chloebee
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Joined: Fri Dec 01, 2006 1:37 am
Location: Las Vegas

Chinese elm help please

Hi everyone! You are all so enthusiastic and knowledgeable, I am hopeful that someone here can help me and my bonsai. I was given a Chinese Elm bonsai as a gift last March. It has not fared particularly well since. I had it at home, but my cats paid too much interest so I took it to work. Bad lighting there and it got knocked over so I brought it back home and found a place away from the cats. It has always had a problem with the leaves drying up and falling off. I have never fed it :oops: . I don’t think it gets enough light and the soil is very, very hard. When it got knocked over the moss all died. I read a few months ago how well they respond to a serious pruning, so I did just that and sure enough, it soon had lots of buds and grew nicely for a while. However it has now lost almost all its leaves and there are no buds and I feel awful that this living thing seems to be suffering in my care. I live in Vegas, so it is always extremely dry, but I do my best to stay on top of watering it. I am concerned with the current leaf-dropping and lack of new buds that I can’t tell the difference between it going dormant for the winter and it just plain dying. It has always been indoors. Can you all please offer me some advice? Maybe a cheat sheet of some sort? I’d really like to get on the right track and I know considering the season, the timing may not be right for a repotting, but will it die if it stays in its current condition all winter? Sorry for rambling, I have never had a bonsai before and clearly I’m not very good at taking care of mine, so I just want to make sure I get as many details in here as possible. If it would help to take a picture, I can do that and post tomorrow. Thanks in advance for your help, I really appreciate it! :D

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Gnome
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Chloebee
I don’t think it gets enough light
You must provide adequate light or it will decline and die.
the soil is very, very hard
It won't thrive until you get it into some better soil.

[url]https://www.helpfulgardener.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=3422&sid=45bcbddeb87695edd75842199d2ffeb9[/url]
[url]https://www.helpfulgardener.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=3530&sid=45bcbddeb87695edd75842199d2ffeb9[/url]
I feel awful that this living thing seems to be suffering in my care. I live in Vegas, so it is always extremely dry, but I do my best to stay on top of watering it.
If the soil is as you describe, water is probably not reaching the interior of the root-mass. You may have to take the emergency action of watering by submersion occasionally until you get it re-potted. How have you been watering it?
I am concerned with the current leaf-dropping and lack of new buds that I can’t tell the difference between it going dormant for the winter and it just plain dying. It has always been indoors.
This species is sub-tropical, it will not go dormant if kept indoors. You have other issues.

You are going to have to help it regain its vigor and then re-pot it, perhaps next spring. Although as I said the season is not so important for this species as others.

[url]https://www.bonsai4me.com/SpeciesGuide/Ulmus.html[/url]

Norm

chloebee
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Thanks for the quick reply Norm. I gently took the bonsai out of its pot tonight to see the root situation. It didn't seem particularly rootbound and there were lots of very very fine dark colored roots. The soil seemed much less hard underneath and inside than it does on top. I took some pictures but can't get them posted here until tomorrow, but they may give you a better idea of what I'm looking at. A couple quick questions that come to mind: On the light issue: My apartment faces north and so we don't really get any good natural light at all. Can you recommend a tabletop plant light system that may work for me? As for watering it, I have done the submersion method a couple of times and now that I think about it, I did it after the major pruning I mentioned after which it seemed to thrive for a while. I have mostly been watering it gently with the filtered water stream running from the faucet through my fingers. I have been misting it occasionally. I am thinking I should just got for it and repot it now and I read the links you gave on bonsai soil and have found a soil mix I think I will try from Dallas Bonsai. I think I may go for a larger pot than I have now. Can you offer any insight on what pot size to choose? Since I have not fertilized it since I've had it, I assume I should start doing that too, any chance you can provide me some links to preferred bonsai fertilization methods? Sorry if I seem to be asking you to do all the work here, there's just so much information out there and I'm a little overwhelmed and want to get things turned around before it's too late. Thanks again and I will try to post the pictures I took of the roots tomorrow. Have a great night!

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Gnome
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Chloebee,
Can you recommend a tabletop plant light system that may work for me?
I use 4 foot fluorescent fixtures for my indoor plants. Inexpensive, reasonably effective but not very attractive. You can also use the newer type of fluorescent bulbs that screw into a conventional fixture. The more light (lumens) that you provide the better.
As for watering it, I have done the submersion method a couple of times and now that I think about it, I did it after the major pruning I mentioned after which it seemed to thrive for a while. I have mostly been watering it gently with the filtered water stream running from the faucet through my fingers.
Watering by submersion is not really the best way to manage your tree, I suggested it because of the description you provided. It is not harmful in the short term but if repeated long term, salts and minerals from your water can build up. It is effective in thoroughly wetting a compacted soil though. With the proper soil it will not be necessary. You should wait until the soil is approaching dryness and then water thoroughly. Water the entire root-mass from above until water runs from the drainage holes. Wait 5 minutes or so and repeat; this helps to ensure that the soil is completely wetted.
I think I may go for a larger pot than I have now. Can you offer any insight on what pot size to choose?
I can't possibly give any specific suggestions about pot size without knowing how large the tree is now. Some general information to think about though. Bonsai trees are usually grown in training pots until they reach the desired size and state of development. If you are happy with the tree now use a bonsai pot, if you think that it needs more development a somewhat larger pot can help in this regard. Not too large though as the soil will remain damp too long. I have trees in homemade wooden training boxes, I am also experimenting with colanders. A cut down nursery pot is also effective. Since this is an indoor tree I suppose you want it to look attractive, and thats OK but just be aware of your options.
Since I have not fertilized it since I've had it, I assume I should start doing that too, any chance you can provide me some links to preferred bonsai fertilization methods?
Get any balanced (10-10-10 or 20-20-20) water soluble fertilizer at the local hardware or home center and follow the instructions, over dilution is not required.

Since a re-potting is in your future check this thread out.
[url]https://www.helpfulgardener.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=3423&sid=7778316f4f0fac91f03ca32f68224725[/url]

You may find this interesting as well.
[url]https://www.helpfulgardener.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=3544[/url]

I'll try to find some more links for you.

Norm

chloebee
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Joined: Fri Dec 01, 2006 1:37 am
Location: Las Vegas

I found a 2 foot tabletop fluorescent growing system at Home Harvest that I will buy. At this point I only have the one bonsai and with limited space, I think this will be sufficient.

As for watering, I have generally been letting the soil dry out and have watered from above through my fingers using filtered tap water until water runs out the drainage hole on the bottom. Maybe I have been doing something right after all!

Here are 2 pictures of my bonsai in its pot. The pot does seem a little small to me after browsing around and seeing the size of others' trees in their pots. You can also see just how sad it looks with no leaves. :cry:

[img]https://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y32/chloelurban/Bonsai/bonsai4.jpg[/img]

[img]https://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y32/chloelurban/Bonsai/bonsai3.jpg[/img]

Here is a picture of the roots. I didn't want to mess with them too much since I don't yet have any soil, so you may not be able to gather much from this picture.

[img]https://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y32/chloelurban/Bonsai/bonsai1.jpg[/img]

I do think that I should just go ahead and repot it now. Can you give me any advice on pot size now that you've seen the tree and the size of the pot it's in? The pot is about 3 inches deep. I do also need to invest in a couple tools since I only have regular household scissors now. You must cringe at the thought of me pruning with regular scissors! Would you recommend I get anything more than a pair of concave cutters and some trimming shears? I am planning on buying the Fujiyama Potting Medium from Dallas Bonsai, do you have any experience with this? Depending on how the roots look once I get all the soil removed, I may try your soda bottle method of forcing the roots to grow out instead of down.

I am feeling a lot more hopeful than I did yesterday. I do know that this tree tends to be pretty hardy, so even if I have to prune it hardily, it should rebound once I get it in good soil with some good light and food. What do you think about the shape of the tree right now?

I appreciate all your help :D , and my bonsai does too! :wink:

ynot
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Chloebee,

[Gnome has certainly got it covered here, I just have a few thoughts.]

I am a bit late to this thread but one thing that comes to mind is that your tree having just grown a new set of leaves [Which are now almost gone] Has just expended a lot of it's root systems energy reserves/resources. It may not have alot left to push more growth.
As for watering, I have generally been letting the soil dry out
'Dry' as in dust dry? dry as a bone?...MUCH too dry... Barely moist is a good point to be watering at. As Gnome mentioned new soil is on your agenda.

As far as pot size goes, One slightly bigger than what you have is best if you want to continue to develop this tree. Plastic is completely acceptable for this btw unless it clashes with your personal aesthetics ;).

Don't worry so much about the tools required, Many many many people use scissors and many houshold substitutes for years before they require costly bonsai specific tools. Invest if you want but essentially it is all about if the tool will do the job or not. Concave cutters will certainly be required as you advance but for now it is best to concentrate on learning to keep the tree alive as otherwise the drawer full of expensive tools is useless. :)

While I am a bit concerned about the amount of stress your tree has been under considering all it has been through. Over all I think Gnome has set a solid bit of advice before you.

Good luck on your journey,
ynot

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Gnome
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Chloebee,

Ynot wrote:
one thing that comes to mind is that your tree having just grown a new set of leaves [Which are now almost gone] Has just expended a lot of it's root systems energy reserves/resources. It may not have alot left to push more growth.
And:
I am a bit concerned about the amount of stress your tree has been under considering all it has been through.
I agree completely, especially now that I have seen the tree. As I suggested above (perhaps not strongly enough) an immediate re-pot may not be prudent. Purchase your pot and soil, prepare the pot and do some reading. Make sure the tree has recovered before putting it through any more stress. Keep in mind that fertilizer is not medicine, but since you have had it now for the better part of a year and not fed it, I would give it a dose and get it under the light as soon as possible.

As far as pruning I don't think that will be an issue for a while, you want all the new growth that you can encourage to help strengthen the tree. Even then the new shoots on this tree are thin and can be managed with common tools. Concave cutters would be my first choice though.

I can't really make out any details of the roots but a slightly larger pot would not hurt.

Norm

chloebee
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Thank you very much for your thoughts and advice, Gnome and ynot! I ordered the growing light system earlier today and so hopefully I will have it within a week or so. Until then I will see if I can rig a regular lamp somewhere with a fluorescent bulb so it is at least getting something in the meantime. I will plan to get some fertilizer and give it a dose and also stay well on top of my watering for now. You're both right, this tree certainly has had a stressful several months now, especially since I didn't even mention that I flew it as carryon home to Vegas from my parents' house in New Hampshire when I first got it (it was a gift). So its life with me began quite stressfully. :shock: And unfortunately has not gotten much better. Yet.

Is there a way I can tell if any of the smaller branches have died and should therefore be pruned off? When you say I should wait until the tree has recovered before I repot it, can you elaborate a bit on what I should look for to indicate that's it's strong enough to handle the stress of repotting? Once it's well fed, well watered and has had some good time under a good light, what should I expect from it? Should I just let it grow as many shoots and leaves as possible (so it can get lots of light energy?) and not worry about pruning for a while? You're not distinguishing between new soil and repotting are you? There really doesn't seem to be much I could do with the current soil without replacing it. I will certainly do some reading in the meantime. Hopefully I found you all in time! I will certainly post an update once I have things under control.

Thanks again for your patience and willingness to help me. Have a wonderful weekend!

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Gnome
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Chloebee,
Is there a way I can tell if any of the smaller branches have died and should therefore be pruned off?
Either they will grow or they won't. But if you feel the need you can nip the very end off a branch and if it is still green inside it is healthy. But please don't go cutting branches now as you may inadvertently remove some that could recover. Also a technique that is usually cited is to scrape the bark slightly and again look for green tissue.
When you say I should wait until the tree has recovered before I repot it, can you elaborate a bit on what I should look for to indicate that's it's strong enough to handle the stress of repotting?
Should I just let it grow as many shoots and leaves as possible (so it can get lots of light energy?) and not worry about pruning for a while?
You have answered your own question.
You're not distinguishing between new soil and repotting are you? There really doesn't seem to be much I could do with the current soil without replacing it.
They are almost always one and the same, although there is a technique commonly referred to as slip potting. Re-potting is the process of removing the old soil and root pruning to encourage new feeder roots. Check this site out. [url]https://www.bonsai4me.com/Basics.html[/url] Pay particular attention to the sections "A guide to watering bonsai" and "Repotting & rootpruning" but eventually you should read it all.

Also this site has a wealth of information and will take you a while to digest it all. [url]https://www.evergreengardenworks.com/articles.htm[/url]
Read the most relevant articles first, "Root pruning" and "Why a pot is not like the earth" is a good place to start. Between these two sites this should keep you busy for some time.
Hopefully I found you all in time! I will certainly post an update once I have things under control.
I look forward to hearing how things work out for you.

Norm

ynot
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Thank you very much for your thoughts and advice, Gnome and ynot!
Your very welcome. :)
I ordered the growing light system earlier today
and so hopefully I will have it within a week or so.
Until then I will see if I can rig a regular lamp somewhere with a fluorescent bulb so it is at least getting something in the meantime.
That is all I have ever used for indoor trees, A fluorescent light[s], reflector, and a timer. [A 7$ bulb, 5$ each for the light fixture
and reflector w/ 4$ timer that runs all the lights.] Nothing too special at all really.
I will plan to get some fertilizer and give it a dose and also stay well on top of my watering for now.
Check daily but do remember to water ONLY when it needs it, With few leaves your tree will be using less water than usual.
[Less loss through transpiration ]
You're both right, this tree certainly has had a stressful several months now, especially since I didn't even mention that
I flew it as carryon home to Vegas from my parents' house in New Hampshire
when I first got it (it was a gift).
So its life with me began quite stressfully. Shocked And unfortunately has not gotten much better. Yet.
lol...All part of the learning curve...The vast majority of us have a story or two like this no worries. :)
Is there a way I can tell if any of the smaller branches have died and should therefore be pruned off?
In this case I would simply wait it out and see what sprouts. There's no sense in potentially cutting off a survivor.
Any dead branches won't hurt your tree while your tree is recovering.
[Other than the obvious fact that you had some die back
and hence...the dead branches....er....Moving on ;) ]
When you say I should wait until the tree has recovered before I repot it, can you elaborate a bit on what
I should look for to indicate
that's it's strong enough to handle the stress of repotting?
Lots of good strong growth, As in two months of it-at the absolute minimum.
Once it's well fed, well watered and has had some good time under a good light, what should I expect from it?
Should I just let it grow as many shoots and leaves as possible (so it can get lots of light energy?)
and not worry about pruning for a while?
Exactly, Let it grow, Let it grow, Let it grow
You're not distinguishing between new soil and repotting are you? There really doesn't seem to be much I could do
with the current soil without replacing it.
[new soil/repotting] It is one and the same.

First we will try to get your tree healhy and avoid further stress
for a while. With dedicated care your tree will [hopefully] recover.
I will certainly do some reading in the meantime. Hopefully I found you all in time!
I will certainly post an update once I have things under control.
Please do keep us updated.
Thanks again for your patience and willingness to help me. Have a wonderful weekend!
good luck
ynot

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