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Urban Yamadori, Beginner Bonsai Tips, Seeing the Future
January 17, 2018

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Urban Yamadori



Yamadori is the Japanese word for collecting plants from the mountains. Collected trees are some of the oldest and most beautiful bonsai the world.

Of course, not all good subjects are found in the mountains, and not all collected plants for bonsai are even dug from the "wild."

"Urban Yamadori" is a recently coined phrase that describes plants collected from yards, parking lots and even trash heaps.

Six years ago, this Black Pine was a "yard tree." At first glance, the branches may seem too far apart to create much of a bonsai. I'm not sure very many people would have seen the semi-cascade potential that Jonas Dupuich saw!

The black pine bonsai above (still a work in progress) is an excellent example of a successful urban yamadori.


Jonas is one of my favorite bloggers!
Read this ongoing story here in an issue of his Bonsai Tonight 12/22/17 blog

Seeing the Future

One of the most important aspects of creating bonsai, and perhaps the most difficult, is the ability to see the future.

The story above is a perfect example!

"What will my tree look like if I take that branch off?"

Whether it's an old bonsai or a new starter, when you have a difficult time deciding what to do, use The Magic Cloth.

Avoid those bad styling cuts before they happen.

Maybe your first style has grown out and it no longer looks like your original plan, stop looking at it the way it is now.

For starters, sometimes the front changes. What you thought made the perfect front isn't working.

Put your bonsai on a turntable. Turn it slowly, if you can't decide, leave it there and come back later.

Maybe the position no longer seems right. "What if I slant it"?

Another technique ... lean the tree back, forth and sideways ... even upside down, seriously! If need be, use empty containers and rocks to prop them. A friend sewed and filled a few mini-sandbags for me that work great! Step back and consider the possibilities.
(Ed Trout's now famous Lantana cascade, shown here, was once an upright tree!)

A Moving Story

Sandy Anderson owned the beautiful Mill Brook Bonsai nursery in Jericho, VT for many years. In my "traveling days" it was one of my favorite places to visit.

On one of my trips there from Miami, we visited an amazing conifer nursery in the mountains of Vermont. While we were there, the planned program of the day, a Bougainvillea bonsai workshop, was set up among these beautiful conifers.

As tropicals are my field of expertise, the irony was certainly not lost on me.

Look closely, you can see conifers in the background of this picture.

Fast forward many years, today the Andersons are planning to relocate from Vermont to Florida. Sandy's recent email was not the first time I'd heard similar requests.

" ... tell me which ones you think should not be moved, I will start working to find homes for them here. Although, that is gonna be painful."

The perfect question and answer!

When making any move (even within the same state) be sure to discover the 'Hardiness Zones.' In Florida there are six such zones, in California, there are twelve!

Whether you are making an obvious climate change like the Andersons, or a somewhat shorter trip ... plan and ask ahead! You will feel much better if your bonsai are in good hands in the right climate, rather than they die in yours!

New Bonsai Museum and Book

My copy of Amy Liang's first book arrived just before Hurricane Andrew hit my home (and destroyed our business) in South Florida. During the many months of recovery, that book was a treasure to enjoy.

I'm looking forward to her new book.













If you won't be in Taipei anytime soon, enjoy this visit throughout the garden and the museum with Bill Valavanis.


Bonsai Myths, Oh My!

"Remove one third of the roots ..."

"Use half strength fertilizer ..."

Mid-day watering burns leaves ..."

Generalizations and myths such as these can be confusing, especially to newcomers to the art of bonsai. Early on, I followed the "half strength fertilizer" advice. It seemed like a miracle when I began to use fertilizer according to the package instructions!

Read more of my Bonsai Myths

Selecting the Best Nursery Subject

While nursery shopping, you're busy looking at the trunks (and rightfully so.) Have you ever noticed the leave size and how it can vary from plant to plant on the same species? As an example, you may think a Bougainvillea is a Bougainvillea.

Bougainvillea bonsai - Mike Sullivan, South Florida

Yes, the nebari and trunk are the first concern, however as Randy Brooks, Homestead, Florida writing about Bougainvillea said "Shape and size varies tremendously between plants and colors. Something to think about when selecting material."

In Randy's graphic you can see how the leaves do vary greatly from plant to plant.

Another interesting fact about Bougainvillea leaves ... what you may think of as flowers, are "bracts." Read more here on the Bougainvillea Care page


Many years ago, Ed Trout was also thinking about leaf size. He gathered buttonwood (Conocarpus erectus) leaves to show their size and shape variances.

If you have a choice, other aspects being similar, select the plant with smaller leaves.

BonsaiMary Gets Mail

Gabrielle S. - Australia

"Thank you for the welcome, I look forward to learning more about Bonsai as I am a new collector."


Rodger K. - Vermont

Mary, just got around to ordering the blaster, to clean trees. Will let you know how it works! Rodger

Next day I received: ... the Dry cleaning blaster gun works great for cleaning deadwood and jins on Junipers and Colorado blue spruce!

Three Cheers! The tool details are on the Bonsai Tools page


Brian McG - New Canaan, CT

Hello Mary. I LOVE your site! I'm new to the hobby, and started with Junipers, Schleffera's and ficus. But I want a really nice Jade... I want something Really special and somewhat mature ...

Brian - Thanks for the kudos. If you are looking for a 'tiny leaf jade' ask about Portulacaria afra, they are the best "jade" for good bonsai... DO NOT have trees shipped during this weather! (Especially tropicals!)

There is a group on Facebook that have this plant as a special interest: Portulacaria Afra (Dwarf Jade) Bonsai Study Group.
Bonnie K. - Euclid, OH

Someone sent me a Bonsai tree yesterday (Fukien Tea) and I think it got too cold during shipping. It came with the leaves all drooping down. Now this morning the leaves are curled up and drying out. Do you think I can save it?

I was furious that someone would ship any plant in the freezing temperatures of that week! Although doubtful, I encouraged Bonnie and hope to hear from her with good news.
Jamshid K. - Uzbekistan

My name is Jamshid. I am a student of Forestry and landscape architecture department. I desire to learn and practice on Bonsai art. unfortunately, in my country nobody knows how to do it.

I am the pioneer in this field in Uzbekistan, therefore, it is hard to me start and get success with bonsai. Last year I start with 60 young trees which were 2 years old plants. But 57 of them were not successful and only 3 of them survived till nowdays. Please, help me to start and help me to learn Bonsai Art. Hoping on your understanding and cooperation. Kind regards, Jamshid


NOTE to all: Jamshid and I sent several emails back and forth in an attempt to get him on the right track. If you know anything about bonsai in Uzbekistan, please contact me. I will be happy to forward your email.

Until Next Month

As we in the U.S. continue to experience an especially frigid winter, it's a reminder for everyone to watch the day-to-day weather forecasts! Check your greenhouses for damage! If you have a plant on a windowsill, check the temperature!

I must admit, as much as I love my home in Central Florida ... I do miss those Miami winters!

Stay safe,
Mary Miller

Contact Bonsai Mary

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