October Bonsai

Oct. 01, 2020 by admin - Comments: 0

Time to take a good look at your tropicals. Before going into the dry low light conditions most of us have for winter quarters they need to be vigorous, pruned and free of problems. Give them a good feeding preferably with an organic fertilizer. If you use a water soluble type use a low dilution and feed every 2 to 3 days. Prune all new growth back to the trees best shape. To increase ramification on developed trees keep any new growth pinched to 2 to 3 leaves. Use your desired insecticide and/or fungicide now and again just before you take them in.

Remember that some tropicals do not like to go below 50 degrees while others are only semi-tropical and will take a frost but do not want their roots frozen. The buttonwood is an example of the first group and the crepe myrtle would be in the second. Here in the DFW area we will probably not see a freeze until late in November but there may be some cool nights in October. I prefer to leave the tropicals out as long as possible. I want the semi-tropicals to go dormant and then put them in a cool location to stay dormant all winter.

Now is the time to start your outdoor trees toward their winter siesta. If you wait until the temperature drops, you get too rushed and omit some of the little housekeeping duties. Start now by making sure that the area will be free of insects and other vermin.

When the leaves start turning the sap has quit for the year and you may check the branches and twigs to see if any need to be trimmed. Cutting back any protruding branches will keep them from snagging and possibly breaking other trees when you put them down close together. Don't cut the buds off the spring flowering plants unless absolutely necessary if you want flowers next spring.

Kathy Shaner suggests removing the top half-inch of soil and replenishing it with new soil. This will remove weed seeds that have blown in and will make next year's job easier. Of course if you plan on repotting next spring that isn't necessary.

Winter quarters: Remember that here in Texas more trees are lost in the winter due to drying out than to the cold. Of course that does not mean for you to leave the tropicals out or to let the roots freeze on southern trees like the crape myrtle. Even in a greenhouse or sunny window the soil can dry out amazingly fast. The wind in winter has amazing drying powers too. (Ask your grandmother about hanging the wash and letting it dry while frozen stiff.) So while you are protecting the roots be sure to give it a wind screen and make sure that you can check the soil for watering needs. (It helps here if you know which particular plants dry out faster so you can situate them together). A lot of winter kill comes because the soil has frozen and the sun or wind is removing water from the tops. The roots cannot obtain water to replenish the loss and the top desiccates to the point of death.

For beginners, plants like the cedar elm, oak and maple that are hardy much further north, can be set on a clean gravel bed. When the real cold (26 or lower) gets here cover the pots with 3 to 4 inches of a fairly loose mulch. Plants that grow south of Dallas, crape myrtle, firethorn, some azalea need to have more root protection. I like to let them get frostbit but bring them in before freezing. Of course the tropicals need to be babied.

All this is basically talking about the broadleaf deciduous trees. Evergreens do not go fully dormant in winter and need to be exposed to sunlight. Some broadleaf evergreen types like boxwoods slow way down but still need sunlight. Some leave the needled evergreens on top of benches all winter but I prefer to give the roots the same basic winter protection of deciduous trees but they have a higher water need.

Feeding of deciduous trees should be discontinued for the winter. Evergreens and conifers will benefit from a low nitrogen feeding. One such mix might be 70% cottonseed meal and 30% bonemeal. Being organic, this will breakdown into nutrients more slowly as the season gets cooler and the trees activity slows also. The organic spray given below can be used as a soil drench but dilute it a little more. Kelp is an excellent source of the essential minor elements needed by plants.

Insects will continue to be present. Cooler (but not cold) days mean a resurgence of the aphids. Mites will also still be around and will jump into action during a warm spell. Scale also can be a problem. Treat with a light horticultural oil which will kill the adults and also wipe out the eggs and over-wintering pupae. Be sure to cover all the cracks in the bark to get to the eggs. The organic spray (one tablespoon each liquid kelp, fish emulsion, apple cider vinegar, and molasses in one gallon of water) should still be used on a regular schedule and will work on evergreens and will also give them some nutrients. The dead scale shell will probably have to be removed physically. A soft toothbrush works for me (I sometimes need to wet the branch to loosen the scale).

When the leaves start turning the sap has quit for the year and you may check the branches and twigs to see if any need to be trimmed. Cutting back any protruding branches will keep them from snagging and possibly breaking other trees when you put them down close together. Don't cut the buds off the spring flowering plants unless absolutely necessary if you want flowers next spring.

Some may repot in the fall but I feel that it is counter-productive to do so if you can do it during bud break in the spring. New roots are more prone to freeze damage if we get a bad winter. It has been stated that the key to safe repotting is to minimize root disturbance and to exclude severe root pruning. This seems to me to be a recipe for developing root problems, poor drainage leading to root rot and the inability of the old soil to hold enough water to last all day. No heavy pruning will lead to the lack of refinement and a top heavy tree. I would recommend that repot at the proper time next spring which is when the buds swell and new growth is imminent.

By John Miller - Reprinted From 2015

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