rpagejr
Newly Registered
Posts: 3
Joined: Thu Mar 29, 2007 12:50 am
Location: Watertown, MA

New Rhododendrons

Hey folks!

I'm trying my hand at bonsai for the first time. I enjoy flower gardening, but where I live right now I don't have a yard to dig in. So, I thought I'd try my hand at container gardening, and bonsai sounded like the most fun. I've read a bunch of stuff on the internet and ordered Harry Tomlinson's Complete Book of Bonsai which should arrive any day now.

I went to the New England flower show at the weekend and the gardening bug hit me pretty hard. I saw the most beautiful Shimpaku Juniper bonsai there, and I said to my girlfriend "I want one!"

I've been perusing the local nurseries over the past few days as the weather has warmed up and spring seems to be in the air here. I saw a number of plants with the glued rocks, but refrained from buying any after what I had read about that sort of thing on the internet.

But tonight I found some 'Purple Gem' Rhododendrons at Home Depot, and I couldn't stop myself from bringing home a pair.

Here are some pictures.

First, the two of them side by side:
[img]https://img103.imageshack.us/img103/1431/dscn1296xc6.jpg[/img]

Here's the one on the right:
[img]https://img262.imageshack.us/img262/9219/dscn1303vf6.jpg[/img]

Here's the one on the left, which I'm really excited about:
[img]https://img181.imageshack.us/img181/9875/dscn1304vt1.jpg[/img]

It has a split trunk that has scarred over on both sides. I'm not sure if you can see it in the picture above, but here is a closer look:
[img]https://img443.imageshack.us/img443/4600/dscn1301mc8.jpg[/img]

Am I correct in thinking that the wound could be a plus when I eventually try to make the tree into a bonsai? Maybe it's a negative?

Anyone have any tips for Rhododendron bonsai that I might not find readily? I have to admit that I haven't done a lot of research on Rhododendron bonsai, but I plan to. I know they like acidic soil and hate to have their roots stay wet--I've grown azaleas in the ground before. At this point, I'm planning on using Orchid bark, Perlite, Turface MVP, and sand--or some combination--as my soil. What should I add for the acidity?

Do I really need to water with rainwater if my tap water is hard?

Should I just repot them in a fast draining soil when the weather warms a bit and then leave them until next spring? Maybe a bit of pruning after they've flowered?

Thanks in advance for any responses, and for all of the info in other threads. You've already been a big help.

Oh, and BTW, the two of them cost a grand total of $12 and some change. That's less than the cheapest bonsai I've seen all week!
Last edited by rpagejr on Fri Mar 30, 2007 3:03 am, edited 1 time in total.

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

rpagejr,

Welcome to the Helpful Gardener. Glad to see that you put your location in your profile and that you have been doing some reading.

I have a few azaleas that I have been playing around with but they are not well developed yet, certainly not bonsai yet.
Am I correct in thinking that the wound could be a plus when I eventually try to make the tree into a bonsai? Maybe it's a negative?
I suspect that by the time these will be ready for any real styling that wound will not be very noticeable.
What should I add for the acidity?
I mixed some chopped sphagnum moss in the last time I re-potted mine. But first you need to determine if they need re-potted this year.
Do I really need to water with rainwater if my tap water is hard?
I have hard water and do not bother with rainwater either. But I have not been working on them that long now. I do, periodically, fertilize with an acidifying fertilizer. Another trick you can do is to draw your water in bulk and let it settle.

Norm

rpagejr
Newly Registered
Posts: 3
Joined: Thu Mar 29, 2007 12:50 am
Location: Watertown, MA

Norm--

Thanks for the reply!

How long have you been playing around with your azaleas? Do you have any pictures?

That is a good and useful point about the wound not being visible when styling becomes appropriate. Is the trunk splitting at such a low point going to be a problem, style-wise? I am trying to think ahead here--partly for the fun of it and partly to avoid mistakes. Slow and steady wins the race, right?

Perhaps I will eventually have to decide which trunk to keep and which to let go? This is pretty far into the future, I realize, but it is fun to speculate.

At this point I simply want to keep the two plants as healthy as possible. Having said that, is there anything I can do to increase trunk taper? I've read that a Rhodo's limbs grow more nearer the base than a typical bonsai tree's do, and that the recommendation is to prune a bit after/if they bloom. Should I just leave them alone for the first year?

Regarding whether they need to be repotted this year, how might I determine that? They're in typical potting soil with Perlite, and water drains through it fairly quickly--but it's nothing like the video that ynot has posted to illustrate how a fast draining mixture will drain. The plants seem happy now, though.

That's good to hear that you've gotten away with tap water so far. I am willing to do the rainwater thing if necessary--especially since we get plenty of rain here in the Boston area--but obviously it's easier out of the tap.

Thanks again for the reply!

Cheers,
--Rob

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

Rob,
Thanks for the reply!

How long have you been playing around with your azaleas? Do you have any pictures?
You're welcome. This will be my third summer with them. I have two varieties, a pair of them are the same pink color and the other is white, if memory serves. As far as pictures; the two pinks look really bad this year as we had a very cold winter and I had them outside, I'm not sure they will make it. All the buds and leaves fell, they are bare right now. The third one looks a lot better and may have some flowers in a few weeks. I'll see about some photos.
Is the trunk splitting at such a low point going to be a problem, style-wise?
It's usually more of a problem when there is a split higher up on the trunk. One of them is usually removed or perhaps utilized as the first branch. Even if you think that you don't need the second trunk please don't be too quick to remove it. You may change your mind or the branch can serve as a sacrifice to thicken the trunk before being removed later.
I am trying to think ahead here--partly for the fun of it and partly to avoid mistakes. Slow and steady wins the race, right?
I couldn't agree more.
At this point I simply want to keep the two plants as healthy as possible. Having said that, is there anything I can do to increase trunk taper? I've read that a Rhodo's limbs grow more nearer the base than a typical bonsai tree's do, and that the recommendation is to prune a bit after/if they bloom. Should I just leave them alone for the first year?
The two main techniques to get taper is to use a sacrifice branch as I noted and to later cut the plant back to a smaller branch. This creates a transition between the larger and smaller portions, taper. You should probably play it safe for the first year though and get to know your plants.

I believe that the suggestion to prune after blooming is primarily an aesthetic choice. In other words if you prune early you remove the flower buds and this is unacceptable to most people. This is not an issue in the early years of bonsai though as you are spending this time in development anyway.
Regarding whether they need to be repotted this year, how might I determine that? They're in typical potting soil with Perlite, and water drains through it fairly quickly--but it's nothing like the video that ynot has posted to illustrate how a fast draining mixture will drain. The plants seem happy now, though.
Simply remove them from the pot and examine the roots. Have you seen root-bound plants before? Unless the pot is fully colonized with roots I think I would be inclined to leave them for now. Besides unless you have better soil/components on hand there is little point in re-potting them into a similar soil.

You might consider reducing the height of the root-ball though. If there is not a large amount of roots in the bottom third you can simply slice it off with a large knife or old hand saw. The nursery pot will have to be reduced accordingly.

Norm

rpagejr
Newly Registered
Posts: 3
Joined: Thu Mar 29, 2007 12:50 am
Location: Watertown, MA

Norm,
It's usually more of a problem when there is a split higher up on the trunk. One of them is usually removed or perhaps utilized as the first branch. Even if you think that you don't need the second trunk please don't be too quick to remove it. You may change your mind or the branch can serve as a sacrifice to thicken the trunk before being removed later.
Good to know. I've had no urges to trim any lower branches--for the reasons you mentioned.
Have you seen root-bound plants before? Unless the pot is fully colonized with roots I think I would be inclined to leave them for now. Besides unless you have better soil/components on hand there is little point in re-potting them into a similar soil.
I've seen root-bound plants before. I'll take a look at them this afternoon. I did make a soil mix yesterday. They'd be happier in that mix, right?

Thanks again!

--Rob

Return to “BONSAI FORUM”