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Root Pruning and Re Potting

Root Pruning and Re-potting 1

An important job necessary each year to ensure the health and vitality of a bonsai is root pruning and re-potting.

The roots of a healthy tree will grow rapidly throughout the growing season filling the pot and compacting the soil and depleting it of nutrients.

Root pruning and re-potting helps to create finer feeder roots and in turn finer more compact foliage, and it replaces the depleted soil with fresh soil that is airy and full of nutrients for the new forming roots to spread into and feed from.

A daunting job for beginners

This can be a daunting job especially for beginners, and I must admit I still get a little nervous each year when I repot my own collection, even though I have had very few problems.

It’s probably more the thought of the process, (ripping a perfectly good tree from its pot, hacking off it’s roots and then sticking it back in the pot with a handful of new soil) rather than the process itself, which if done with care is extremely beneficial for the tree.

The only time you will run into issues is if you do this at the wrong time of year and the after care is not thorough.

The Right TimeRoot Pruning and Re-potting.mp4 2015.07.08 12.06.11.418

Different tree varieties can vary as to when “the right time” to repot is, but the safest time to repot for the majority of trees is in early spring just before new growth starts to emerge.

How to root prune and repot a bonsai

The most important thing is to be well prepared before beginning this job to make sure that your trees are not out of their pots for any longer than necessary or stressed due to excessive heat, being too dry or too cold (chance of frost etc.).

Have all your tools, fresh soil, wire and watering setup all ready to go, I like to make sure my trees have been thoroughly watered somewhere within the last 12 hours before repotting to make sure they are also well hydrated.

Foliage Pruning

It is a good idea wherever possible to prune back some foliage on the tree before root pruning to help balance the ratio of foliage needing to be fed with the amount of roots that will be left after we have pruned the roots.

Note:
This is not a hard and fast rule as it really only applies to trees that still have active foliage after winter i.e. evergreens.

Removing Your TreeRoot Pruning and Re-potting.mp4 2015.07.08 11.38.52.815

Before removing your tree from it’s pot check for any wiring that may become a problem, such as the tree still wired into it’s pot, or branches wired down and anchored somewhere that may get in the way.

Remove any moss, rocks or pebbles from the soils surface and put aside as you may be able to re-use some of these if you wish.

Once clear hold your tree at the thickest part of the trunk as low down as you can and gently extract it from its pot, put the pot to one side and get set up in a clear work area.

Teasing the roots

Using a root rake or similar, start to tease out the roots working from the top, along the sides and underneath, loosening soil and lengthening out the roots. Some force may need to be applied, but only use necessary force to get the job done attempting to minimize as much un-necessary damage as possible.

Trimming rootsRoot Pruning and Re-potting.mp4 2015.07.08 11.50.18.682

Once the majority of roots are teased out and soil has been loosened, use a sharp, clean pair of shears to remove around a third of the overall mass of roots.

Prepare your pot

You may be putting the tree back into the same pot or at this time you may have chosen to change the pot, either way you need to prepare the pot the same.

Make sure the drainage holes are covered with mesh and secured in place, choose a front of your pot (pot may have blemishes you wish to hide or patterns etc.), place a small amount of fresh soil in the bottom of the pot and a handful of slow release fertilizer (not everyone agrees with me on the fertilizer so it’s your call, just make sure it is slow release!)

Position your treePotting your tree 3.mp4 2015.07.08 11.54.35.890

This is a chance to get the most visually appealing position for both your tree and your pot.

If your tree is styled in anything other than a semi or full cascade then this is how it should be positioned.

Find the centre line of your pot and place the tree slightly to the right or left on this centre line, you can tilt your tree (right or left) at this point to give it some character, and you may need to build up the soil a little to get a full view of any features of the roots and trunk base above the base of the pot, and make sure that the top of the tree leans slightly forward to the front.

You can now wire your tree into the pot if required and begin replacing the soil.

Replacing the soilRoot Pruning and Re-potting.mp4 2015.07.08 11.58.51.464

Start to replace the soil around your tree poking it in gently with a chopstick or similar. You want to make sure you are filling any air pockets around the roots with soil but not jamming in soil too hard as we want it loose enough for new roots to grow into.

Once you have replaced all the soil, your tree is positioned correctly and held firmly in place, it’s time to thoroughly water it.

Watering your repotted bonsai

It’s now important to make sure that all of the soil is now thoroughly watered.

The best way to do this is to place the tree in a shallow container and slowly fill with water until it reaches the lip of the pot. You can spray the surface of the new soil until wet so it limits wash off, and then allow the tree to soak until it is wet right through.

Replace any moss stones and pebbles, water surface again to wet down, remove from shallow watering container, place tree in a sheltered position gradually moving back to its usual spot.

After careRoot Pruning and Re-potting.mp4 2015.07.08 11.45.49.275

The main things to consider for the next few weeks is your tree is secure and not moving around in the pot from wind or other reasons, and that the soil does not stay too wet for too long. Both of these things will kill off new roots as they form and your tree will struggle to recover.

Protect your tree from wind or where it can be bumped, and let the soil start to dry slightly before re-watering over the first couple of weeks or until fresh healthy new growth appears.

Bonsai Starter To Finished Tree

Juniper Bonsai Starter to Finished Tree.

While filming my beginners course I used a Juniper as my main demonstration tree. here is a short video of the process of taking a starter to a finished bonsai.

 

I have chosen this particular tree because of the amount of branches it has to work with, the movement in the trunk and the shape it already has that will allow it to easily fit within the guidelines of an informal upright style tree.

I begin by choosing what I think will be the front of the tree when completed, then I move onto the initial cleanup work to remove foliage and branches that will not be part of my finished tree, this allows me to see the structure of the tree and the flow of the trunk line much better.

I reduce the height of the overall tree so I can use the lower branches within the informal upright style.

I move onto wiring of the main branches and then choose a pot that is suitable, root prune and pot the tree in its new bonsai container.

Over time now I will continue to work on this tree and video it’s progress so you can see how easy it is to create, maintain and care for bonsai, and hopefuly inspire others to have a go and try it for themselves.

Bonsai Pruning Secrets

Fig BonsaiThere is one thing that seems to be a regular issue when customers finally decide to bring their bonsai in to the nursery for us to prune and re-pot them;

They leave it way too late!

A quality, healthy bonsai needs regular pruning to create compact pads of foliage, and to assist in reducing leaf size.

Most trees such as figs etc. If left to grow un-attended, will produce long leggy branches that will have an increase in distance between the pairs of leaves the longer they are allowed to grow.

As these branches grow (vigorously at first) they will also be producing vigorous root growth as they search for nutrients to feed this vigorous top growth, over time this causes the bonsai to become pot bound.

The vigorous root growth compacts the soil in the pot, and this makes it more difficult for the tree to get nutrients and water, which then causes it to begin to get sick, it will then start to drop any old leaves from the branches (the ones closest to the trunk!) leaving only the large leaves at the tips of long leggy branches!

This alone makes it very difficult to get a tree back to being a bonsai!

Best Pruning Practices

The best pruning practice is regular attention; major pruning can be done at the time of re potting and in the middle of the growing season if necessary, but compact healthy foliage and fine ramification of branches is achieved by regular consistent attention.

Follow the Triangle for Basic PruningBonsai triangular 200

If you are following one of the 5 basic styles of Japanese bonsai, then your tree should resemble a triangular shape (scalene triangle).

For very basic pruning your branches or foliage that have grown outside of this shape can be the first areas to prune back, to reveal the outline of a triangle again.

Remove any un-wanted growth from above or below a branch, and rub off, or pinch any growth out appearing at the base of the trunk, or on old wood where a branch is not wanted.

Pinching back Junipers

The best way to keep a juniper in shape and to create clouds of foliage is to pinch the tips of the new growth out by using your thumb and forefinger and twisting.

This removes the growing tip from inside the needles, without causing browning or die back that can occur if cut back with scissors.

Keep juniper growth thinned out to avoid pests hiding among the fine needles.

Alternate or leaf Pairs

To improve branch ramification on trees that grow pairs of leaves or alternate leaves along a branch, can be done by cutting lateral growth back to a pair of leaves, or to a single leaf pointing in the direction of the next shoot you want to grow.

Bonsai pruning Secrets

You don’t have to be a bonsai master to keep a tree healthy and looking good, it just takes a little bit of regular attention.

As you learn more about how to bonsai you will feel more confident in the amount of pruning you do.

The secret is not to leave it till it is stressed and over grown before you do something about it, as this is when it is more likely you will kill a tree, or have a large amount of die back leaving a tree that no longer resembles a bonsai and will take years to, or never recover.

Choosing Material to Bonsai

Bonsai StartersWhether you are buying a bonsai starter from your local nursery to train, or deciding which of your pot plants you are going to create your next work of art from, there are a couple of things you can look for that  may help speed up the process of achieving a much better bonsai sooner.

If you have read my previous post Bonsai, choosing the best tree for a beginner you should now have an idea of the variety of tree that will best suit your area, and if you have studied the 5 styles of Japanese Bonsai and have your mind set on a style you would like to attempt, it is best to then choose a tree that already has some or all of the characteristics of the style you wish to train your tree into.

It is easier to create a semi or full cascade style tree if the material already grows down over the side of the pot. A lot of varieties can be wired to create this effect but it saves the risk of breaking a branch if it already cascades naturally.

Choosing a front and back of a bonsai, and getting balanced branch placement is easier when you have several options. So choose material that has a substantial amount of branches to work with, this will give you more scope to work with.

Bonsai RootsWhen looking for good bonsai starters, also look below the surface of the soil to see how the roots have formed and see if this could be a feature of your new bonsai.

Training a trunk to curve or twist is much harder to do later, branches on the other hand can in most varieties be grown back down a trunk almost at any time, so choosing stock with a good trunk and root formation definitely helps get a better looking tree sooner.

A tree that has grown too tall to be a bonsai can be cut down to size and will usually make better bonsai much sooner than trying to get a small starter or cutting to grow into the sized bonsai you eventually want.

CHOOSING THE RIGHT MATERIAL TO BONSAI

  • Choose material that has some or all of the characteristics of the style you want to create.
  • Choose material that has a substantial amount of branches to work with
  • Choose stock with good trunk and root formation
  • Find material that you can cut down to size rather than grow into bonsai proportions

Choosing good material to work with in the beginning can save you years in acheiving good quality bonsai.

Bonsai, choosing the best tree for a beginner.

What Tree to BonsaiChoosing the best tree for a beginner is an important step in bonsai success!

As a beginner to bonsai, you have probably been inspired by trees that you have seen in pictures, on television, or in some type of display or demonstration.

Certain varieties catch your eye and you decide to rush out and find a tree of that variety and start to bonsai it!

Unless you have purchased that tree from a local nursery that has grown that variety themselves and can guarantee it will deal with the local conditions, you may be setting yourself up for failure!

Choosing the best variety of tree to begin with can be half the battle of keeping your tree alive and healthy, and make your experience of learning how to bonsai a much more enjoyable one.

If you have seen the particular variety you are interested in as a bonsai already, then at least you can be confident it is a variety that lends itself to the various elements and training techniques necessary to create a beautiful bonsai.

As with all trees, garden variety or bonsai grow better and with greater chance of survival if grown in the right zone for that particular variety.

Plant ZonesCheck with your local nursery or local gardening club to determine the zone you are in, and which varieties grow best in this zone.

My tip for anyone who wants the best chance for survival of their tree is choose a variety that flourishes in your local area, trees that grow almost like weeds are good candidates.

Where I live figs, bougainvilleas and elms are trees you do not want to grow in the ground unless you have a lot of room and well away from your house. They grow rapidly and are a lot of work to keep trimmed and tidy. In containers or grown as bonsai they are perfect specimens!

Another variety to keep in mind is hedge type trees (Box/ buxus) that respond well to hard pruning as well as ground covers that do well in your area. Junipers and pyracantha both grow as ground cover, but when held up with stakes or other ways until their trunks form can make exceptional bonsai.

The main thing is don’t get caught out buying a tree from a nursery that may have been brought in from another area and have little chance of survival or reaching its full potential. If you choose something local, firstly you will have an abundant supply of material to work with as well as the potential to find material that has been growing for a long time and have huge potential as a bonsai.

Pests The Silent Bonsai Killers

Bonsai PestsI’ve always said that there are 3 main things that kill most bonsai,

  • Too much water
  • Not enough water
  • Keeping your tree inside for too long

The truth is, there are a few more things that can kill your bonsai, or effect them badly enough to set them back years. The main one of these is the silent bonsai killer, PESTS.

Different varieties can be affected by different pests while some can be affected by them all.

PREVENTION IS THE BEST DEFENCE

Most pest infestations can be avoided by regularly checking your bonsai trees for signs of infection and dealing with it before it gets out of control.

Whenever possible I will water my trees by hand to allow me to get a close look at each tree to check for signs of pest on a regular basis.

Curled up or distorted leaves, sticky residue, trails of ants, a white powdery substance, small  white or black spots are all a sure sign something unwanted is hanging out in your tree.

PREVENTION AND CURE

Bonsai Pest ControlMost pest infestations can be headed off by spraying your trees lightly with lime sulphur during the winter months, this not only acts as a fungicide but will also kill off any dormant pests just as they become active as the growing season begins and they start to emerge.

The other way is to keep your tree at it’s peak of health by regularly fertilizing your bonsai.

RIDDING YOUR BONSAI OF PESTS

If you find pests on your bonsai, removal by hand wherever possible is always preferable. If this is not possible then start with the more natural pesticide products such as white oil or pyrethrum.

Don’t spray them on in the heat of the day and don’t lay it on too thick.

Both of these products will usually knock most pest on the head within a couple of days, so check your bonsai regularly to see if this has worked effectively.

STUBBORN BONSAI PESTSYates White oil 150

On trees like Junipers where the scale gets in deep between the needles slowly sucking your tree dry, sometimes you will lose a branch before you even notice the scale is there.

In these cases you may need to use a systemic pesticide such as Maldison Plus, this has been the only thing I have found to be effective in combating scale on Junipers.

CHECK BEFORE YOU SPRAY

No matter which method of pest control you use, make sure you read the labels thoroughly and mix chemicals according to the manufacturers specifications, or you may end up doing more damage to your bonsai then the pests you are trying to eradicate.

Bonsai Wire and Wiring Techniques

IMGP6206To help position branches and to give flow and movement to a tree, It might require wiring as a way of securing it long enough for it to set in the desired position.

This can be achieved by using coated aluminum or copper wire carefully wound around the trunk or branch, and then gently manipulating it to the desired angle or direction.

Copper wire stripped from old electrical cables is okay to use (especially if you are on a budget), but proper bonsai wire is annealed (heat treated) which makes it softer and easier to apply, it will then harden after a short time once it has been applied to your tree.

Bonsai Wire 250Bonsai Wire

Bonsai wire comes in a range of thicknesses from 1mm up to 6mm, so you need to choose a wire size appropriate to the thickness of the trunk or branch you wish to wire.

Different tree varieties take different times for branches to set in place, and different varieties will take more or less tension to bend them into place.

Being able to correctly pick what size wire you need will come from experience and experimenting, but a rule of thumb is usually to choose a wire which is no greater than a third of the thickness of the thickest part of the section being wired.

  • The length of the wire needed can usually be worked out by taking the length of the trunk or branch to be wired, then adding at least a third again. Always err on the side of caution as it is better to have too much wire rather than not enough.
  • Always start wiring from the trunk then move on to the main branches.

wire 1

Photo Examples:

LEFT: Wire is too close together

RIGHT: Wire is too far apart

MIDDLE: The right distance

 

Trunk Wiring

  • Choose and cut the right thickness and length of wire necessary, remember that with the trunk especially its thickness will, or should decrease as you get further up the trunk, if this taper is dramatic it may require changing thickness of wire as you move upwards.
  • Anchor the wire at the back of the trunk by poking it into the soil
  • Begin winding the wire up the trunk at an angle of 45 degrees to the trunk only getting slightly closer together as you begin to reach the top of the tree.
  • Cut off any excess wire
  • Hold trunk firmly and begin bending in the desired direction being careful not to over bend and cause it to break.

Branch WiringBonsai Branch wiring

  • Where possible, branch wiring should be done two branches at a time to increase the support and strength of the wire. (eg. Left and right or front and back)
  • Cut the required length and thickness of wire.
  • Place the wire in the middle of the two branches against the trunk, wind the wire around the lower of the two branches first then the one above.
  • Make sure the first half turn on each branch is parallel to trunk.
  • Continue wiring at 45 degrees to the branch till you reach the end of the branch
  • Don’t wind the wire too tight as this will limit the time it can stay on the tree before it begins to cut into the tree
  • Wiring a branch too loosely will minimize its strength and effectiveness.
  • Gently bend the branch to the desired angle (this may need to be done over time!)
  • If you find the wire is not thick enough another piece of similar thickness can be wound parallel to the first piece to increase strength.
  • Work your way up the tree till all main branches are ideally positioned.

Removing wire

Once a branch has set into place, or if the tree has grown to the point that the wire is beginning to cut into the bark, you need to remove the wire before any permanent damage is done to the tree.

Removing wire by unwinding it is NOT recommended!

Use the bonsai tools that are designed for that specific job.

Use a pair of round nose wire cutters or similar to carefully cut the wire from the branch or trunk being careful not to cut into the bark, or using unnecessary pressure which may cause a branch to break.

Once the wire is removed, if a branch has not yet set into place more wire can be used to re-wire it, it is best to re-wire in the opposite direction to the previous wiring.

Bonsai Wire Cutters

Buy Bonsai Wire Here

Fertilizing Your Bonsai

Fertilizing bonsaiWhen to Fertilize

For just about all varieties of tree (excluding some tropical varieties), feeding should take place from early spring right through until the beginning of Autumn (fall) and can be done fortnightly.

When Autumn arrives, at this point your tree should have enough energy stored and will start to lose its leaves (deciduous varieties), and begin its dormant cycle where it will shut down and only need to use its stored energy throughout the winter months.

As spring arrives the tree will use its stored energy and new growth begins to appear, it is then time to start feeding again to aid in this constant growing cycle.

Proper fertilizing is the best form of bonsai tree care you can give a  tree, it helps keeps  your tree healthy and pest resistant.

Types of fertilizer

There are 2 main types of fertilizer;
1. Man made
2. Organic
Types of organic fertilizer are fish emulsion, blood and bone meal and seaweed based products like Seasol. These products are natural and not chemically based like the man made products.

Man-made fertilizer are brands like power feed or miracle grow. These are chemical based processed types of fertilizer.

Regardless of whether you use organic or man made (I only ever use organic), it is important that the elements that your tree needs are in the right proportions.

The Right Proportion of Nutrients.

When choosing what to feed your bonsai you can break your trees needs down to these 4 things.
1. Shoots
2. Roots
3. Flowers
4. Fruits

NPKCheck on the label of the fertilizer for 3 different numbers, it is these numbers that give you the element balance.
Nitrogen: This is for the shoots and promoting foliage growth.
Phosphates: This is for the roots to keep everything below the soil healthy to continue to feed the tree.
Potassium: Is the booster for healthy flowers and fruits.

The right proportion for your tree will come down to what stage your tree is at, a relatively new tree that you are trying to get established, thickened up and growing strong, a balance of all 3 elements or higher in the first 2 (nitrogen, phosphates) is what you are looking for.

If your tree is getting established and in a small pot, having a high number of phosphates might cause the tree to be root bound, or using a fertilizer high in nitrogen to green up your tree, might cause excessive foliage growth, and if the root system is not established enough to handle this extra growth, it might cause die back.

When not to fertilize

There are a couple of times when people mistake the need to fertilize and this generally causes harm to the tree.

The first one is usually straight after root pruning and re-potting, fertilizing with anything other than a low dose of slow release pellets or something similar at this time, will burn the trimmed roots and any fresh roots that begin to grow, this can cause severe die back or death to the tree!

The second time is when a tree looks un-well, this is a tricky one because if the tree is un-well due to over watering or a root based problem, then over fertilizing at this time can do more harm then good, be cautious and only fertilize heavily if you are sure the tree is only lacking nutrients and not some other problem.

Elm and Fig Bonsai Project

The Elm and Fig Bonsai Project

I was contacted by email just before Christmas by one of the subscribers on my mailing list, asking some questions and for a little help on a couple of trees he had recently purchased (one from Bunnings Warehouse), and it occurred to me that the information he was after would possibly benefit others as well, so with his permission I have decided to post our conversation, photos and other relevant information in this blog post for everyone to follow.

I will paste the emails here and where appropriate I will answer questions using a different colored text so hopefully it will be easier to follow.

First Contact

G’day Peter,
so glad to find a Ozzie Bonsai page … long time overdue! Hope this will have regular updates as a lot of others seem to have started a while ago but then died off and suffer from a general lack of updates …

Hey EZ,
Thanks for the interest in my website www.balconybonsai.com.au, I hope not to disappoint and intend on making it bigger and better over time.

The greatest challenge of running any website is knowing what people, like yourself, want to learn about, so thank you for your input and questions.

I am particularly interested in Australian Natives (Paperbark) Melaleuca in particular. Do you have any experience with these?

I too love Australian natives as bonsai and have experimented with several varieties over the years, Melaleuca is one that I never had a lot of success with (Yes I can kill bonsai too!) as they are very sensitive  when it comes to root pruning etc.

Varieties I have had success with are Callistemon (Bottle Brush), Lilly Pilly, and of course Port Jackson Fig, but there are many Australian varieties that could make awesome bonsai.

I am not very experienced (as you’ve predicted, my first bonsai died) and now I have a Chinese Elm (bought at Bunnings – hahaha, yes I know!) and a Nursery Ficus (completely untrained still in nursery pot). So the info on your site so far has been very informative, thank you.
Cheers
EZ

Your email is of great timing as I have been looking for a direction for the site, and more on Australian natives and information to help bonsai lovers who have similar questions to yours might be a great place to start in 2014.

I would love to help you with your Chinese Elm (The Bunnings Tree!!) and your fig, and maybe we could document it on the website to help others at a similar level to yourself!

Let me know what you think,

Regards, Peter

Stage 1

Hi Peter,

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and your family!
I am flattered and scared poop-less about being a project on your site. Lol. Its very exciting but frightening at the same time! Truth be told, I will need all the help I can get so I have attached some pictures so you can have a look. There are 4 of the Bunnings Elm (different sides) and only one of the Ficus (because its just alive).

Elm Bonsai

Front of Tree

Bonsai Elm

Back of Tree

Elm tree Bonsai

Left Side

Bonsai Elm tree

Right Side

Fig Bonsai Project

Fig

Thanks for the photos. (Tip #1. Bonsai are generally best viewed at eye level, so taking photos from this angle also helps to see it’s correct viewing point and help highlight it’s structure, proportion, dimension etc.)
You are not alone when it comes to owning a bonsai purchased from Bunnings, I too once bought a clerodendron starter from my local Bunnings and it now takes pride of place among my collection.

My Bunnings Tree

Clerodendron Bonsai

Clerodendron 2005

Clerodendron 29-12-13

The Elm

Elm Bonsai

The Elm is responding very well to the weather change (from Perth to Port Headland) probably due to the increase in temperature, we are watering it twice a day so it won’t dry out.

Good to hear it has coped with the move. Don’t be afraid to place your tree (pot and all) in a shallow tray of water, especially if you are going out for the day and don’t want to worry about it drying out. The other solution is to put it in a much shadier spot during these extremely hot days and then just watering as needed.

The leaves are getting darker and seem to be multiplying… Someone snipped out the centre and now it has several headers … Looks a bit of a mess and I’m not sure of what I want to do with it. I’m wanting to wire-it so that I get some movement (to the left) into the lower part of the trunk (if that means bending the trunk?), then select a new header to form an informal upright. I have watched a huge number of bonsai styling videos on Youtube and would like to bring one of the lower branches around to the right of the side to fill in the open area with a pad. Then that just leaves the top mess… Your suggestions?

It’s good to choose a style (Informal upright) to follow as this will help give you some direction. Getting movement into the trunk (Yes you have the terminology correct) is a good idea being careful at this time of year as your tree will be growing rapidly causing it to swell, and this may cause any wire to cut in leaving scarring before it has time to set.  Don’t let this stop you, just be mindful of this and remove wire before it cuts in, you can always wire again a little looser if it needs more time.

You want your first branch to eventually be the heaviest and around a third to a quarter of the way up the over all height of your finished tree, from the photos it looks like you have a couple of choices so choose one that best suits and remove any branches below that point.

With the top of the tree choose one of the branches that you can use as a new leader ( an extension of the trunk upwards) and wire it to continue with the movement you have created by wiring the trunk ( a soft S shape), this will be trimmed down later as we get more structure to the tree.

The Figficus

The Ficus was a throw-away from the nursery (commitment issues, lol) – it looks plucked because I read that this will reduce the size of the leaves as they come back. But its sooo tall! One thought is to chop it above the first side branch and make that the new top. I love the roots (not very clear) they radiate out freakishly symmetrically from the base of the tree … Its what I liked about it and probably why I paid money for it. Newbies!

To me it looks like it has lost it’s leaves due to stress not necessarily “plucked” due to under/over watering or being root bound!
A good start is to cut it back to it’s first branch as you suggest and wire that as its new leader, but maybe giving it a good feed of seasol and proper watering or transplanting it into a larger nursery pot before putting any further stress on it (like cutting the top out) and wait till shows positive signs of recovery before getting into it, that way whatever you remove from the top has a good chance of striking as a cutting and becoming another bonsai as well if it is healthy before removal.

I have some Seasol like fish based fertiliser that I need to apply now (I haven’t done that as yet) to both. I want to work the ficus now (I’m really excited) but I’m worried that this is not the right time … You may be the sound of reason I need to not kill these two trees. Here’s hoping.

Feeding both trees fortnightly during the growing season with seasol or other organic fertiliser (fish emulsion) is a good idea.

That Should give you plenty to do for now, I look forward to the next installment.

Regards,

Peter

Several Months Later

The Fig

Good morning Peter,

The ficus has suffered Newbeeitis – thats where an inexperienced person does too much at once without allowing it to recuperate … I fear it is dead, or dying. Had one small leave come back that has since shrivelled up and died.

The stem has the tell-tale signs of dying off (wrinkly bark) BUT it hasn’t gone all the way to the bottom! I’m hoping, perhaps foolishly, that is will come back from somewhere near the base (funnily the part I wanted to keep ~ ref. discussion on trunk chop), so I have been feeling the soil trying NOT to overwater and giving it Seasol once a week … Wait and see I guess. Like you said – too much too soon!

Sad to hear about the fig but yes it does sound like a case of “newbeeitis”.

A couple of things to note: Fertilizing isn’t ideal on a sick tree and only once a fortnight if it is healthy.

Never fertilise within a month of root pruning as this will usually burn any new root growth. (probable cause of death of single new leaf!)

It’s best to reduce some of the foliage if root pruning so there is less foliage for the roots to have to feed as they are recovering.

I have never heard of it the other way around as doing a complete defoliation means the tree has no way to produce food from the sun and any food stored in the roots will be limited if you also prune them!

Pruning both is a good way to stress the tree severely and also a possible cause of the trees final demise!

The Elm

The Chinese Elm, I have not done anything to out of fear of Newbeeitis … It has received Seasol and regular daily watering. As the pot has very little soil in it, it would dry out much quicker. I’d like to get rid of the ‘decorate’ little rocks and perhaps pull it out and rework the soil? When I do the photos you’ll be able to advise me.

It has had some growth on the tips of the branches which has matured (heart-warming) and despite the heat we’ve had seems to be doing really well! Because I really like this tree, I have not done any styling on it and I would like to discuss that option with you as well.

I have discovered that having only a couple of trees causes the onset of Newbeeitis and so I have gone and bought myself a selection of new trees. If I spread the ‘Love’, then they might respond better AND live longer! I must confess, that I have (miss?)read that when you defoliate your tree it is a good time to reduce the roots, somewhat – which is what has contributed the downfall of the original Ficus I’m sure … Hope I get this into my thick skull quicker next time!

I look forward to seeing how the elm is coming along, and hopefully your new trees will allow you to “spread the love” as you put it, and you can make something of them.

Talk Soon.

Here are some of the promised pictures:
By what you’ve said, I’ve done all the wrong things at the same time – defoliated the tree, chopped the roots (hard) then used Seasol to “help it” recuperate! Anyway, I believe the wiring is not too shabby, even if the tree is well and truly deceased.

Fig Fig 2Fig 2

Next is the Chinese Elm. Because of what I achieved with the Ficus (oh brother) I decided I would back right off and perhaps (unless you advise otherwise) just watch it for a year and learn its behaviour.

To that end, I’ve noticed that in December it sprouted new shoots which could be because of the watering and Seasol (fortnightly) and, the new much warmer and sub-tropical weather at my home… Nothing has died off, all new shoots are darkening and are doing fine. I have some Seasol Powerfeed, but have not yet used it … Once bitten twice shy.

Some pictures, again all four sides and one from top down. I have attempted to do as you suggested – take the pictures at eye level – see if they are good like this?

Chinese Elm projectChinese elmChinese Elm
ElmElmElm

I’m pretty sure we can say RIP to your fig, but the wiring does look promising.

With the elm, I think the best idea is to wait till spring and re pot it in a larger container with good quality soil, then we can start to style it.

Talk Soon,

Peter

General Bonsai Care

Bonsai CareGeneral Bonsai Care

If your new to bonsai, have been given one as a gift or just purchased your first tree, there are a couple of basic things you will need to learn if you are going to keep your little tree alive.

These are only general bonsai care instructions and more in depth information can be found on specific varieties in the bonsai tree care section.

There are links you can follow to learn more about each area of bonsai care under the individual headings.

POSITION

Bonsai are trees grown in small pots, trained to resemble old mature trees growing in nature.

As a bonsai is a tree, it requires the same elements as any other tree, such as air, wind, rain and lots of natural light. They are outdoor plants and placing them inside for long periods is detrimental to the health of the tree.

Bonsai should spend no more than 1 week indoors and at least 3 weeks back outside before bringing inside again.

WATERINGBonsai wiring

Watering requirements vary with tree varieties, but usually watering once a day (preferably morning), in summer and every second day in winter is sufficient. The goal is to maintain moist, not dry or soggy soil.

FERTILISER

During the growing season (Spring/Summer) feeding fortnightly with Phostrogen, Seasol or fish emulsion is recommended.

Mix fertiliser to manufacturers recommendations.

Learn more about fertilizing your bonsai!

WIRING

The bonsai you have purchased may have aluminium or copper wire wrapped around the trunk or branches, this is for shaping purposes and can be removed once the limb has set in place.

IMPORTANT. Check carefully once a week for signs of the wire cutting into the bark. As soon as you see this beginning to happen, remove the wire immediately, using wire cutters to cut it off is safer than trying to unwind it.

Learn more about how to wire bonsai

REPOTTING

How to care for a bonsai tree

Depending on the pot size and age of the tree, most bonsai need repotting every one to two years. Re-potting is best to bedone at the beginning of spring. 

Your bonsai may need to be potted into a larger pot or just root pruned and placed back in it’s original container.

Note: Most commercial potting mixes are unsuitable unless made specifically for bonsai, check with your local nursery if the soil they sell is suitable for bonsai.

MAINTENANCE

Regularly prune to maintain compact growth. This can be done with bonsai scissors or in some cases pinching the foliage back using your fingers.