2017 Regular Meeting Notes

Please find links below to the PDF notes for our regular meetings. This page will be updated as new documents are prepared by our 2017 club president, Gordon Van Wechel. Thanks Gordon!

January 2017 Albuquerque Bonsai Club Notes
Bonsai Soil & Substrate, Pot Cleaning, Learning Opportunities

February 2017 Albuquerque Bonsai Regular Meeting Notes


March 2017 Albuquerque Bonsai Club Regular Meeting Notes
“Un-wintering” Bonsai, Preparing Show Trees, Kusamono

April 2017 Bonsai Club Regular Meeting Notes
Bill Wawrychuk’s Useless Bonsai Tips

May 2017 Bonsai Club Regular Meeting Notes
Mother’s Day Weekend Exhibition Preparation

Recommendations for Beginners

Those of you who are completely new to the art have a distinct advantage—you don’t have to unlearn any of the B.S. that floats through the bonsai world all too often. Enjoy your Beginner’s Mind while you can.

First, get a book or two and try to absorb the most basic ideas. The book I like is by Yuji Yoshimura and Giovanna Halford, now called “The Art of Bonsai”. You can get it cheaply used thru Amazon— Unless you’re a collector, why not buy used books that you can beat up??. Note that it used to be called “The Japanese Art of Miniature Trees and Landscapes”— same book. The other great book is John Naka’s “Bonsai Techniques, Vols. 1&2”. These are wonderful books, but are relatively expensive, especially when autographed. If you’re working on the cheap, the Sunset and Ortho paper bounds are very decent, and are almost free on the used mkt. Remember that the club has an extensive library, which Burt quixotically brings to each regular meeting.

The internet is a vast mixed bag. I like a Brit named Graham Potter, who has numerous lessons on many topics. He works on especially good material, which will give you a sense of our main problem, which is the lack of good bonsai material UNLESS you are willing/able to collect. The other guy, who is a part of a New Wave of young hakajin who have been well-trained, is Ryan Neal. We will give you other suggestions as we go.

In terms of supplies, keep it simple at first, unless you are rolling in $$ and have a need to go ape-crap to disguise your insecurities. A decent pointed-nose trimmer, a wire cutter, and maybe a heavier pruning shears will get you going—all available at Wal-Mart. Check and see what the old fools are using at the workshop— we’ll spend some time this Sat on the subject.

Wire for training is important, and not many el cheapo alternatives are available, unless you are among those fine citizens of our State who steal copper, Years ago, copper was the standard, but in the 70’s, anodized aluminum almost totally replaced it. Annealed copper is still the best, but is a lot harder to work with unless you have King Kong hands. Many of us buy aluminum wire from Dallas Bonsai Gardens, who always seem to have the best prices. It’s a helluva lot cheaper in bulk, so maybe we’ll try to make a buy and share. I have a lot of wire, if you need some to do your workshop material.

Remember that most any woody trunked, small leaved material is usable as bonsai stock. Junipers are best to start, though some of you will want to use tropicals that you can keep indoors. I’m not a tropical fan, but the principles are about the same. We’ll teach you what to look for in material— a matter of primary importance.

In NM, it is of paramount significance that you work to provide an environment favorable to the cultivation of your trees. Just about everything that bonsai don’t like is the weather norm here— dry air, strong winds, intense sun, abrupt temperature change, lousy water, etc., etc., etc. If you are unable to negate most of these problems, you will lose interest and go back to your old hobby of psycho-active drugs. There are NO bonsai prodigies— everyone is a geek for a year-or-two, at least. But if you can’t keep plants alive and happy, you’ll have to settle for being a viewer/appreciator, rather than a participant.


Fertilizer Basics

The 3 basic components of plant food are Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium. On all store-bought fertilizers, these 3 will be listed by the N-P-K ratios. Numerous other “trace elements” are blended with these. The compositions, strengths, frequencies of use, and seasonal timing provide yet more tempests-in-teapots for bonsaists to argue about.

Historical perspective: The use of organics is a very long-standing tradition for bonsai, in large part because commercial chemical production is a fairly recent invention. Nearly all old bonsai books advocate a mixture of organics blended together into a kind of dough and placed as small “cakes” on the surface of the pots. One of my earliest duties as a bonsai apprentice was to mix cottonseed meal, blood meal, and bone meal together, using ordinary baking flour as a binder, into a doughy,”earlobe texture” blend, then rolling it into long sausages and slicing it into little pucks. I would let these dry, then put one  puck into each corner of the bonsai pot.

There were several problems with this method. Generally, the bone meal as sold in bags was not really very water soluble. As the little cakes melted away, the bone would just lie there. Also, the blood meal was irresistibly attractive to dogs, mice, rats, squirrels, etc. A larger dog would pull pots off shelves to get at it, and smaller dogs would tear into bags and root around in it. If the cakes became rehydrated in the pots, they would soon become fly breeders of epic proportion. The relative ease of fish emulsion was a tempting substitute, or at least an alternating regime, and was/is widely used.

In recent years, commercial compositions have made huge inroads into the sacred organic methods. There are as many preferences as there are individuals. Some of us are high nitrogen advocates. Though this undoubtedly builds strength, it has several drawbacks. N encourages large, rank leaf growth, and long internodes (the length of the branch between leaves). As you veggie growers know, it will also hinder fruit and flower production. In Japan, it is also thought to make bonsai somewhat “course,” which essentially means lack of refined miniaturization on trunks and branches.

Many of us have been going over to high phosphorus blends. The first real advocate for this in the early 70’s was Warren Hill, whom some of you have met. He wrote an article in the yearly California Bonsai Society magazine called ” Phosphorus—The Key to Life and Beauty,” that influenced a lot of us. High P has long been advocated as a Fall food because it strengthens roots for the dormancy period. The iconoclastic Hill wondered why it shouldn’t be used all year.

Much voodoo surrounds the feeding process, which is far more straight-forward chemistry than we’d like to admit. The difference between the holy organics and Miracle Grow, etc. is probably not that significant. I have come to believe that seasonal timing is far more important than we realize here in the desert. Our growth cycles are heavily influenced by changes of light and temperature, and occur in a sort of punctuated equilibrium rather than in a slow, steady pace as in other climates. We get a dramatic, early spring flush, followed by a period of near dormancy during our hottest weather, then another flush as the trees anticipate fall.

I noticed today that my elms have suddenly come back to fast growth now that coolness is in the air. My new method, therefore, is to hit everything pretty hard in early spring with my beloved Tiger Bloom (2-8-4), in 7 day intervals or even more frequently. Then, from June through July I back off and let the trees consolidate their gains. In late August, I start cranking the food again to anticipate the fall, pre-dormancy flush. Some of you even feed through dormancy in reduced amounts, and I’m liking that idea better all the time. Getting those nutrients available before the growth actually begins seems important, as if the tree were pulling strength together for its big spurt.


Enemies of Bonsai

The main enemies to keeping bonsai alive in New Mexico are:

  1. Direct and reflected full sun.
  2. Desiccating winds, both summer and winter.
  3. Lack of any meaningful humidity.

There are a few others, like poor (alkaline) water, and extreme temperature variations, often occurring in the same 24 hour period.

Very few plants can handle a full day of Albuquerque summer sun, especially in the afternoon, and especially reflected from walls or fences. You must provide some sort of shade mechanism from about 10:30 am onward, and it needs to be pretty damn thorough. Some of our folks have sufficient large tree growth in their yards to provide dappled sun all day, and it works for them. Most of us require some sort of structure or shade cloth moorings to get the job done. My first effort in Socorro involved wood lattice over a ramada. It did not provide nearly enough protection, and the wood eventually deteriorated from the elements. This year, junior and I got serious and recovered the frame with 90% filter shade cloth, and the difference was huge. Everything we have, including the toughest junipers, are enjoying a far less stressful environment. I have also blocked the S. Western exposure with a new plum tree that really helps, as well. The problem is that a lot of shade cloth is truly ugly, especially in black. I like the looks of those sail-shaped babies though, and they provide an opportunity to create something actually quite beautiful. The cheapest stuff is available at Harbor Freight, they call them “mesh tarps.” I’d suggest doubling them if they’re in full sun. Amazon also has an extensive selection. Some of you have had good success keeping trees on east and north-facing walls which block both sun and wind.

The problem of wind is difficult to solve. I’m currently having decent luck with a layer of bamboo screening mounted against a chain link fence— it’s held up amazingly well for some years, considering the fact it gets a full summer blast from the south. You’re going to have to be creative about this, or it’ll drive you back to your old hobbies of Green Stamp collecting and Zoophilia. I have in the past allowed enough surplus hangover of shade cloth to create a wind block, and have had mixed success. Much of this requires some serious thought as to siting…. best to get it right the first time if you can.

The issue of water is simple to grasp but hard to fix. Nearly all trees do much of their survival work through their leaves and foliage, of course. In our climate, with humidity usually pushing zero, trees need to hunker down for long periods between rains, and wait for the merciful monsoons to get them going again. So, we have the curious phenomena of summer dormancies, and such. I would guess that 80% of all lost bonsai die from water issues. With our coarse soil mixes, it is virtually impossible to over-water outdoor bonsai in ABQ, and I am always terminally skeptical when any of us claims over-watering to be a problem here. So, our trees need copious water both in roots and on foliage. When I water in 95 deg. weather, I soak down everything—- benches, ground, structures, surrounding trees and shrubs, even shade cloth. I have had endless trouble with automatic watering systems, so I don’t really trust them, but I bought a ton of misting- system stuff and would like to see how it works. Do any of you use misters?? Watering is taken with extreme seriousness in Japan—it takes at least a year for apprentices to be trusted with the task. When we are at Queen Connie’s, that is one of the things you all should learn from her—she is a Maniac Master of watering.


— John