Author Archives: James McKay

My 2 escalonia’s – Need some advice

Now that we finally have some heat in the ground and plenty of sunshine. Things are really starting to grow. My 2 escalonia that have been cut down from 1m high hedging plants are budding like crazy so I have a few questions.



I am not wanting to turn them into large trees. I think with the size of their trunks they would suit a more shohin size. The smaller of the two around 6inches and the larger between 8-10inches.

So here’s my question.

Should I be removing buds now to allow the tree to concentrate on developing branches I want to keep or do I let it grow out for another year and cut it back hard again next year?

Any other style advice will be welcomed with open arms.

New buds emerging on my oak seedling


Was just out doing a little watering and noticed some new buds coming on my oak seedling.

I collected this little guy from a bit of waste ground at work. I wasn’t sure if it was going to do anything as it didn’t have many roots and the main tap root was damaged when I lifted it.

I know it will never be a bonsai in my life time but I have another plan for it. I won’t divulge now but if it works I’ll keep you all posted. I don’t want anyone laughing if its a daft idea lol. For now we’ll refer to it as ‘Mission O’

A surprise visit from Ian Young



I had the pleasure of meeting Ian Young (Bonsai Eejit) today. Like most saturday mornings I was standing in work asking myself “Why am I standing in work?” when Ian came wondering up the steps. I’ve been talking to Ian through his blog ( so it was nice to finally meet him in person.

It was nice to find out a bit more about the Northern Ireland Bonsai Society and what they get up to throughout the year. I’m looking forward to getting involved when they meet again in September. At least that gives me a couple of months to get to grips with the basics so I don’t make an idiot of myself.

If you haven’t done so already, go and check out Ian’s blog for some inspiration and say hello to him. His enthusiasm for Bonsai is pretty infectious so I can understand why everyone recommended talking to Ian when I was thinking of getting started in Bonsai.

Clip and grow gone mad


I was walking down past the duck pond in work and spotted what I thought were birds nests in the trees so I headed over for a look.

As I got closer to the tree I realised they were at the ends of the branches so they couldn’t be birds nest.

They have been branches that overhung the path and have been broke at some stage and sprouted new growth from that point. They nearly look like someone has been tending to them to keep them in a perfect ball shape.

I looked a little closer to see if they had sprouted, been cut back and sprouted again which might explain the density of branches but they all come from the one point on the main branch.

Isn’t nature a weird creature. I’m just glad its on a proper tree and not a bonsai, branch selection would be a nightmare!

Look what I found at the top of the garden centre!

I was wondering around the old nursery and came across this betula. The top of the tree has died but its pushing on plenty of growth at the bottom of the trunk.


Growth at the base of the trunk.


Hard to see but the top of the tree has had it.


The trunk


Branching up the stem

There is only one problem, trying to sneak it out past my boss!

More pics of my Pre-Bonsai Acer Palmatum ‘Orange Dream’

I’ve been talking a bit about my Acer Pal. Orange Dream on /r/bonsai so I thought I would post a few more pics.

Anyone with any ideas about design or a plan for the future feel free to comment and let me know. Any advice will be welcome.


Trees for the Future


I potted up a few bits of nursery and landscape stock today into growing pots to let them grow on for 2 or 3 years so hopefully they will make some nice little trees in the future.

Going from left to right they are:

Fagus sylvatica purpurea
Carpinus Betula
Horse chestnut
Taxus Baccata
Acer Palmatum orange dream – this one has a really nice nebari so should be an interesting tree when it grows.

I haven’t pruned the Taxus or Acer at all. I will trim back the Taxus a little to promote new growth but I think I will leave the Acer and have a look at it in the spring. The Chestnut has been chopped so I will let it grow out for a season and then look at the branching again. The beech and the hornbeam have been lightly trimmed and cut to approx height so I will let them grow out and look at proper branch selection in spring.

Starting out wrong ends up badly!

So as the title of my blog suggests, I am only beginning my bonsai journey and therefore have a lot to learn. I had intended, as I do with most things, to learn as I go but after speaking to a few people on the internet and doing a little research, I am starting over with a different perspective.

If you look back at my previous posts, you will see that the tree’s I have and the way I was caring for them is riddled with mistakes. Luckily a few people pointed out my mistakes and misplaced enthusiasm and suggest I go back to the drawing board and get a little more information on the art.

I’ve always been a great proponent to the theory ‘Listen to people who are a lot smarter than you’ so I have taken their advice.

After a short time reading through a website suggested by one of the guys I was talking to, I soon realised there is a lot more to bonsai than I first realised.  The website I am talking about is I have also been watching a video series on YouTube called ‘The Bonsai Art of Japan.’ Whilst this is way ahead of anything I will be able to produce, it really gave me an insight into what can be achieved with years of dedication and it showed that patience and the right understanding of every little detail of your tree, climate and techniques is essential to creating authentic bonsai. Once you realise the level that these guys are working at, you will quickly realise the skill and knowledge it takes to even keep one of these tree’s alive.

So I have gone back to the drawing board. As we are mid-season, I will leave the trees that I have already made mistakes on and look at them again next spring. They are all showing good signs of growth so hopefully I have not caused too much damage.

So what to do between now and Spring?!?

Well there is one simple answer to that question…………………. Reading!!

As I have no tree’s to work on over the summer and autumn months, I intend to gather a few new tree’s together to start working with in spring. I can do some initial pruning on these to keep the growth heading in the right direction but the vast majority of my time will be spent reading, watching video’s and talking to people. I will continue to post to the blog with new finds and with some of the stuff I have learnt along the way.

Hopefully by Spring of next year, I will be a little more educated in the beginner techniques and I can start my tree’s the right way. If anyone has any advice or useful websites or books they would like to share, please feel free to get in touch via the comments section below. All information will be gratefully received.

Getting my nursery Choisya into a training pot

It was a nice sunny day so I decided to get my Choisya Aztec Pearl into a training pot. So here is a walkthrough of the process I went through.

This is the plant before I started. It already has some nice shape to become a short broom style tree but it will need a little bit of work to get it there.


The first step was to do a little pruning. As its the first pruning and I’m intending to prune the roots down I didn’t want to go too mad, so I just thinned out some of the branches and shortened some of them. As there is not a lot of growth towards the main trunk, I couldn’t shorten them as much as I would like so it’s still a little tall for my liking.


Next I removed the nursery pot and loosened the roots. I didn’t have to trim that many roots off as they were mostly fine roots so I could easily spread them out in the pot.


Finally I prepared my bonsai mix and put some mesh in the bottom of the training pot. I secured the plant to the pot and filled it with bonsai mix.


There’s still a bit of growing to do with this one and eventually I want to take a little bit of the height down but I need some more growth at the base of the branches before I can do that.

So that’s it finished for now, I will post an update as soon as there are any developments.

Jump onto the comments and let me know if there are any other styles you see or if you can recommend any other steps in the process.

My Trees – So far

I thought I’d better post a few photos of some of my trees so far, what stage they are at and where I want to get with them. None of my trees are finished but some of them are going to take a little more work than others.


This is my twin trunk azalea. It’s still in it’s training pot but it’s general shape is there. As with most bonsai’s I would have liked the trunks to be a little bigger but as a short tree, I don’t think they look too bad. The plan is to grow out the foliage a little then prune it into pads so it will be a loose broom style.


This is a clip and grow attempt at a slanted style tree. It is a cedrus deodara that was suffering a little in the nursery so I took it home, pruned it back a little and planted it into a training pot in a bonsai mix. The branch at the top right is intended to be a sacrifice branch so it will eventually be taken off. I didn’t want to take off too much foliage initially as the plant was not in great health. so I’ll let the foliage grow out a little and then remove it.


This is a Portuguese Laurel. This tree has a LONG way to go but I think it will make an interesting little tree when it’s finished. I’ve cut it back to a rough size but I need to grow out the branch structure a bit before I can really shape it.


This is a little buxus. Again it is in the very early stages but I have managed to get it planted into a small bonsai pot. I’ll let it grow out a little and then trim it into shape. Buxus grows slowly so it might take a while.

I have a few other trees planted into bonsai mix in nursery pots but they ain’t really that interesting at this stage


Bonsai Revival Journey

Bonsai Baker

My Online Bonsai Diary

Indiana Bonsai

Learning Bonsai in the Hoosier state

Bonsai Eejit

My on-line Bonsai Diary


Bonsai from Pennsylvania and beyond :)

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