Lets Bend! Part 3

Lets Bend! Part 3

Repotting season is coming to an end here at Aichien an how fitting that this Black Pine turned out to be the last tree to be repotted.  I got the honor (ordered) of repotting this tree.  Welcome to Part 3 of this Black Pine’s restyling journey.  This marks the end of the major work for this tree.  For the next couple of years, I’m only going to be pulling needles and de-candling this tree to build more structure and density (maintenance work).  As Mr. Tanaka would say, “the fun is over.”  Personally I like doing the maintenance work and getting the tree more refined is satisfying in its own right.  This time around I’m going to repot the tree into another pot and I thought it would be fun to see how the feeling of the tree changes with each pot.  Though this is not any sort of definitive guide to selecting a pot, it may add to your increasing library of tips when deciding what pot goes well with a tree.

Are you ready? Okay, just checking.

For those that are new to the blog or those that would like to review the two previous post about this tree, click Part 1, then when finished click Part 2.

The Mighty Wedge

A must have tool for any Bonsai enthusiast.  They can be used to tilt trees to try out new angles when styling.  In this case, I put it inside each pot to hold the tree in the new angle so I could step back and look at the overall composition.

The Four Options

I pulled the tree out of the pot and took care of the root work.  Now I need your help in selecting a pot!  Take a look at each photo carefully and think how the pot complements the tree.  Is the pot too big, too small, too light, too heavy, or just right?  Take into consideration all of your own experiences selecting a pot for a tree and decide which you feel is the best pot.

Option #1 – Deep oval pot with a lip and cloud feet

Option #2 – A deep rectangular pot with a lip and cloud corners.  The feet are also fairly tall.

Option #3 – A oval drum pot (when was the last time you ever saw a oval drum pot? especially this size!)

Option #4 – Deep oval pot with a lip and two large band feet.

Mr. Spock – “… in this case, do yourself a favor: Put aside logic. Do what feels right.”

Your feelings can be a very powerful tool in Bonsai.  It wasn’t until recently that I seriously started using it for Bonsai.  Bonsai in the past has always been somewhat logical and mechanical to me.  It was a matter of defining the problem (tree material) and applying a set of rules/guidelines (limitations) to remedy that problem.  For the most part, it was working really well.  After awhile, in my pursue for more Bonsai knowledge I found that my feelings of what needed to be done were developing an edge to my logical senses.  There became a point where I felt the answer first and the logical side of me explained it after the fact.  Not to say that one is better then the other though.  I believe that we need to use both to advance ours Bonsai knowledge and experiences.  Logic in a way is how we process our pool of knowledge and our feelings are what allows us to expand that pool.

Example:  I’m working on a tree and I come to a branch that I’m not sure what to do with.  I’m trying to think about what I should do with it (bend, cut, etc.).  At one point I find that I don’t really have a logical answer but I feel I need to cut it off.  I end up going the safe route wiring the branch instead and moving on with the rest of the tree.  After I’m done with the tree, Mr. Tanaka looks over the tree and ends up cutting that branch off.  I would ask him why and he would give me an explaination.  After having this happen several times with other trees, I decided that I was going to do what I felt and not spend an excess amount of time thinking about it. At that point on, I decided to convey my thoughts about what I felt needed to be done with other trees.  I guess I started to trust my gut feelings.  If I thought a tree needed to be tilted, wired, bent, cut or left alone I would do it.  More times then not, it turned out to be correct and my pool got a little bit bigger.  Either Mr. Tanaka explained it to me after the fact or I took some time to contemplate and figure out the answer on my own.  Not to mention my confidence level shot up as well!  Though I always found the answer at the end, my feelings told me it was right long before the reasoning came.

Now It’s Your Turn

So as you’re looking at the four photos and thinking about which one is the best choice, try letting your feelings guide you in your decision. I can’t guarantee that they will always be right, but when they are, you will have taken one more step deeper into what Bonsai is all about.  Why not give it a shot?  Scroll back up and really look at the four pictures carefully and thoughtfully.  Then make your decision.

I put this picture here so you don’t see our decision too quickly!  It’s a large flower that is growing from some creeping vines in the yard.  This photo is somewhat hypnotizing in a way.  ;o)

What We Decided On

Option # 2 was our choice out of the 4.

The compressed trunk, strong lean to the left gives this tree a very powerful feeling.  This tree is a bit on the strange side as well because of the curve on the trunk.  We needed a pot that will complement all those characteristics.  In this case, the pot is deep which gives it a heavier feeling.  This heavy feeling pot helps anchor the tree to the ground because of it’s heavy lean to the left and keeps the tree from looking like it’s going to fall over.  This concept applies to cascading trees as well.  The pot isn’t oiled at the moment but if I did, the color would be slightly darker and give it an even heavier feeling.  The cloud corners and tall feet gives the pot a more fancier look which goes well with the unusual shape of the trunk.  Mr. Tanaka says, “a strange interesting tree should be in a strange interesting pot.

So out of the four pots, we felt this one was the best one.  Are there other pots out there that would work better?  Of course there are.  If this tree ends up staying at Aichien for a long time and perhaps go to a show one day, we would definitely take the time to find the perfect pot for it.  As for now, this pot will do.

I put some moss on the right side to help protect some of the exposed roots.  Once the roots start to grow and establish themselves, the moss will be removed.  I took the tree outside, watered it and put it in a nice sunny spot.  At this point, the tree is placed just about in the center of the pot.  I would have liked to move it more to the right side but there isn’t enough space at this time.  In the future when the roots on the left side grows and develop, I will then be able to reduce the root ball on the right side down.  I probably won’t repot this tree for the next three years.

So Why Not the Others

Option #1

The heaviness and strength of this pot is beyond the tree to the point where the tree is dwarfed.  Instead of a balanced composition, the focus is shifted to the pot first and the tree second.  The shape and depth of the pot is good and the raised cloud feet are good as well.  In this case, it’s just a matter of the pot being too big.

Option #4

This pot is similar to Option #1 but smaller.  The size is much more appropriate and the focus is shifted more to the overall composition as oppose to the tree only or the pot only.  Unfortunately, though this pot is a good size, the lack of cloud feet makes this pot more on the plain side.  Since the tree trunk shape is on the abnormal side, the pot should have a little of that same feeling to complement the tree.  Overall, this is pot is okay for this tree but not the best choice.


This pot is very interesting to me.  When I placed the tree in the pot, the first thing that came to mind was a snake coming out of a basket.  Something that you might see in front of a snake charmer!  A oval drum pot this big is somewhat a rare shape.  This was actually the first time I’ve ever seen one myself.  The size of this pot is about the same as Option #1 but has a much more heavier feeling because of the beads and the red colored clay.  The design of the pot would be a great match for this tree if it was only smaller.  Just like Option #1, the pot is just too heavy for the tree.  If this pot was the same size as Option  #2,  then this pot would have been the best choice.


The beginning (July 2011)

De-candling and the bending of the trunk (July 2011)

The first styling (January 2012)

The repotting (May 2012)

Now that this tree repotted, the main work is done and it’s off to other things at the nursery.  Thanks for following along with this project.  I’m sure there will be more to come in the future.  I hope that the work I did on this tree has helped to increase your own knowledge and has added to your Bonsai experiences.  The restyling took about 9 months, which is a drop in the bucket in Bonsai time!

So did your feelings help you in selecting a pot this time?  If so, great!  If not, don’t worry, you may still be correct.  The important part is that your thinking and feelings are coming together and deep inside of you, an answer came and you expressed it with confidence.  Right or wrong, you stuck your neck out and made a decision.  Isn’t that really how we learn, grow and get better at the things we do?

Behind the Scenes 

One thing that many professionals don’t talk about is the care of the tree during the restyling process.  In the case of this tree, how I watered it was essential to the overall health of the tree.  Black Pines like water but they grow best when they are allowed to dry out.  Normally, the tree would dry out every day except when it’s worked on.  After the first bending of the trunk, the tree slowed down in it’s water intake.  If I continued to water the tree heavily, the tree would weaken even more and I might not have been able to style it in January.  After I styled the tree in January, again the tree slowed down and took in less water.  During the Winter months, it can be tricky in how the tree is watered because of freezing weather and rain.  There were times where the tree wasn’t watered for 5 days because of rain and cool weather.  There was also a point in the Winter when I placed a block of wood under one side of the pot just so that it would not allow the soil to hold so much water.  All of these little things adds up to the overall health of the tree.  Since I was able to keep the tree healthy, I was able to move on to the repotting this year.  If the tree wasn’t healthy at this time, I would have had to skip the repotting this year and you wouldn’t be reading this post until the Spring of 2013.  That would have been a one year lost!

Though this post is not about tree health, it is important to understand how to keep your tree healthy.  It should be one of our top priorities.  In the long run, a little extra work in keeping the tree healthy will allow us to produce quality Bonsai and at a much faster rate.

Thanks for reading.



Searching Older Post

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Here’s a teaser of what my next post is going to be about.  See you then!

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28 thoughts on “Lets Bend! Part 3

  1. Nguyen Nguyen says:

    thank you verry much Peter for information summer in virginia kind long some time , owell i this De_candling yesterday ,sine some bug ” fly pine ” eating the top of each the candle of black pine it turn to brown so i just cut it off . But the Nishiki corkbark it ok a bug don’t border to it , what the the diferrent De-candling and back bud ? trim and how to made backbud to make bester Ramifications on Back pine i have black pine book but it kind lag out the information between De_candling and back bug and shorting the needle can you tell what are the different of two of this .
    and when you working on the Black pine you working from the weaker to the strongest and white pine working from the strong (upper ) to the weak ((lowest and inside )) you writing a book i will by it thank you much and you have a wonderfull day then .


  2. nguyen nguyen says:

    Hi Peter if i live in central of Virginia can i trim or Decandling black pine now .I’m in zone 7 now it a summer in my state i try to learning how to work with Black pine i have 4 black pine they are from 5 years to over 15 years old thank you much

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Nguyen,

      Since I’ve never been to Virginia before, I can’t be 100 percent what your weather is like.

      If your Summers are short and cool, de-candling now would be good and see how the tree reacts. Depending on the reaction, you can adjust how you de-candle the following Summer.

      If your Summers are hot and long, especially if it’s humid, you should wait till the end of June or so before you de-candle. Again, see how the tree responds and adjust the following year.

      Basically, if you de-candle too early for the tree, the new candles that come out will either get too long or develop long needles. If you de-candle too late, the new candles eight might not come out at all and stay a small bud, or the new candles are too short and the needles in turn are too short.

      De-candling can be tricky every year because weather changes and swings can cause an undesirable result. The best route is to de-candle at one point and see how it reacts and adjust the next year. Doing this for several years will give you a much better understanding of when the perfect time to de-candle in your area is. Since in the US, there are so many different climates, it’s had to just say, “oh, it’s June, let’s de-candle.”

      I hope this helps Nguyen. Thanks!

  3. Hi Pet, good afternoon from Spain.

    Always teaching, always learning!!!

    Thanks for it Sir.


  4. Benny says:

    Another informative post, Peter,
    Did you get a chance to address the problematic thick root on the left side of the tree? If you did cut it, would you mind sharing with us some insights of the process and how you expect the tree to respond. Thx.

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Benny,

      Good question! I completely forgot to address that. The large root is still there because it would be too stressful at this time to remove just a large root. Once the tree grows well and the roots are more established to the new position, I will then revisit the big root and make a decision if it should be cut or not.

      Thanks for the comment Benny and for reading the previous post and reminding me. ;o) Take care!

  5. Daniel Dolan says:

    Dear Peter:

    This is a general Pine Question:

    At the top of the tree do the Japanese still pluck/cut needles at the top and bottom of each branch as is typical for other branch foliage design? Or are needles allowed to grow more 3-dimensionally from the branch when they are at the top and not forming a “foliage pad”?

    I have zoomed into your photos but cannot quite tell.

    Thank you.

    Best regards,


    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Daniel,

      Needles in general are allowed to grow in a 3D form. Even on the foliage pads and there is some manipulation to the foliage to make it look like there are no needles on the bottom but there really are. Of course, sometimes there are stragglers and they get pulled off but it’s only here and there.

      For the most part, foliage at the top or in a pad is 3D. There are always cases where there’s small green growth growing down that’s not needed is pulled. Same as with the top sometimes. The foliage end such as with shimpaku should alway be round with a 3D shape. Again, it’s how the branch is manipulated to give that clean look underneath without pulling the needles top and bottom.

      I hope I understood your question and that my answer is sufficient. An example of how the foliage tip is manipulated to look clean underneath can be found in this previous white pine post:


      Take care Daniel

  6. somchee says:

    Are you collecting information to write a book? I sure hope so. I especially like the extra information that I have never see in books. Like the watering you did this time. You never fail to amaze me and I always look forward to an very professional lesson.

  7. londogbonsai says:

    Hi Peter,

    Great post, I think one of your best so far. I really like the part about tapping into your feels, after all this is art, we should be allowed! You even managed to get a Star Trek quote in, well done, well done 🙂


    PS: I’m afraid of your next post, that tree is a serious MONSTER!

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Lonnie,

      I couldn’t help it with the Star Trek quote. Me and Mr. Tanaka watched the new Star Trek movie and the 6 older ones within a few weeks. LOL Thanks and take care!

  8. Peter Tea says:

    Mitchell Thomas asked this question on Facebook and I thought you would all benefit if I replied to the question here instead.

    “Hi Peter I have been a fan of yours for a while now, love your work and dedication. Would it be possible for you to give me a basic outline or calendar of black pine work. I can never seam to get it straight.”

    That’s a good questions Mitch. Since you’re in Louisiana, the schedule is about a month different then in California.

    -Repotting can be done in Early Spring such as February. The candles shouldn’t be growing at that time yet. If they area, then repot in January instead.

    -De-candling(if the tree is ready for it) can be done at the beginning of July for medium and small size trees. If the tree is really big, go with mid June. In California, de-candling is started at the beginning of June.

    -At about November, the needles would have hardened off and you can go through the tree and pull off the old needs. On the strong areas, you can pull some of the new needles as well to let more light into the the tree. Go with about 5-7 pairs of new needles that you keep.


    Pretty straight forward on the calendar Mitch. Three times of work a year and that’s about it. Though the times to work on them are straight forward, what you do during those times, such as pulling needles or de-candling can be technical and complicated and the understanding of balance is important. I hope that future post of what I do on Black Pines will help people in understanding the different aspects of work on them.

    I hope this answers your question Mitch. Take care!

  9. Best teaser ever!

  10. Penny Pawl says:

    Hi Peter, I chose #2 and it’s probably feeling because I prefer this shape more. Mas Imazumi said learn the rules and then you can break them. Penny

  11. Frank Best says:

    Peter. Another great insight into the ‘art’ of Bonsai. Just got back from a 3week trip to Japan. Couldn’t get to see you, but met a friend, so he claims, of yours, Juan Cruz. Spent a fantastic 1/2 day with him.
    I liked the drum pot, but as you suggest and looking at the tree in it, it’s too big for the tree just now.
    Keep up the great work.

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Frank,

      Yes, I do know Juan Cruz. He’s a friend of mine from California. We were in the same Bonsai club. He’s a cool guy and I run into him every now and then when I make it Tokyo for Bonsai events. Thanks for reading the blog Frank and take care.

  12. George Haas says:

    Hi Peter,
    A great post. I liked its thoroughness. I liked how you made the reader stop and think about the pot options. And, I liked the discussion of how you are progressing in the art form of bonsai. The behind the scenes was good too!

  13. Tom says:

    I picked the right pot! What a transformation in a short time. Looking forward to that next post.

  14. Mark says:

    Hi Peter,
    Again, a very informative post, and a fun game of ‘choose a pot’.
    The tree is looking good and I look forward to seeing how it progresses.
    I would also like to commend Elliott’s comment on feelings and instinct when designing Bonsai. I cannot agree more on this and feel that the most beautiful bonsai are the product of feeling and emotion. Design by application of strict rules can produce Bonsai that lack individual beauty and character. The challenge for the Bonsai designer is to successfully blend art and horticultural technique.
    By the way wish the Tanaka family a happy Kodomo no hi!

    • Peter Tea says:

      Thanks Mark, I will tell Mr. Tanaka that. Two post from now I plan on writing something about Childrens day and the whole Golden Week as well. Take care

  15. Elliott Farkas says:

    Hi Peter
    It seems like when you first start out in Bonsai, all you have is your feelings to go on ( that, a half dead tree and an old copy of the sunset book on Bonsai someone bought you at a garage sale)! Although you make some god- awful mistakes, you make some good art also. As you start to read the Naka books and take lessons, you leave those feelings behind and get real strict with the rules.
    I think its when you transend that stage and go back to feelings and instinct, is when you finaly start making art.
    Thanks for sharing your life with us.

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Elliott,

      Very insightful comment. How appropriate that it was comment number 1,000 on the blog as well! I couldn’t agree with you more. Thanks and take care.

  16. cherylas2009 says:

    I think I lose something in the flat image as I liked number one better. The tree is very interesting and like the boldness of what you did with it.

  17. Frank says:

    Always great reading your blog. Thanks Peter

  18. LANDRAU jean-paul says:

    Bravo, vous êtes toujours très intéressant , pour le choix du pot, mais aussi pour les conseils d’arrosage qu’on oublie trop souvent, merci.

  19. […] Lets Bend! Part 3 « Peter Tea Bonsai comments: Closed tags: bonsai, case, hold-the-tree, inside-each, the-new, tilt-trees, tree, […]

  20. Sandy Vee says:

    always an informative post. I liked all the pots for some reason or another.

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