MDSteinkamp
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Bonsai ID and first aid (probably overwatering)

Greetings all,

My sister recently gave me a bonsai as a gift from her bonsai-savvy co-worker, no ID, no care instructions aside from "water frequently." She has been flaking out on asking her co-worker for more info for the last few weeks, and I'm in need of help. See pictures below. (I did not remove a rock it was growing around; it was given to me this way so I'm guessing it was grown in a pot and then transferred to this shallower one)

[img]https://i56.tinypic.com/34i2139.jpg[/img]

I just today noticed some leaves blackening at the tips/edges, and a couple yellowing (fell off when I was moving the plant to take pics). From what I've looked at online it seems like an over-watering problem. Hopefully from these closer leaf pictures an ID will be possible. Some new leaves have sprouted in the ~4 weeks since I've had it, so I thought I was doing the right thing, but clearly not.

[img]https://i54.tinypic.com/345nbqd.jpg[/img]
[img]https://i51.tinypic.com/2utjblw.jpg[/img]
[img]https://i52.tinypic.com/4q1ker.jpg[/img]
[img]https://i53.tinypic.com/dg52jd.jpg[/img]
[img]https://i52.tinypic.com/33kyrs9.jpg[/img]
[img]https://i54.tinypic.com/s14y7c.jpg[/img]

I have this plant on my desk, in a corner adjacent to a window. Sunlight does not fall directly on the plant, but my room gets a reasonable amount of light, and is relatively warm these days. (Upper seventies in my room, I'm in Portland, OR) I have been watering it twice a day, with about half a cup of water each time. I also have a spray bottle that I spray the moss with, since when I watered it was tough to get all of the moss moist, which I assumed would help keep the moss from dying itself (still seems a bit crispier than it should be). Water almost never drips out the bottom, so I assumed that I wasn't overwatering. The soil underneath the moss has a good amount of that white foamy gravel stuff (whatever it is called https://i56.tinypic.com/2m3mwdx.jpg).

From these pics can anyone identify this bonsai? Watering method revisions? Sunlight exposure change maybe? First aid to help reduce further leaf loss (treatment for fungal something)? Should it not even be inside?

I don't want to kill my first bonsai! Thanks for the help.

MDSteinkamp
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Does anybody have any ideas or suggestions?

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Gnome
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MDSteinkamp,

Sorry, I did not recognize your plant when I first looked at it and then I overlooked it until now. One thing that could be contributing to your problem is your watering pattern. Please have a look at this thread for some tips on watering. Check out the chopstick method.
https://www.helpfulgardener.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1479
I have been watering it twice a day, with about half a cup of water each time...Water almost never drips out the bottom, so I assumed that I wasn't overwatering.
Watering often but shallowly is the wrong approach. It is likely that parts of your soil were always wet while other areas were likely too dry.

Some supplemental lighting certainly would not hurt if you don't have an appropriate window. Indoors is very dim for most plants.

Can anyone else offer a possible ID or any other thoughts?

Norm

MDSteinkamp
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Thanks Gnome!

That chopstick idea is helpful; one of my big issues was that since I have a moss base I didn't know how to really tell if the soil had dried or not.

For light, I can easily move it closer to a window. I had only kept it where it was because I thought it might get too much.

Do you have any suggestions for moss maintenance? Should it be fine with the same water schedule as the tree or will it need additional surface moisture (spray bottle)?

I'll see if this helps it out for now.

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Gnome
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MDSteinkamp,

I'm not a big fan of moss for the reasons you are discovering. If you keep the soil moist enough to promote moss the plant can suffer. a large percentage of my material is in what I consider development and there is no reason for moss to be included in the planting. The health of the tree is of primary importance, all else comes later.

Norm

TomM
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Moss 'looks nice' and for that reason it is often used for a Bonsai Show - to enhance the 'natural' look of the tree.

However it should be removed right after the show. Moss traps moisture in the soil and this defeats the purpose of fast draining bonsai soil mix. Then the roots stay damp and begin to rot. Root rot is the number #1 killer of bonsai.

Fast draining - inorganic - bonsai soil is very, very, very important for bonsai culture and the lack of it is often the 'root cause' of most problems discussed in forums like this. With the proper soil mix it is almost impossible to 'overwater' your tree because it runs right through.

Your soil looks soggy. It is hurting your little tree. It is suffering from root rot - a slow death.

Lose the moss.

MDSteinkamp
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Thank you for your continued responses.

I (perhaps rashly) removed the moss from my bonsai (I suppose it was looking rather toasty anyways). I could see there was a reasonable amount of moisture in the soil still, so I'm not going to water it again for a a day or two after I find the soil dried.

For this root rot problem, will drying the soil out and returning to a more typical 'deluge when dry' watering cycle remedy it? Should I leave it dry for longer? Is there something that I should treat the soil with to help beat the fungus? Or am I on a unavoidable road to death for a novice like me? (repotting is pretty much out of the question; I might as well give it to someone else)

Thanks again,
MDS

kdodds
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Just opinion and experience from the other side of the moss equation...

I like moss. I like the way it looks, I like the more natural feel and setting of the composition. I'm also not a big fan of completely inorganic soils. BUT, I do most of my growing indoors where I've found that completely inorganic mixes are detrimental to indoor growing. This makes it easier, actually, to keep moss and keep it alive, having partially organic soils. None of my trees are complaining, and so I encourage moss growth wherever I can by transplating successful species from pot to pot and keeping a separate pot for culture.

In looking at YOUR tree, egads. I'm not quite sure what it was supposed to be, but it looks more like a martian walker from "War of the Worlds" than it looks like anything else. But, if you like the form, hey, keep it. BUT, look at it. Do you see the MAJOR discoloration of the exposed roots? How they still look like they've almost been freshly dug up? Well, that's probably because they were. It actually looks like a poor and failed attempt at a root-over-rock style that SHOULD have been left to mature for a year or two, rather than a few months, under the soil. IMO, that's more of the problem that you're seeing, immature roots trying to support a large tree and not taking up enough water to do so. IF it were mine, I'd find a nice rock to go up under those roots and pot it under ground. OR, I'd bury those upper roots and work the nebari from there. As it is, I'm not sure if it will even survive the seemingly hasty job.

TomM
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Good points. I think that for this tree to survive, and someday to thrive, it will need repotting. Then the root over rock style can be achieved in earnest. Better soil - with some charcoal mixed in - would be of great help.

Your original post asks the type of tree and this was not addressed. Ficus - perhaps benjamina? is my guess. Dodds?

PS - In Portland, OR you have many great bonsai sources. You might want to contact/visit one of the clubs.

kdodds
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I don't think it's Ficus. Although the trunk looks like Ficus retusa, and the leaves have the right shape, they're serrated, somthing Ficus do not have. I'm guessing maybe more alongthe lines of Prunus, or possibly Sageretia. The bark color is wrong for Sageretia, though, which are more brown/peeling, not gray/smooth.

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