Susquehanna Bonsai Club

The premiere bonsai club of south-central Pennsylvania


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Susquehanna Bonsai Club – Bjorn Bjurholm and Frank Mihalic


MAY 6, 2016 

It is a unique experience to see three world-class bonsai artists demonstrating at the same time. All three came to bonsai in different ways.

About these guys:

Frank Mihalic, a second generation American bonsai artist had his father, Tony Mihalic who is known for his forest and rock plantings (Saikei), as his first instructor. Wildwood Gardens started by Tony has been cultivating bonsai for 70 years. Go to to learn more about the nursery and Frank’s career in bonsai and bonsai jewelry.

Bjorn Bjorholm began his career as an apprentice of Japanese bonsai master Keiichi Fujikawa. Bjorn spent nearly six years working at Mr. Fujikawa’s nursery, Kouka-en located in Ikeda City just north of Osaka. To learn more about Bjorn’s bonsai and his tour schedule go to his website at

Jim Doyle received a degree in horticulture from Delaware College of Science and Agriculture in 1973 and opened Nature’s Way Nursery. Bonsai became a business rather than a hobby in 1980 through the influence of Chase Rosade. Go to his website at to see photos of Nature’s Way Nursery’s Spring Festival featuring Frank and Bjorn.

What did they do at the Susquehanna Bonsai Club meeting?

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Frank decided to do a rock planting on Tufa rock which has a sponge like texture. The Tufa rock comes from the Sandusky, Ohio area deposits. His tools will be a hammer, screwdriver, wire, adhesive and a chisel to prepare the rock and then plant prepared, appropriately sized plants in the cavities on the rock.

Frank attached tie-down wires to the pockets in the Tufa rock by applying Epoxy putty to the wire at the bottom of the pockets. Crazy glue and cornstarch will also work as an adhesive. There is no need to create drainage holes in the pockets because the Tufa rock is so porous. The benefit to creating a rock planting in a demo is that it looks like a finished product at the end of the demo.

Frank next wired the small trees for the primary plantings. He then puts the trimmed and wired tree in place and sees how it looks. Frank adds some clay to his muck when planting. After the complementary plants are positioned adding moss is the next step. Use wire u-pins to hold the moss in place, so that when the planting gets dry the moss will not pull away. For a vertical rock, cheesecloth can be wrapped around the rock to hold the moss in place. The cheesecloth will eventually rot off. Place the finished rock in a tray of water to add humidity during the summer. Frank likes moss that has grown in the sun. The rock can be overwinter in a poly house during the winter. Frank keeps his storage area around 38 degrees during the winter. Juniper, boxwood and cryptomeria all do well planted on Tufa rock. Forest Rock Planting and Ezo Spruce by Saburo Kato is a good book for more information about rock plantings.

click on first image to open gallery

Bjorn chose a yamadori Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) collected from the Rockies and in a pot for the last 4 to 5 years. The specimen has elegant movement of the trunk and top. He designed a Bunjin style (Literati). The tree was grown in pumice which drains well and will not cause root problems.

Bjorn started by removing deadwood and unnecessary branches. Also remove branches that have no buds on them if you have enough foliage on the tree. There are four types of growth that can be cut from the tree:

1. Anything that is heavy on top and growing upward so that the laterals are maintained.

2. Anything that is hanging down on the bottom side of the branch. Cut the foliage off rather than plucking it off, however, leave a radial group of needles at the end of the branch.

3. Anything in the crotches of the branches. A branch should multiply by 2’s. If there are more than two branches radiating out of the

same spot, it will cause enlargement of the branch at that spot.

4. Start with the biggest branch on the bottom and work your way up the tree. When cutting branches, leave a stub the diameter of the branch. The stub can be used to anchor guy wires used to position branches and it can be removed after it is no longer used.

It is better if the tree is on the drier side when you are working on it. Bjorn holds the wire in the palm of his right hand and uses the left hand to pinch the wire into place. Start at the trunk of the tree and work out to the tertiary branches. Two wraps of wire are required to hold the branch. Two smaller branches of similar size can be wired together. Weave between the needles by using the wire to wiggle around the needles to get to the radiating tip cluster being careful not to smash needles. Ideally two wires or less on a branch at one spot, three being the maximum. The angle when wiring pines can be 60% to 65%, wire deciduous trees at a 45% angle since they tend to break more easily. The direction of the wire on the branch is important. See which direction the branch is going to be bent and wire in the same direction so that the wire will tighten as the branch is bent. Leave the wires on one to three growing seasons and until they bite in a bit, the scar tissue will help to hold the branch in place.

Bjorn positioned branches fanned out like a hand and pads on different planes. With the first branch he created four pads with foliage evenly distributed. The jin will be the highest point on the tree and the pads below that. The jin was formed and positioned but will be worked on after it dries out a bit. Refinement of the styling will be done in later years. He recommended fertilizing all year this year and next to promote back budding and vigorous growth. In the third year and after that fertilize from mid-September to December to promote shorter needles.

Bjorn compared Japanese bonsai and European and American bonsai. In America and Europe Bjorn has the opportunity to style collected trees whereas in Japan most of the work is refinement work of wiring trees. The focus in Japan is on the long-term development of trees 5 to 30 years out and in Europe and America it is on the short-term. In April 2017, Bjorn will be leading a tour to the World Bonsai Congress in Omiya, Japan.

click on first image to open gallery

Jim worked on a yamadori Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) which was collected 3 to 4 years ago. His goal was to show off the movement of the trunk and to design so that it has two viewing sides. The tree’s transpiration should make the bark feel cool all the time even in hot weather. A good way to determine if the tree is alive and healthy is to hold a piece of deadwood in one hand and

a part of the tree in the other hand and if it feels cool compared to the deadwood, it is good to work on it. Wait at least two years before wiring a collected tree and then at least three years after styling a collected tree to repot.

Jim started by cleaning dead and unusable branches from the Lodgepole pine. It is not as flexible as the Ponderosa pine. The tree got twisted in different directions in nature from stress . Branches are chosen to show the movement of the trunk. Bring down the branches into the empty space to emphasize the movement and features of the tree.

Leave the wire on the tree for 2-3 years. It may have to be wired again when the wires come off if the branches do not hold their position. The scars on the tree are beauty marks which show how the tree healed and grew in a different direction. Some branches will be removed in later years.

click on first image to open gallery




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Arthur Joura Demo – Susquehanna Bonsai Club

Arthur Joura On Red Maple (Acer Rubrum) Bonsai : (sorry no photos at the moment)

By Darlene Tyler

Jim Doyle introduced Arthur Joura who is Curator of the bonsai collection at the North Carolina Arboretum in Ashville, North Carolina. Arthur said that 500,000 people visit the Arboretum each year and the vast majority of visitors come through the bonsai garden and really like it. Since 1996 Arthur has been organizing and hosting the Bonsai Expo. This is the 21st Expo at the Arboretum, will feature Dan Robinson, and will be held on October 8 and 9. With Jim’s help, SBC has an exhibit in the Expo every year.

Arthur is committed to developing regional American style bonsai with nature and regional differences in specimens dictating the styles rather than traditional Japanese cultural practices. What changes when studying trees in nature is the role model of how you look at a tree: Instead of taking cues from other bonsai specimens you take your cues from nature.

Arthur’s slide show and lecture about American East Coast trees in their natural setting and their use in American Bonsai was beautiful and inspiring. The photos included a landscape he did while demonstrating for the club in 2005, South Appalachian Cove, an interpretation. The tokonoma display

was an American beech seedling grown by Arthur and a hemlock (styled by Yoshimura with its main trunk removed). This composition was also a demo at the club several years ago.

Red Maple, Acer rubrum, produces an extraordinary display in the fall. It is a canopy tree growing sixty feet to 100 feet tall and lives about one hundred twenty-five years. It is an Eastern North American tree extending from Canada to Mexico and is the most common canopy specimen in the Eastern United States forest. It is cultivated for landscape use and does well in cultivation, is adaptable to a wide variety of site conditions and will vary considerably with its location in the East. Chalk bark maple (Acer leucoderm), Arthur’s demo tree, is an understory tree which has all the attributes of a sugar maple and gets great autumn color. Chalk bark maples grow to thirty-five to forty feet high and develop a smaller trunk than a red maple.

As a bonsai specimen, red maple is readily available both commercially and from nature, transplants well, can be grown in full sun but does better in some shade, and can be used to create any form . It produces new growth on old wood and the leaves reduce well with persistent training but not as well as Trident maple. It is prone to insects and disease (frog eye fungus) and reducing inter-nodal distance can be challenging. Adversity develops character and red maple will develop twisting of the grain and burls.

The flower is showy in a subdued way and close up. From a distance in the landscape the mass of flowers creates an orange to red haze which envelopes the canopy of the tree. It is the color show of the Southern Appalachian forest in the spring. The fruit is a paired samara (an indehiscent winged fruit). The fruit display, which begins green and progresses to pinkish and then to orange when mature, is more eye-catching than the flowers.

There is variability in shape of leaves, size and color and when the leaves first appear the color is different. There is a yellow form of red maple as well as some with orange and bright red leaves. The leaves are translucent when backlit. Red maples do ramify utilizing leaf pruning, but not all the leaves at once. Every week take off the biggest leaves and those with spots from June through July and gradually strip-out the leaves, which is a much more sensible regiment for the plant.

Arthur directed his attention to styling the chalk bark maple specimen, which was cut back in the mid 2000’s and planted. Cut and grow techniques were used yearly to get an authentic movement and tapering in the branches. Look at the tree from all directions and angles to be sure the tree looks convincing from all directions. Frequently you will get good opportunities to redesign a tree when disasters show up and

with the right degree of flexibility, it is often possible to design a new tree.

The maple was bare rooted and a characteristic of chalk bark maples is that they hold their old leaves all winter (marcescent) until the spring when the new leaves push-off the old ones. Remove the old leaves and get a sense of the branches that are not useful and remove a little bit at a time and continue until it is where you want it to be. Have in mind what you want the canopy to be.

Most trees have an upward thrust and the composition will be different if the tree grows in a forest or in an open field. The tree is reaching for the sun. The lower branches have to reach out further. Along the way there is branch removal by insects, disease and competition. We mimic this competition when we prune and allow another branch room to grow. Upward and outward movement and our human ideas are needed to create an attractive bonsai. Try to think like a tree. Make sense out of random movement. What would the tree do with these parts it has? Arthur enjoys carving but sometimes it looks better tearing grab hunks of wood, split and grab and break creates a better finished appearance.

“Dead” deciduous wood will not last long whereas most evergreens have a capacity to resist rot. The exception is hornbeam which holds up well. After creating hollows or deadwood, use a small culinary or soldering torch to round off the edges and make the new work look like an old stump. An indoor/outdoor water-resistant wood glue helps to prevent the loss of moisture in the new work.

If there is competition between the branches, move them upward and outward. To develop trunks, grow the tree in the ground to develop strong root growth and the trunk will expand proportionately. What is bellow grown is vitally important. When you are growing trees in a bed, put a rock or tiles below the roots to keep them radiating out and prevent them from growing down.

After the wiring and pruning, the maple was potted in a box made of locust with hardware cloth on the bottom covered with landscape cloth. The soil mix was the Arboretum’s potting mix and aggregate. The potting mix is composted pine bark, peat moss and Micromax with added lime and micronutrients. The aggregate is expanded slate, a local product. Put a mound of soil mix into the box and push the tree into it and finish adding soil mix after the plant is in place. Attach the tree in the box with wires around the tree that are attached to staples in the top of the box. Design the tree entirely than look for the front at the end of the process.

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Hershey Gardens Bonsai Exhibit 2015 – Susquehanna Bonsai Club

The 2015 Susquehanna Bonsai Club annual exhibit at Hershey Gardens.


(click on first image to enlarge and scroll through gallery)


(click on first image to enlarge and scroll through gallery)

Once again the Gardens enjoyed a successful exhibit, with over 100 more visitors than in 2014 casting their ballot for their favorite tree. Join us at a future meeting where we will present Carl, Jim and Bob with their awards. A hearty Thank you to all of the SBC members who exhibited trees, managed the care and feeding, set up and took down the exhibit, and shared their weekends working and teaching the public about bonsai. We couldn’t have done it without you! 

Roxanne Kamin

Thanks for reading🙂

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Colin Lewis Demo – Susquehanna Bonsai Club

Susquehanna Bonsai Club October meeting with special guest bonsai professional Colin Lewis


Club president Sheila addressing the club prior to the demo


Colin and his chosen Colorado Blue Spruce for the demo

Colin and his chosen Colorado Blue Spruce for the demo

Jim Doyle introducing Colin Lewis to the club.

Jim Doyle introducing Colin Lewis to the club.

OCTOBER 19, 2015 

By Darlene Tyler 

Colin Lewis was the guest artist at Natures Way’s Fall Open House this year. He also conducted a Workshop and an evening demonstration on Friday and a Study Group on Sunday. 

Colin is originally from England but now lives in Maine where he has a nursery. He has written articles and books and lectured extensively. He was chosen to be one of the five judges at the Artisans Cup in Portland, Oregon. Colin shared his thoughts about the Artisans Cup: “It was not a bonsai exhibit but rather an art exhibit that had bonsai. The quality of the trees was very high, however, there were too many Rocky Mountain Junipers.” His position is that when you work deciduous trees you learn about its structure and how the tree grows, whereas working conifers whose branches are more flexible and easily shaped is more molding the tree. It is better to learn bonsai working deciduous trees since you learn more about structure”. 

For our club demo, Colin chose to style a Colorado Blue Spruce. After deciding on the front and style of the tree, Colon began to work on creating jin. It easier to see the tree if the jin are the right color so the bark and wood are peeled off at the same time revealing a spiral grain which is common in spruce. If you use raffia on larger branches, use colored raffia for the top layer so that it is the same color as the branch being wired and bent. There is a flat saw cut at the base of the tree which will have to be hollowed out or carved. Use power tools to make a hollow. Deciduous trees have hollows instead of jin. It is acceptable to allow the hollow to rot. It is only the deadwood that will rot. 

The lowest, heaviest, dominant branch will be on the sloping side of the trunk. The other branches will be wired and brought lower. Spruce bleed resin profusely. This is a good time of year to work on spruce because they are not pumping as much resin. Cauterizing helps to seal the cuts so they do not bleed so much. The dry resin is white and can be removed with the use of alcohol and a soft toothbrush and then carefully wash the resin away with soap and water and the soft toothbrush. 

Before wiring the tree, clean off the old needles. The year before last year’s needles will come off easily so pull those. It is better to cut needles on pines rather than pulling them to prevent bark damage. Next look at the shoots, some will be blind, others will not have a terminal bud but will have buds along the branch, remove the blind shoots because they will eventually die back. (#3)When wiring, use a long piece of wire and estimate how much wire you will need to wire the first branch and wire it, then wire the second branch with the long piece of wire. When you are finished wiring the second branch, cut the remainder of the long piece of wire and begin wiring the next two branches in the same manner – this drastically 

cuts down on the amount of scrap wire produced. When you want to get movement in a branch, at least three turns near the pressure points. 

The wires can stay on as long as they aren’t digging in, if they are digging in cut out the piece that is digging generally at the top of the tree and also the more severe bends. If you are re-wiring a tree, run the wires in the opposite direction if possible or not in the same tracks as the last time. The branches may need to be wired two or three times (small branches twice) to establish the branch shapes. Thin areas where there are too many buds. If the buds aren’t healthy, the tree isn’t healthy. Blue spruce pointy buds are not particularly vigorous but buds that look like roses or cabbage shoots will grow vigorously and extend. If you pinch in the spring, you will not get back-budding on the branch rather the branch will live for a while and buds will form at the base of the branch. The biggest task then is going over the tree and cutting out all the aborted shoots that were pinched. 

Colin shared his horticultural knowledge with us while wiring the tree. One question asked was “How did you get started in bonsai?” Colin said that during the sixties while growing a specific plant, he discovered that when you pinch the tips of branches you get two branches. This was his “aha moment” and he said “That’s how they do it!” He also talked about collecting yamadori in the White Mountains. Maine has Red Spruce which are native and are good for bonsai. Alberta spruce (Pica glauca ‘Conica’) is not good for bonsai. In a regenerated forest the birch grow first and bit by bit other species become established in the understory of the birch. When the birch die the conifers take over. When a forest fire occurs, the conifer seeds will be there and they will be growing in a far too exposed environment which favors the creation of trees exposed to extremes of wind and snow. Eastern white pine can be used for bonsai but they take more time. They will back bud and the needles will reduce.

(click on first image to enlarge and scroll through gallery)

The finished bonsai. What front do you prefer?





As always thanks for reading🙂

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Young Choe and kusamono/ kokedama – Susquehanna Bonsai Club

Recently the Susquehanna Bonsai club had a presentation on how to make kusamono and kokedama. The club was honored to have Young Choe as the presenter. Young Choe has studied extensively on these subjects and travels all around the world teaching the arts of kusamono and kokedama. Young studied kusamono in Japan under master Kusamono artist, Keiko Yamane, a former student of Saburo Kato. Please enjoy reading the below notes from our latest club newsletter (editor – Ross Adams) written by club member Darlene Tyler. Thanks for the article Darlene!

By Darlene Tyler


Kusamono are potted arrangements of wild grasses and flowers in unique pots or trays selected to suggest a season or place where they grow.  There are three basic styles of Kusamono: moss-ball ( Kokedama), out-of-pot, and container.
Many meadow and woodland plants are suitable for Kusamono compositions including blue stem grass, flowering onion, Japanese anemone, goldenrod, Iris cristata,  Virginia strawberry, shining sumac, ferns, lily of the valley, Epimedium, chrysanthemum, Canada mayflower, red columbine, American wintergreen, narrow leaf mountain mint, Solomon’s seal, cobra lily, culver’s root, hawkweed and Japanese blood red.
Young chose a naturalistic tray-like container for her first composition. Think about the color of the plants and flowers and the container. Choose the front of the container first and add a layer of potting soil (Buffalo Organic Potting Soil or fine grain Kanuma and charcoal).  The pH of the soil should be about 6.5.  Next add the rocks on top of the soil.  The rocks were chosen and carefully arranged on the tray. Use 1, 3, or 5 rocks and leave space in front  and place rocks slightly to the middle-side of the container.  Be happy with each step of the process.  After the arrangement was pleasing to Young, she chose a woodland aster as the first plant (the tallest plant is placed first).  Loosen up the roots of the plant but don’t cut too many roots in the summer.  The wood aster is placed with its face facing forward between the rocks and more soil is added.  Golden rod,  Chrysanthemum crispum( a small flower and white edged leaves), a spring flower (Oenothera) and Campanula were added. Be sure there is soil between the rocks and the plants.  A fine moss was added to finish the composition.  Use chopsticks to push the moss into the soil.  Water with a fine spray and keep it in shade for two weeks before introducing it  to part shade.  Do not allow the plants  to dry out.


KOKEDAMA (moss ball)

Muck soil is used to create moss balls.  Add enough muck to the soil so that the ball will maintain its shape.  The ball is created on top of a tile or screen which has four wires protruding to attach the  ball. Start selecting a combination of plants that seen to relate to each other place the tallest plant first than the supporting plants adding more muck tot the ball as needed.  Finish off by applying moss to the composition.  Press the moss into the soil and affix it to the ball with fine black thread.  Oat grass, golden rod, penstemon, and chrysanthemum were used for one of the balls.
When the composition no longer absorbs water, it is time to separate and re-pot a kusamono.


Thanks for reading and for more info about Young Choe, please check out her website provided below.

Young’s website is  for more information about Kusamono.

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