A Beginners Guide to Bonsai


Kifumi Keppler, owner of Exotic Plants, has a special relationship to the art of Bonsai. This Japanese art form utilizes the ability to grow “miniature” trees in small, shallow pots. The art is not limited to Japan and has been expressed in other cultures as well, including China. But for Kifumi, it all began in Japan.

Though she does not claim to be an expert in Bonsai, Kifumi was formally trained in Ikebana – the Japanese art of flower arrangement – in Japan, beginning at the young age of six.

Dating back to the 7th century, Ikebana focuses on the importance of proportion and asymmetrical aesthetics. However, many of the properties that are appreciated in Ikebana are similar to those respected when growing Bonsai. As a child, Kifumi marveled at her uncle’s ability to grow beautiful Bonsai on a shelf in his home and also watched her mother successfully grow them in her home. Ultimately, she learned from her family many of the tricks to growing these amazing plants.

To grow a proper Bonsai, the roots of the plant must be cut back every couple years and the plant is then placed back in the same-sized pot. Bonsai pots are preferred because they are the specific proportions (small and shallow) that allow for ideal growing conditions, confining the roots within the given space. Additionally, the branches of the plant must be trimmed at specific times to ensure that they stay the correct length as well. Ultimately, the end result after years of growing a Bonsai is a tiny tree with a thick trunk.

Specific types of plants are preferred for Bonsai. In general, those with smaller leaves are ideal. These include:  


  • The Fig tree

  • Juniper

  • Japanese Maple

  • Trident Maple

  • Dwarf Pomegranate

  • Chinese and Japanese Elm

  • Wisteria

  • Crabapple

  • Oak

  • Chinese Pepper

  • Ginkgo

  • Jade, and

  • Japanese Winterberry


Those are just a few! It is very important to pick the right species for your surroundings, indigenous are preferred – and Kifumi can help you determine what grows best if you are local to Sacramento (or feel free to give her a call if you’re not!).

If you are a beginner, once you’ve started cultivating your Bonsai, be patient. It will take anywhere from three to five plus years before the tree is properly “trained” to grow in its compact environment. Shaping and styling techniques can begin after this period – and now the fun really begins! The short answer is that the asymmetrical properties mentioned earlier are ideal, but be advised that it can take decades to refine more advanced pruning and wiring techniques if you decide to go that route. If so, we definitely suggest taking a class or two.

Kifumi Keppler and Exotic Plants often enlists the help of a “Bonsai Guru” named Tim Johnson who teaches classes periodically at the store. Kifumi refers to him as “the expert” and does not claim to know everything there is to know on the subject. She continually marvels at the awesomeness of his Bonsai creations and is very humble in terms of her own knowledge. Her only complaint, jokingly, is that Tim “doesn’t share enough of his Bonsai with her.” However, giving credit where it is due, Kifumi has extensive knowledge on the subject herself and is happy to answer many of her customers’ questions – or at the very least, refer them to The Guru.

Orchids: Common trials and tribulations in caring for this much-loved plant

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Nearly everyone can appreciate the beauty of an orchid in bloom. Not only is it breathtaking, but it’s also an extremely long-lasting flower – sometimes blooming for months! But what do you do with an orchid when it has been over a year and has not re-bloomed? Or what if the leaves are starting to turn yellow? These are very common challenges for orchid-lovers and Kifumi has some simple solutions for these tribulations and more!


  • Common challenge – The orchid has not re-bloomed.

    • Culprit – Quite often the orchid will not re-bloom if there isn’t enough ambient light or you don’t fertilize regularly.

      • Orchids LOVE light! Not direct sunlight – this will burn their leaves, but rather bright rooms with indirect light. If you are growing in a place that doesn’t have a lot of ambient light coming in or you don’t have many windows, there is always the option of using artificial light.

      • Feed your orchid regularly with a high-quality, all natural fertilizer. Exotic Plants has quite a few great options, but I’m partial to the Age Old Sea Kelp product. It’s important to know that natural fertilizers contain exponentially more nutrients than artificial ones.

      • The other secret is to place your non-blooming plant outside or in a cold room when the temperatures begin to drop at night (late October/November is usually a good time if you live in Northern California). Do this for a few consecutive nights, but remember to bring your plant back inside during the day. This can “shock” your plant into sending out a new bloom.


  • Common challenge – The orchid’s leaves are turning yellow and dry.

    • Culprit – Not enough water, too warm temperature or too much light.

      • Orchids are just like any other plant, they need the right amount of water, light and environment to grow. They love bright light, but not direct light, which will burn or kill the leaves.

      • While you don’t want to overwater them, they also can’t grow without sufficient water. When is the right time to water? Pick up the plant (without its pot). If it feels light, it’s ready for water. You can also feel the potting mixture for dampness. If there is any moisture at all, it’s not time to water yet. If you see that the roots inside the planting medium are turning grey, they may be dying and not getting enough water.

      • Orchids like temperate climates – think Santa Barbara, CA. Growing them in Sacramento, CA is do-able, it just means you can’t leave them outside in the 110 degree heat in the summer. It’s a sure-fire way to kill your plant.


  • Common challenge – The leaves are dark green and wrinkly-looking.

    • Culprit – Lacking light or water, or dying roots.

      • First, take a look at the health of the roots within the potting mixture. If they look grey, light beige, white and/or brittle, they may be dying. Exotic Plants can help you determine which roots can go if you bring your plant in and ask. Dead roots do not allow the plant to absorb water as it should and will add to dehydration.

      • Lacking light or water will also lead your plant’s leaves to look too dark and/or wrinkled. Ideal orchid leaves are a light green color. If they start looking forest-green, you’ll want to move your plant closer to a window that supplies plenty of indirect sunlight – or consider artificial light if a good window isn’t an option. As stated previously, be sure you are watering adequately, but not over-watering.


On Trend: Moss Art

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After mastering other “exotic” plants, such as orchids and bonsai, Kifumi Keppler has moved on to her newest obsession:  Moss art. If you haven’t seen this growing trend around the greater Sacramento area, you are sure to spot it very soon. Kifumi’s work is already being featured in several local businesses and her creations continue to become more and more imaginative.

The innovation of the art easily leads the viewer to wonder where Kifumi Keppler gets her ideas. The mixed mediums that Kifumi uses include multiple varieties and colors of mosses, with accent work that highlights succulents, pieces of stone, air plants, wood, fungi, antlers, flowers, bamboo and more. The majority of her mediums are, of course, plant-based. 

The materials are also carefully preserved during her creative process, so they never “wilt.” Instead, the wall art stays forever green – great news for those of us who can’t seem to keep live plants happy and healthy! The pieces often look alive, and yet, you never have to water. Talk about a beautiful, unique and drought-resistant way to keep your home or business green – literally and figuratively. 

You don’t need to have a green thumb to exhibit this art that stands the test of time. When asked where moss art pieces can be displayed, Kifumi said, “The sky is really the limit.” She’s had pieces commissioned for restaurants, weddings, corporate buildings and private homes. The art can serve many purposes and are utilized as centerpieces on tables (or in them), traditional wall art, framed mirrors, photo backdrops and more. 

“Plants are really the center of our universe. They feed us, clothe us and can provide materials to house us, supply energy and add oxygen to the air. Nature is our connection to the earth and keeping plants in the house and office reminds us of this,” says Kifumi. What better way to honor all that plants offer us than to create beautiful, long-lasting art with them.

If you’d like to see some of Kifumi’s amazing moss art pieces in person, visit Exotic Plants and see what she has been up to lately. Her magical, green artwork is always evolving!

“My moss wall brings a smile to my face every time I pass by. Each time, I see something different – the shadings of moss, the prevision in the knots holding the bamboo fence together, the graceful brand of the weeping cherry tree. Your design, your harmony, your proportion are beautifully displayed. This magnificent piece of art has added a wonderful dimension to my home.” – Jacqui Toledo

Imaginative Wedding Design

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The modern bride is looking for new ways to stand out. It’s easy to feel like “it’s all been done before” when you visit contemporary weddings. Yet, despite the fact that Boho weddings have become incredibly popular over the past few years, there are still ways to incorporate imaginative ideas into your Boho-esque wedding.

For instance, succulents are a great way to incorporate California-friendly live plants into your wedding. Succulents include Echeveria, Sedeveria, Jet Beads, Aeonium and a list that’s too long to include here. These types of live plants can serve many, many purposes, such as being incorporated into the bouquet, worn in your hair as a headpiece or headband and as centerpieces on your tables, just to name a few. 

The bonus? You can give the succulents away to your guests at the end of the reception as parting gifts – a beautiful living memory of your big day.

Orchids also make unique living centerpieces. You can choose simple centerpiece options and keep the orchid in its standard pot or you can choose to have them removed from the pot and placed in a special display. Displays can reflect the uniqueness the wedding couple, including the use of moss, driftwood, stone and other mixed materials. 

The way that the orchid is displayed is up to you. Or if you are fresh out of ideas, you can always rely on the years of expertise that the staff at Exotic Plants has. Possibilities are endless, and again, you can give the living plants away at the end of the event – even if only to the VIPs such as mother of the bride and groom, wedding party or bridesmaids.

Air plants offer another unique option. This is a special look that is gaining popularity in recent years. Brides are beginning to respect and understand the delicate beauty of the air plant and have used them for everything from inexpensive wedding favors to entire centerpieces of air plants placed in country-chic buckets. For those who don’t know, the air plant genus (Tillandsia) has around 650 species and is native to Central and South America as well as the Southern United States. With so many varieties of this beautiful plant, it’s hard to decide exactly how you should include them in your wedding – but the staff at Exotic Plants is glad to help.

Ferns are another set of delicate, romantic plants that will certainly have all of your friends “ooo-ing” and “awe-ing” upon their arrival to your wedding. You can go all-out and place live ferns at your reception alongside fern-embroidered napkins, fern-incorporated headpieces for your bridesmaids, fern wedding gown details or jewelry and so on. We’ve even seen brides add fern details to their heels! These are all cute ways to include a gorgeous, lush plant that is truly reminiscent of a fairy tale. 

Lastly, we also recommend incorporating moss. Moss Art is quickly becoming the next big thing (see our Blog on Kifumi’s Moss Art) and the options are as varied as the mosses. It can be used to create an entire wall for photo backdrops if you want to go big – talk about making a statement! Mosses can be utilized within and surrounding simple arrangements on your tables, inside of do-it-yourself photo frames, as a lovely addition to your bouquet and much more. Moss art is also a wonderful gift to those who played a big role in making your special day amazing. It makes an environmentally friendly work of art and each moss display is truly as unique as your love. 

Exotic Plants is your one-stop-shop for all of your wedding greenery needs.