Category Archives: Repotting

Emergency Repot

I recently watched a Bonsai Mirai video about post collection care with world renowned collector Randy Knight. He spoke frequently about his sawdust bed that he uses to heel in “danger trees.” I got the opportunity to try that myself as I came home to what I’m pretty sure was a great lizard chase by my dogs…

Randy discusses that he uses coarse sawdust, not small particles. I happened to have a friend that uses a lathe and has been giving me black trash bags full of sawdust for awhile now.
A couple of tips when using sawdust:

  • Make sure to wet it REALLY well. The first time you soak sawdust it absorbs a ton of water and has a hard time getting everywhere, so make sure to be liberal with the water you’re using.
  • Pack the sawdust in good and chopstick or poke around to get the sawdust into whatever root system is there.
  • Layer several inches of sawdust on top of what would be the rootball. This helps to keep any major fluctuations in water or temperature from the rootball.

Here are photos of me digging down and checking the moisture after watering for awhile.


Packing in the sawdust for a final time.
After packing and before adding another bag on top.
After adding and wetting the top layer of sawdust.


After securing the tree in, I went to further inspect the damage.
I pulled out portions of the leftover root system to see how the roots were doing before the wild lizard chase. I was mostly pleased with what I saw.
Plenty of capillary roots growing. Randy also mentioned that new roots almost never grow in the leftover field soil, but in the pumice immediately around the field soil.
While I had to experience this sad destruction of my collected California Juniper, I’m glad I was able to see that I was having success with what I was doing. Hopefully I don’t have another casualty on my hands.

Chinese Elm Repot

This is my favorite little tree I have at the moment. I’ve been excited for this repot as it’ll finally put the tree into a pot that is correctly sized. The constricted environment that it will provide will increase ramification and give it a smaller leaf size.

Started by cutting the wires on the bottom in the middle, then making a flush cut to make sure they aren’t jagged when I drag them through the root mass.
This little guy grew pretty vigorously for 1 year after a repot.
Raked out the roots to see what I really had to work with.
I put some soil in and tried to get a better idea of what would fit in the pot.
I prepped the pot with the drain screen and wire ready to take in the tree. img_3290
I’m going to cut the two wires at an angle and fish them through the main portion of the roots or the ‘shin’ of the tree. You then bend them over once they’re through the shin and use that as a means to anchor the tree down.
As you can see here, the wires become buried and hidden in the rootball.
I then piled up the Akadama and chopsticked it in.
I used Akadama as I can use this to be able to scale the roots and branches to get them finer and finer. For a deciduous tree in refinement this is how you can get the most fine ramification.
Then the topdressing. This is to help keep the moisture even throughout the Akadama and help with moisture loss on the top portion of the soil.
From the top down. Obviously it is going to get some pruning before the Spring comes in.

It made it through one night of sub 32° weather that I missed, but has leafed out without too many issues.


Crape Myrtle #1 Repot

This crape myrtle has been in the ground for about a year and a half. I was hoping to thicken the trunk below the junction of the two main trunks. I got several “suckers” below it, so I’m hoping to see a significant thickening there.

When working through the roots I make sure to frequently wet the roots. This is to counter the sun and light wind that is happening while I’m performing this repot. I definitely don’t want the roots to dry out and damage the tree.
I found a significant amount of roots above where I remember the base being, so I continue to chopstick down until I can see the flaring of the original base.
I had to clean my space every now and then to clear out unwanted roots and dirt.
I finally reached a section where two main roots were emerging from the trunk.
On the other side there was another.
I had two larger roots above this point, but both will have to go.
I cut back all of the sucker trunks and then cleaned it up to give you a better view of the trunk.
As I flip the tree over to work on the roots, take note on how I hold the tree to avoid damage to the branches.
I know nothing will hit the branches where I’m holding it, so I can work freely with the roots.

I noticed a huge group of medium sized roots here. This will be what is limiting the height of the tree in a pot.
This is the pot that I was looking at for the tree. Needs a bit more work on the roots.
I prepared the pot with a screen and 3 tie wires.

I learned this from Ryan Neil of Bonsai Mirai. Doing this allows you to pierce the rootball if needed to get both wires through without volcanoes erupting over frustration.
Aeration layer on the bottom.
Further root reduction.IMG_3769IMG_3770IMG_3771
Once I get the wires through, I cut off the tops to continue with the tying down process. IMG_3773
Once I secure the tree in, I cut off the remaining wires and push them down into the soil to hide the wires.
Got to this point, now to look at the canopy and what to reduce.
Close up of the trunk.
IMG_3784I removed a bit of the branches. I’m not 100% sure what direction I want to go on this yet, so I removed crossing branches, any branches that were too long without taper, and shortened the height of it. I’ll revisit this during the late Spring or Summer to see how it is working.

Pomegranate Splitting

This pomegranate is the same one from this post that I dug up right as it was beginning to leaf out. It recovered really well and pushed several flushes of growth with a few being in the Fall. I decided to repot it and take it apart to let it recover in what is planned to be the final resting place.IMG_3334If you remember from the previous post, I flat cut the bottom horizontally with my reciprocating saw. When I removed this from the pot I could not find evidence of the flat cut bottom.

I decided to proceed in cutting it apart using the same reciprocating saw.
IMG_3340IMG_3338IMG_3339I still had a significant root system on most things that I cut away. I had a few stragglers that fell off during the separation that might make it since they had a few roots connected.

I got to a point where I didn’t feel comfortable separating more of the branches, so I potted up the remaining clump back up in some normal potting soil. I might do some air layering while it recovers for a year or two.

I also got this gem with some good movement in the lower trunk from taking the other twin trunk piece apart. IMG_3342IMG_3343

I got the pot ready by getting the wire set in, bending the bottom to a 90º angle to make it more stable.IMG_3344
Then I put down an “aeration layer” as Ryan Neil refers to it. Before placing the tree in I put another layer of my regular sized bonsai soil and then tied in the tree to the pot.IMG_3345IMG_3346IMG_3347IMG_3348
After all was said and done I ended up with these to grow out this season.
This is the remaining chunk of trunks that didn’t have enough roots to cut off. I’ll let it grow out another season or two before splitting these again. img_3560
img_3537This is going to be a twin trunk style. I might have to remove the backside during the next repot.img_3543img_3542
These two were lacking in roots, so hopefully they’ll make it. They fell off while splitting the second major trunk.
img_3534img_3533This was the second major trunk that I split from the main clump. I might airlayer it this season and let the branches grow out to get a more solid taper to the higher canopy. I’ll update this post soon once everything leafs out to see how it is doing.

Orange County Bonsai Society Exhibition

Here are photos of the trees from this show at the Sherman Library & Gardens.



Olive – Tom Vuong


Liquidambar – Wayne Wolfe


Korean Hornbeam – Ken Schlothan


Chinese Elm – David Melitz


Ginkgo Forest – Deborah Mauzy-Melitz


Cork Bark Portulacaria Afra – Gary Lai


Prostrata Juniper – Jason Chan


Shohin Catlin Elm – Joyce Gibbs


4 Point Shohin Display (JBP, Olive, Cork Bark Elm, Ficus Burt-Davyi) – Joyce Gibbs


Bougainvillea – Paul Minerich


Prostrata Juniper (Grafted Itoigawa) – Gary Lai


Hackberry Forest – John Deluca


Liquidambar Forest – Ken Schlothan



Kishu Shimpaku Juniper – Wayne Wolfe

California Juniper Yamadori

Yamadori Post-Dig Care

To see the removal process I went through to get this baby out read my earlier blog post. I got the bagged California Juniper home and began unwrapping so fast that I forgot to take pictures of it happening…
I made sure to make the cuts clean to facilitate root growth once potted up. Make sure to do this on all of the large cuts you make to the roots. 

Here you can see all of the smaller roots coming out of the root ball.

I cut these clean off right at the edge of the soil. This is another place that roots will emerge. Typically these are ripped and not cleanly cut. Leaving them without a clean cut can be a major factor when the tree is trying to recover. 

After that I cut back the long thick roots to better be able to fit this into a container. I made sure to do so without moving the root ball and shaking any more soil loose.

Here is the prepared container. I drilled holes in the bottom, and used several 2×6’s that I’ve “saved” from various burn piles.

Then after I strung wire through and laid the bottom layers of soil, I set the tree in to get it secure.

The purpose for using the wood to decrease the size of the box is so that there aren’t any large gaps of solely pumice. Pumice and the native soil are vastly different, so you would end up with large pockets of dry pumice and the root ball of soil would still be wet. Having a smaller area helps to keep them similar in water and oxygen balance. 
As you can see here, I used the higher branches to secure the tree into the container. I did this because the soil and root ball weren’t held together well enough to use as a sole anchoring point.

After chopsticking the pumice in to fill the gaps I ended up with this. 
I then moved it to a better location in my garage on top of a heating mat to keep the root temperatures favorable for root growth.
To use the new handy update on the iPhone I took these as well:
Hopefully you’ll read the updated post on this tree when it begin pushing new growth. From all I can tell the dig was a success and should yield a healthy tree within the year.