Category Archives: Bonsai Care

Preparing a Bonsai for Show

Part 29 of a series by Eugene Howell

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Bonsai at Malvern Garden show

If you’re considering entering one or more of your bonsai trees into a bonsai exhibit, show or other public display there are a few things you’ll need to do to get your tree ready for the show. Especially if you want your tree to be on the same professional level as all the others.

In bonsai, as all hobbyists know, small leaves are of special value. For this reason, if you enter a display or show with a tree on which you have not tried to miniaturize the leaves (if they need it), you are already far behind. So you need to begin this “getting ready for a show” by doing something about leaf size. Because new leaves do not just spring out after defoliation, the process of getting ready for a show should start about 12 weeks ahead of the show date. This allows plenty of time for the tree to produce a full canopy of new leaves before show time. For tropical trees, keep in mind that if the show is in mid winter, you shouldn’t defoliate. Tropical trees are very unhappy about having all their leaves plucked off during that time of year, so don’t do it. In this case you’re safer to show the tree as is.
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How to Clean and Maintain Bonsai Pots

Part 28 of a series by Eugene Howell

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Bonsai at the Temple de la littératureThe bonsai pot is not just for holding the soil in which the bonsai grows. The pot’s appearance is very important to the overall impression your bonsai gives to the viewer who’s admiring it. We covered pot selection in part 13

Today however, I want to talk about cleaning a bonsai pot. Granted, while your bonsai sits in your own backyard, it’s likely that you’ll be the only one looking at it and therefore dirty pots may not be something of much concern. However, when it comes time to display your bonsai trees, whether in a show, exhibit, or even a club meeting, it’s important to clean up the pot so that it adds to the impressiveness of the bonsai.
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Protecting Bonsai with a Microclimate

Part 27 of a series by Eugene Howell

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EXPOSICIÓ DE BONSAIS DE TARDOR CIUTAT DE VILANOVAWe’ve begun to have cold weather this winter in Florida. The temperature for three successive nights got low enough to do serious damage to any tropical bonsai which may have been left outdoors and unprotected.
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Bonsai Dormancy

Part 26 of a series by Eugene Howell

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bonsai in winterIn the previous article we began the discussion of bonsai dormancy. We covered the definition and the fact that not all species go dormant, and not even each plant within a particular species, goes dormant at the same time. We also learned of the interest scientists have in the subject of dormancy. We finished the first part by asking the question, “So what causes dormancy and when can it typically be expected to occur?” We will answer that question in today’s article.

The first part of the question is easier to answer than is the latter part. Typically, dormancy is caused by one or more of the following four events; shorter days, cooler temperatures, hotter temperatures or drought. Two of these sound like an oxymoron, but they are not. Not all plants respond to the same events in initiating dormancy. Some plants need shorter daylight hours and/or lower temperatures while others need hotter/drier conditions. In both cases the plant is protecting itself from adverse weather conditions that might otherwise injure it. In the first case the plant is protecting itself from the cold temperatures that frequent winter, and in the second case the plant is protecting itself from the desiccating conditions that occur in late summer and early fall in some parts of the world.
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Dormant Trees

Part 25 of a series by Eugene Howell

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Dormant treesYou’ve heard that the best time to do major branch pruning and root work on deciduous trees is during the winter when the trees are dormant. But what does it mean that the bonsai is dormant?

If you look in a horticulture dictionary you will see that dormancy is “a resting phase; a state of temporary cessation of growth and the slowing down of other activities in whole plants”. In this phase transpiration almost stops, production of food stops, and leaves turn color and eventually drop during fall. The only part of the tree that stays fairly active is the root system. During this period the roots take the opportunity to continue their development.
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Bonsai Tree Roots

Part 24 of a series by Eugene Howell

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Bonsai tree rootsIn the previous post we learned the importance of the health of a bonsai’s root system and how the root hairs function. We also learned why water will move into a root hair and what can cause that process to reverse, causing harm or death to the bonsai. In this article we’ll continue discussing how to keep your bonsai tree roots healthy.

With the exception of desert plants, bonsai trees like to have their roots in moist, but not wet, soil at all times. This means that the soil must never be allowed to completely dry out or the tree will quickly die. If you discover one day that your bonsai is wilted and has drooping leaves but was in perfect health the previous day, it’s safe to assume you probably forgot to water it. Watering to often, however, can also harm the tree because it can allow root rot to set in.
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Bonsai Roots

Part 23 of a series by Eugene Howell

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Bonsai RootsBonsai hobbyists spend a majority of their “bonsai time” looking at and working with, the trunk, branches and leaves of their trees, but keep in mind that one third of the bonsai tree isn’t visible and yet needs a good deal of thought and care placed on it. This, of course, is the root system. Healthy bonsai roots are critical to the general health and vigor of the tree, but since they are out of sight, they’re often out of mind. Most of us only think about the roots when it’s time to re-pot, and then the thought process only encompasses whether or not the roots need to be trimmed.

The health of a bonsai’s root system is just as important to the tree as all its other parts. As a matter of fact, some would argue that there is no other part of the tree that’s more important than the roots because it is there that all of the nutrients and water are absorbed into the tree. The roots are also where the tree stores the great majority of its emergency ration of food and where the tree gets its ability to remain standing upright. A plant can get along without its leaves for several weeks and can easily survive when all its branches are removed (which is a typical way to initially begin styling a Ficus) yet if we remove too many roots the tree will die within just a few days.

So let’s spend some time discussing bonsai roots and how to keep them healthy.
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Bonsai Leaf Reduction

Part 22 of a series by Eugene Howell

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Bonsai TreeThis is a continuation of an article on bonsai leaf reduction by defoliating. In the previous article we learned that if a bonsai loses all its leaves during the growing season, it will replace them with new ones, but that the new leaves will be smaller than the original ones. Thus we have one technique for reducing leaf size; complete defoliation of the tree.

When the leaves are removed the tree maintains life by using its stored food, so completely defoliating a tree too frequently is not recommended unless you happen to live in a subtropical area like South Florida. In temperate parts of the country it’s recommended that defoliating a bonsai be done only once each year because the tree must be given enough time (with leaves) to store up food to get through the winter. In Florida our evergreen trees do not go completely dormant and deciduous trees are dormant for only a few weeks. So a large store of food isn’t necessary. Thus, here in Florida defoliating bonsai can be done in late Spring, and again in late Summer.
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Bonsai Defoliation

Part 21 of a series by Eugene Howell

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Plant close upEvery once in a while I’ll see a bonsai on display that’s really outstanding. I’ll stop and take a good long look at it trying to figure out what makes it so attractive. In addition to the perfect branch placement, the outstanding ramification and beautifully formed leaf pads, there’s a little something extra that seems to make it a perfect bonsai. After studying it for a little while, and knowing something about the particular species, I’ll realize that it’s the leaves. The leaves are in perfect proportion to the size of the tree and this is what makes it look really good.

Bonsai tree’s are supposed to resemble full grown trees but on a very small scale. Frequently, however, people will bonsai a species of tree or shrub that has naturally large leaves. The end result is a bonsai that does not resemble a full grown tree because the large leaves are way out of proportion compared to the twigs and branches.
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Bonsai Tool Care

Part 20 of a series by Eugene Howell

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bonsai toolsTools are critically important to bonsai. The art of bonsai itself has specialized tools made and used only for creating beautiful bonsai trees. However, during a local bonsai club meeting this year, the guest artist, who was giving a demonstration, made a comment on the apparent lack of care that had been shown to the tools our club had provided him for his demonstration.
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