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In its 14th year

Small Talk - is a two monthly Hare-Yama Ryu publication issued at the beginning of February, April, June, August, October and December. It carries information on:

    * Timely warnings/reminders about your bonsai's needs

    * Articles on special bonsai topics

    * Bonsai care calendar

    * Hare-Yama Ryu news

    * Bonsai news that we've heard

    * Answers to your questions


Extracts from Small Talk

Volume 13,  No 2,  April 2007


Do now, don't repent later ..

Probably for reasons of understanding and remembering, humans are masters of dividing everything up into bite-sizes pieces. This allows us to associate specific characteristics with each part, and make sense of its role in the whole.

However, by the time we have figured it all out, bit by bit, there is often something thrown away in this process - the all-important influence of each and every part on each and every other part. We begin to think that each part with its own unique, specific characteristics is independent. But this is quite simply never so as the complex interactions of nature have no divisions and cross all boundaries. I remember the day many years back, listening to a lecture on viticulture, when I was reminded very graphically of this point. I have never forgotten it since. The lecturer, a well-known wine farmer and master winemaker, was explaining how the quality of one year's vintage was determined to a large extent by the conditions of the previous vintage.

The specific issue was the relevance of good ripening of the buds that the vines develop in autumn. We were shown enlarged pictures of a section through a bud developing in autumn, and saw how inside this bud, in amazing detail, was the embryonic form of the shoot that would emerge in spring. The bud's future was being determined, or at least its potential future.


More on buds and their importance to bonsai

 in the April 2007 Small Talk


Season Checklist


Autumn is upon us and even some early winter weather has come our way




While the rather late-season, soaked guinea fowl chick ouside (trying to get warm after a night of rain) is less happy with the wet conditions that we are, any rainfall should be gratefully received and shared with your bonsai. The wet season approaches and watering will become a diminishing task, especially if plants are not undercover, and exposed to the rain. Take care with the usual plants that prefer dry winters, like the Senegalia (acacia) species, and baobabs.


Wind and Air


This rather unusual April cloud cover on the Helderberg appeared suddenly and lingered for an hour or so before the onset of a short-lived frontal system. It demonstrated very graphically how strong the winds were aloft, and underlined (overlined?) the risks of hiking in the mountains when there is a potential for changes in the weather. The blessing of winter rain comes with strong winds attached, so take the necessary precautions against the severe conditions that we can start to expect - quite unexpectedly (if that makes sense - as indeed it should to any Capetonian). For indeed, the Cape weather will keep us guessing and surprises are assured. So get the emergency kit prepared, nursery container and soil, and trauma treatments. But prevention been better than salvage, try to provide a place where bonsai have some protection from the wind. But, never protect them too much, as the tussle with the elements will usually add to the plants well being, not threaten it.


Plant Health


The tree above will be featured in the next Small Talk, after it has had a winter trimming - which will be more severe that it should have been. Trimming may appear to have only a benefit to appearance, but when left this long, excessively meristematic activity in some parts of the tree have robbed the rest of all the nutrients and sunlight they need. The result is a big setback to the plant's development. So sometimes it is not just about what one gives the tree that concerns its health, but also what one removes from the tree. Still, ensure that plants get their nutrient supplies during this last-ditch season of growth and stocking the larder for winter.


For more details refer to the Hare-Yama first-aid kit information.


Potting and Repotting


Never say never. While it should not be a time for potting, we were obliged to do so by the timetable of Somerset College Primary where we have been presenting a course at one of their clubs. We chose plants like the Buxus and Ligustrum that root well all year round, so as to minimise the risk of potting at this time of year. We also used small plants grown from cuttings over the last 3 years.


In preparing the plants, trimming of the tops and roots was necessary. In particular, trimming the roots was essential both to encourage even root growth, but also to develop a suitable root structure for a shallow bonsai container. Thankfully the root systems were strong and still active. Such cuttings offer a useful source of material for planting small groups, or even bonkei. They produce quick results that the young and eager minds were expecting.


Not all the plants prepared were potted, and the remainder were planted back into nursery containers as is shown in the next section under feeding. The nursery soil used is always kept lean on nutrients so as not to stress the roots of unsettled plants. The nursery soil is also constructed to be very loose. This makes removal and potting later, a less damaging task for the plants. Good drainage is an obvious requirement.




These leftover plants from the Somerset College Club planting, are being allowed to grow on. They will need to show they are recovering from the process before feeding will begin again.




The potted plants will also have to wait for feeding, and will also be kept away from strong sunshine until they too show they are safely though the potting experience.




We have spoken about buds that produce shoots, but buds also produce flowers and two things are relevant here. One is the timing of bud burst, and the other is the intensity of this event. Good training can control both. Having buds appear sporadically on a flowering bonsai robs it of an annual glorious flowering event. It also means that flower will be fewer over the whole year. We investigate this further on page 7. The azalea tips above, were removed from an azalea during a routine debudding process to encourage a fine floral display in spring.




It may be an unwanted species in South Africa according to the NBI lists, being classified as a Category 3 Invader plant, however, the Jacaranda Mimosifolia shown above in pod, does not have to be removed if already growing away from streams and other places that will facilitate spreading. This specimen shows why, and produced a particularly heavy pod load - but only on the sunny side of the tree. This reminds us that the time for gathering your seeds in May is upon us - well perhaps a bit later than May, as our wet conditions in winter tend to slow drying of the pods. Still, watch out for good trees that are in seed. For the records, some seeds are not fertile and for this reason, the Jacaranda Mimosifolia alba, a white cultivar, is not included on the plant invader lists. Many beautiful cultivated and hybridised plants produce seeds that will not germinate. So check the seeds. Plump seeds usually mean they are fertile.


But let us rather look at a more desirable (in ecological terms) plant, the Ficus Burtt Davyi, the veld fig. It grows in a number of forms, as a small tree that can reach 5 metres, a climber, or usually a low shrub, especially when it grows on coastal sand dunes. In its various forms, its leaf size changes considerably, perhaps a good indicator that its leaves reduce significantly in the bonsai version. Young leaves are sheathed in reddish brown stipules that add a ruddy colouring to the plant in certain seasons. Its natural habitat extends along most of the eastern coastal regions of South Africa.


This is a treasure for bonsai but requires extra patience, as it does not have the rapid growth of its close relative, the Ficus Natalensis. We tend to replant every cutting, however small, as it is happy to root even the tiniest tips of shoots. During the Somerset College course (see Potting and Repotting on page 4), we unveiled a large aerial rooting that we had done on a plant being developed as a sekijoju. Since we had decided to remove a significant part of the plant, the aerial rooting method was used and the results are shown on page 9, onwards. In the process, smaller cuttings emerged from trimming the remaining tree and these are shown below. Some may seem too small to use, but will produce roots.


Ficus Burtt Davyi cuttings

Ficus Burtt Davyi cuttings subdivided


The removed pieces were divided further to produce the collection of cuttings above. After a treatment with a rooting hormone, they were planted and we will definitely visit them again in time, to see how they have fared. The ficus has a habit of striking one root and then putting all its growth into that root. Since a good bonsai requires a well distributed root system, this must be discouraged and lifting the cuttings once they have struck is necessary so that suitable trimming can be done. It is also possible (and advisable) to even encouraging more roots by cutting off some of the bark on areas where no roots have appeared, and treating this again with hormone, before replanting.


Ficus Burtt Davyi cuttings planted


More on Buds

This Time of the Flowering Kind


We looked at buds at the start of this Small Talk, but restricted the examination only to buds that produce shoots of new growth. Obviously buds that produce flowers also have importance, They are not relevant to growth but have the role of adding to the aesthetics of bonsai by producing shows of flowers that give them special times of appeal. Of all the flowering bonsai, perhaps the azaleas lead the pack in beauty and with a little help from the grower, this claim to fame can be reinforced significantly. But before we continue with this quest, let us first be reminded that flowers will not reduce in size as significantly as will leaves. Leaves have a basic function in plants of producing food. Their capacity to achieve this objective depends on their total surface area that allows sun to be absorbed as the energy source for this process. While the levels and types of chlorophyll can affect this capacity, it remains the leaf area that is the key factor. Well-subdivided leaf pads on a bonsai will produce more twiggy growth and consequently, more leaves. This will mean that the leaves then needs to be smaller on average. Alternatively, fewer leaves will mean bigger leaves. This process is simply a matter of supply and demand.


On the other hand, flowers have a different role to play in the life of the plant and have the purpose of attracting pollinators. Bigger and brighter is better. They have no reason at all to be smaller, irrespective of how many there are. The only reason that they may be reduced slightly is that many flowers may extend the plant's ability to supply them with food to grow, and their growth may be limited. However, another survival instinct of the plant is to produce flowers, and thereby seed (and successive generations), at all cost. Therefore, to its own peril, it may well use up all its reserves to produce flowers. So trying to restrict feeding to reduce flowers will definitely be counter-productive and a bad idea. So accept, flowers do not reduce in size.


Now to the seasonal task of debudding, the last chance to ensure a grand spring flowering. The azalea shown below has already undergone two debudding sessions since spring to remove the sporadic flower buds that will appear throughout the season. Still, it has responded each time by producing two or more buds where one was removed. Thirty five tips were removed, and hidden in these 35 shoot tips were the collection of buds shown, 37 in all - very similar in size because of the synchronising of the bud formation through debudding the whole plant each time.



and autumn is passing fast


Acer Autumn Colours


....... more in this Small Talk




*** Featured in this Small Talk ***



One type or another

For more info on Small Talk ....



Threats to Bonsai

Not always pests

see Plant Health above for more info


For more details refer to the Hare-Yama first-aid kit information.





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Last updated 2017-11-11 09:14