Austin Bonsai Society


Creating A Kengai (Cascade) Bonsai

Mas Imazumi
Berkeley, Calif.
(With his permission)

The Kengai (Cascade) bonsai is a beautiful bonsai style and needs special techniques in its creation. I hope the following instructions will provide you with the information you need to complete a bonsai in the cascade style.


Most Junipers are ideal cascade material, especially the Juniperus chinensis sargentii (Shimpaku) or Juniperus procumbens nana and procumbens prostrata. Also, I particularly enjoy working with the Cedrus atlantica glauca (Blue Atlas Cedar).


Select the branches you wish to keep. It is best to alternate branches, and if you are not sure about removing a branch, keep it. Of course, remove the small branchlets and twigs growing out of the trunk so you will have a clean trunk line to work with.


Raffia is best to use to wrap the trunk of the tree as it protects the trunk when you do the heavy wiring and disintegrates over time. (Soak raffia well before using.) Tie raffia at the base of the trunk. You should have determined the direction in which you wish to bed the trunk for your cascade. Keeping the strands of raffia together (four or five strands at a time), place them along the trunk opposite the direction of the future bend. Every so often, tie this raffia to the trunk with a small (1 mm) piece of wire to keep raffia in place. (This wire is later removed when wrapping of the trunk is done.) Place the raffia all the way to the tip of the tree.

Main Trunk Wiring

First Step - Prepare a 5 mm aluminum wire by cutting a length a little longer than from trunk base to tip of tree.  Poke one end into the soil about two inches deep near the raffia knot at base of trunk. Hold this wire with your thumb and with the other hand bend the wire back towards you and then push it onto the trunk, over the raffia, repeating this movement every so often. At this point it is not necessary to extend the wire all the way to the tip.  The bend/push maneuver assures that the wire will closely follow the trunk line.

After you have gone a ways up the trunk with the wire, take four or five strands of raffia, push the end under the wire and bring these strands down to the trunk base. Start wrapping the trunk with the raffia clockwise over the 5 mm wire. After wrapping about two to three inches, start wrapping counter-clockwise, first pushing the raffia under the wire and then proceeding as before. Doing this will keep the wire tightly bound to the trunk so it won’t move in any way during the bending process later. Continue changing direction from clockwise to counterclockwise as you wrap the trunk, being sure to wrap it very tightly. When you reach any of the 1 mm wire, remove it. Don’t forget to do this, as this little wire can very quickly begin biting into the trunk.

When the raffia strands begin to thin out, and there is still more trunk to wrap, take a new set of four to five strands, place about two inches on prior raffia wrap, push under the 5 mm wire and continue the wrapping.  Anytime you reach 5 mm wire that hasn’t been aligned to the trunk, use the same bend/push motion as before, and do this as often as needed. If you need a rest, or are interrupted while wrapping, place the remaining portion of raffia strands under your wire so it will stay tight and not start unraveling. When you reach near the end of the trunk, where branches are thinner, discontinue wrapping. Tie raffia strands well so there will be no chance of having it unravel.

Second Step - Cut 5 mm wire one and a half times the length of the trunk if the trunk is of fairly large caliper. If of a smaller caliper, cut one and one third the length of the trunk. Now, start spiral wiring on the main trunk, keeping spirals about 50 degrees apart. First, of course, anchor this wire in the soil at trunk base. When you reach the point near the end where there is no raffia, wire somewhat loosely so wire won’t bite into the trunk when you bend in that area.

Now, anchor a second 5 mm wire, cut one and one fourth the length of the trunk, and wire it in a spiral fashion between the first wire spirals. This method may not look neat, but it will help prevent the trunk from cracking during the bending process.

Bending the Trunk

Now the fun begins! If the trunk is of fairly small caliper, bend it in the direction you wish it to go using both hands, one near the base of the trunk (to keep from lifting it out of the pot), and the other up the trunk where you wish to begin the bend. Slowly and carefully bend the trunk, keeping the pressure as even as possible. If the trunk is of a large caliper, you will need to use branch benders. Try to make a sharp first bend, 90 degrees or better if possible, to avoid the “teapot handle” appearance. To hold this bend, you may use a turnbuckle system, covering the wire with tubing where it will be around the trunk. Make further bends in the trunk as indicated by your trunk line, keeping any branches outside bends and bring the tip of the trunk, which I term the apex, toward the front base of the trunk.


Primary Branches - Start wiring your primary branches, beginning at the bottom (the apex of the tree). When these are all wired, place them the way you want them, being sure to keep them in a horizontal line. At this time, you can remove branches that you were doubtful about at first, and cut off any that interfere with other branches, are directly over another branch, or too close to another branch. Strive for an “airy” feeling. Remember that, although the cascade may look skimpy at this time, branches will fill out in the future and give a beautiful appearance to your cascade.

Secondary/tertiary branches and twigs - After you have completed primary branch wiring, begin the fine detail wiring on remaining branchlets and twigs. Usually it is wise to wait before wiring the really tiny twigs until they have developed further - otherwise, you may break them. Remove any growth below a branch so you will have a nice clean line on your primary branch.


If the time is right, you may plant your tree in a cascade pot. Please refer to the illustrations which picture the right way to plant a full cascade, using an eight or nine inch deep pot, either round or square in shape. This may be place on a tall cascade stand when being exhibited . If your cascade doesn’t come down more than 2/3 in a taller pot (as illustrated), it is all right to use one. Remember, when you use a tall pot, your stand for exhibiting must be low, or a slab style, never use a tall stand with a tall pot.

When potting, be sure to have one to one and a half inches of gravel in the bottom of the eight or nine inch pot, and four to fives inches of gravel in the bottom of a tall pot.

General Observations

In cascades, the lowest point (or tip) of the trunk is the apex and the top of the cascade is the crown. This is the reverse of what we generally consider as the apex of a bonsai. Do not allow the crown of the cascade to overgrow, as this will weaken the apex. Keep the crown slow-growing by pinching and trimming.

If you wish to create a double trunk cascade, follow the same procedure as for the single trunk.

After potting, place your tree in the full sun unless you live in a very hot climate, in which case keep it in filtered sun during the hottest time of day. Using your judgment on this, keep in mind that evergreens quickly become “leggy” with straggly growth if kept in a shady area. If you have created a maple cascade, place it in the same area as your other maple bonsai.

Four weeks after potting, begin a fertilizing program. It is especially beneficial to mist the cascade with Miracle-Gro (R) in the following manner during the growing season:

First - Mist only the lower third of the cascade.
Second - After ten days, mist the lower third and middle third.
Third - After a further ten days, mist the entire tree.
Fourth - Let it stand for ten days, then repeat this program.

Note: when misting (and do this in the early morning or evening), be sure you drench the foliage well -- the fertilizing mixture should be dripping from the foliage. If you do this faithfully, your apex should be healthy and not have the weak appearance I see on too many cascades being exhibited.

Six month after potting, at least one or two times a month, soak your cascade in a Miracle-Gro (R) solution for 30 minutes. The solution should reach the pot rim. Continue this program during the growing season to enhance foliage color and keep the entire cascade in a healthy condition. I find this also the best way to be sure the bottom of the root ball gets well fed and watered. Additionally, with my cascades, I place the pot in a shallow pan of water two to two and one half inches deep, with Miracle-Gro (R) added to the water. Add more water or fertilizer as needed, and remove after one week. Using this procedure once a month during the growing season further helps your tree to remain healthy and flourishing. Note: if a tall pot is used, place in five inches of solution.

Finally, using the method on cascades I have outlined in this article assures that you will have a cascade bonsai which you will be proud to exhibit and which, most importantly, will always give you pleasure as you view it in your garden.

Please give ALL your volunteer hours to our Garden Council Representative, Don Rehberg.

The article below seems appropriate being we have our show coming up; and some of our newer members can use this
to build up their confidence. The author will be our guest in October.

Exhibit Visitors Say the Darndest Things!

by Herb Gustafson (with his permission)

Just finished a one-man show in a mid-sized town. I had to laugh at some of the remarks I overheard while “babysitting” the trees. I was able to engage many of the people but some were lost due to busyness on my part or not wanting to be engaged on their part.


  Are these banzais or Ming trees?”
  This banzai is a fake. The branches are just wired on.”
  Look at the cute pine cones on this fir tree!”
  I wonder if these pine cones are glued on?”
  Oh, no! These pine cones are on upside down!”
  "Look!  This maple tree has little fruits on it!”
  "Three hundred years old. I bet he didn’t grow that himself.”
  “Nuthin’ to growin’ dese tinks. Ju’ plant da seed in a orange peel!”
  “I wonder if you have to water them?”
  “These aren’t banzais. A banzai is a different kind of tree.”
  “Are you John Naka?”
  “Don’t touch that! That’s poison oak!”
  “Acer Campest...something. Must be the scientific name for poison oak.”
  “That almost looks like a real tree!”
  “Look! A forest that has a whole bunch of trees in it!”
  “This one’s even got dwarf bugs on it.”
  “How much for this one?”
  “Doesn’t it hurt them to be outside here?”
  “Can you do this with American trees too?”
“What kind of tree is this?”
Just like the sign says. Larch.
“What kind of tre is that?”
It is a deciduous conifer.
“Oh, I can read the scientific name! I meant what KIND
of tree is it?”
It is a tree that turns color in the fall like a maple, but has cones like a pine tree.
“These aren’t your trees are they?”

Reprinted from Nov./Dec. 1999 Golden Statements

Control of Scale Insects on Tropical Bonsai

Michael Parkey

The bane of my tropical bonsai has always been scale insects. I have little problem with them in the summer when the trees are outside, but when I bring them in for the winter it becomes disgusting, with the sticky excreta of the scales spotting the foliage of the plants.

My tropicals spend the winter in a sun room with supplemental fluorescent lighting. I have used pebble trays and humidifiers to increase the moisture in the air, but these seem to have no effect on the scales.

In the past I have used insecticidal soap to control the pests, but this has two disadvantages. The soap only kills immature and adult scales - the eggs are immune, so you have to keep spraying. The soap also smells terrible.

This winter I tried a highly refined pesticidal oil. This is an improved version of the dormant oil spray most of us are familiar with, but it is less toxic to plants, especially when they have foliage. The brand I use is Sun Spray Ultra-Fine.

The results were very good, with the big plus that the oil kills scale insects in both the adult and egg stage. Theoretically, if you do a really good job, one spraying should do the trick. It also doesn’t smell as bad as the insecticidal soap.

I used the oil on my entire tropical collection with no leaf burn or other damage. I grow the following species:

  • Willow-leaf fig, Ficus nerifolia var salicifolia
  • Indian laurel, F. retusa
  • Mistletoe fig, F. deltoidea
  • Dwarf schefflera, Schefflera arbicola
  • Natal plum, Carissa grandiflora
  • Buttonwood, Conocarpus erectus

Insecticidal oils also work well on hardy bonsai, but read the label carefully. They are specifically not recommended for junipers, for example.

Reprinted from Bonsai Society of Dallas March Newsletter, 2000

Bonsai by Harry Tyrrell, Jr.

Editors Note: Harry was a very dear man and one of this club's staunchest supporters. He is now deceased.

There is something about bonsai that gets into your blood. Emotional attachments appear that are hard to explain. They can get out of proportion, when one considers that the object is just another living organism. But nature does not evaluate beauty among its priorities. Even to the seasoned growers, the loss of a favorite bonsai may sometimes be traumatic. There apparently exists a motivation about bonsai more complex than the mere satisfaction of nurturing a growing object. There is a reward that lies in perfection that never quite arrives. The journey thus becomes the destination. Somehow or other, the perfection syndrome takes over. We scrupulously try to avoid overstepping the ground rules for bonsai styling, but common sense suggests that, sometimes, rules are to be compromised. When we slavishly follow the rules, we often are doomed to disappointment. Ground rules should represent guidelines rather than rigid restrictions. When rules are bent, we may not possess an ultimate bonsai, but a potted tree can be almost as rewarding. Don't loose sight that a bonsai is a potted tree by design. It is an object studied, planned and shaped so that the end result is not only a miniature tree growing in a suitable container, but it is also a tree growing in a container plus a measure of grace, beauty, proportion and harmony. Ground rules are just that: guidelines. The more carefully we recognize and execute the guidelines, the closer we come to perfection. Collected specimens, naturally miniaturized by nature, may violate the rules because their beauty lies in their struggle to survive, despite the deprivation they endured, and being disadvantage by the elements. Ground rule guidelines are really a lot easier to follow with nursery stock. Bonsai is a fascinating hobby that I will always cherish. Reprinted from BONSAI NOTEBOOK, November 1990

1989 Bonsai Growing Resolutions (New Year Bonsai Resolutions)

by Marty Klajnowski

The new year is here regardless of whether you are ready for it or not and like it or not we are all a year older. I sometimes think the only redeeming value of growing older is that some of us also grow smarter. Now that the new year has begun, let us make some resolutions that will ensure better bonsai growing this year.

Resolution 1: We will not believe everything we read in books. All varieties, in a given book, are described in very glowing terms. However, all the varieties in that same book probably will not be the best adapted for your growing conditions. Tried and proven principles of your area are best used for novices and experienced bonsai growers.  Listen and learn from the tried and true methods.

Resolution 2: We will not be deceived by "instant bonsai". Light, soil mix ph, water ph, fertilizing and TIME are the major ingredients for a master class bonsai so make the commitment and BE PATIENT.

Resolution 3: We will not overindulge our trees. Don't kill them with kindness such as using TWICE the amount of any fertilizer recommended, overwatering, spraying with pesticides or fungicides mixed to double strength solution (the "if a little does some good, a lot will be better" philosophy).

Resolution 4: We will not keep bonsai in total shade. Lack of light reduces productivity. Trees need 8 to 10 hours daily of at least 85 lumens of light. If you over-shade a tree expect spindly plants, poor blooms and little, if any, fruit production.

Resolution 5: We will pot the right plant at the appropriate time for the tree and in the proper manner. We will not try to "CHEAT" and plant too early or too late in a soil mix of the improper pH. Plant growth is governed by certain physiological limitations. We can provide optimum conditions for our trees to insure maximum growth, but we cannot hurry trees without damaging them.

Resolution 6: We will get organized. Prepare a diary of each tree owned and record its history such as procurement, soil mix needs, potting/repotting cycles, light requirements, and idiosyncrasies. Prepare soil mixes in advance. Take inventory of fungicides, pesticides, vitamin preparations, etc., to insure only currently dated ones are being used.

Resolution 7: We will share the knowledge and experience gained in the pursuit of better bonsai with our club members.

Reprinted from the San Antonio Bonsai Society newsletter, "Snips "n Clips", February 1989 issue.


  by Bennie Badgett

  1. If you dig a tree that anyone else has the slightest claim to, it will die. COROLLARY: If two of you see a tree exactly at the same time, forget it, the tree is dead whoever digs it.

  2. A perfect bonsai in the ground is never a perfect bonsai in a pot.

  3. A tree beside the road that is inconspicuous may live if collected, but a tree in a prominent position to be enjoyed by passers-by will always die if collected.

  4. A tree pulled from the path of a bulldozer, even in midsummer, will live.

  5. Collected junipers never die, they just fade away.

  6. Cedar elms arising from root sprouts are not worth fooling with.

  7. There is not a cubic foot of soil in Central Texas without a rock in it.

  8. All those fine fibrous roots you see in a rootball you carried a mile will turn out to be grass roots when you get home.

  9. For one reason or another you cannot get permission to dig at any of the best places.

  10. You got to be PURE IN HEART!

reprinted from Austin Notebook February 1986

Editor's Note: This article was published in the February, 2002 issue of the Houston Bonsai Society's newsletter and the first part was in our March newsletter. Also, the 2nd & 3rd books in the bibliography are in our library.

The Why, When, What, and How Much

By Butch Wilken

The obvious reason we prune our bonsai trees is to shape them into the style we want. Pruning affects the growth of the tree. Pruning wounds a tree and the tree puts on repair growth to seal off and heal the wound. The type of repair growth we stimulate is determined by numerous factors. The three we can control the most are: (1) the time of year we prune, (2) the amount of tree structure we remove, and (3) what part of the tree we prune. For pruning to have the effect we want on the tree, these three factors must always be considered. As with everything we do to our trees, pruning should be done on healthy trees. Old, weak trees and branches should not be pruned.


To know when to prune to achieve the effect on the tree we desire, we must understand the growth cycle of trees. Every tree goes through this yearly cycle--evergreen, deciduous, and tropical. Deciduous trees are the easiest to understand because the stages of the growth cycle are most obvious. It is easy to tell when they are approaching dormancy because the leaves change color and begin to fall off the tree. Dormancy is obvious when the tree has no leaves and the new buds haven't swollen yet. The beginning of a new growth cycle is obvious when bud start to swell and open into new leaves. The vigorous growth of summer tells us the tree is in the very active part of the cycle.

As trees go through this cycle, they produce and store nutrients when growth is active. They then survive on these stored nutrients when their leaves are lost and photosynthesis isn't occurring. These reserves are primarily stored in the trunk and roots. When lengthening days and increased temperatures signals the approaching spring, the stored nutrients begin to move out of the roots and trunk and into the developing leaf buds. This depletes the amount of stored nutrients available. If you pinch back at this time, the tree's response to this injury will result in slower and smaller new growth. The amount of energy left after the initial big spring push is lower and the growth response to this pinching in jury has less stored energy to use. The new leaves haven't matured fully yet and their photosynthesis hasn't reached full potential.

Pinching is a mild form of pruning. More severe pruning during the active spring growth period should be minimized due to the high flow of sap. Large cuts will bleed sap, and this moisture loss can be harmful to the health and vigor of the tree. Any large cuts that must be made should be sealed promptly to prevent this moisture loss. With all the new growth evident, winter die back is easy to identify and can be removed at this time.

Summer pruning can be divided into early and late summer periods. Early summer pruning benefits from the increased sap flow. This helps wounds heal more rapidly. By late summer, sap flow is diminishing, and any pruning at this time will result in new growth being smaller. It does deplete some of the nutrient reserves being stored for the coming winter. If the coming winter is unusually harsh, there may not be enough stored for the spring reawakening. Pruning too late in the summer may not allow the new growth sufficient time to harden off and mature before winter arrives. All the hoped for benefits from this pruning may be lost if the immature, new growth dies over the winter. It is best to prune only that which is absolutely necessary at this time of year.

Fall is the time trees are trying to store up necessary nutrients for winter survival and spring recovery. Since the leaves are the major producers of these nutrients through photosynthesis, we must try and keep the leaves on the tree during the fall. No leaf pruning, The food storage in the roots, trunk, and branches causes them to thicken. It is best to remove all wires during this time to prevent them from cutting in and scaring the tree. Since we don't know how severe the coming winter will be, we don't know how much die back will occur. Therefore, it is best to minimize pruning in the fall.

During the early winter dormant period, the tree's ability to heal any pruning wounds is greatly diminished. Pruning should be avoided to prevent excessive die back. In late winter, the tree is getting ready to send the stored nutrients back to the branches and buds. Since these reserves haven't moved out of storage yet, severe pruning will not diminish these reserves. The tree will respond in the spring with vigorous growth because there are now fewer buds and growth points remaining to be fed by the same amount of stored nutrients.

Editor's note: Butch Wilken is also a member of our club. This was published in the January, 2002 issue of the Houston Bonsai Society's newsletter and is the first of two installments.

The Why, When, What, and How Much

By Butch Wilken

Part 2 of 2

Pruning Extent

 Pruning can be divided into mild, moderate, and severe. Mild pruning would include leaf pruning and bud pinching. Moderate pruning would include refinement pruning, selective, and structural pruning. Severe pruning would involve regeneration pruning.

Leaf pruning and bud pinching refines the growth of the tree, producing smaller leaves, shorter internodes, and twiggier, finer branches.

Moderate pruning is the selective removal of some branches that don't add to the refinement or structural design of the tree.

After years of leaf pruning, bud pinching, and refinement pruning, bonsai often lose their shape and character. They often become too coarse and unrefined with branches out of scale to the tree size. Regeneration pruning is needed to basically start branch development all over. On trees that bud back readily, all branches can be removed in late winter just before buds begin to swell and to open. The resultant vigorous growth begins the new branch development.

What Part To Prune

 The part of the tree pruned affects the tree response because growth regulators or hormones are present in trees. Young trees are trying to gain size rapidly and grow long, widely spaced branches with long internodes. This type of growth is referred to as apical growth and is stimulated by the growth hormone auxin. Apical refers to the top or apex of the tree and the ends of branches. Another group of growth regulators, cytokinins, do the opposite. They stimulate side branching and back budding with slower growth. Auxin is the dominant growth regulator. Therefore, if you want to promote more compact finer branching, shorter internodes, and smaller leaves, the effects of auxin must be reduced to allow cytokinins to express themselves. You accomplish this by pruning the areas where auxin is in the highest concentration---the apex and branch tips. This allows cytokinins to dominate until the new growth restores the auxin concentrations in the apex and branch tips. The overall growth of the tree is slowed down, but the growth is redistributed away from the apex and branch tips. This renews the vigor of the tree. The tree has the same volume of nutrient supply, but now has many more buds, branchlets, and growth points to nourish. Thus, smaller branches and leaves.

The Others

Evergreen trees and tropicals don't lose all their leaves at one time like deciduous trees. They do partially replace their needles and leaves during the growth cycle. They have different levels of dormancy than we see on deciduous trees. One sees a change in needle color in pines and junipers when they go into their dormancy. Tropicals' growth rate varies during the growth cycle, but they don't usually lose all their leaves at one time. They partially shed them at different times during the growth cycle. The same timing principles can be applied to these groups of trees during their growth cycles.


Pieter Loubser, Understanding Bonsai, 1993, Delta Publishing;

John Yoshio Naka, Bonsai Techniques 1, 1973, Dennis Landman Publishing;

Deborah Koreshoff, Bonsai, Its Art, Science, History, & Philosophy, 1984, Macmillan.

Editor's Note: This article was published in the February, 2002 issue of the Houston Bonsai Society's newsletter and the first part was in our March newsletter. Also, the 2nd & 3rd books in the bibliography are in our library.

reprinted from Austin Notebook February 1986

The Yew

  by Chuck Ware

In this article we will look at the yew and discover some of its potential uses in our bonsai collection.

In the plant world there is always the potential for confusion when it comes to plant identification. I encountered this when I listened to people talk about their yew. It was like hearing the story of the blind men describing the elephant. How could there be so many different descriptions of one tree. The answer is simple. There is more than one tree.

The first distinction must be drawn between the Podocarpus and the Taxus. They were once united in the taxaceae family. The Podocarpus (podocarpaceae) has about 75 species of mostly dioecious, coniferous trees and shrub, native to the temperate Southern Hemisphere and to the mountains and highlands of the tropics, North to the West Indies and Japan. The most common species of Podocarpus in our area is the macrophyllus. It is called the Southern Yew, Japanese Yew or the Buddhist Pine. It grows to 45 ft., with leaves 4-5 in. long and 3/8 in. wide. It is considered a Zone 8 tree. The variety Maki is widely cultivated in China and Japan. The Taxus (taxaceae) is called the yew. There are 8 species. Of dioecious, evergreen trees and shrubs and they are native to the Northern Hemisphere. The most common varieties are the English Yew (baccata) and the Japanese Yew (cuspidata). They will grow to about 50 ft. with leaves about 1 in. long. The cuspidata is hardy to Zone 5.

Notice the words "Japanese Yew" is used for both trees. Down in south Texas this is referring to the Podocarpus because it does well in the warm, moist climate. Up north it refers to the Taxus as it thrives in the colder climate. Both trees are magnificent specimens to use for bonsai.