Hi Everybody,

In early 2002 I had the honour to be invited by Mark Noelanders to give a 3-hour evening demonstration in March of that same year at his Bonsai club in Belgium (B.A.B Belgium Bonsai association). Although I was really excited at the prospect to give a demonstration at this club that already had seen most of the big names demonstrate, it also put me under a lot of pressure! How and where could I find material good enough to work on that would entertain this knowledgeable crowd? I spend many days visiting all my regular material addresses here in Holland, but could not find anything remotely interesting or good enough! So in a last desperate attempt to find something, I drove with my wife An through Belgium to try our luck at the Bonsai dealers we knew there!  At the end of a long day driving, without finding anything suitable and affordable,  we had become pretty desperate! We had only one more Bonsai centre to visit and had not had much hope to find something there. But we did! In the back of the garden, hidden away from sight, we found some really weird and impossible-shaped Pine yamadori! And that was just what I was looking for, ugly and affordable! J
One-off them immediately jumped out to me, a Mugo that looked like the mark of Zorro! It was basically a long and thin Z-shaped tree full of mistakes and with only some long branches at its top. The base and the first 10 cm/2,5 inch upwards of the trunk were really thin and then suddenly changed into a big lump that was created over many years with old deadwood and thick live vain running over it! From there the trunk becomes thinner again and stays the same thickness until the first sharp bent to the left. The next section of the trunk is slightly curved and goes abrupt to the left and back downwards. Some time long ago this section of the trunk was split right through the middle by mother nature, leaving a long opening that looked very strange! And again this section also had no taper whatsoever! At the end of that section, there was another abrupt change of direction to the right side from which one thick branch and a few thinner ones grew upwards. Out of these branches I  had to create the whole future Bonsai! A big risk to try in a 3-hour demo, but this is what I like to do, trying to create a Bonsai out of challenging material! Because when it all falls together and it works it can become really special and unique! I always had, and still have, that motivation to work with impossible and unlikely material! At first because there simply just wasn’t any good material to be found here in Holland, but later I discovered that I really like that challenge to find something interesting or even beautiful in these ugly duckling trees! So this Mugo, which we instantly named Z, was just right to show what my interest in Bonsai.

Below: The first pictures of  “Z”  in my garden. This is the planned front side of the tree.

Below: Left side view. notice that in the whole of the trunk there is almost no movement to the back of the frond. So I had to create some sort of dept with the foliage!

                                                  Below: Backside of the tree.

                                                     Below: Right side view.

Below: Close up of the section where all the branches grew from. Only the thick branch will be used to create the whole top section!

             Below: This is the design that I made as a reverence for the demo.

                                      Below: Before the demonstration started.

Below: Just one the right side of my top hand finger is where I sawed out a wedge, separating the branch from the deadwood section on the right. Allowing (I hoped) the branch to bend easier and further to the left side! The branch will be protected from breaking and ripping with layers in water socked raffia, tape and thick copper wire.

Below: This is probably the first demo tree that could receive Belgium radio!

Below: The audience was allowed to get real close to see what was going on. Just the way I like it!

Below: The most difficult part of this demo, bringing down that thick branch, has worked out just fine. Without any splitting or cracking! But to make it in time I had help wiring the last branches from one of the friendly members of the club.

Below: At home, I had made construction that tilted the tree and pot into the desired angle and held it in place during work!

                                             Below: Bonsai is hard work! 

Below: The finished result of 3 hours of hard work. Before I started I had explained to the audience that I would not try to make a compact tree. Most of the foliage was simply too far away from the base of the trunk and I don’t like to twist and curl long branches just for the look of it. So I just created the desired outline of the long branches. And in the coming years, I will use the proper technique to force the tree to back bud so that over time I could shorten those long branches to the desired length! 

Last week, almost 10 years after its first styling,  I restyled “Z” once again. Below: 3 major branches were removed during this restyling.

Below: Close-up, as seen from the right side, of the strange but beautiful deadwood section on the lower part of the trunk.

                                            Below: Close-up of the split trunk.

Below: Close-up of the thick branch that, with the help of a cut-out wedge, was controlled and ripped away from the deadwood. The green arrow shows the point up to where the branch was attached to the deadwood (yellow arrow).

Below: Close up of the finished top section. Most needles are just 1,5 centimetre/ half an inch long!

                          Below: The finished result in a pot by Brian Allbright.

I am pretty pleased with the new image of “Z”! I like how she changed from an unwanted tree into an impressive Bonsai!

I hope you enjoyed this story?!


Hans van Meer.


Comment/question by Jack Sales.

Very interesting read.  Thank you for posting.  I was wondering if I could ask you a really quick question?  I have a mugo pine from a nursery with a lot of top growth and a small amount of weaker growth further down.  When would be the right time to prune the top branches away to allow the lower branches to develop?

Hi, jack,
sorry for the late reply, but  I simply forgot to answer you! 🙂 I had a look at your picture and I saw a typical nursery Mugo with long thick branches with mostly only growth at the end! Getting foliage to grow closer to the trunk on Mugos like this will take a long time but it can be done and it is a good practice to understand the growing habits of this species! I don’t know where you live but this late in the season you can only cut back the too-long branches up to where a smaller branch grows from it. But don’t cut that thick branch too close to that smaller branch! Make sure to leave some room for the old branch to die/dry back! A stump of about 1 cm/0.4 inch will be more than enough to protect that small branch from harm! Seal the woods with cut paste. Later next season you can remove that dried-up stump with no problem! Now would there still have been older needles along those long branches, they stay on there for 2 or even 3 seasons then you could have cut back any branch right back into that old growth! This can be done from early in the growing season to mid-Summer! The tree will then react with loads of new buds all along your branches growing from the base of those older needles! That would have saved you a lot of time! With your Mugo it will be a case of lots of feeding and removing candles to promote back budding lower on those branches. If it helps you can find these techniques in an article that I wrote about two-needle pine care on my website! This article will explain most of these techniques in words and pictures! Hope that helps you some, if not you can always ask me for more advice, even if I sometimes forget to answer! 🙂
Good luck with your Mugo!
Hans van Meer.

Link to the article on my website:



  1. Very interesting read. Thank you for posting. I was wondering if i could ask you a really quick question? I have a mugo pine from a nursery with alot of top growth and a small amount of weaker growth further down. When would be the right time to prune the top branches away to allow the lower branches to develop?


  2. Hi Jack,
    I answered your question above! I did it like this so that others can also benefit from it!
    Hans van Meer.

    Thanks Toyler! Don’t worry I will never ever repot one of my Mugo’s again late in the season! Were I live early repotting works best for me and my Mugo’s
    Hans van Meer.


  3. Hi Hans, thansk for the informative reply. It was very helpful. I live in Norfolk, England, which would be the first land in the uk you would get to from holland if you sailed directly West. Very similar climate i imagine, and the land is also flat and wet.


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