Questions on: Bonsai
Ron Smith, Horticulturist, NDSU Extension Service
For more information on bonsai, see the Bonsai Empire web site.
Q: A man called asking if he could prune his bonsai spruce tree. He brings it in during the fall and sets it out in the summer. Everything he has read says to prune the tree in the spring, but can he do it now? (e-mail reference)
A: The reason for pruning in the spring is the cuts will heal from the stimulation of new growth. That wouldn't happen if the plant was trimmed now. If he has to do it now, he is increasing the risk of stunting or injuring the plant because the plant lacks healing energy.
Q: I understand that bonsai is a technique that helps a tree live longer. Some trees are much easier to assist than others. Is a Norfolk pine one of these? Iíve read that they are more delicate and pruning is more difficult. I have a few seedlings and would like to try the root-over-rock technique. Is it worth the effort? (e-mail reference)
A: I would say no. Norfolk Island pines make beautiful houseplants, but they, unless you have a lot of skill, make poor bonsai plants. Go for a juniper instead. Juniper is the beginnerís choice because of its ease of establishment, and tolerance to abuse and neglect, and it makes handsome bonsai specimens!
Q: What kind of soil should I use for a bonsai tree? (E-mail reference)
A: A soil and container that have good drainage characteristics.
Q: My fiancť brought a small bonsai home from the Philippines about two weeks ago. To bring it back we had to clear the root of any dirt. We followed all of the planting and care instructions after we returned to Minnesota. At first we thought it looked bad because it had to adjust but no matter what we do, it stays very dry. Is there anything we can do? Please help bring my bonsai back to life! (E-mail reference)
A: Sorry, but I have no magic power to do that. If I did, no one would ever let me ever sleep!
Bonsai is a special way of growing a plant that is not for the novice gardener. It is something that needs studying, beginning with easily grown plants that are very forgiving of our human foibles. You then move on, with experience gained, to more challenging species. I suggest visiting your local garden centers or florist shops to see if they have some locally produced bonsai plants that you grow to gain experience. It is never a good idea to attempt to bring a plant in from another country because it is too much of a hassle and can lead to some disease/insect problems with our native species.
Q: I received a bonsai tree as a gift. I am confused about winter care. Most information on the Internet says to keep it outside over winter. I have a feeling they aren't talking about North Dakota. Any suggestions for winter care would be appreciated. (Minot, N.D.)
A: It must be an evergreen, and yes, you are right, they didn't have North Dakota in mind when they made that suggestion! I would store it in as cold (non-freezing) a room as possible where natural light can reach it. Watch out for dehydration, and if the temperature does go below freezing, make sure the root system and container is wrapped with some insulating cloth or other suitable material. The roots have a lower tolerance to low temperatures than do the stems.
Q: I have tried twice to keep a Bonsai juniper tree; both times, the needles turned brown and the tree died. I mixed a small amount of liquid plant food with the water. It sat on my kitchen table getting the morning sun, once during the summer and once during the winter. It dies way before it is time to trim the roots. Can you help me with any suggestions on how to keep it green and alive? (E-mail reference, Aberdeen, S.D.)
A: I'd suggest getting a grow light on a timer and having it on for 12 hours a day. I would also get some distilled water (or reverse osmosis water) and use that for misting and watering on a regular basis. Misting should take place several times a week, daily if possible. Watering should be once a week, with a good soaking with the same water. Fertilize lightly twice a month. That's pretty much the regime I follow and it seems to work on my Bonsai.
A. It sounds like spider mite infestation. If you don't have softened water, wash the foliage in a cool shower. If the water is softened, then use bottled water to mist the foliage two to three times a day until the mites are brought under control.
Keep the noninfested plant mite free with regular mistings two to three times per week.
Thanks for writing.
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