Category Archives: Tips & Techniques by Scott Chadd

January 2015 Tips & Techniques by Scott Chadd

Now is a good time to be repotting your bonsai. Repotting, styling, wiring, trimming etc. can all be accomplished from now until mid March ish, depending on the weather. Check for bugs, funguses, and any other nasty things that might have climbed onto your bonsai during the fall. We are still having a very dry winter so make sure your bonsai are watered so that they don’t dry out. The strong winds that occasionally blow up the canyons dry out our trees really fast.
Make sure all of your tools are clean and sharp. Prepare all your needed transplanting/repotting supplies prior to beginning. We find that we make a lot more efficient progress when we plan a day or two ahead of time, get the bonsai or stock material all lined up and then go to work on them and spend at least a full day. Applying the force required to do this work is best done in a steady and consistent way. Use Superthrive, B-1, or some other rooting stimulant product. Do not fertilize the repotted bonsai until they have begun active growth again; this should be sometime in April/May.
For gathered material from the mountains you can put a little bit of Horminex 1, 2, or 3 into the pot and water as you normally would. In the middle of April treat all gathered material with Merit or some other ‘systemic’ fungicide, bug killer, fertilizer mix. Most of the pines and many junipers that we gather in the mountains have borers living in them and the use of the systemic product will kill them after 3-5 applications before they begin the move around in your garden.

November 2014 Tips & Techinques by Scott Chadd

This is one of the busiest times of the year for those of us who grow and care for bonsai. The sun is lowering in the southern sky, the days are very short, the temperature is getting colder and things are generally wet. When this is combined with the wind and the conditions affecting your bonsai the care regime becomes increasingly complex. Here are a couple of hints:
Deciduous Bonsai
Begin by looking closely at each bonsai and removing all of the spent leaves. See if you have scale insects living on your bonsai; they may seem dry and pop off pretty easily but they are overwintering and need to be removed. Check for biting wires if you have placed wire to style in the time frame from August till now. Check to see how fast your pot is draining. If it is slow mark the tree to be repotted this winter or early spring. Because we have so many trees we have begun our repotting already and will continue to do this until early April of next year.
Move your material into full sun, such as it is. Place a small object under one side of the pot so that it is tilted slightly; this will let the rainwater run off more quickly. Prepare all of your repotting materials (soil, wire, screen, work area, place to put old soil, ground pruners and branch pruners) and make sure all your tools are sharp and clean.
Conifer Bonsai:
Black Pines can be cleaned up and styled from now on but should not be repotted until next spring when it begins to warm up. If you have White Pines they can be repotted from late December well into next spring. Junipers can be repotted once the days begin to warm up, usually March/April. Although it is not uncommon for us to experience a nice and warm week or two in December. Look closely at your Junipers if they seem to be getting a grey or washed out looking. This can often be a result of mites. Treat with oil and a systemic pesticide. Pines and Junipers can be lightly pruned (cutting of small branches and shoots) and wired from now on. Do not make large cuts until Spring because major open wounds invite bad things to crawl into your bonsai. Make sure that if you need to make larger cuts (1/4″-3/8″ branch) that they are very clean and sealed up good with cut paste or latex paint.

October 2014 Tip & Techniques by Scott Chadd

This is the time of year when we travel to the mountains to gather trees. It is also a good time to think about plans to repot your bonsai, cut them back, place styling wire, feed with 0-10-10. Leaves should be turning into fall color. Some will be brown and crisp while many will be turning red or gold. Move your trees to spaces where they get more sun.

Make sure you mark your calendar to spray with dormant oil in December and then again in January. This will stop most fungus and a lot of the small bugs that will want to attack your bonsai in the Spring. See you at the GSBF Convention in Sacramento!

September 2014 Tips & Techniques by Scott Chadd

Now is a good time to begin feeding gently with 0-10-10 (phosphorus and potassium) to strengthen root and lower trunk to provide for a good start next spring. Keep an eye out for woolly aphids, spider mites, scale and spittle bugs. They are all active at this time of year. If you find them try physical systems first (spray with hose, scrape off with hands or toothbrush, use a damp cloth) and then follow up with oil. Don’t put oil on any plant that will get the sun that day. Apply in the evening and avoid the leaves because the oil will burn them.                                                                                                                                                               Check the wires you applied in Spring and Summer (after defoliation). Your trees are actually beginning to put on a spurt of growth and the wires will bite really fast. Check the speed of drainage in your pots. Any bonsai that have slowly draining pots need to be repotted. Mark them with something you can find really easy so when the leaves are gone you can begin repotting without have to search around your collection.

August 2014 Tips & Techniques by Scott Chadd

We stopped feeding our bonsai about 3 weeks ago. Toward the end of September we will treat them all with 0-10-10 to help them get ready for winter. The last month has been used to defoliate Japanese Maples, trim the big Chinese Elms, work on all the different trees that are growing here.
This time of year is the “Dog Days”, it is so hot that going outside for an hour can be a real effort. Drink lots of water and make sure your bonsai are given plenty of water also. The Maples that we defoliated three weeks ago are making such nice small (and green) leaves to replace the ratty brown ones that were just hanging on. Not many pests this time of year for us

July 2014 Tips & Techniques by Scott Chadd

We have experienced the very hot (100 degrees and above during the day with nighttime lows of about 75 degrees) weather of our typical July/August days. Some of the trees are suffering and some are happy about the heat. Maples, Elms, Crabapples, Oaks, Beeches and some Boxwoods will have brown leaves or the leaf margins will be burnt. Not to worry.  Look for the emergence of small green buds below the damaged tissue and you will see them coming out behind the ones that are dead.  Some bonsai people call this process defoliation without scissors.

On the other hand Pines, Junipers, Holly, Ficus and Pyracantha are quite happy as the heat gets hotter. The hot days and nights seem to agree with their individual needs and they tend to grow most when our deciduous trees are basically stopped.  Just remember to water well. Take off the crispy leaves and the bonsai will look niceras the new leaves emerge.

June 2014 Tips & Techniques by Scott Chadd

Our president Paul has provided a lot of good information regarding summer care. I would like to offer a few more tips/observations that might help.

1).  On a hot afternoon, say 103 at 4pm; if your clay pot is sitting in the sun the external temperature of the pot can be over 120 degrees and the inside of the pot above 130 degrees. This heated clay is right next to the most tender shoots that are feeding your bonsai. These feeder roots are killed by the high heat and although the tree is getting plenty of water it is still fading away. When those root tips (they are the white or cream colored part right at the very end of the root) die or are damaged it does not matter how much water you put into the pot it aint going to get into the tree.

Here are some suggestions:

Obviously the best solution if it is possible is to move your bonsai into an area with afternoon shade. – Get some material from a swamp cooler (it looks like a big sponge) and cut it out to fit over the pot and will reduce the temperature. – Wrap the pot up (don’t plug up the drainage holes) with an old rag or towel and it will help a lot. – Some people put ice cubes on their bonsai soil in the hot afternoons. I have not done this but heard that it works ok.

2).   The EID is requiring me to reduce my water consumption by 30%, so while I continue to water the bonsai every day I have started watering the stock plants every other day. Many of them are wilting or dying from lack of water. My plan has always been to place the trees into a fast draining material and water frequently. Now that I can no longer do that I am going to have to plant my stock trees into a denser material with more organic matter, and Akadama, in it to retain the water longer.

3).   For our smaller bonsai we have placed them into/upon large (20″x30″) bakers trays with Hyuga, or other fired clay, about 1″ deep on the bottom. The little bonsai sit in this wet rock most of the day and they seem to do quite well. It is not uncommon for us to lift up one of the little pots and find roots 18″ long growing out of the drainage holes and through the gravel.

Finally, each of us is faced with cultural problems that are unique to our own bonsai collection. Is the property flat or sloping? do you face east or west? are there big trees where you keep your bonsai? how do you water? what fertilizer do you use? how big is the pot in relation to the tree? and on and on.

The proper care and maintenance of bonsai is a lifetime learning adventure. Enjoy and see you soon

May 2014 Tips & Techniques by Scott Chadd


Shimpaku is also known as the Chinese Juniper, an excellent choice for bonsai. This evergreen is highly tolerant of various soil types. Interesting, Shimpaku is also dioecious, meaning it has separate male and female plants. This naturally, irregular shaped tree that grows in mound shape. The nice thing about using the Shimpaku tree for bonsai is the year round foliage with dark, green needles, beautiful to look at and soft to touch.

Because the Shimpaku is so easy to grow and maintain, it is perfect for beginner  bonsai growers. With more than 500 species of evergreen in the Juniper category, you will certainly find the exact one that suits your needs. Typically, Shimpaku trees in  Japan have been collected from mountains, dating back more than two centuries.

Proper Care

The Shimpaku does best in full sun although those with scale-like foliage do like a little bit of shade. In the winter, you want to protect the Shimpaku from frost. Although not recom- mended, when growing this type of tree indoors, the key is to make sure the tree has lots of good lighting, excellent humidity, and adequate air circulation. Without this, you would have a very difficult time growing it.

To water the Shimpaku, you want to keep the soil barely moist. Watering too much could lead to root rot, which is a problem the Shimpaku is prone to developing. In addition, you should mist the foliage several times a week to help keep pores free from dust in that this tree needs to breathe. To feed this bonsai tree, you want fertilizer every other week, containing high nitrogen. This should be done from the early part of spring to midsummer. Then from late summer through the winter months, feed the Shimpaku with low nitrogen fertilizer.

The Shimpaku needs to be pinched back continually throughout the growing season, helping to keep the foliage dense and compact. The key here is to use only your fingers, never scissors that would cause the foliage to turn brown. Then, do not pinch anything off one month after any visible growth is seen in late spring. Then, you want to thin out the  foliage, helping to reduce the volume of older growth in the summer.

Now for repotting your Shimpaku, this should be performed every two years until the tree reaches age 10. At that point, you would only repot as needed. The best type of soil for this bonsai is soil that is free draining. Just make sure all stone or grit used in the soil mix is cleaned prior to using. This will get rid of any alkaline deposits that would cause stress to the tree.

To propagate the Shimpaku, you can air layer or use root ripe, woodcuttings in the fall. When it comes to styling for bonsai, the Shimpaku works exceptionally well with all styles with the exception of the broom. Then, this particular tree is virtually disease free. However, you would want to check occasionally for scales.

April 2014 Tips & Techniques by Scott Chadd

It is the time of the year when insects, diseases, and various fungus begin to use our trees for groceries. Each of these problems has a specific host that it prefers and a place it likes to occupy. There are literally hundreds of books on these subjects so I am just going to hit the high spots for what we find here in our nursery.

1).  We who have oaks on our property will probably see little green worms hanging from fine silk threads. These are the larva stage of the oak moth. They will crawl around and make a green mess, eat like pigs and then build a small house where they change from a worm into a flying insect (the moth). The moths flutter all over the place, the birds have a feast, and then after the party the moths lay the eggs that will become next year’s worms — and then die. Ah…..the glory of life.

2).   Aphids are quite happy to be gathering on the most tender parts of our plants. They don’t bother pines or junipers much but they love roses, crabapples, elms, oaks, and any other plant that is producing a soft green, new growth that is easily penetrated by their sucking mouth parts. Look around for shiny leaves that have sticky stuff on them (this is called honeydew and is aphid poo). Ants love the poo and the ants come with sooty mold fungus on their feet and then you have all kinds of problems. Mix 1 ounce of alcohol and about 8-10 drops of baby shampoo with 16 ounces of water and then spray; it will make them go away. Be nice to lady bugs; they are champion aphid eaters. Also praying mantis are voracious eaters of other insects.

3).   Scale insects are very busy right now. They are difficult to detect because they don’t move around and are often given an appearance that makes them look very much like the bark they are stuck to. They live inside a hard shell and don’t respond well to insecticides. We use a toothbrush or small pick and squash them and then gently brush the area with Volck oil. Don’t get oil on any leaves and don’t use Malathion because both of these will burn your trees. Look closely where the branch leaves the trunk; look for a little bump that should not be there. If you can squish it, you have scale. If you see one scale there are always many more. Be vigilant.

4).   Various mildews, molds, whorls, and other stuff will turn up from time to time. For these conditions and most fungus, the best offense is a good defense; so spray with dormant oil in December and then again in February. If you do this for a couple of years these kinds of problems will decline dramatically.

March 2014 Tips & Techniques by Scott Chadd

Those of you who attended our last meeting  experienced how bonsai can be created from superior material. One of the things that we try to convince our new members of is: please try to acquire good material for your bonsai. Please don’t start purchasing a bunch of $25-$35 stuff in 3 gallon containers with the hope of turning it into a bonsai as soon as you find some time. It won’t take long for you to realize that you have set a trap for yourself. When you go out to  water your plants after a year or two you will find that you have 50 small containers of potential (with the accent on potential) bonsai material, it is all you can do to water them and keep them alive, and instead of bonsai being a source of joy and satisfaction it has simply become another “chore” that somehow must be accomplished. Work with us to get fewer trees but focus on quality not quantity.