page contents The Little Bonsai: June 2017

Growing and Caring for Bonsai Trees

Growing and Caring for Bonsai Trees

The Art of Saikei 栽景 - Planted Landscape

Chinese or Vietnamese style of Saikei
Saikei consists of two Japanese words, 'Sai' meaning a plant and 'Kei' meaning a view or a scene. Another way of describing this subject from a Chinese point of view is a Penjing Landscape, or rock, water, or land planting. And to confuse you even mere another name is Bonkei. Don’t get me to explain that one! Saikei is a descendant of the Japanese arts of bonsai, bonseki, and bonkei, and is related less directly to similar miniature-landscape arts like the Chinese penjing and the Vietnamese hòn non bộ.

It is the art of creating tray landscapes that combine miniature living trees with soil, rocks, water, and related vegetation (like ground cover) in a single tray or similar container. A saikei landscape will remind the viewer of a natural location through its overall topography, choice of ground materials, and the species used in its plantings.

Unlike bonsai this style gives you the opportunity to play with cuttings and seedlings. You can also use developed smaller bonsai. In addition to this you can also work with small stones and rocks. As this material is within everyone’s reach Saikei can be the perfect starting point for aspiring new enthusiasts. The art of Sakei became popular in the US around 1960 but it was already known since some early Chinese settlers came to america to build the railroad.

Saikei is planted up in a shallow tray. This is usually a rectangular or oval shape. You can also use very flat rocks. The best colour for the base is earth tones for a natural look.

Your main objective in creating a Saikei (or any other name that you choose) is to imitate a landscape
Moss Spores used for Bonsai landscaping
in nature. For this of course one has to understand nature just like in bonsai. This time you have to observe the total scene in the environment, not just what the environment has done to the tree. It is a good idea to observe rocky scenes, mountain sides, and coastal scenery to get a feel for this style. Observe how the trees grow and the direction and shape of the rocks.

Creation of a Sake can be done with the same species of trees or a mixed variety. Make sure the leaves are small. Some can have berries or flowers. lf a variety of plant types are used make sure they are in harmony with each other, for example colour and texture, if you want your Sake to appear realistic. If you choose small young trees you will get the chance to explore shaping and arranging without the expense of large expensive trees.

Stones and rocks can be included. Make sure they have interesting shapes. Rough and jagged surfaces are better than smooth shiny ones. The stones must be all of a similar type and texture and be a variety of sizes. For example a stone with a white streak down the side of it can be used to create a waterfall or an arched rock could be a seaside cave- Fine gravel is also used for pathways and seaside scenes.

Grasses and mosses are also an important component. These are best being very small in leaf and fine in texture. Different types and colours of moss can be used to create texture.

Figurines of animals, bridges, people, boats and pavilions can also be added. These add interest and can personalise your Sake. It must be remembered though to keep these additions in proportion.

So if you want to create something truly memorable get together the following; flat rectangular or oval tray, or large flat rock. A selection of rocks and gravel. moss, grasses and last but not least a selection of small trees and have a go. Bring your creation to your next bonsai club meeting for discussion.

Saikei History

To better understand the art of saikei, we have to go back in it's history. The school of saikei was founded in Japan by Toshio Kawamoto after World War II. Kawamoto was born in 1917, the eldest child of the bonsai master Tokichi Kawamoto, and was trained in the art of bonsai. In 1960, following
Bonsai top dressing - black lava
his father's death, he ran the family bonsai nursery Meiju-En. He actively promoted the practice of saikei after this time, publishing two seminal books on saikei (Bonsai-Saikei and Saikei: Living Landscapes in Miniature) and participating in the creation of the Nippon Bonsai-Saikei Institute and the Nippon Saikei Association.

At the time Kawamoto began developing the rules and form of saikei, the practice of bonsai was at a critical low point in Japan. The labor-intensive cultivation of bonsai had been near impossible under wartime conditions. Many bonsai, in development or completed, had died in the nation's major collections, as well as in the gardens of individuals across the country. Post-war economic conditions made the purchase and cultivation of a real bonsai almost impossible for average Japanese households.

Kawamoto created a simple form of tree display providing many of the aesthetic and contemplative qualities of bonsai, while also supporting the cultivation of plant stock that could eventually be used as bonsai material. He based this art form mainly on the principles of group plantings from bonsai and rock displays from bonkei and bonseki. His original objective was to age and thicken up the trunks of young nursery stock. Saikei was a way for inexpensive plants and stones to be brought together in a pleasing arrangement, easily accessible to the average person. As a saikei specimen aged, it would produce candidate bonsai trees, which could be removed from the saikei for cultivation as bonsai.

As a relatively young art form, Japanese saikei does not have deep traditions of its own. But it is related to a number of older confined-landscape forms popular in Asia, including Japan's bonkei, the Chinese art of penjing, and the Vietnamese art of hòn non bộ. The term penjing applies both to individual trees growing in containers, similar to bonsai, and also to detailed miniature landscapes which include trees, other plants, rocks, soil, water, and miniature figurines of people, animals, and other items. Similarly, hòn non bộ emphasizes the creation of stylized miniature islands projecting from a body of water and carrying a burden of trees and other plants.

In post-war Japan, saikei was seen as an environmentally and economically responsible way to propagate trees for eventual use in bonsai. Even economically constrained individuals or families could enjoy many of the contemplative and aesthetic benefits of bonsai, without incurring the effort and the costs related to mature bonsai specimens. The same benefits accrue to saikei today.

Japanese Garden Landscaping and Design

Kyoto Garden
At the heart of a Japanese garden is harmony with nature. More than simply a landscape of trees and flowering shrubs, a Japanese garden provides a place of serenity and rest, filled with peaceful spots that lend themselves to meditation and contemplation Japanese garden design recreate the natural landscapes in small spaces creating gorgeous reflections of the natural surroundings.

japanese gardening tool
Japanese Weeding Stickle
All elements of oriental garden design are interconnected blending function and aesthetic appeal in harmony and balance. Beautiful Japanese garden design ideas give great inspirations to Feng Shui homes and yard landscaping ideas, adding peaceful small spaces where you can relax and rejuvenate.

A few oriental garden design tips will help integrate the most important concepts into your backyard designs and create beautiful and tranquil outdoor living spaces to enjoy every season. The garden design should be right for the location, harmoniously integrating natural features into beautiful yard landscaping ideas in Japanese style. Your garden design starts from having nothing. Then you add Japanese garden rocks, trees and shrubs. Uniqueness and matured beauty add charm and character to oriental garden design.

Japanese garden designs is a gorgeous combination of thick green moss, miniature trees, rocks, sand and water features, Japanese stone lanterns, Tsukubai water fountains placed in harmony to add graceful elegance to yard landscaping. The peaceful atmosphere of an oriental garden which celebrates your personality and connects you to the nature is the most import thing to achieve.

Basic oriental garden design styles

There are three basic Japanese garden design styles that differ by setting and purpose. Hill and Pond oriental garden design style is classy and traditional. These garden designs are inspired by Chinese gardens. A pond or a space, that symbolizes a pond and is filled with raked gravel, and a hill represent mountains and lakes. Flat garden designs include open flat spaces in front of temples and places for ceremonies. This formal style represents a seashore area and is frequently used in courtyards. Tea Garden designs are functional and informal, blending an aesthetic appeal of rustic style into beautiful and elegant spaces with gates and ponds.

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Elements of Japanese garden design

Rocks in Japanese garden design are the main elements. The stones placement creates balance and
The Japanese Art of Landscaping 1974
Feng Shui outdoor spaces with harmony and beauty. The basic stones are the tall upright stone, the low upright stone, the curved stone, the reclining stone, and the horizontal stone. Two almost identical stones can be set together as male and female, but the use of them in threes, fives, and sevens is more frequent. Stones can be placed as sculptures, set against a background in a two-dimensional way, or used as stepping stones or a bridge.

When used as stepping stones they should be between one and three inches above the soil, yet solid underfoot. They can be put in straight lines, offset for left foot, right foot or set in sets of twos, threes, fours, or fives. The pathway stands for the passage through life, and even particular stones by the path may have meaning. A much wider stone placed across the path tells us to put two feet here, stopping to enjoy the view. There are numerous stones for specific places that give character to unique, meaningful and mysterious Japanese garden design.

Water features play an important part in Japanese garden design. Water can be represented with a raked gravel or sand area instead of water. A rushing stream can be represented by placing flat river pebbles closely together. The flow of water, its sounds and looks, brings to mind the continual passage of time. Bridges crossing the water streams are beautiful landscaping ideas that complement philosophical Japanese garden designs. Bridges denote a journey, just as pathways do. Bridges are the symbolic pass from one world into another, a constant theme in Japanese art and garden design.


Japanese Gardens BookJapanese garden plants and flowers

Rocks in Japanese garden represent what remains unchanged, while trees, shrubs and perennial flowers represent the passing of seasons. A few native plants are present in Japanese gardens. Pines, cherries and bamboo are symbols of oriental garden design, but the use native plants of your locality give unique character to your garden design and yard landscaping ideas, inspired by traditional Japanese garden style. Japanese flower gardens are works of art, if done well. The key to designing your own Japanese flower gardens is to keep it simple and try to imitate nature in the layout. When dealing with Asian plants, it takes a bit of research to select the best Japanese garden plants for your own garden, but it isn’t difficult. Having a variety of plants for a Japanese garden is important. A visit to Japan (even if its just a short visit) it will never be complete without visiting the beautiful gardens of Japan. It's a true must see! For beginners that arent familiar to the world of Japanese garden designs, I would suggest to start exploring the gardens in Kyoto. To view all aspects of Japanese gardens it takes time and the wide distances between cities can be inconvenient. However, the best way for visitors to travel economically is a Japan Rail Pass. A JR pass allows visitors to save up to 60% in cost of traveling between cities and it applies to all Japan Rail Trains and Buses. For more information on traveling through Japan with JR Pass ---> please click here.

Japanese garden decorations

Japanese Stone Lantern
Stone lanterns are not important elements of Japanese garden design. Lanterns, stupas, and basins are just landscaping ideas to compliment an oriental garden design and add points of visual interest to small spaces. A water fountain and an art piece can be added to an oriental garden. Framing it with the stones, plants and flowers creates a very special centerpiece that improves existing Japanese garden design. There are plenty of lanterns in different shapes and forms. Popular ones are Kanjuji which are very simple in form. Many of us like three story lanterns like for example Sanjuno-To that are available in many landscaping stores. 

More Bonsai articles can be found here:

Please click here for more information on --> Chinese Penjing Bonsai
Please click here for more information on --> The Origins of Bonsai
Please click here for more information on --> The Art of Saikei Bonsai
Please click here for more information on --> Japanese Tanuki Bonsai
Please click here for more information on --> How to Water a Bonsai
Please click here for more information on --> Bonsai Healing Methods

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Bonsai Healing Methods

It all starts when the tree is young and green believing that such healthy state is eternal. Soon you will realize that leafs start dropping off which is a first sign of some sort of deficiency.

We all know that most Bonsai Trees need a very specific amount of water to stay alive. Too little water can result in brown leaves and a dried, wilted trunk. Too much water can become trapped, rotting the roots of the tree and causing the leaves to turn brown. And we do know that different breeds of Bonsai Trees rely on different environments to stay alive.

However, the majority don’t flourish in direct sunlight. This doesn’t mean that they’re indoor plants. A lot of them do better outdoors. If you don’t know what type of Bonsai Tree you have, and what kind of sunlight it likes, keep it outdoors in indirect sunlight as a rule of thumb. It is often very possible that you Bonsai Tree simply needs more room to grow. If it’s been a long time since you’ve repotted your tree, consider doing it now. Most new bonsai tree owners are not equipped to grow it. Oftentimes, they see the plant, think, "Wow, how cool!" and bring it home, knowing nothing about how to take care of it. It's not difficult to grow a bonsai, but it does require that you understand the fundamentals about how to take care of them. You need to learn about bonsai if you want a happy, healthy plant. If you take the time to learn, your tree will bring you years of joy.

Identify the Problem

Kiyonal Healing Cream
Kiyonal Healing and Grafting Cream for Bonsai
First, you should look closely at your Bonsai tree to identify what the problem is. Look for signs of insect infestation, such as wilt, mites, and webs (they may be difficult to spot, especially on an indoor tree.)

Next, check for signs of disease, over-watering, or under-watering. Foliage spots, wilt, browning
leaves, soft roots and/or trunk, or creases in the trunk are all signs of disease.

Signs of Under-watering:

If you look carefully at the trunk, you can see tiny creases that indicate that the plant is shriveling up.

If when you stick a finger into the soil, it feels hard and dry.
An extensive root system may indicate that the roots have been venturing far and wide, trying to find water.

Signs of Over-watering:

The roots appear to be rotting and the trunk is soft.
A shallow root system may be a sign that the roots have not had to search for water.
Root-rotting bacteria love moist environments and feed on dead roots. As roots die as a result from over-watering, bacteria spread.
You may see tiny white things in the soil. This may be a sign of fungus gnat larva, which like soil that is kept too moist for too long and also feed on the smallest, finest feeder roots.
The plant looks tired and no longer vibrant and healthy.
An excessive number of leaves turn yellow and fall off.
The smaller branches shrink and die away.
Eventually, the roots may not be sufficient to hold the plant up, and it may fall to one side.

As you can see, it's much easier to recognize the signs of too much water; a lack of water is much harder to detect.

Trim the Dead Spots

You’ll want to trim away parts of the tree that are dead to encourage future growth. Pinch away brown and/or wilted leaves from the stem, and use pruning shears to trim away any dead stems or branches (a branch is dead if it crumbles, or snaps away with ease). Treat the Tree with a Gentle Insecticide

If you’ve determined that your Bonsai is infested with pests or fungi, spray it with a light insecticide
or fungicide spray. Determine your tree’s symptoms before you choose the spray, to ensure that you buy the correct treatment. Lightly spray the foliage of the tree to ensure that every area is lightly coated in the chemical.

Mold detector
Moisture Level Checker (Click on image for more information)
Check the Moisture Levels

Before you doing anything else, check the moisture levels in the soil. To do this, stick your finger 1-2 inches into the soil. If it feels dry, the browning leaves may be caused by dehydration. These next steps will help the plant to recover from this common problem.

Alternatively, you may want to try an electronic moisture checking device. This will help you to get quick results and allow you to take swift action before mold kicks in. Remember that mold is can cause severe damage to your Bonsai. Once mold kicks in, it may be too late to recover your Bonsai from decay.

Take Care of the Roots

Remove the Bonsai Tree from the container and look closely at the root system. With pruning shears, cut away any dead or rotten roots. These roots may be preventing the Bonsai Tree from receiving the nutrients it needs. Cut them back to the root mass, and be careful not to cut any healthy roots.

Place the Bonsai in a Temporary Container

Let the Bonsai rest in a clean container filled with tepid water. While it’s resting, clean out its former container thoroughly, and begin preparing a new soil mix. The soil should be loose, and able to retain water efficiently. The best soil mixture will depend a lot upon the type of Bonsai Tree you have, so choose carefully. Create a mixture with a good fertilizer, and nutrient rich potting soil. Place wire mesh around the drainage holes, and fill the container a third of the way with soil.

Let it Soak

Take the Bonsai out of the water, and place it in the center of you container. Fill it the rest of the way with soil. Afterwards, place it in a large container of water (like a sink or a bucket) while it’s potted. The water should reach about 1 inch over the surface of the container. Let it sit in the water until the soil is free of air.

Remove the tree from the water, and allow the water to drain from the drainage holes.

A Warm, Shaded Area

Choose a well-ventilated, warm, and partially shaded location to place your Bonsai until it heals.

Bonsai Tools Explained

You will be surprised to find out that countless Bonsai care tools exist throughout the World of Bonsai. Please always remember the saying ''different strokes for different folks'' meaning that some tools may be good for hardwood but some others don't.

There are literally dozens of types of Bonsai Tools that have evolved over the millennia, tool that are specialist in their use, like the branch splitter; and some like the Jin Pliers, which have evolved from everyday home utensils. The Jin Plier are no more than Chinese Tongs used to hold the hot wok with its Angled tapered head and nose.

Over the years, Bonsai Tools have become essential for Bonsai professionals. Bonsai trees that are cut with simple scissors can not achieve clean and sharp cuts as Bonsai Tools do.

I shall present the tool grouped by how they are applied to everyday Bonsai maintenance tasks, like Pruning, Re-potting, Shaping and Wiring, and Carving, Feeding and Watering. I have found a nice video on youtube that gives a glimpse on Bonsai tools for beginners. It explains why you should start with cheaper tools first.

Branch & Leaf Pruning

Bud & Fine Twig Shears (Koeda Kiri Hasami)
- These long reach scissors are designed for pruning delicate branches, twigs and buds. Their long slender handles are ideal for those difficult to reach places.

General Purpose Shears (Ashinaga Basami)
– These comfortable shears are for your every day

Branch & Root Shears (Hasami) - This heavy duty tool allows you to prune your Bonsai’s thicker Roots and Branches. Its broad blade allows you raverse the fully width in one clean cut, allowing for smooth and clean cut end to end, and good for healing cleanly and quickly. To use, for pruning fine to medium branches and roots. Do not walk into your Bonsai Garden without them. The large handles allow you to use all your palm and fingers to exert maximum pressure.

The Concave Branch cutter (Mataeda Hasami) - is used to remove a whole branch at the trunk. The concave cut left behind fills over itself leaving little or no scar.

The Knob cutter (Kobu Kiri Hasami)
- leaves an almost spherical cut on the branch thereby allowing it to heal flush with the surface.

Leaf cutter
- Easy to use, spring loaded leaf cutters, with razor sharp blades, it makes defoliating trees a breeze.

Re-potting Tools

Root Cutters
– In shape almost like the Branch splitter, but the cutting lips are not as deep as those of a branch splitter, and the lips are positioned at a slight angle where as the Branch Splitters are positioned horizontally. Ideal for cutting the thicker tap roots and adventitious roots and for nipping out root stumps closer to the trunk.

Root Hooks – Single and Multi-pronged invaluable tool when re-potting. The single pronged hook is used to tease out individual and difficult roots, while the multi-pronged hook is used to untangle root balls.

Drainage Screens – Draining Sieves play two roles, one it prevents the lost of soil from the drainage
holes and second it helps keeps insects and other pest out of the pot. Use a non-clogging variety of drainage screen.

– Like root hooks are used on smaller root balls, and to plane or rake the surface of the soil on a Bonsai pot to remove debris or to agitate the top soil if it has got compacted or to remove surface weeds.

– have a multitude of task but are mainly used to remove weeds, unwanted buds.

Spatulas – Very important tool, make sure you get a strong heavy metal grade spatula, is used for many tasks around the potting shed, but I think the most important of them is to tease those stubborn little trees out off their pots when you need to re-pot them.

Sieves – To ensure that you use just the right size grit or growing medium for you bonsai.

– In valuable little helper, beats having to use your hand to fill the pot with, some of these handy scoops even come with an in built sieve.

Tamping Trowel - Used to tamp down soil when re-potting or after mixing in solid bonsai feed.

Coir Brush
– The brush end is used to smooth down soil surfaces and give a finished look, or just brush-off dead leaves and debris of the surface. The handle end made be used to clean or rub off branches and trunks unsightly loose bark or lichen, or perhaps even the odd pest.

Carving Tools

Shari and Si Diao Carving Tool - are used for creating and enhancing the quality of deadwood display on Bonsai.

Hand saw – for use in lots of little task. Look for a pull saw version if you can find one. Essential for when you are on those collecting field trips.

Grafting Knife – ideal for carving and also for propagation purposes.