Blogs Posted in Bonsai

September Bonsai

Sep. 01, 2020 by admin - Comments: 0

There is no way you can rely on the calendar to plan what you need to do for your bonsai. In April, May & June this year I probably had three days total that all my trees needed watering. And only a few more that they really needed to be checked. Then from July 5 to August 24 (7+weeks) there was not a drop of rain and a lot of temps above 100. You just have to know what needs to be done and then do it.

When it rains days on end, tilt the pots to aid drainage and to make sure they are not clogged up. When it is hot and dry, maybe water 2 to 3 times a day and protect plants and especially the pot from direct sun.

It is probably not late enough for the bonsai to go into their pre-dormancy slow down period. If they are still growing, continue twig pruning and other summer care. If air layers have developed roots they may be separated and potted.

In Sept and Oct there will still be some days with pretty hot temps. So as the sun changes its angle make sure that the pots do not get too hot in the late afternoon sun. Also watering now becomes harder. As trees slow their growth they do not take as much water. Neither will they transpire as much on the cooler days. So check each one separately and water as often and as much as the individual tree requires.

Check the trees you still have wire on. When the cooler days get here some trees will expand their branches and get wire cuts rather quickly. You need to check them periodically over the winter also. Cut the wire off. You can easily break the branches trying to unwrap the wire and it's just not worth trying to save the wire. Work from the outside end of the wire back so that you do not overlook a small piece of wire. If you have trouble seeing each twist of the wire don't cut, just unwrap the wire (with care). If you miss a turn of the wire you will make an unsightly bulge and the limb will probably have to be cut off. If you need to reapply some wire take care to not follow the same path.

Help your trees go into dormancy. The general rule of thumb on fertilizers is to stop giving nitrogen early in September and fertilize with one that has a formulation like 0-10-10 or 0-0-10. They will need less water as they quit active growth but on warm days trees with green foliage will still transpire and will have need of that water. Most tropicals have a dormant season also but it is usually caused by dry conditions rather than cold. These types need to be hardened also by cutting the fertilizer to halt active growth and give them lighter watering. This will enable them to withstand the transfer to the greenhouse better.

Fruiting bonsai spend a lot of energy growing fruit. They should not be allowed to fruit heavily each year. They benefit from a light fertilization at this time. Flowering bonsai especially need to receive the minor elements. Get a good fertilizer, such as the Espomaplant-tone fertilizers, that include them in their mix for good color development. They should be listed on the label.

There is not too much to be done on deciduous trees at this time. Bugs and other problems are usually not a matter of concern since the foliage will be dropping soon. Evergreens and tropicals will still need to be watched for their insect problems, especially the spider mite which will be active into fall. Use the organic spray formula to control them. If we should have a stretch of damp weather you should be watching for fungal problems, leaf spot, mildew, etc. Treat fungal with potassium bicarbonate, (baking soda-sodium bicarbonate-will work about as well). I would be okay with using a 1% hydrogen peroxide solution at this time of the year for fungal control.

The organic spray formula is one tablespoon each of liquid seaweed, fish emulsion, 5% apple cider vinegar, and molasses in one gallon of water. Spray top and bottom of leaves and trunk thoroughly on a regular basis (7-10 days). If you miss getting scale in their vulnerable crawler stage, you may have to go to a systemic.

Pruning and trimming "can" be done any time that there is not a lot of sap flowing but is usually advisable to do it during dormancy. Sap flow is indicated by the foliar activity of the plant like in the spring. If your tree went into summer dormancy which sometimes occurs during hot weather then the cooler weather might result in a larger sap flow in late summer or early fall. If your plant gets a flush of new growth it would be advisable to postpone large pruning cuts for a while. Basically let your tree tell you when it is ok to operate.

Two other things you can do now. You should prepare your winter quarters and you should study your evergreen trees to determine if you need to do any restyling later on this fall. Bonsai in Texas should be a year round sport, you don't need to cover them completely like up north. Try to put them where you can see some of them. Just remember that they will still need to be watered and evergreens will need some sun. A mulch cover over the pots on the ground will minimize temperature extremes.

Don't wait for the freezing weather to be forecast to check on the place you expect to winter your bonsai. Make sure that it is clean and that you will be able to check the water needs of the trees. It should be somewhat protected from winds but should have some air movement to help prevent molds from developing. Being in a location where you can see the trees would allow you to enjoy the winter silhouette, i.e. the branch structure and twiginess, that is a great part of deciduous bonsai.

Do not be in a great hurry to put your trees in winter quarters. Keep them where you can enjoy them as long as possible. That way you experience the color change and all that occurs in the fall. Know when the freeze can be expected and then listen to the weather forecasts and put them down in the place prepared before hand.

By John Miller - Reprinted From 2015

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

November Bonsai

Nov. 01, 2020 by admin - Comments: 0

Maybe it's time for a reminder that articles like this are always just guidelines. Each tree in your backyard is a special case and you should look at it individually each time you water. Be sure it is not getting stressed. Is it really healthy? Any signs of problems --wilting, color ok, leaves good? Does it need attention immediately? If so place it aside and come back to examine it and take appropriate action. I have repotted deciduous trees in July but not in the normal manner. At an abnormal repotting special attention is needed during the repotting and for the after-care.

Learn to think in terms related to plant characteristics instead of calendar periods (i.e. use 'when dormant' instead of October, 'candle growth' instead of April, etc). That will enable you to read bonsai articles correctly whether written in Japan, Florida or wherever. Note that some tree cultivars (like the cork bark black pine) are notably weaker than the standards of the species and require different pruning and care.

You should have your winter quarters ready. Select one for deciduous trees that will be out of the sun. Air circulation is good but too much wind will desiccate them especially in freezing temps. Be sure you will be able to check their watering. Clean up all debris.

Most important in winter is to keep the soil moisture at a proper level. This sometimes is hard to do because the trees do not use as much water as when they are growing. However the cold winds will dry out the tops quickly. I believe that most winter damage in Texas is due to lack of water rather than to low temperatures. Mulch helps keep the roots warm and retards evaporation but it makes for difficulty in seeing if the soil is damp enough. Most soils with enough organic material to keep the tree happy in the summer will be too wet if watered daily in the winter and wet cold means root rot.

Before putting the trees into winter storage treat them for over-wintering insects and eggs. Dormant oil spray is good on trees with no green, foliage or buds. A dilute solution of lime sulfur is an old gardener's dormant spray for insect and fungus control. Use it on very cool days and dilute it 1 part lime sulfur to 20 parts water. Be sure to read the label on your bottle in case there are different strengths available. This solution should also be applied to bench tops, posts and the soil surrounding them (if you have gravel instead of grass) to eliminate hiding eggs and spores. If you have a greenhouse treat it also before the weather gets too cold to put your plants outside or move them to one end while you treat the other end.

At this time of the year deciduous plants do not need fertilizer. Evergreens will continue a slow growth and will benefit for a light fertilizer feeding. Use one with a lower nitrogen (first number) like 0-10-10 or 8-8-8 at no more than 1/3 the recommended feeding rate.

Watering should be done with care during the cool and/or cold weather. Deciduous trees will use some water to replace what is lost to winds and evaporation. Evergreen trees will need a little more but not as much as in summer. The easiest way is to sort your pots into groups, those that dry quickly, those that are slower to dry, and those that seem to stay damp. This will let you water faster and yet not over-water the ones staying damp. Make a note to repot the ones staying too damp.

Repotting of hardy trees can be done anytime the trees are dormant. However it is safer to do that chore in the spring as the buds are swelling. New roots will start forming immediately upon repotting in order for the tree to absorb water. If you do repot in the fall you should protect the new roots from freezing during the winter. Do you need to change the pot? Making notes at this time while getting the trees ready for winter will give you 3-4 months to find the proper pot.

When trees go dormant which indicates a reduced sap flow they may be pruned, that is have major limbs removed. Trimming may also be done while the leaves are off the trees and you can see what you are doing. Evergreen types will probably still be active. Pruning them should be held until later. Foliage can be removed when half has turned color to remove some pathogens and to enjoy their winter silhouette.

BIG NOTE: If you have a tree that is weak and unhealthy you should not attempt to style it in any way, just get it happy by adjusting its soil, feeding and getting rid of any parasites. Styling just adds to its stress and problems.

By this time any tropical you have should be under cover. Most do not like the temp below 50 degrees. All tropicals should be checked and treated for any insect problems since any insects will multiply fast when they get into warmer quarters. Spider mites and scale can be especially damaging if the plant is moved in the house where the humidity is low.

The semi-tropical plants like crape myrtle, pomegranate, pyracantha and some south Texas natives need to go dormant to stay healthy over a long time but they cannot take much cold on the roots. They will be killed by temps somewhere between 25 and 30 degrees. These I set down on the ground and mulch for light freezes and then bring into a protected area for the colder winter. Sometimes I will let them go dormant for a month and then take into the greenhouse to start early and I can enjoy their new foliage in January.

By John Miller - Reprinted From 2015

December Bonsai

Dec. 01, 2020 by admin - Comments: 0

Why don't you give bonsai a present this year. The Texas State Bonsai Exhibit is finally progressing but could use more donations. Find full details about the new area in Zilker Park, Austin and you can also donate on the web at:
Make checks payable to and or send donation to:
TTSBE Treasurer
Ryan Odegaard
25515 Stormy Rock
San Antonio, TX 78255

Try to find some good material for enhancing your collection. It is hard to find decent material in a landscape nursery. If the club has a dig scheduled, be a part of it. There are many places where you can find one or two specimens to dig, in town as well as in the country. The problem is in finding a place with enough material to warrant taking the whole club. If you know of a possible location or have a friend with some land (it doesn't have to be very close) tell one of the officers about it. This comes under the heading of 'be an active member'. The rest of the group especially your program chairman will appreciate it.

The big thing this month is to make sure that the bonsai do not dry out and to protect the roots from freezing. Do not leave them up on their benches. Know which species should be left outdoors. They may be set on the ground. Add a dense mulch to the pot rim and then add a looser mulch on top.

Evergreen types especially and deciduous to a lesser extent should not have the root ball subjected to alternate freezing and thawing. That process tends to tear and damage the roots. Placing the trees on the ground and using a mulch will minimize this problem.

Deciduous trees should not be placed where they receive winter sun. After a period of dormancy, the heating of the tree could possibly cause it to break dormancy prematurely. If that happened you would need to keep it above freezing the rest of the winter. After they go dormant they have no need for any sunshine.

While they are dormant examine the twigs, branches and trunks carefully for scale insects, scale are sucking insects that usually cover themselves with a hard impervious shell that is very resistant to insecticides. Some are pretty small and look like specks. You might want to search online for something like 'scale insect bonsai' and get some pictures. Horticultural oils (available at garden stores) work good by filling their pores and smothering them. Oils can be applied now and you get a more thorough coverage while the trees are dormant. The only other way is to use a systemic insecticide (make sure it is labeled for scale) during the growing season.

Since the trees are not using as much water during dormancy it is easy to overlook checking on them. The low humidity usually found during winter helps dry the soil. Winter sun can be pretty hot and if it shines directly on the pot it will hasten the drying process. Winter will usually also be more windy. Therefore, however you bed down the trees, you need to check the dryness often. The same trees that needed more water last summer will also need to be checked more often during the winter. I think that more trees are lost during the winter to having the soil dry out than from the actual cold.

Especially watch the plants that will need repotting next spring. Pots full of circling roots do not have much soil to hold water but those that had a lot of organic matter in the soil mix may be soggy. Organic matter that has composted during the summer will be very fine textured and hold on to the water a long time and may also interfere with drainage.

Plants have different degrees of hardiness for their top growth and their roots. The reason being that the ground acts as a large reservoir of heat and here in Texas seldom freezes more than an inch or two down. Therefore, plants like the pomegranate and crepe myrtle which are at the northern extent of their range outside will only be hardy to 32 degrees in pots.

Any plant that you are unsure of should be protected from freezing. This can be a problem because if they are not kept cool after they go dormant they will break dormancy and start to grow too soon. Growing without sufficient light causes long spindly growth which you cannot control. My best solution for this when I lived in town was to have a long platform with two wheels that I pulled into the garage on nights where freezing was forecast and kept outside at all other times.

The cold weather will keep any insect problems under control outside. You should use a dormant oil spray to kill over-wintering insets and eggs. A dilute spray of lime-sulfur can be used on deciduous trees if they have no green at all which will also control fungal spores but be sure to follow label directions carefully. You should watch for damage from rodent types, rabbits, squirrels and rats. They will seriously prune branches and strip bark in short order.

A caution on lime sulfur --the same stuff we use on jin and shari. The liquid lime sulfur is pretty caustic so should be used with caution. If used as a dormant spray application should only be made to fully dormant plants, deciduous trees with tight winter buds, not on very warm days, and only when diluted as directed on the bottle.

Bonsai in greenhouses or indoor bonsai will need to be watched for the normal indoor problems. Low humidity, spidermites and scale are the biggest problems here. Trying to keep the humidity up by placing your trees on a humidity tray can possibly give you some soil problems, root rot or some other fungal disease. I basically use the same controls in the greenhouse that I use outside all year.

You can take advantage of the winter slowdown by getting pots ready for spring, clean and sharpen your tools, study what changes you would like to make on your trees and so forth. Making notes about what needs to be done on an individual tree is great but if you are like me the notes and trees are usually a long way apart. If you place a colored stake or ribbon on the tree you will see instantly which one needs what done. For example, I am using red for needs repotting, purple - needs a new pot, yellow - serious pruning, orange - should be restyled etc. These can be put on during the year if you make that kind of decision as you are doing general routine work.

By John Miller - Reprinted From 2015

January Bonsai

Jan. 01, 2021 by admin - Comments: 0

An article like this one is very limited in the amount of detail it can present on a subject. I would recommend that you read what Jonas Dupich of Bonsai Tonight started Dec 6th with a very good series on his blog ( to cover minute details on selection, watering, difference between healthy growth and vigorous growth, etc. It is written so that you can see it in your backyard and not with calendar dates (usually useless in other areas) or just like he does in California. It is written especially for beginners but most of the more experienced people will learn a lot too with a lot of pictures of the details.

It would be nice to be able to put your trees into 2 or 3 groups --outdoor trees, indoor trees, flowering trees. But nature has not done anything so simple. Some outdoor trees survive a lot of cold and others want to go dormant but can't have their roots frozen at all. Your job is to learn their foibles and work around them.

In general, you start by knowing that deciduous trees will go dormant and stay that way until something awakens them. Some are temperature sensitive, they go dormant when the temp drops in the fall and awaken when they get warm. These should be kept in a shady area to keep them cool. Others are sensitive in the change in day length: they go dormant when daylight gets short and will break buds when they sense the days getting longer. These are not so hard to care for.

Evergreens do not go fully dormant. They slow their processes but still use sunlight and some nutrients. However they still need their roots protected to prevent alternate freezing and thawing.

All outdoor trees, both deciduous and evergreen, need to have their soil moisture maintained and their roots protected from deep freezes. Since their sap flow is diminished, they cannot replace moisture lost to winds so they should be protected from a lot of wind. The plants can be protected by using ground heat to minimize the low and high temps. Set the pots on the ground and cover with mulch.

For those with tropicals care at this time depends on your facilities for giving them heat and light, the two things usually in short supply in January. I merely try to keep mine alive with the greenhouse at 50 degrees. Watch your greenhouse for the sun heating it too much. Be sure to monitor them for aphids and other problems. They do not get enough light to actively grow anyway. When the mame size shohin elms have had a month of dormancy I bring them into the greenhouse before the temps get to the lower twenties. They respond by starting growth so I have them for 'soul food' through January.

Styling can be done at this time but no repotting unless you are going to keep the tree from freezing after that. Repotting initiates new root development which is usually not very hardy. Repotting is 'best' done when the tree is waking up indicated by buds swelling before they show any green.

A better approach would be to study one or two thoroughly each day making notes on what needs to be done. January is an excellent time to start any remodeling projects that may be necessary. While the trees are dormant you have better view of the branch structure. Do any need to be moved or removed? Do any coarse branches need to be cut back to a smaller side branch for refinement? Do any long straight branches need wiring to give them motion? Does the tree really need a drastic redesign? You can also trim the twigs back while you have them there. You can also decide if that tree will need to be repotted this spring, is the present pot good or should you find a more appropriate pot for it?

Indoor trees will be using more water to offset the lower humidity. Soil will also be losing water faster through its surface. Be sure to watch the indoor trees for insect problems. Most plant insects love a controlled atmosphere like the indoors. Spider mites seem to get the most attention here because they do great in a low humidity and the lack of foliage spraying. Scale can be an easily overlooked source of trouble. There is usually more severe problems with plants that have been kept outdoors in summer than brought in without any treatment. Indoor trees need to be fertilized regularly and will require periodic trimming as they continue to grow through the winter.

Tender or tropical trees that are kept indoors will be using more water to offset the lower humidity. Soil will also be losing water faster through its surface. Be sure to watch the indoor trees for insect problems. Most plant insects love a controlled atmosphere like the indoors. Spider mites seem to get the most attention here because they do great in a low humidity and the lack of foliage spraying. Scale can be an easily overlooked source of trouble. The flat green kind can be hard to spot on the underside of leaves or tight against the stem. Indoor trees need to be fertilized regularly and will require periodic trimming as they continue to grow through the winter.

By John Miller - Reprinted From 2015

FWBS New Blog

Jan. 27, 2021 by admin - Comments: 3

Fort Worth Bonsai Society's new blog system is a home grown endeavor that has taken many many months of coding and testing. I am proud to finally have it online for the members of our Club to use and enjoy. Members are allowed to post their own blogs by accessing the link on the FWBS main site, when logged in. Anyone may post comments to the existing blogs and if you wish to receive emails when a new blog or comment is posted please Subscribe under the Contact tab.

Keeping Your Bonsai Safe During The Cold Winter

Jan. 28, 2021 by admin - Comments: 0

Winter is coming and, depending on where you live, this might be a big deal or it might not. However, winter can be a dangerous time for some bonsai species, so we wanted to talk a little bit about how to deal with the coming season for those in colder areas.

This blog will only be an overview. You'd be well advised to also look up a specific care guide for your bonsai species to ensure it doesn't have any special needs to take into consideration.

Tips On Ensuring Your Bonsai Tree Has A Safe Winter

  1. Indoor Trees
    Obviously, if your tree lives indoors all the time, winter isn't going to be a major issue. However, there are a couple things you should be aware of, or which might necessitate moving the tree during cold months.
    • Sunlight
      Does your tree need a lot of direct sun all the time? This could pose a problem at higher/lower latitudes, if your days are getting especially short. You might consider moving it nearer to a window, specifically so it can get as much sunlight as possible. Alternately, a grow light could be a good idea, to supplement the lessened UV rays it's receiving.
    • Heating Drafts
      Be aware of where your Bonsai is, relative to your heating vents and the airflow around a room. The air coming out of those vents is going to be quite hot, so if the bonsai is being hit directly by the heat, it could get scorched. Also, the tendency of the air vents to turn on and off frequently will give it extreme temperature variations. Move it to someplace away from the vents, where the room temp will stay relatively stable.

  2. Outdoor Trees - Tropical and Sub-Tropical
    The combination of a tropical\subtropical tree and a colder area of residence can be a big issue. Tropical Bonsai expect warm or temperate weather year-round. They are, therefore, the most at risk of damage or death during cold weather as they're simply not built for it.
    • If you have a tropical\subtropical Bonsai and expect a cold winter with plenty of freezing temperatures, snow, and ice, it will need to be moved indoors for protection. A greenhouse is another option here, if you happen to have one. It needs to be kept someplace heated which will always maintain temperatures well above freezing, and where it won't see any frost or ice.

  3. Other Outdoor Bonsai
    If you have a Bonsai which naturally grows in areas that see colder winters, rejoice - you probably don't have to do much to protect it. This is particularly true of deciduous bonsai which shed their leaves in the fall and go dormant during the winter. They're accustomed to cold temperature, and actually expect it.
    • Many Bonsai beginners don't realize it, but cold-weather Bonsai actually need a period of dormancy in the fall and winter. It's just like how humans and animals need regular sleep. Bringing a Bonsai like this indoors actually prevents the dormancy, and can cause health issues.
    • One other warning here: If your outdoor Bonsai lives in a pot rather than directly in the earth, AND you experience winters with prolonged temperatures well below freezing (-10C/15F or lower) you will want to give it some protection. In this situation, the roots could freeze, and that's fatal. Moving it to an unheated building or garage usually works. It needs to be cold, but not too cold.

Credit: Bonsai Outlet

February Bonsai

Feb. 02, 2021 by admin - Comments: 1

What happens when you miss a turn in removing wire from your bonsai? You get a large swelling in the branch that destroys the smooth taper you are working for. The only rule for removing wire is to start with the end of the wire and work down the wire completely to the other end, no jumping from wire to wire. To do this you have a choice-- you can untwist the wire or you can cut each loop. If you cut it is very easy to miss a loop. The only sure way is to develop a routine. Hold the tip with pliers while you cut the next loop, remove the cut loop, lay it aside keeping your eye on the cut end, hold the new cut tip and repeat. Do not get distracted and do something else. Following a routine keeps you on the one job. February is the start of the active cycle for bonsai, first the repotting when new growth is first evident, then the refinement process starts as soon as the green comes, all the while tending to the tasks of watering, feeding and watching for insects.

Spring is a long drawn out affair and each species has it's own time table in dealing with it. To be really successful in bonsai then, you must know what each species you have will need and how it responds to YOUR OWN backyard climate. If you have kept your trees from freezing they will want to start growing much earlier than those kept outside all winter. Typically, in my collection which stays outside, the elms will be first, foliage showing about the end of February or the first of March depending on the winter, along with the earliest maples. Then later in March, the rest of the maples and most of the others. The deciduous oaks will come out around April 1st. Out here in the country I am 2 or 3 weeks later than I was in town, 30 miles away. The timetable has to be your own set by watching the trees themselves. All bonsai functions should be done when your tree tells you that the timing is right.

Repotting 'can' be done at any time during the dormancy but new roots are susceptible to freezing so you have to have some place to protect them after repotting. If not repotting this year, you can help weed control by removing the top ΒΌof soil and replace it with new soil. The best time to repot the deciduous temperate zone trees is when the buds are just beginning to swell but before green is showing. Generally this will be before the last of the freezing weather. Trees that leaf out early, maples and elms, can withstand a few degrees of frost but if repotted you should protect the newly growing roots.Sometimes this just means setting them on the ground. Some species such as the oaks and willows are naturally programmed to wait much later so that there is very little chance to get nipped.

The newer wisdom on azaleas is that you also repot them at this time. The roots will be reestablished by blooming time. This is much easier on the tree than waiting until after bloom when the temperature will be hot. Before blooming starts you will be removing a lot of excess buds anyway which will reduce the stress on the tree at that time. Remove enough buds to allow the remaining flowers to have room to fully open. This should be done in late February or early March on the early blooming species (Karume) but may go later in March for the Satsuki types.

Refinement is the process that makes a well styled tree look great, developing fine ramification and obtaining smaller leaves. Part of the refinement starts as soon as new growth appears. Keep it pinched so you keep the internodes short and develop a compact set of twigs with small leaves on the branches. On alternate leaved species (e.g. Elms) pinch when the shoot gets 4 or 5 leaves. Fingernails or shears can be used. If the twig gets too long it will be tough and you have to use shears. On opposite leaved trees (maples) pinch the central shoot as soon as it can be distinguished from the two leaves. To do this really right you need to use tweezers with a dull point.

Development pruning is difficult for beginners in that to develop thickness you need to let the new branch grow wild which destroys the look of your 'bonsai'. You also will have long internodes which will not produce buds at the right places especially on the opposite leaved species. You need to do refinement pruning the first couple of times to get some short internodes and then let the tips go wild.

Spring flowering plants will have their buds set on last year's growth so pruning them will remove some flowers. Those that bloom later in the year will generally bloom on this year's growth. Pruning them will reduce the amount of flowers. In some cases such as crape myrtle, tip pruning of the branch will result in no flowers at all. In these cases you must decide which is most important, ramification or flowers. A compromise would be to prune the branch shorter than you normally would and then let it bloom on new growth which will at the proper length, at least for the first flowering of the season. When the growth starts the tree will need fertilizer. However, use one that has a small amount of nitrogen (the first number). The tree is naturally programmed to grow rapidly at this time so you don't need to encourage it further. Feed lightly to maintain a healthy green foliage. Ideally use an organic fertilizer which provides nutrients more slowly when the weather is cool. Trace minerals should be added to help with both the foliage color and the color of blooms.

If you have not used a horticultural oil, the time is fast running out. The oil would be used to kill scale and overwintering mites and other boogers. When new growth starts oil might damage the tender foliage. When new growth starts, the problems to look for are the above mentioned mites but especially aphids and mealy bugs. These can be controlled as well as giving the plants the required fertilizer by using an organic spray (1 tablespoon each of liquid kelp, liquid fish emulsion, apple cider vinegar (5%), and molasses in one gallon of water. Or use a commercial mix like Garrett Juice. All these are available in any organic nursery.) If leaf spot, mildew or any other fungal problems appear, use a baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), potassium bicarbonate spray or a commercial fungicide.

An important job which many neglect saying they are not going to show any trees is to detail their trees. This makes them look their best and that helps give you incentive to follow other good practices. Start by checking the branches. Prune any out of place or too long twigs. Remove any unnecessary wire, that is wire on limbs that have set in place. Treat any jin and shari that needs it. Then move down to the pot. Be sure it is clean and all lime deposits are removed. Steel wool works great to clean pots. A coating with a very light wax polish such as leaf shine will make the pot look good and helps keep the mineral deposits from forming. Then check the soil. It should cover the outer roots. The surface of the soil must be clean of any fallen leaves or other debris. Now it looks so good you might as well take it to a show.

By John Miller Reprinted From 2015

2021 Programs

Feb. 03, 2021 by admin - Comments: 1

Everyone knows the difficulties we experienced in 2020, and the scheduling of programs for 2021 is still presenting a few obstacles. But we are committed to having presentations to broaden your bonsai knowledge, introduce you to local and national artists, and make bonsai enjoyable this year and in years to come. While the calendar still has some openings for 2021, we are excited to have Boon Manakitivipart join us in July. Plus the Bonsai Smiths will hopefully be joining us in the second half of 2021 for some hands-on work on your trees. Our annual Raffle and Auction will happen this June. We will keep you informed and updated of programs scheduled, and please let us know if you have any ideas for an upcoming meeting.

I Killed My Bonsai

Feb. 06, 2021 by admin - Comments: 1

Utter nonsense: You know why most beginner bonsai trees die? Hint: It doesn't have anything to do with the person involved, it's more likely to be the facility from which the bonsai was purchased.

Too often people settle for a mallsai(a bonsai purchased in a mall or home improvement store) without any kind of care instructions. Not knowing where to put the bonsai, some people place it on their television or other unsuitable location. Unfortunately, it's just a matter of time at that point.

This is not to say all mallsai die, but too many don't survive in their new environment. The next time you see a bonsai being sold at the mall or home improvement store, ask an associate for detailed information on the tree species, care instructions, or why there are rocks glued to the soil. Then sit back and enjoy the show as they scratch their head or hem and haw an answer that won't pass the common-sense test. Remember, there are bonsai trees for all experience levels, but you should always purchase your bonsai from a reputable nursery. It will arrive healthy, in good condition, and complete with accurate care instructions. And if you're not sure what species you should purchase for your climate, just ask. Bonsai gardeners are very helpful.

If you're not successful, the first time, try again. Hey, it happens and we've all been there. But keep these considerations in mind:

  • Location: Many bonsai are placed indoors without sufficient light or circulation. All bonsai require light and plenty of it. Some are fine to be indoors, but most will thrive outdoors. Every tree is different so always consult the care instructions.
  • Water: Bonsai need regular watering, to the point where the soil shouldn't dry out. Deep watering is best, but stop short of constantly soggy soil. Finally, don't fall into the trap that watering bonsai is like watering other plants. They're different, so familiarize yourself with the best methods for watering your bonsai.
  • Fertilizer: Bonsai trees do produce their own food, yet they do need trace minerals and nitrogen. However, too many trees are killed by the well-intended over-fertilizer, so if anything, err on the side of going easy with the fertilizer.
  • Growth: A bonsai tree's size must be kept in proportion to its container. As your tree grows, its root system could become constrained by the pot and overgrow. If your bonsai is not repotted -- or if the top growth is pruned -- it will eventually die. A good tip is that if your tree dries quickly between watering, it may already be too large for the container.

Confucius once said that a guilty conscience needs no accuser. So rest easy -- chances are it's not you, it's either the type of tree you purchased or a general lack of accurate care instructions. Visit your local bonsai garden to get back on track and enjoy your newfound success.

Credit: Bonsai Outlet

To Repot or Not

Feb. 25, 2021 by Steven Hendricks - Comments: 0

I reached out to Sylvia Smith with my concerns about repotting. Basically, would I do more damage to my trees by repotting after this horrible cold weather? This is what she said. (I hope she doesn't mind me sharing.)

Steven Hendricks

We keep our trees in the cold frame so we do not bury them as deeply as others if they are left outside. The few that we did leave out are either in boxes or deep plastic nursery pots and they were all nestled under the benches and not really mulched except for a few fall leaves that I scooped together for a few. That said, if you have any doubts on the health of the trees, simply do a top soil change. If drainage is poor, go a bit deeper. You can almost without fail go down to half the root ball to do this on a potted tree whether in a bonsai pot or growing container.

Our plan on what was left out is the same as our advice to members in the Dallas newsletter, wait until they push to repot. Then you should be able to see the difference between live and dead roots. If the tree looks weak or had branch damage, only do a top soil change.The hardiness is most important when storing trees but sometimes things don't go as planned and after a freeze it's pretty much a mute point. You either did it or you didn't. Even trees that are usually hardy in the cold can start off weak from insects, fungal or root issues and a cold spell can take them over the edge. If trees are left outside it is imperative that they are watered thoroughly prior to a freeze so they can freeze as a solid mass that melts as opposed to freezing dry. This will most definitely be a cause for dead roots.

Hope this all helps. Only you know what went on in your own micro-climate and the advice given from all of us hopefully will help you piece your puzzle together. I will begin repotting this Friday and will post some advice on our FB and Instagram pages (Dallas Bonsai Society).

Be well and stay safe.


March Bonsai

Mar. 01, 2021 by admin - Comments: 0

The end of 2013 and start of 2014 illustrate why you cannot just do bonsai tasks on a 'schedule', you need to vary them according to nature. In 2013 the temp here was well above average all summer, with 100's into Sept and 90's into Oct. After that the only two temps above 80 were on Oct 23 and Nov 17. Then it was a cold winter. In a way that was good because the plants stayed dormant. But you need to be extra vigilant because some species tend to respond to the lengthening daylight and others to temperature to break dormancy. Last spring my trees were confused. The order of growth was mixed up, some oaks were out before some elms etc.

Bonsai will start growing in late February or March in this area depending on your wintering techniques and on the species. After growth starts some species can take a couple degrees of frost but unless you know what your particular tree can take you should keep it from freezing. Also, newly growing roots are more tender. In this area you should keep the new foliage out of the strong winds however they should have some breeze to help harden the new foliage and to help keep insects and fungal diseases at bay.

You may continue repotting on deciduous species until you see a tiny bit of green on the tips of the swelling leaf bud. Be sure to keep the newly repotted tree out of the wind and late morning or afternoon sun. Broadleaf evergreen species will generally be okay to repot later on. Yaupon do better if you wait until it warms a bit more. Even though it gets quite warm now, we can expect a freeze in March so you may have to protect trees that have started growth and those that have been repotted this winter. Don't repot tropicals until the night temps stay above 60.

There are two different approaches to branch and tree care. The first is the development stage of the tree where you are growing and developing branches, doing root work and generally developing the style of the tree. During this time you will cut and wire and then let it grow for a good period of time developing taper and interesting bends and twists. Timing of these functions is not as critical.

The other approach comes after the development stage and results in the refinement of the bonsai. This gives it the twiginess, small leaves and patina of age which takes it from a commercial bonsai to a piece of art. It is quite time consuming especially in the flush growth period after dormancy breaks. If not done carefully, the new growth will thicken the twigs and cause long internodes which will ruin all the previous work and may even send you back to the development stage.

Now you should get your tweezers and shears ready for the real job ahead. In order to develop the ramification and fine twigs you want you must be pruning the new growth as it develops. Waiting until the shoots are three or four inches or longer results in coarse twigs with long internodes. These will have to be cut off and new ones developed.

Junipers in development should be trimmed with shears. Styled juniper may be done with the fingers. As the new growth develops grasp the twigs with one hand spreading the foliage in a fan shape. Then with the other hand grasp the tips between the fleshy part of your thumb and finger and pull it off. Using fingernails or scissors will result in brown tips on the cut foliage.

As the weather warms up the insects will surely make their appearance. Use the foliar spray (1 tablespoon each of fish emulsion, liquid kelp, molasses, and apple cider vinegar per gallon of water) weekly to control aphid, mites, caterpillars etc. Commercial sprays may be used but follow directions closely. Be sure to spray with a fine mist sprayer to cover thoroughly.

Be careful when using a new insecticide or cure. The best advice is to try it first on some lesser plants to see how it behaves in your yard. Hydrogen peroxide is suggested as a control for fungal problems. The peroxide degenerates into water and oxygen fairly rapidly so is no threat to the environment. Personally, I have used 1% peroxide on elms and yaupons later on in the season spraying once a week. It got rid of the black spot with no damage. However, when I sprayed tender new spring foliage with it I caused considerable leaf burn. Therefore anytime I use peroxide it will be on mature foliage and at a 0.5% solution.

Fertilizing is necessary once the trees start to grow. Too many trees exhibited do not have a good dark green foliage. Since we are using soilless mixes for the most part, a different technique is required than used for most potted plants. Water soluble chemical fertilizers should be used at half strength and more often than given since they will wash out with the next watering. The same is more or less true with liquid organic fertilizers. The best technique is to use solid organic fertilizers. Fertilizer cakes on the surface is the best way. They break down slowly and a small amount is carried into the root zone each time you water. Pelletized organic material can be spread on the surface also but they tend to crumble and create an undesirable surface. Be sure that the fertilizer you use has a balanced formula and not high in nitrogen. Be especially careful with chemicals or manure based organic fertilizer on newly potted plants.

By John Miller - Reprinted From 2015


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