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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Bonsai Root Pruning

Part 19 of a series by Eugene Howell

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Bonsai DisplayBonsai root pruning is the one task, above all others, that can cause the death of your tree very quickly. However, avoiding the task may also readily kill your bonsai. Let’s discuss how to properly prune the roots of a bonsai to minimize the possibility of killing it.

Periodically every bonsai begins to outgrow its pot. Either the tree becomes too large for the pot it’s in or the tree’s roots become too crowded. Of these two conditions, overcrowded roots is the one you’ll most frequently encounter and it means you’ll need to remove the tree from its pot, wash all the dirt off it, untangled all the roots and then prune those same roots. If this task is not done carefully and correctly, your bonsai can die within a very few days.
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Fertilizing Bonsai

Part 18 of a series by Eugene Howell

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Brazilian Rain TreeConsidering how little soil a bonsai tree lives in, fertilizing bonsai trees is especially important. But which fertilizer should you buy for your bonsai? When you look at a bag of fertilizer you’ll see a set of three large numbers written across the front that look something like “8-6-4” or any other combination of three numbers. Every bonsai enthusiast must know how to relate these numbers to the needs of each type of bonsai tree they’re growing.

In a previous article we learned that these numbers represent the content of Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K) contained in the fertilizer, in that order. The numbers written on fertilizer labels are actually percentages. So, for example, the number 5-3-15 means 5% of the weight of that bag of fertilizer is nitrogen, 3% is phosphorus, and 15% is potassium.
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Bonsai Wiring

Part 17 of a series by Eugene Howell

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Bonsai WiringBonsai wiring is what gives the bonsai artist nearly total control over the shape and design of his or her bonsai tree. By using wire, we can implement a curve into a branch where there hadn’t been one before. We can force a branch to lean one way or another. We can even coerce branches to begin growing in a direction different from where they originally wanted to go.

Wiring can control movement in the trunk, branches and sometimes even the roots. Wiring is to bonsai what a steering wheel is to a car. It allows you to tell the bonsai in what direction to go (grow).

Bonsai wiring works because, when done properly, it allows the artist to bend a branch to a desired shape and direction. The wire itself holds the branch in the desired position until enough new wood is grown to solidify this new shape. But wiring can be both a blessing and a curse because if it’s left on too long it can cause terrible, unsightly scarring on a tree.
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Bonsai Pinching

Part 16 of a series by Eugene Howell

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Satsuki Azalea {rhododendron indicum}One of the techniques that a beginner in bonsai learns early is that frequent pinching of growing tips is essential to the development of good ramification. The general rule is that when there are five to seven leaves on a branch; pinch it back to two or three. This is easy enough to understand, but is there any other reason for bonsai pinching, or a need to worry about when to pinch? What happens if you neglect this task for a few weeks? There are two answers to these questions.

When developing the plan for how you want your newly styled bonsai to look three to five years from now, you must remember that in nature, the branches on the lower part of a tree are large in diameter and are long. In examining the tree further up, you’ll notice that the branches progressively get thinner and shorter as they get closer to the top of the tree. This concept of nature is one of the main considerations in selecting which branches are to remain when styling a pre-bonsai for the first time: larger diameter branches at the bottom and thinner branches near the top.
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Bonsai Lessons for Beginners

Part 15 of a series by Eugene Howell

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Ficus BonsaiIn the previous post we began the discussion of how to start a bonsai by first identifying where the front of your new bonsai will be. The front of a bonsai tree is defined as the side of the tree you want to have facing the viewer when your finished bonsai is on display. By determining where the front is, you’ll then be able to perform the tree’s first styling. We learned that the root flair gives the first indication of where the front may be. We also learned that if the roots don’t fulfill this mission then we next look at the trunk. In today’s bonsai lessons for beginners, we’ll find out how the trunk can help us find the front the bonsai tree.

The characteristic that most people observe first about a bonsai tree is the trunk’s movement, meaning the trunk’s curves and twists. Observe your tree from all sides and decide which view provides the most interesting curves and twists. This will likely turn out to be the front, but there are a few more considerations that need to be made before the final decision such as large unsightly scars or if there’s any reverse taper which is always unwanted in a bonsai. If your tree has any of these you may need to select a different front that helps to hide those blemishes.
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