Peter Tea May 2015 Write-Up

Peter Tea Bonsai

May 2015

Deciduous Work

May is here and it’s time to get busy. Many of our Deciduous and Broad leaf evergreen leaves have hardened off and it’s time to work on them. Throughout the late Spring, Summer and early Fall is when the majority of deciduous trees are worked on. Unlike conifers where we work on them for a day and sit them on a bench for several months, deciduous trees require much more of our attention (because they grow faster). The time working on them tends to be short but the interval of work is often.

Example 1:  We defoliate, cut and wire a Trident Maple this month. Within a month, the wire will start to bite into the branch and need to be removed though the new leaves haven’t hardened off yet. After wire removal we put the tree back on the bench. Two weeks later, the new leaves hardened off and the branches are extending. Now it’s time to potentially wire new branches, cut back new grow and defoliate the tree again. We do what we need to do and put the tree back on the bench.

The above cycle can happen as many as 1-3 times during the growing season. We can imagine what happens if we miss the required work. The wire can cut too deep into the branch and cause bad scaring or swelling, or the growth can become too thick that we can’t wire the branch anymore, or the tree looses interior branches because we didn’t cut the tree back in time. If any of these things happen, it will cause us to loose time because we would have to re-develop the faulty branches.

Fast vs. Slow Growing Bonsai

It’s important to understand that if you’re working with Bonsai that grows fast, they require a lot more of our time (which can be more difficult) whereas Bonsai that grows at a slower rate takes up less of our time (which can be easier to develop). The benefits of a fast growing tree is that you can potentially develop the tree quickly into Bonsai whereas slower growing trees tend to take much longer to develop into Bonsai.

Defoliation and Some Misconceptions:

First off, not every deciduous tree needs to be defoliated. There are also species out there that will not take kindly to defoliation at all (e.g. hornbeam beech, Japanese Maple), especially if the defoliation is complete. Defoliation isn’t only done on deciduous trees either. There are other broad leaf evergreens that can take defoliation (Oaks, Silverberry and ficus are a few examples).

So what is Defoliation and what does it do for us?

1. slows the tree down.                                                                                                     2. allows light into the tree.                                                                                         3. new leaves will come out smaller.                                                                       4. allows for ease of wiring.

Those are the 4 main reason why we choose to defoliate. If your current goals don’t match up with any of the 4 reasons, then don’t defoliate.

Example: We want a branches to grow out and get stronger. We don’t defoliate that branch. because it will slow the growth down.

Misconceptions: Cutting back vs. Defoliation

The biggest misconception to defoliation is that it will give you back budding. Back budding is not caused by defoliation, but by the cutting back of branches. We can cut the tree back without defoliating and back budding will occur. Keep defoliation and cutting back into two separate categories to help ease the understanding of defoliation.


If you plan on wiring your trees this month, be sure to bring the proper wire size ranges. Aluminum wire should be used for deciduous and broadleaf evergreens, whereas copper should be used for conifers.

What to work on:

During this month, we can work on deciduous and broad leaf evergreens. We can also work on Junipers, Cypress, and Cryptomeria as well. Work includes, wiring, cutting and styling. Certain trees may be ready for defoliation.

I would not recommend working on any types of pines or needle based trees this month because the new grow is very sensitive and can easily break off.

For High mountain pines such as Japanese White Pine, Ponderosa, lodgepole, etc, wait till the new needles have hardened off before working on them. For most of us, that time will be about September. We can start working on cedars and spruce after June.

Notice I use the term, “hardened off,” many times? That’s an important term because it is a good indication when we can work on many different trees. It’s also much more precise and safe then following a month base schedule.

For Japanese Red and Black Pine, the schedule is very different because of de-candling and does not apply to the concept stated above. De-candling is based on time of the year versus anything, “hardening off.” Assuming the Red/Black pine needs de- candling, we can do that either in June or July depending on your weather. I will go deeper into the concept next month.


As always, be aware of how wet or how dry your trees are and water accordingly.

Recognize which trees like water (deciduous) and which trees don’t like water (high mountain pines). Training your eyes and recognizing your tree’s water consumption rate will also help you see if there are any problems as well. You may notice that a tree that normally takes a lot of water isn’t taking as much any more. Is there a problem             developing or is it because the tree was recently cut back?

There is a lot of information in your yard that you can learn from. It’s just a matter of recognizing that the information is there and your ability to see it and process it.


Though we work on many trees during the workshop, the practice doesn’t end there. It’s important to take what we learn at the workshop and apply it to some of our other trees at home. That’s when it’s really going to count because now you’re forcing yourself to make all the decisions. I know it’s difficult at first but with practice and persistence, it will get easier. Once you finish the work at home, please bring it to the workshop so we can review the work and talk about any adjustments we may make to improve the Bonsai. This practice will significantly increase your confidence and make you a better Bonsai Artist.

Just remember that all adjustments or suggestions I give you is intended to help you get

better at Bonsai, not to put you down. That’s not what I’m here for, so don’t worry about showing me mistakes you may have made. We’ll work through it and come up with a plan together. I’m not just looking for mistakes but improvements as well.

Tools and Supplies

I can’t emphasize enough that it’s crucial to have the right tools and supplies for the job. This will allow us to focus more on proper development of the Bonsai. Not having the tools or supplies needed only slows us down. If you’re not sure what tools or supplies you need, reach out to other workshop members or myself and we can talk about what to get. Many of your fellow study group members have no problems letting you borrow their tools or materials but after awhile it can wear them down so it’s time to just get your own.

If you plan on wiring deciduous trees, please bring your aluminum wire set with you. This includes sizes: 1.0mm, 1.5mm, 2.0mm, 2.5mm, 3.0mm and maybe 3.5mm. If you don’t have these sizes, find a vendor that can sell you some or contact me and I’ll see what I can get for you.

See you all soon!

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