Sunday, 29 November 2015

The styling competition results

For those who follow us on here rather than Facebook here are the results of the juniper styling contest we ran. Thanks must go to everyone who entered, made the effort and for sending in their results.......what instantly impressed us all was the variation in styled trees that we saw from what was very similar starting material....

The initial uptake was going to create a first and second place and the judging did give us a clear winning tree....then it got a little harder as two trees were in the running for second spot and it was such a fine line that it was unfair to put one above the other so we put pur heads together and decided to extend the prizes by in effect having a joint second place...this gave the winner £100 to spend and two £50 prizes going out as well

Enough chat..........


Here is the winning tree (Above)  styled by Russ ..... The level of work that went into this one impressed the judges, I liked the flow of trunk and shari that followed into the cascade branch taking the eye smoothly through the flow of the tree. The pics supplied showed it slip potted into a cascade pot that Russ already had, but the judging did ignore this and concentrate on the tree styling.

Then we come to the first of the runner up trees - a lovely compact and very mature image created by Phillip from Ireland. Canopy size is in perfect proportion to the trunk, the dropping branch completes the flow and the jin is just the right length to fit the design and break up the trunk line
2nd Runner up was Lee's tree - some nice space created, overall size and balance is very nice too. Silhouette is good and the tree will continue to improve as the initial branch pads fit out and bulk up over the next couple of years.
Cheers to everyone who entered and thanks for all the messages asking about the next styling competition....I'll snap up a batch of pines if some suitable trees come in with next years container so we can have a bit of species variety......We could have fun with a longer term comp lasting from spring intil winter using some fast growing deciduous material like a deshojo maple or Korean Hornbeam.. We'll bounce some ideas around on facebook for next year.
Finals for those local enough to fancy spending a day at a Bjorn Bjornholm demonstration day
we have a limited ticket chance coming up - currently there is room for up to 8 people to come

Friday, 27 November 2015

Black Friday madness and marketing hype

Mmmmmm, Black Friday................

Mass marketing hysteria to drive sales by dumping excess stock ? In some cases yes, there is nothing wrong with getting rid of stock lines that are about to be discontinued or updated and improved in my mind, that makes sense to save ending up stuck with old stock.

Discounting existing current stock items to a high level.......why would you?....I can think of nothing more damaging to a brand than creating a special low price for a day, a week or a month.....yes you may create a little flush of sales but at the expense of margin....and sometimes sales special prices become virtually 'at cost' or if poorly thought out they could come at a loss when end of year taxes and overheads get factored in. All this is good for a few buyers of course and we all love a little bargain now and again but what a terrible damaging thing to do to your brand....

Fictitious Product X has a normal value of £10, the buyers who like it feel they receive value for money and are happy to pay the price.....most expect a little incentive to buy a larger amount or to buy at times of the year when they may not want it....10-15% discount gives the desired results......this is why we have all the bonsai fertilisers reduced over winter so people who know spring is round the corner can buy early and save money..........but to suddenly create a Black Friday price slash for product X and say " you lucky people.....we are selling are product for £5.00 !!"..... What message does it give to the regular buyers and to long term devalues and damages the brand as you have indicated you can sell it for half what you were selling it for previously........


Today (Black Bonsai Friday) we woke up and discovered all our specimen bonsai were looking so good  that they had increased in value by we advise waiting until tomorrow to buy one! Then they will be back to the correct price, not stupidly devalued, but with a little room for some well meant haggling ! 

I think it's about seeing through the poorly thought out marketing ploys.......a few months ago I was getting bombarded on Facebook with a one week 35% sale.......then a week later we were told because it had been so successful that it had been extended for a few more weeks!? But the sale items were all so specific you could go online and view virtually all of them those behind these ideas think people are daft? I spotted a new type of sale this was "we have brand new stock so we are going to reduce the price of it all this month......?" All it means is the price has been set artificially high in the first place to create a fake sale price..

I guess if you want last years TV model at half price today is brilliant...last year I did just that with a TV just before Xmas as the new model was about to come out in the new year......£1000 saved and a half price telly.....but it's about being realistic and knowing what things are really worth and what you are willing to pay for them....

Current fertiliser offers we have without hype;

Tibolar Sr fertiliser £17.50/kg (normally£19.95) until current stock sells out or Feb 2016 is reached
Bio gold Original £16.50 / 900gr ( normally £19.50). This is genuine Japanese sealed foil packs
Naruko japanese commercial fertiliser £9.00/ kg....this is rebadged from bulk sacks
250ml Bonsai Boost fish emulsion++ and the new BioKelp 2 for £10.00 ( normally £7.95 each) 

There are about 15 bags of assorted Akadama, Kiryu grit and Ezo grit left.....3 for £40 on these until they are gone......

Sunday, 23 August 2015

UK and Europe Autumn styling competition

After watching the excellent online styling competition run in the USA via the facebook group Bonsai Odyssey I decided to source some good quality material that was as even and fair as possible and run a similar thing here for UK and European bonsai lovers.

The material

Now I've taken delivery of just over 20 Japanese imported Itoigawa junipers - all with nice curled and twisted trunks and with a lot of quality foliage nice and close to the trunk, plus a summer of extension growth to offer more styling options. These are super healthy, well fed trees that have great chunky trunks and I hand picked every tree to be as equal as you can with a living plant.


How it Works

We will supply by post a material tree to all contestants -  they will all be sent out on the same day by courier. We will send to UK, Ireland and Europe *

Trees will be numbered, contestant names will go in a hat and I will pick up a tree, my wife will draw a name - I can't think of a fairer way to do it

The styling contest will run for one month so nobody needs to rush the job or worry if they are busy one weekend. I have waited until Autumn as junipers are better off not styled in summer.

The contest is open to all people of all bonsai experience.

The results will be judged based on photographs of the styled trees and will consider the styling, technique and overall image. Pictures from front, side, back and above will be needed to judge the tree to give the best impression of the 3 dimensional tree the contestant has created - we want to promote good all round bonsai rather than a flat tree created just for the camera.

There will be a group of judges invited to pick the winners - pictures will be sent to them as numbered anonymous files - I will co-ordinate the contest, organise the picture files etc and therefore not be one of the judges as I'll know who has styled each tree

The judges decision is final and will be based on the pictures supplied - ONLY the tree will be judged - If you chose to repot them (not required or recommended) the pot, stand, display etc will not count towards the judging process.

When ?
Trees will be sent out 28th/29th Sept
Styling will be all of October
Pictures must be in by 1st November at latest - judging will be completed within 1 week from closing date

How much will it cost ?
Entry costs £80.00 and included the tree and UK delivery charges
* European contestants - due to increased delivery charges the fee is £90.00.

We are happy to send to all European Union countries -if you are from other international countries please check with me first if I can send you tree material - many will not officially allow shipment of bonsai although these trees have just cleared defra QT and have tested free from disease, pathogens, soil pests etc.

Payments by paypal to, or by credit/debit card over the phone 07855 300789 or by online bank transfer to Aqualabs business account - details on request

To make the contest work we need 10 or more people to enter - if entries fall short entry money will be refunded in full, or we can offer the option of sending out the trees anyway with a partial refund.

What do you win?

For 10-14 contestants
1st prize £100 to spend on any of our stock - Bonsai@16 has 210 trees in stock right now, copper wire, Aluminium wire, Tibolar SR, Biogold, Naruko, Fish Emulsion, Lime sulphur, You can chose prizes from the ebay shop, in person, or over the phone/by email or collect in person at the Bonsai Europa15 event in Bury.
2nd prize £50 to spend as above

for 15+ contestants
1st £120 to spend as above
2nd £60 to spend as above
3rd £30 to spend as above

Contest is limited to the number of stock trees - 21 in total

Results and further questions prior to the contest will be via the online facebook threads, or specific questions BEFORE the contest can be emailed or sent via messenger

Cheers for reading and good luck

Grown up junipers on the sales bench

Friday, 29 May 2015

the birds and the bees

Slowly we are building up the bonsai collection here to offer more seasonal interest and to include some of the more unusual species.

The seasonal interest can come from spring foliage colour, flowers, fruits, autumn colour, a fine winter image etc but many of these trees need a little more work than the standard run of the mill species.

One tree I wanted for many years was an oriental bittersweet to add that splash of intense autumn / winter colour when the yellow pod opens to expose the bright red fruit in the center. On a visit to Saruyama Towers one day I found, and was able to aquire, two ! 

Thanks to Peters advice it became apparent to get fruit the tree needs pollinating from a male of the species so one of these was procured as well....Now it all fell to timing - - the main tree is a beautiful large cascade and it started flowering weeks ago - the male though seemed to totally refuse to open any of the forming small green flowers...unbelievable ! a lady ready and the bloke doesn't want to play ball.  I even put the trees together, entwining the two to see if the male would wake up....yesterday I saw the first male flowers open so now it is fingers crossed that the female flowers are still viable and havent been open too long

the small leaves are the female tree so ive put it under the males (there are two now, one in a small pot and one trained as a climber over the entrance gate to the bonsai area)

I hope this little fella has been saving his energy as there are 5-600 female flowers all very ripe and waiting ! 

At least it is easy to tell the two sexes apart

Only time will tell if i've been successful - if so the green berries will form at the base of each flower, if not they just drop off and that's it for another year. 

While doing a bit of online research I found this link and it is the same tree 2 years before  undergoing a spray fertilisation....

Hopefully the tree likes it with a real male as I fancy taking it to Noelanders in Jan 2016

Monday, 4 May 2015

food for thought

For every one of our prized bonsai trees there is a bug, beast or pest that would love to eat them. Very few of them will kill a bonsai in a short period of time, but they will weaken the tree, set back a seasons growth or damage important branches that may be essential in the design. Attacks on conifers can cause inner foliage to be lost and this can be a problem on species that don't freely make new inner growth.

Here are some of the pests I've seen on bonsai during my travels, garden and nursery visits and sometimes here on the trees in the garden. Obviously we can't be blind to the fact flying and crawling pests may find our trees tasty and they can appear at any time. Regular inspection helps you understand what may or may not have set up home on your trees, although sometimes the pests are out of sight or very well hidden so a tree seeming sluggish, weak or slow to grow may be the clue you need.



Here is the basic aphid - known as greenfly, black fly etc but can be orange, brown, red or white as well. A vigorous breeder that soon swamps soft new tips and leaves as spring growth occurs. They pierce the soft tissue and suck the sap - secondary problems are the residue they leave behind - it ends up attracting a black sooty mould that further weakens the tree. A tell tale sign of aphids as well as the creatures themselves is lots of ants on the tree - they like the sticky excretion and will farm / protect the aphids to keep the supply plentiful

sooty mould

Ladybirds eat aphids but in my observations the aphid can out breed the best efforts of a ladybird

There are many sprays and treatments ranging from water jets, soapy water, through to contact killing pesticides and systemic treatments that enter the tree and kill the aphid when it sucks the sap.

We often hear of trees having wooly aphids as white fluffy blobs are spotted in the foliage. On the underside of beech tree leaves is the only place I've seen the wooly aphid - it is usually a totally different pest mis-interpreted as the wooly 

You need to look under the leaves to find these and also spray under the leaves if you are using a contact killing spray.


These white fluffy blobs are not wooly aphids but the pine bark adelgid. I see these all the time on Scots Pine bonsai - especially if they are kept too shaded or too protected . They spread very quickly through the needles and newly growing candles - they are sap suckers and weaken the tree and certainly effect back budding too. Needles discolour and drop prematurely and the tree turns a tired colour - loosing its vibrance. Contact sprays work best with washing up liquid and a little warm water to get through the waxy coating. Systemic sprays work from the inside of the tree but often the old fluffy husk needs washing off with a jet of water

This is a more unusual species of adelgid - that colonises spruce and hemlock - different species but same type of pest

Juniper scale insects

Like the adelgid I see these tiny white spots on junipers kept too protected from the elements - dark shade net, poly tunnels, over protection and poor airflow all can contribute to a weaker tree and I believe a weaker tree more susceptible to insect attacks. Sun or at least bright light, and excellent airflow reduce the likeleyhood of a tree becoming covered in these little pests

The hard shell protects the insect underneath so a systemic pesticide is usually the most effective treatment. They often appear as tiny white dots on the scales of chinensis type junipers - often 1mm or just over. A large outbreak will eventually cause browning of the foliage. 

I've seen a much larger scale insect on chinese elms and hornbeams too - these get to 5mm across, usually dark brown. Effected trees will drop branches and will die back a lot if the pests are ignored


Pine sawfly Lavae

I only had one single larvae in the garden here and luckily it was spotted as the newly purchased Scots Pine was carried from the car to the bench. I have seen larger numbers of them on pine bonsai at a nursery in the past where lots of bonsai pines were in relatively close proximity to commercial plantations so I think this is a pest you are more likely to buy in than have in high numbers in the average garden. They are incredibly voracious - chewing off rows and rows of needles virtually daily and if allowed to go unchecked they will cause branch dieback once all the needles are gone. Easy to find - they wiggle about a lot and the pine shoots become stripped of needles

Vine beetle

This is an important one to spot - it is the feeding of the beetle stage of vine weevils. The adults eat leaves, then they lay eggs in the pot that become the root eating weevils. One adult lays about 10 eggs so it doesnt take long to become a problem. Trees slow right down on growth, lack in vigour and often end up with a poor colour. As we bring in so many trees from many places to the garden I treat everything with a systemic vine weevil killer. If you can kill the beetle while it is eating the leaves you wont get the grubs eating the roots - to me thats the best way to protect against these damaging pests.

The adult beetle

The root eating grub

Garden center material can be full of grubs - some nurseries also seem to have high numbers of grubs in the pots so I regularly treat all the new stock arriving in my garden. To get the most from a systemic treatment we make up a deep bath of pesticide and submerge the entire pot. This saturates the soil and penetrates all parts of the rootball. It kills on contact and continues to give 3-4 months protection systemically. The same stuff kills off the sap suckers too

It may cost £20 to make up the dip but it treats every tree here - after every pot up to 24" is dipped I use the left over liquid poured onto the larger pots. 

At least we know the trees living here and leaving here are as pest free as we can manage

Most caterpillars are loners and do very little damage to bonsai - eating holes in a few leaves etc
There is one that seems to reach epidemic levels though and it rolls itself up in the leaves 

They seem to love Azaleas and will eat into flower buds too, causing the bloom to abort or be misshaped. I've seen them bunch up larch foliage, pine needles and roll up a great many different leaves. The small brown moth lays the eggs at the base of the tree and the hatched grubs crawl up into the foliage to feed. If you spray the trees in late summer with water in the evening the moths will be disturbed and start flying about - its a good way to see if they are around.  

There are other pests like spruce mites, spider mites and no end of others but in my travels they appear to be very rare and unusual - this post is about the common ones so people know what they are seeing if a bonsai gets a pest attack. 

I know there are many ways to treat pests, I need effective and long lasting solutions so tend to rely on systemic / contact combination products - these will usually work long enough to kill the adults and the hatching grubs from any eggs that have been layed. We need this type of product due to the amount of trees that may be here at times, and in the long term we use a lot less chemical in the garden

Friday, 1 May 2015

Maple work begins

 Spring has well and truly arrived and the maples leafed out a good few weeks ago. I keep all the acers here fully outdoors all winter, on the benches as this keeps them dormant as long as possible so they don't become a problem leafing out while the weather is still too cold. We all know the basic first task of letting the first pair of leaves open and then get in and nip out the emerging extension shoot before it gets too long. This is fairly standard to keep the internodes short and to direct energy to weaker inner shoots.

The tree above was fully defoliated last year as it had developed all the growth on the branch ends and very little inner growth. This had actually occurred in Japan as the tree was imported winter 2013 but it was overdue a repot and had got a bit weak. Following an excellent repotting at my supplier the tree stayed healthy so I added it too our stock here soon after. Mid summer 2014 I removed every leaf which triggered buds everywhere including all over the trunk which was handy as I want to add more branches to the future design. This is not a thing to do too often on a Palmatum, and I only hold total defoliation back for specific trees that need rebuilding from the inside.

Starting 3 weeks ago the centre shoots were pinched out each day as the tree responded to the warm weather and sunny days. I only do this to the strong vigorous areas and let the weak inner shoots extend if they have the energy to do so.

This is just the first part of the spring maple work as the precious inner buds and weak shoots need light or they will be shaded out and die off but we can't just chop off the outer leaves or the tree responds as if defoliated and opens more buds. 

 We cut of one leaf from every outer and strong pair

By doing this half the leaves are removed from the outer canopy, halving the shading and increasing light penetration to the inner tree

Doing this is nothing but a benefit to the tree and doesn't effect the overall image either

Here is a spare branch showing pre pruning

And now one of every two leaves are pruned off

This allows more light in to the inner and lower parts of the tree

Later in the year the tree may still appear too shaded as the leaves harden off and inner growth strengthens. There is one further string to our bow to continue letting in more light and that is to cut each remaining leaf in half. This still will not trigger the dormant buds to open ( we don't want them triggered) but it will let the maximum amount of light into the tree......

Remember we are improving the winter image, we don't really worry about the tree in summer and it is fine to have it covered in half leaves by late summer. Maples in spring are lovely but soon after become a big mop of leaves and turn into shapeless domes that then loose all inner shoots and look rubbish in winter. A little pruning and thinning now ensures a fantastic winter image tree to enjoy. 

Subtle changes that improve the health and quality of the tree but it doesn't ruin the overal enjoyment of a maple in leaf. This is the perfect time to do any wiring needed too, so a few branches were wired and guyed as required 

This stunning mid sized tree is available for sale 

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Repotting 3 - Real time video

One of our new additions  - a large specimen Japanese Acer Palmatum - is up for the repotting treatment today so I set up the video camera to record the process in real time and share it here

The Tibolar fertiliser pellets in NPK 4:6:2 were put in the pot and the trimmed root pad sat on top of them - this method gives the tree an incredible boost in recovering from the root pruning and potting as the organic feed is breaking down into useable compounds while the new root tips are forming - the tree can then continue the uptake of nutrients far quicker and I'm seeing great recovery on the trees repotted so far this year. We are offering the feed via the ebay shop in stand up pouches and buckets from £4.99  - £19.50

Tibolar 1kg 13:6:2