Grow Better Bonsai with Air Pruning


When trying to grow trees for bonsai we only have a few options. First we can grow them in the ground; this results in the tree growing faster but the roots eventually growing in some undesirable configurations and thicknesses that have to be corrected later. This also leads to having a tap root or constantly removing the reforming tap roots during digs. Second we can grow them in pots; this results in a slower growth rate but more control over the root system. Even with pot grown trees we get circling roots and elongated roots not suited for bonsai. Another contributing factor is using soil not meant for container growing. Despite your views on soil, container growing requires a loose oxygen rich mix to grow plants.

The way in which air-pruning happens is pretty simple. The process is automatic and natural. Think about what happens when the top of a plant is pruned to promote lateral growth. When air-pruning happens, lateral growth of the roots is the result. Air-pruning occurs when a plant’s roots reach the side of the aeration container. In quality aeration containers, the root tip will come in contact with the air and the pruning occurs. This action will cause more roots to grow and the process will occur again and again, filling up the container with roots and root tips.

A few years ago I made some boxes to achieve this but to make them last the materials were expensive and took a while to build what I needed. I found these amazing pots that came out of the UK that solved all the problems that I ran into with the box. The Company Air-Pot was not really sold in America other than on Amazon and they where and still are overpriced.

Air pruning is the best of both worlds and air-pots is the best tool to achieve great results. I decided to bring them into the Bonsai Bardo Store as they are a high quality tool that is used for growing and air layering bonsai trees. They come in an array of sizes some better suited for seedling and developing great nebari on bigger trees. Pond Baskets were great and cheap but they are not reusable and they don’t create the root system that air-pots do. Disposable colanders also offer air pruning but the plastic cannot handle the sun and quickly becomes brittle and breaks. Air-Pots do cost more but are reusable year after year. When a part wears out you can replace just the worn parts making ongoing use cheaper.

Air-Pot ‘s also make a great air layer or ground layering tool for achieving more feeder root branching than traditional methods where new roots tend to elongate and wrap around the bag.

The Superoots Air-Pot is a recyclable, reusable plastic container that actively enhances the quality of the root systems of plants. This revolutionary approach to containerizing plants and trees produces fabulous, non-spiraling root systems that are impossible to develop in any other available container.

Made of recycled HDPE in the UK, the Superoots Air-Pot is circular in shape with a perforated sidewall. There are no flat surfaces due to the inward and outward pointed cones, which eliminates any chance of starting the spiraling process as well as dramatically increases growth rates for container grown plants.

I am very excited to be selling these pots. Almost as excited as I am to finally get to use them and grow better root systems. I am also very excited about exposed root plantings options as these can be cut down to make shorter pots or make much taller thinner pots for a dramatic exposed root piece.

Air-Pot benefits are simply as follows: Eliminates root circling, Reduces growing time in the garden, Increases fruiting and flowering, Simplifies production, Minimizes the need to transplant , Ensures Superior Performance in Extremes of Weather, The Air-Pot is made of recycled HDPE plastic, Reduces the chance for overwatering.

Summer Class at Boons 2015

Summer Class at Boons 2015

So after waiting and traveling and all the what not I got sick the day I got to California. I worked my way through it and it nocked me down a few notches but I still got a good deal of work done. Godzilla was in need of summer decandling and after I got to wiring did not finish wiring before I had to head back east.


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Going to Japan to Study Bonsai!!!

Going to Japan to Study Bonsai!!!

Sorry for the lack of general information but at least the bonsai are still growing. I have been pushing the envelope a little this year with the decision to go to Japan and a trial acceptance to go in May 2016. Most would get wrapped up in the craziness of that decision I just simply wrapped myself up in the fact I didn’t speak Japanese. Well with a panic and great excitement I enrolled in a class and hired a tutor to help me and well on the way to speaking in some  embarrassing broken Japanese. So it slowly set in that at 33 years old I am going on a great adventure of a lifetime and couldn’t be more excited and terrified. The largest weight was taken off my shoulders when a great friend Matthew Ouwinga called. After I texted him with the exciting news that I was going he called to tell me “Im going take care of your trees for you” REALLY  “yes I want you to have trees when you get back from Japan”. I have to say for those who don’t know thats a big deal for anyone to do for someone. So now I know where my trees will live so back to the books and study, lol.

I am going for a 90 day trail at first to the nursery of Shinji Suzuki in Obuse, Japan. A Short list of Americans to follow in the foot steps of Michael Hagedorn, Matt Reel and Tyler Sherrod. Nervous would be understatement of the Century but I usually dont have much time to think about it with 2 days a week going to learning Japanese and still going to Boons to learn.

Winter Intensive 2015


Another trip to Boons and it was great. Boons senior Daisaku was visiting from Japan during our class and we watched him start to wire what will be possibly the best white pine in the United States owned by my good friend Adair Martin and previously owned by Boon imported from japan and allowed to grow well for past 10 years. It was great watching him set the structure that will be this trees future.

Well like all trips to Boons we had great food of course because if there is one thing you will never say at Boons is that you did not eat well. It always a great time meeting new people and making connections some that last much longer after the class is over.

Personally this trip for me was a good deal of refreshment on repotting techniques and and how to different conifers vary in root types and what they should look like. I did repot a collected tree that had been in a pumice mixture with a good deal of collected soil on it. It was a good chance to see the safe amount to remove without stressing the tree and after next year it will no longer have field soil.


We did a fun grafting exercise we did grafts of the plum tree on the side of Boons nursery and to mix it up I did a couple flowering apricot grafts to add some color. We labeled our grafts with a tag so next time we are back we can see what grafts took and what ones didn’t. The truth is we are all competitive when you get down to it.IMG_0347IMG_0349

I walked around the garden only to see trees iv worked on in the past. It great to see there progress and I think its good to go months without seeing them so the differences are much more visible than one my trees I see everyday.

I think every time I go I learn but beyond that things make more sense In June I will be at Boons for a 10 day stretch and I can’t wait one reason I’m looking forward to it is I can push myself harder with that much time and work on a bigger project that can take a few days.

Boon will be coming to NC in March and will do a evening workshop at Triangle Bonsai Society. It will be great having him on east coast because its hard to learn about your own trees through pictures. IMG_2604IMG_2605

I am always amazed that each class we have a new person to bonsai dedicating themselves to bonsai and the intensive program. We all started in a different way and interesting to see people interest converge at one place.

I am thinking that 2016 might be a great year to go and study in Japan. I think after Boons intensives it will be a great choice. Boon is a traveling artist so he is on the road a lot and doesn’t have full time students at the house. In Japan it would be constant bonsai and learning at a pace that Boon’s would have prepared me for. I know some people who are very happy they went for as little as a month but I do know I want more than that.  It is a little ways out but in Bonsai 2016 will be here before you know it. So deletions, decisions, decisions.

I had a guy in the class ask me how can you just stop work and life and go. I don’t think life should trap you into anything and I like to look forward. I do think I am getting older but I don’t think that should bind us to a life that we can look back at and wish we had done different . Everyone says iv lived 10 live with all the things iv done and that might be true but why chose to stop now. Life is here for us to live it and you can do anything you put your mind toso we shall see what the next chapter holds.


My Bonsai Pot Collection

My Bonsai Pot Collection

I have started a decent size collection of bonsai pots all from the biggest importer of high quality antique pots in the USA Matthew Ouwinga.

Below are a few examples of what I have on the shelves.

Bad lighting but at 2 deep there are few choices for spring repotting !!!


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this ones not from matt but I love the color


My First Old Pot

My First Old Pot

This was my second pot I bought from Matthew Ouwinga and at time had no real idea what I was buying I just know I loved the look of the pot and the clay feels amazing. Its an older Gyozan (I think its spelled right). Its about 12″ x 12″square with the four leaf clove drain holes. Didn’t buy it with a tree in mind just loved the pot.


Bonsai Soil

Bonsai Soil

So its that time of year to start getting ready for spring and with that repotting season. I know there is a saying that if you ask 10 people you will get 10 different answers about what is bonsai soil. I just know what I was taught as I started this knowing nothing. I think its important to understand bonsai did not start in the USA. So if 10 american all have 10 different answers who cares rebellious kids always try to figure things out on their own. I use words kids because we are young in the bonsai game unpaired to the Japanese.

In Japan there are not 10 different answers there are basic components and everyone uses them and if your tree needs a dryer soil add more pumice if you need more moisture increase akadama.

So not looking for a debate just saying what I use and how I get there.

Last year I bought Clay King bonsai soil and add more pumice the goal is to get to:

30% Pumice   30% Akadama    30% Lava  10% Granite (not my mix obviously I started this knowing nothing)

This year no Clay King on the market that I could get and I work a lot so I buy pre mixed soil. I got no time or space for doing my own. I bought my base soil from and the top coat soil from

use smaller the soil as top coat top 1/4″ to 1/2″ deep so soil doesn’t dry out to fast.

This soil bend is 60% of heat-treated Akadama 25% of heat-treated pumice, 10% of Kiryu, and 5% of Fuji-sand so I still need to get it to my desired 30/30/30/10 so I need to add pumice and lava.

I bought my pumice and lava from it came in as promised all clean and graded. So all I have to do is mix them together and instant soil.

As a note I don’t add pumice and lava to the top coat soil I leave it higher in akadama as I am using it to retain moisture as a topcoat.

I do play around with my mixes a little in ratio:

JBP     30% Pumice   30% Akadama    30% Lava  10% Granite

Maple  25% Pumice   40% Akadama    25% Lava  10% Granite

Ponderosa Pine  40% Pumice   25% Akadama    25% Lava  10% Granite

Thats all iv got on soil and where I buy my stuff. You might not agree, you might even feel like I need to know you love mulch in your soil and kitty litter is your go to. I don’t care. lol. Not to be rude but this works and not just “my tree is alive” works but allows for a healthy root system of feeder roots. Cheers!

Juniper Big Bend

Juniper Big Bend

Here is a field grown juniper I got 2013IMG_0265_2

So After reviewing some options I wanted to learn how to do big bending and the tree was very healthy. IMG_0260_2 IMG_0258_2

We took the main trunk and and bent it down and around to the front to make a short thick little tree. the tree was braced down to the roots wouldn’t suffer from all the pressure and pulling needed to manipulate the trunk line.

The finished bend looks good we used a 2×2 to create a pivot point on the trunk and add curve as we where bending a 2″ thick trunk and base and 1.25″ at the top. It grew just fine 2014 and with get another good year before I reduce the straight trunk on the right only using the foliage on left side of picture in the final design. Letting the trunk dry out good before I undo the wires and clean/carve it up.

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More to Come!!!

Intensive Class Boons OCT 2014

Intensive Class Boons OCT 2014


So after a years worth of trips out to California I was on year two the travel side has gotten much easier and comfortable. I now fly into Oakland Ca saves me some money and an hour on the rail to get to the hotel.

I have to say this class was when things started to click much faster and past concepts now made sense. I can finally see a game plan for wiring a branch and I look ahead to plan out what I am doing. I think before I act more and always ask what does this do for my goal. Not with out mistakes but the idea about don’t act without knowing what its going to do or what your trying to accomplish.

I have made some great friends from the intensive classes and our trips the restaurants are always great bonding times with good people.

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This class my first project was a field grown Black Pine basically just repotted last year and a little trimming so I wired it to give it an initial shape. It wasn’t wired or styled before this. Only reason I say that is I see on forums that people are wiring little pine seedlings branches in place but haven’t even grown the trunk, or a needle pulling on tree that isn’t to this stage yet and I don’t think they know why. The point is what I learned so graciously from Boon don’t do something before you know why your doing it and what its going to achieve. This pine had a great shape and some branches would make it in final design but some where moved to get light in and with new buds we would have a new branch if not we graft a new one on.


The main tree I worked on this session was a juniper and it was fun. It pushed my comfort level at the time and introduced be to basic carving. I think I made a 100 mistakes on this tree but with each one I learned. In the absence of repeating those mistakes I have grown to another level of understanding about bonsai in general.

It was fun Intensive overall because I wasn’t confused or intimidated like the first few but feel an overwhelming level of accomplishment.


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Until next class Jan 14th 2015