Bonsai Blog

All posts by MMiller

Why’s it so warm? Maybe it’s global warm, uhh, climate change

I don’t know what’s going on with the weather. We had our first freeze in Texas and friends all across the South have told me that they did too, yet it’s 60 degrees here. In January!

Did I miss a memo about the weather?

What this means is that we quite possibly need to move our plants in and out every day in some areas of the country. It will all depend upon your specific environmental conditions, but if you live in the South, like me, then odds are you can bring your plants out during the day and in during the night. You might even leave them out if the night time temperatures will be above freezing.

Actually, some species, like Acer Palmatum (Japanese Maple), can withstand a soil temperature of 20 degrees. But after that, the roots freeze. Of course, if the plant is in a pot, the soil in the pot will cool significantly faster than the soil in the ground. So always play it safe.

The deciduous trees will not really benefit from being outside now versus being in the garage, but conifers will because it will help to keep them from drying out. The same is true for tropicals – if it’s warm enough.

You see, the house is a very dry environment. So, plants dry out and grow slower unless they are adapted to being in a low humidity environment. Bringing them outside this time of year will serve to help them stay moist and healthy.

This reminds me of a good point about tropicals. In the tropics, they have seasons. The rainy season and the not rainy season. Tropicals adapted to respond to things like photoperiods (length of light in a day) and amount of relative humidity instead of intensity of light and ambient temperature of the air (However, they will respond if it’s too cold in a way that you won’t like). That’s why, when you bring your ficus indoors, the leaves fall off. There isn’t enough humidity for the plant. You can either use nachi rocks to increase the humidity around the plant, get a humidifier, or, if it’s warm enough, move the plants outside during the day and inside during the night. You will have to test and see.

As to fertilizing, you should still be using the 0-10-10. We don’t want to get our bonsai growing now, we just want to keep them as happy and healthy as possible.

The First Bonsai Christmas

It was on Christmas Day in the Chinese calendar 1,200 years ago that the first bonsai was presented to the glorious Emperor of the Middle Kingdom, complete with a tiny star affixed the top of the perfectly tapered black pine from the mountains of Manchuria . . .

Not really, but happy Bonsai Christmas anyway! This season of giving is actually the perfect time to get into the bonsai game for yourself or for a friend or loved one ― or if you’re already an enthusiast, to grow your hobby during the holidays (pun fully intended, of course).

In fact, in this season of the year when lovely pines and firs have been chopped down by the millions to decorate our houses, this may be the best time of all to brighten the lives of those who love green and growing things.

That said, and list in hand and checked twice, where to start? If you’re a beginner yourself or thinking of turning someone into one this season, just picking up a “mallsai” (the stiff & dying junipers you see complete with glued-in pebbles at checkout counters nationwide) isn’t the answer. Neither is gifting somebody a grapevine stump-in-a-pot from a mail order fruit vendor the solution.

Been there, done that personally, came here instead.

It pays, you know, both in living greenery and folding green to get the good stuff. Which, modestly, you’ll see loads of from poking around ― from an intimate little snow rose to the rare medium well done of miniature Japanese pines on hand.

Knowing that the bonsais you’re buying are from bonsai experts in the field and not grapefruit growers in the valley should just be the starting point for you this Christmastime (or any other). The next step should be indulging your giftees with the proper pots, tools and all things soil-related, which you’ll find here a’plenty. After all, this has been a passion of ours for half a century, decades before the internet invited us into your warm home & busy office.

And speaking of you, what about your own wish list and the other enthusiasts on your list? For the tyro to the all-pro, you’ll find a sled-load of rare and useful items (like the delicious dragon pots from Tokaname) to upgrade an existing specimen collection or set out for the job ahead, come spring.

That said, if you’re already an expert in the art & science of bonsai, be sure to treat yourself (or have someone give you) the brilliant Bonsai: Beginner to Advanced – Conversations with a Master in digital or print versions (or both!) and/or the landmark Bonsai Techniques I by John Naka ―autographed, if you please, a true collector’s item. And for something really special, consider the breathtaking The Imperial Bonsai of Japan with very special Christmas pricing. You’ll never part with it ― ever.

Beyond that, whether you’re just finding your way along the bonsai path or brushing up on the half-remembered bits, there are dozens of other resources right here, 24-hours a day to help, including our unique, free Bonsai Channel streaming video series of tips and techniques.

We’re all part of one big, beautiful bonsai family, you see, and we believe that right down to every grain of river sand we sell. So happy bonsai Christmas to all, and to all, a good-night!

Getting a 3 gallon Maple into a Bonsai pot – The process

I love to buy high quality Japanese Maples and turn them into bonsai. The problem is they come in large pots – typically 3 gallon. That’s a lot of roots! Way too many roots for a bonsai pot. After much trial and error, I realized that I could slowly (I mean slowly) reduce the roots each month in a series of raking’s and soakings. I like this method because I don’t have to wait for the plant to go dormant to do root pruning and then hope I didn’t do too much root pruning. Because If I do too much root pruning while the tree is dormant, It will die, but slowly as it comes back to life.

In the photo below, you can see how I have been taking soil out slowly.


Here is the root ball after the tree has been pulled from the pot. As you can see, the root ball is too large for a bonsai pot and I have gotten to the point where it is all roots.


Here, I am taking a rake and lightly dragging it across the outer surface of the root ball. I’m keeping the pressure light so I don’t do a lot of damage, but since the root ball is down to the roots, I know I am doing some. But here is the inspiration that made me realize this would work: Bugs and critters eat the roots from time to time and do moderate amounts of damage, yet the tree recovers. If I simulate this small damage and give the tree time to recuperate, then not only am I expediting the time it takes to get the tree into a bonsai pot, I am helping the tree strengthen itself.


Here is a photo of the root ball in process.


Here is the finished root ball. In all, I probably took off about a ¼ of an inch. The outer roots were damaged, but it will actually stimulate new growth. This is why I have found I need to alternate raking with soaking on alternate months.


Below is the tree and root ball back in the pot. You can see how there is a little more space in the pot. Next month, I will take my garden hose to the root ball and let the water wash away some dirt. This way, the roots will have 2 months to heal back before I rake them again.

This process will actually keep the roots the same size because they grow back at the rate I am removing them, but the soil will be dislodged from the roots and the root ball will be more compact. When the tree goes dormant, then, I can cut 15-20% of the roots back as normal. Then, the roots will fit into a bonsai pot, and I won’t have to be too aggressive with the root pruning.

After you do this, you will have to keep your plant in the shade, and keep it well watered. If you remember nothing else, remember this:

Less is more!

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