Thursday, 18 July 2013

The perfect (heat)wave

Wow, UK summer is well and truly here and it certainly makes growing bonsai easy.

 They are loving the sunlight, loving the warmth, growing like mad, making new buds and generally replacing lost energy from a few poorer than average years we've had recently. It has been interesting observing that the healthy balanced trees are responding just like this and are in such good condition - no scorching, no burning, no withering and this is down to healthy roots, balanced feeding and proper watering - basically saying it like that I realise it is down to horticulture rather than bonsai-culture that sees our trees thrive in weather like this. Likewise if there are trees crisping up, losing branches or even dying in the heat it is down to poor care leading up to weather like this and the biggest culprit for this has to be bad repotting techique followed by lack of understanding leading to over watering. Once you tick all the boxes and get the soil mix and horticultural bit right the trees will be doing well with one single watering per day, early evening is my choice, and even the growing stock of shohin sized trees we have here are treated the same

Placement is equally important - you must know your garden and display area inside out so you can place the right trees in the correct places - not everything needs shade netting over it but some trees certainly do - we shade directly overhead but allow free air movement right through the trees from all sides.
Currently there are 5 seperate areas - 2 are shaded with netting, 1 gets shade from the house from lunchtime onwards and 2 areas get full sun virtually all day.

In full sun I have hinokis, the big chinese elm, black pine, zelkova, pyracantha, a couple of palmatums and junipers that have not been repotted or bent in a major way. Under the netted areas there are taxus, tridents, crenata beech, deshojo, all repotted trees and all newly worked material.

I just walked around some of the deciduous bonsai trees in the garden and took a quick picture of the leaves as they are tonight

Acer Palmatum - Deshojo
Crenata - Japanese white beech

Korean Hornbeam
Trident maple - large tree

Acer Palmatum - Kiyohime

All these bonsai are in various locations in the garden - one is in the greenhouse still, some are on the benches and some sat on the gravel fully exposed in the new sales area but they are all equally happy. 

Bonsai is about planning ahead I guess, and it is usually too late when something looks or goes wrong ! Our trees can get through normal years without dying, even if they are weakened by ongoing poor horticultural practices. While striving for small leaves, small needles, tiny buds and then giving yourself a pat on the back when you get them spare a thought to why the growth is so stunted - is the tree weak and semi starved ? if so it will  probably die sometime in the future during a period of extreme stress - be it  excess winter cold, heat wave or cold wet everlasting springs. In contrast by making a super strong healthy tree with perfect horticultual skills you can easily achieve the small leaves, short internodes and tidy needles with correct bonsai methods.

Native Hornbeam

I had a few years trying to reinvent the wheel looking back when it came to soils - adding a load of completely unnecessary components like bark, fired clay balls, shredded moss....all looked good, sounded perfect, but looking back I couldn't say what actual benefit each item was making. While getting too side tracked by soil components I was missing the important part - particle size and stability - and it was with a thankful bump I returned to terra firma following a few days repotting trees with Peter Warren. 

Being really honest I don't think i've sieved so much before in 24 years as I have this spring - and like all good things what you actually need is simple - a slightly larger particle on the bottom for better aeration and then a smaller but even sized particle for the rest - I use akadama, kiryu and pumice with more akadama for water lovers and less for 'dry' trees - that is it - boring, non fancy, but totally effective. Sieve size 2 (from the 3 you get in the set - what sits on top is aeration layer, what goes through ends up in a bucket.....add the finest sieve and what goes through is not needed for bonsai and what sits on top is the main planting soil - bonsai basics chapter 1 ticked

This is a much finer mix than popular currently but it is perfect - it firms down well, drains of course but does not go bone dry in the blink of an eye. The real problem i was having with the black fired clay / bark / etc was its tendency for the surface to shift about while watering - and if the soil moves roots will not grow in that area, so that layer of soil is a total waste for the tree - the bonsai pot is small enough as it is so we need to make ever part of it help the tree in some way. 


Linked to repotting has to be root pruning - It is only once every few years we get the chance to improve the roots by removing strong woody ones and cutting back long ones - the finer and more compact the roots become the better they will work for the tree - root efficiency will maintain foliage quality while poor roots always lead to weak branches, die off and even total tree death. I think as much care needs taking with the parts of the tree out of sight as is taken with the top bit - this has been the second step in understanding real bonsai better - loads of people can make the top bits look 'wow' but it is a much smaller number that can keep 100% of the trees healthy, thriving and styled 

There are countless feeds, potions, methods and recommendations available to bonsai growers and I'm not the sort of person to run down or belittle one brand in favour of another - My advice is believe your eyes not hype and again it comes right back to visible plant health. At times we hear of very nice trees dying off in times of hard weather conditions - if they were healthy and properly looked after they would not die - there are trees trusted to naturally gifted growers across the world that have lived decades or even centuries in a pot - then there are trees that change hands or get over shown, over fiddled with etc and they decline rapidly.........

All my trees are fed the same way with the natural pellets that were first made in my factory 4 years ago. Now we are in the fine tuning stages before general release and the trees are certainly responding by giving balanced steady growth, great colour and incredible vitality - most importantly it is healthy growth and not weak sappy shoots that will wilt in the high temperatures - if the fertiliser is unbalanced you can get incorrect growth patterns and these are made even worse by poor watering. Whatever feed you choose replace it (or apply it) when needed and if you are not happy with visible results change!! remember though it may be a good fertiliser you tried that did not suit your way of growing 

Native Beech - 95% ok, this one has been in full sun all day on the exposed gravel area

Does anything panic a bonsai grower more in hot weather ?? the fear the trees will die by morning if not drenched until water is pouring from the drainage holes...we have all been there I'm sure. With age and experience comes confidence I guess - falling back to observation of our trees individually you can soon see if they need water - roots need air, we all know that - if the soil is always wet or worse still waterlogged there is less oxygen - roots hate this.......a tree in a rest period needs less water than one actively growing - our trees grow in spurts then slow - so water is actually needed more by active trees than resting ones - the only way to know which trees are resting is to look at them daily and understand what you see

Over watering can lead to sappy long extension growth and weak 'soft' foliage rather than properly hardened off leathery leaves  -the soft leaves scorch when the soil dries out and the sappy growth wilts and dies back so once you get into the habit of over watering you have to continue of the tree will show damage. 

Have an experiment with a spare tree - see how long it takes to wilt - only then will you know how long trees can go. Many trees thrive without daily drenching and will be better for it - over watering does nothing more than make a rod for your own back  - creating a catch 22 

Trident maple shohin

If you hear trees are struggling or dying off elseware in this weather it is because the horticultural methods used in previous months or years have been basically wrong - the warmth and sunlight is our trees friend but the basics had to be right long before to enable them to thrive in it.

to keep the trend going;

for the entire Uk

for the overwaters
oh yeah baby ;-)

and for all the ravers
put your hands in the aaairrrrrrrrr