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  Introduction / Choosing Material

  Pruning & Shaping / Feeding & Watering

  Diseases, Prevention & Medicine / Roots, Pots & Soil Mixes

Display & Accessories / Hot Weather Care



         Bonsai are living miniature representations, in containers and growing outdoors of full-grown mature trees that have been shaped by the elements over the course of many years.
        A few years ago our late teacher Leroy Fujii suggested that we do a series of workshops covering the basics of the art as practiced here in Phoenix.  These lectures and demonstrations would be of use to both novices and longer-termed members, whose excellent display trees occasionally showed apparent ignorance of a basic or two.
        These notes, originally from the ’96-’97 season and very slightly amended since then are provided for the benefit of new members to our club — and now to all who are interested in what we do.  We are aware of the absence of care instructions specific to our location, with its particularly challenging climate.  These notes and the continually expanded material in our club yearbooks which will also be added to this site can serve as a guide.  Will some type of general purpose book for desert bonsai ever be published in hardcopy?  Perhaps.  In the mean time we offer this material.  Member and nonmember input about any and all of these notes is always appreciated.
        Although some workshops touched upon more than one subject, the material herein has been grouped primarily according to a single general topic.  Please use these notes in conjunction with other material on this web site, one or more of the following references, and seek assistance from other club members at meetings, shows and workshops.

Recommended General Reading:

1. Bonsai Techniques, I & II  by John Yoshio Naka,  (Santa Monica: Bonsai Institute of California; 1973+ and 1982, respectively)2. The Bonsai Workshop by Herb L. Gustafson  (NY: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.; 1994)

3. Sunset Bonsai by the editors of Sunset Magazine  (Menlo Park, CA: Lane Publishing Co.; 1994, third edition)  [A fourth revised edition by Susan Lang was published in 2003.]

4. The Living Art of Bonsai by Prof. Amy Liang  (NY: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.: 1992)

5. The Bonsai Book by Dan Barton  (London: Ebury Press; 1989)

6. Basic Bonsai Design by David DeGroot  (American Bonsai Society; 1995)

7. Bonsai; Its Art, Science, History and Philosophy by Deborah Koreshoff  (Brisbane, Australia: Boolarong Publications; 1984)

8. Chinese Penjing, Miniature Trees and Landscape by Yunhua Hu  (Portland: Timber Press; 1987)

9. The Complete Book of Bonsai by Harry Tomlinson  (NY: Abbeville Press, Inc.; 1990

10. The Creative Art of Bonsai by Isabelle and Rémy Samson  (London: Ward Lock Ltd.; 1986)


(Presented by Bill Newton, 9/17/96)

        Look for material which is not appropriate for front yard landscaping, what others consider garbage: too large of a trunk, overgrown in the pot, growing in the wrong direction, neglected.  This is just as important whether the plant is from nursery stock, pre-trained material, landscape dug, or propagated from cuttings.        Healthy plants should have:

  • Good color of foliage;
  • No obvious insects or signs of infestation on leaves, branches, at trunk base, or underside of container;
  • New growth visible;
  • Not too many brown leaves or needles, withered branches, or broken limbs.

        Note the micro-climate of the tree, if you can remember: was the plant in full-sun or shade, which direction was it facing (east/north is cooler than west/south)
        Trunk should be:

  • As large as possible;
  • Have bark with character: thick, with furrows or ridges, gnarly;
  • Have taper — fairly even diminishing of diameter from base to apex.  How short would the tree have to be cut down in order to get the proper illusion of taper or large trunk?

       Roots should be:

  • As exposed and as large as possible;
  • Fairly evenly spread out around the base of the tree;
  • Not encircling the trunk;
  • Not showing root rot from overwatering.

        Branches should be:

  • Thicker toward the base of the tree;
  • Principle branches spaced somewhat like the ideal from bottom upwards: Left, Right, then Back, and intervals between shortening as branches go further up the tree.

        Determine the probable front of the tree:

  • Scars mostly hidden on the back side or at least not distracting if in front;
  • No wire or brace marks visible.

       What style does the tree naturally suggest?

  • Formal upright  (primarily conifers);
  • Informal upright  (most trees);
  • Windswept  (especially junipers, pines, myrtle);
  • Cascade  (many varieties, especially juniper, elephant’s food, flowering types);
  • Broom-style  (especially, elm and zelkova);
  • Literati/abstract  (many trees, especially junipers and pines);
  • Multiple trunks or multiple tree planting (especially ficus, ginkgo, elm, liquidamber, heavenly bamboo, maple, olive);
  • Root-over-rock planting  (especially, trident maple, some pines, ficus).