I am Michael Hagedorn, Ask Me Anything

(crataegus001) #1

Hi, I’m Michael Hagedorn and I live in Portland, Oregon, USA. Some eons back (8 years ago) I was an apprentice under Shinji Suzuki in Japan. When I got home I wrote a book about that comedic period and published it under the title, Post-Dated: The Schooling of an Irreverent Bonsai Monk. A bedroom in my house is now sagging under the weight of hopeful copies, so if you want several boxes please let me know.

I’m also the founder of the Portland Bonsai Village, which is still a young, green, nubile shoot but we hope it will continue to grow and become one of those heritage trees that arc out over a neighborhood and have cool labels on them and such.

And as the title suggests, you ask me anything. Well, almost anything about bonsai, very little about tango, and almost nothing about everything else.

I will begin answering questions on the morning of April 24th.

UPDATE: Questions are now closed - thank you to everyone for participating!

Fagus Crenata Development
Time in japan was rewarding?
Fagus Crenata Development

Dear Micheal,
Just in the last few years it seems as info on development and refinement of Pondo pines has really evolved. I am somewhat confused though–even after working with Ryan with a study group. Its clear that leaving buds and needles alone and increasing growth as much as possible through all season aggressive fert and pumice based soil really gets them rocking however my understanding of the refinement phase is less clear especially on techiques and timing of cutting hardened candles–can you give a Pondo refinement sysnopsis with your usual lucid eloquence.


Hello mister Hagedorn,

  • What is key in developing and maintaining good sho-hin bonsai?
  • Do you tend to feed your companion plants? If yes, with what and how often? If no, what is the rationale behind the decision?
  • Any new “hidden” species in store for us, similar to chojubai?
  • Tips or pointers on ramification of virginia creepers?

Thanks in advance!


• What are your favorite trees to work on?
• What is your favorite food? hope it’s not something like tofu.
• As a highly skilled potter who or what kiln do your favorite pots come from?
• Do you go on collecting adventures?
• Do you sell bonsai trees?
• What advice can you give to a person with less than 3 years learning bonsai?

(Ryan) #5


I love your work! I was wondering if you could give some suggestions on how to keep red spider mites at bay! With the unusually warm spring here in California this year they are hammering my junipers.

Oh and have you given any thought to publishing an ebook version of your ‘Post-Dated’ book through Amazon? I know that doesn’t get rid of the plethora of copies you have in your spare bedroom but I would love to read it! Thanks!

(Jeremiah Lee ) #6

Hi Michael,
Thank you very much for doing this, I’m a big fan of your work! Lots of questions, feel free to pick and choose-

  1. In your book Post Dated, all the trees pictures are truly spectacular and each one is very special. I do however keep coming back to the Shimpaku pictured on pg. 96. That one in particular is one of my all-time favorites. I was just wondering if there is any info, or maybe a story or something that you might be willing to share about that one?

  2. Do you use any tools for Bonsai that are considered non-traditional, if so what are they and what do you use them for?

  3. What is your vision for the Artisan Cup in ten and twenty years down the road?

  4. I love the native collected material you’ve posted on your site, truly amazing! I’m curious if you have considered growing any native material from seed, cutting or airlayer? If so what type of tree?

  5. I plan to attend the Artisan cup this year with my wife, what non-Bonsai related things around Portland would you recommend? What places to eat do you like best?

(Danny) #7

Hi Michael, appreciate you taking the time to do this. A few questions for you;

  • Given your background as a potter do you think it’s ironic that you are now well known for experimenting with different planting compositions and even not using pots.
  • What’s next for you after the artisan’s cup?


(Zack A Clayton) #8

I am interested in your take on the future of non-classic styles. Such as your vine maple imitating growth on a log, the constructed pots of nylon that you have used, or Walter Pall’s fairytale style.

  • How do you see these faring in exhibits and shows?
  • Will they rise above the crowd favorite level?
  • Are there going to be different evaluation criteria used or are the
    ones in use going to be modified for a fair comparison in judging?

Kimura was a revolution in Japanese styling that is now accepted. How long will the western new styles take to be acepted in mainstream bonsai thought?

(Judy B) #9

Hi Michael,
I have a two questions about Japanese White Pines. First question is about pollen cone formation. Is there anything that you know of that causes these to form or anything that can be done to prevent their formation? In some years the formation of large areas of pollen cones can leave branches with long bare necks behind the new needle buds. I have been removing these as early as I can, is that the correct timing?

My second question is about grafts and Zuisho White Pine. Is it true that the graft will always fail on Zuisho grafted onto JBP stock?

Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions! Happy Spring.

(Doug Price) #10

Good morning,
My question is about flowering bonsai such as Cotoneaster, Ume, Crabapple, Quince, etc. I have read about not repotting till after they have flowered. Do you adhere to this methodology or repot like other deciduous when dormant? Thanks

(crataegus001) #11

Cool- Ponderosa is a great subject. The main thing to recognize is that the big main bud at the end sets up everything that the tree does. It doesn’t naturally WANT to backbud. But unlike a black pine, we can’t force it to do that, we can only suggest. So, grow your tree strongly, then if you have some really long massive buds, you can pinch them in half or cut them when it’s partly hardened. I don’t fully cut off any candle on Ponderosa. Then in the late summer, cut some of the old needles off around the strongest shoots, and don’t cut any around the smaller shoots. Over about five years, this simple technique will create some backbudding, not a lot, but it will even up all the buds. Also, all of these techniques work best if you’ve actually brought your branches down with wire, styled your tree. Lower that big bud, and it loses a lot of its power over limiting backbudding. It will take some years, but they do even up and ramify. And GREAT sun, very necessary!

(crataegus001) #12

—Shohin are such a miniature world that the techniques we use should also be funneled down. What we can do in inches on normal trees we need to do in fragments of an inch. If you’re wiring, make your spirals closer. If you cut, cut closer. If fertilizing, wait until growth has hardened off in late spring to begin or internodes will be long.
—Yes, I feed companions. In late spring, or after flowering. Don’t overfertilize.
—I think our local natives are our treasures, explore them and apply our known techniques to new species. By natives I don’t mean halfway across the country, but what grows on the nearest hill. Explore those!
—Creeper is a vine, so like any vine it loves lots of water and fertilizer. Pump it up, let it run, then when they are hardening off cut back hard, you can even try defoliating. The regrowth will be your ramification.

(crataegus001) #13

—I love so many, whatever tree I’m working on… but, I do particularly enjoy Chojubai, Pine, Maple, Hemlock, and Spruce.
—Food? good heavens. Not natto. Salad. I like salad.
—The best bonsai pots still came from the Chinese 150-300 years ago.
—I do collect, but I also enjoy starting something from nothing.
—I sell to students occasionally.
—Invest in yourself! Find a teacher, and then, try trusting that person for a while. Try to avoid bobbling from one teacher to another initially. Later you can study with others. A teacher is more valuable than a book or a blog (both Jonas and I write blogs so I feel safe saying that.)

(crataegus001) #14

Spider mites! Neem oil will do it, also Bayer Advanced will take care of them, or, both at the same time. A miticide will set you back hundreds, yet will do the job.

I have thought of an ebook, but haven’t tried that yet. There’s a Spanish edition that will be coming out in ebook form-

(crataegus001) #15

—Suzuki was very fond of that tree, his favorite juniper. He said it reminded him of a tree that many years ago was put on a revolving display stand because it had so many good viewing points.

—Yes, some zip ties, and some of the nylon and plastic boards for slabs.

—All the credit for the Cup goes to Ryan Neil, that’s entirely his creation and I’m really looking forward to it. So I don’t know what his plans are for its future. My project is the Portland Bonsai Village. I blog about the Cup because Ryan is one of my Villager colleagues and I love the effort he’s put into it.

—I’ve not tried any cuttings or airlayers from natives, I can collect them so that tends to be more interesting.

—Try to see the Columbia Gorge, many beautiful waterfalls. Take a look at The Farm, great farm to table restaurant.

(crataegus001) #16

—Very ironic! Nearly hilarious. But, gotta go where one is led.

—Again, the Cup is the dreamchild of my great colleague Ryan Neil, as for me, I’ll continue to encourage people to visit Portland and our Villagers through the year-round programs of the Portland Bonsai Village. Otherwise I’m relatively a happy hermit and hope to do more writing next year, I’ve a book I’ve been working on for a while now and it’s always been punted down the road to make way for things like a website for the Village. Sigh. So, more hermiting next year.

(eric) #17

Why are you using vine maple for your moss planting works that you’ve completed recently?

(Jonas Dupuich) #18

What do you see in your students’ work that makes you happiest?

(crataegus001) #19

—Well, it’s hard to say, depends much on the acceptance of the community over time and the judges.

—I’d be surprised if they rose to anything notable, unless over a long time where greater visibility made them more acceptable. Bonsai is a reluctant art.

—In any avante-guarde offering, rules for judging shift.

—It’s hard to say…but because there was a hiccup of time to realize Kimura was doing groundbreaking work that was really viable, there will be likely the same hiccup of time to get used to what is new, elsewhere. As there should be. Not all experiments succeed. And then, Western audiences are likely to accept new work far more fast and readily than they should.

(crataegus001) #20

Some years there is a big pollen formation, other years nearly none. I think this is climatic, and year by year, not sure what we can do about it. Leave them alone, though, and let them age and fall off. A lot of damage is usually done when we try to remove them young.

I’m not aware that all grafts fail on Zuisho, but most Zuisho are on their own roots. Made from cuttings.