a wooden box and wired down for stability. If one recalls the Scots pine image shown in part 1. one denotes that the container is a wooden box and the advantage of using a wooden box is that any supporting guy wires are easily attached, which is not really feasible if using a clay or plastic container.

Bending thicker branches requires a more careful approach due to the amount of tension being created to the outside radius. To create such a bend the following method usually suffices.

      1. wet raffia is tightly wrapped around the bending section making sure the area either side of it is also protected

      2. tape a length of heavy gauge wire to what will become the outer radius of the bend to protect the bark, cortex and phloem from splitting

      3. wrap the entire area in rubber tape

      4. select the correct gauge of wire and apply it to the proposed bending area

      5. carefully bend the limb or branch into position and use guy wire if necessary

Often when bending thick branches some practitioners resort to other methods when wire alone is insufficient to hold the desired shape. These include Heat – using a heat gun or gas burner to soften the cellular structure on the intended area. Splitting – cutting the branch in two halves and reducing the heart wood, these are then joined together and the bend is made. Channeling or grooving – cutting a groove or channel into the branch to remove the heart wood, thus resistance is reduced allowing the branch to be shaped. Such methods should only be carried out by professionals because such surgical practice requires much after care to maintain the tree’s health and eradicate potential disease.

Another simpler method when bending branches is the ‘V’ notching technique as shown below: Small angle cuts A, B & C an inverted ‘V’ are made in the branch into the heart wood but not beyond, these ‘V’s cuts are then closed as the branch is bent down using guy wires attached to the container preferably wooden.

V nothing technique
However, this practice does require some thought prior to undertaking because, any wounds not closed completely will have difficulty in healing, which can cause the disruption of nutrients and moisture not only to the wound, but to other areas moreover, wounds are susceptible to attack from disease. But some disagree, it is said that a conifer’s natural defence system will heal the wounds via it’s resin or sap and there is a logical argument here. Trees do have the ability to heal wounds and some species are more resilient than others nevertheless, it only takes one pathogen carrying insect or fungal spore to infest a wound.

How then do we protect such wounds? With the more intense methods mentioned above, cut pastes and various elastic and rubber tapes are available to facilitate repair. With ‘V’ notching the same can be used but most horticulturalists simply apply ‘vaseline’ (petroleum jelly) to the wounded area.

Wiring conifers

Generally speaking these are relatively slow growing often with rough bark and can be wired and left for a considerable length of time 3 to 5 years or more depending on the species and any wire marks are hardly visible. But there are conifers with smoother bark for example, common juniper, juniperus communis noble fir, Abies procera and larch Larix spp. Thus, it pays to be vigilant and check any wire applications periodically especially with young trees and those with smooth bark. Another important factor when wiring conifers is to avoid trapping the needles because not only is it unsightly it prohibits them from functioning properly.

Wiring deciduous

Deciduous varieties (although some have rough bark oak Quercus spp. willow Salix spp. and black poplar Populus nigra) most have relatively smooth bark and any wire applied if not checked will cause unsightly indentations that are difficult to eradicate, hence the specimen becomes useless as a bonsai due to its ugly appearance; so why does this happen to deciduous species and not so much to conifers?

A conifer being ‘evergreen’ slows down its activity in the colder months but still needs to transport moisture to the leaves (needles) for without it they would wither and die, thus a conifer does not become dormant in the true sense of the word and when spring arrives normal activity is resumed.

Deciduous in autumn shed their leaves, hence there is little need to pump quantities of moisture, thus the tree slows down and dormancy begins. In spring new activity commences with a growth surge referred to as ‘sap-rising’, as regeneration of new foliage and growth is the plant’s main focus. Therefore, deciduous trees should not be wired during ‘sap-rising’ and any wire applied the previous autumn must be removed.

When then can wiring begin?

The general consensus is that conifers can be wired after the growth surge from midsummer to early autumn as most new growth will have been made which may require wiring to retain potential shape. Any damage or slight mishaps made during this time will heal more quickly as the plant is getting ready for the coming colder period.

Deciduous species should be wired into shape during the late autumn when the tree has shed its leaves and the potential design is more visible as this period allows the branches to set. However, they can be wired during the summer months but, any wiring must be checked on a regular basis to avoid indentation.

Wiring saplings grown from seeds

Arguably for the novice one of the easiest plants to grow from seed as potential bonsai apart from Citrus spp. lemon, orange and lime is the pomegranate Punica granatum. Pomegranate seeds do not require stratification and can be sown straight from the fruit, providing any pulp residue has been removed to avoid the threat of fungal pathogens.

After 4 to 6 weeks they will sprout depending on cultivation conditions and after the cotyledon (embryonic leaves) have matured the plant produces pairs of leaves at intervals that are opposite, glossy, narrow and oblong and once large enough to handle, they can be transplanted into 14cm diameter pots, a size needed due to vigorous root growth.

Once the plant reaches 12 to 15cm in height the stem starts to lignify (become woody) at the base, but is still ‘green’ towards the top and it is at this stage the plant can be wired. For a tree of this size, you will need approximately a 40cm length of 1mm diameter aluminium wire. Thread wire the up from the base of the pot staying close to the stem and put a bend or tag in the wire on the pots underside to stop it from moving as shown below.

Gently wind the wire up the stem using loose wider coils, if the wire is too tight indentations will appear quite quickly (within 2 -3 weeks) and will have to be removed. As the diagram shows the wire protrudes higher than the plant’s apex, do not cut the wire because as the plant grows the extra length can be used for continued wiring as opposed to using a second piece of wire. Once the plant has attained the desired height and the shape has set, the top of the leading stem can be removed and the wire cut accordingly.
Wiring a sapling

Young pomegranate saplings are quite delicate in their first few months of growth, thus care must be taken when manipulating them. Hence it might be prudent to draw a quick sketch of the intended shape or design and then apply just one set of bends as opposed to continuously bending the plant. Wiring very young trees or shrubs can be considered as a useful addition to one’s learning curve, because it is a stepping stone to more mature trees, nevertheless one has to be careful with relatively ‘green’ material.

The image below depicts a pomegranate an example of what can be attained in a short space of time 3 years, with the basic shape achieved within the first year. Obviously the tree requires further work before it can become a potential bonsai. So until next time when we continue with ‘part B’, BW, N.




Wiring practices (part I)


Learned bonsai practitioners have their own approach to wiring and regardless of the implementation, it will conform to the ascetics of bonsai. But for the beginner wiring trees can be discerning due to the mistakes often made – errors that are difficult to rectify, thus questions continue to arise.

Arguably the best way to educate those new to the art is via actual wiring demonstrations, but this is not always possible especially if a bonsai workshop where one can attend is not in your area. Hence, they resort to online research to find the required information, which in many cases is not comprehensive in its entirety.

This web site (taigabonzai.com) does contain articles on this subject for example, (‘Styling, Wiring and Pruning’ posted March 20th 2016) and (‘The problems with bending or shaping’ posted January 2nd 2017). Nevertheless, those new to this ‘living art’ have yet to conduct adequate research to find the answers they are seeking. In truth, there is a wealth of information available in text form and in audio visual, it just takes time to read or view.

Arguably, part of the problem is that the beginner eager to get started fails to comprehend the needs of a particular specimen. This article (in three parts) will give a more in depth explanation on the problems when wiring, but first in order to know where we are going we have to know from whence we came; understanding basic horticulture and arboriculture.

Climate variation

The first factor we should consider are climate zones as these have great bearing on how plants react to changes in temperature for example, Northern Europe (Scandinavia). Here temperatures vary from −6°c to −30°c during December, January and February although in recent years they have risen to an average of −6°c to −15°c due to climate change. Summers can be from +10°c to +30°c thus, the range is quite extensive and all endemic flora are adaptable to these changes. This consensus would apply to countries found in the southern hemisphere; New Zealand and Argentina.

Europe (Oceanic) is milder due to the Gulf Steam’s influence making it milder and wetter in comparison to other areas of the same latitude around the world. Winters are milder and summers are cooler with temperatures ranging from 0ºc to +8°c and +22ºc to +24°c respectively and most flora can withstand the variation. But there are instances where extremes to weather patterns abound; the most damaging is sudden severe frost.

In the Mediterranean region (a temperate zone) generally speaking, temperatures average from 3ºc to 13ºc in the coldest months to 20ºc to 25ºc in the warmer months. But as stated the worlds climate is changing, thus the temperatures given for the 3 climate zones are only an approximation. Nonetheless, in the Mediterranean flora is not subjected to extreme variations hence, many species retain their foliage throughout the seasons.

Common species endemic to this region and used in bonsai include, Citrus sp. (Orange & Lemon), Punica granatum (Pomegranate), Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair tree) and varieties of Ficus. These species if kept in colder climes can be placed outside during the summer months (June, July & August) but, are returned to warm environments during the colder months.

However, it should be noted that these species can lose their foliage once returned to an indoor environment, the reason for this phenomenon is the change from an outdoor temperature fluctuation to one that is constant, but they do re-foliate in 2 to 3 weeks.

Researching your tree or shrub’s attributes and well being is important regardless if taken from the wild, store bought, cultivated from a cutting, grafted or from seed, it pays to gain the knowledge. Because this basic information is the learning curve for the further development of your potential specimen/s.

Tree species

The second factor is the type of tree coniferous or deciduous the former an ‘evergreen’ with permanent foliage and the latter a deciduous a broad flat leaf tree that sheds it’s leaves in autumn, hence the two distinct forms. But there are a few exceptions to this rule where a species can be both coniferous and deciduous for example, the larch and tamarack Larix spp. and the pond cypress Taxodium ascend which do have cones and needles but shed them each year and these are known as deciduous conifers.

Both coniferous and deciduous trees can be defined either as softwood or hardwood, softwoods (coniferous) cedar, cypress, juniper, larch, kauri, pine, spruce and yew have extreme flexibility and are predominantly used in construction. Whereas hardwood (deciduous) apple, beech, cumaru, hickory, maple, oak, teak and walnut have dense cellular structures hence they are less flexible. These hardwoods have many uses including furniture, axe handles, butcher’s blocks and decking for boats.

Conifers can be shaped relatively easily for example, a Scots pine Pinus sylvestris having a 3cm trunk can be gradually coxed into a desired position. However, the wiring used be they guy wires or that which is applied to the appropriate section must stay in place for some considerable time (3 years or more) to allow the tree to conform to its new shape as shown below.

wiring practices 1. pine

Deciduous can be problematic for example, a Japanese maple with a 1cm trunk will more than likely break because of it’s dense cellular structure, hence hardwood species are normally wired into some form of design in their first year of growth and as soon as the plant conforms to the new shape, which can happen in a short space of time (3 to 6 weeks) the wire is then removed.

The image below is the remains of a Japanese maple used for air-layering, what is left is a reduced stump 1cm diameter (white arrow) and a branch on the left (yellow arrow) which has been loosely wired to create movement and will become the new trunk. The gauge of wire is 2mm with the branch being the same in diameter, using a heavier gauge wire has 2 purposes, (a) it does not create indentations in the bark and (b) it can be left on for a longer period. The foliage bottom right is sacrificial but left to grow to allow the trunk to gain girth.

wiring practices 1. maple

In part 2 the discussion will continue with images and explanations on bending and shaping, the various methods used, how to pre-stress a branch or limb and when and how to wire. Until next time, B.W, N.


Full spectrum lighting stand upgrade

Sitting in my plant room with a cup of coffee I realised the new acquisitions (cuttings and air layered plants) would need additional lighting through the dark winter months, but due to the lack of space this was going to be a problem. Looking at the present setup (illustrated below) there is an unused area (Orange circle) that could be utilised if a shelf or rack could be fitted and still allow the light to filter down to the pants below.

This full spectrum lighting set up is adjustable and can be raised or lowered depending on the requirement. Tubes ‘A’ slide up and down inside tubes ‘B’ and are locked into place by the twist clamps ‘C’ in addition, the light fixture can also be raised or lowered as it hangs on adjustable chains.

Lighting stand

Most kitchen units above the sink where the crockery is kept has wire racks but, rather than vandalised mine, the search began for one that would suit my needs. Many were of the wrong size and shape and rather expensive nonetheless, perseverance paid off as one suiting my dimensions was found for very little money. (7€)


The problem is to find a way of fitting a rack without drilling holes in tubes ‘A’ and ‘B’ because, this would destroy their telescopic sliding ability. The first thought was to use pipe clamps but this was rejected because, they are basically loose fitting and over tightening could damage the outer tubes ‘B’. The solution came from a boat suppliers who had hard plastic oarlocks of various sizes with pre-drilled fixing holes (red arrows) including 2.5cm inside diameter which were a good tight fit as the ‘B’ tubes were of the same dimensions.



After the rack had been cut to size scrap aluminium angle left over from a previous project was cut to fit each corner, each was drilled and riveted including a small hole at the top of the upright to take the chain. A piece of flat aluminium bar was then bolted to the angle upright then a further 2 holes were drilled to take the oarlocks as shown below.

Rack fixings

The rack was then fitted to the lighting stand and on its own was able to take weight due to the snug fit, but rather be safe than sorry 4 adjustable chains one at each corner of the rack and looped over the main cross bar for added strength.

Rack chains


Rack and stand

It can be argued that this full spectrum lighting setup (90cm x 45cm) with a footprint of over a metre is quite small and such a perception would be correct, but in a restricted area one has to utilize the space to the best advantage. Another obvious problem is that by placing plants on the shelf the path of light is restricted, the solution is to arrange the plants so all receive equal share of light.

A full spectrum lighting stand can be made from wood, metal or hard plastic (ABS – Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) or adapted from a coat stand as this one was, it just takes a bit of working out the intended space and footprint. If someone has already constructed their own lighting stand, I would be glad to hear your comments. Until next time, BW, N.

Japanese Maple Bargains

Introduction: in most cases writing articles on bonsai normally follows the seasons as it affords those seeking information current for the time of year however, this is not always possible due to heavy work load and other commitments. This article was originally intended for September this year (2018) and is well overdue nonetheless, it may be of use to those residing in temperate zones where the weather remains clement.

For those in northern regions autumn is well and truly upon us and local nurseries or garden centres are selling their stock at reduced prices, hence it is time to hunt for those bargains. (See the article posted August 3rd 2017 Selecting material for bonsai part III)

Many trees and shrubs will show signs of fatigue or damage, but there are specimens that can be had at a good discount and having found many species over the years both coniferous and deciduous including, Picea, Abies, Ginkgo and Cotoneaster. But something different was needed to experiment with over the coming winter months, thus attention was focussed on the Japanese maple.

In July (2018) quite a few varieties of this species were available, but their cost (25 to 30€ each) did not warrant their condition; tall (80cm) straight and leggy, internodes 5cm apart with sun burnt or wind damaged foliage and saturated alkaline soil. Revisiting the store in late August 3 specimens remained and although their price had been reduced to 7€ each, they seemed beyond redemption. Nonetheless, not being one to shy away from an experiment or challenge they were purchased.

After examining the plants for any signs of disease and unwanted pests, they were placed in sheltered location away from direct sun and wind however, due to their overall condition there was no possibility of becoming potential bonsai. Mainly because the trunks and branches had lignified to a point where wiring to shape was impossible without causing severe damage. It can be argued that methods including, grooving, channeling, splitting and V notching exist in creating bends in trees, but with these young maples having trunks 1.5 to 2cm there is insufficient material to accommodate such practises.

Japanese maples are rather delicate unlike their more robust counterparts the trident maple A. buergerianum, ‘sugar maple’ A. saccharum, American ‘sycamore’ A. pseudoplatanus and ‘Norway’ maple A. platanoides, moreover, their root system is quite fragile and prone to attack from pathogens and nematodes hence, many are grafted onto hardy stock for example, A. palmatum.

Looking at these maples (1. Oridono nishiki 2. Orange dream 3. Butterfly) the plan was/is to air-layer them (often referred to as marcotting) and in so doing 3 separate plants could be had from each individual plant; the blue arrow shows one air layering success and red arrows show other air layering in process.

Air layer & graft area

As these maples were grafted onto different stock, all air layering had to be above the grafted area in order for the new root system to develop and in so doing retain leaf colour and variation as shown below.


Basically when we air layer, we are just producing clones of the parent plant and in theory the process works – we get a replica, but there is always the chance of a mismatch hence, the new plant has little resemblance to the parent plant so what has happened? To fully comprehend the scientific process of cloning requires an in depth study, but it can be simplified here for the purposes of this article.

Scientists have been aware for some time that ‘clonal’ organisms known as regenerative are not always identical and some contend why this is the case. In brief the genomes of the cloned plant carry relatively high frequencies of new DNA sequence mutations that are not present in the genome of the parent or donor plant, despite the fact that they are derived from genetically identical founder cells, hence the reason for mismatch.

New growth

The air layering process on the three maple varieties has been completed and the stocks have been cut back hard below the graft and as the above images show; A. palmatum is resilient and recovers quite quickly sprouting new growth. These three plants will be allowed to recover and develop in an indoor environment under full spectrum lighting at room temperature 20c (68F) and watered with an acid solution. (7 litres of tap water with 1 level teaspoon of vinegar to reduce the alkalinity)

Another reason behind the experiment is to find out what varieties these A. palmatum root stocks are, because although (a) the growing mediums of all of these maples is the same and (b) the leaf design and structure are similar there is a difference in the colourisation as can be seen in the above images 2 green and 3 pale pink. The next article also this month will contain an update on ‘Lighting for bonsai’ so until next time, BW, N.

Worlds apart yet still connected

Many years ago, I interviewed an elderly gentleman for an article on preservation and on meeting him, he was busy in his workshop straightening a pile of nails. I enquired as to why he was doing this, his reply was “There are 2 reasons why I do this, a) because the nails can be used again it’s recycling which saves money and b) it keeps my mind active and hands busy.” The old gentleman’s viewpoint has stayed with me ever since and I try to adopt the same directive reusing items for other purposes.

Now to the question: “Is there a connection between a microwave oven and bonsai?”

Probably the first reaction to the question is “What is this person talking about, how can there be a connection, they are worlds apart.” But if you read on you will see that a connection between these two entities does exist.

What is the most used item for styling a tree, it is ‘wire’ – aluminium for deciduous and the more expensive copper for conifers. Such wire is usually imported from the far east via bonsai outlets in the west and sold by gauge (in increments) 1mm to 6mm and weight for example, 50g or 100g packs.

As we are aware wire in various thicknesses is required to create branch bending in order to maintain the desired shape. With small gauge wire (1 to 1.5 mm) there is a substantial amount in one package (50g) that can last a long time, but as the gauge increases the length decreases. Moreover, the initial cost of purchasing a large selection of wire and delivery can be expensive depending on the supplier.

If one is a trader in bonsai or an instructor the cost of wire usage can usually be passed onto the customer or club where workshops take place, but for the novice/student or solo artist offsetting the cost cannot be done. Some of my students whom are extremely enthusiastic are as poor as church mice and denying them access to my wire stock, is a set back in their learning curve; hence a way had be found to accommodate their needs.

The solution came a few weeks ago when my microwave oven decided to retire, it was moved to the workshop in the hope that a repair could be facilitated. But after doing some research the advice given was “do not under any circumstances tamper with a microwave oven”. Because it has (1) a high voltage capacitor which can give very nasty surprises and (2) a magnetron, which has cancer causing beryllium oxide coatings if damaged. Nonetheless, having an inquisitive mind I took the the appliance apart to see how it worked.

HVC and magnetron

Inside the microwave is (3) a transformer with two large coils of reusable wire, which can be either all copper or a mixture of copper and aluminium, depending on the make, model and age.


These transformers are comprised of several heavy steel sections held together by seams that run the length of the transformer indicated by the red arrows, these need to be separated and to do this the tools required are a hammer and bolster or masonry chisel.

Put the transformer on a flat hard surface seam side facing up and break them, the transformer will come apart, tap out the steel sections that go through the coils, then separate the coils and clean them of any unwanted debris.

You now have wire that you can use for bonsai which at most will have cost you 30 minutes from stripping out to wire retrieval. There is other copper wire in a microwave but it is either too thin or braided to be of any use in bonsai. Of course a microwave oven is not the only source for wire, other electrical appliances a washing machine, dishwasher, refrigerator or air conditioner have transformers containing wire coils.

Another wire source is industrial electrical cable often coated in a polymer insulation which has to be removed, achieved either by manually stripping the cables through a jig or burnt off. But the latter causes problems because a) the coating produces smoke which contains halogens, dioxins and carbon monoxide that are hazardous to health. b) The wire has to be cleaned of any burnt residue and if copper, it may need to be re-annealed to make it pliable for use.

The microwave project was undertaken purely reclaim the copper/aluminium wire so that it could be used by my students during bonsai workshops, thus saving money and my own personal stock of wire. If you wish to try dismantling a microwave or other electrical appliance for its wire content, I urge you to err on the side of caution use gloves, face protection and tools that are insulated – be safe not sorry. Until next time, BW, N.

A teaspoon of vinegar part 2.

In the article ‘A teaspoon of vinegar’, a brief discussion focussed on the differences between rain water predominantly acid and what comes out of the household tap; a chemical cocktail and its effect on bonsai trees and shrubs. Hence it might be prudent to have a brief review of the chemicals found in rain and tap water.

RAIN WATER: having a pH range of 5 to 6 contains many types of nutrients and is free of salts and other harmful elements and although it absorbs atmospheric gases, it remains pure until it comes into contact with the soil. Thus, rain water becomes contaminated due to the chemicals and pollutants that are present. The major causes of this phenomena include factories, power plants, automobiles and low-flying military aircraft the latter a significant contributor to the damage of trees.

Such chemicals that include, sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitric oxide (NOx) become acids when they enter the air and react with water vapour. The result is sulphuric acid (H2SO4) and nitric acid (HNO3) which, can alter the pH range making it more acidic – a pH range of 3-4 for example. However, some tree species thrive in acidic conditions, Beech, Dogwood, Willow oak, Magnolia, Azalea, Holly, Birch, Pines and Rhododendrons as their soil conditions from where they originate are predominantly ericaceous. (acidic)

TAP WATER: with a pH range of 6.5 to 8.5 (depending on your particular region) contains various chemicals some thought to be beneficial, but series of tests conducted in recent times have cast doubt on this perspective for example. Fluoride (F) in drinking water began back in the 1940’s to assist in reducing tooth decay, but fluoride is a neurotoxin and endocrine disruptor, able to damage the thyroid gland, calcify the pineal gland and interfere with bone formation. The toxicity of fluoride is quite high and because of the risk to health many countries have banned water fluoridation.

Chlorine (CI): is a strong disinfectant added to drinking water as a purification technique, it is a reactive chemical that bonds with water, including the water in the stomach that produces poisonous hydrochloric acid. Excessive exposure to chlorine can cause cell damage and respiratory problems. Nevertheless, water companies continue to use it despite not being completely safe.

Other chemicals found in tap water are mercury (Hg) – a naturally occurring element usually a bi-product of mining and industrial practises. Arsenic (As) is used in a multitude of industrial processes and if improper disposal is not taken care of, environmental contamination is the result.

Lead (Pb) is a major toxin that still exists due to corroded piping systems and is extremely toxic especially to humans. PCBs or polychlorinated biphenyls, are chemicals used for industrial purposes such as insulation, machinery, oil, paints, adhesives, electronics and fluorescent lights. In 1979 PCBs were banned but, they are still found in land-fill sites where they continue to break down and pollute the environment.

In addition, other chemicals found in water supplies include, Perchlorate, (CI04) HCB or Pentachlorophenol (C6) and DDT (C14H9Cl5) (Dichloride-Phenyl-Trichloroethane) and all have detrimental effects to some degree. As do modern insecticides and herbicides including Glyphosate which, are highly toxic and a cause for concern as they break down in the soil and are transported to other areas via rain fall and by the wind. 

VINEGAR: is an aqueous solution of acetic acid combined with other trace elements and is the result of a fermentation process using ethanol, various sugars and acetic acid bacteria. Some types of vinegar contain up to 20% acetic acid, but these are strictly for agricultural or cleaning purposes and not intended for human consumption.

Normal vinegar regardless of its colour or flavouring contains 4 to 7% acetic acid and 93 to 96% water and can be used in bonsai to counteract the chemical effects of tap water. The recommended dose to attain a pH range of 5 to 6 is 1 level teaspoon (1 ml) to 7 litres of water. After a period of time, the container will discolour with black streaks and sediment, this is the residue of acetic acid combatting the chemicals as shown below; but keep the container away from children and pets and do not consume.

Spray bottle


Soil pH: in nature one can find areas where a variety of species both coniferous and deciduous grow together with some in close proximity and within this area the pH can change. This variation is due to a species leaf shed for example, the ground underneath conifers will be strewn with needles, which break down giving acidity to the soil, thus reducing the pH. Alternatively deciduous leaves decompose allowing the nutrients previously tied up in the leaves to be slowly released back into the soil where they can be reused, hence the pH rises.

There exist many soil types each having their own properties which, can be categorised into 3 sections; ericaceous (acidic) pH 3 to 6, neutral pH 6 to 7.5 and alkaline pH 7.5 to 8.5. Each soil type has their own type of living organisms classed as Acidophiles, Neutrophiles and Alkaliphiles respectively. Such organisms include archaea, bacteria, actinomycetes, fungi, algae, protozoa, and a wide range of insects; mites, nematodes, earthworms and ants. These consume, digest, and cycle nutrients all of which are important to the vitality of a soil composition.

Once the origin of your particular species has been established whether tropical, temperate or northern hemisphere, it is relatively simple to determine the pH range required by the plant. To assist you in this go to the Articles ‘The pH factor’ parts 1& 2 posted in April 2017 where you will find a chart showing the pH range for most bonsai species. In addition, there is a comprehensive description on soils and their composition.

DOES VINEGAR WORK?: in the article ‘The Colourful Maple(September 3, 2017) my A. palmatum amoenum and the red spider mite Tetranychidae urticae was discussed. The plant was brought inside and placed under full spectrum light, but the change in temperature caused the plant to leaf-drop; new buds appeared but would not break into leaf. With the danger of frost over (May) the plant was moved outside where it was subjected to rain fall, in June the buds had broken and by July it was growing vigourously.

After some research, it was concluded that tap water is detrimental to a tree’s health and vitality, since then all my trees are given the vinegar solution; although the dosage is either reduced (half a teaspoon to 7 litres of water) or increased (1 and a half to 7 litres of water) depending on the species.

Further evidence to confirm this perception is with the Abies procera glauca prostrata or ‘Noble Fir’. This conifer requires acidic conditions in order to survive, it cannot tolerate water with a high pH. One of my students has this species and when it was given tap water, the needles turned brown; a sign of ill health. He now uses the vinegar solution.

Rain water is soft with a pH of 5 to 6 – suitable for most plants, if you have the means to collect it then there is no problem, but if not, you have to find a way to make hard tap water soft therefore, the suggestion is ‘A teaspoon of vinegar’ . Until next time, BW, N.




A Teaspoon of Vinegar

Hello to those whom have been following this site, first of all my sincere apologies for the long delay in adding posts, but one has to make a living and this year the work load has been hectic to say the least with another 4 months left before the much needed break is taken. Nonetheless, I am taking time out to write this new article as it may be of use to those having water problems.

As we are aware the majority of fauna that exist in the wild receive their moisture via rain fall, which is acidic and thus they are able to thrive quite well and bonsai are no exception. Those that reside in houses with gardens rain fall can be collected, but for some whom live in apartments this is not an option and the only water availlable is from the kitchen tap. This water although safe for humans to consume is full of disinfectants and various chemicals that leave a hard whitish residue on appliances it come into contact with – including ceramic bonsai pots. The extent or amount of chemicals and disinfectants in domestic water will vary depending on where in the world one resides.

The problem with using water from a domestic supply is that it has a detrimental effect on a bonsai tree’s ability to grow and maintain good health and if one has looked at the article on ‘pH soil requirement’ previously posted one can see the various acidic or alkaline requirements for various species. But having the correct soil medium for a plant is but one important factor the other is the water quality, giving a tree water containing disinfectants/chemicals is a sure way of giving it a slow death.

To eliviate this problem tap water can be used providing it has been treated with vinegar (The type is irrelevant) one level teaspoon of vinegar (1 mltr) to 7 litres of water and left to stand for 2 days.

This tap water problem was explained in detail to students who attend the beginners bonsai workshop prior to an up comming visit to a nursery to hunt for potential bargains for example, this Abies procera glauca prostrata known as the Noble Fir.


Noble fir


2 Noble firs were purchase as they showed signs of potential and were good candidates for design, the tree depicted above was given a basic design and one can see the new shoots developing after a short space of time. The student who purchased the other specimen brought it to the worshop but sadly much of the apex had turned brown, this was due to giving the tree water from the kitchen tap; Whereas the tree depicted above was/is only given water with the vinegar solution.

At this juncture I am conducting further experiments on my trees with regard to the ratio of vinegar and water to determine what solution is best for a particular species. Hence another post on this topic will be forthcomming. Untill next time, BW, N.


Sorbus aucuparia (Rowan or Mountain ash)

S. aucuparia is strongly connected to folklore, its tough but flexible wood has been used in construction and furniture making, its fruit in culinary creations, beverages, as a medicinal remedy and fodder for livestock. S. aucuparia is known by many other names for example, in old English as ‘cwic-beám’ or ‘quick beam’, in Irish ‘caorann’ due to the beauty of its berries. In Canada it is referred to as the ‘dogberry’ tree, the ‘Vogelbeerbaum’ (bird-berry tree) or Eberesche in German. The Welsh name is ‘criafol’ or ‘lamenting fruit’ (the red berries), which according to tradition are associated with the blood of Christ and that the cross was carved from the wood of this tree. But S. aucuparia is more commonly know as the ‘Rowan’ and/or ‘Amur mountain ash’ as it grows well at high altitudes. It is hardy can tolerate shade or full sun, drought and severe cold periods and grows in many different soil conditions, dry to damp, acidic, clay, sandy soil and wet peat, but it does not tolerate water logging or saline soil.

S. aucuparia a monoecious species is indigenous to most of northern Europe, Iceland, Russia, northern China, north America and Canada is one of the shortest-lived trees approximately 80 years. It can grow depending on altitude and terrain from 5 to 15m in height often in multiple trunk form, averaging 40cm diameter, cylindrical and slender. Its bark is yellowish grey when young becoming greyish black when mature, which eventually cracks and descales. The leaves are compound and pinnate having 4 to 9 pairs of leaflets arranged opposite one another along the stem or petiole with a terminal leaflet at the end. S. aucuparia is often confused with the common ash Fraxinus excelsior as the leaves of both species have similarity, but S. aucuparia and F. excelsior are not related they are entirely different species.


From May to June large clusters appear which contain about 250 yellowish – white flowers that produce a rather unpleasant Trimethylamine odour reminiscent of bad fish. The fruit is in a green berry form averaging 8 to 10mm in diameter, which ripen from August to October turning to either orange or red in color.

Sorbus flowers and berries




Natural enemies – as with all flora S. aucuparia has its share of pests and disease and although the leaves are not actually palatable to insects, they can cause damage. Such pests include the apple fruit moth Argyresthia conjugella and the mountain-ash sawfly Hoplocampa alpina, the case-bearer moth Coleophora anatipennella and leaf miners of the genus Stigmella. Another harmful pest known to attack S. aucuparia is the Asian long-horn beetle Anoplophora glabripennis mentioned in the article ‘The colourful maple’ however, to date there have been no reported sightings of its presence. The rust fungus Gymnosporangium cornutum produces leaf galls that are unsightly, but the contagious disease ‘fire-blight’, a common problem in orchards containing apple, pears can destroy the plant.

Sorbus enemies

Fire blight disease

But one should not be deterred from using this species in bonsai as it is quite an attractive plant although its frond-like leaves are large and difficult to reduce, which deny it it the true bonsai appearence. In early spring 2015 this twin trunk S. aucuparia was rescued from a patch of wasteland being prepared for development. Its height over 2 metres was reduced (red circles) to retain movement in the two trunks and to give it a more squat robust appearance. (shown below)

S. aucuparia 2016.2017

The left image shows the tree in summer 2016 (the block of wood is there to keep the two trunks apart) and the right image depicts the tree in August 2017. As you can see some of the leaf lengths (yellow arrows) are smaller, achieved by pruning the first leaf back, but leaving a 1cm petiole to encourage a new leaf to sprout. Although S. aucuparia is considered a hardy species this particular specimen has endured some harsh treatment, 70% of the root ball removed as was most of its foliage with wiring to be done in October 2017. It is recovering, but needs time to fully recover and establish itself in its new training pot. Until next time BW, N.

The Colourful Maple

In the genus Acer there exist many varieties all of which produce a range of colour unsurpassed by most other tree species, be they the small to medium Japanese maples including the ‘trident’ maple Acer buergerianum, the ‘broad palmate leaf’ maple Acer palmatum shirasawanum; (‘Shirasawa’s’ maple or ‘full moon’ maple) and the serrated ‘red leaf’ maple Acer palmatum dissectum amoenum. To larger varieties including the ‘sugar maple’ Acer saccharum, the American ‘sycamore’ Acer pseudoplatanus and the ‘Norway’ maple Acer platanoides. The family Acer is extensive especially with Japanese varieties therefore, this discussion will be restricted to two – these being the ‘Norway’ maple and the serrated ‘red leaf’ maple.

The Norway maple A. platanoides can be found in eastern and central Europe, Scandinavia, Asia and Russia its range extends well above the arctic circle for example, TromsØ in Norway. It is a deciduous tree that when mature can reach heights from 20–30m, its trunk shallow grooved and grey-brown in colour attains a diameter of approximately 1.5m. The dark green palmate 5 lobed leaves are opposite to each other and are between 7–14cm long by 8–20cm across with the petiole 8–20cm long, which secretes a milky fluid when damaged or cut.

The flowers 15–30 yellow to green have 5 sepals and 5 petals 3–4mm and are arranged in a cluster with stalks that are proportionally longer, allowing them to form a flat or slightly convex head. Flowering begins in early spring before the new leaves emerge. The seeds are flat and disc shaped contained in a two-winged casing arrangement that when shed, rotate as they fall to the ground. The autumn colour is usually yellow to orange to red.

Acer platanoides leaf & seeds

Under ideal conditions Norway maples can live up to 250 years, but as they are often planted in urban areas for decorative and shade purposes this reduces their life expectancy, because if the root system is restricted they will intertwine eventually girdling and killing the tree. A. platanoides has become a popular species for bonsai in Europe and can be seen as medium to large bonsai sizes in a multitude of styles.

Natural enemiesA. platanoides is a hardy species although in some areas it is under threat from the Asian long-horn beetle Anoplophora glabripennis a large insect approximately 1.7 to 3.9cm with antennae twice its body length. Originally native to Japan, Korea and China it is now found in North America, Canada and in Europe; the UK, France, Austria, Italy and Germany. It is said that this pest arrived in the western hemisphere in wooden crates in egg form, which later hatched and multiplied.

This insect kills trees by eating its way through the trunk and to date has not only infected the maple, but other species including Aesculus, (Soapberry, Buckeye and Horse chestnut) Alder, Birch, Hornbeam, Beech, Ash, Prunus sp., Willow, Planes, Sorbus and some species of Poplar. Signs of attack are exit holes 1–2cm diameter, sawdust or ‘frass’, (insect excreta) sap oozing from exit holes, dead or dying branches and yellowing leaves. Insecticides such as imidacloprid, clothianidin and dinotefuran have been used to eradicate adult beetles and as trunk injections to target larvae.


Asian longhorn beetle

Other unwanted guests include a variety of lepidopterans that feed on its foliage. A. platanoides like most fauna does have its fair share of diseases, although they are more unsightly opposed to life threatening. Such diseases include the ‘powdery mildew’ Uncinula bicornis, and verticillium wilt caused caused by 6 species of this genus V. dahliae, V. albo-atrum, V. longisporum, V. nubilum, V. theobromae and V. tricorpus and White spot caused by the fungus phyllosticta. Shown below.


White spot on a maple


The serrated ‘red leaf’ maple Acer palmatum dissectum amoenum commonly referred to as the palmate maple is native to Japan, China, Korea, south eastern Russia and eastern Mongolia and many cultivars have been produced for their colouration and various leaf forms. This small tree or shrub when mature can attain heights of between 6 to 10m in single or multiple trunk form. Its leaves are palmate but serrated resembling a delicate ‘lace-like’ pattern with 7 to 9 pointed lobes, approximately 6 to12cm long with single serrated margins. The flowers cluster around a central stem, which bears a single flower that is first to develop, with five red or purple sepals and five whitish petals. The fruit consists of a pair of winged samaras (a winged nut or achene containing one seed) each being 20 to 25mm in length containing a 6 to 8mm seed.

A. palmatum amoenum is usually found at higher altitudes throughout Japan and South Korea and can be considered hardy, but is prone to perish in periods of drought, hence watering regularly is required. However, A. palmatum amoenum will not survive in soggy or wet conditions therefore the medium should be well drained in addition, fertilization is not necessary, but if applied should preferably be in a slow release form and used sparingly.

Natural enemies – As with other maple varieties it is susceptible to attack from pathogens and verticillium wilt as described above, it is also prone to attack from the common Gypsy moth Lymantria dispar. This insect is classified as a pest and is listed as one of the 100 most destructive invasive species known worldwide, because its voracious larvae can consume the leaves of over 500 species of trees, shrubs and plants.


Gypsy moth


Another unwanted pest briefly mentioned in the article ‘Selecting material for bonsai part III’ (Looking for bargains) is the ‘red spider’ mite Tetranychidae urticae, which includes approximately 1,200 species. These mini beasts live on the undersides of plant leaves spinning fine protective silk webs and causing damage by puncturing the plant cells to feed resulting in wilting, discoloured crumbling leaves. The image below shows an A. palmatum amoenum prior to ‘red spider’ attack, the whole left hand side of the plant and the mid to upper section of the right side was saturated with these pests.


Fire cracker before attack

To eradicate these mini beasts a number of approaches were used including tepid water and various insecticides all of which had little effect. Another solution was to use an aerosol spray called ‘Raid’ from SC Johnson that did kill the insects, but had an adverse affect on the plant insomuch that the residue from the spray penetrated the leaf pores causing them to wilt and die. A more serious problem was that it was causing die-back in the petioles and seeping back into the branches. The only solution was to cut out the infected wood, thus 75% of the tree was removed. (Red dotted areas)

The remaining part of the trunk and root system was thoroughly cleaned and repotted in fresh soil then placed in a shady position for the duration of the summer 2016. In October the same year the tree was brought inside where a constant temperature was maintained with no humidity and placed under a full spectrum lighting system. This A. palmatum amoenum showed no signs of life until late June 2017 when a few buds appeared, in late July it is starting to produce growth as depicted below, but will take some considerable time to fully recover.

fire cracker after

Arguably, the moral of the story is to check any plant you might acquire for signs of infection and if it is attacked by unwanted pests, try using horticulture soap or a diluted pyrol bug and larvae killer; it is a safer option as opposed to using aerosol insecticide sprays. However, when disease becomes a problem with the Acer genus there is not much we can do, because there is no remedy for fungi that cause canker disease for example.

Root Rot – is caused by the pathogen phytophthora, which attacks the root system and crown of many species of Japanese maple. A tree that is infected will show signs of discolouration, wilt, branch die-back, leaves falling prematurely and black or red sap oozing from the trunk. To prevent canker disease it is important to ensure that the medium in which the tree is planted has good irrigation.

Anthracnose – is a fungal disease that causes foliage distortion, stem die-back, cankers and girdling. The signs that a Acer is infected are black spots appearing on the leaves, which is caused by humidity and wet conditions. Any leaves infected by anthracnose must be removed and destroyed immediately, because there is no chemical treatment available. Although it is said that anthracnose can be prevented by applying a preventative fungal spray when new buds are about to break.

Leaf Spot – disease can be caused by various strains of fungi commonly known to attack plants and signs of infection are coloured spots on the leaves, as a result leaves may be discoloured and fall prematurely from the tree. Another form of spotting is ‘White-spot’ caused the fungus phyllosticta it is prevalent in humid and wet conditions. A preventative measure to ward of leaf spot is to make sure any and all unwanted dead or decaying debris is removed from the soil surface and to make sure that the soil medium has good drainage. Although leaf spot is not considered detrimental to the tree’s health it is annoying because its presence is ugly.

Powdery Mildew – is a powder-like fungal growth found on stems, buds and leaves, which can spread quite rapidly and does not need any moisture to grow and is prevalent in shaded areas having moderate temperatures. Signs of powdery mildew disease is easily visible as it causes leaf distortion. Some practitioners use Neem and horticultural oil to prevent powdery mildew attacking maples whereas others state that good care, maintenance and well-being are sufficient to keep this disease at bay.

Until next time BW, N.

Selecting material for bonsai part III (Looking for bargains – update)

As stated in the article posted August 3rd 2017 now is the time when the local nurseries or garden centres start selling their stock at reduced prices and thus many bargains can be had quite cheaply. Although a proportion of trees and shrubs will show signs of fatigue, hidden amongst them one can find some good specimens for example, the White spruce Picea abies (syn alba) discussed in the last post August 6th 2017. Here is another specimen a Ginkgo biloba commonly known as the ‘Maiden hair’ tree or 白果 (bái guǒ), ‘white fruit’, and 銀杏 (yínxìng), or ‘silver apricot’. Original price 35€ sale price 17,50€.

Ginkgo on sale

Hidden in this mass of foliage somewhere there is a potential bonsai waiting to reveal itself – I just had to find it. But first my apologies I forgot to video the work nonetheless, here is a written explanation of the process, which should suffice.

Removing some of the foliage exposed a twin trunk of equal height in a ‘Y’ formation, but the composition seemed unbalanced because one trunk was thinner than the other. To retain movement and perspective, the thinner trunk was cut back to a stump to add character rather than remove it entirely. The main reason being is that Ginkgo do not heal wounds like most deciduous broad leaf species the scars are always visible. The stump’s bark and cambium was removed and the bare wood treated with a water based black dye and lime sulphur to create a burnt silvery appearance. The long, straight, thick inner branches were cut back because wiring was impossible however, wire could be used on the leading shoot at the apex and thus was loosely wired into position.

The tree was removed from the pot to check the root ball condition, 30% of the roots were trimmed back, the old soil was replaced with a sand and grit based loam, then repotted in the same pot slanting to the right to create movement. The whole process including cleaning, re-potting, pruning and wiring took approximately 2.5 hours. The cuttings were saved and treated with rooting hormone powder and planted in the same soil composition as the main tree. These will be cultivated and then given away to other bonsai enthusiasts.

Ginkgo before and after

Ginkgo cuttins

G. biloba is the only living species in the division Ginkgophyta, all others being extinct and is one of the best-known examples of a living fossil, dating back 270 million years. G. biloba are dioecious meaning some trees are male and some female. Male trees produce small pollen cones each bearing two microsporangia spirally arranged around a central axis. Female plants do not produce cones, instead two ovules are formed at the end of a stalk and develop into seeds after pollination. These seeds approximately 1.5–2 cm long have a soft fleshy light yellow-brown outer layer called the sarcotesta, which although attractive to the eye, contains butyric acid that has the odour of vomit.

But arguably what makes this species an attraction in bonsai are its leaves, that are unique among seed producing plants. They are fan-shaped with veins radiating out into the leaf blade, sometimes splitting, but never cross connecting to form a network. They are a vivid green during the growing season turning to a deep saffron yellow in autumn. A good bargain and well worth the time and effort, until next time take care BW, N.