Category Archives: Peter Tea’s Monthly Write-Ups

Peter Tea June 2015 Write-Up

                                             Peter Tea Bonsai
                                                     June 2015

Japanese Black Pine and De-candling
For many of us in the Bay area, June is the time to De-candle our Japanese Red/Black Pines. For others living in warmer climates such as Sacramento or Fresno, de-candling may starts in July. So why the difference?
De-candling is one of very few techniques we perform solely based on the time of year. Depending on how long our growing season is, the time to de-candle will shift. Also,
the size of our tree and age will determine if we de-candle early in the month or later in the month.
A few years ago, I wrote an extensive blog post about the concepts of de-candling. Instead of re-writing it all here, please visit that post to get a refresher in how and why
we de-candle our Japanese Red/Black Pines. In the post, there are plenty of pictures of the process and what the tree does afterwards. If you still have questions, please feel
free to email me.
**If you plan to de-candle your Japanese Red/Black Pine, you have the option to wire the tree at that time as well. If the de-candling is partial, you can still wire the tree but
have to be extra careful not to break any sensitive candles or needles. The safest time to wire the tree is during the Winter.**
Cutting Back Black Pines
For those of us that decide to develop Japanese Black Pines to Bonsai, it’s important to know what kind of cuts we can make. There are two types of cutting in Bonsai.
1. Complete removal of un-needed branches for the design of the tree.
2. Cutting back to promote back-budding/division or cutting back to a division.
The cutting itself is easy though the where, why and when is the difficult part to learn. Don’t be intimidated though and go for it! That’s part of the experience creating Bonsai. Gaining more experience cutting will fine tune your skills so that you know you’re cutting enough and not over cutting at the same time.
Is that the only way we can cut the tree? For de-candling, is the Summer the only time we can cut the candles?
Since you’ve all been taking my workshops, you know that the answer is, “It depends on the situation and what you’re wanting the tree to do.”
What if I cut into the middle of a currently growing candle?
What if I cut the new candles off at different times of the year?
…and can I only work with the new candles?
Needles Buds and Terminal Buds
Don’t forget about the needles bud! At each set of needles, there is ONE needle bud there. We don’t normally see them unless they start to grow. If you cut into the needle bud area of the candle, the needle buds closest to the cut point will start to grow. Just know that they take longer to grown then the terminal buds. That’s why when working on young or developing Black Pines, we don’t focus on pulling needles. Removing needles means we are reducing the potential of branch development on a larger percentage of the tree. Once the needles are gone, the needle bud goes with it.
The terminal bud is the big bud at the end of the branch. This area can have multiple buds depending on the strength of the tree and the individual branch. Normally when we de-candle, we are cutting back to the previous year’s terminal end.
A problems that many of us have when develop Black Pines are that we’re too focused on cutting back to an existing division in the branch or the technique of de-candling. Or
we’re too focused on Black Pine schedules that were meant for refined trees.
Typical Japanese Black Pine development model:
Repot right before Spring
De-candling in June or July
Wire, cut, pull needles during Winter
The Standard Model is correct and useful, but incomplete in learning how to develop Japanese Black Pines from unrefined to refined Bonsai.
During the workshop, I will illustrate how we could and should deviate from the standard model (depending on the tree’s situation) to develop Japanese Black Pines from unrefined to refined Bonsai. When we work on your trees, we can then apply those techniques together to further our understanding of the tree’s reactions and the process of developing it into Bonsai.
High Mountain Pines
High Mountain Pines are all pines that grow in high elevations such as Ponderosa, Japanese White Pines, Scots Pine, Lodgepole Pines, Pinion Pine, etc.
These high mountain Pines are not normally de-candled either because they have a tougher time coming back from such a huge loss in foliage. Many times, the branches that are de-candled tend not to grow a second set of candles and the tree becomes weak. I have met several people who say they de-candled every year with, “good results,” on
High mountain pines, but when I see the tree, they are always weak and not doing well.
There is a time though where we can potentially de-candle a high mountain pine but not for the same reasons that we do it for a Japanese Red/Black Pine. It’s mainly done to promote back budding. Due to the dangers of this technique, please ask me in
person how this is done and if it can be applied to your tree.
Trees to Work on this Month
If you don’t plan to work on or have any Japanese Red/Black Pines, then here are some other tree species to work on this month:
Any tree where the foliage has hardened off/
Working on Healthy and Stable Trees
What ever tree you decided to bring to work on this month, be sure that it’s growing well. There is no point in working on a tree that is sick or weak. If the tree is sick or weak, then we have to first figure out why and what we can do to get the tree stronger before we continue its bonsai training. Also, if you plan on wiring (stress) a tree, make
sure it’s firmly planted in the pot and not moving around too much. If the tree starts to rock back and forth during the work, it’s just extra stress on the tree.
I hope that you all are staying cool and hydrated. I’ll see you all at the workshop!

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!

Peter Tea April 2015 Write-Up
April 2015

Spring is in full swing and I’m excited to see all of my trees starting to grow again. The Winter hasn’t been very cold and many trees have started growing much earlier this year. Early isn’t too big of an issue because we don’t get sudden hard freezes during the Spring months so our trees continue to grow. Because of this, we can get started working on a trees slightly ahead of schedule.

Deciduous– By mid April most of the leaves on our deciduous trees will have hardened off. That’s the perfect time to start working on the trees. We can focus on cutting, wiring and for some, defoliation (only for certain trees). If the leaves haven’t hardened off yet, hold off for a few more week till they do then start working on them.

Broadleaf Evergreen– These trees can be worked on this month as well though there may still be some sensitive new growth on the tree. We just have to be careful not to damage the new foliage when working with the tree.

I recommend using Aluminum to wire deciduous and broad leaf evergreen. It’s much easier to use and easier on the tree itself since these trees have much thinner bark and live tissue.

Conifers– Conifers such as Junipers, Cypress, Cryptomeria, Spruce, and Cedars can be worked on this month. If you have Japanese Black/Red Pines, hold off working on them till June. If you have High mountain pines (any pine that grows in the mountains), allow them to grow through the Summer and start working on them in September. If you had just repotted the tree this Spring, hold off working on them till the Summer. Since Conifer roots grow slower than Deciduous trees, we need to give them more time to fill the pot and re-establish themselves.

Trees Need Water

Now that everything is growing, our Bonsais will need much more water. Watch out for trees that are drying out and be sure to keep them all hydrated. Having Bonsais dry out too much during the Spring will weaken the tree and cause problems in the foliage’s ability to grow well or handle the Summer heat.

Fertilizing Made Easy

For those that aren’t sure about when to fertilize, here is a simple timetable you can use to make it easy. Since we all use different fertilizers and our soil components aren’t the same, I can’t tell you how much to feed but rather when to feed. It’s up to you to observe how your tree is growing and if it’s growing the way you want it to grow.

I currently use Grow Power Plus 5-3-1 organic fertilizer that I put in tea bags. I like using it because the Nitrogen is water soluble which means it’s readily available to the trees now versus other organics where the Nitrogen needs time to breakdown into a usable form. This schedule is mainly for environments in Northern and Central

This timetable is for trees that are in branch development mode. Do not use this timetable for trunk growth or sick trees. They fall into a different schedule. We will go more into the, “why?” details of the schedule during the workshop.

Japanese Black/Red Pines
March 1 – June 1
August 1 – December 31

High Mountain Pines
September 1 – December 31

May 1 – December 31

All Other Trees
March 1 – December 31

Being and Getting Consistent

One of the major issues people have while learning and practicing Bonsai is developing consistency in their work. If we don’t become consistent in Bonsai horticulture and styling, it’s makes refining Bonsai harder, causing us to cap the potential of the Bonsai. Since we’re trying to guide our Bonsai to grow and look a very specific way, we have to be consistent with the work so we can get predictable results allowing us to push our developmental and refinement process even further.

The following are 4 main categories that affects how our trees grow. How we manipulate these four categories will change how the tree grows. The first 4 are the easiest to change whereas the 5th requires a lot of time and practice to do well. Focus on getting the first 4 down before working on #5. Always ask yourself, “Is what I’m doing helping to turn the tree into Bonsai?”

Sun– The Sun is so important for life on Earth. Sunlight is a key component to photosynthesis and how our trees create most if its food. We have to understand how much Sunlight our individual trees need and provide that for them. If we provide them with too little light, then the trees would tend to grow leggy and weaken. In some cases, the tree may even die off. On the other hand, if too much sunlight is provided, trees can burn and loose branches or even die all together.

Take the time and observe how your trees are doing in the sunlight you are giving them and make any necessary adjustments. If your backyard has too much sun or too little sun, it may force you to work on specific types of species only.

Water– It’s important to understand what our individual water quality is like. Hard water causes a build up of salts in the soil and turns the soil alkaline which most trees dislike. Deciduous trees have a much harder time growing in alkaline conditions whereas conifers then to tolerate it more. For example, unless I run my tap water through an Reverse Osmosis filter, my deciduous trees grows very poorly.

How we water also plays a role in the tree’s growth. Depending on the soil’s ability to hold water, over watering or under watering will cause trees to slow down or weaken. Be sure to water when the tree needs it. If you’re watering and you notice your trees are still wet from the last watering, hold off and wait for it to dry out a little bit more. Keep fine tuning your watering schedule till you find a good compromise between what the tree needs and your personal schedule.

Soil– If you’ve repotted with me before, you know that soil is a very important part of Bonsai. What type of soil we use and how much water it holds will cause our trees to grow very differently. Drier soil mixes causes the tree to grow faster whereas wetter mixes causes the trees to grow slower.

Repotting interval also causes the trees to grow differently as well. Deciduous trees grow slow when repotted often whereas Conifers grow faster when repotted often.

Fertilizing– It doesn’t get easier then this. Fertilizing is a great way of giving our trees that little extra push to grow more. But again, be sure that you’re not causing the trees to grow in a manner that’s not inline with your goals for the tree. Fertilizing is good but sometimes over doing it can cause more problems, such as burning of the roots (more likely with Chemical fertilizers) or excessive un-needed growth.

Styling– This the fun part in Bonsai and why most of us got into the Art in the first place. Styling includes cutting and wiring techniques. We tend to jump to this before we cover the above 4 categories first. This category is very involving and takes a good amount of time and practice, which is why we take workshops together.

The Workshop

During the workshop we will continue to cover all sorts of Bonsai topics but they all fall into the 5 categories discussed above. Remember to always ask yourself, “Is what I’m doing helping to turn the tree into Bonsai?”

As always I look forward to working with you all. See you at the workshop!

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.

Peter Tea’s December Write-Up

Peter Tea Bonsai
December 2014

Winter Work

Winter is a great time for us here in Northern California. For the most part, we don’t have to deal too much with snow and extreme cold weather. While everyone in colder climates are moving their trees into Winter storage, we are busy working on many of our trees.

Conifers and Broad Leaf Evergreens

During the Winter, we can spend a good amount of time working on Conifers and Broad Leaf Evergreens. During this time we can cut and wire the tree if needed. The only exception is if you plan on repotting the tree. Normally I recommend not style the tree in the Winter and then repotting it in later Winter or early Spring. This could be too stressful for the tree and cause it to become weak for the rest of the year. Either style the tree and wait till next year or repot the tree and style it a year later.

The Cold

If you do live in an area where it freezes consistently every night, be sure to protect your recently worked trees. Keep them in an area that stays above freezing for several weeks before putting them back in the cold. Don’t worry about the lack of sunlight for the protected trees because they don’t need much of it during the Winter.


Normally I use copper wire for conifers and aluminum wire for broad leaf evergreens. If you plan to wire a tree this month or throughout the Winter, be sure to have all the sizes needed for wiring.

Recommended Wire sizes we should all have:

Copper: 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20 gauge
Aluminum: 1.0 or 1.2, 1.5, 1.8 or 2.0, 2.5, 3.0, 3.5 mm

Deciduous Trees

If your deciduous trees are still in the middle of turning color this month, then we can still work on them. We can fully defoliate the tree and do some light cut back. Other than that, there’s not much to do from this point on till after Spring unless you plan to repot them at the end of Winter.

Trees To Work On

During this month we can work on just about every tree except for tropicals.

Peter Tea’s November Write-Up

Peter Tea Bonsai

November 2014

Japanese Black/Red Pines
Now that November is here, many of us can work on our Japanese Black or Red Pines. The reason why we held off till November is because the needles have now just started to harden off. This is especially the case if the tree was, “De-candled,” in the Summer.
For those that didn’t de-candle their Black/Red Pines, you may have noticed that the needles hardened off during September or October.

From November to the end of February, we can cut, wire and remove needles on Japanese Black/Red Pines.


Cutting is the most important and best way to balance any tree. It’s especially important on Japanese Black/Red Pines. By cutting back, eliminating branches or untouching areas can cause a shift in strength from limb to limb.

The key to developing bonsai is to balance the tree from top to bottom. Through observation, we all know that the tree doesn’t grow evenly by itself. The tree is always trying to get bigger and strong areas get stronger whereas weaker areas tend to die off.
This is a natural process in the tree as it’s searching for more sunlight. As the tree gets larger and older, this process slows down and the tree naturally balances itself out. Since we are trying to keep our trees small but still have that old mature feel, we have to take steps in directing how the tree grows.


As we cut the tree, we have to have a good understanding of how the tree grows and how it will respond to losses in branches. Depending on the loss, the tree may become very weak or cause other areas to grow more vigorously. Be aware of what you want
the tree to do at this point in time and cut accordingly.

Not everything needs to be cut off at once. The tree may need to be cut back in stages to prevent an unwanted sudden reaction in the tree.


Normally I use copper wire when styling Japanese Black/Red Pines. Since annealed copper hardens as you bend it, it gives us that extra holding power to move branches to the position we want them to be. Also, as the tree continues to grow the following year, the stiff wire will help hold the branches in place. If the wire is not strong enough or anodized aluminum is used, the following years growth can potentially over power the wire and move.

I know that wiring with copper is not the easiest or most exciting task for many of us. Just remember that it is something we need to do well so that we can create the tree that we want. Keep at it and the wiring will become easier and easier. If we don’t have control of our wiring, the wire will control how the tree looks, not us.

Pulling Needles:

Pulling Needles on Pines is something we hear about all the time. But what does it mean and why do we do it?

First off, we need to figure out if we even need to pull any needles. The concept of pulling needles is based on trees that are in somewhat of a developed stage. If we’re growing the tree or thickening branches, we don’t need to pull any needles. The
needles are producing food for the tree so why remove it and slow the tree down?

Say for example that the tree is further along in development and we’re trying to grow more branches. Remember that each needle pair has one bud. If we pull the needles off, we will loose those needles buds and can only rely on adventitious buds. Why limit
our budding ability?

At some point, when the tree is more defined, pulling needles will be a necessity. At this point, we have many branches on the tree and the tree is growing more evenly. During the month of November, we can go through the tree and remove the previous years needles. In certain cases, we will also go ahead and remove some of the new needles that were produced this year as well. We use this technique to allow more light into the tree and create small shifts in the balance of the tree. Removing needles generally means we’re weakening the area. If you’re tree is at this stage of development, then pulling needles should be done to the tree at this time.

Deciduous Trees

November is the last time that we should work on our deciduous trees. During this month, the leaves will start to turn color and fall. When your tree is about 50 percent turned, you can go through the tree and cut off the remaining leaves. Since the temps are low, the tree will continue to move into dormancy and will not produce any new leaves till the following Spring. After removing the leaves, we can do some light cut back or branch removal to direct how the tree will grow the following Spring. I do not recommend heavy branch removal at this time of year.

It is important that we cut the tree as it’s transitioning into dormancy as opposed to cutting them during dormancy. When the tree is dormant, cuts will cause the tree to bleed out sap which will then cause the tree to weaken. Other than periodic watering,
we don’t do very much with deciduous trees during the Winter. When cutting, if you find that the tree is already bleeding out sap, stop cutting and hold off till early Spring of next year.
Deciduous Trees That Don’t Go Deciduous:

Depending on your area, some of your deciduous trees don’t really go dormant. This does happen because for the most part, our Winters are not very cold. Many of use will see this happening on our Chinese Elms. So what should we do? If you want, you can go through the tree and remove the leaves though this is very time consuming. Normally I leave the leaves in place and by next year when the new leaves come out, the leaves that stayed on during the Winter will start to turn and fall off. At that time, we can go through the tree and carefully clean out the old leaves.

Trees To Work On

During this month we can work on just about every tree except for tropicals.


November is a little late for grafting so hold off till February of next year.

Check out the Website: PeterTeaBonsai.Com

If you’re interested in more information about Deciduous trees or Japanese Black Pines, please visit my website and click on the Post Index Tab. There you will find lots of information. See you all at the workshop!

Peter Tea’s October Write-Up

Peter Tea Bonsai!

October 2014!

Fall in Full Effect

Now that we’re into October and the weather is cooling down, we should all see a growth spurt with many of our trees. The temps are just warm enough that the trees go through a short push before they slow down for Winter.

There are many things we can do with our trees at this time of year. Most of the work will be with Conifers such as Junipers and High Mountain Pines, Cedars, Spruce and Cypress. During this month, we can continue to wire, cut and style these trees. For those that have fairly mild Winters, you can repot your Junipers at this time as well.

Other types of trees we can work on this month are Broad Leaf Evergreens. We can wire and style them at this time of year though I would be less aggressive with the cuts so that they can stay strong through the Winter.

Japanese Black Pines

Hold off on working on Japanese Black/Red Pines during the month of October. November or December is a better time. I will discuss more about what we can do with them in next months newsletter.

Deciduous Trees

October is not the best time to work on deciduous trees in general. They too will be addressed in the month of November. The reason why we don’t want to work on Deciduous trees now is because they are still active and will respond to cutting. If new shoots start to grow this month and next, the foliage may not have enough time to harden off before Winter. If it gets too cold, the fragile leave will burn and die off. This will stress the tree significantly.

It’s also on the late side to work on tropicals so hold off any major work till the temperature warms up again in the Spring of 2015.

High Mountain Pines

September is the first month we can start working on High Mountain Pines. September thru February is the time we can wiring, cutting and removable of old needles. Towards February we can repot the tree as well though I don’t recommend wiring and repotting the tree at the same time.

September is also the time to start feeding High Mountain Pines. This is especially important because the food you give it will determine how well the tree grows the following Spring.


Fall is a great time to perform side grafting on conifers, such as Junipers and Pines. This is where you cut new growth off the tree and graft it into the interior of the tree. As long as your Winters aren’t too severe, grating is very safe and sometimes preferable to Spring grafting. Just be sure that your tree is healthy before you start to graft. If your Winters are especially cold, then hold off till February. If the night time temps drops below freezing consistently, then your Winter is too harsh for grafting. If you plan too or like to learn how to perform a side graft at the next workshop, be sure to have the following tools and materials for the process. Fall grafting can be done in September and October.

Tools and Materials needed for side grafting:

Japanese Grafting Knife

Garden Type tape (thinner is better than thicker versions)

Cotton Balls

Small plastic baggies

Liquid cut paste

Cups to hold water

Small flat wooden block

Roll of painters tape

Repotting Junipers

Juniper repotting can be done in the Fall as well. We can do it either in September or October. Again, if your Winter is too harsh, then wait till February to repot. If the night time temps drops below freezing consistently, then your Winter is too harsh for repotting. Here are a list of tools and materials you will need for repotting.

Tools and Materials needed for repotting:


Root Scissors

Root Cutters

Root rake

Bent nose tweezers

Aluminum wire (1.5 mm to 2.5mm depending on the side of the tree)


Screen (for drain holes)

Suitable size pot


Soil scoop

Soil sifter!

Soil Tamper

For those that would like a review of repotting, please refer to the January and February write-ups for 2014.

Trees to Work on This Month

We can work on just about any tree this month except for Japanese Red/Black Pines and deciduous trees.

Sharpening Tools

At some point we all have to sharpen our tools. For the next few months, I will bring my sharpening tools and show study group members how I sharpen my tools. Having sharp tools is important because clean cuts always heals better than rough cuts. When tools are dull, they tend to crush more than cut. The crushing effect will cause the branch to die back more than normal and in some cases, cause the branch to die off completely. Also, using dull tools causes more hand fatigue than using sharp tools.

Since Bonsai is already hard enough, lets try not to make it harder for us and use nice sharp tools.

If you need any tools or supplies for repotting or grafting, please let me know and I’ll see what I can do to help you find them.

 See you all at the workshop