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Archive for July, 2008

It is hoped that this page will offer tips and techniques to help all bonsai enthusiasts.

As a beginning, I’d like to offer a discovery I made just this spring.  Not that it’s certainly new, just new for me, and I’ve not seen nor heard it mentioned in the bonsai literature.

It is because of the fact that, despite high humidity in Florida, many plants don’t grow as well here normally as they do elsewhere.  I remember back to the environs of Baltimore where I grew bonsai for many years and the same was true there, and the remedy was the same.  That’s because of heat and poor soil primarily.

It involves the use of mist on a plant, in the ground or in a pot with the soil the  Japanese recommend – a semi-hydroponic mix, as it were.

When we create a cool (or at least cooler) rainforest environment, similar to, for example, the Oregon coast, many plants that don’t like too much heat can prosper.  Of course, it can also create a saturated soil condition if the soil isn’t at least semi-hydroponic, i.e., plenty of permanent relatively large air pore spaces between particles.

Even if the soil becomes saturated (growing in the ground), there are many plants which don’t mind and, in fact, are benefited by the added moisture.  These include hornbeams, sageretia, ficus, and any plant which normally grows in alluvial soils.  What happens is that the roots, seeking oxygen (a capacity particularly needed by those which grow in such soils), tend to develop on the surface of the ground – in profusion – creating a perfect result for bonsai.  Even when the tree is a bonsai in a pot, the cooling effect of mist benefits both the health of the plant and also its growth, and does no harm to the roots if they are in the correct well-sifted bonsai soil.  Azaleas, of course, are particularly aided by this action, but many others are as well.

So, by putting a mist head over the plant in the ground (or, with the right soil mix, in a pot) we can not only get much better growth of the upper side of the plant, the roots of many subjects are made wonderful.

This works particularly well when a plant is kept in full sun when it might perhaps enjoy high – or better – shade, but it also works for plants in high shade, and even – for those which are used to the heavy shade of the swamp – in heavy shade.  I’ve found Sageretia are very grateful for this handling.

The question inevitably arises as to what damage may be done to the plant when its mist is withdrawn.   Of course, a gradual withdrawal is called for, but at Pasiminan we’ve turned off the mist from some plants in shade and moved them almost immediately to full sun, without damage.  The key is light mist, not heavy mist bordering on drizzle.  The largest difficulty with such change is to make sure the plants’ soils stay well watered and don’t dry out.

I think that this can work in winter as an environment amelioration, as micromist is used in orange groves down here to protect against frost.  If one lived in New England or colder climates it might be possible to get more yearly growth on a plant and even help it overwinter better – again, depending on the soil mix.

I think this will probably only work with natural – not treated – water, as from a city supply, especially if it is chlorinated.

We’ve continued to experiment with more plants and, of the ones we’ve tried, haven’t found any yet which don’t benefit.  Of course, we’ve kept away, so far, from plants which enjoy deep root systems and dryer soils, like pines.  Not all conifers are incapable of benefiting, however, even bypassing the question of the bald cypress which very likely would.  Those junipers which sprout new roots readily from the trunk, from the bumps under the bark which are actually unpopped adventitious root nodes, seem to like it too.  These include most of the non-upright Chinese junipers, including San Jose, Parsoni, and Shimpaku.  Even the upright foemina seems to like it, but we haven’t quite enough evidence on it yet to be definitive.

It seems to me that this is an area that many bonsai enthusiasts can experiment in and, by comparing notes, we can all benefit from the accumulating knowledge pool.

And too, If anyone has any further observations on this subject, we’ll be glad to publish them here, to add to a growing compendium of insights..

“From time to time we will present special messages which will hopefully be fun and valuable.”.

I apologize for beginning these ramblings with a personal note, but a little history is in order.

Although I had planned, long ago, to expand my work in bonsai continuingly, fate decided otherwise. Family business, and a host of other responsibilities, caused me to have to end all but the most rudimentary of bonsai activities.

That was over twenty years ago. My collection has suffered, though I tried to hang on to some. But having to leave much of the tending to others caused many a slip. For example, I have a large trident maple ( 3 1/2 feet tall, 12″ diameter base and root spread beyond that) which I collected in 1972, with a wonderful set of roots, a powerful muscled and tapered trunk, and good branching and which, for many years I considered the centerpiece of my collection. I displayed it in the Florida Nurserymen and Growers Association annual trade show back in 1985 and was offered $20,000 for it then, as well as its winning the “best plant in show” award, though I don’t hold much credence with judges’ commendations.

It and pot weigh over 250 pounds and I am able (barely) to lift it, but one hefty other and I can move it without too much stress. However a crew of 4, even with direction, can put the hurt on the lightest load. Apparently two of them didn’t know their right from their left. The quartet parted company, as did pieces of the pot as it hit the ground. There went a Tokoname pot worth $800 wholesale when bought in 1975.

Later, a horticulturally trained (though not in bonsai) worker made another mistake with it. When it developed a mistletoe infection, I asked her to paint Roundup on the mistletoe leaves (when done carefully, I’ve found it works). In a spirit of generosity and completeness, she painted the whole branch. Other bonsai had similar fates.

Now I’m finally beginning the trident’s resurrection. It will be going into a grow ring and a new top will be inarched. Eventually, perhaps, it will be worth being a centerpiece again, but the job of trying to fix it is a gentling experience and worthwhile task in its own right.

In the meantime, I’ve been growing a lot of root pruned, in-ground material: more tridents, crape myrtles, podocarpus, hornbeams, zelkovas, boxwoods, junipers, sageretia, pyracantha, etc., so there is plenty of good material to play with and of those some will find their way into my personal area.

Now I’ve begun to offer plants to the public again, as well as workshops and other hopefully interesting activities. And five acres of plants will expand to at least ten eventually.

In the ensuing years, much has changed in the bonsai world. Where before the professionals whom I would have said were at the state of the art level in this country were a few handsful, now there are many to guide the enthusiast with more or less accurate aim. That can’t help but expand bonsai numbers and activities, and make it more fun for all.

I come back to a larger family, but just as friendly. Nice.

The mind hasn’t been inactive in all this time, either, and I’ve discovered more tricks of the trade, as it were. Having bonsai in the back of my mind has helped keep me mentally healthy, though some might argue the point.

Still it’s nice to know I haven’t lost the mindset and to discover that bonsai skills are a lot like riding a bicycle. Once one knows how, one never loses it, though one may be a bit rusty the first few times back in the saddle.

Today I see it as a way to make friends: gentle, mindful friends. That’s an opportunity that we all might want, and to that end I plan to make this tiny corner of the world a place where all can come to jaw, share ideas, and get help with whatever problems they might have.

Helping, after all, is what everyone wants to do when fear hormones stop.

The study and practice of bonsai seems to be a particularly efficient way of ending them.

…and a delicious way of finding more beauty in the world.

In these ramblings I’ll try to keep to a point about bonsai and/or the natural world of which bonsai is, of course, a representation.

To help others – and ourselves – in experiencing the immense beauty that the human mind is capable of conceiving, is part of how we all want to help. That’s especially so when we are appreciating bonsai, and it’s most of the purpose of bonsai: as a teaching aid to that end.

I’m glad I’m back.

As St. Augustine put it so elegantly: “the world is a smiling place”.

September 3, 2006 (transferred to this website, July 5, 2008).