CTurner
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Help with repotted Juniper

Hello,
I am new to this forum and a beginner in bonsai.
My wife gave me a juniper three years ago that I nursed along in its original training (plastic) pot. After that time, it seemed a good opportunity to repot into something a bit nicer and larger.
The plant was repotted about a month ago. There are two holes in the bottom of the pot, screened. I put a small layer of rocks down first, then added bonsai-specific soil (Joe Bonsai's All Purpose Blend: a mix of 100% organic double-sifted compost mulch, calcined clay, vermiculite, and Frit.)

I only removed two very small branches and did not pinch back. The roots did not seem all that extensive to me, most of it very fine roots with only a couple of thick roots. I only trimmed back a smudge of the fine roots. I opened up the root cluster (it was a bit bound directly underneath the trunk area) and made sure it was opened up as best I could.

I have watered late afternoon/early evening. Weather has alternated between hot& sunny and some very wet weather (hello North Carolina). I have not pinched back anything as yet.
Some brown spots appeared within a couple weeks of repotting. They have remained, though I do see some new growth. Would these spots be normal? I have seen them before, but the plant has always "grown out" of them pretty well and has often looked very green, greener than it is right now. The overall look is paler than normal, but I wonder if that is just part of the response to repotting?

My wife suggested a very small amount of fertilizer to help it along (Osmocote: 19-6-12). We put on no more than a small teaspoon amount.

Thank you for any help or comments.

kdodds
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Without a picture, it's hard to say. You're aware that new growth does come in paler, correct?

CTurner
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Yes, sorry, didn't see a way to post directly in this forum.

Here are links to 3 pics of the juniper:

https://www.box.com/s/8b607b23d983fcf68b68
https://www.box.com/s/a052ccee12bc8ce7aa76
https://www.box.com/s/ce7bad3f2819e0024fcb

The second picture shows the contrast between the juniper and the greens of trees in the background.

Thanks for looking and the help.

kdodds
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Honestly, it looks like it's not getting enough light more than anything. Is this tree being kept indoors at all?

CTurner
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No, the sun hits it on our back porch from about 10:30 AM to 3:30 PM.

kdodds
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Be that as it may, all the signs point to this. Loss of inner growth, long, leggy growth, very little new growth (there should be buds everywhere in spring), poor root growth, chlorosis in the remaining leaves, all point to light being an issue. Is your porch facing north?

CTurner
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The porch faces east. The juniper has looked better than this, but this only has come up (the lightening of color) since the repotting.

kdodds
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What kind of soil did you use?

Watering twice per day in a non arid climate seems like an AWFUL lot of watering for a Juniper. Let it dry between waterings. If the soil you're using now is more moisture retentive, the combination of both things could be your problem. Still, the tree looks very unhealthy, like it's been kept ina wet closet for a couple of weeks. I know it hasn't, but that's what it looks like. Beyond that, I couldn't even venture a guess as to what it could be. I've potted and unpotted Junipers in every season but winter and have never seen this happen to any of them.

CTurner
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As I mentioned in my first post: Joe Bonsai's "All Purpose Blend: a mix of 100% organic double-sifted compost mulch, calcined clay, vermiculite, and Frit".
I have been watering late afternoons (on previous advice) and everyday. I'm wondering if it just has been too much watering. The Blend is quite chunky and porous, but your comment makes me think the watering is just way overboard.
I could water like that when it was still in a pot with different soil, but maybe not this way.
I am now going to water just in early morning, every other day to see what effect that has. I hear what you say about over-watering. I guess as a newbie I was most afraid of under-watering a bonsai in porous soil.

TomM
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I am no expert on soil and have never used this particular mix. I suspect that it is too moisture retentive. Junipers in general do like to dry out a bit between watering. On the other hand we often hear that you should give a little more water right after repotting a tree, along with some protection from direct sun.

That said, your tree has the look of severe weakness like you might expect from lack of light (as kdodds mentioned) or root rot. The latter would not just happen in a couple weeks.

My concern is about the fine roots - or the lack of them. A tree this size needs a full mass of tiny feeder roots. The heavy one do nothing for the tree other than to support the structure. The fine white hair-like feeder roots bring all the nutrients up to the many branches. I oversimplify, but without this component the tree is in grave danger.

I hate to say it but (IMO) the only way to save your juniper might be a cut back. When the roots have been reduced the upper structure of the tree needs to be equally reduced. And it may be too late. This is risky but worth the effort at this point. Lessons learned.

note : just took another look at the photos - brown tips could indicate too much bright sun too soon after the repot, the soil looks very wet, the moss around the base of the trunk could indicate constant moisture - not the proper water/dryout cycle, or not enough sun. Seemingly contradicting symptoms, like a medical evaluation, but we're looking for answers to a mystery here. I would trim back and reduce watering as mentioned and get it slowly into more sunshine. Hope for the best.

kdodds
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Tom's already said most of what I would have. The only thing I would add is that you should never water bonsai on a schedule. There are too many variables at play for the tree to need the same water at the same scheduled intervals. Do a search here on "chopstick method".

Junipers don't like wet feet, generally speaking. Although they can be planted in high organic soil, most of the time this is pine bark, not super-retentive, compact, compost. I think I do know the mix you're talking about and if it's the one I'm accustomed to seeing, it's too retentive for Junipers. I use Wee Tree's compost/pumice/lava mix for almost all of my trees, but not for junipers. The junipers I have are all in a mix that is high in pine bark with some sand, lava rock, and a bit of compost (only a bit). FWIW, the site selling this mix is definitely not a reputable bonsai site. I do realize that it's one that pops up frequently in searches (along with Bonsai Boy of NY). But all that means is that they have better web management and/or pay more for top listing in search engines.

Repotting again into a drier mix would be a toss up. It could save or kill the tree. A better choice, right now, would be to let the tree dry out between waterings. But, as Tom has already said, it may be too late to save, no matter what you do. Certainly, you'll need to stop watering so much. That in itself could be preventing recovery.

CTurner
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Gentlemen,

I much appreciate the extensive analysis and advice.
I think I have misunderstood what it means to have moisture in a bonsai soil like the one I'm using: it does not mean any kind of liquid present, it means that the particles of the soil look and maybe feel wet, not dripping!
Yes, the schedule I followed is inappropriate and I wasn't using my own eyes and fingers to test the soil for real moisture.
I think I can trim back some of the tree just a bit too.
I didn't trim back the fine roots very much when I repotted, but the root system I discovered for this juniper was not overall that extensive anyway.
The moss at the base of the trunk has been developing for some time now, I think it's quite possible that the watering pattern I've been using has just been too much for a long time and the recent repotting/new soil just compounded what was a poor system on my part. Funny how the repotting accelerated so many things, but I was changing a lot of elements.
It was my first extended living bonsai :( ......but I appreciate the reminder that it is a very good lesson learned. But maybe it can hold on, we'll see...
Again, thanks very much for all this excellent help.

kdodds
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No problem, and don't fret too much about it, we all kill trees. Many trees, while learning.

CTurner
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A Follow Up

I wanted to let you know that the juniper is now doing much better: a lot of new growth and my watering pattern is more reactive to soil conditions than before. Plus I did one round of good fertilizer. Much thanks again to all who advised.

https://www.box.com/s/645748dbc3cc7b46c0d4

tomc
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I think your juniper could be on the mend.

If I have any evergreen advice at all, pruning to create lions-tails is maybe something you do not want to do.
Think like a tree
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