Cottonshirt
Newly Registered
Posts: 4
Joined: Fri Apr 29, 2011 3:31 pm
Location: Portsmouth, England

Aesculus hippocastanum

Last September I found some conkers (Aesculus hippocastanum) and just for a laugh stuck them in a pot on my balcony. To my immense surprise four of them have germinated and it is now time to repot them. I have decided to try to grow them into bonsai trees but in my whole life the only things I've grown have been pots of herbs so this is something of an adventure for me. Which is largely the point.

I have been reading about bonsai and the basic things for me to bear in mind at this point seem to be, in no particular order:

* Keep the pot small(ish) to restrict root formation and hence size of tree.
* Gradually reduce organic proportion of soil and increase inorganic component
* Attend to daily and water as required - not to a schedule
* Trim rootball by as much as a third when re-potting
* Trim/pinch out new growth as required/desired for shape/form
* Apply fertiliser in some proportion at intervals to replenish nutrients

My main questions at this point are about timing

1) How long should I let the seedlings (they are currently six inches tall and have divided into two arms at the top with a five-fingered leaf on each arm) grow before trimming / pruning etc?

2) When should I start introducing inorganic component to soil, at the first re-potting (this week) or should I leave it until next year when they are more mature?

3) I was planning on re-potting into pots 5" across (because that's what I have), so how big will they grow in those pots and should I really be thinking about smaller (perhaps shallower) pots already?

You might find it helpful to know that these will stay outdoors on my balcony (south coast of England) year round; I have no plans (and no room) to move them indoors. So far I have not fed them at all, only water.


Thanks in advance for any reply.

User avatar
froggy
Senior Member
Posts: 269
Joined: Tue Nov 16, 2010 9:54 pm
Location: Toronto, ON, zone 5a

Hi there :)

I am currently growing some trees from seed too, to be bonsai when they grow up :)
indeed you can go the small pot route to keep them stunted. Thing with that is though, that it really slows down growth a lot, so it will take years longer to get to where you're aiming.
Most people will suggest to put them in the ground, or at least give them as large a pot as you can - there are those who will tell you too large a pot is bad because the soil stays moist for too long, which is bad for the roots. I usually keep mine in proportionately sized containers and just pot them up when they need it because it saves a bit of space...
Now for soil - there is a thread on bonsai soil, it has more information than I can give right now...
I've found it easier to keep my seedlings (less than 2 years, or 12") in potting soil, since I tend to let things dry out a bit sometimes - I will be switching them when they grow bigger though... (hey, just be aware I don't claim to be an expert here, this works for me but there are probably a dozen better ways to do it ;) )
So basically you jus want them to grow as big as they will over a few years, then chop the trunk down, let it grow some more, chop again etc. Once you have a decent sized trunk with some taper, you can start worrying about styling...
As for the flat pots and root development - there's a great thread on creating a flat nebari just by proper trimming and placement when repotting...
Anyways, horse chestnut have huge leaves, so you'll probably be aiming at a fairly large bonsai, so:
Happy waiting :)

Karin
;)

Cottonshirt
Newly Registered
Posts: 4
Joined: Fri Apr 29, 2011 3:31 pm
Location: Portsmouth, England

Karin,

Thank you for your many words of advice. :D

So, a pot appropriate for their size, with good drainage; possibly some gravel in a pot over 6-8 inches or so. Do that for two years to get a good thick stem. Then chop. This sounds like what my father did with apple trees, graft them on to root stock. Chopping sounds like cutting out a section of stem and grafting the tree onto itself to maintain balance and reduce overall height.

From your description it sounds as though that's all I'll be doing in the next five years or so which gives me plenty of time to find out about styling, nebari, and all the other words people have been throwing at me.

Thank you, and good luck with your own projects.

User avatar
Gnome
Mod
Posts: 5122
Joined: Wed Jul 05, 2006 4:17 am
Location: Western PA USDA Zone 6A

Cottonshirt,
So, a pot appropriate for their size, with good drainage; possibly some gravel in a pot over 6-8 inches or so.
As froggy mentioned, too small of a pot slows you down and too large of a pot has a tendency to stay wet. So yes, keep it proportional, potting up as necessary.
Do that for two years to get a good thick stem. Then chop. This sounds like what my father did with apple trees, graft them on to root stock. Chopping sounds like cutting out a section of stem and grafting the tree onto itself to maintain balance and reduce overall height.
When bonsai people say to 'chop' they usually mean hard pruning, down to the trunk. This shortens the tree and begins to induce taper and movement. So rather than a straight cylindrical stem you have one that is thicker at the bottom and thinner towards the top, taper. Pruning also sends new growth off in different directions, movement.
From your description it sounds as though that's all I'll be doing in the next five years or so which gives me plenty of time to find out about styling, nebari, and all the other words people have been throwing at me.
Yes, growing from seed is going to be a slow process that does not really have a lot to do with bonsai. Why not look into other areas of bonsai while you wait?

Nebari is the exposed surface roots that are often seen on older more established bonsai. They give the impression of age and stability.

Norm

Cottonshirt
Newly Registered
Posts: 4
Joined: Fri Apr 29, 2011 3:31 pm
Location: Portsmouth, England

Gnome,
When bonsai people say to 'chop' they usually mean hard pruning, down to the trunk. This shortens the tree and begins to induce taper and movement. So rather than a straight cylindrical stem you have one that is thicker at the bottom and thinner towards the top, taper.
I don't know why, but this sounds even more drastic than what I thought it meant.

...growing from seed is going to be a slow process that does not really have a lot to do with bonsai.
Slow is good, I have plenty of other things to be getting on with.

Why not look into other areas of bonsai while you wait?


Ignorance really. The only other option I know of is to buy a bonsai and care for it; which would feel like looking after someone else's pet. Although, having said that this is a perfectly repectable thing to do. I found some pictures online of trees presented to the United States for their Bicentennial Celebrations by the government of Japan. The trees had all been planted in 1777, the year the US came into being and must have been cared for by at least half a dozen different bonsai growers in that time.

Are there other ways to get started?

User avatar
froggy
Senior Member
Posts: 269
Joined: Tue Nov 16, 2010 9:54 pm
Location: Toronto, ON, zone 5a

Other ways (fastest to slowest - sort of):

-Purchase a bonsai. (depending on where you get them and how much you are willing to pay they will be more or less developed/mature/trained)
-Start with a collected tree (if it isn't on your property, you need the owners permission before digging anything up)
-Start with nursery stock.
-Start with cuttings.
-Start from seed.

There is some overlap between these options, but you get the general idea... You canread up on how to start either way and decide which may work for you...
Also, there are a many house plants or trees/shrubs in your garden that might work as bonsai - if you have a look around you might be surprised ad what you already have to work with...
;)

Cottonshirt
Newly Registered
Posts: 4
Joined: Fri Apr 29, 2011 3:31 pm
Location: Portsmouth, England

Froggy,

Purchasing a bonsai is pretty much a non-starter for me. I know very little about plants and gardening in general and practically zero about bonsai so would not know a healthy bonsai from a bit of driftwood. So, I would have to either go to an acknowledged grower and pay for certainty, ending up with a tree I would probably be too scared to touch or get one from "some bloke in the pub" that is almost certainly not his and might even be dead when I buy it.

Nursery stock sounds like an idea. I could get one or two to practice on. I'm almost certainly going to lose some and it would definitely be easier to lose something I bought rather than something I nurtured from seed. The more I think about it the more I like this idea. I could buy five-year-old seedlings and get a head start on myself so that by the time my conker trees are ready I actually know which way round to hold my secateurs.

I also quite like the idea of collecting more seed and propagating them. We have lots of trees in the streets round here; maple, beech, oak, ash, alder, yew and I saw a whitebeam a few days ago. Maybe not all of these are going to be as simple as growing conkers and they might not all be suitable for bonsai but this appeals to me. And what about fruit trees, I bet apple seeds are easy to propagate, and a bonsai cherry tree sounds like an excellent idea. That way I could have little seedlings coming on in different stages of preparation while I practice pruning and training with nursery stock.

At this rate I'm going to need a bigger balcony! 8)

User avatar
froggy
Senior Member
Posts: 269
Joined: Tue Nov 16, 2010 9:54 pm
Location: Toronto, ON, zone 5a

Lol I know exactly what you mean. I started hibiscus, lavender, some ornamental cherry, maple, willow, birch, lemon and I even plopped a Shea nut in some soil (no idea if that will grow though) at this rate all my neighbors will be getting reject trees as I run out of space.
I have a few ficus to train in the meantime - they are quite forgiving and root easily from cuttings :)
And as spring actually approaches I'll be hitting some nurseries too - the wishlist is longer than my arm ;)

Have fun...
;)

Return to “BONSAI FORUM”