July 18, 2020

Farewell, My Beloved Puget Sound Bonsai Community

Dear Puget Sound Bonsai Community,

          Many of you know me as the guy who nags you to put a tree in our annual Spring Show, others may know me from working together at Elandan Gardens, and few of you even took me on my first yamadori collecting trips before I even had a car. My deep gratitude to the friendly and knowledgeable bonsai community here in Seattle makes my leaving all the more difficult, but unfortunately, my next step has arrived. I am excited to share that month I'll be starting a microbiology Ph.D. at The Ohio State University!

The Gnarly Bonsai Crew from Elandan Gardens at the 2017 NW Flower and Garden Show. From left to right: Kyle, myself, Dan Robinson, and Hansy.

May 8, 2020

Germination, Taproot Removal, and Trunk Training - Oh My!

         As I've said before, there is a widespread, primal appeal in watching a seed sprout firsthand. The bonsai community can and should harness this craze for bonsai seeds by informing beginners rather than shaming them for not starting with more established prebonsai material. I hope that through my comprehensive Bonsai-From-Seed Guide, more of you will readers become disciples of our bonsai hobby and more of you will be successful at creating beautiful trees you can enjoy for decades to come.
          Last month in my serial Bonsai-From-Seed Guide, I already discussed some basic knowledge about the pros and cons of alternative ways to start a bonsai tree and bonsai seed myths which will hinder your seedling's progress if you aren't armed with the correct knowledge. This week, I'm going to start exposing the step by step, year-by-year methods you will need to employ as you watch your seeds sprout and grow. The transformation of your seeds into the bonsai of your dream won't happen just by waiting, it happens with because of your guiding hands (but yes, also with lots of waiting)!

I know glamorous pictures of mature bonsai get more attention, but like the seeds you will plant, today we are starting humbly - with a handful of larch seedlings. 

April 24, 2020

Three Bonsai Buds on a Branch...

          You've heard of the phrase "As close as three peas in a pod", but what about "three buds on a branch?" It has a nice ring to it too, doesn't it? Introducing "Bonsai Buds" - another idea of mine born out of quarantine boredom. Bonsai Buds will be a bonsai-themed talk show through which I look forward to getting to know other up-and-coming members of the bonsai community. I have no idea how frequent Bonsai Buds will be, but I look forward to using this show as an excuse to interview prominent members in the bonsai community, pick their bonsai brains, see what projects they're working on, and get styling advice for you all. So, if you are stumped by any trees in your garden, please submit a few photos or your questions here!

EDIT: This idea has now transformed into the Bonsai Time Podcast! Find all our episodes (including the one with Julian and Andy) here.

April 17, 2020

Bonsai Seed Myths

          For people new to the art of bonsai, the idea of growing your own bonsai tree from seed is often irresistible. In theory, growing a bonsai from seed can be a rewarding journey that allows you to give birth to your own ideal image of what a bonsai should be, but unfortunately, in practice, seed-growing is a journey which is fraught with frustration for the vast majority of beginners. It has been said that it takes 10 years of experience in bonsai before you understand how to grow from seed well. I share this not to discourage you, but to brace you for the challenge ahead. If you're a new reader, I would encourage you to check out the first post in this growing from seed series, "The Root of All Bonsai." In that previous post, we talked about the various alternative ways to start your bonsai and the advantages and disadvantages of each method. However, if you are dead-set on growing from seed, you're in luck! Drawing on my own 15 years of bonsai experience and the 60+ years of experience of my bonsai teacher Dan Robinson, today we're going to cut through the BS and dispel common myths about growing bonsai from seed before we proceed to analyze the essential concepts that will help you realize your bonsai-from-seed dreams in the subsequent weeks. 

         If you're looking to buy seeds for bonsai - full disclosure - I am writing this series with the intent to sell my own seeds for growing bonsai (see here). At the risk of sounding too sales-pitchy, I am sending an exclusive hard-copy version of this blog series to all my customers. The hard-copy guide will simply guide you through the complicated 10+year challenge of growing bonsai from seed. If you can't wait for our weekly release of future blog articles in this series, you will receive the full guide right away with your purchase of seeds. Thank you in advance for supporting my bonsai work!


Stay tuned to this series to learn how to transform these...
Left a Japanese black pine, and right a European beech. Both 2-3 years old. 

April 10, 2020

My YouTube Debut - Mo' Roots, Mo' Problems

          Hello blog readers! In traditional Ryan Huston Fashion™, I always have a few other side projects to distract myself from what I really should be doing... Luckily for you, today that means you get more bonsai content from me! I should be working on that Seed-Growing-Guide, but I'll get back to that this weekend and you'll still get the rest of that series as scheduled, I promise.

April 7, 2020

The Root of All Bonsai

          Many people don't know this but bonsai are actually made by magical, elven wizards disguised as humans. The best of these wizards channel the universe's energy into their green thumbs to create unbelievable works of art and captures the essence of a century-old tree into one small pot. Although millions of people around the world appreciate the art of bonsai, the methods of these bonsai wizards are somehow a total mystery to outsiders. Luckily, with dedication (and a little time reading my blog), you can learn their secret methods too.
          To illuminate these magical methods for creating bonsai, I'm excited to announce that today's post is the first from my five-part "How to Grow Bonsai From Seed" series (yes, this is what I've been keeping myself busy in quarantine!). Before we can even discuss how to grow from seed, it is only logical to discuss alternative ways to jumpstart your bonsai addiction, as growing from seed might not be suitable for everyone. Each source of prebonsai material has its own advantages and disadvantages, and each will challenge you to build your bonsai skills differently.

         If you're looking to buy seeds for bonsai - full disclosure - I am writing this series with the intent to sell my own seeds for growing bonsai (see here). I plan to send a hard copy guide to everyone who buys seeds from me and supports my work in bonsai. As I'm still drafting the final parts of this series, sales will probably not open until next week when I publish the next article in the sequence. Stay tuned! Even if you collect your own seeds, I hope this series will be a widely useful resource to all!


Here I am with one of my first collected trees. Of course, some bonsai owe their origins to natural environments! I estimated the age of this pine at about 30 years. Whitebark pines retain their needles for 3 years, so I was able to count using bud scars on the branch for this estimate. If you start humbly like this, collecting from wild, legal places can be one way to accumulate prebonsai trees.

March 20, 2020

When to Repot

Source Material: March 2020

          It is crucial to prune roots in their optimal window because if roots are pruned at the wrong time, this is one of the easiest ways to kill your bonsai (aside from simple watering neglect). The repotting season also is a vague window that changes from year to year based on the weather, adding to the risk of confusion for beginners and tree death. For the bonsai beginners out there, after today you'll be able to repot with much more confidence that your tree will make a healthy recovery. If you're already a bonsai expert, I put some pretty bonsai pictures in that I think you'll find worth scrolling for either way.


1. Optimal Temperatures for Root Repair
2. Swelling Buds
3. Advanced Exceptions, Caveats, & Disclaimers
4. Bonsai Bud Gallery

Japanese Maple/Acer palmatum waking up at Elandan Gardens.

March 13, 2020

Repotting the Melted Hemlock

Source material: April 2017

          Melted wood?? Yes, melted wood. How else do you describe this hunk of mountain hemlock below? As the Covid-19 virus spreads around me here in Seattle, I have some extra time to also call the melted mountain hemlock below the subject for this week's Throwback Thursday. Today's post is short, so if you're curious about how a tree can become as mangled as this one, read on. 

From this view, we can appreciate some of Dan's deadwood carving, which starts to look more natural as it  naturally weathers over time.

March 1, 2020

"Asian Sensibilities, Northwest Style"

Source material: Feb 2019

          Hello my bonsai fam, today I'm here to remind you that TOMORROW, SUNDAY MARCH 1st is the last day of the 2020 Northwest Flower and Garden Show at the Seattle convention center! Returning readers might be tired of hearing about this show every year, but too bad! Today we have just one more NWFGS-themed blog as we review the display garden that I helped the Elandan Gardens team create for last year's show. Your semi-irregularly scheduled bonsai content will be back after this week, I promise.

As in every year, would it really be a Robinson garden without beautiful niwaki landscape trees, natural boulders, and other one-of-a-kind artifacts?

February 21, 2020

Interview with Bonsaiko - NWFGS 2020

Source material: Feb 2017-2019

     Well, friends, that special time of year is almost here again. Yes, early spring means repotting season to us bonsai artists, however, in Seattle it also means it's time for the largest flower and garden show west of the Mississippi River.  Returning readers may recall that I have already written about the Northwest Flower and Garden Show several times to highlight the display gardens I helped the Elandan Gardens team create every year (see the 2017 garden here and 2018 one here). In preparation for the 2020 Northwest Flower and Garden Show, I wanted to share the work of another local landscaper featured in the show - the current president of the Puget Sound Bonsai Association, owner of Redwood Builders Landscaping, and writer of the bonsai blog Bonsaiko, Tony Fajarillo. I consider Tony to be one of the most skilled bonsai artists in the local club and his wealth of yardadori (landscape-collected specimen) turned into beautiful bonsai gems attest to that. Today we will review his past work at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show and ask him what we can look forward to for this year.


1. 2017 - Mini Garden
2. 2018 - "Pot Party"
3. 2019 - "The Isles of the Blest: Tao Myth
4. 2020 - Interview with Bonsaiko / Tony Fajarillo

Tony calls this his "Flying Dragon" juniper. I was amazed to learn that this is a phoenix graft - a live tree grown between a dead one! The interplay together so beautifully I never would have noticed. This bonsai was featured in his 2019 display garden called "Pot Party".

January 9, 2020

Clean, Cut, & Carve. Zelkova in Autumn

Source material: 2019, December 4-8

          Today we're discussing my small Zelkova, aka Japanese Elm, which I introduced you to previously in my Halloween bonsai post. Fall and winter are a great time for improving the branch structure on deciduous trees due to all their glory or faults being laid bare by the lack of leaves. Many Japanese artists prefer to display trees deciduous trees in winter as they consider the underlying structure to be the true indicator of their skill and their tree's beauty. My goals at this time were to clean old leaves off, cut branches which had gotten too long (setting up growth where I want for spring), and carve a few old wounds which I thought would look better as natural deadwood than as a flat cut that would take years to hide.


1. Clean
2. Cut
3. Carve 

One task I finally got around to doing this time was to carve a large old pruning scar. More on that later.