Category Archives: Tips & Techniques by Scott Chadd

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.

February 2014 Tips & Techniques by Scott Chadd

February is always the busiest month of the year for us here at the nursery. The month begins with the California Shohin Seminar which is held the last weekend in January in Santa Nella on the even numbered years. This event draws bonsai persons from all over the country. Shohin bonsai are those that are quite small (usually less than 8″ tall) and the display is truly breathtaking. There are workshops, demonstrations, seminars, great companionship during the social hours, and a large area for vendors. Prices for the work- shops are very reasonable because all the talent donate their time to the Shohin Society. This year there were over 250 people attending the Saturday night dinner and auction. Try not to miss this event as it is one of the best in the US.

Next comes our annual dig at the growing grounds in Oroville. For the last 12 years we have been taking material started here at Lotus and planting it into the ground at the rear of a large industrial nursery next to the Feather River in Oroville. The nursery is not open to the public but the person who manages it is one of our students and we have partnered up to bring our small material to highly advanced bonsai rapidly. The soil is 20′-50′ deep and a sandy silty loam that the trees love. They grow 5 times as fast in the ground up there as they do in pots here. There are about 400 trees planted in the acre of ground. They include Japanese Maples, Mikawa Black Pines, Shimpaku Junipers, Trident Maples, Ume and Crab Apples. Once a year, usually the second weekend of February, we open up the growing grounds to our students and they lift material. Some of our club members have attended this event and enjoyed themselves while ac- quiring great bonsai futures.

Finally, is the Mammoth Bazaar fund raiser held at the Garden Center at Lake Merritt in Oakland. This event is the 3rd weekend of the month so this year it is February 22-23. There is an auction of bonsai held on Saturday and the material at this auction is some of the best on the west coast. Sunday there is a large member sales area where bonsai club members from the Bay Area bring material to sell; there is a vendor section and demonstrations are held in the audito- rium. This raises money to support the GSBF Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt which is one of the two major bonsai collec- tions created by the Golden State Bonsai Federation. The other resides at Huntington Gardens in Southern California.

We are on the run this month and enjoying the opportunity to share this hobby that we love.

January 2014 Tips & Techniques by Scott Chadd

Now is a good time to be repotting trees. During this time of dormancy the fluids inside the tree are still so trimming of roots and branches can occur with little lasting damage. Because the weather has been so warm and dry many of our trees our beginning to bud out. Ume are busy making flowers and Amur Maples are going strong. Many of our trees are fully convinced that we are in the middle of April.

So…………….if you wait until February or March it may not be possible to repot this year due to the growth patterns that are occurring.

Last year we had a similar weather pattern and many of our Japanese Maples really suffered. Just like this year they began to break buds in January then froze in February and March. Making the second batch of leaves quite weak and the Fall color very pale.

Good luck.

December 2013 Tips & Techniques by Scott Chadd

The change in seasons from hot and dry (July, August, September) to cool/cold/wet (October, November, December) to very cold and wet (January, February, March) to mild, warm and sunny (April, May, June) once, a long time ago, seemed to be moderately predictable. To my eye this really started to shift about 10 years ago.The new and emerging weather systems are far less predictable and the peaks and valleys are higher and lower.

This climb in magnitude and reduction of cycle times is common in physical systems undergoing rapid alteration. The meaning of all this variability for bonsai is not yet clear. Hot is getting hotter, wet is wetter, cold is colder and the wind is blowing harder. Each of these activities in our environment re- quires us to recalibrate our responses to keep our small potted trees strong and healthy.

One of the many things I love about bonsai is its focus on nature and how she works. Every time I go outside to look at the nursery I am conscious of the space we occupy. I notice the temperature, humidity, angle of the sun, wind, bugs, diseases, soil conditions, growth patterns, the plant/earth dialogue as it is played out in the lives of my trees. This awareness of ones surroundings is somehow being lost as many of our people, young and old, spend the great majority of their time indoors looking closely at small electronic devices. The world spins around them without their attention. I think the outcome of this situation is not going to be pretty.

Anyway, keep your trees from drying out. Don’t over water but don’t let the bonsai pots become dry. If the pot is dry and there is a hard freeze the roots are full of water and the soil is dry so when the root freezes there is no countervailing force to keep it from bursting. If the pot and the root are both moist then freezing happens equally on both sides of the cell wall and things remain stable.

Pick off any scale insects that are over wintering on your bonsai, now is a good time to find them and they come off easily. If you have some sooty mold (your trunk and branches will become dark) it is a good time to gently use power washer or hard hose nozzle with a tooth brush to remove it. Once it is washed off you can apply an agricultural oil (Neem, volck or some other) to stop it from coming back. Now is a good time to do heavy trimming, removing branches that don’t enhance the design. Being able to see into our deciduous trees lets us apply styling wire with ease; so go ahead and do that. It was 18 degrees at 7am here three days ago. We will discuss repotting in January.

October 2013 Tips & Techniques by Scott Chadd

You can begin the final defoliation of your deciduous trees. If the leaves are brown, grey and faded now is a good time to remove them. Be careful because there are a lot of small buds at the base of those leave that are going to make your new branches next year. With trees whose leaves are still green you can apply a bit of 0-10-10 once a week for the next month at 1/2 strength to provide potassium and phosphorus that is so important for root growth. This application can also cause brighter color in many of the trees. If your bonsai are showing great fall colors (Amur Maples, Tridents, Gingko, Crabapples, and Elms are yellow, orange, red and gold right now), relax and enjoy them.

For conifers and junipers it is a good time to wire them. Remove all the old needles and leave 5-10 bundles of needles at the end of the branch. Protect the new buds which are growing at the very tip end of the pines. On the junipers you can let the new distal growth run but remove those nasty little groups of pincushion needles that are emerging at branch divisions and in the crotch of leaf separations. Because these trees are beginning to slow down bending is easier than in the Spring and Summer. Use sealer to repair any damage where the branch cracks or splits.

The weather keeps getting stranger and stranger so keep your fingers crossed and don’t let your bonsai dry out.