Bonsai Tips you might have missed...

                           My Bonsai Journey - by Alene Ogle

When Lee Vanderpool offered to teach a bonsai class for the Okaloosa County Master Gardeners, I decided to participate with the thought I will never grow bonsai, but have a great appreciation of the art.  I had also come to realize there was a lot to learn from the growth of a tree in a tiny pot.  It was like the beginning of Master Gardener classes, new terms, and a fire hose of information coming at you.

I have come to realize that BGs (bonsai gardeners) are smart and very patient.  I may never have a tree worthy of show, but I can see that I am about to learn a lot about roots, trunks, leaves, and canopies. If you are researching a garden growth problem, try a few bonsai sites on your issue, you will be amazed.

Also, as father time marches on, I know that the time will come when I can not haul big pots and do a lot of the ninja gardening I do now.

First, take away:


Clean and sharp tools at all times are the norm in this group, for good reason. After Ed Fabian  gave his tool cleaning and sharpening class, I became obsessed.  My not so clean or sharp bucket of tools is now hanging on racks, sharpened and shiny with a fully stocked cleaning station.  The rust cleaning method came from Ed Smith, and it works.

Cleaning rusty tools:

Wash tool with water removing as much debris as possible.

Fill a plastic container deep enough to submerge the metal part of the tools with plain white vinegar.  Let it sit for 12 hours or up to 3 days.  Note: I had some discolor of plastic handles, I will not submerge them again.

Remove tool and scrub with a 3M-style pad followed by a brass-bristled brush if needed.

Rinse your container, fill with water and a couple of tablespoons of baking soda and stir.  Soak your tools again about 15-20 minutes to neutralize the acidity. Scrub with 0000 steel wool.

Dry the tool with a soft clean rag then wipe it down with an alcohol-soaked cloth to wick away any moisture.

Finish with a light coat of vegetable or 3 IN One Oil again using a soft clean rag.

Sharpening Your Pruners

Sharp garden pruners and loppers have several advantages over dull ones. The most significant advantage is to the health of your plants. Sharp tools cut cleanly, minimizing the plant’s healing time. Sharpening also protects your investment—for both the tools and the plants.

Bypass Pruners:

Bypass hand pruners are used primarily for green or live wood not more than one-half inch in diameter.  Bypass loppers are the same use not to exceed one and one-half inches in diameter.

For pruners or loppers, use a flat-file or a hone. Holding the pruner or lopper handle that the blade is attached to in one hand, and standing under bright light, rotate the blade up slowly, starting with the flat backside of the pruner blade parallel to the floor. As you rotate the blade up slowly, look for a reflection of light back up to your eye from the cutting bevel, and stop where the reflection is the brightest. You now will have the cutting bevel level. Hold the file or hone level and stroke into the cutting edge from the heel of the blade to the tip in one smooth stroke. This method ensures you will both accurately match the original bevel angle and, since you are stroking into the cutting edge, you will not roll up a burr on the backside of the blade.

Anvil Pruners:

Anvil hand pruners are used primarily on dead wood not more than one-half inch in diameter.

Anvil loppers have the same use not to exceed one and one-half inches.

You will sharpen both sides of the cutting blade, do not sharpen the anvil side.

For anvil pruners and loppers, hold the pruning tool with one hand with the cutting edge of the blade facing away from you. Use the same method described above to level the bevel and hold the file or hone parallel to the floor. Stroke away from the cutting edge from heel to tip, ensuring that you remove an even amount of material from the entire bevel edge. Because you are stroking off or away from the bevel, you will likely roll up a burr on the opposite side, but that’s okay. Now rotate the pruners so that the cutting edge is facing you. Level the bevel again, and you will see that now you will be stroking into the cutting edge and will, therefore, remove any burr you just created. One important difference to remember between sharpening anvil and bypass blades is removing an even amount of material from the anvil blade. Since it closes down on an anvil and doesn’t bypass it, any excess material you remove from one section of the blade as compared to another will leave you with a gap between the bevel edge and the anvil, and that will result in incomplete cuts.  This means if you do five strokes on one side, do five on the other.

To finish up, apply a small amount of lubricant to both sides of the blades and/or anvil and any moving parts. This serves two purposes; it keeps the joint lubricated and helps prevent the accumulation of dirt, sap, and grime. You can also protect wooden-handled tools with linseed oil or a coat of varnish, and be sure to store your tools in a dry place.

-Thanks to Alene for letting us use her ideas learned in class!

Recipe for Muck

Use the material which falls through window screen.

1 quart of sifted good quality potting soil. 

1 pint of sifted pine bark fines

3 tablespoons of drillers mud. If drillers mud is not available, powdered cornstarch may be substituted but cornstarch will break down much more quickly than drillers mud.   

Water sufficient to create a thick slurry.

Mix all dry ingredients together then add water slowly. Warm water will absorb more quickly than cold water. Create a slurry just thinner than a paste. Put in a bucket or other closed container and let stand for a day. If the mixture is too dry after sitting, add more water and blend again until a suitable consistency is achieved. Work the mixture until smooth to the touch. Let sit for several days; the longer the better.  Use to temporarily hold trees in place when constructing group plantings, to build "dams" around small plantings and as the basis for planting accent plantings.


Bonsai Soil Mix for the Ft Walton Beach area

For medium or large bonsai: 

Material should be that which remains on top of rat wire.

3 scoops of sifted flower rock (7 lb bags available from the club for $1.00 each)

3 scoops of sifted turface (available in 40 lb bags from Ewing's on Lovejoy Rd, Ft Walton Beach)

1 scoop of sifted pine bark fines (available from most big box stores)

For small or miniature bonsai:

Material should be that which remains on top of window screen.

2 scoops of turface 

1 scoop of pine bark fines

© Fort Walton Beach Bonsai Society (FWBBS) ELF 2019