Keeping Good Records

Anne Spencer

Keeping good records of your bonsai collection will be helpful over the years. It will help when you need to remember how old a plant is, whether you root pruned it last year, where you got it, or what its botanical name is. On a different level, it will give you a real sense of accomplishment to see the changes in your bonsai from year to year as they go from gawky to graceful. It might even help you reclaim your bonsai if they are stolen.

There are no `best' ways to keep good records. You have to determine what is, or will be, important to you. One can keep a combination of hand-written records, pictures, computer notes. It's your choice.

The following is one person's method of keeping organized.

Each plant has a tag with its number.

Each plant has a loose-leaf notebook page with its number.

Each plant has a place in an archival quality photograph album for one picture. Each plant has an archival quality envelope in a photo box with its number. Each plant is listed in a computer file.

Here's the way it works. When one gets a new plant it is immediately given an inventory number and a page in the notebook. Where the plant came from is listed, along with cost, date, and any cultural notes passed on by the grower/former owner, such as last repotting date, age, source, etc. The notebook is used during the repotting to indicate what procedure was done, when, and soil type used, etc. So the notebook might read:

Acer ginnala (Amur maple)                                                         # 25

  • 10-20-90  Purchased from Ed Wood, $5, for red fall color. 3 year seedling. Put into garden for winter. 4" pot.
  • 2-29-91   Dug, root pruned heavily, top pruned medium, & potted in 6" plastic. Needs room & time to grow. Roots long & stringy.
                    Left long branch low on back of trunk to act as nurse.
  • 6-91        Has mildew; leaf pruned totally.
  • 12-91      Dormant sprayed - copper
  • 3-10-92  Roots are much more fibrous. Root pruned med., shortening several large surface roots & top pruned med., removing the nurse.
                   Repotted to same 6' plastic, using new soil mix of 1/2 lava, % sifted bark. Be more careful about rubbing off extra buds.

Brief notes might read: 2-29-91 dug, rph, tpm, to 6"pl. rts long, stringy. Nurse/low left. One could transfer notes to a computer program later if desired.

Once a year, or more often if exciting things are happening, take a picture of your plant and file it by number in the photo album or box. Then when you feel it will never grow, you can look back and see that it really is developing into a bonsai. Pick a season and always do it then. For instance, one could always do it in the fall after the leaves have fallen, or in the spring before leaves, or in the summer in full leaf. Just be consistent. Pictures of deciduous material show structure best without leaves, but it doesn't matter for conifers.

If you are using a regular camera, keep the current pictures in the photo album, and past years' pictures in the envelope box. Or you can have them put on a CD. If you use a digital camera, either have photos made, or keep the pictures using the computer.

A camera with a zoom lens works the best for getting close-ups of bonsai. Put something like a quarter or ruler in the picture with each plant so you have some idea of the size of your plant.

The use of natural light, especially on a bright overcast day, yields good pictures. Buy a 3 yard piece of fleece type cloth in a dark color (black, navy, dark gray) and hang it on a frame or fence where the light is good. Set your plant on a bench in front of the cloth and take your picture. The shadows from clouds, your tree, or the flash will not show much with fleece. The plant's branching, especially if your camera is a Point & Shoot type, will show up lighter than the dark background. Bright sunny days yield pictures that are too dark on the inner parts of the plant. Light backgrounds tend to yield dark silhouettes of trees without much detail.

For each plant a computer record can be kept and updated as needed. The basic information can be botanical name, Common name, ID #, Year you got it, Age when you got it, Cost when you got it, Source, Current value estimate, Style, and (earliest, latest, and last) Repotting Dates. Make printouts of your collection alphabetical by Botanical Name, ID#, etc. or whatever is useful to you. Write on the printouts during the year, and in the slow wintertime update it.

If the unthinkable happens and part of your collection is stolen, you have pictures, information, and perhaps even measurements of the missing plants to help recover them or use for insurance purposes.

If you want to write an article for ABS or BCI magazines, you have pictures and information to help you be creative. If you want to teach, you have examples. And if you just want to know how many plants you got in 1989 (and still have), you can do it. You will feel so organized.