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10 Signs Your Bonsai Tree Is Unhealthy

Considering the fact that a bonsai tree can technically outlive its owner, you surely want to get the most enjoyment possible out of it by keeping it healthy. Because bonsai are made of normal plant species, they can vulnerable to many of the same ailments as the flowers, shrubs, and trees in your yard. Whether you’re caring for your existing bonsai or getting ready to purchase a ready-made tree from us these tips will help you recognize and solve a bonsai health problem quickly:

  1. Yellowing or drying leaves: often a sign of over- or under-watering. Overwatering is a frequent killer of bonsai, so be sure to maintain a balance, watering thoroughly once the top half of the soil has begun to dry.
  2. Damaged leaves: a sign of pest infestation. You want to take action quickly, as pests can destroy a bonsai in short order. Aphids are the most common bonsai pest, but these trees can also suffer from insects such as caterpillars, scale, and red spider mites. In some cases the pests can be removed manually or by wiping the leaves down, or you can use a surface or soil insecticide.
  3. Swollen bark: this can be a sign of canker or scab disease, typically caused by problems with fertilizing or pruning improperly. The diseased portion must be cut away and wound paste put on the affected area.
  4. Visible pests or insects: these must be identified and removed. Scale can be taken off by hand, and aphids may be washed off gently with a hose. Other pests will require chemical removal.
  5. Falling leaves or needles (in the wrong season): leaf fall can be due to black spot, leaf spot, or rust. If any of these diseases are present, spots will appear on the leaves and they will eventually drop. Remove affected leaves and apply fungicide.
  6. Dieback of branches: if branches and shoots begin to die away, starting at the tips, this can be a sign of mold or mildew. Affected areas must be removed and a fungicide applied.
  7. Instability in the pot: if the plant wobbles in its container, it may have a weak root system, possibly due to over-watering. Adjust water administration.
  8. Slow growth: poor or stunted growth can be an indicator of scab or canker disease, or root rot due to poor drainage. In the case of root rot, prune affected roots and move tree into new soil.
  9. Branches that droop or are wilted: drooping shoots can have a number of causes including mold, mildew, or chlorosis (caused by nutrient deficiency, commonly iron).
  10. Black, red, brown or other colored spots on leaves: spots of any color on bonsai leaves are not normal and are typically signs of fungi. Fungal infections spread quickly, so the infected leaves must be removed and a fungicide applied to the rest of the plant.

It’s not difficult to recognize an unhealthy bonsai if you know what you’re looking for. Once identified, most problems are treatable, allowing your bonsai to give you many more years of beauty and joy!

Japanese Black Pine: A Few Progressions (Part 2)

In Part One I discussed and showed pictures of JBP that were raised from seed by a friend for a year or two and then I took over with the basic and future styling of these seedlings. I mentioned three basic things that JBP require at their designated times on the calendar throughout the year. As long as these three basic things are done, you should have a JBP with a good future and enjoy watching your work come to fruition.

These next few trees are either at finished stage or close to it. I’ll start off with my first JBP that I purchased back in 2003, without a clue as to what to do with it. I more or less just kept it alive until I decided to take serious the care and maintenance of this species of tree. That finally happened in 2007 when I bought my first and most expensive tree, a finished Japanese Black Pine. Because of that I decided I would need to take a few classes on the care of this tree to make sure I wouldn’t lose the work that someone else had put into it for so many years and gave it the beauty that it had.

So here is my first JBP. Not much to it is there.

Black Pine 1

Well that was ten years ago and as I learned on the big trees I transferred my knowledge to the small ones just the same. This pic shows the tree this fall before doing the needle plucking.

Black Pine 2

Notice now in this next pic how the tree is cleaned up after doing the fall work. The extensive branching is showing making it look like a tree as it should rather than a bush. Notice how small the needles are and how compact also.

Japanese Black Pine 3

This next tree is also one that the same friend who gave me the others from the last article. This one was the largest of the few that he gave me. As with the others, I really had no plan as to what to do with this one either. As you can see from this first pic, it too didn’t have much going for it.


Feeding it good and giving it plenty of water which these trees like, kept it very healthy and gave me much potential with the many new buds it produced after the summer decandeling.

Black Pine Bonsai

The following year finaly gave me some insight as to what direction I should take this tree. I was happy to see what I finally produced.


And this year after the fall work I’m even more happier as the tree is producing a nice branching system. One thing I will have to be careful of though with this tree is that I don’t let it get too full of foliage for the thin trunk that it has. Being kept in a pot now will restrict the size of the trunk and pretty much keep it as it is now. Too much foliage for this size trunk will make it look off balance and not pleasing to the eye.

Black Pine 7

These last two trees are what I would consider my finished JBP trees. When I say finished I mean they are where I would like them to be style wise, but certainly not finished with the normal care and periodic maintenance as with all JBPs. The first pic shows the tree at purchase and You would probably have to agree that even though it looks nice and manicured, it does look a bit weak though. That’s why it is so important to keep JBP fertilized good during the time when it is right to ferilize.

Black Pine Bonsai 8

A few years later with much diligent care and my gosh look at that foliage. A testament of proper care and feeding.

Black Pine Bonsai 9

And then finally the fall work is done and the results are stunning. After doing the needle plucking and giving the tree some good wiring, you should have something that will motivate you to love the world of Japanese Black Pine. Just don’t forget the part about time and patience though. (LOL)

Black Pine 10

This last tree is one of my favorites because I am somewhat partial to cascade bonsai. This first pic shows the tree at purchase. It too looked somewhat weak back then.

Japanese Black Pine 11

But as with the last tree, I gave it my best and it repaid me by showing what it could do for me.

Windswept Black Pine Bonsai

It was a somewhat slow process but I could see that it was a very healthy tree and would have no problem reaching its potential.

Windswept JBP

This years decandeling produced many new buds also and it was finally time to do the fall work.

Alternate View Windswept Black Pine
And here it is now five years after purchase and it’s pretty much gone from being a semi cascade tree to a cascade tree. The foliage and the branching are very healthy and strong, and with that I must again be careful not to let it over take the size of the trunk. I will probably have to thin it out a lot to keep it in proportion with the trunk or I will end up having a JBP bush instead of a tree.

Beautiful Black Pine

Japanese Black Pine: A Few Progressions

One of the things I like about bonsai and I’m sure most enthusiasts do also, is watching them progress throughout the years. Depending upon the species, some might even give more satisfaction than others as you watch your work come to fruition.

As it is with anything that’s of any kind of value, time and patience is the name of the game, and this is especially true in bonsai. Once you’ve cut a few corners in trying to speed up the process and found out that the other way would’ve probably been much better, then you’ll have finally reached that pinnacle of success where the only thing that matters for a wonderful looking bonsai is as I said, time and patience.

So once your at that point then it’s time to maybe try your hand at Japanese Black Pine bonsai. With these trees they dictate the time, and you must have the patience. There are only three main things that have to be done with JBP, and that is repotting, candle pruning, and needle pulling and if need be, branch pruning. These three things have to be done on schedule with no room for exceptions.

In late winter or early spring, depending upon where you live in the U.S. will be the time to repot taking caution of course with the low temps that might come and go at times.

Next will be the decandeling process which is again dependent on where you live. Southern states such as Texas where I live, early to mid July is the time. Northern states will go anywhere from late May to mid June.

The final Item will be needle pulling which will start in late October all the way to mid February if need be.

Okay so let’s look at some progressions for this first part. These first few trees were given to me by someone who started them from seed. They were around two to three yrs. old at the time, and that was in 2009. I don’t think the person who started had a design in mind because of the way they were trained, or should I say untrained.

This first pic shows just exactly what I had to work with. Doesn’t look like much does it? For this reason I decided this one and the following one would be shohin size since the trunk was laying more or less down low and had branches going everywhere, and the next one as you will see, was pretty much the same.

Pic two shows the best I could get out of that tangled mess. Again, it leaves a lot to be desired I know, but you must look down the road a bit and trust your ability to improve on it in time, with the proper training.

This next pic doesn’t show much improvement for one years time, but you can tell it is very healthy and growing like it should.

Finally a little light at the end of the tunnel, as we are now starting to show some improvement with a little branch structure beginning to take shape. This pic was taken last year in 2011.

But now look at it this year just before the fall work has begun. The summers decandeling brought forth many new buds therefore giving me much to choose from for new branch structuring.

And finally the little shohin maybe has a future. It won’t be much but it will be fun to work with and make something out of almost nothing.

This next little guy isn’t much different than the first one. Notice it too had a wild beginning with foliage going everywhere and no design whatsoever. So again I had to do the best I could with what I had, which wasn’t very much.

After contemplating until I could do no more, this is what I ended up with, something that probably anyone else would just toss in the garbage.

So about a year later the tree is progressing good with healthy new candles, but not much going for it in the design deptartment. Also, do you notice the roots protruding out from the collander? Here in Texas where the summers are horrendous with heat for such a long period of time and the fact that JBPs must be in full sun, this guy and a few others were sitting in a shallow tray of water and they just loved it. With the proper soil, this doesn’t hurt the tree one bit. I’m not encouraging others to do this because their different climate zones would probably not need this type of care for their trees.

Here we are now with the fall 2012 work done on this one and as you can see it’s really improving a lot. Not enough to make it a great shohin, something I’m sure it will never be, but something I can look back and say I created with time and patience.

Next time I’ll have a few more progressions, some with finished JBP.

Part Two

Continue Reading – Part 2

November Bonsai Tips

All bonsai should be dormant by now, but if the weather or storage temperature has been too warm they may not be, and care must be taken to prevent a second growth.

Location: Same rules as October. Guard against cold winds, frost and snow storms. Even some freak warm days too.

Watering: Less water this month, but do not let tress dry out even during dormancy. Trees are very sensitive even if they are dormant. Keep an eye on drainage. Never water bonsai when it is frozen.

Trimming: Remove any leaves remaining on deciduous trees. Be sure all fruit and seed pods are off too. This is a good month to remove all tip burned needles on pines, and any unsightly or extra long second year needles. This is also the time for the second trimming on black pines.

Training: Most branches will be too brittle to wire and bend this month.

Fertilizing: No fertilizing this month.

Do not attempt any this month.

Miscellaneous: It is a good time to collect native materials in the Southern states.

Having Bonsai Trouble? It’s All About The Basics

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard Fred say, “It’s all about the basics … all your problems with your bonsai boil down to an issue with either light, air, or water.”

I got several pre-bonsai from Dallas Bonsai Garden about a year ago and had been having trouble with them.

The reason: Not enough light!

The back yard is shaded, but it’s secure. The problem was, I had run out of spots for bonsai that were both sunny and cat proof. I had no real choice other than to make use of the front yard.

I had erosion issues out front, so I built a retaining wall. That gave me the ability to spruce it up a bit with mini pine bark nuggets, and well, you can see it in the image below.

The plants that were in dire straights were the Japanese Maple that I wired in a video a couple months back and wasn’t doing so great, and 3 junipers that were rapidly dying. So, I put them out front.

As you can see in the image below, I buried the Japanese Maple in the pot. to soil level, then spread mini pine bark nuggets around it. It looks like a planting, although it’s too close to the stoop. But, I’ll move it later.

The Maple was not budding as spring came. Whatsmore, I snapped a branch while I was tweaking the shaping of it. I forget how pliable they are until they all the sudden break. I was hoping that the cambium layer was undamaged and would keep the branch alive, and together with the wire that was on it, the branch would survive, but it didn’t.

You can see the break and the branch above the break that I am trying to create the new branch from below.

This Japanese Maple has been through a lot. A couple years ago, before I bought it, it must have fallen on it’s head because the main trunk was broken off. There were several new branches forming from this area, so I made use of one of them.

The picture is a little hard to see, (darn point and shoot cameras!) but you can make out that the top was broken, and I wired a new branch upwards.

Over time, this will become the new trunk.

The first two weeks after I put the maple out front, new growth formed. I used plain water and watered it heavily.

The third week, I used weak fertilizer one day and watered the next.

The fourth week, the leaves appeared overnight. It’s looking really good and healthy now.

The junipers have begun their recovery as well. You can see from the image below that there were areas of dried out, but still alive foliage, and areas of seemingly dead foliage. But the same fertilizing routine, and long sunny days brought new growth and the junipers are bouncing back.

It may seem obviously wrong, but too many times I find myself trying to make a plant live within the growing conditions I have available. But that’s not how it works. We need to pick plants that thrive in the environment we have available.

Junipers and maples don’t do well in shade. They need a certain amount of direct sunlight every day. Similarly, ficus are not going to do well in direct sun and a dry climate – they need part sun/shade and a nice humid environment.

I find it funny that I make the same mistakes over and over, but one day, hopefully, I will learn. Now, that I’ve realized how to disguise my bonsai out front, I may be able to get some more to experiment with.

Wish me luck!

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