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Category Archives: Bonsai Care & Advice

Bonsai Soil – What You May Not Know

Bonsai soil is a different type of stuff altogether than your typical potting medium or native soil. It’s like night and day. Potting Medium is really nothing more than peat moss, sand, and perlite. Sometimes makers will add vermiculite and a starter fertilizer. Native soils range from acidic to alkaline, rocky to clay, and everything in between. While some native soils may be ideal for bonsai trees, they all too often harbor diseases that can kill a plant.

This means that we must use a special soil for our bonsai trees with specific properties that allow water to easily drain through. Because the pot is small, if water stood for a length of time longer than several hours, it would promote root rot, stem rot, and other diseases.

The truth about bonsai soil is that it is based on the native soil in Japan. If you were to look at the soil in Japan, you would see a mixture of clay, sand, stone, and other debris. This specific combination is caused by the formation of the island by volcano’s millions of years ago. When broken up, the soil creates balls of clay and stone and leaves many thousands of air pockets per square foot. If you pour water on top of it, The water runs immediately through.

Bonsai Soil emulates Japanese native soil by providing a mixture of several ingredients which are large particles that allow good drainage. Some would say it also supports the tree in the pot and this might be true to some extent, but it does not have to be because we wire the tree into the pot. It’s the wire that actually holds the tree in the pot. The ingredients in bonsai soil are typically bark, small gravel, sand, akadama (clay balls), perlite, and a small amount of peat moss. Any soil that has particles large enough for the water to easily percolate through due to air pockets between each soil particle. While we do want water to easily drain and percolate through the soil, we don’t want soil particles so large that the water pours straight through. This would kill the plant just as easily as a soggy soil would.

We carry a high quality bonsai soil, akadama, which is little baked clay balls that hold water and don’t fall apart, and Kanuma, mined in the Kanuma region of Japan, is a version of semi fired clay balls for acid loving plants. This is a type of Japanese native soil that is scooped up, screen sorted, and kiln dried to sterilize it. All three of these soils are ideal to be used alone, or as a mixture.

When you use quality specialized soil with your bonsai, you will notice your plants are much healthier and happier. It’s a difference you can see.

Learn more about soil:

Read Now: Bonsai Soils and their Usage

The only way to Winterize! View My Greenhouse

This month has been kind of slow for me as far as taking care of my bonsai go. Really, we’ve been very busy at the store. However, there is one bit of news I’m happy to share as I had mentioned it a couple months back.

Just in time for winter, my greenhouses are almost complete. I thought you would want to see them as they are completely different from other “greenhouses.” They are actually more similar to a floridian sun room. I thought of the design one night while I was watching TV and went to Home Depot, did some measuring, finalized my drawings and “voilà” here they are.

This first one is my tropical greenhouse. The roof is made of steel. My neighbor asked me, “Isn’t the roof supposed to be made of glass?” It’s a fair question. But as we know, tropicals live under a canopy of trees and prefer to recieve indirect light.

This next one is my “working” greenhouse. I will have room for specific plants and have a working area where I will be doing something top secret that all you bonsai lovers will appreciate! More on that soon.

This greenhouse has a glass panel roof like standard green houses do.

The beauty of these greenhouses is that there are sliding glass doors on all sides. If you need to cool it off, just open the doors. No need for fans and temperature control gauges. It’s not automatic, but I tend to watch things closely and figure them out. I bet by this time next year, I’ll know exactly which doors I’ll have to open and by how much for any temperature and wind direction. Wish me luck anyway.

So there you have it. It’s a new breed of greenhouse, but I think they are quite beautiful.

Summer Finale: What to Expect from your Bonsai

I titled this months article “Summer Finale” because for many people here in the U.S. and especially those in the northern states, summer is just about over. For those of us in the south, it won’t be long for us either.

With that in mind, maybe this would be a good time to reflect back a few months to both Spring and Summer. Remember how nice your trees looked right after the leaves opened. everything looked so good and so green, and you said to yourself, “this year I’m going to do whatever it takes to keep everything looking this good no matter what”.

You made sure your trees were always watered whenever they even showed a hint of dryness, and no one had to remind you about fertilizing them that’s for sure.

But then the summer months started rolling in, and with them came the heat, and for some, like us here in the Lone Star State, that heat was relentless and seemed to drag on forever. Summer heat is not only bad for humans as it taxes their body to extremes, but is just as bad for plants, because it puts stress on them to dangerous levels also. Just because you water your trees two or three times a day, doesn’t necessarily mean all is well.

As the heat begins to take its toll, your trees become susceptible to stress, and when that happens, insects,especially the kind you really can’t see, will start to wear your trees down even more. All of a sudden your trees are looking just the way you hoped they wouldn’t, leaves turning yellow, and some even browning out, and because they are mixed in with the many green leaves that are still holding on, you just hope for the best and pray that things will turn around soon enough. You think that maybe you over watered, so you cut back a bit on your watering, but the problem persists.

The insects that are almost microscopic are usually the ones that will cause you the most problems, mainly because it’s “out of sight, out of mind”.

One thing that every bonsai owner should develop a mindset for, is Preventive Maintenance. Just as you should be going to see a Dr. on an annual basis to try and stop something before it becomes life threatening, so should you be trying to prevent life threatening or even minor damage to your bonsai.

Everyone I’m sure would like their trees to look in the best of health all year long, and even minor yellowing can take away that possibility.

Aphids are just one of the very hard to see pests that can play havoc with your trees. Spider mites and Scale are another of the very hard to see also.

Some scale is microscopic and so camouflaged on some trees, that the damage isn’t apparent until it’s too late causing major damage to tree limbs. One of the things to counter an attack of scale, is horticultural oil, because the oil will smother the scale and cause them to die. But using this product in the summer could be dangerous for your trees as they might not be able to transpire as well as they should causing just as big a problem or even worse than the first. Even a summer type horticultural oil might cause problems.

For me, I found that Neem Oil, which is an organic product, works very well for scale on my ch. elms, and with no side effects. Any type of oil should be used with caution though in the summer.

Some problems as with aphids, will show signs that are quite apparent that something is not right. One of these signs is ants. If you notice ants traveling up and down some of your trees, it’s not an ant problem, but most likely an aphid problem, because the ants are harvesting the aphids. In the pictures below, notice the dead aphids on the leaves and even on the wire, after being sprayed with an insecticide.

Winter Bonsai – What to do for your Bonsai in Winter

For most bonsai enthusiasts winter is the time to slow down with our trees, mainly because they have slowed down. It is the time when we think of them as asleep, and we ourselves take a much needed rest also from the constant care of daily watering, sometimes two and three times a day in the hot relentless dog days of summer. And of course along with all the constant pruning and pinching, there’s always the need to be on the lookout for insect pests or some other disease that might make your life miserable as you try to just have fun doing bonsai.

As the trees go bare and the North winds start howling, we start thinking of winter care and the needs of the trees in this time of the year.

Depending upon where you live and how severe the winters are, will dictate the type of care needed. Those of you who live farther up North will have to find some kind of way to protect your trees from the severe cold, usually by burying them in the ground. For others whose winters aren’t so severe, maybe an unheated garage will suffice allowing you to still spend some time with your trees as they will be able to still be portable, meaning you will be able to move them around and not have to dig them up to spend some time with them every now and then.

That’s what this article is about. Rather than doing bonsai only eight or nine months out of the year, and then going crazy waiting for Spring so you can get back at it, why not do bonsai all year and enjoy it just as much. Again I understand there are some who just won’t be able to do this because of their location and their winters being so extreme, that this wouldn’t be practical. For those of you who have somewhat mild winters though, I hope you would try this.

What I’m getting at is looking at your trees without leaves and enjoying their beauty just as much and possibly even more. The best time to prune your trees and get rid of unneeded branches is in the winter. While doing this you can also style your trees to reflect their inner beauty, something you can’t see for most of the year because of the leaves.

One thing you will probably have to decide on though, is will this tree look better with leaves on or off. Most trees won’t look good both ways and you may have to decide which way you prefer. If you decide on a particular tree for the winter look, you will have to keep this in mind throughout the growing season, watching how much new growth is being added to the tree and keeping it in check. For the most part, your winter tree might not look so enticing in the summer because of your keeping the growth to a minimum. But if your like me you will be anticipating winter so you can enjoy its beauty in a different way than your other trees.

Take for instance this Chinese elm. This tree is grown for its winter look rather than the summer look. When it is in full leaf it can still be enjoyed, but whenever its leaves are pinched during the growing season, or if it’s in need of a little pruning, it will be done to a minimum, keeping in mind that it will be pruned more severly in the winter months to keep with the design of that season.

Now look at this trident maple.

The difference between the summer look and the winter look is almost like night and day. As much as I like the tree in full leaf, I like it even more though when it’s bare. There’s just something about a bonsai that has been trained for years and is finally showing off what it has to offer, not just in leaf but out of leaf also. It will show that you take the art of bonsai seriously because it will be your creation and your creation alone.

Here is another trident maple standing tall and looking good both ways.

I seriously thought about selling this Chinese elm before I did some major pruning during the winter break one year.

It was one of those trees that didn’t look too bad during the summer, but was somewhat unsightly during the winter because of its mass of branches supporting all those leaves. After spending some quality time with this tree and really cleaning it up, I decided this would also be one of those trees that I would prefer in the winter look.

The same goes for this Chinese elm. I was getting rather tired of its look and was debating whether or not I should get rid of it.

I always liked the look of the Chinese Penjing, especially their winter look. To me, they conjure up my imagination when I’m looking at pictures of them this way. I decided to try and make this tree into something that would make someone elses imagination run wild. I really like the way this one came out in the Penjing look.

The summer look isn’t too bad either, but not as good as the winter look.

So there you have it, another way to stay busy with your bonsai during the slow times, and another way to work on your styling.

I bet there will be quite a few of you who will really adapt to the winter look and will be looking forward to this time of the year just as much
as you look forward to Spring. Good luck.

Note: For those of you who asked, there will be an article on the Chinese Elm coming in the near future.

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