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  • Writer's pictureTom Lau

Foemina Awakens with Michael Sykes

Not every day we get to have an expert specialist to be our guest demonstrator for the night. On this club meeting we had the honor of having Michael Sykes from San Diego. Yes, Michael is the master of Foemina Juniper and he got to share some of his secrets with us tonight.

The story of the night for everybody is who got the worst of the traffic. The 210 freeway had a major accident and delay most of the population that lives on the east side of Los Angeles. That was not the worst of it. Michael and Fred had traffic from San Diego starting around 2:00pm. So Michael and Fred you guys get the winner cup for sitting in traffic the longest tonight. Again, we all here at Baikoen Bonsai Club appreciate you driving up for this demonstration.

Michael started by stating why is he is focused on Foemina Juniper from the start. He was inspired by John Naka "Goshin" Foemina Forest on how much characteristics this type of tree can have and how fast it can develop.

The night started with a transition of several Foemina Junipers in different stages of development. This gave the audience a good scope and sequence on how Foemina Juniper bonsai are developed over a time period.

Michael started by showing up how to select a Foemina Juniper from a nursery can. He confesses that there aren't many bonsai nursery in the San Diego area and drives to Lakewood Nursery for most of his Foemina nursery stock. Michael states, "You have to dig below the surface to see if there are any good rootage below the dirt line." But most of the time you will never be able to see the entire surface roots at the nursery.

The object is Stage 1: is to develop the main structure of the future bonsai. Do not worry about the branches, because you will mostly develop all of them from scratch. This is the critical time to set the trunk line and overall size of the tree.

Michael points out that the Foemina Juniper will be the closest juniper we will get to a Needle Juniper found in Japan. Above is a close-up of the juvenile foliage near my hand and the mature foliage near the tip.

Michael trims 75% of the tree away, just living the trunk line and some of the major branches to either keep or make a possible future jins. Drastically cutting back on the tree and major branches will force new branches to form on the crutches of the major branches and those will be the branches you will use to form the limbs for this bonsai.

Foemina Juniper will over time lift back up their branches. It will be an on going battle to keep those branches in place. So any branches that you will be keeping in your design will have to have some extreme dropped angles to start off with. It does look a bit over the top at this moment in time. But as that branch develop with more and more foliage the strength of that branch will eventually lift the branch back up.

On to Stage 2: Build taper and set branches. Stage 2 is where the work really begins. In this stage structure is developing to a point where you can actually visualize how your bonsai could possible look in 5-10 years. Remember in Stage 1 we cut back hard? Well tons of new growth has occurred. Now, its time to go back and select branches we like to develop and pad out in the future. Just like in Stage 1 with any good branches we want to wire down in an extreme angle to start off with. Remember those branches will eventually rise back up over time as that branch gains strength.

Michael wires this future 2017 GSBF Convention tree as discussed in Stage 2. He also is developing the taper at the apex. Michael does not like the Tan jin or top jin on Foemina Juniper he rather see and prefers the samurai helmet apex. Basically, a nice flat oval top that most mature conifers have in nature.

Stage 3: Pad development. after the branches and set the taper is made for the apex branch develop starts. In this stage of the game, it will be start cloud pads we see in many Japanese junipers. Michael explains that we do not want to hedge cut ever! If we use that technique on these pads. We will eventually lose all those branchlet because there will be no inside growth on those pads. He suggests to pinch and open up the pads to let more light into them. The more light you can let in the more back budding will occur on the pads and it will basically thicken the branch pad.

Up close on how Michael trims or pinches back each pad. He uses his scissors to cut between needles by sliding his shears between the openings with a slightly open shear. In that way the needles will be brown and have that typical browned out tips when you just shear cut them. I'm going to lie this method does show results but you will spend hours cleaning out a developed pad or two.

Up-close photo of Stage 3 branch development. Michael also states that if you pinch the Foemina branches more new development will occur near the forks of the branchlet you just trimmed back.

Stage 4: Refinement. At this stage, you have all the pieces in place. The apex is developed and branches just need to be refined even more. This is the stage where the never ending pinching will begin and never end. You start pinching in Spring and you stop well in late Fall.

Up-close picture of a Stage 4 tree.

Up-close picture of the tree and some jins.

Up-close photo of the branch padding.

And the lucky winner of the demonstration Stage 1 tree. Alex Marien!

Thank you Michael for coming down. We here at Baikoen has learned a lot tonight and will be looking forward to seeing you San Diego Bonsai Club Show.

Our faces as we did not win the demonstration tree! See all at the next meeting!

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