Category Archives: Peter Tea’s Monthly Write-Ups

Peter Tea’s June Write-Up

Peter Tea Bonsai

June 2014

May Write-Up

The May Write up is important for this month as well so please review it again before our next workshop together. If you feel you understand it and don’t have to review it, then you definitely need to review it again. 😉

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 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.**

High Mountain Pines

High Mountain Pines should not be worked on this month because the new candles are still soft and sensitive.  The normal time to work on them is after September and throughout Fall and Winter.

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 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 except for High Mountain Pines.

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’s May Write-Up

Peter Tea Bonsai

May 2014

Deciduous Time!

Now that we’re into May, it’s time to work on many of our deciduous/fruiting and flowering trees. The Spring growth will have hardened of by now which is a great time to start wiring, cutting and maybe defoliating the tree.

Throughout the late Spring, Summer and early Fall is when the majority of deciduous trees are worked on. Unlike confers 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 working time tends to be shorter but the interval of work is much closer.  Example: We defoliate, cut and wire a Trident Maple this month.  Within a month, the wire will have to be removed and the tree possibly defoliated and cut again.

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.


For those that missed the early Spring Air-layering window, this month or next month is a good time to do it.

If you plan to air layer, you will need the following items:

Grafting knife

Sphagnum moss

Root cutter or Knob cutter

Aluminum Wire

Plastic growing pot (to put around the air layer)

Bonsai soil

Black marker

What to work on:

During this month, we can work on deciduous and broad leaf evergreens. We can also worked on Junipers 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.

For other needles based trees such as spruce and cedar, wait till those needles have hardened off before working on them.  For most of us, that is closer to the end of May or in 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 willingness to see it and process it.

Saving Water

A study group member a few weeks ago asked me if there were some tips that I can give about saving water because of our current drought conditions.  Many cities are implementing water rationing and restrictions so for some of us, there isn’t much choice in the matter. Working together to save water is important and it will help us all get through the drought and perhaps get us to recognize where the waste are.

So here are some suggestions to saving some water in reference to your bonsai.

1. Don’t water the tree till you see water running out of the drain holes.  All that water coming out is the excess and is wasted. Just water the top of the tree and move on to the next tree.  Water does eventually make its way to the bottom.  You can get a feel for this process by watering the trees a little less, wait about 5 minutes and then checking the trees to see how much water is coming out the bottom of the pot.  If there is a lot of water coming out, then cut back the watering.  If there is no water coming and you can see that the soil at the bottom is dry, then water more.  If only a few drops of water is coming out then you are just about there.  Perfect would be if no water came out of the drain holes but you can see that the soil at the bottom is damp.

2. Control how much water your nozzle releases.  Some nozzles spray a very high volume of water.  Normal operating nurseries will use nozzles like that because of the volume of trees they have.  It’s fast and really drenches everything. Unfortunately, it also consumes a lot of water.  For your bonsai, try using nozzles that output less water to reduce the waste. The down side is that it may take you much long to water your trees.

3. Tree reduction. Of course, nobody wants to just throw away a tree. But for many of us, there are bonsai in our yards that we don’t do anything with.  Some things may have been sitting there for 10 years getting watered with no bonsai future in sight.  Though sensitive to the heart, perhaps this is the time to go through your collection and reduce the trees that don’t have much of a future in bonsai and taking up space.  I think we all have those trees that may have died a long time ago and we still end up watering them every day just because we didn’t take the time to throw them away.

4. Of course, for those of us that have large grass lawns, just reducing the watering schedule there could save enough water so that we don’t have to worry too much about water consumption in our bonsai.  Up to 50 percent of water used for outside irrigation is lost due to wind, evaporation and runoff.

See you all soon!

Peter Tea’s April Write-Up

April 2014


Spring is officially here, but for many of us in bonsai, that doesn’t necessarily mean a specific time of year.  Depending on when our trees start to push new growth can signify Spring for that particular tree.  For some, deciduous trees are just starting to push new growth, whereas for others, the tree has fully leafed and hardened off.

April can be a tricky month to work on trees sometimes.  Certain trees during the first months of Spring really don’t like to be worked on.  A very good example is High Mountain Pines such as Ponderosa or White Pines.  Once the candles on those trees start growing, it’s about the worst time to wire them.

On the other hand, there are many trees that can handle work in the Spring just fine because they are so much stronger.  Trident maples, Olive and Junipers just to name a few, though we do still have to be careful not to damage the new sensitive growth.

April Pinching

In Spring, you will hear a lot of people talk about the concept of pinching.  It can reference deciduous trees such as Japanese Maples or conifers like Junipers.  Sometimes there is a lot of confusion around the subject because everyone has an opinion about it.  Most will say it’s a good thing to do whereas others will say it’s a very bad thing to do.  Lets not approach pinching in that fashion. Instead of looking at it as good or bad, lets try to understand what it’s all about.  Cutting and pinching are essentially the same thing.  Depending on the timing of the cut, the word cutting or pinching is used.  Cutting usually requires scissors whereas pinching requires our fingertips.

Normally, pinching techniques are applied to refined trees. This is a way of slowing growth, to create density at the branch/foliage tips and maintaining shape during the growing season (Note I didn’t saying anything about back budding). If the tree is not refined or correctly developed, normally, pinching isn’t done. Trees in branch develop stages require more substantial cutting than pinching techniques.

Note that I underlined the word, “Normally.” During our workshop this month, I will discuss when we move out of the normal ranges and find ways of using pinching techniques to achieve a certain goal we have for our trees. We will also discuss how to properly pinch trees in normal circumstances.  (There is a normal pinching technique that is done on more developed White Pines during this month.  If you have one, bring it to the meeting and we’ll talk more in depth about it)

Ready or Not Ready

There are many trees we can work on this month. It just depends if they are ready for the techniques we apply to them.

Junipers – Can be thinned out and wired.

Deciduous trees and Leafy Evergreens – Can be cut and wired only if the leaves have hardened off. If the leaves have not hardened off, only cutting should be done.

Pines or Pine like trees – This month is not a good time to work on any pines


Air-layering on Deciduous trees should only be done either before the leaves come out, or after the Spring leaves have hardened off.  Air-layering a Maple in the middle of its Spring push is extremely stressful for the tree and may kill it.

For April, if the leaves have hardened off on your Maples, then you can air layer the tree. If not, hold off till the leaves do hardened off. Most maple leaves will have hardened off by May.

If you plan to air layer, you will need the following items:

Grafting knife

Sphagnum moss

Root cutter or Knob cutter

Aluminum Wire

Plastic growing pot (to put around the air layer)

Bonsai soil

Black marker


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.

Water Consumption

This part was in last months write up but still important for this month as well.

Once the weather start to warm and Spring is in full effect, the trees will start to pull large amounts of water.  We will see our soils drying out faster which requires us to water our trees more often.  Keep an eye out on your trees and be sure to water them when they need it. This is especially a sensitive time for trees that have just been repotted.  If the soil gets too dry, the tree may die due to the sensitive root system.

Remember to only water trees when they need it. Take time this year to really understand how much water each tree takes during the different seasons and adjust accordingly.  Having said that, I do understand that many of use cannot water our trees at the perfect time due to work or other aspects of our lives.  Do the best that you can and come up with a strategy to fit both the trees and your personal schedules.

See you all soon!

Peter Tea’s March Write-Up

March 2014


March is still a good month to repot.  Most of us have already repotted our deciduous trees and they should start to, if not already, leaf out. If your deciduous trees have not leafed out yet, then you can still repot them this month.

March is a good month to repot our conifers and evergreen trees. Even if some of them have started pushing, it is still okay to repot them. Just be aware that if the tree is starting to grow, you should not be as aggressive with the roots.

Re-potting as a Technique

Repotting is just like any other bonsai technique we use to develop our trees. Think about how you can use repotting to attain your bonsai goals.

Example 1:  Refined Deciduous trees are repotted every year to slow down vigorous Spring growth.

Example 2:  Refined Conifers are allowed to become root bound to slow down vigorous Spring growth.

Two examples of how repotting or the lack or repotting will help in slowing the growth of a type of tree. Of course, that’s only if your goal is to slow the tree down. What if your goal is to increase the growth of the tree? Then the technique is going to change.

In the case of Example 2: repotting conifers more frequently yields a stronger and more vigorous growing tree.  Again, think about what the current goals of the trees are and apply the necessary repotting schedule to achieve that goal.

Example 3: Trees that are in soil mixes that holds water for longer periods of time will grow slower.

Example 4: Trees that are in soil mixes that holds water for shorter periods of time will grow faster.

Repotting and soil medium is a fundamental part of bonsai and should not be overlooked in your path to creating beautiful bonsai. You may just find that it’s the reason why our trees are not developing the way we want them to, or the quality of the tree is no longer increasing year after year.


Spring is right around the corner and for many of use, we’re already seeing its effects on our trees. Its an exciting time because we’re starting to see our trees grow again and a sign of relief that we didn’t kill our trees during the repotting process (joke).

Deciduous – Other than pruning to focus growth onto certain areas, there isn’t much to do with deciduous trees this month.

If the tree is finely ramified, and you’re trying to control growth, then now is a good month to pinch the tree back.  Pinching should only be done on ramified trees. If the tree is still in development, hold off working on it till the Spring leaves have hardened off (around April-May).  Do not air layer deciduous trees if they have already started pushing new growth.

Conifers – For this month, conifers can still be repotted, cut back and wired. When wiring, be careful not to disturb the new growth. Some of them can be very soft and will break off easily.

Do Not wire high mountain pines during this month if the candles are starting to extend.  (High mountain pines are any pine species that grow in high elevations) Wiring and bending high mountain pines when the candles are growing is extremely stressful to the tree and can cause die back of the branches or total death of the tree. You can still lightly prune, pull needles and repot the tree if needed.

Broad Leaf Evergreens – This month is still a good time to work on any type of leafy evergreen. We can repot, prune and wire the tree during this month. Many people like repotting their Oak trees during this month as well.

Water Consumption

Once the weather start to warm and Spring is in full effect, the trees will start to pull large amounts of water.  We will see our soils drying out faster which requires us to water our trees more often.  Keep an eye out on your trees and be sure to water them when they need it. This is especially a sensitive time for trees that have just been repotted.  If the soil gets too dry, the tree may die due to the sensitive root system.

Remember to only water trees when they need it. Take time this year to really understand how much water each tree takes during the different seasons and adjust accordingly. Having said that, I do understand that many of use cannot water our trees at the perfect time due to work or other aspects of our lives. Do the best that you can and come up with a strategy to fit both the trees and your personal schedules.

See you all soon!

Peter Tea’s Feburary Write-Up
February 2014

For most in California, February is a good time to start repotting. For those living in areas where the night doesn’t freeze, re-potting could have been started as early as December. If you’re in an area that still freezes at night, then hold off the repotting till it gets warmer. A good indication to start is when the night time low is above freezing.

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.

January 2014 Write-up.

Please re-read last months write-up because it still pertains to the work we do this month. If you plan on repotting, be sure to have your soil ready and mixed to save yourself some time.

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 Workshop.

In the workshop I encourage members to ask questions about repotting (or anything else for that matter). There are no, “dumb,” questions. There have been many occasions where the answers are not as expected. Sometimes the answer is quick and simple and sometimes the answer can completely changes ones approach to bonsai (happens more than you think).

Keep an open mind, be ready to discuss and share your thoughts and lets continue to learn more together.

Remember, it’s all about have fun learning more and creating better and better trees.  The year is still just starting but will end before we know it. I’m excited to work with you all and to see you progress!!
See you all soon!

Peter Tea January Write-Up

January 2014

Happy New Year.

2014 is here and it’s the start of another new year in Bonsai!  I hope you all had a fun and safe Holiday Season.   Amazing how time flies and before we know it, it’ll be 2015!   Hopefully by then, we’ll have increased our bonsai knowledge, gotten some good bonsai work done and our trees looking better.  I’m excited about this month and I hope you are too.  Now what can we do?


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 is not 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 growth in the trees.  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.

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
information 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 have 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. You should also sift your soil to size so that you have a small and medium size mix. This is especially important when working with conifers.

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.

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.

Other Things to Do.

If you don’t plan to repot this month, there are other things you can do.  January is a great time to wire, cut and style conifers and leafy evergreens.  Pines can still have needles pulled and thinned as well.