BSSF announces the Juniper Practicum – A Two-Year Lecture and Workshop Series

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An Introduction

During my trip to Portland in the Spring I had the occasion to talk to quite a few bonsai enthusiasts and a few professionals. While the trip was primarily a four-day whirlwind tour of the location of this fall’s national bonsai show – The Artisans Cup, it was also an opportunity to see what growers and artists in a different part of the country were accomplishing. From one of my conversations with these growers sprang the idea to offer a series of programs that will focus on teaching bonsai techniques by developing regular nursery material into a bonsai over an extended period of time.

There are many things to learn in bonsai and sometimes it seems that the only way to do it is in a scattershot approach by bringing random plants to workshops and learning a few things here and there. The BSSF Juniper Practicum will take a different approach by teaching a foundation of skills that can be applied to all your bonsai through a group exercise in the development of Kishu Chinese Juniper nursery stock into bonsai. The group aspect will allow you not only to learn from the teachers but also to learn from the triumphs and travails of your fellow participants.

Here are the aspects of the Practicum that will make this a unique and worthwhile experience:

  • Bonsai skills applicable to all trees will be practiced and learned using Chinese juniper. Skills like repotting, wiring and branch refinement are ones that will apply to many of your other trees.
  • Starting from Nursery stock, the Practicum will teach the most common skills needed for creating bonsai from the most common starting point.
  • A group setting – if you’ve ever wondered whether what you did caused a plant to flourish or fail the group setting will answer all those questions. Was it the weather, or was it your fertilizing? With a couple dozen other examples to learn from you’ll be able to narrow down what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong.

Key Information:

Cost: Initial cost: $80 per plant which includes the cost of the plant, the entry fee and the January 16th repotting workshop; General Meeting lectures are free and open to all; each additional workshop is $25 per plant payable at the time of the class. Taking one tree through the entire Practicum will cost the participant only $180.
Start Date: January 14th, 2016
How to Sign Up: Contact Eric Schrader using the email address “contact [at sign]” or call 415-823-7984. We encourage you to indicate your commitment early; you may reserve a place in the series by making the initial payment. Initial payment due no later than the January 14th, 2016 meeting.

BSSF will devote four general meetings and five full-day workshops to the series between January 14, 2016 when the Practicum begins and January 2018. The first full-day workshop in 2016 will be Saturday, January 16th

The series will culminate in January 2018 when the participants will vote on who has created the best bonsai during the January 2018 general meeting. A lucky participant will win the grand prize, and two other prizes will be awarded as well.

Documentation and “Show and Tell”

The Practicum Series participants will be encouraged to document all work that they do on their trees and share it with the group. You can post your photos to the BSSF Facebook feed, or Tweet them or post to Instagram with the hashtag “#BSSFPracticum”. We will photograph each tree at each meeting and workshop and post the photos to the Practicum progress page on the website.

Each participant should bring their plant(s) to each general meeting that is part of the Practicum and each Practicum workshop.


Thursday January 14, 2016, General Meeting: This program will begin with a general discussion of the Practicum Series and introduction to wild junipers to inspire the imagination of members. We will cover juniper basics including a growing, fertilization, and optimization discussion. We will discuss a timeline and the importance of waiting for proper interval and season when doing work. The program will conclude with a random assignment of material to people electing to take the workshop series. Payment for the tree, the initial repotting workshop and the entry fee are due at this meeting. We will document the initial condition of each plant and who will be working on it. Goal: An understanding of why we are using junipers, what features to aim for and how to get there.

Saturday Jan 16th, 2016, Workshop: The first workshop will focus on the initial repotting of the junipers, it will be a day-long workshop that includes a repotting process handout and will cover the importance of careful but thorough work. Repotting will start to build the foundation for the growth needed to create a bonsai. After repotting, we will establish a rough plan for the tree for the next 11 months and remove any large growth that needs reduction to encourage low branching. Excessive reduction on most plants at this stage will slow future progress. A growing container and soil will be included in the cost of the workshop. Goal: A hands-on foundation in repotting skills.

Thursday November 10th, 2016, General Meeting: This will be the Initial styling discussion and lecture. We will begin by reviewing the health and growth during the 2016 growing season for each participant’s plant(s). From there we will discuss juniper styling techniques, lifeline creation, and lifeline relocation and coaxing. An introduction to branch bending and splitting will be included as will Eric’s thoughts on irregular Jin creation and how to achieve an irregular trunk cross-section. Goal: Understanding of basic and advanced juniper creation techniques.

Saturday November 12th, 2016, Workshop: The second all-day workshop will focus on the styling of the trees using all techniques available. Great emphasis will be given to learning proper wiring technique so that existing branching can be used to greatest effect. Additionally, participants will be encouraged to explore deadwood creation techniques. Goal: Hands-on wiring instruction, exploration of deadwood creation.

Thursday June 8th, 2017, General Meeting: The meeting will begin with an additional review of progress of each plant’s health and growth. Eighteen months after starting the trees should be healthy and growing quickly. We will continue with a discussion of branch refinement techniques and how to optimize growing for creation of fine branching. Analysis of examples of bonsai showing how branch structure can be developed to allow for easy maintenance and added character. Goal: Understanding juniper branch refinement and maintenance techniques.

Saturday June 10th, 2017, Workshop: The third all-day workshop will focus on foliage thinning, branch refinement, and additional wiring of smaller branching. The workshop will also be used as an opportunity to review the deadwood portions of the tree and add to them as needed to increase the interest in the trunk. Goal: Hands-on refinement technique, additional wiring practice.

Saturday November 4th, 2017, Workshop: The fourth workshop will be a final session that can be used to restyle and clean up the trees for the end of the series contest and voting. A good fall cleanup and thinning will bring the trees as far along as they can go for the scope of this workshop series. Participants will learn how to prep a tree for a show by cleaning it up, both in terms of the top growth and the deadwood work including texturing, cleaning and application of lime sulfur. Goal: Hands-on show prep.

Saturday, January 6th, 2018, Workshop: The final workshop in the series will focus on repotting and show container selection. We will repot all the trees into a container that is appropriate for showing the tree. Although a second repotting is normally enough, some trees may still need additional root work to achieve an appropriate container size. Goal: Repotting technique, emphasis on placement in the pot, angle, selecting the exact front.

Thursday January 11th, 2018, General Meeting: Presentation of trees to BSSF membership, voting by Practicum participants and award of final prizes. Possibly also the start of our next Practicum.

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1. Q– Can anyone take the Juniper Practicum Series?
A – The series is open to all paid BSSF members, there are no other requirements. If you are not a member and would like to take the series you may sign up as a member at or before the January 14th, 2016 meeting, which is the deadline for signing up for the series.
2. Q– What if I don’t want to take the entire series?
A – If you decide after the series starts that you are no longer interested or able to attend we ask that you return the plant to the club so that it can be included in the rest of the series. The success of the series depends on the comparison of a batch of material at each stage. The club will reimburse you for the cost of the plant ($25), but not the entry fee or workshop fees.
3. Q – Why is this going to take so long? Do you really need two years?
A– Bonsai takes time. Anyone who tells you otherwise is mistaken. Chinese Junipers grow slowly, but they make great bonsai. Occupy the time between these classes with other bonsai activities!
4. Q – Can I start the series in the middle?
A – Yes, but only if there are available trees. If we have trees that are left over from the beginning of the Practicum Eric will grow them until they are needed. We may also have trees returned if any participants drop out. You will not be eligible to participate in the prize competition if you start in the middle.
5. Q – Do I have to take all the workshops?
A – Participants should enroll in the Practicum with the intention of attending all relevant meetings and workshops and participating fully in the opportunity provided. If you are unable to attend one of the meetings or workshops you will still be able to participate in the prize competition.

6. Q – Can I get help with my tree from someone else?
A – Yes. The point of the Practicum is to learn in a group environment so we encourage you to exchange ideas with your fellow participants. You can get help from anyone you choose during the time period the series runs. (Yes, even professionals.)
7. Q – Can I work on my tree between workshops?
A – Yes. In fact you’ll be doing the most important work between workshops – growing the tree. But you may also want to do other work as you see fit. However, be cautioned that overworking a juniper can slow progress rather than speed it up.
8. Q– What if my plant dies?
A – This is a program that is meant to teach you how to grow bonsai trees. If your plant does not survive you will not be eligible for the prize competition. However, in the event that a plant dies you may use a similar plant to continue participating in the workshops. (only if you started from the beginning though.)
9. Q – Can I use more than one of the eligible trees?
A – Yes. A single tree will first be distributed to all interested members. If there are extra trees you can elect to purchase an additional tree, up to two per person. The cost for entry and each workshop is per tree, not per participant.
10. Q – How will the prize winners be determined?
A– The workshop participants that are present at the January 2018 meeting will vote on the best tree. Each vote will count as one point. You will also receive one point for each Practicum workshop you attend. The participant with the most points will be the winner, second place to the participant with second most points and third place to the participant with the third most points. In the event of a tie BSSF members present at the January 2018 general meeting who did not participate in the series will be asked to vote for the best tree to break the tie. If there is still a tie the cash prizes will be pooled and split evenly among the tied participants.