Duff
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Posts: 4
Joined: Mon Apr 10, 2006 10:39 am

Chinese Plum advice please!

I've had this bonsai for about 4 months and it seems healthy enough. Recently some of the leaves have begun to go brown at the tips but only in one area of the tree, all can be traced back to the same branch which extends from the trunk, is this a problem? (see bottom pic)

I'm also a bit unsure as to how and when I should prune the tree, I've read somewhere that these types (flowering/fruit) should not be pruned at all as next years plums will form from the current year's growth but I've also read that I should pinch/prune new growth to retain the shape, which is what I've done. There's some branches which have no foliage at all and I'm not sure if I should be removing them completely or if they're going to suddenly come back to life or if these are the flowering branches which will produce plums next year?

Finally, there is an area of the tree which I'd like to fill out to give the tree a more even shape (at the mo there is more foilage on one side), I'm attempting this by letting some of the shoots extend a bit to fill in the gaps as it were. When I do this the leaves grow quite large and look disproportionate compared to the rest of the foliage, is this normal when trying to extend branches or should I only be extending new branches from closer to the trunk?

Would apreciate any help you can offer!!!

I hope you can see the pics in enough detail, it's my camera phone as I don't have a digi, hopefully you can see enough.

Thanks.

https://bduffs.blogspot.com/

AngusS
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Posts: 5
Joined: Fri Aug 25, 2006 2:12 pm
Location: UK

Hello
Brown leaves could be a sign of "overwatering", although being restricted to a single branch is unusual. I would keep a close eye on it and if it gets worse, would be tempted to cut out the branch.
You should pinch new growth to keep the shape, but if you are looking for fruit, it could be a fair number of years, in this case only pinch above a bud point. You may have to live with a fairly large plant if you wish to have fruit.
Filling out by letting growth come through bare patches is fine, over time the leaves will reduce in size if you concentrate on pruning that growth when it reaches the size you want it to.
Hope this is useful.

femlow
Senior Member
Posts: 127
Joined: Sat Jul 15, 2006 1:37 am
Location: 5a - Maine

What kind of soil are you using and how are you watering it? Sometimes when only one branch starts to brown, it can be caused by a dry spot in the soil, often caused when there is a mineral build up from hard water that prevents water from reaching a certain section of roots and in turn causes a certain section of the tree above ground to die. You can use the soaking method to water it, which will ensure that water reaches all areas of the soil, or you can change the soil and make sure that you don't have too much organic material in the composition. I wouldn't cut the branch off yet, it may make a fine recovery, but I would check your soil. Also, check for bugs, and look hard. Sometimes they are very difficult to see due to size and their ability to hide well, but occasionally there will be a localized infestation that can cause this.

fem

Duff
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Posts: 4
Joined: Mon Apr 10, 2006 10:39 am

Thanks for the advise.

There were plums on the tree when I received it, it also produced new plums (at least I was told they were plums - they looked like tiny plums) up to May / June. They'd start off green, turn purple and eventually fall off. I want to make sure they return next year but not sure how I should prune to ensure they do. I should probably have done this once the tree stopped producing plums but if I can do it now then great.

I'm not sure what type of soil is used, this is how it was purchased. I'd like to change the soil so I know how it's made up, it also covers some of the trunk which means I have to soak the tree as otherwise the water just runs off, I do use tap water so I'm guessing this may be causing the problem of mineral build up - I'll try leaving the water overnight to see if this helps. Am I right in thinking that any changes to the soil should be done in winter or can this be done anytime if I'm not repotting or pruning roots? (By the way I live in the UK - London). Also there are some branches which appear to be dead (no foliage and when I scratch the bark it's just dark brown underneath), again is it best to wait until winter to remove these?

Again thanks for your help.

femlow
Senior Member
Posts: 127
Joined: Sat Jul 15, 2006 1:37 am
Location: 5a - Maine

There are types of ornamental plum trees which wont produce fill sized fruit (they may also be mules, or very nearly mules), and if the tree is pretty mature, there can also be some dwarfing of the fruit similar to the way the leaves will dwarf.

You should be able to tell what type of soil it is and what condition its in just by looking at it. How much of the soil seems to be inorganic, like grit, clay, lavarock, or some other non-plant based material? and how much seems to be organic, like potting soil, peat moss, etc?

The best time to change the soil of a bonsai is when it needs it. If the tree is healthy and vigorous and doing well, then there is no reason to change the soil. But if the tree is not doing well then its important not to wait too long because the damage will just get worse. But its important to make sure it actually needs to be changed first. I know you said that the water just runs off, is this because the soil doesnt readily absorb it? If so, then its probably a good idea to change the soil. You can also see mineral build up most of the time because the soil will like pale or even white, kind of like when you get waterspots on your dishes (but not necessarily in neat little circles) or like when you get waterstains on glass shower doors or whatever. Its the same idea, just in your soil. So if you can see the mineral build-up, then its definately time for new soil for you tree.

I'm not sure about your specific tree and root trimming, but a lot of trees start to store nutrients in their roots this time of year, and trimming them now can cause much slower growth for the next growing season (which may or may not be a good thing, depending on what you want). And different trees do best being trimmed different times of the year. Someone else here might know more about your tree and root pruning as well as pruning branches. However to be on the safe side, its a good idea to be very very careful when changing the soil. Its the little hair-like roots that absorb water and nutrients for your tree, and if too many are damaged, then it can seriously harm your tree. So just be careful and gentle.

fem

Duff
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Joined: Mon Apr 10, 2006 10:39 am

I think the soil seems to be organic as it just looks like normal potting soil, it's tapered around the trunk and slopes down to the edge of the pot which is why the water runs off and over the side of the pot, some is absorbed into the soil but the slope makes it impossible to absorb enough. I can't see any mineral spots on the soil, to my uneducated eye it seems fairly healthy, there are some little green shoots around the base of the trunk and the soil is a nice dark colour. The only thing I think is not in order is the fact I can remove the tree from it's pot and all the soil stays clumped around the roots, I've read this can mean the roots need pruning?

The tree seems quite healthy imo, there was plenty of new growth throughout summer, it's slowed recently but I put this down to the days getting shorter and evenings cooler. I'm quite apprehensive about changing the soil as it'd be my first one and I don't want to kill it! I have a Chienese elm which I'm almost certain is on it's way out, There has been very little growth (one or two shoots over the last month) and a split in the middle of the trunk. The soil doesn't seem to drain very well and as a result I think the roots may be rotting. I think I'll try changing the soil on this first to get me going (it's kind of my test tree now). Which leads me to my next question - what type of soil should I use for the plum and the elm.

Thanks again for your help Fem, much apreciated. Sorry if my descriptions are confusing, hopefully I'll pick up all the correct lingo as I gain more experience.

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femlow
Senior Member
Posts: 127
Joined: Sat Jul 15, 2006 1:37 am
Location: 5a - Maine

Well potting soil is not a very good soil for bonsai, and unfortunately, thats what most come with when you buy them, because its cheaper than a good quality bonsai soil. It holds far too much moisture though, which will cause root rot or fungus, and unlike a tree in nature, a bonsai tree is not able to outgrow problems like that. So good soil is very important. Also, if soil covers some of the trunk, you can just get rid of that, so it doesnt slope, and because having the trunk under the soil can cause a whole other set of problems. That should help the water absorb better, so that you don't have to soak it, which is especially dangerous with regular potting soil because it holds so much water to begin with. It sounds like the soil is in good condition though if it is still dark and rich looking, and if the water absorb quickly (even if not quite quick enough with the slope). when the soil stays clumped, thats probably just because its not a good mix for bonsai. Potting soil clumps pretty easily with all the organic matter in it, plus if you are doing this shortly after watering, the water wont help it stay loose and crumbly. Either way, it sounds kind of like you've got a big clump of dirt that your tree is growing in, which is not really ideal at all. If the tree was growing well, then thats good, but obviously if it has a dead branch something is wrong (though I'm not sure it would be mineral deposits from the way you describe the soil). But keeping the tree in potting soil is a big risk.

I've never encountered a trunk just splitting before (unless of course it was dropped or something, but it doesnt sound like thats the case), so I'm not sure about that. Some trees wil grow slower than others though, and many slow down a good bit in summer and especially in fall, so that may not be too concerning (a split in the trunk on the other hand 8c\...).

A good basic bonsai mix that will work for most trees out there is one that is 75% inorganic and 25% organic. Some of the more avid bonsaiers out there insist that no organic material is necessary, but for a lot of people (myself included) its hard to imagine growing plants without atleast a little actual soil.

Its probably easiest and cheapest to make your own. There are many options for the inorganic portion of the soil. A lot of the time what people use will vary by where they are. but some common things to use are pumice, lava rock, turface, chicken grit, perlite, vermiculite, and even proken unglazed pottery. Most of these will be available at a garden shop, the chicken grit can be found at feed stores, or for the pottery you can buy cheap untreated terra cotta pots or find a pottery studio and ask them about pieces that have broken or exploded during their bisque firing. All these materials have different properties, and some people like to use a mixture of more than one to get the properties they want, while others do fine with just one type of inorganic. The use of things like perlite, vermiculite, and fired clays will help reduce the amount of organic matter that you need because they hold a large amount of water but are still very free draining (especially clay).
For organic material, a lot of people use peat moss, but personally I am not a big fan. It can be very difficult to rewet once it dries. A lot of people use bark (pine or fir seem to be popular), leaf mulch, even sawdust. don't use garden compost or manure as they often carry bacteria that can harm or kill your tree and in many cases are too nutrient rich and will burn the tree. All mixes need to be sifted before they are used to prevent clogging the screens and causing exces water retention. Generally, people will sift to remove anything under 2 mm.

Different trees have different requirements for what they need. Fruit trees normally need to be kept a little more wet than say a juniper, so a good bit of vermiculite, perlite, or fired clay will be helpful. Be careful using too much perlite, as it is very light and will blow away easily on a windy day. Also, when you sift it or even shake the bag up too much, its good to use a mask, bandana, scarf or something else to breath through because there will be a whole lot of wee little particles floating around for a long time and you will be caughing them up or blowing them out your nose for a long time to come if you arent careful (learned that one the hard way). A lot of people prefer vermiculite because it looks better than perlite, but when you sift a bag, its common to lose atleast 25% because it tends to be much smaller. I'm personally a fan of fired clay, but that can be harder to find, and to actually buy a fired clay bonsai medium can be very very expensive if you can find it at all. There is no one mix that will be perfect for everyone and every tree, so you might have to play around a little to see what works for you, but 75:25 is a good place to start.

Be gentle when you change the soil, but don't be afraid. The best teacher is experience, and these trees can be a lot stronger than we give them credit for.

Duff
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Posts: 4
Joined: Mon Apr 10, 2006 10:39 am

Thanks again for all the info Fem, it's so helpful!!! I'm going to start searching for some of the materials you mentioned and practice on the Elm first (this might give me some answers as to what's happened to the trunk too?). While I'm doing that I'll remove the soil from the trunk of the plum so I don't have to soak the soil and then change that as soon as possible.

Thanks again and I'm sure I'll be back soon with lots of questions!!

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