March 30, 2023

The Unsung Merits of Phoenix Graft/Tanuki Bonsai - A Japanese Larch Example.

             Tanuki, also known as Phoenix Graft, gets a bad wrap in bonsai. Although this technique to make a young tree appear older by planting it alongside the deadwood of another tree is commonly considered "cheating" and looked down upon in some bonsai circles, it can produce beautiful and convincing bonsai. The accusation of cheating comes about as this process accelerates the appearance of age, however, even so, Tanuki is not instant bonsai. As I'll discuss next week in greater depth on the principles behind the successful execution of this technique, there is no substitute for the compelling quality of "age as bonsai" even in the case of phoenix grafted trees. So if we accept that tanuki still requires sound bonsai practice over a period of years and an artistic eye to make them well, what other merits are there to this style? One unsung merit is that tanuki hinges on respect for the deadwood. Bonsai artists are often enamored with beautiful pieces of deadwood which are often included within our living trees or within our bonsai displays as slab/"jita" or in our bonsai stands/formal displays. The act of selecting a piece of deadwood that is attractive enough to be worth preserving alongside a living tree for a phoenix graft is an extension of our innate deadwood appreciation. Additional beneficial qualities of tanuki/phoenix graft bonsai when using a dead tree which we used to work on is it can teach humility and remind us of the lessons we have learned in our bonsai journey. In my case, this Japanese Larch is one of the few trees I got from my teacher Dan Robinson which I brought with me to Ohio when I moved across the country. I worked on this tree for about 5 years before it passed away due to my own underestimation of Ohio winters. Even experienced bonsai artists lose trees - there's always more to learn. So out of respect for the tree, I resurrected it. Also out of humility, it will be a living reminder for me to prepare rigorous winter protection in Ohio even for cold-hardy trees. Read on to see the progression this tree has taken with me from raw stock to its most recent tanuki styling.


  1. The Unsung Merits of Phoenix Graft/Tanuki Bonsai - A Japanese Larch Example. (this time)
    1. RIP Larch - Progression Over the Years (2018-2022)
    2. Rising from the Ashes - Phoenix Graft/Tanuki Time (2023)
  2. Essential Principles for Convincing Tanuki/Phoenix Graft Bonsai (next time)
  3. Announcements
    1. I officially applied with the state of Ohio to start a nursery. Contact me to enroll in my first workshop on Tanuki! See details here. The dates planned are 4/1/23 and 4/23/23 from 12pm-3pm. Contact me if you would like to request an additional date.
    2. 4/15/23 - 2nd Annual Invasive Honeysuckle Wild Bonsai Dig with CBS and Columbus Recreation & Parks @ Castro Park. This is a free event. Sign up here.
    3. 4/16/223 - Columbus Bonsai Society Meeting - I will be presenting on the ins and outs of digging Yardadori/Yamadori/Wild Bonsai. All are welcome. See event details at
    4. Seeds are available here.
Tanuki Japanese larch, 1st year in training. 2023.

March 8, 2023

Repotting Scenarios for a Shohin Privet and Intro to Bonsai Soil

Source Material: March 02, 2023

             Welcome back bonsai enthusiasts, today I share a short article focused on a recent repot which illustrates some larger questions we must ask for our trees to look their best. Where should I position my tree in the pot? To the center? To the left? To the right? How do I want the nebari/root flare to look given the options the tree provides? Read on for a closer look at the unique challenges and character of this tree, think through what you would have done if it was your tree, and feel free to share those ideas in the comments below.


  1. Reviewing Repotting Basics
  2. History of the Tree
  3. Nebari Decisions
  4. Planting Position - What Fits Best?
  5. Final Result
  6. Announcements

The final product of our repot. March 2023. The pot is from Ancient Art Bonsai by Mark Passerrello.