Losing trees: Tosho

Well, it has been a while since I lost a tree. Unfortunately, this was an imported, collected needle juniper. They’re uncommon. I have owned it for 4 years, and it’s always been healthy. It was repotted last in 2018, and doing fine until this spring.

January 1, winter color, nothing unusual.

End of February, still seems ok.

End of May, clearly dead.

What happened? Unpotting it revealed some rotting roots on one side: under the thickest of the moss, and very broken down soil underneath, with some earthworms present as well:

So what’s the verdict? Could be root rot, could be the late frost we had in April, could have been ready for a repot sooner, could have been too wet. Regardless, here’s a sad parting shot.

But I’ll end the post with one of my favorite photos of the tree. Club show, May 2018. On a David Knittle table, owned by a friend. The accent is Erodium in a Byron Myrick pot.

Losing trees: Japanese Maple, Chishio improved

Ok, this series is intentionally humbling as it demonstrates my failures with the hope of avoiding them again, and maybe someone out there can also avoid them. The good news is that I didn’t lose this tree. I did lose a few years of work, but optimistically the tree will be better in the long run. And if bonsai is about anything at all…it’s the long run.

I wired the tree over Thanksgiving 2019, just after leaf fall. This:

To this:

Replacing fat branches with finer branches and balancing the overall density. No problem, right time of year, so what could go wrong?



Trouble…so I decided to not repot, and not add another insult. First time in 15 years I skipped a year of repotting. I believe we had some nights in the low 20s in late January, and it may have killed some of the branches.

Early April, clearly I’m losing branches:

Time to trim the long stuff and see if we can jump-start some budding in the interior.

Left side good:

Right side bad:

Trimming back, mid April, before and after:

Late April, and some interior budding is forming in the bare areas:

Late May, and the wire needs to come off, and the left side is very dense, compared to the weak right side.

Before unwiring;


Since the April trim back encouraged some budding, and new shoots were starting to grow, I decided to partially defoliate the tree and allow light to reach the interior, as well as balance the tree and give the new shoots a shot at growing. Here is an upper branch, before:


And likewise on a lower right branch where some dieback occurred, new branches were starting to take off:

So I wired them, removed the inner leaves, and removed the growing tips. This should result in back-budding at the axils of the removed leaves:

After the work is done, the tree looks pretty rough. It always does until the leaves reorient themselves in the sun.

A night shot shows the result a little better:

And, just a few weeks later, new buds and shoots have formed all over:


Interior branch:

I’ll let it grow a bit longer, and wire the green shoots I plan to keep in a few weeks. Next spring, I’ll repot it and work the roots pretty thoroughly.

Losing trees, JBP

This is one I have been documenting for over a decade; maybe more than any other tree I own. It’s even the subject of this little book.

Last winter (2017-2018) it was subjected (by me) to some very cold winter temperatures when we dipped down into the single digits for a week in January 2018. It probably would have been ok, but I had just wired it out in preparation for the 2018 USNBE the month before. It weakened and looked pretty rough going into Spring 2018.

I ended up pulling it from the show, and turned my attention to keeping it alive! Starting with repotting it into very coarse soil in March 2019, with more pumice than before, heavy feeding until June, and no candle-cutting in July.

Then it started turning pale in early August. It had been hot and dry, and the watering system was the only moisture it got for over a month. Jonas had been posting about alkaline soils, and I wondered if that was happening here too. My pH meter was inconclusive at best.

But the color was looking rough:

So I applied a heavy dose of organic acidic feed, and fish emulsion every few days over the next few weeks. It also rained finally, which may have helped too, but it seems to have perked up some. Two weeks separate the photo above and below.

I’m hopeful its improving and can be worked this fall.

This is the feed I have been using on acid-loving trees, like azaleas and Stewartia. It’s granulated like Plant Tone, so I have considered making cakes with it. Maybe one day.