August 2018 Newsletter

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August 2018 Newsletter

The 2018-2020 Officers of Richmond Bonsai Society!

President Randi Heisse
Vice President BettyLou Lages
Secretary Wendy Peckham
Treasurer Bob Blumenstein
Board Member at Large Dave Barker
Past-President Thomas Sones

Regular Meetings, unless otherwise noted, are held the 4th Monday of every month at 7 pm in the Community Room at St. Mary’s Woods, 1257 Marywood Ln., Richmond VA, 23229.

Contact us at  or visit us at or on Facebook.

Bonsai information, common questions and answers, monthly growing advice, and bonsai links can be found on our website.

RBS 2018 dues are $25 per person or $30 per family, which includes PBA membership. Membership and registration for workshops and other events can now be made via our webpage.

In this issue…

President’s Message by Randi Heisse

It’s hard for me to believe we are well into August and headed into Fall far faster than I would like.  It’s always this time of year when I want to extend my growing season by a month or two. I guess we are never ready for the end of our growing season and way too soon I’ll be putting up trees for winter.  How depressing that sounds.

I continue to fertilize my trees through September and change the formula mix in October. This area of Virginia (New Kent) generally allows for a growing period until the first frost which may be in late November or December with the current weather pattern.  I continue to fertilize with my homemade go-to formula: cottonseed meal, blood meal, bone meal in a 1-1-1 mix until October.  A week ago, I re-filled small mesh bags (1.5”x 3”) to replace “spent” bags currently in place.  The bags sit upon bonsai soil, near the corners of the pot.  The number of bags is dependent on the size of the pot.  Every tree gets this mix.  In addition to the mesh bags, I also fertilize the azaleas with an acidic fertilizer every two weeks and every tree gets an application of a liquid Fox Farm fertilizer(s) on a weekly basis.  I also apply a product from GS Plants, Ocean Minerals, as a fertilizer and a foliar feed.  It’s always gratifying to see the results of your fertilization program with strong trees and new growth.


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Calendar of Bonsai Events:

Richmond Bonsai Society Events
Aug. 27          Regular Meeting on Displaying bonsai with Jim Ford
Sept. 15-16    Annual Fall Show at the Great Big Green House
Sept. 24         Regular Meeting BYOT Wiring Workshop
Oct. 22           Regular Meeting Winter Tree Protection
Nov. 26          Regular Meeting Two-Needle Pines Care – Pulling needles
Dec. 9             Holiday Party, no regular December meeting

Other Organizations:
Aug. 13           Brookside Bonsai Society club auction
Sept. 15          PBA Auction and Officer Election
Until Sept. 30    Viewing Stone Exhibit: Spring into Summer, National Arboretum

PBA Study Groups at the Arboretum
The Potomac Bonsai Association (member through RBS) has ongoing  study groups led by Owen Reich and Jack Sustic. If you are interested in taking advantage of one of these study groups, contact LeAnn Duling, PBA President, at

Owen Reich’s Group A : July 7, September 22, and November 3
Owen Reich’s Group B:  July 28, September 29, and November 17
Jack Sustic’s Group A:  July 29, September 30, and November 18 
Jack Sustic’s Group B:  July 28, September 29, and November 17

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Recent Activity Reports

PBA Spring Bonsai Festival

RBS and our Sister Clubs in the Potomac Bonsai Association celebrated our annual bonsai festival at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum, Washington, D.C.,  which featured  workshops, demonstrations, special exhibits, and vendors. Members entered trees in the Member Bonsai Show and the special display challenge, a few entries are depicted here.

Beginner Workshop with RVA Makers’s Forum. 

We met jointly with an organization called the RVA Maker’s Forum. We introduced them to bonsai and have a beginner’s workshop with tropical/ indoor material. We want to thank all of the RBS members who helped and the RVA Maker’s Forum leadership for their help in making the event a great success. We hope to see many of the makers back as regular members.






Regular Meeting With Tyler Sherrod by Dave Barker

RBS welcomed Tyler Sherrod, who talked about good bonsai growing and development practices at different tree stages. His presentation  was targeted to experienced members of the club.  He, like all of us, started out his bonsai experience with landscape nursery material. It is a good starting place for beginners to learn the basics of horticulture of trees in a pot (watering, fertilizer, potting) and the basics of design, pruning and wiring to achieve a pleasing design. But there are limits to using nursery material in that it either takes a very long time to develop or its initial limitations such as no nebari (root base) or a long skinny straight trunk will make it fall short of ever being “show-worthy.” A show-worthy tree will be one that has that sense of proportion and age as a miniature tree – a nice taper in the trunk and branches and compact foliage. [This reminded me of the Frank Mihalic demonstration where he cut a three-foot high juniper bonsai down to about 8 inches to get the correct taper and compactness.]

Tyler recommended that as we become more experienced we need to start with better quality material that comes from trees grown specifically for bonsai or are already bonsai.  Second, he emphasized the proper treatment of all potential show-worthy trees by not skimping on soil.  A high quality bonsai will develop the needed fine root structure in a pot with good bonsai soil (his recommendation was the same as mentioned in Russell’s repotting presentation – equal parts lava, pumice, and akadama).  Third, we have to have patience to transform the tree. Take it one step at a time, letting the tree return to full health (demonstrated by new growth) before the next step. So in his example of the korean hornbeam – repotting was the first step, and the he let it grow out for a full season before pruning, and will style and wire the tree next winter. Tyler envisions a tree in 5 years in his mind before he starts working on it. So in his example of the juniper with an interesting trunk, he repotted it this year and plans to graft compact foliage on it next year, so that in 3 more years the new foliage will develop a compact structure.
The second part of the evening was a demonstration in pruning deciduous trees.  After the spring growth has hardened off (leaves are no longer tender but look like all the other leaves), Tyler prunes most secondary branches back to two or three leaves.  Main branches off the trunk need to be thicker than secondary branches, so he lets those grow until the branch size is proportional to the tree. Lower branches on the trunk need to be thicker than branches near the apex (top), so letting them grow long will thicken those branches.
The process of cutting back to 2-3 leaves on secondary branches creates more ramification (one branch going to two, two to four, etc.) so that the tree appears to be older in miniature.  It also allows more light to reach inner branches to avoid die back.  The exception to the 2-3 leaf rule is a secondary branch that he wants to be thicker; where branches one side of a main branch are weaker than the other; leaving more leaves on the weaker side can equalize the strength of the secondary branches. Depending on the species and the amount of growth, Tyler will do one, two, or three prunings in a growing season.

July  meeting with Tropical Bonsai

Our July meeting was all about tropical bonsai. After a brief introduction on tropical bonsai from Randi, members Jack and Bob led a discussion on their approach to growing and developing tropical bonsai. The discussion included summer care, development techniques, and winter care of Ficus as bonsai. Both members also showed their Ficus to the group and answered questions regarding the tree’s; development and care. After the discussion members participated in a “Bring Your Own Tree” tropical workshop.

Upcoming Event Details

Aug. 27          Regular Meeting on Displaying Bonsai with Jim Ford

Bonsai Display…Simple techniques and eastern aesthetics, to better display and appreciate our Bonsai:  配置  “Zen no haichi” or the arrangement of Zen, is the art of displaying bonsai and related objects in a natural pleasing way.  In Japanese aesthetics, wabi-sabi (侘寂) is a Japanese view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection.

RBS member Jim Ford will be discuss this awareness, how to prep your tree for display, how to prepare your pot for display, and how to select the proper stand. In addition, Jim will also discuss the importance of scrolls, suiseki,  and other objects that are critical to a successful formal bonsai display or Tokonoma. A temporary display backdrop, to represent the Japanese Tokanoma (special display alcove) will be set up for our experimental use. There will be an open discussion and hands on demonstrations of how to best prepare and display bonsai, with stands, accent plants and other objects to enhance ones viewing pleasure.

Everyone is invited to bring in their bonsai, accent plants, display stands, hanging scrolls, etc for a fun and educational sharing experience. For those who plan to display a bonsai for the clubs up coming show, this event will also give you the opportunity to receive insight from other members, with the goal of a greater appreciation of our trees.
  If you want to boost your knowledge on bonsai display, there are quite a few articles on the internet and here’s a link of interest: addition, we will be making preparations for the Fall Show. 
This meeting will take place in the Community Room of St. Mary’s Woods at 7 pm. If you have trees that you want help or advice on, please come about 6:00. 

Sept. 15- 16      Annual Fall Bonsai Show at the Great Big Greenhouse

RBS’s bonsai show will be held at the Great Big Greenhouse [GBG] on September 15 & 16.  We participate in the show every year and this year will be another opportunity to introduce bonsai to the visitors to the GBG. This is always a very popular event at the GBG and we need your trees to display and we also need for you to volunteer to help man the exhibit and interface with the public.  Remember, no matter how long you have been an RBS member, you know more than the public and are able to answer their questions. 

There will be a sign-up sheet at the August meeting for set-up on Friday evening, take down on Sunday, providing trees, and volunteering for shifts on Saturday and Sunday.  Trees need to be delivered to the GBG Friday evening so that they can be arranged in the display for viewing when they open on Saturday morning.  You are welcome to bring a tree to work on in order for the public to observe and learn bonsai is not magic and smoking mirrors but horticultural methods and design techniques.

Potomac Bonsai Association Auction and Officer Election

The Potomac Bonsai Association will hold a meeting and election following the PBA auction on Saturday, September 15, at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, 9750 Meadowlark Gardens Ct, Vienna, VA 22182. Please plan to attend or submit your absentee vote (instructions for this at a later date). PBA member votes will determine new officers including: president, executive vice president, education vice president, secretary, and treasurer. These officers along with the presidents of each affiliated club (or a designated representative), will make up the board of directors for PBA.

The current president, LeAnn Duling, has appointed a nominating committee including Steve Miller (PBA past president), Thomas Sones (RBS), and Aaron Stratten (NVBS) who will be identifying nominees for officers. Any PBA affiliated club or PBA member-in-good-standing may nominate a candidate. Send nominations to the members of the nominating committee by Friday, August 17th. Please include:

  • The nominee’s full name

  • Office for which the candidate is nominated

  • Affiliated club of which the nominee is a member

  • Contact information for the nominee

Nominations from the floor will also be accepted at the time of the election.

Official notice of the PBA meeting including a list of nominees and additional meeting details will be sent to PBA members by August 25. Information about absentee voting (for those who cannot attend the meeting) will also be provided.

PBA is an all volunteer organization, and we are deeply grateful to all who give their time to support it!

Article:Picking Out a Good One by Dave Barker

While Tyler Sherrod recommended experienced members get higher quality pre-bonsai starting material, selecting material with potential is the same whether from a bonsai nursery or a landscape nursery.  Club member Thomas Sones described the process at the RVA Makers workshop on tropicals.  First, look for species with small leaves or needles needed for a miniature tree.  Bonsai are not a separate species, but regular trees made to look like miniature trees, so select species with small leaves or dwarf varieties of a species.  Second, look at the first 12 inches of the tree above the ground.  You are looking for good taper in the trunk, a wide base that narrows as you move up the trunk.  You may need to use your finger to feel around the dirt line since nursery trees are often planted with an inch or two of dirt above where the root flares out or has inverse taper (trunk gets smaller near or below the dirt line).  Third, look for an interesting trunk line that would give the appearance of natural forces shaping an aged tree. Fourth, look for good nebari ( root flare).  Tyler mentioned that this is often difficult to determine in nursery stock because of the extra dirt, but should be clear when purchasing a tree that is in bonsai soil. This aspect is probably the most important aspect for giving the tree the appearance of age.  Fifth, look for a good branching.  In deciduous trees, this is not as important since new branches readily grow from the trunk over time, but for conifers it is not so easy.  For both types, you are looking for branches in the first 18 inches that alternate sides at different levels with thicker lower branches and smaller upper branches, like an old tree would have.  Do not worry about branches above that level since they are likely to be cut off.  Avoid conifers that have large “knuckles” where four or five branches are coming off the trunk (or a main branch) at the same spot as this will look unnatural and is difficult to fix.  You will never find a perfect tree, so try to minimize problems while avoiding trees with problems that cannot be fixed (like inverse taper).  Happy hunting!

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Other Announcements and information

Donate a Book or Magazine: RBS maintains a lending library available to members. The lending selection includes many magazines, books, and some videos. If you have books or magazines that you no longer enjoy, please donate them to the club.

For sale:

Mixed Bonsai Soil -regular and shohin soil (fine) 5 gal bags. Call Lee (804-869-1257) to place a special order.

Pumice (as a planting medium). Randi has pumice in two sizes, 3/8 and 5/16. Both sizes are priced the same, a 79 pound bag is $93 otherwise the pumice is sold at $1.25 per pound. Contact her for orders.

Notice: RBS mails printed newsletters upon request. We encourage members to update their member records and switch to electronic versions of the newsletter when possible. If you receive a printed version, but would prefer electronic, please inform the club secretary or reply to this mailing.

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