killyspike
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My first attempt at Bonsai-(Chinese Elm)

Hi all,

This is my first post here. I'm new to the art of bonsai and could do with a little help. Before I knew about Mallsai (in fact B&Qsai) I bought one but I know all is not lost as with some work and effort it could be turned into a fully fledged bonsai. I have taken (not the best photos in the world) 8 different angles of what I believe is a chinese elm (correct me if I'm wrong). The first two are both potentially where I think the front should be. The second one because of the root structure above the soil. Sorry about the 1st pic. Which would you prefer the front to be?
Now after intensely reading a few articles around the net I have a couple of ideas to improve the tree. The soil is very compact and watering it has to be thorough for it to get all the way through. I have found that it takes nearly a week for the surface of the soil to nearly dry out so I'm thinking that this could cause problems with root rot. I'm guessing the heavy density of the soil is causing this although there is a bit of drainage but not a huge amount. Should I re-pot and trim the roots? If so what soil should I use? For improvement do you think it would look better with the soil not raising up to the tree?
I've had this for about three weeks although its losing leaves from day to day due to the tree trying to climatise to its new surroundings plenty more leaves are growing to replace them fast which reassures me that the tree is at least in a fairly healthy condition. Its currently situated not directly on my bedroom windowsill but nearby where it has plenty of indirect and some direct sunlight.
If anyone has some advice and can share any expertise on what to do to improve my tree then I would be grateful to hear it.

[img]https://i294.photobucket.com/albums/mm120/killyspike/bonsai1/BandQsai1.jpg[/img][img]https://i294.photobucket.com/albums/mm120/killyspike/bonsai1/BandQsai2.jpg[/img]

https://i294.photobucket.com/albums/mm120/killyspike/bonsai1/BandQsai3.jpg[/IMG][img]https://i294.photobucket.com/albums/mm120/killyspike/bonsai1/BandQsai4.jpg[/img]


[img]https://i294.photobucket.com/albums/mm120/killyspike/bonsai1/BandQsai5.jpg[/img][img]https://i294.photobucket.com/albums/mm120/killyspike/bonsai1/BandQsai6.jpg[/img]Imagehttps://i294.photobucket.com/albums/mm120/killyspike/bonsai1/BandQsai8.jpg[/IMG]

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Gnome
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killyspike,

You're right, the tree is an Elm and it does have potential. I think that before you should worry about styling you should address some of the cultural issues.

Although Chinese Elms are subtropical and some sell them as indoor trees it will be much happier outside for the summer even if you intend to bring it in for the winter.. Try to find a spot with part sun for the transition period. I'm not sure about your weather but here we are warm today and expecting temps near freezing early next week. So yo may want to wait a little longer or be prepared to do the bonsai shuffle. :wink:

Next the soil is, as you rightly deduced, pretty bad and should be replaced. It probably still has soil from the field where it was grown at the core. It is important that it all be removed. If you leave some of it behind you will have a situation where the two different soils behave differently. The new free draining soil around the outside will require frequent watering and the core will remain wet, not good.

Have you researched bonsai soils at all? Have a look at the sticky threads located at the top of the forum. The general one has some tips on watering and the two on soils/potting should provide you some insights. They all have links, do as much reading as you can stand especially on watering and soils. The advanced techniques can wait for now.

[url]https://www.evergreengardenworks.com/articles.htm[/url]
[url]https://www.bonsai4me.com/Basics.html[/url]

Acquire the components that you have access to, seeing that you are in the UK check this out. [url]https://www.bonsai4me.com/Basics/Basicscatlitter.htm[/url]

Most use a portion of organic material along with the inorganics, this can be Pine of Fir bark. A bag of partially composted Pine bark mulch will provide plenty of material of the correct size. If you are serious about bonsai you will want to get some screens to size your components.


Another option would be to purchase some ready-made soil but I cannot help with a source for you. In the meantime resist the urge to water until it really needs it and continue to soak it well when you do.

Norm

P.S.

I almost forgot about this. Does it look familiar?
[url]https://www.bonsai4me.com/Basics/Basicsdevelopingmallsai.htm[/url]

killyspike
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Joined: Sat Apr 26, 2008 7:53 pm
Location: Norwich UK

[quote="Gnome"]If you are serious about bonsai you will want to get some screens to size your components.

quote]

Thanks for the sound advice Norm. The quote above I don't understand so could do with a link or a little bit of explaining. I've got some premium light weight cat litter now so will use that. Am I right in thinking I need to use just that? Or with a little compost. I bought a small bag of apparently bonsai soil for emergencies or if I need to use some. It one of Barbara Lockett's bonsai products.
I will repot it in a better looking one although it is still a standard garden centre pot in similar shape to the one now but it will do for the time being.
I will post another pic of the tree in a couple of weeks time.

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killyspike,

"If you are serious about bonsai you will want to get some screens to size your components."
The quote above I don't understand so could do with a link or a little bit of explaining.
Sorry if that was a bit cryptic. Most bonsai growers who have more than a few trees end up mixing their own medium as buying it ends up being cost prohibitive. Also this gives you more control over the composition, size and ratio of inorganic/organic materials.

Screens are often used used to size materials, removing what is too large and too small. Mixes that are too large will need watering far too frequently for most peoples lifestyles while small particles (fines) pose the opposite problem, lack of drainage.

The best medium is composed of particles of similar sizes. Consider what would happen if you had a coarse mixture and then decided to include some fine grained sand. The sand sifts between the other particles, clogs the open spaces between them and negates the benefit of the coarse mix.

Bonsai screens are available in sets of different size mesh but I have made and scrounged a collection of four that serves me adequately. The most important one is the 1/8 size, anything that falls through that size is too fine for most applications. Even if you are going to use a ready-mix medium I suggest that you screen it to this size to remove the fines that inevitably are included or form during transit of the package.
I've got some premium light weight cat litter now so will use that.
Please take the time to do a little test of the litter as not all litter is the same. Place a sample in a glass or bowl and cover it with water. Make sure that it is stable and does not turn to mush as many products do. We had a member here from the UK who used the wrong product (even though it labeled correctly) and the litter turned into paste immediately and had to be re-potted.
Am I right in thinking I need to use just that?
You could but most growers use a portion of organic material for deciduous trees. Often this is Pine bark or mulch. This is where the screens come into play. The components you choose and the ratio with which you combine them vary considerably.

Factors that should be considered are your climate and how often you are able to check your trees. A wet climate could stand with less organics while i drier one could use more to help with water retention. Species is another factor, often Pines are potted in a 100% inorganic mix while some use as much as 50% organic for Ficus.

My primary components are Haydite which is a fired shale product, crushed lava rock and Pine bark or mulch. I use no actual soil, no conventional potting soil and no peat moss. Some do include Sphagnum moss but most avoid fine peat moss like the plague.
I will repot it in a better looking one although it is still a standard garden centre pot in similar shape to the one now but it will do for the time being.
Bonsai pots are not necessary while the tree is in training in fact a pot that allows a little more space is preferred early on as it allows more room for growth. Know that if you re-pot now you will probably not be re-potting again until at least 2010 or perhaps longer so choose wisely.

When you re-pot you will need a small piece of mesh or screen to keep the medium from falling out of the drainage hole/s. After removing the tree from the pot (look underneath for wire) soak it in a basin of water to help loosen the old soil. Try to disturb the roots as little as possible and don't remove any more than is absolutely necessary.

An out of season re-potting is stressful but so is leaving it as is. Aftercare is important, don't put the tree in full sun but instead find a spot that is partially sheltered until you are certain it has recovered.
I will post another pic of the tree in a couple of weeks time.
Please do.

Norm

killyspike
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Ok so I guess that if I get some organic to go with the litter then it will be a good mix and also when mixing the organic and unorganic together they should be of roughly the same size to allow for good drainage and air that can remain in the mix for a long time. Would I be right in saying that if I mixed the cat litter with the bonsai soil it wouldn't be a good combination? What about forgetting the cat litter completely and using the bonsai soil only, as long as its screened? Our climate is mixed really we do have a good amount of rain but also a few brighter days etc. I'm eager to look after the tree and any other tree well so I will be able to monitor them often. I'll move my tree outdoors next month for the summer.
How big do you think I should grow the tree to and do you think this tree as it grows will produce branches in steps?

The cat litter by the way seems to stay in tact but it is of the perfumed variety which wasn't instantly obvious from the package. I'm guessing a 7 day soak of the litter is needed as advised.

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killyspike,
when mixing the organic and unorganic together they should be of roughly the same size to allow for good drainage and air that can remain in the mix for a long time.
Correct. Also the old practice of placing larger particles in the bottom of the pot is now discredited. This practice creates what is known as a 'perched water table'. A mix of the same size particles drains better than one that is stratified into differing sizes.
Would I be right in saying that if I mixed the cat litter with the bonsai soil it wouldn't be a good combination?
While you certainly could incorporate extra inorganic material with a ready-made mix it may or may not be necessary. You would have to judge the mix and determine if it would benefit from the addition.
What about forgetting the cat litter completely and using the bonsai soil only, as long as its screened?
Again that would depend on the mix in question and whether or not it meets your needs.
How big do you think I should grow the tree to
That is up to you and the plan you have for this individual tree. Bonsai come in all sizes from a few inches tall to four feet or more. But be aware that once you have your tree in a small bonsai pot rapid development ceases. Early development of larger trees is usually done in the ground or grow boxes. Since this is your first tree and it already has some decent development perhaps you could concentrate on refinement rather than growing it out.
do you think this tree as it grows will produce branches in steps?
If by that you mean that you wish the branches to divide and become twiggy, that is up to you to accomplish through pruning and pinching. That is one of the things I refer to when I mention refinement, this is know as 'ramification'.

Norm

killyspike
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Much appreciated with your advice gnome thanks loads for taking the time to answer the many questions I'm asking. I've always been someone who likes to make sure I learn as much about something as possible so I can be as successful as I can.
I think what I'll do is repot the bonsai possibly in the bonsai soil I bought and maybe add a small layer of cat litter at the top perhaps a third. The thought is that as long as I don't disturb the soil and litter layers then it will have better drainage than soil alone but will hopefully shorten the time it takes for the need for the tree to be watered thus keeping it from being waterlogged. Does this sound ok? Or would it be better with the mulch and litter? With money a little tight having to buy things for my bedroom as I'm on the final stages of decoration, this arrangement will be better suited at this time I think.
I'm in two minds at the moment with which pot I should use. I don't know whether to get a bigger pot due to the thinking that I reckon there are alot of routes with this tree, ok I can prune the roots but I'm thinking that why waste those routes when there could be a little more growing potential there if more free in a bigger pot. Maybe I should forget that and route prune it to the size of the new pot I have got anyway. I guess until I remove the routes from the soil I won't know for sure. Decisions decisions hehe

killyspike
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root pruned :D

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killyspike,

Sorry I did not get back to you before you did the work. How did it go, how much of the roots did you remove? What mixture did you decide on?

Norm

killyspike
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I thought after I posted the last message it looked like I said I'd done the work but I was just laughing at myself for typing route instead of root. I'm hoping to give it a go this weekend which is our bank holiday weekend. All depends though if I have the materials here on time that I decide on to be able to do it. Although the tree is doing well I think just a repot out of the current soil into new and a root prune will be advantagious in any case.

killyspike
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Judging by the pictures I have posted do you think a hefty prune and a sort out of the inner branch structure would help in its appearance? It seems quite a muddle in the centre there and maybe for doing that 1, It will be easier for me to see what to do being new and all that and 2, would improve the branch structure and the appearance of the tree.

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killyspike,

First since you have not done the work yet lets back up a bit.
I think what I'll do is repot the bonsai possibly in the bonsai soil I bought and maybe add a small layer of cat litter at the top perhaps a third. The thought is that as long as I don't disturb the soil and litter layers then it will have better drainage than soil alone but will hopefully shorten the time it takes for the need for the tree to be watered thus keeping it from being waterlogged. Does this sound ok? Or would it be better with the mulch and litter?
I think you are making this unnecessarily complicated. Sift the bonsai soil to remove the fines and if you feel that it is too organic simply add a portion of the litter and mix it all together. If you use a different layer on the surface it will make it more difficult to judge when to water.

I agree that the tree is overcrowded and some pruning is in order, just don't over-do it now and don't prune the roots any more than necessary to pot it successfully.

Norm

killyspike
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Yes you're right I must hold back on my haste and take things a step at a time. I can study the branches in more depth in autumn when the leaves fall off for the winter or at least initially before it goes indoors. I will however trim out the branches in the middle a bit at a time so not to overdo it, I did a little this morning and I'll continue to study it over time and slowly get to a nicer inner structure to work with. I would prefer the thicker branches to remain and most of the thinner branches pruned. Also I've been pruning a small amount of the apical growth of the dominant areas to help with diverting the growth further down a few branches (I hope that last sentence made sense). I hope I'm doing it ok.
Thanks for the advice I've now decided what to do when repotting. I'll mix the cat litter with the soil at roughly 50/50 but with the more course soil which will be left on top of the mesh that I bought from the garden centre before placing it in the new pot. I will have a single layer of cat litter on top for show which is easily moved out of the way to check the moisture in the soil mix. Root pruning will be kept to only an essential amount and no more than a third. I'm looking forward to the repot and excited as the experience will be well worth while!

killyspike
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For the next installment please go to the new thread my bonsai has now been repotted. :D

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