Category Archives: Growing

Making a Bald Cypress Bonsai Forest

One of my first articles for this newsletter, was on the topic of Bald Cypress.

In that newsletter I told of my experiences with acquiring a nursery bald cypress, and how I thought it was a good tree for beginners to work on. Needless to say, those are still my feelings. In this article I will show how easy it is to make something so simple, look so attractive. For those of you who don’t have access to bald cypress seeds or seedlings in your area, I will provide a link to where you can purchase some excellent bald cypress seedlings used in making this forest project.

As I cruise over the internet bonsai forums, from time to time I hear people ask about bald cypress used for bonsai, and especially on how they could make theirs look like something they see in nature. For this reason, I am using multiple bald cypress seedlings to make a five tree forest, and hopefully to give the illusion of something you would see traveling from the distance of a bald cypress swamp area. I’ll admit that some people don’t believe that five trees would be considered a forest rendition, but to keep the cost down, and to make it simple for beginners, I used five seedlings only.

I came across my seedlings at a recent state convention where in the vendors area, the person who I am supplying the link to was selling these for use in a forest type setting. He also has dawn redwood seedlings to use that are very similar to bald cypress, and that might be another option for someone who would like to try a redwood forest.

The picture below shows five individual bald cypress seedlings used for my forest.

And this picture shows the pot I decided to use to plant them in. I decided on this one because it was somewhat deep, and you’ll need a little depth for your first transplanting, so as to not disturb the root system too much on these tender seedlings, while placing them in their prearranged positions in the pot. I chose not to wire the trees in, but if you feel uncomfortable about this, you can wire yours in. I also liked the shape and color. I thought the white would contrast good with the green foliage of the cypress.

As a reference on how to place the trees, I used John Nakas Bonsai Techniques I. He shows a few different ways to make a five tree placement. This picture shows a prearranged placement before taking the trees out of their nursery pots.

Once you’ve decided on which trees will go where in your pot placement, all that is left is to lift the trees out of their nursery pots and place them in your bonsai pot. Now this is where the depth of the pot will really come in handy. Since these trees will actually be in training, the depth will allow you to place the trees in the pot and simply place bonsai soil around each tree and maybe pack it in a little by pressing down on the base of each tree.

This allows you to not disturb the root system very much for now, and in a few years all the roots should be more or less joined together making it easier for transplanting into a more shallow pot if you desire, or especially if you plan on moving your forest to a slab.

The picture below shows the finished forest in its bonsai pot.

For all practical purposes, I left the trees a little taller than what most people recommend, simply because in real life, these trees are very tall and should stand out for that reason. Generally you wouldn’t want the tallest tree to be much bigger than the length of the pot. Something like this

Of course if you decide to move your forest to a slab later, the tall trees would fit right in.

And here’s the forest after only six weeks growth.

Was that easy or what? I sure hope you’ll try one of these easy bald cypress forests. I purchase my bald cypress and dawn redwood seedlings from www.bonsai-mart.com.

Once you’ve accessed the site, go to the left hand side and click on “Starter Trees”. When the new page comes up, scroll down to the very bottom and click on “Bald Cypress”.You will also notice somewhere on the starter trees page, a link for “Dawn Redwood” trees, if you would prefer to use these instead of the bald cypress.

Now for those of you who have access to bald cypress seeds and are not in a big hurry to make your forest, but also have never tried sowing these seeds, here’s a few quick tips. My first attempt at sowing these seeds were futile. It wasn’t until I read somewhere that when these seeds drop off in nature, they are usually in a swamp setting, and probably float down stream and get stuck in some mushy area and just sit and actually rot open. Below is a picture of the round hard cone and what the seeds inside will look like when the cone or the outer shell housing them finally breaks off.

I tried to replicate natures work by letting the cone sit all winter in a cold wet environment outside, in a pail of damp soil. The cones were picked off a bald cypress tree in early October, and by late January or early February, the cone started falling apart exposing the seeds inside. The seeds were then ready for planting.

Now here’s the tricky part, don’t sow the seeds anymore than 1/2 to 3/4 inches in depth. I sowed seeds at this depth and some probably a couple of inches in depth at the same time, and the only ones that sprouted were the shallow depth ones. Below is a picture of a seedling still attached to its seed as it is sprouting.

Don’t remove the attached seed, let it drop off naturally. Notice the coarse soil. These seedlings would probably prefer something not as coarse, but if this is all you have, that will work too.

In just a few weeks your seedlings will start to take on the appearance of a bald cypress tree.

And in just three months time you should have something like these seedlings, well on their way to becoming the same kind of tall bald cypress you would see out in the wild.

In about two years you should have something ready to work with for a small forest, or if you like, to continue to grow and maybe make a single specimen or two. Good luck.

Let’s Talk Bonsai Soil

One of the biggest discussions in the world of bonsai, is the one concerning the soil mix that we use to grow our trees in. Seems everyone has their own special mix, and the next guys just isn’t good enough. This could be awful confusing to the beginner who is wanting to do everything right so as not to be responsible for too many dead trees if he can help it.

So many articles have been written for bonsai publications and online forum discussions, that there really isn’t anything more I could add to make a difference. I know what works for my trees and I won’t try and convince anyone that mine is the mix that everyone should be using. Rather than that, I would like to just say a few words about the basics of soil composition for the beginners out there.

One thing most bonsai growers will agree on, is that whatever type of mix you use, it needs to be well draining. And of course the reason for this is to eliminate the possibility of root rot. For this reason you should be using a soil mixture which most people would call coarse or gritty. Some of the ingredients for this type of soil mix might consist of sand, which will need to be a specific size and not your playbox type. Here’s a picture of the correct type sand to use, which should be grit#00 or #0. This picture shows #00 on the left and #1 on the right, which would be too small a grit to use because it will probably compact on you, and that’s not what you want to have happen.

Crushed lava is another componet that people like to use.

Calcined clay, pumice, a patented item known as Turface, or another highly acclaimed product from Japan known as Akadama, are all used by bonsai enthusiasts.

Now which of these materials is used together is where a lot of the controversy begins. I’ve talked to a few highly respected bonsai artists, and most of them like to use the Akadama- pumice mix with nothing more addded except maybe a little crushed lava thrown in. When I say nothing more added, I mean no organics added to the mixture. Organics in this case is referred to as landscapers mix, which usually consists of pine bark mulch with a bit of sphagum moss and maybe a touch of perlite. Some people don’t like to spend the extra money on Akadama since it is an imported item, and for this reason will not use this type of mix. Others say they can see no difference from that and the standard clay-sand-organic mix.

The landscapers mix should be sifted to get out both the very fine parts which has a consistency of powder almost, and the very large pieces which are of no use in the mix.

Large pieces have been sifted out
Sifted material ready to be mixed in with the other components of choice

A good set of sifting screens should be purchased which will make the job a lot easier and enjoyable.

Soil sieves/sifting

The health of your trees, excluding insect infestation, will really come down to the type of soil mix you have and whether or not your trees are taking up sufficient water, or whether they are drowning in water. The soil mix should also be helpful when you fertilize. There is a purpose for using these specific ingredients, and this link will point you to an article that should really be helpful to you in explaining this.

http://www.evergreengardenworks.com/soils.htm

(Link Used with the kind permission of Brent from evergreengardenworks.com)

Well after reading all that, I would just like to sum this article up by saying this: since your bonsai soil mix will not really be a soil but will actually be soiless, it is imperative that you fertilize, and that you do it often.

Fertilization is another aspect of bonsai where many people will have differing opinions on which fertilizer to use and which is best. Again, I won’t give my opinion on this, only a few facts to help you decide.

Many people, myself included, like to use mainly organic fertilizers. Organic fertilizers are slow release and allow the plant somewhat of a continual feeding this way. Just like the soil ingredients that have a specific purpose, so do the different types of organic fertilizers. For instance bone meal would be to help the root system. Fish emulsion is a good source of nitrogen. The only thing wrong with using these components by themselves, is that they have no trace minerals to dispense to the plant. All plants need trace minerals for optimum health, kind of like taking a multi vitamin pill.

One mineral that a good healthy plant will need and won’t be found in your basic bonsai soil mix is Magnesium. This minerals function in plants is in the manufacture of chlorophyll. I’m sure everyone knows the necessity of chlorophyll in the life of a plant. For this reason it is a good idea to give your trees a shot of chemical fertilizer every once in a while if your doing mainly organic fertilizing, because chemical fertilizers come with these trace minerals.

Now that’s not to say that there aren’t any organic fertilizers out there with these trace minerals added also. A good brand that many bonsai enthusiasts use is a product called Bio-Gold which is a fertilizer made in Japan. This is a product which can be ordered right here at Dallas Bonsai Gardens and should meet all of the needs any bonsai tree should need.

Note: Dallas Bonsai Gardens will soon be listing all the elements in English on a new fertilizer product from Japan. As most fertilizers from Japan are in Japanese, including the Bio Gold, this new product will be translated in English so that you will know exactly what you are getting.

If your working with any type of junipers in your collection, the trace minerals are a must. As I noted in my article on “Having Fun With The Juniper Procumbens” , if your starting to get yellow foliage even though your tree is in full sun, it’s probably because it’s lacking the needed trace minerals.

Showing the kind of rich and green foliage you should be getting if you have the right kind of soil mix and are applying fertilizer often.

You may decide to use only chemical fertilizers on your trees, and that’s okay too. Most chemical fertilizers come with an even proportion of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium to meet the plants basic requirements, plus added minerals.

Well I hope you’ll take some time and really read the article I’ve linked for you because repotting time is right around the corner. Many beginners dread repotting time when actually it should be something you look forward to. What better way of seeing what your many months of laboring by watering and fertilizing has accomplished, than by getting right in there and seeing for yourself. For those of you who feel unsure about your soil mix, or are hesitant to do your first repotting, maybe you could ask a fellow club member for help. All in all though, repotting is a necessary task in bonsai and your trees will love it also. Good luck with your soil mixes, and above all, have fun doing Bonsai.

Bonsai Seed Care

I know what you are thinking. A page dedicated to seeds? I thought you just opened the packet and stuck them in dirt. Well you are right, and you are wrong. I had good success for a long time doing just that. Or so I thought.

I was getting about an 80% germination rate, and grew many good plants with this method. Then, with a little knowledge, and courage. I found out how to germinate up to a week faster, and have hardier, stronger plants.

What’s the secret? It’s easy! Think Tree.

You should try to understand the life cycle of your chosen tree. This is good knowledge for you and will help you take better care of your bonsai.

Germination

Other than sticking them in dirt, there are two methods that I found to be useful. Stratification and Scarification.

Stratification – the process of freezing and thawing your seed in order to germinate them.

Scarification – using an emory board, or sandpaper to scratch the hard coat of some seeds in order to make germinating them easier.

* Many hard-coated seeds, such as hawthorn, hornbeam, pine and maples, actually need a period of cold before they can germinate. Some even need to be frozen for several weeks. This process of freezing and thawing is called stratification and is a natural mechanism designed to prevent early-shed seeds from germinating in autumn, only to be killed off during the following winter.

* Seeds of some species, especially hawthorn (crataegus spp.) and hornbeam (carpinus betulus) may take two years or more to germinate. The shells of these seeds are exceptionally hard and durable, and need this time to degrade sufficiently for the root and cotyledons to be able to burst through. Scarification of these seeds is essential if you don’t want to wait 2 years.

* Collect seeds of field maple (Acer campestre) or Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) in autumn and keep them in a paper bag until the middle of January. Then put them in a polythene bag with a handful of dry sand, seal the bag and pop it in the fridge. Within a few weeks most of the seeds will germinate and they can then be potted up and gradually hardened off ready to be put outside in spring. This way your seedlings will get off to a good start in their first crucial year.

*Sow acorns and other large fleshy seeds as soon as they are ripe. Such seeds are designed to be distributed by birds and animals who bury them in soil or leaf litter and then forget where they put them ­ which explains how species with heavy seeds, such as oaks and chestnuts, appear spontaneously great distances from the parent trees. Allowing fleshy seeds to dry out before sowing will render them unviable.

Storage

Storing seeds is really a simple subject. But I never can get over how many people ruin good seeds. So here are my thoughts on storing seed.

Seeds must be stored in a cool, dark, dry place. The perfect example of such a place is your sock drawer. Think of it. The drawer is usually closed, so it’s dark. This also keeps it cool, and since no-one likes putting on soggy socks, it is usually dry too. There you have it. If you can store socks there, you can store seeds.

What this means is…don’t store your seeds in the garage. Or the utility room. Or the shed. Inside your house there is less humidity. There is also less temperature fluctuation. Any drawer is a safe bet. Just avoid storing seeds under sink cabinets because moisture can collect there. Especially in older homes.

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