Tips tricks and advices

Developing and correcting a Shohin bonsai

Patience with bonsai is a well known subject. Developing a Shohin bonsai through 14 years pays off when the plan is right. I always lowed the rough bark at the Cork bark elm, Ulmus parvifolia Corticosa.  It was mainly because of this feature I back in 2005 bought this small tree. Since then I carefully developed it.

Originally I just wanted to make a better ramification and add a more interesting feature to the tree. Changing it from a mass produced broom style tree, to a tree with its own characteristics.

2005. The pre-bonsai material as it looked when I purchased it.

Changing style and opinion

The first long time project was to thicken up some of the lower branches especially. To add the aged appearance of a tree with thick lower branches, tapering towards the top of the tree. As well as tapering at each branch. Always having in mind that a branch is thickest at the base and slowly tapers towards the end. Adding a natural appearance.

In 2006. One year after the first initial styling.

Correcting a fault

At the first stages I created the tree as informal upright tree. At that time a lower first branch was right and an important feature of the tree.

After some time I decided to change the tree into a more leaning positing, giving it more interest. Keeping the lower branch in the new position proved to be a mistake. I fell in love with the lower branch dropping down created at the earlier stages of the training. I always fancied this feature at another three. At a Juniperus chinensis where I developed the same key feature. Working very well at that specimen.


2010. After five years training, developing the main branch at the left.

The fault at the Cork bark elm, is that it simply isn’t a realistic feature. A low branch beneath the canopy will be shaded out and die eventually. Maybe not at a bonsai where the light reaches the inside, but we have to keep in mind that it is resembling a large tree in nature. In nature such a branch will rarely survive. Therefore its doesnt work and I decided to remove it after some considerations.

2018. Ulmus parvifolia `Corticosa` with the lower branch still in place.

Achieving a simplified and much more harmonic result. Shohin bonsai is, due to their small size, always presenting the tree in a more simplified and suggestive manner, than when designing larger bonsai. Still it is of importance to keep the natural large tree in mind when styling the bonsai.

Bonsai is an ongoing learning experience, and trees develops and changes constantly. Mostly for the better. 🙂


Pruning a tiny mame bonsai Juniper

The tiniest of bonsai, the mame-bonsai, needs extra caution when pruning. Do not trim them regularly, because it will weaken the growth and health. Letting especially evergreens grow a little out of shape before trimming, making the new growth produce energy is essential.

Trimming right

Trimming is done by pruning and pinching. Pinch out the middle and develop the side shoots. Making a nice branch division and natural appearance.

After pruning. Juniperus communis `Green Carpet`. Height 7 cm.

Pruning further back is done by cutting above a sleeping bud or new side growth. Do not prune behind any green, because the branch will be lost. Secure all branches have approximately the same amount of foliage to secure the balance of energy throughout the tree.

This small Juniperus communis Green Carpet is made from simple nursery stock. It measures only 7 cm / 2,75 inches from the lowest part to the top. Video and gallery below.

Burning bonsai

Kill your darlings is an old saying, when you have to discard something you love.

I had to kill my old established award-winning Juniper, Juniperus procumbens. I have grown it from an ordinary nursery stock for more than 17 years.

It became heavily infected by the Cedar-Hawthorn Rust Gall fungus years ago. Unfortunately impossible to cure when first infected as much as this tree. You might be lucky at very early stages removing the infected branches. Cleaning the tools with spirit and destroying the branches by burning them, is essential to avoid spreading the fungus further.

Fatal fungal attack

The Juniper do not suffer much from the fungal attack, but branches do swell up around the area where the fungus grows. It is hidden most of the year underneath the bark, and shows up when spring temperatures increases and in rainy weather. If removed quickly the damages can be reduced some, but not fully. It might even not be visible for a long period if foliage can hide the attacked area. Or it might ruin the design totally.

I tried to remove all possible attacked branches last year and jinned those. A new design was necessary to develop a future bonsai.

What happened was, that the fungus, obviously at sleep at other part of the tree, just popped up at new places.

It smashed all my plans of recovery and a new design. Only one way to go now for more reasons.

I also didn’t want to risk the fungus spreading to my other Juniper bonsai. And I most certainly did not want to spread the fungus to other peoples bonsai. The risk is minimal when the fungus is asleep, but you might carry on some spores. One or the other way. Having workshops in my garden also would endanger students trees getting infected.

The bon(sai)fire

The design and future of the tree was ruined, so I decided to burn the tree to get rid of the problem. A necessary sacrifice.

Burning is the only way to be one hundred percent sure, that the fungus is gone. Putting the tree at the compost is no go. The fungus can be asleep for years and turn up again, spreading it spores, finding new hosts for its life. Also do not put it in the garbage bin, or at the junkyard. It doesn’t remove the fungus, just relocates it.

Well. Shit happens. Kill your darlings, and move on. Other trees are now safe and sound.

I used the rest of the fire, to put in two fresh rolls of copper wire needing to be annealed. Making use of what was gone.


Repotting season has started

The repotting season has started. Deciduous Shohin bonsai are lined up. Where repotting is needed it is executed now.  It is time just before the leafs opens, showing full activity in the tree. Only trees that have a rootball making a health problem are repotted. Or when a new pot is a priority because of aesthetical reasons. As long as any corrections of the rootball isn’t necessary, as it shouldn’t be at established bonsai, there are no need for regular repottings. The longer the roots can be left undisturbed and healthy, the better the tree will be in good health and growth.

There are no rigid rules that can tell when repotting is needed.

Shohin bonsai Acer palmatum, Japanese maple, fixed in the new pot. Pot is from Takao-Koyo, Japan.

It has much to do with observing the trees. Knowing their growth pattern and health.

Also a conifer is on the worktable for a repotting. In opposition to many other conifers preferring a later repotting, the needle juniper, Juniperus rigida, reacts better on early repotting.

Shohin height

A small correction of the height of the tree was done, so it fits the Shohin category that allows trees at a maximum around 20cm (give and take). A few small branches were removed, and the top lowered by simple wiring and repositioning them slightly. After that repotting into a bonsai pot. With such a small work it is not a problem to repot a healthy growing bonsai, that also shows a very healthy rootball. If the rootball shows signs of weakness with dead roots, then make just a secure repotting in the original or a slightly larger training pot to better the condition and growth. (Pictures in the gallery below the article).

Lowering the height of the tree from app. 22 cm to 19 cm making it fit the Shohin bonsai category.

The small wonders of Japanese maples

Maybe it is because of the size of the tree. Maybe the size of the leaves. The wonders of the Japanese maples in Shohin bonsai always amaze me more than bigger amount of colored leafs. The same with the tiny leafs of the Cotoneaster microphylla.

I have always admired the simplicity in bonsai. Especially in the world of the smallest trees. As a headline of my now sold out book says, Majesty in Miniature. This is so true for this special branch of bonsai, focusing on the seasonal changes.

Cotoneaster microphylla.


Maybe I appreciate the small amount of delicate leafs more, because they seems more fragile and adds a feeling of not lasting long. We just have to enjoy as long as they are present. It can be over in a few days. When chlorophyll (the green pigment that helps taking up light for photosynthesis)  draws back into the stems, and shed the leaves. Controlled by shorter days and dropping temperatures. Making a small magic happen, and preparing trees for winter.

Japanese maple.

European Yew

Or English yew. Goes under both names. There is only one latin name though. Taxus baccata. This specimen is a headline story in this months seasonal bonsai report from the Shohin Bonsai Europe garden. Also detailed explanation of English yew, pinching and distributing energy to the correct areas of a tree, is part of the 27:30 long video. Ready for subscribing members now. 

In the Q&A video this time, a question about pruning and controlling growth on Lonicera nitida is answered.

VLOG 11 and the making of a Kusamono

Vlog 11. October shows the beginning signs of autumn where deciduous shifts from green to yellow, brown or red leaves.

Removing the wire from a bonsai in training, should not be made in one go, but in steps. Finally I arrange a Kusamono planting with dry tolerant grasses and plants. All included in the October edition of the Vlog at Duration: 29:38

Autumn mood

I simply love the autumn with all its colours and melancolic decay of leaves. Does it sound sad? Not at all. There is so much to enjoy, and still bonsai are showing their circle of life. Going towards dormancy just means that the trees takes a rest. Getting ready for next years growth.


The cooler air and freshness of autumn is wonderful. When it not storms and rain is changed in favour of sunshine. The season is not ending. It is just replaced with another period.

This is also a good time to arrange a Kusamono planting with drought tolerant specimens. Giving the plants time to settle before winter.

Happy autumn

bonsai video

Autumn, (and I do repeat myself year after year) is one of my favourites. When it gets colder here in Northern Europe, the colours of deciduous trees change. For now it is still warm, but this will slowly change. Deciduous trees change their leaf colors from the darker summer green tones to yellow, brown or red. Especially the Japanese maples are stunning in all their variations.


Stop feeding

At this time it is important  to stop feeding your bonsai. Feeding them now will stress new growth, and this new growth will be too weak to cope with the winter colds. It is time to do other jobs in the bonsai garden though. Checking wire applied in the summer or earlier. Ensuring that the summer growth does not overgrow the wire and make marks difficult to change.


Cleaning out any weeds or dead leaf at the soil surface, to secure no pests are hidden. More important, the removal of dead plant material are of big importance because fungus can be a present. Most actions of fungus are good actions. because fungus breaks down dead plant material and feed future trees with nutrients. But that is when it is happening in the ground, in the forest.

In the bonsai pot, fungus can attack weak branches and open wounds. Therefore it is advisable to remove what can cause this. And that is dead plant material. Fungus likes humidity and cooler weather, and just that is the features of autumn.

The good thing, is the wonderful colours at the bonsai. Looking forward to that part.

Follow the seasons

One of the elements in the monthly video updates at the BONSAI VIDEO STUDIO is the report from my garden. Following the changing seasons is one of the important parts of bonsai. What to to when, and the pleasure of getting in contact with nature all year. All 12 months will be covered in the Vlog, so you can enjoy following the garden and trees.


Give yourself (or a friend) a membership and enjoy the ongoing educational bonsai video tutorials.
Sign up and get full access immediately. Ask your questions about bonsai and get video answers.

Follow the four seasons of bonsai, and learn bonsai with high quality video content by international bonsai artist Morten Albek.

First month is a free trial membership.

We will be happy to have you as part of our community.  

Slowest bonsai demo in the world?

The newest Vlog (just launched) may be the slowest and longest bonsai demo in the world.

Just started on a journey with a Potentilla fruticosa, and found it worthwhile to make a different approach to styling bonsai. Sharing the full process of every step made on a specific bonsai over time.

Often we see trees styled at conventions and in videos, and everything is a one-day work, and we never see the tree again. This demo will be different from anything else seen before. You will be able to watch a monthly update (with exception of a short dormancy break probably), watching every single styling change and technique done on this long termed project.

We will deal with all aspects of styling a deciduous tree following it through several seasons, – including failures and victories. Deciduous trees are almost newer styled at public demos. Simply because they demand long termed adjustments and cutting techniques a short time demonstration will not be able to show. Join the journey and follow from today.

Keep cool with double potting

We have spring-time summer at present at my location. Hot and wonderful weather that demands a need to cool down. The small mame-bonsai are in very shallow pots with a limited space for roots and soil. The sun and warm weather heats up pots, roots and soil rapidly. This happens faster than it is possible to cool them down with water. No matter what, the soil is heated to an unhealthy level if precautions are not taken. The space is so narrow and limited that normal transpiration isn’t enough to keep the inner temperature down st the trees. And roots are harmed by a soil heated up too much.

Spindle Tree, Euonymus planipes, mame-bonsai made from a cutting.

Of course it is possible to place the trees in the shade and this will cool them down to some extent, but this will also have the negative effect that growth elongate and a compact tree is ruined. Some sun is necessary to keep internodes (distance between each leaf pairs) short, to develop a compact tree needed for bonsai. Especially with tiny trees like mame (bean) bonsai it is essential to achieve a compact and detailed implied image of a tree.

Double potting is the answer to your dreams.

The normally heated area close to the pot can be cooled down by placing the pot in another pot filled with soil. The extra border of soil will make a small wall that keeps the heat from being to strong. When the moist soil surrounding the inner original pot evaporates in the heat, it helps cooling down the center part. It acts like a termo protection or isolation layer helpful in the summer heat.

Crap Abble, Malus sieboldii.

Roots from the tree in the center pot also will be able to growth through the bottom holes and into the extra pot and soil, keeping it healthy growing during the growing season. Any time needed, it is possible to take up the inner pot with three, and cut expanded roots at the bottom of the pot. Double potting will also work with larger trees, if necessary.

The two mame-bonsai shown are in training period and not fully developed.


Yew bonsai pinching season

Spring means growth. Lots of growth. Especially with this seasons warm weather blessing us with sun and heat. It is about being on time with pinching, so especially shohin do not outgrow themselves, unless you need strength and extending branch length.

First flush of new growth just pinched.

My old shohin bonsai European Yew, Taxus baccata, is in a phase where it is matured at 80 percent of the foliage mass. At this stage it need steady tight pinching to keep it from outgrowing the present form. But I also need to develop some lover and outer parts, letting them extend in a controlled manner so they are not too thin, and still expanding. I therefore let them grow a bit more than the upper part, slowly and steady increasing the volume. With time and with less pinching I will achieve my goal – hopefully in a future not too far away.

New buds do not develop at once all over the tree, so it is necessary to overlook the tree more times a week, to do the maintenance work periodically until all the new growth is matured.


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