Peter Tea January 2015 Write-Up

                                                                                                                        January 2015                                                                                                    Happy New Year!

I hope all of you have made it through the holiday seasons and looking forward to this new year. I know I am so lets get right too it. The following write up is what I’ve sent the group last January and February. Nothing in the repotting world has changed to much since so it’s time to review and prep ourselves for this repotting season.


For most of us in the Bay Area, we can start repotting in January. The reason why is because of our mild Winters. Though we can get some freezing nights, it isn’t consistent and our trees, even freshly repotted can handle it. Of course, if we do get random periods of hard freezing, we would have to protect the trees. If you’re in an area where it freezes every night, then I would push the repotting into February or March.

Repotting is very important to our trees. We use this technique as a way to control it’s growth. Sometimes we repot the tree to slow them down, and other times, we use repotting to reinvigorate the tree. Just like cutting and wiring, how you repot the tree will affect how the tree grows.

During the workshop, I will discuss and demonstrate the repotting process for Conifers/Evergreens and Deciduous trees. Then you can take that knowledge and apply it to your other trees.

What Can We Repot?

We can repot just about any tree at this time. I recommend starting with the deciduous trees first, then move on to evergreen trees. Hold off repotting tropical trees till the early Summer.

Soil Components

Soil mixtures are important in Bonsai. It’s all about understanding how much water the soil mix holds. A general rule is that if the soil holds more water, it will cause the tree to grow slower whereas if the soil holds less water, the tree will grow faster. This is true for most trees in varying degrees. If you would like to get a good amount of nformation about soils (if not too much information), please read this blog post I wrote on the subject during my time in Japan:

To keep things simple at this point, here is my soil mix recommendations:

Conifers/Evergreens – 50% Akadama, 25% Lava, 25% Pumice
Deciduous/Tropicals – 75% Akadama, 12.5% Lava, 12.5% Pumice

For conifers, a drainage layer is important so bring a separate bag of medium size pumice or lava. Be sure to sift your soil and remove as much of the dust as you can. This is especially important when working with conifers. You should also sift your soil to size so that you have a consistent small and medium size mix.

Sphagnum Moss:

Sphagnum moss is good to have for repotting. After repotting, the trees will be sensitive to dry conditions so the moss will help in holding more water while the tree recovers. Once we move into Spring and the tree is growing, the moss can be removed. If you don’t have moss, I will bring some to share with everyone. Once familiar with it, you can then purchase your own.

Why Re-pot?

Seems like a easy question right? I hear lots of different answers from people. It sounds like an easy question, but many don’t fully understand the reasons other than, “that’s what we’re suppose to do now… right?”

So lets talk about the reasons for repotting. The big main reason we repot is to manipulate how the tree grows. Simple right? But what does that mean? Here are some reasons as to why I would repot a tree.
1. The tree is in a mix that is too wet
2. The tree is in a mix that is too dry
3. The tree is so root bound that the health of the tree starts to decline
4. To slow the growth of a tree (trees that are too strong)
5. To accelerate the growth of a tree (trees that are weak)
6. To develop the root spread and root system
7. To get the tree into a mix that is manageable by the owner
8. To change the planting angle of the tree.

Soil mixes can be very complex and there are different variables that will cause us to repot or not repot this year. During this month at the study group, we will continue to discuss these variables to help us better understand the importance of soil and how it affects the tree’s growth.

“So why so complex? I’ve repotted before and the trees seem to do fine.”

Many people I have taught will say this to me. That or I can see it in their gaze when I talk about soils. If you’re asking yourself that, here’s the answer. Keeping a tree alive after repotting should be a give in. Especially if we don’t cut many of the roots. Sometimes we can cut almost all of the roots off and the tree will still stay alive and grow.

The key is figuring out if the repotting actually helped make our trees better.

Did we continue the development of roots?
Did we get the tree in the ideal position?
Is the tree firmly tied to the pot?
Is the soil mix we’re using going to cause the tree to grow too fast or too slow?
Is there enough or too much room for the roots to grow?
Is this an appropriate pot for the tree?

These are some of the questions we should be asking ourselves when repotting. Once we start asking, then the answer becomes much more complex.

Tools and Materials Needed for Repotting

Container for the tree
Aluminum wire
Plastic screen
Soil scoop
Soil sifter
Root rake
Root cutters
Root scissors
Root hook
Bent tip tweezers
Soil Tamper
Container to catch excess soil.

**Be sure to bring a strong bag or container to take your old soil home with you. This way, the host of the workshop doesn’t have to deal with disposing of so much soil.**

Styling Conifers and Broad Leaf Evergreens

Styling conifers and broad leaf evergreens is something else we can do this month if you’re already finished repotting your trees. Be sure that the tree you’re planning on styling wasn’t recently repotted. The tree should be firmly held in the pot and not move.
When learning to style a tree, there are a couple of prerequisites to have.

1. Healthy tree
2. Ability to properly apply aluminum and copper wire onto the tree

Once we understand these two concepts, we can then focus on how to cut, how to bend and style a tree. Not having these two prerequisite will make it difficult to successfully develop a nice looking Bonsai.


I understand that wiring isn’t something that everyone likes to do. It can be tricky, confusing and frustrating to learn. It was tough for me to learn how to do it when I first started in Bonsai (almost spontaneously combusted) but with practice and patience, it
came to me and now it’s much easier.

For those in the workshops that are not very good at wiring, I hope we can spend this year working together and getting better at it. You will be amazed at how much better your trees will look when the wiring applied works for you instead of against you.

Remembering these few tips will go a long way:

1. Apply the wire in a 40 degree spiral
2. If using copper, the copper size should be a third the size of the branch being bent
3. If using aluminum, the wire should be as thick as the branch being bent.
4. Always try to tie two branches together with one wire
5. The pain will be over soon

During the workshop, we will talk more in detailed about different wiring techniques.

The Study Group

A friendly reminder for new study group members and seasoned study group members.

The intended purpose of the study group is for us all to learn more about bonsai and take home skills that we can apply to our own trees. I am here to help guild you (not do it for you) in the process of learning bonsai and exploring the possibilities. You have a voice in the process too! I will let you know my thoughts but I’d like to hear your thoughts and plans as well. The only expectations I have of the participants is an open mind and an eagerness to learn. Give me that and I will teach you everything I know!

All in all, at the end of the day, we should all be having FUN doing Bonsai.

                                                     See you all soon!

If you are missing materials you think you may need (soil, wire, tools, etc, please email me and I’ll see what I can do to find it for you and bring it to the workshop. Of course, if you have any questions before the workshop, please email me as well.

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