Tag Archives: Portulacaria Afra

Portulacaria Afra Behemoth

I decided to work on a few Portulacaria Afra trees. Practicing wiring on these trees is great due to the spacing between leaves and branches. This first little guy didn’t need too much wire to set the structure.

When it is repotted it will get a slight angle change.

Keeping the lower right branch to help thicken the trunk as a sacrifice branch

The next P. Afra that I worked on was the behemoth that I got for $5. I decided to be indecisive. The design I have in mind has me cutting off several larger branches, so I wired it to open up the possibility of growth, while not shutting off the idea of keeping the branches or cutting them off.

The pad formation from bird’s eye view.

Another shot from above. I was able to wire two branches with the same wire which allows for the tree to have a total amount of less wire on the branch for better aethstetics.

Everything from above.

The end product. I have an idea of what I want to do, but we’ll see as we go forward.

I want to cut in 4 places and end up with two large informal uprights, a good cutting from the back, and a cascading branch that can be worked for a few more years.

Fundamentals of Bonsai – Summer

Your tree has physiological responses to the heat of Summer. It goes into a semi-dormancy to cope with high temperatures, scorching sun, and preparation for Fall.

Crape Myrtle Flowers

Protecting your tree during Summer is of utmost importance. Almost every tree should be shaded from afternoon sun, especially in the Summer.


If you miss watering even for a day you may lose trees. This is not the time to be skipping watering, however it happens to be the time for vacation. If someone is coming to water my plants I tell them which plants to water and watch them do it without any instruction first, then I write down everything they have to water and give more specific instructions like “Water it twice as much as you think you should.” It also wouldn’t hurt to have an automatic sprinkler to give it another watering depending when they plan on watering.

Summer Dormancy

Once the temperature reaches the mid 90s your tree will go into a dormancy and cease to photosynthesize in order to prevent significant water loss. Your tree uses water as a cooling agent while transpiration and photosynthesis cease. Watering your tree with scorching hot water will not aid the tree in cooling itself. Make sure to run water out so you water with cool water.

Crape Myrtle Bonsai Tree Flowering

Summer Damage

Certain species of trees can be damaged by leaf burn from the Summer sun. This happens commonly with Japanese Maples among many others. Assuring your tree is shaded from the afternoon sun will greatly aid in reducing leaf burn and overheating problems. It is also common to experience leaf burn on leaves that have no hardened off yet and don’t have a cuticle to protect the leaf from the sun.

Root damage is also common if the pot is not protected from the sun. Black plastic pots, clear glass pots, or even your average bonsai pot can overheat and scorch the roots. Other than a shade cover you can do other things to prevent this by shading pots with foliage from other trees, grouping them together, laying some type of screen over the pot that still allows air to pass through (Window screen, etc.).

Summer Repotting

It is said that some tropical and mediterranean trees like to be repotted in the Summer, but personally I wait until the temperatures reach 50+ degrees regularly and then I repot. This happens to land somewhere between Spring and Summer. I have repotted Ficus, Olive, Schefflera, and Portulacaria Afra in later Summer without any problems, but prefer to do so earlier in Summer to allow a longer window for recovery throughout Summer.

Cheap Bonsai Supplies

For those of you that have recently begun your bonsai journey you’ll notice that this hobby can become expensive quickly. I put out a post about cheap bonsai pot alternatives and here is another post about alternative things to use.

Cut Paste

https://www.amazon.com/Joshua-Roth-6044-Bonsai-Paste/dp/B000X36W7O – $19.50

https://www.bonsaioutlet.com/bonsai-cut-paste-spcd09/ – $14

Duct Seal Bonsai Cut Paste

Now not all bonsai cut paste is that expensive, Duct Seal was $2.98 at Home Depot

This was recommended to me from Rob Pressler, the owner of Kimura’s Bonsai Nursery.

Now we could get into the argument of whether or not to use cut paste, but rather than that I’ll just suggest that if you want to use it and want to save a few dollars (For another tree, lets be real…) try this out.

Glass and Ceramic Drill Bits:

I bought these to be able to convert glass and ceramic bowls I find into viable bonsai pots. I can drill wire holes and large enough holes to keep drainage sufficient.

Pro Tip: Read how many RPMs it can handle, if not you will burn the drill tip and have a useless stick of metal (also water . Pressure = broken bowls. Let the bit do its thing, however slow it may feel.

Here are some of my latest pickups that were either free or from garage sales (Californians can do this all year, not like you in the Midwest and Northeast that have a garage sale “season”)

Cheap Bonsai Tree Material

Lowe’s and Home Depot can have discount racks depending on where you live. These are great choices since both have return policies incase something dies. Great for beginners working on trees for the first time.

What we call “Yardadori” or collected material from yard renovations or seemingly undesirable trees that people want removed is a great way to source material for bonsai.

The last resort would be cuttings from easy to root plants. I have found that Crape Myrtle, Portulacaria Afra, Chinese Elm, Cotoneaster, Olive, Ficus and Pomegranate can all handle pretty large cuttings that can become bonsai quickly.

Drain Screen

Rather than purchasing pre-made screens for your pots, you can buy “Gutter Guard” and cut it to whatever size you like. My favorite part about this is when I use a nursery pot as a temporary training pot I can cut the gutter guard into a circle to cover the entire bottom of the nursery pot. Same goes for my other DIY homemade pots. https://www.homedepot.com/p/Amerimax-Home-Products-Metal-Black-Lock-in-Gutter-Guard-6360/205207064

These are just a few things that might give you a few more dollars to appease your spouse.

Orange County Bonsai Society Show

I was able to head down to the OCBS event and had a great time. We had David Nguy visit and do a demo on a juniper. I won a Ginkgo forest and 2 pots in the raffle, and met a few wonderful people.

David Nguy’s tree that was on display:

California Juniper Bonsai Display Deadwood

The Displays: I do my best to get tree species and names of the owners of the trees to give credit where due. I missed a few tree species and a few names.

Japanese Black Pine Bonsai Display

Japanese Black Pine – June Nguy

Two shohin displays and individual shohin trees by Peter Macasieb:

Blue Atlas Cedar Bonsai

Blue Atlas Cedar

Shohin Bonsai Display

Shohin Bonsai Display

Shohin Bonsai Display

I always want to see more of shohin trees so I made sure to take close ups. Here is a slideshow of them if you’re interested.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Willow Leaf Ficus Bonsai

Willow Leaf Ficus

Cork Bark Portulacaria Afra

Cork Bark Portulacaria Afra – Gary Lai

Boxwood Shohin

Boxwood Shohin – Joyce Gibbs

Ficus Burtt-Davyi "Nana"

Ficus Burtt-Davyi “Nana” – Gary Lai

Olive Bonsai

Olive – Allan Sugimura

Shohin Bonsai Display

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Shohin Display – Joyce Gibbs

Shimpaku Juniper Bonsai

Shimpaku Juniper

California Juniper

California Juniper – David Nguy

Juniperus Chinensis "Tortulosa"

Juniperus Chinensis “Tortulosa” – Jummy Takeda In Memoriam

Bougainvillea Bonsai

Bougainvillea – Nicole Mashburn

California Juniper Yamadori

California Juniper – Tom Vuong

Ficus Burtt-Davyi "Nana" Bonsai

Ficus Burtt-Davyi “Nana” – Gary Lai

Japanese Boxwood Bonsai

Japanese Boxwood – Gary Lai

Star Lavender Bonsai

Star Lavender – Ken Schlothan

Chinese Elm Bonsai

Chinese Elm – Ken Schlothan

Cork Bark Portulacaria Afra Bonsai

Cork Bark Portulacaria Afra – Bill Vega

Japanese Black Pine Bonsai

Japanese Black Pine – Carly Mashburn

Oak Bonsai Tree

Oak – Ken Schlothan

Bougainvillea Bonsai

Bougainvillea – Nicole Mashburn

Shimpaku Juniper – Michael Walsh

Japanese Boxwood – Michael Walsh

Additional views on some of the trees:

I love the dead portions of the trunk on this olive.

This boxwood was essentially topped and then branched out to form a broom which turned out quite nicely!

This boxwood had the best negative space out of all of the trees I saw at this show.

Fantastic separation of the foliage pads.

Blue Atlas Cedar from the angle I think it should’ve been displayed at.

I’d like to openly state that there were no awards at this show. I took the liberty of adding my own opinions and awards as I saw fit.

1st Place: Japanese Boxwood by Gary Lai

Japanese Boxwood Bonsai Display

  • Great negative space between foliage pads

  • Solid twin trunk styling

  • Consistent feminine design throughout

  • Solid bottom branch that defines length and carries out the triangular shape

Japanese Boxwood Bonsai Tree

2nd Place: Japanese Black Pine by June Nguy

  • Fantastic trunk movement

  • Small pot in comparison to tree which is important in Bunjin stylistically

  • Stand, pot, and display as a whole is consistently feminine and doesn’t distract from the tree

  • The lowest branch doesn’t seem to sit right at this viewing angle. It either needs to be moved, removed, or have the foliage angled differently. The branch seems to function correctly when viewed from another angle (seen below)

3rd Place: Cork Bark Portulacaria Afra by Gary Lai

  • Overall the display has great consistency in the rough texture of the bark, stand, pot, and the fantastic stone planting.

  • While great nebari are difficult to cultivate on P. Afra species, the trunk shows how the roots have twisted down into the soil and show age.

  • Great taper to the trunk as you move up into the apex. Not easily seen, but branching is also well tapered and distributed.

  • There were plenty of young shoots that should have been pinched off for displaying. Many of them blocked the view of the trunk and crowded the negative space between the foliage pads.

Best Shohin: Ficus Burtt-Davyi “Nana” by Joyce Gibbs

  • Great usage of the curves in the branching and pot

  • Design and artistry become much more difficult with less space and material to work with

  • The pot, stand, branch movement, and planting angle all contribute to the successful display of this tree.

  • Would love to have seen the tree displayed at the angle the picture is taken

  • The top left portion of the tree needs a bit of filling out to complete the asymmetry of the canopy

Best Abnormal Species: Star Lavender by Ken Schlothan

  • Absolutely fantastic trunk displayed well so that the deadwood can be seen as well as the hole in the trunk

  • Mature and well ramified branching

  • Great movement and taper to the trunk and branching

  • I’m not sure what is going on with the lower branch and the few stragglers outside the silhouette.

  • Once this tree flowers I think a different pot choice would suit it better. A glazed colored pot with a round or oval shape would help to be consistent with the feminine nature of this tree.

Personal Favorite: Blue Atlas Cedar by Peter Macasieb

Honorable Mention: Willow Leaf Ficus

I really liked the Willow Leafed Ficus, but I didn’t catch who styled and grew it. This tree didn’t seem to stand out to me as much as the Blue Atlas Cedar did.

This is not a common tree to see as a bonsai. I love the color of the tree’s foliage and the cascade is executed well here. My huge complaint was the angle at which it was displayed. With a little tweak in the wire and a changed angle you could have a great negative space between the pads and be able to see the trunk as well. (see below)

Additional Tree Critique

I gave critique for the trees that won in each category, but had some constructive critique for trees that weren’t winners.

Olive: Remove foliage/branches that it in front of the split trunk to help bring out that major feature of your tree. Once the foliage fills out and it is better ramified this will be an amazing specimen!

Chinese Elm: I was perplexed by this tree for awhile as I viewed it. I’m not sure what it is exactly that made it feel a bit off, but here are a few things you might want to consider: Tree is off balance, not supported by a big enough trunk, too wide of a pot and not shallow enough, the planting angle, topdressing of moss might help give it an aged appearance.

Portulacaria Afra: The trunk has an initial turn, but then goes straight out (This is common with this species if not pruned or wired). Wiring to bring the branches into the correct spot if you choose not to trunk chop.

Japanese Black Pine: The main thing is wiring the foliage at the tips to be able to angle them upward. Having them not angled upward makes it look “unkept” and not styled.

Oak: Just a few straggling branches that stood outside the silhouette that could’ve been removed for display.

Olive: The crossing branch on the left definitely draws my eyes away from the potential bottom line that the branches create.

California Juniper: Obviously the tree could use more foliage, but I wanted to point out the different in moss cultivation. The moss in the pot is enough to pull the eyes away from the tree due to how unruly the moss looks. If you see the photo below you get moss how David Nguy cultivated it and it looks much cleaner.

Bougainvillea: Having a clean exit from the trunk with a main branch that continues as the “leader” off the top of the trunk would help the tree not be so wild.

David Nguy’s Demo

To be fair, I think starting with a triple trunk juniper like this is a tough task. He asked us if we wanted a semi-cascade or an upright style. They went with upright.

The victim

This was the end product from the front.

I am more partial to changing the angle and potentially removing an entire trunk once we learn more about the base and how the trunks interact.

Here are the ginkgo forest and pots I won in the raffle.

Ginkgo Forest Bonsai

Bonsai Pots

I’m glad I was able to go to the show and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Portulacaria Afra Cuttings Update

I wanted to give an update on the Port that I bought and show the development of the leaves as it roots and recovers from repotting. To see what it used to be head here

I decided to start with this photo to show you that it is never time to panic when a port has shriveled leaves. This is how they are able to withstand a lack of water.

Cutting that can be watered. This was after a week of being in sun from sunrise to about noon, then in shade the rest of the day. Average temperatures were about 85 degrees F for the week. The old leaves will shrivel and not look normal until the cutting produces enough roots to be able to uptake enough water to support all of the leaves.

Another bowl of successful cuttings that are ready for water.

You see that the old leaves here aren’t as shriveled. This is due to the entire being shaded by the higher shelf. This is a way to increase success with your Port cuttings.

The feeling of panic is common as is the impulse to water the cuttings when the leaves shrivel up. Avoiding that and being patient will provide you with new growth, and then a solid cutting that roots.