Starting a wild olive Shohin Bonsai

By May 10, 2017 No Comments

Last October during a bonsai workshop in Sicily, I started working on a wild olive under the instructions of Manuel Germade, a Spanish bonsai artist after returning to Europe from Japan were he did five years working with ‘Taisho En’ and Master Urushibata.  This tree was recommended to me by my Italian Tutor Rocco Cicciarello, since it has a great character and a nice style that could result in a great bonsai.

The original tree.

The tree was left to grow randomly to thicken the first branches.

The tree after the first styling.

The style is a mixture of an Informal Upright and a Shari Style or Sharimiki: when the bark of a tree is removed to enhance the old age and the tree’s character.


While styling this tree, I noticed that this tree had a live branch at the apex that needed to be eliminated to accentuate the jin that I wanted to be part of the apex.  After discussing with the Manuel, we decided to create a new apex by eliminating that branch forming the old apex.  After some thought, I decided to leave the old apex to encourage more foliage and when the time comes, I will air layer the old apex to create and start a new Shohin.  A shohin bonsai is a small tree up to 15cm in size.

After the dormant season, in early spring, trees will start to produce new buds, some earlier than others.  My wild olive showed a good sign of new foliage and is pumping well.  This encouraged me to do the air layering, since while foliage is growing, the air layering will encourage new roots to emerge.  It is time for the air layering.  I will walk you through all the steps in air layering but later on i will do another more detailed blog on all the steps in doing an air layering.

Step 1:  Remove the bark

Using a sharp knife I cut around the trunk to be air layered and removed the bark until the cambium layer is exposed.  The cambium layer is the thin green layer under the bark.  This cambium will promote new roots to emerge.


Step 2:  Rooting hormone

Once the bark has been removed, I added some water drops to make the rooting hormone in a powder form and turned it into a paste form.  This way it is easier to pot it around the cut and touching the cambium layer.

Step 3:  Wetting sphagnum moss

Picked some sphagnum moss and leave it in a small water filled container.  After a while, I squeezed all the water from the sphagnum moss.  I wanted humidity not too much water around the area being air layered.

Step 4:  Wrapping the Sphagnum moss

Placed a plastic bag underneath the cut, and placed the wet sphagnum moss around the cut recess.  Gently I formed a ball like pack by wrapping the plastic bag.  The sphagnum moss was then covered with wet compost to increase the possibility to maintain moisture in the sphagnum moss.  I used sphagnum moss since it has medical properties that offers more possibilities to encourage the new roots to emerge.  This was not the first time I used the sphagnum moss for air layering, and I found it gives better results than compost.

Step 5:  Make a solid ball

Stretched around another stretch and seal plastic, while pressing the sphagnum moss to make it touch the cambium layer.  This way the sphagnum moss is one solid ball.  I pinned a small hole at the bottom to encourage excessive water to drain out and prevent root rot.

Step 6:  Cover the area

Using aluminum foil to cover around the stretch and seal to prevent light to enter to the cambium.  Avoid covering with a black plastic bag, since black will absorb sunlight and the moss will get too hot.


Step 7: Watering

Since I applied wet sphagnum moss, the moisture inside the ball will encourage the growth of new roots.  It is important to maintain moisture inside the moss ball enough to encourage new roots.  Excessive water will rot the new roots when they emerge.  I will water in small amounts in 2-3 days time, using a small syringe.  If all goes well, in 6 weeks time new fine roots will start emerging.  I will try not to disturb the moss ball so as not to damage the fine roots.

Martin Abela

Author Martin Abela

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