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.

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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.

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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