Toadychan
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Evergreen Bonsai turning brown

Struggling beginner here... I got a bonsai for my husband about two months ago and the shopkeeper gave us the instructions to simply "water every day." Once we got it home, he did some research and got it some fertilizer and set a regimen. Now he's away until next year and I've been entrusted with the baby and things aren't looking fantastic.

It seemed great until a couple of weeks ago when I noticed it started browning on the needles close to the trunk and along the base of some of the branches. Initially my husband suspected they were hardening up or dying off because those sections weren't being reached by sunlight. Now it seems to be getting progessively worse and I'm getting concerned.

It's an evergreen of some kind, but I forget what exactly. It sits in my open window facing east so it gets direct morning sunlight. I was following the instructions to water daily but this last week I switched to using a bamboo skewer in the soil to check the moisture level and watering when the skewer is dry. I also started using the "for the bonsai it always rains twice" method, watering thoroughly once, letting it drain, then watering it a second time, then draining again. It gets fertilized every second Friday. I don't know what the soil is like or anything like that, it's been left in what the shop had it in, with some small pebbles on top. I read today that for fertilizing I should be watering it regularly first, then doing it a second time with the fertilizer so as not to burn the roots, which I haven't been doing.

We did have a couple of nights where it dropped down from being in the 20s celsius to between 3C-10C. I pulled the tree from the window for one of those nights and set it inside, but I don't know if that was good for it or if the premature cold shocked it. The browning kind of coincided with that, but I am under the impression it takes several days for damage to become visible so it may have been before that. I'm confused as far as having an indoor bonsai, because I've read a lot of people saying they just can't be indoors. I'm not sure what to do. I'd prefer it to be indoors so I can monitor it, but if it will save the plant I'll figure out how to do it outside. I'm just concerned for the coming winter. I live in Canada and in my area we get several feet of snow regularly, and it frequently drops down to -30C.

I've attached photos of the browning, what the tree looks like in its usual windowsill, and the fertilizer. Thanks for any help.
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rainbowgardener
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Re: Bonsai turning brown

Your bonsai is a juniper and you have been given very bad advice about its care. Do NOT water it every day. Water it when it needs it. Use the chopstick method:

insert a wooden kitchen skewer or chopstick to the bottom of the pot and leave it there. Take it out daily to check it; if the skewer has soil stuck to it don't water. Touch the wood to your cheek or underside of your wrist, if it is damp there is no need to water. If the chopstick is dry, so is the soil, and it is time to water.

When you do water, water thoroughly until water runs freely out the drain holes and all the soil has been wetted.

And junipers are NOT indoor trees; they die indoors. They are extremely cold hardy, but even so -30 C would be pushing the limits of its hardiness. You will need to give it some protection in the winter, but that does not mean bringing it inside. It means maybe keeping it in some unheated garage/ shed where it is protected from cold drying winds. But for now you need to get it outdoors ASAP before it is too late (you can't just dump it from a heated house to a frigid outdoors).

The browning is a sign that it is starting to die under its current care regimen.
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Toadychan
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Re: Evergreen Bonsai turning brown

Thanks for the reply, rainbowgardener. As I elaborated in my original post, I've already changed my watering method and am using a bamboo skewer.

Should I simply set it outside in its pot as is and monitor it as I have been? Is east facing still a good location choice? And should I put it on the ground (say, in the front garden) or elevate it? I remember skimming something somewhere that mentioned bringing the bonsai outdoors for a few hours at a time each day to acclimatise it before leaving it out permanently.

As far as winter goes, my garage is very dark. Would it be okay without the sunlight? Or should I continue to move it in and out during day/night when winter comes so it gets some sun but doesn't freeze? All I can think of would be either the garage or back to the window.

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Gnome
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Re: Evergreen Bonsai turning brown

Toadychan,

Take heed, RBG is correct, Junipers are not good candidates for indoor culture.
I don't know what the soil is like or anything like that, it's been left in what the shop had it in, with some small pebbles on top.
Are the pebbles glued in place or loose? If the former, they must be discarded, if the latter, remove them, at least temporarily. Now evaluate the soil. Is it dense and peaty or loose and gritty? I'd wager the former, If so, be aware that your watering will need to be monitored closely.


P.S. I was composing this while you replied.

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Re: Evergreen Bonsai turning brown

Toadychan,
Should I simply set it outside in its pot as is and monitor it as I have been?
Yes
Is east facing still a good location choice?
For now, yes.
And should I put it on the ground (say, in the front garden) or elevate it?
Better to elevate it. Plants on the ground will eventually clog and are susceptible to pests.
I remember skimming something somewhere that mentioned bringing the bonsai outdoors for a few hours at a time each day to acclimatise it before leaving it out permanently.
If you locate it in a semi-sheltered location, such as an eastern exposure, it should be fine without this step.
As far as winter goes, my garage is very dark. Would it be okay without the sunlight? Or should I continue to move it in and out during day/night when winter comes so it gets some sun but doesn't freeze?
At very low temperatures even evergreens cease photosynthesis. Do not move it around daily, this is entirely unnecessary. It will freeze, it's OK.
All I can think of would be either the garage or back to the window.
Not the window, never again, even in your climate. Leave it outside to taste the first bite of winter, you may have to provide some form of shelter for several months though.

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rainbowgardener
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Re: Evergreen Bonsai turning brown

The pictures of the pebbles look like the glued on ones. You do need to get rid of them.

What gnome is telling you about is cold dormancy. One of the reasons it needs to be outdoors is that it requires that period of cold dormancy . That's why it needs to get out now, so that it can start getting the cues to gradually enter dormancy.

Once it is fully dormant , it is not growing and requires very little light or water.

Sorry I missed it that you had already changed watering style .
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Toadychan
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Re: Evergreen Bonsai turning brown

Are the pebbles glued in place or loose? Now evaluate the soil. Is it dense and peaty or loose and gritty?
The pebbles are loose, not glued on, and can be easily removed. As for the soil, it's a little hard for me to say, not being familiar with much gardening myself. It's quite compacted in the pot and is wet from its watering yesterday, but I want to say it leans toward being loose soil. It feels "crumbly" when I rub it between my fingers, and it has some white spongy particles I've seen in my mom's plant soil growing up.

I'm afraid I'm not getting a clear idea as far as the winter dormancy -- would it be fine kept outside as is, or should I move it to the garage because it won't need much light? The glass pot is a bit of a concern for me as well.

After I came home from work today I set the tree outside of the window it was originally in and on an outdoor table, which I've attached a photo of. Now that it's outside I was intending to bring it indoors to water it briefly and then put it back outside again, but would that be bad? I'm not sure how much moving is too much.

Would anyone know what exactly makes the difference between being in a window and being outside? Is it the air, or the amount of overhead sunlight? I thought a wide open window would be plenty good, but clearly it's not.

Thanks so much for helping a foolish newbie. Hopefully it isn't too late for the poor little thing and it will start to perk up.
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Gnome
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Re: Evergreen Bonsai turning brown

Would anyone know what exactly makes the difference between being in a window and being outside? Is it the air, or the amount of overhead sunlight? I thought a wide open window would be plenty good, but clearly it's not.
Lower light and lower humidity, neither of which are ideal for most plants although some will tolerate this better than others. Consider the question of dormancy, that won't happen inside. The plant simply will not do well inside and will eventually fail.

You watered two days running even though it was still wet from the previous watering?

Remove the drip tray, no need for one outside, besides standing water is bad.

You have time to learn about over-wintering, there are many strategies depending upon your situation I've kept my Juniper both outside and in an unheated garage.

Toadychan
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Re: Evergreen Bonsai turning brown

You watered two days running even though it was still wet from the previous watering?
For the first month or so it was watered daily because that was what the shopkeeper told us to do. I stopped doing it a couple weeks ago.

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Gnome
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Re: Evergreen Bonsai turning brown

Sorry, I misinterpreted your recent remarks:
It's quite compacted in the pot and is wet from its watering yesterday,
I was intending to bring it indoors to water it briefly and then put it back outside again,

A. Sears
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Re: Evergreen Bonsai turning brown

Place plant close to the side of your home for some heat and in full Sun during winter months. You can trim off dead areas....your in good shape.

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