World of Bonsai

This article was first published by The National Bonsai Society in

The World of Bonsai the first all bonsai publication in Europe

July 1990



Many of you will know about mycorrhiza but for those not sure here is a brief explanation.


Mycorrhiza, apart from having a difficult to spell name, is a fungus that lives on or among the roots of certain trees, particularly pines. It appears, when lifting the tree from it's pot, as a white thread-like growth and so closely resembles kind of mould that one is tempted to remove it forthwith. However it is not parasitic nor is it the result of a decomposing process. Although it gains some nourishment from the tree's roots it gives as good as it gets and both plants benefit.

The chemical action of the digestive processes of the fungus provides a catalyst which enables the tree roots to absorb minerals more readily. The fungus also provides a liberal supply of growth hormones to the tree.

When you repot a tree and notice mycorrhiza around it's roots you should take great care to leave some. If you inadvertently remove all the old potting medium thereby removing the fungus your tree will suffer a mild form of malnutrition until a new growth of mycorrhiza has developed. You can always rescue some of the fungus and use it in your new potting medium.



This article was first published by The National Bonsai Society in

The World of Bonsai the first all bonsai publication in Europe

October 1990






Every year bonsai get damaged by either wind or frost and occasionally spring snow.

At the time of writing this article the predominant winds in the UK were westerley from Atlantic depressions which give us a windier though milder climate than the continent (again though as I'm writing late December the gales outside certainly don't feel mild). Although the costal winds are on average stronger, inland areas are more liable todamaging gusts. While trees are brought down inland we find costal trees displaying beautiful windswept styles, the wind pruning on the windward side of the trees being due to excessive water loss (transpiration) on that side. Similarly in winter if the roots are frozen, so that water cannot be absorbed to replace water loss above ground, die back will occur. Tha decidious trees are largely protected in dormancy by dropping their water-losing leaves but in summer localised water loss can exceed replacement in hot windy conditions, resulting in 'scorch'. Finally, in spring, damage may be caused if wind is allowed to rock repotted trees before the roots can establish themselves.




Idealy a cold greenhouse or a garage or shed with plenty of light will protect from wind, frost and snow, but in the abscence of any of these the following is often a compromise as compleate exclusion of air movement can increase frost risk, as explained. As the winds are westerly, modified by local conditions such as buildings and valleys, the bonsaiare best protected on the eastern side of a windbreak running north to south. If the windbreak is solid there is a riskof gusts whipping over the top (at a speed up to 50% greater than the mean wind speed).

A hedge, lattis fence or even netting which just breaks the force of the wind is therefore safer protection. If the ground is flat avoid having a solid barrier right round the trees. The Spring equinox, late March, usually brings with it windy weather and it is therefore most important to tie repotted trees securely into their pots or fatal movement will occure at this critical time





Wiring is not necessary and does not need to be done ever. If you think of pre wire days, bonsai masters used the ‘clip and grow’ principal.
You can wait until a bud develops in the place you want a branch to grow and prune to that bud. Then as the branch grows, repeat this process. This takes a long time and a similar result can be achieved with existing growth in a lot less time.
Wiring and bending causes minute splits and fractures in the cambium layers beneat the bark on trees.

As the cambium heals this damage, the branch sets into the new position.
The faster the branch is growing the faster the healing occurs and the sooner the wire can be removed.

Deciduous branches in Summer can heal in as little as two weeks.
Wire tends to be aluminium or copper. Aluminium is generally easier to apply, copper is more difficult (as it hardens when bent) but has better holding power. Copper cannot be reused but aluminium can (although not recommended)
Iron and steel are poisonous to Junipers and some other conifers; it produces a chemical reaction with the sap causing a disease called black rot that quickly spreads through the tree causing its death.

Copper is reported to be poisonous for rhododendrons and azaleas.

Wiring causes stress to a tree but allowed time to recover before carrying out further work trees respond to wiring well.
You will need three or four different thicknesses of wire to fully wire a tree, 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5 and 4 to start.

When to wire

There are pros and cons of wiring at any particular time. Theoretically most trees can be wired at most times of the year.
Wiring in Winter can have a negative impact on the health of a tree. At temperatures below -10C any fractures will be exposed to cold that could lead to future die back of a branch. Trees wired in Winter will need frost protection. Branches wired in Winter could take months to set.

The best time to wire deciduous trees is just after the leaves have fallen in Autumn. The branches are easiest to wire as there are no leaves to get in the way and you have a complete view of the whole tree for adjusting the position of branches. All but the largest cracks should heal before the tree becomes completely dormant for the Winter.

When wiring deciduous trees in Spring, before the leaves open, extra care must be taken not to knock off or damage the leaf and flower buds.
Wiring deciduous trees through the growing season when they are in leaf can be difficult. Wiring around leaves is difficult and you cannot study the structure of the tree. Branches wired at this time will set very quickly so will need to be checked every few days to make sure it is not biting in. Branches wired at this time can set in two weeks.

The second best time to wire deciduous trees is mid-Summer after defoliating. Again the branches are bare and the structure of the tree is visible and the branches will still set before Autumn.

Conifers can be wired anytime Spring through to Autumn.
Conifers wired in Autumn continue to grow and heal through the Winter, however wire usually needs to be left on conifers for longer and this can means through the Winter therefore frost protection may be needed if the temperature drops below -10C.

Conifers can be wired in Spring and the branches will set quickly, but wire will need to be reapplied as the new growth appears.
Wire left on Pines in mid-Summer should be checked regularly as at this time of year their branches can suddenly swell.
The best time to wire conifers, especially if heavy bends are to be made, is late Summer to early Autumn. At this time the new growth will be mature and can be wired, and the branches will set faster that other times of the year. Pines will have made most of their increase in branch thickness by August in the UK and wire applied at this time can be left on until the following year without it digging in and scarring the bark.

Wiring hints and tips

Position the tree so the branch you are about to wire is at a 45 degree angle to your body and at a comfortable height

Wire size should be 1/3 of branch cross section area

Place left hand on the branch and right hand on the END of the wire (vice versa if left-handed)

Wire at 45-50 degree angle with the branch, the end of the wire is always bent up and back to secure the end of the wire.

Maintain equal spacing between spirals but tighten the spirals ie make them closer together for very stressed bends,

Change wire size as branch size changes

Try to wire 2 branches with 1 piece of wire: same size branches, not too far apart nor too close together

Wire from underneath keeping the branch steady

Don't over wire small branches, Don't under wire large branches

At the junction between branch and trunk, if the branch is to be bent down, the first spiral should go over the top of the branch, and vice versa

Branch junctions are the weakest spots so make sure that the wire and your fingers properly  supports them.


Pre-bend wires to fit easily into and on the tree

Wire from thickest to thinnest both branches and wire

Twist branches towards the light as you apply the wire

Sometimes, it's not possible to anchor to another branch, so you can wire only one branch with one piece of wire

Wire must come from the opposite side to the direction in which the branch will be bent


Leave no gaps between the wire and the branch


Don't cross the wire unless absolutely necessary. Thin wire can be anchored to thicker wire.


Prepare all branches carefully by removing stubs and snags, clean the bark of junipers


Cut the length of wire to be used one and one third the length of the branch


Try to remain relaxed whilst working


Remember to check your wiring technique on a regular basis


Remove wire from branches as soon as the bark begins to grow round it.  In most cases re-wire immediately, do not do the whole tree, just the affected branches


On soft barked species like rhododendron, it may be necessary to bandage the branch before wiring


Keep in mind how beneficial the use of guy wires can be but be aware of inherent
      weakness in any branches


If necessary double wire and then split to wire two branches


Be decisive, when a branch is bent into position don’t keep repositioning it. Repeated bending can cause unnecessary fractures in a branch thus weakening it.




Cover pot/soil with a piece of plastic like an apron to help with clearing up, so that the cut wire falls onto the ‘apron’.  You can also use the apron to keep pines dry in winter, and for spraying the tree with insecticide


Check wire regularly to ensure that wire isn’t biting into the bark.  Younger growth will fatten up faster than older branches, generally speaking.


Always cut off thick wire – above 2mm, do not try to unwind it, as you will damage bark and probably branches too.  Cut short sections, eg half the circumference of the branch, so that wire just falls off. 


Use bonsai wire cutters, you will make a cleaner cut and also get closer to the bark without damaging it.

Work from the top to the bottom of the tree, starting with the outermost smallest branches first.


Start at the outer end of the branch, ie finest wire first, so you are unwiring the tiniest twigs first, then work your way in towards the trunk from there.  Be sure to remove all the wire from each branch – use your fingers on the underside of the branches to check that all the wire is off.


Take care with buds, there will be new buds developing and if you are removing wire in the summer they are even easier to knock off than usual. 


You can unwind thinner wire – carefully, hold end of wire close to branch, use pliers to hold the end if it's easier


Unwire in the same direction as the branch is wired – if you try to pull the wire in the opposite direction you will probably tear the cambium or even break the branch

Cut as you unwire if unwinding wire, keep the unwound wire short.


Hold wire near to branch if unwinding – not the end of the wire


Handle branches as little as possible, try not to touch foliage or bark unless you have to, any contact causes stress for the tree


Keep your left hand under each branch for support, this will also help to tell you if you have missed some wire.


Be sure to remove every bit of wire – feel to check.  We have all seen trees for sale where wire has been forgotten, and how much damage it can cause – you could lose a branch!


Check for wire damage after unwiring, how serious is it?  It may affect how you re-apply new wire, and you may not be able to do so until the cambium has healed


You don't have to remove guy wires, these often take longer to have a permanent effect so just leave them alone, or re-apply if it is easier to unwire without them.

Allow the soil to dry out a little before wiring; the tree will be less turgid and more pliable. Once you have finished wiring add some realistic movement to your branches.Make sharp bends at leaf joints and where secondary branches grow, this is where trees naturally have changes in direction. Bends made at internodes don’t look natural.


Add movement to all straight sections of branches so that secondary branches are on the outside of the bends


Add movement up and down as well as left and right


Bending a branch at its junction with the trunk can be dangerous and the whole branch can be ripped out on some species, crab apples for example.


Some species: Acer Palmatum Kiyohime, Potentilla, Azaleas and Berberis are virtually impossible to bend without splitting. With these species they need to be wired young before the growth hardens off.




An article recently published by Sean Smith a member of the California Aiseki Kai

a suiseki and viewing stone club, brought a new asspect to the meaning of suiseki. With Seans kind permission the article is printed below. I think it will give a new dimension to how we view suiseki. Also I am sure that to some they have always had this view



Suiseki, The Personal Art by Sean Smith

Several months ago in Japan I was viewing a suiseki displayed in a tokonoma; it was your typical formal display with table, accent and a scroll. It was explained to me as a distant mountain; the scroll showed a few birds that migrate at that time of year in Japan, and the accent plant was one that grows in the bogs below the mountains.
It was wonderful so I thought; it was very elegantly done and I was very grateful for the time and effort that this person spent preparing this display for me. Then I scratched my head and thought to myself do I really understand what this display really means….then it came to me, why should I, this is not my suiseki. This was created by one man’s thoughts and to him it was wonderful and meaningful.
Why is it that the western approach is always to point out the negative and not the positive? I came away feeling bad having only focused on me! I should have asked many questions about the suiseki and the display, and what his approach was about the stone. That way we both could have shared our feelings for the display.
For me suiseki should invoke a feeling, almost like a personal relationship so to speak, a sensation that gives me pleasure or sadness, something that stirs my heart of a recollection good or bad.
Suiseki should have an importance to the enthusiast in some way, a connection that gives an emotional feeling. Even when one purchases a suiseki from a reputable dealer, it should move that person in some way.
Quality is of the utmost importance; never say it’s just good enough. Always look for quality.
Stones of high quality, either purchased or found, have the ability to move a person; they are of high aesthetic and emotional value. For me, a quality stone is one that in a sense is perfect, without blemishes, cracks or chips; it’s the quality of the suiseki not the quantity that counts. This recalls the story from Japan that you will only find three suiseki in your life time. This art is very difficult.
Not only is finding good, high quality suiseki hard, but so is displaying them.
There is an old story from Japan that tells of a samurai returning from battle stopping at a river to water his horse. As the horse was drinking, the samurai looked into the water and saw a stone that looked like a mountain. He reached for it and picked it up looking at it, it reminded him of the mountain valley in which he had just done battle. We all know that war is pain and suffering, bloodshed and loss of comrades; when looking at this stone it invoked just such a place, where he lost his comrades and inflicted pain and death onto others.
He took the stone and slipped it into his kimono sleeve and returned to his village and shared his experiences with others. How many people would really understand this stone without being at this battle? No one. However, for this samurai it moved him emotionally and reminded him of what happened that one day. He would remember everything of that day by viewing this suiseki. Even by sharing this story with others and explaining what happened could they obtain the same feeling from the stone as he would? Although they could try to empathize and perhaps develop their own interpretation of the stone, is it likely?


To help share his feelings, there would perhaps be some kind of written record about the stone in order to help tell its story. This is something we also overlook; keeping a written record about a stone we find and keep. I have gone to bonsai/suiseki enthusiasts estate sales and so many of the items that they have collected for many years have a heritage which is unknown. Often the person passes away and no one knows where the item came from or when it was collected. For suiseki, these facts could be preserved in the traditional way with kiri bako (wooden box) where the information about the suiseki is written on the back side of the lid or just on a sheet of paper kept with it. Another way would be to have exhibition catalogs where stones are photographed for publication. This would provide a valuable record of the suiseki. Our suiseki will certainly out live us so we need to preserve this information for generations to come and by doing so we will have a suiseki history in the West.
Too often here in the West, we collect with no feeling or emotion; we look for that doha or toyama along the rivers… why? Because we have seen photographs of them in Japanese books? Sure we do, because this is a Japanese art form; we are copying them just as we do in bonsai. There is nothing wrong with that, we enjoy it and it brings pleasure to us. There is however a more important aspect to collecting than simply accumulating a massive quantity of Japanese style rocks.
I shared a story with a good friend the other day, it’s nothing special to anyone but me. A few summers ago I was vacationing with my family in Atlantic City, New Jersey. My daughter was 7 years old at the time, swimming at the pool after a long day at the beach. Show-off Dad was jumping into the pool trying to impress his daughter with big splashes. I slipped jumping into the pool and unknown to me I had torn a ligament in my knee. Despite being in great pain I continued to play with my daughter without letting on, so as not to ruin a family memory. The next day I flew to San Juan, Puerto Rico to do a demonstration. The following day I was collecting stones on the beach and in immense pain, I came across a magnificent sugata ishi. I carefully bent down and picked it up. Wow this is very nice I told myself, but my pain was too much to bear and I had to return to the car to rest. As I looked at the only stone I picked up, I realized that this stone had all the great Japanese guidelines. It was not until I returned home, and had my knee operated on that I realized that this stone had a story behind it. However, in the same way as the returning Samurai, it was just my story, special to me, and when I display this stone I remember all the pain I was in, my daughter telling me to, “Jump higher Daddy, make a really big splash this time.”
Yes, I know this story may seem lame for some, nevertheless to me it means the world and I will never forget that time.
Another story is about my late father in the early 90’s. As we walked in the forest together I came across a little stone that followed the Japanese guidelines for a good suiseki. I picked it up and showed my father the stone and he said it’s just a black stone. I laughed and slid it into my pocket, returned home and placed it outside with many other stones where it blended in like all the rest of my “nothing special” stones.
Seven years later my father passed way from cancer. That day I looked at the stone and cried for hours holding it in my hand; again, to others it may look like just another stone, but to me it brings back memories of my father and that day we were together. It moves me every time I see it or touch it and for me this is what suiseki should do, invoke an emotion, a personal feeling. However, displaying it and conveying that feeling could be almost impossible as the stones power and history only relates to me. As time passes and I give this suiseki to my daughter and tell her the story, perhaps she will take it and cherish it as I have.

Display is a deeply personal act that I feel should not be criticized in a negative way. We have to keep in mind the personal feelings suggested by that display. We should ask questions to help get a better understanding of the suiseki and the intentions of the person displaying it. Some displays are obvious scenes in nature, others slightly more abstract. Even the obvious scenes can have a hidden, unique and personal depth to them which can only be appreciated through an open minded approach to the art. Rather than take a detached attitude to your suiseki, I urge you to attach a personal importance to it and look to record it when important; strive for quality over quantity and above all else, do it with an open mind. And enjoy what someone else is giving.



© The National Bonsai Society