Indoor Bonsai

Wintertime in the South is a time that my house fills with all the tropical plants from my bench.  Growing indoor bonsai can be a very rewarding experience especially if your new to bonsai and want to keep it close to you.  Unfortunately, it can be the most frustrating start to your bonsai career.  I started like many others have, with a juniper “mallsai”.  It was a gift from my lovely wife.  I made the classic bonsai beginner mistake and kept it inside for a couple of weeks.  After reading through many of the sites linked to on this site, I figured out that a juniper is for outdoors only.  My second purchase was a Ficus Microcarpa and a much better choice for indoor growing.  Since then, I have purchased several tropical bonsai that I have enjoyed taking care of.

Each year, I experiment with lighting conditions for these indoor bonsai, and this year is no different.  This year, I am trying a 24-inch fluorescent grow light for my smaller bonsai that was actually pretty cheap at Wal-Mart ($9.95).  My ficus gets it’s own 100-watt 6500K daylight CFL and my jade gets a 75 watt desk lamp that does a terrible job.  This seems to keep them barely happy for the winter months.  I really can’t wait for the summer months to put them back outside.  They seem much happier in the sunlight.  I fully intend to create a new setup before next year that would include 3 24-inch fluorescents of different color temperatures.  Apparently, when using florescent, you should try to vary the color temps to cover as much ground as possible.  From 2700K to 6500K.  Here’s some articles that I run across while doing my research:

Indoor Bonsai – As Difficult as You Make It

Fuku Bonsai

Growing Bonsai Indoors

Growing Indoor Plants with Success

Grow Lights (Wikipedia)

Ficus: Growing Indoors Under Light

Bonsai Bench

Bonsai Bench is a well put-together site that let’s users input care information for plant varieties used for bonsai. It’s an excellent concept and needs more user interaction to cover all the different varieties and zones that exist. If you have experience in bonsai and would like to contribute care information for a specific variety, I’d encourage you to do so. Hopefully, beginners will be able to use the site to find their tree in their zone and get specific information on the best times to prune and feed.

Air Layering Resources

Bonsai Bark did a nice series in the past couple of months on air-layering. If you have mature yard trees, a well-developed branch you need to remove, or would like the chance to start over with your nebari, then air-layering is definitely something to look into. Here’s the links:

A Simple Air-layering Technique Part 1
A Simple Air-layering Technique Part 2
A Simple Air-layering Technique Part 3

Here’s an explanation of the process and why it works over at EverGreen Garden Works:  What is Air Layering?

Some other resources:

Layering Techniques for Bonsai

Ground Layering at Bonsai4Me

Airlayering by the Texas Agriculture Extension Office

If you have any other resources about air layering and it’s relationship with bonsai, send me the links and I’ll add them to this post.

Fall is here

Highs this week are in the low 80’s signifying the end of the really hot temps that we’ve seen all summer here.  Some of my trees are slowly coming back to life with some fall growth like the boxwoods, junipers, and even some late growth on my crape myrtles.  Not all of my bonsai made it through the summer though, with this azalea struggling for the past 3 months and finally giving up the fight in the past month or so.  I have repotted trees in almost every month of the year, but got entirely too brave with this repot.  I repotted during the flowering period, put it in too shallow of a pot, and there was just too much of the root system above the soil line.  I started out with sphagnum moss covering the top part of the root system, but it kept that part too wet.   The other part stayed way too dry due to the soil being about 80% turface.  I guess you could call this a progression picture, but it’s certainly not progression in the right direction.It’s an understatement to say I still have much to learn about the art of bonsai.

Satsuki Azalea Shanghai Rosie

Satsuki Azalea "Shanghai Rosie"

I give you…the bonsai lineup

Finally got moved to a new house with a lot more room inside and out.  The yard is a blank slate of possibilities for planting and I’m really trying to ramp up my landscaping skills.  Hopefully, this will translate into a better yard, and some better collected bonsai specimens in the future.  My bonsai are not in the best of spots, but it will do for now.  After over 4 weeks of high temperatures being between 98-100 degrees, several are showing signs of severe stress.  The southern climate can be a tough one, but I’ve chosen trees that have proven themselves to be winners in this area.  It hasn’t been fun watering every single day without fail for over a month, but it will hopefully pay off with some prized bonsai specimens.  Here’s the lineup:

Reflections on the Past Winter

My first winter as a bonsai owner was very interesting and very boring at the same time. First, barely anything grows during the winter. My flowering sansaqua camellias were about the only thing to look at when I went outside. At first, I thought this would be a huge letdown, but it actually turned into a positive. With all the rain that takes place and with nothing growing, winter is a time that you can take away from bonsai for a while. They get plenty of water (although I’d still check them every few days) and so you can concentrate on other things in your life. This spring, when everything started growing again, I gained a renewed interest into something that was basically in the back of my mind for the last few months. It was a welcome break and now I’m ready to get back fertilizing and watching things grow. The only items of maintenance for me were:

  1. Make sure everything was watered well when it hadn’t rained in a few days.
  2. Make sure ants weren’t taking up a winter home in my pots.
  3. Protect the more sensitive plants from wind.
  4. Fertilize with a 0-10-10 (balanced is fine too, but I had already bought this) once a month.
  5. Bring in the tropicals for the winter when lows start dropping below 50 degrees.

Repotted Azalea Bonsai

I blogged about the “Shanghai Rosie” Azalea bonsai that I purchased from Guy Guidry a few months ago. I had gotten a new pot over Christmas and decided to repot it in something a little larger and thought the blue pot would go great with the green leaves and pink flowers. I bought the blue Houtoku pot from Bonsai Monk. It’s probably not the time for it, most people repot after the flowering period I think, but It’s progressing nicely and there are even 3 flowers hidden in the leaves. I’m hoping to see a lot more flower production next year.

Shanghai Rosie Azalea Bonsai

Shanghai Rosie Azalea Bonsai

Wintergreen Boxwood Bonsai

I have had this boxwood for about a year. Last spring, I repotted it into a slightly larger pot and basically cut the top out of it to let the lower branches get light. I’ve heard that boxwood branches need some foliage left on them to continue growing, so I left it for a year and waited for some sprouts lower where the sun was now reaching. I actually had several new sprouts on many branches and it allowed me to cut further this spring. I also put it into a large bonsai pot for some growing room and to get the roots growing out and not down. I hope to style this in a live oak style. Here it is today:

Hurricanes and Bonsai

Being in the South, we’re often faced with the threat of one or several hurricanes in a year. Several days of wind and rain pound your trees performing a pruning and defoliating action on your trees by mother nature herself. It’s tough to see something you watch and care for go through this, but all in all, as long as it doesn’t get too bad, I think it’s good for them. I may change my mind one day when a major branch is broken, but for now, I leave them out to toughen them against the forces of nature. has a good article on Hurricanes and houseplants, and the lessons we can learn from them. It goes over the differences between your indoor potted plants and your outdoor landscape plants. Click here to read the article.

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Fertilizing Bonsai

I tend to love fertilizing days. It seems like I’m nurturing the tree and providing everything that it needs. We all want our pre-bonsai trees to grow at their maximum growth rate and we want to make sure our bonsai trees stay at their best.

I have several fertilizer types that I use on my trees. For in-ground trees, I use all organic fertilizers. I love Plant-tone All-purpose organic which contains a mixture of organic components (blood meal, feather meal, manure, crab meal, etc.) to give your trees a complete nutritional buffet with a 5-3-3 nitrogen/phosphorus/potassium mixture. I also have started using Terraform worm pellets and Terraform liquid fertilizer. The worm pellets are pretty inexpensive if the recommended rates of feeding are right. One $8 bottle is going to last me a couple of years. The liquid version is the exact opposite. I spent one $8 bottle in one feeding.

For potted trees, I’m using a variety of inorganic fertilizers right now. Miracle-Grow Bloom Booster (15-30-15), All-Purpose (24-8-16), and Miracid (30-10-10). I know many people who use Miracle-Gro fertilizers on their bonsai and swear by them. I have compared them to other liquid fertilizers and they do tend to pack more micro-nutrients that the tree needs. I just haven’t been able to find another that compares. It’s immediate, I haven’t had any problems with it burning, and it’s very easy to apply once you get your system of fertlizing down. I am thinking of trying some of my organics with my potted trees following some advice that I got at a bonsai forum, and I’ll wait and see what kind of results I get out of that.

For a much more general article on fertilizing your bonsai, check out this article. Technorati Tags: , ,