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Category Archives: Bonsai Care & Advice

January Bonsai Tips

Fred Meyer

This month and February are hang on months. Try to keep your Bonsai hanging on until spring arrives. We hear more sad stories of demise during this time than at any other time of the year. Why now?

It’s the same thing I preach about all the time. Light and Water. Our shortest day of the year is December 21 and we ever so slowly add a minute or two each day to our daylight time. All evergreen Bonsai need light and they suffer during this period.

Water. Our homes during this period are heated and this drops our humidity to desert levels. Kinda great for humans versus high humidity days, but it causes the Bonsai soil and thus the plant to dry out. Watch your Bonsai and water. Remember, with good draining soil you can water daily. But don’t let the Bonsai sit in water in a drip tray.

Indoor: Be sure to check your Bonsai daily for dry soil, effects of low light and pests. Keep your soil evenly moist…which means damp, but not soggy wet. If your Bonsai appears to be losing leaves in the interior part of its branches it’s because it is not receiving enough light. You may need to add a plant light or move the Bonsai to a higher light location.

Outdoor: It’s what you don’t see by casual observation that may do your Bonsai in. Your Bonsai’s most important area of consideration should be the roots and therefore the soil. Be sure your outside Bonsai’s roots are enclosed in soil and the soil is moist. Just because the Bonsai is dormant doesn’t mean that its roots don’t need a small bit of moisture to sustain them. The pot can crack in low temperatures and various varmints can eat the delicious roots

Again….Happy New Year! Now that we are back into the normal chaos of daily living be kind to your Bonsai and treat it with loving care. It will reward you for it in many ways..

December Bonsai Tips

All bonsai should be dormant by now. In colder areas they will have been put in cold frames, or other storage for the winter.

Location: Guard against any and all of Nature’s changeable weather conditions.

Watering: The same rule applies here as last month. Watch watering under frozen conditions. If soil is kept too wet the pot may crack.

Trimming amd training: Can be done under caution.

Fertilizing: None.

Transplanting: Only bare-root nursery stock can be transplanted in a mixture of sand and very little soil. Do not pot any bare-root until spring.

Grafting: December, January, and February are the best months for grafting conifers, for this is the coldest season and the trees are completely dormant. At this time there is no pitch to isolate scion from understock.

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

Fred Meyer:

  • Water as needed – which means checking your Bonsai soil daily to see or feel if your soil is drying out. A lot of this will depend on the humidity of the surroundings and how active your Bonsai’s growth is this time of year.
  • Check for insects or disease continuously. This comment is not meant to cause paranoia. Its focus is for you to be observant to the overall health and well being of your Bonsai. You can tell if there is a yellowing and falling off of leaves. You can tell if there is a change in the color of the foliage or needles. These are indications that something is changing … some of this is natural and some of this can be from spider mites or other critters. Just be mindful that, as with us, when there is a change in appearance it can be a normal thing or a thing that is the first indication of a larger problem that is just in the formative stages.
  • As to light – For deciduous Bonsai: this is not a problem as there are bare of leaves this time of year. For evergreen Bonsai – this is a problem. December 21 is the shortest day of the year. Meaning there is little natural light during the month of December. For some Bonsai with few leaves this will not be a problem. But for most evergreen Bonsai this is a problem. You may need to give your Bonsai some artificial light to help it through this low light period. Plant lights can be purchased at most large Grocery stores in their light bulb departments or at the large box home improvement warehouses in either incandescent or fluorescent. Fluorescent or incandescent lights will both do the same basic work for your Bonsai. You need a light fixture for either and that may make your mind up as to which one. Just remember incandescent (or light bulbs) do emit a lot of heat. Fluorescents do not, but have larger fixtures to contend with.

How do you bonsai in January?

Every month gives us an opportunity to spend time on and in our great bonsai hobby. January is no different. Even though half of the United States is wrapped in a blanket of either snow or ice, or cold, there are things you can do now to grow your knowledge and spend time with your trees.

A great way to stay involved in the hobby during the Winter months is by learning more about the many different aspects of bonsai by reading, watching videos, and listening to our Bonsai: Conversations with a Master Series. Any of these will increase your knowledge of bonsai and not only make it easier for you to care for your plants; it will also make it easier for you to produce the styles and looks that you are hoping for with your plants.

As far as your bonsai are concerned, January is a great time to shape and prune the roots on your plants.

Deciduous plants like maples, elms, and the like are dormant and can be easily shaped because without leaves, it’s easy to see everything. Depending upon the style you have chosen for the plant, you can remove all of the branches, from fine to large and dead, that need to be removed to make your tree look like a large tree in miniature.

Deciduous trees and Juniper plants are either fully dormant or dormant enough to prune the roots during January and February. When you are pruning the roots, the first task is usually to shake out all of the dirt and comb the roots. Then, the second task is to prune the roots. Just remember that you want to remove 20 – 30% maximum. That means that when you are combing the roots, and the roots break off in your rake, you count those roots in the total 20 – 30%. A good rule of thumb is to think of it just like a haircut: remember that you can always take more off, you can’t put it back on. So, as in most things, “less is more!”

So, even if it is 16 degrees outside and there is 6 foot high snow drifts, you can still enjoy the bonsai hobby. One of the great things about this hobby is there is always something to do. Like I said, this month, you can learn, shape, and root prune your plants. There is more than enough to keep you interested, but not so much that it’s a chore. That’s what I love about bonsai. The bonsai hobby is one of the most rewarding, yet least expensive hobbies in the world. 

The Two Rules of Winterizing – Location and Fertilizer

Well, it’s that time again – Winter! Old Jack Frost will be blowing all over the US soon. Ok, except for those ideal climates on the West Coast that are in a special climate zone. Not only did we all learn that San Francisco is in an eternal spring this year, I also spoke with someone from Vancouver, Canada who said their average yearly temperature is 70 degrees. So, except from you guys and gals on the West Coast who are thumbing your noses at the rest of us, we all need to prepare for Winter.

There is two things you should be thinking right now: location and fertilizer.

If you are in the South, you probably had your tropical’s outside until recently. As the temperatures drop, it’s a good idea to bring them inside because they like warm, moist environments. Some like more sun than others, but warm, moist environments are a necessity. So, where is a warm moist environment in your home? Even if it’s the bathroom, that’s where your plants need to be. You may even need to run a humidifier. Remember, the heaters remove the moisture from the air, so, even though your house may be warm, the plants probably won’t have a proper environment. You will have to create one for them.

For outdoor varieties, like deciduous maples, elms, etc. you have 3 options: leave them where they are; bury them, pot and all, in the ground; or move them to the garage or a cold room that is insulated from extremely low temperatures. If you have quality Japanese pots, and you live in a temperate climate, then you can most likely leave them outside where they are. If you expect a lot of snowfall and freezing temperatures, then you can either bury them in the ground pot and all, or bring them inside. By burying them in the ground, you are utilizing the grounds ability to retain heat. The ground will not freeze as fast, or as deep as the soil in an exposed plant in a pot will. Inside a garage is a good alternative for your plants, but there is usually not a lot of light in garages. True, the plants will be in a dormant, to semi-dormant state and will not use a lot of light, but some varieties still track photoperiod, or length of the day to know when to come out and start growing again in spring.

As to fertilizer, you should tattoo this on your arm if you need to because as long as you grow bonsai you must always remember: six (6) weeks before the first frost, you should start giving your bonsai 0-10-10 fertilizer. The low nitrogen helps the plant focus on strengthening the roots during the winter and prepares it for nice quality growth in the spring. This is an absolute must for winterizing regardless of the variety. I do it with tropical’s too because during the winter, the tropical’s aren’t going to be growing much, there isn’t enough light. So all you are essentially trying to do is keep them happy enough so all the leaves don’t fall off. Again, you need humidity to make sure of that.

So remember, start fertilizing your bonsai now with 0-10-10 and prepare a place to move them, or identify what exactly you are going to do with them over the winter. They don’t need much over the winter, just your protection. If you take care of them, they will pay you back in the spring with lush foliage and fantastic growth – for a bonsai. As always, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask!


Fred Meyer

How To Maintain A Bonsai In The Summer

Ahhh, the great outdoors in the summer. What can you say about it other than “PHEW! It’s hot!”

Let’s take a look at what’s going on, why it’s so hot, what your bonsai needs at this time of year and finally, the real secrets of maintaining your bonsai through the summer.

There are two times of the year with extreme environmental conditions that you have to prepare for, and maintain thorough in order to keep your bonsai healthy, vibrant and ALIVE!

Winter and Summer.

We normally think of winter as the worst, but more trees probably die in the summer months than in the winter. The reason? It’s really hot! We’ll here in the South it’s hot anyway. Up North, it feels hot and can be stifling, but I’m sure there are places along the coasts where sea breezes keep it pleasurable. Still, for most of the country, it’s sweltering!

As you probably remember from 7th grade Earth Science (or the Discovery Channel) The Earth has rotated on it’s axis so that the sun’s rays are beating down upon us full force! That means, if it’s not overcast, almost every drop of water is going to be evaporated out of the top inches of ground and tree leaves and put into the air making it humid. In the Summer, there also seems to be less wind (where I live) and that makes one really sticky situation! Thank god for air conditioning!

Your trees have their own type of air conditioning. They circulate water as they evaporate it. Imagine cool water from the ground coming up through the roots, into the trunk and out to the leaves. The water goes from very cool, almost cold in the ground to hot by the time it reaches the leaves. This happens up to 90 degrees. At 90 Degrees, the stomata (the little pores) on the leaves of plants close to protect the plant and retain moisture.

That’s how “regular” trees in the ground do it – but what about your bonsai? Let’s compare.

When a tree is in a pot (bonsai) then the access to plenty of cool ground water is limited. That means it has less access to water.

Think about that. With less access to cool water, a bonsai has less ability to cool itself and adjust to varying conditions.

What this means is, leaf curl and leaf browning due to the heat. If a bonsai is not taken care of daily during this time of year, the leaves will completely die and fall off, and then the plant will die rather quickly.

So, what are the secrets to taking care of your bonsai during the summer? Water, fertilizer, and shade.

First, you can’t water enough in the summer! Ok, well, you can water too much anytime of the year, but that depends on your soil. If you have used potting soil (tsk, tsk) then all that peat moss is going to hold water – and attract fungus, then fungus gnats, and then spiders to eat the gnats, and all manner of other insects – see why we suggest porous, well draining soil?

So, water, water, water! Up to a maximum of 5 times a day. Ideally you will water before you leave for work, water the minute you get home, and check them again before you retire for the night. Your job in the summer is to make sure your little trees have all the water they can use.

Proper nutrition ensures we grow to our full potential. Your plants are the same. When you give your plants a healthy amount of the beneficial nutrients, vitamins and minerals that they need to grow, they will grow strong, healthy, and beautiful. In the summer, you should water your bonsai at 3 / 4 to full strength fertilizer once a week, or make a 7 times diluted version and use it every time you water in a constant feed (1 gallon full strength makes 7 gallons constant feed).

Finally, shade. Some species of plants will not do well in shade – like Junipers – so research your plant some. But other plants, like maples and azaleas could use some shade in the summer. The thing to remember is full shade is not good. What bonsai need is a portion of the day in full sun and a portion in shade. If you have a choice, then morning sun and afternoon shade would be ideal. But, the reverse would work. So if possible, put your bonsai on the Eastern side of your house, or against the Eastern side of a wall.

Well, there you have it! Now you know exactly why your bonsai’s leaves are curling up and turning brown and what to do about it. You also know what you need to do to keep your bonsai healthy and happy through the summer. It all comes down to the laws of nature vs. the desire of man. If you want a beautiful bonsai, you will have to protect it and simulate nature as much as possible. Just remember, water, fertilizer and shade.

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