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I have been tending and studying about tending trees in containers for close to 20 years. Most of what I've learned about plants and plant-related science has come about as an outgrowth of my pursuit of at least some degree of proficiency at bonsai. Before the plants I grow become bonsai, they are often collected from the wild or grown in the ground for a period before transitioning them to containers and then finally to bonsai pots. Often too, I simply grow them for a few years in containers before deciding to work on them or give them away.
I grow and manage a wide variety of temperate trees and shrubs, both deciduous and conifers, and 75 or more tropical/subtropical woody plants. I'd like to invite you to a discussion about your containerized trees and/or your tree problems. I will try to answer your questions whenever I can.
For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider, every green tree is far more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver.~Martin Luther
The following information was added on 10/2/11
It's not much of a secret to many, that a good part of what I've learned about plants and plant-related science has come as an outgrowth of my pursuit of at least some degree of proficiency at bonsai. Please, make no mistake, the principles applied to containerized trees under bonsai culture can, and in most cases SHOULD be applied to all containerized trees grown for the long term. Because of the small volumes of soil and small containers these trees are grown in, you might look at bonsai as a form of container culture taken to another level. Before most of the plants I grow become bonsai, they often undergo many years of preparation and manipulation while still in the same size containers you are growing in, so while I am intimately familiar with growing plants in bonsai culture, it would have been impossible for me to arrive at that familiarity w/o an even more thorough understanding of growing woody plants in larger, pre-bonsai size containers like you grow in. This thread is a continuation of one I previously posted on the same topic.
I grow and manage a wide variety of temperate trees and shrubs, both deciduous and conifers, and 75 or more tropical/subtropical woody plants. I'd like to invite you to join the discussion with questions about your own containerized trees and/or your tree problems. I will try to answer your questions whenever I can.
The timing of certain procedures is closely related to energy management, which gets too little consideration by most growers tending trees in containers. Because repotting and root pruning seem to be most misunderstood on the list of what it takes to maintain trees that will continually grow at close to their genetic potential, I will include some observations about those procedures to open the discussion.
I have spent literally thousands of hours digging around in root-balls of trees (let's allow that trees means any woody plant material with tree-like roots) - tropical/subtropical trees, temperate trees collected from the wild and temperate nursery stock. The wild collected trees are a challenge, usually for their lack of roots close to the trunk, and have stories of their own. The nursery stock is probably the closest examples to what most of your trees are like below the soil line, so I'll offer my thoughts for you to consider or discard as you find fitting.
I've purchased many trees from nurseries that have been containerized for long periods. Our bonsai club, just this summer, invited a visiting artist to conduct a workshop on mugo pines. The nursery (a huge operation) where we have our meetings happened to have purchased several thousand of the mugos somewhere around 10 - 12 years ago and they had been potted-up into continually larger containers ever since. Why relate these uninteresting snippets? In the cases of material that has been progressively potted-up only, large perennial roots occupied nearly the entire volume of the container, plant vitality was in severe decline, and soil in the original root-ball had become so hard that in some cases a chisel was required to remove it.
In plants that are potted-up, rootage becomes entangled. As root diameters increase, portions of roots constrict flow of water and nutrients through other roots, much the same as in the case of girdling or encircling roots on trees grown in-ground. The ratio of fine, feeder roots to more lignified and perennial roots becomes skewed to favor the larger, and practically speaking, useless roots.
Initial symptoms of poor root conditions are progressive diminishing of branch extension and reduced vitality. As rootage becomes continually compressed and restricted, branch extension stops and individual branches might die as water/nutrient translocation is further compromised. Foliage quality may not (important to understand) indicate the tree is struggling until the condition is severe, but if you observe your trees carefully, you will find them increasingly unable to cope with stressful conditions - too much/little water, heat, sun, etc. Trees that are operating under conditions of stress that has progressed to strain, will usually be diagnosed in the end as suffering from attack by insects or other bio-agents while the underlying cause goes unnoticed.
I want to mention that I draw distinct delineation between simply potting up and repotting. Potting up temporarily offers room for fine rootage to grow and do the necessary work of water/nutrient uptake, but these new roots soon lignify, while rootage in the old root mass continues to grow and become increasingly restrictive. The larger and larger containers required for potting-up & the difficulty in handling them also makes us increasingly reluctant to undertake even potting-up, let alone undertake the task of repotting/root-pruning which grows increasingly difficult with each up-potting.
So we are clear on terminology, potting up simply involves moving the plant with its root mass and soil intact, or nearly so, to a larger container and filling in around the root/soil mass with additional soil. Repotting, on the other hand, includes the removal of all or part of the soil and the pruning of roots, with an eye to removing the largest roots, as well as those that would be considered defective. Examples are roots that are dead, those growing back toward the center of the root mass, encircling, girdling or j-hooked roots, and otherwise damaged roots.
I often explain the effects of repotting vs potting up like this:
Let's rate growth/vitality potential on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the best. We're going to say that trees in containers can only achieve a growth/vitality rating of 9, due to the somewhat limiting effects of container culture. Lets also imagine that for every year a tree goes w/o repotting or potting up, its measure of growth/vitality slips by 1 number, That is to say you pot a tree and the first year it grows at a level of 9, the next year, an 8, the next year a 7. Lets also imagine we're going to go 3 years between repotting or potting up.
Here's what happens to the tree you repot/root prune:
year 1: 9
year 2: 8
year 3: 7
year 1: 9
year 2: 8
year 3: 7
year 1: 9
year 2: 8
year 3: 7
You can see that a full repotting and root pruning returns the plant to its full potential within the limits of other cultural influences for as long as you care to repot/root prune.
Looking now at how woody plants respond to only potting up:
year 1: 9
year 2: 8
year 3: 7
year 1: 8
year 2: 7
year 3: 6
year 1: 7
year 2: 6
year 3: 5
year 1: 6
year 2: 5
year 3: 4
year 1: 5
year 2: 4
year 3: 3
year 1: 4
year 2: 3
year 3: 2
year 1: 3
year 2: 2
year 3: 1
This is a fairly accurate illustration of the influence tight roots have on a woody plant's growth/vitality. You might think of it for a moment in the context of the longevity of bonsai trees vs the life expectancy of most trees grown as houseplants, the difference between 4 years and 400 years, lying primarily in how the roots are treated.
I haven't yet mentioned that the dissimilar characteristics of the old soil as compared to the new soil when potting-up are also a recipe for trouble. With a compacted soil in the old roots and a fresh batch of soil surrounding the roots of a freshly potted-up tree, it is nearly impossible to establish a watering regimen that doesn't keep the differing soils either too wet or too dry, both conditions occurring concurrently being the rule rather than the exception.
Most who read this would have great difficulty showing me a containerized tree that's more than 10 years old and as vigorous as it could be, unless it has been root-pruned at repotting time; yet I can show you hundreds of trees 20 years to 200 years old and older that are in perfect health. All have been root-pruned and given a fresh footing in in new soil at regular and frequent intervals.
Deciduous trees are some of the most forgiving of trees when it comes to root pruning. The process is quite simple and the long term benefits include best opportunities for plants to grow at or near their potential genetic vigor, and stronger plants that are able to resist the day to day perils that bring down weaker plants. Root-pruning is a procedure that might be considered borrowed from bonsai culture, but as noted above, bonsai culture is nothing more than highly refined container culture, and to restrict the practice of root-pruning to bonsai only, is an injustice to those of us who simply enjoy growing trees in containers.
Trees are much like human beings and enjoy each other's company. Only a few love to be alone. ~Jens Jensen
Now that I have made the case for why it is important to regularly perform full repots (not to be confused with potting-up) and prune the roots of your containerized trees regularly, I will offer some direction. Root-pruning is the systematic removal of the largest roots in the container with emphasis on removal of rootage growing directly under the trunk and at the perimeter of the root mass.
Root pruning can start immediately with year-old seedlings by removing the taproot just below the basal flare of dormant material, repotting, and treating the plant as a cutting. This will produce a plant with flat rootage that radiates outward from the base and that will be easy to care for in the future.
Young trees (under 10 yrs old) are nearly all dynamic mass and will tolerate root-pruning well. Most deciduous trees are extremely tolerant of root work. Acer buergerianum (trident maple) is routinely reduced to a main trunk with roots pruned all the way back to the basal flare and responds to the treatment with a fresh growth of fine, fibrous roots and a fresh flush of foliage each spring. The point here is, you don't need to be concerned about the pruning if you follow a few simple guidelines.
First, some generalities: undertake repotting of most deciduous material while the plant is quiescent (this is the period after the tree has met its chill requirement and has been released from dormancy, but has not begun to grow yet because of low soil temps). Most conifers are best repotted soon after the onset of spring growth. Most tropical and subtropical trees are best repotted in the month prior to their most robust growth period (summer). Citrus are probably best repotted in spring, but they can also be repotted successfully immediately after a push of top growth.
For most plants that have not been root-pruned before: With a pruning saw, saw off the bottom 1/3 of the root ball. With a hand-rake (like you use for scratching in the garden soil) and/or a wooden chopstick and/or the aid of water under high pressure from a garden hose, remove all the loose soil. Using a jet of water from the hose and the chopstick, remove the remaining soil - ALL of it. The exception here would be those plants that form dense mats of fine roots (citrus, bougainvillea, rhododendron ...). This should be done out of sun and wind to prevent the fine roots from drying. 5 minutes in the sun or wind can kill fine roots & set the tree back a week or more, so keep roots moist by misting very frequently or dipping the roots in a tub of water as you work. After the soil is removed, remove up to another 1/3 of the remaining mass of roots with a sharp pruning tool, taking the largest roots, and those roots growing directly under the trunk. Stop your pruning cuts just beyond where a smaller root branches toward the outside of the root you are pruning. Be sure to remove any J-hooked roots, encircling/girdling roots or others exhibiting abnormal growth.
Before you begin the pruning operation, be sure you have the soil & new container ready to go (drain screens in place, etc). The tree should fit loosely inside the walls of the container. Fill the container with soil to the desired ht, mounded in the center, & place tree on the mound. Add soil to cover roots & with a chopstick/skewer, or sharpened wood dowel, work soil into all voids in the roots, eliminating the air pockets and adding soil to the bottom of the basal root-flare. Temporarily securing the tree to the container with twine or small rope, even staking, against movement from wind or being jostled will fractionalize recovery time by helping to prevent breakage of newly-formed fine rootage. Place the tree in shade & out of wind until it leafs out and re-establishes in the container.
The first time you root-prune a tree will be the most difficult & will likely take up to an hour from start to finish, unless the tree is in larger than a 5 gallon container. When you're satisfied with the work, repot into a soil that you are certain will retain its structure until the next root-pruning/repot. Tree (genetic) vigor will dictate the length of time between repots. The slow growing, less vigorous species, and older trees will likely go 5 years between repots. For these slow growing trees, it is extremely important that soils retain aeration. For these trees, a soil of 2/3 inorganic parts and 1/3 organic (I prefer pine or fir bark) is a good choice. The more vigorous plants that will only go 2 years between repots can be planted in a soil with a higher organic component if you wish, but would still benefit from the 2/3 inorganic mix.
Most trees treated this way will fully recover within about 4 weeks after the repot By the end of 8 weeks, they will normally have caught & passed, in both development and in vitality, a similar root-bound plant that was only potted up
When root-pruning a quiescent plant, you needn't worry much about "balancing" top growth with rootage removed. The plant will tend to only "activate" the buds it can supply with water. It is, however, the optimum time to undertake any pruning you may wish to attend to.
This is how I treat most of my trees. Though I have many growing in bonsai pots, more of my plants are in nursery containers or terra-cotta and look very much like your trees, as they await the beginning of intensive training. With a little effort at developing a soil from what's available to you and some knowledge and application of root-pruning and repotting techniques, I'm absolutely sure that a good % of those nurturing trees in containers could look forward to results they can be very pleased with. This is the repotting technique described that allows bonsai trees to live for hundreds of years & be passed from generation to generation while other containerized trees that have not had their roots tended to, and have only been potted-up, are likely to be in severe decline, or compost, well before they're old enough to vote. ;o)
I hope you're bold enough to make it a part of your containerized tree maintenance, and I hope what I've written so far makes sense. Thank you so much for your interest.
Knowing grass, I understand the meaning of persistence.
Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of perseverance.
Knowing bonsai I understand the meaning of patience. ~ Al
I'm interested in this impending discussion. I've recently transplanted 3 volunteer Mimosa starts from my yard. (a Mimosa tree was in the garden for years and removed by after about 10 years). Volunteers began to pop up after my two years living in the house. My starts, now in 5 gal plastic pots, are about two foot tall each, healthy it appears. I'm mostly interested in how to discover, treat, manipulate how roots grow. In my particular case do Mimosa roots grow OUT, Down or both? ... and, if they're grown in containers, large containers, can they thrive? I know I'm going to put at least one in the ground (once I decide on location). Other two may give away, but still curious as to how to maintain them in large containers.
Carry on. I'm all ears.
P.S.- I'm an absolute novice at the trees in containers concept. No knowledge to share.
Roots of all plants grow wherever there is ample air, water, and nutrients. Roots don't 'seek' these things out or grow toward moisture, as is commonly believed, they just don't grow where conditions aren't favorable. Even plants that are noted for their shallow root systems will fully colonize even the deepest containers with roots if the soil is well-aerated.
I don't know what you're using for soil, but with a small tree in a 5 gallon container, you need to be wary of over-watering, unless the soil is very fast (draining). Often, the top of the soil feels dry, so you water, but 6" down the soil is still very wet. This robs the tree of its ability to colonize all the soil and can impair root function and metabolism, as well as set the plant up for a variety of fungal issues (root rot). You might wish to check the dampness of the soil at the drain hole and only water when it feels dry, or insert a dowel rod deep into the soil and only water when it comes out dry. Inserting a wick through the drain hole is also a good way to drain excess water from the lower part of the soil (ask, if you don't understand this concept). The wick also serves well as a 'tell'. Just feel the wick where it exits the container - if it feels dry it's time to water.
Yes, your trees can absolutely thrive in large (or small) containers, but there are some things that can make it much easier for you to maintain them at high vitality levels. That starts with the soil. You really need a well-aerated soil that will retain its structure for long term plantings. A soil like I described guarantees your trees at least the opportunity to grow at near their genetic potential, while a poor soil guarantees it never can.
What are you fertilizing with?
I know you said you were a beginner at trees in containers, so if you need me to clarify something, just ask. ;o)
I've read some of your wise advice in other threads including the soil type used in pots. In this case I used regular old Miracle Gro potting soil with the intention that this container be a short lived home for the little trees. I don't intend to keep them in "this" soil. I plan to keep only one of three in a container... and will re read your advice on soil make-up for that tree. The other two will go in the ground probably Jan. or Feb. Gets VERY cold here in DEC. - JAN and I want to be able to move them accordingly. I understand what you're saying about too much water. I can see the yellowing leaves of one that is probably in the line of fire of the sprinklers. I use only Fish Emulsion in my entire yard except rose fert. on the roses. I planted some senna fistula seeds ( or is it senna cassia?? - not cassia fistual, I know) Anyway, I put them in the ground with tree and shrub soil (from a bag purchased at the nursery). They are doing VERY well (about 5 feet in a year, and soon to flower). What do you think about repotting my Mimosa with the Tree and Shrub bagged soil (in a container)? Would it be too rich and burn? I don't want to take up too much of your time, Al, and don't worry about repeating points you've already made. I can go to back -posts you've made. THANKS! ~Susie
W/o knowing anything about the soil, I can't offer an opinion. I'm a strong proponent of durable soils for long term plantings, which means that I tend to use soils with high mineral content. Those soils I use that DO have a high organic component are based on pine bark, which outlasts peat on a size for size basis by about 3 or 4:1. When you add in the larger particle size for the bark, and the accompanying reduction in surface area because the bark is larger, you increase the bark's durability over peat even more.
With a good amount of certainty, you can say that soils that are more highly aerated and durable than peat-based soils offer much greater potential for plants to grow as close to peak vitality as allowed by remaining cultural factors. You might be able to gauge your choice of soils against that, but I don't know how I could help more.
We usually consider 'burn' to come from a high level of solubles in the soil solution. Sugar will 'burn' a plant as quickly as salt, or fertilizer salts. It's doubtful that soil from a bag could burn, unless it was fortified with fertilizers before packaging. I would say though, that you should note what the material in the bag is derived from. Composted 'forest products' can be just about anything, and often contain lots of partially composted heart/sapwood and hardwood bark. These materials are quite unsuitable as a major pert of container soils & should probably be restricted to use as mulch. I'm not sure if this applies to what you're using or not - just a cautionary offering.
Al, over time I've read many of your knowledgeable postings about soil in containers. I have a small azalea bought for my mom (who has since passed). It would be nice to turn it into a bonsai and I'd appreciate any advice on what soil to use for this. The pot it came in seems to consist mostly of peat. I'm sure it will be necessary to remove this soil before repotting. Thanks,
Your main pruning should be done in late summer in late summer. DO seal the pruning wounds (with a sealing compound that matches bark color for best appearance) or you'll get considerable necrosis of cambial tissues surrounding the cuts and ugly wounds slow to heal. (If others should wonder at this advice that seems to be contrary to contemporary thinking, remember that 'bonsai' is the key word hear and long tradition has shown sealing azalea wounds is a preferred practice). Azaleas bud back readily from old wood. New shoots grow in groups of five and should be reduced to only two from each group and the remaining shoots reduced to two sets of leaves. Be careful when bending the brittle branches, and wire in the warmer months Dry trees are more flexible, so don't try to wire recently watered trees. Bark is fragile, so wire carefully or protect with raffia when you wire.
Repot in the spring after blooms fade. Azaleas have extremely dense, matted roots, from which fine particles are difficult to remove, so use coarse soils. When using fine soils, roots form tangled mats that shed water, which makes it hard to water/fertilize. There is no need to include any peat in the soil. When repotting, trim the roots to a flat disc and cut out pie-shaped wedges, removing about 1/2 of the remaining roots. New roots will grow into the areas you removed.
Using an acid-forming fertilizer in the 3:1:2 ratio works well (MG 24-8-16 e.g.). If your (irrigation) water is alkaline, it helps to neutralize alkalinity to water pH is around 5.5. You can use pH strips to test - just measure out enough white vinegar to bring the pH down to 5.5 and add that amount to your water each time you water.
That's about all I can think of for the basics.
Ohh! Important: This plant is NOT apically dominant. Most trees/shrubs concentrate energy at the top of the tree/plant, but azaleas grow strong at the bottom, so you should be pruning the lower part of the plant much more aggressively than the top.
Thanks for making yourself available. I have three potted J maples two are crimson queen and the other in unknown but resembles bloodgood. I got them as maidens or very newly grafted. They are all 2-3 years old. I'm thinking I should repot them every year to put them in soil that is less decomposed to maintain good drainage. Should I do anything to the roots? I'm thinking I will try to plant the "bloodgood" at the house we just bought but I don't know where I'm going to put it just yet. the others I am contemplating keeping in their pots for a while but maybe planting them eventually. I'm not sure how to get one out if its pot because it is a little narrowed at the top Its a beautiful pot and I'd rather not break it. Any suggestions? Right now I'm using gardener and bloom potting soil and they do not have wicks. Am I right in thinking that a wick is just a piece of towel twisted up and placed along the side of the pot and then through the drain hole a few inches? I would like to put one in when I repot, but not totally sure about the proper procedure. I read your post about soil for pots and have been using a "planting" mix now that is composed of bigger particles of bark/wood and other things for improved drainage, but as it is still mostly wood chips it is probably degraded. They are in a five gal, seven and ten sized pots. I believe they are suffering from poor drainage as the tips of the leaved were brown all season and they seemed to drop their leaves a little early. Also, I live by the sea and many J maples get fussy here so its hard to tell what's really going on.
Wonderearth - I'll let Al respond to your post in greater detail, but for what it is worth, the brown or burnt tips of the leaves are pretty common for Japanese maples especially when they get a lot of afternoon sunlight or hot winds. Then again, if you have poor drainage, the JMs would protest against their wet feet too.
If you intend to keep your trees in containers, you should plan on yearly root pruning or an alternate plan of potting up one year and then root-pruning the next. Usually, you can use the same size container after root pruning, or in some cases, return to the container the tree was in when you last potted up. Root pruning and/or potting up is very important to o/a vitality. Plants that become extremely root bound because the plants weren't bumped up or root pruned are often permanently disadvantaged (even when planted out) unless you get into the roots at some future date and correct the problems. Even then, they can never really recover the development they would have had if roots had been tended to properly to begin with. BTW - the entire Acer genus generally tolerates root work well.
Usually, you can get the plant out of pots that narrow at the rim w/o much serious damage if they're not seriously root bound. Consider too, that if you intend to prune the roots it's likely any damaged roots at the perimeter will be removed anyway.
The soil is very important. Soils with a large presence of pine bark are preferred to those based on peat, coir, or compost; and gritty soils of 2/3 or more mineral content (large particles, like Turface, calcined DE, and crushed granite) offer the potential of being even more productive and closer to fool-proof than the bark-based soils. Please try to use conifer bark in your soils. Hardwood bark and any sapwood/heartwood, as well as 'composted forest products', each present their problems and are better left out of container media.
I use strands from a rayon mop for my wick material. The mop heads can be had at most Ace Hardwares and Wallyworld. Make sure they are rayon, though. You can also use shoelaces or other material that readily absorbs water as a wick, though cotton isn't a good choice because it decomposes too rapidly.
JMs exhibit leaf scorch for a variety of reasons, and poor drainage is surely one of them. Too much sun/wind, insufficient water, too much water, a high level of soluble salts in the soil, high soil temperatures, and combinations of these cultural conditions that aren't necessarily extreme are some other common causes.
I didn't go into much depth, so if there is something you would like me to expand on, let me know.
If the tree will be subjected to freezing temps, it's better to root-prune in spring immediately before budswell, but in your zone, you can prune roots almost anytime after the tree goes dormant, but before budswell.
This is a copy/paste job of something I wrote on another forum site. It was on a forum about maples, so the info should be appropriate. If it seems a little off topic, please remember it was copy/pasted as it was written for another thread:
In other threads, I have made my best case for why it is important to prune roots and do a full repot (not to be confused with potting-up) on your containerized Acers - regularly. Root-pruning is the systematic removal of the largest roots in the container with emphasis on removal of rootage growing directly under the trunk and at the perimeter of the root mass.
Root pruning should start immediately with year-old seedlings by removing the taproot just below the basal flare of dormant material, repotting, and treating the plant as a cutting. This will produce a plant with flat rootage that radiates outward from the base and will be easy to care for in the future.
Young trees (under 10 yrs old) are nearly all dynamic mass and will tolerate root-pruning well. The entire genus of Acer is extremely tolerant of root work. Acer buergerianum (trident maple) is routinely reduced to a main trunk with roots pruned all the way back to the basal flare and responds to the treatment with a fresh growth of fine, fibrous roots and a fresh flush of foliage each spring. The point here is, you don't need to be concerned about the pruning if you follow a few simple guidelines.
First, undertake the root-pruning and repot while the plant is quiescent (this is the period after the tree has met its chill requirement and has been released from dormancy, but has not begun to grow yet because of low soil temps). The ideal time is immediately before buds move (swell) in spring. Next best time is at the onset of budswell. Next best time is anytime late in the quiescent period.
For plants that have not been root-pruned before: With a pruning saw, saw off the bottom 1/3 to 1/2 of the root ball. With a hand-rake (like you use for scratching in the garden soil) or a wooden chopstick, remove all the loose soil. Using a jet of water from the hose and the chopstick, remove the remaining soil - ALL of it. This should be done out of sun and wind to prevent the fine roots from drying. 5 minutes in the sun or wind can kill fine roots & set the tree back a week or more, so keep roots moist as you work. After the soil is removed, remove about 1/2 of the remaining mass of roots with a sharp pruning tool, taking the largest and those growing under the trunk. Stop your pruning cuts just beyond where a smaller root branches off the root you are pruning. Be sure to remove any J-roots, encircling roots, or others with abnormal growth.
The first time you root-prune a tree will be the most difficult & will likely take an hour from start to finish, unless the tree is in larger than a 5 gallon container. When you're satisfied with the work, repot into a soil that you are certain will retain its structure until the next root-pruning/repot. Tree (genetic) vigor will dictate the length of time between repots. The slow growing, less vigorous species will likely go 5 years between repots. For these slow growing trees, it is extremely important that soils retain aeration. For these trees, a soil of 2/3 inorganic parts and 1/3 organic (I prefer pine or fir bark) is a good choice. The more vigorous plants that will only go 2 years between repots can be planted in a soil with a higher organic component if you wish, but would still benefit from the 2/3 inorganic mix.
Before you begin the pruning operation, be sure you have the soil & new container ready to go (drain screens in place, etc). The tree should fit loosely inside the walls of the container. Fill the container with soil to the desired ht, mounded in the center, & place tree on the mound. Add soil to cover roots & with the chopstick, work soil into all voids in the roots, eliminating the air pockets and adding soil to the bottom of the basal root-flare. Temporarily securing the tree to the container with twine or small rope, even staking, against movement from wind or being jostled will speed recovery time by preventing breakage of newly forming fine rootage. Place the tree in shade & out of wind until it leafs out and re-establishes in the container.
Most trees treated this way will fully recover within about 4 weeks. By the end of 8 weeks, they will have caught & passed a similar plant, that was allowed to remain in its container, in both development and in vitality.
When root-pruning a dormant plant, you needn't worry about "balancing" top growth with rootage removed. The plant will only "activate" the buds it can supply with water. It is, however, the optimum time to undertake any pruning you may wish to attend to.
This is how I treat all my deciduous material. Yes, I have quite a few growing in bonsai pots, but more of my plants are in nursery containers or terra-cotta and look very much like your trees as they await the beginning of training. With a little effort at developing a soil from what's available to you and some knowledge and application of root-pruning and repotting techniques, I'm absolutely sure that a good % of those growing trees in containers could look forward to results they can be pleased with. This is the repotting technique that allows bonsai trees to live for hundreds of years & be passed from generation to generation while other containerized trees that have not had their roots tended to, only potted-up, are likely to be in severe decline or compost before they're old enough to vote.
Al, you have certainly answered most any questions one would have and thank you for the advice. Now, have you ever made a video showing this? If not, a book you could recommend? The root pruning, while you have explained in fine detail, just scares me and seeing it done step-by-step would be so much better. Sounds like I need to visit a bonsai master...LOL.
Once upon a time, a guy from church gave me a plant that he didn't know what to do with. It wasn't too healthy, and had grown way out of reasonable bounds. My intent was to rehab the plant & give it to someone else at church. It looked like this when I got it:
Somewhere, I have a pic of the plant as it was starting to back-bud, but I can't find it. What happened was pretty cool, though. I had been helping people with their trees on another site, and a guy that had been looking for help contacted me by email. He said that his fiance had entrusted him with her scheff while she was out of the country, and he had killed it. What he was actually hoping is that I could somehow help him resurrect it, but that wouldn't fly. What I suggested was that he check with her to see if the one I had would be an appropriate replacement, and if it was, I'd send it to him. After all, the pictures had been published on the other forum and the tree had some degree of notoriety. ;o)
Well anyway, I ended up shipping it off to New York or Boston, some place in the EAST, and a few weeks later I got a picture back of the plant just getting settled in its new home.
Before root pruning you took some growth off the top. For my J maples, I was told as they are young trees, that they should be left to develop their structure without pruning for the first bit. If the roots and the top aren't pruned in balance could the tree with suddenly fewer roots not be able to sustain its existing top growth? Does this make sense? I guess what I'm asking is - Do I have to prune the top if I'm going to prune the roots?
Maple: I need to temper my answer by saying that there are times when it is necessary to prune some of the canopy to balance with what volume of foliage the roots can supply with water (like when you repot or dig up a deciduous tree when it's in leaf), but the answer that fits most applications is 'NO', don't worry about 'balancing' the ratio of roots:shoots. It's generally considered a fallacy that you need to balance plants in such a way. Roots grow and plants establish based on the photosynthate created by the foliage. 'Balancing' roots:shoots by removing branches or foliage after you root-prune is like trying to build a mall in 3 months after you've just laid off the workers. ;o)
For plants that are lifted at inappropriate times, it's sometimes better to prune part of the canopy back, though. The reason is that it is likely that some of the canopy will be shed when roots cannot supply shoots. It's better if YOU select the branches that need to go (and stay), rather than allowing the tree to shed branches that might be key to your vision for the plant. We're getting into the realm of energy management here now, which can be a very important consideration - especially for containerized trees.
Brug: Any plant that becomes seriously root-bound will be permanently unable to grow at or near it's potential genetic vigor, even if all other conditions were perfect. You've all experienced the bedding plants in cell packs that came with very tight roots. Remember? You planted them & they did just about nothing all summer long, and when you dug them up in the fall you discovered that the roots were still in a shape so compact you could probably have put them right back in the cell pack it came out of.
I'm not going to tell you that your brugs are going to die, or that they won't bloom, if you don't tend to their roots, but if you use this as a rule of thumb, you'll be in pretty good shape: If you pull the plant from the pot and the root ball holds together, at a minimum you should pot-up at that time. If you want to maximize vitality, knock all or almost all the soil off brugs and root-prune every spring before they take off. They handle it very well and root-pruned plants will almost always have caught and passed their unroot-pruned counterparts in growth by summer's end. I over-winter cuttings each year that I start in the early fall, and even THEN, I root-prune in spring.
I start the brugs in either of the soil mixes I use. One is
5 parts pine bark fines
1-2 parts perlite
1 part peat
the other is
1 part screened pine or fir bark
1 part screened Turface or NAPA floor-dry
1 part crushed granite (grower size grit) or #2 cherrystone
The latter is what I grow all my trees & long term plantings (like houseplants) in.
You could easily start them in 100% perlite (try to stay away from vermiculite), screened Turface or NAPA floor-dry, or chopped sphagnum moss (not to be confused with sphagnum peat), or any combination of the moss and the other ingredients. The moss is a superb medium for starting cuttings as it promotes rooting AND has anti-fungal properties.
Not as an across the board practice, by any means. I usually do one operation or the other and then wait for the tree to at least partially recover before heaping additional indignities on it. It depends on the plant, and, on the level of vitality/stored energy. It usually ends up being a judgment call, but in genetically vigorous genera/species like scheffs (HF and I are having a discussion about a schefflera on another forum) it moves more toward a given that you can do both ops at once if you prefer. If you're a little concerned, do the roots first & leave the photosynthesizing machinery intact to provide photosynthate to regenerating roots. I could have been clearer, but my main intent was to make the observation that the foliage appeared to be concentrated mostly at branch ends (usually a result of being root bound or a N deficiency), making steps to bring it back in toward the center of mass for a more compact tree desirable.
The mechanism: We know that N deficiencies inhibit lateral breaks, and that when the deficiency occurs, the plant translocates N from older leaves to newly forming foliage. The older leaves usually abscise (are shed), unless the deficiency is corrected. No lateral breaks, abscising older foliage, and N being translocated to new foliage only, all work in concert to produce that 'tufted look' where the foliage is concentrated at the ends of branches.
Oh, man...that explains alot. Most of the "container" trees I am taking over are like that, but what does not make since is that they where using 3 or 4 types of fertilizers and it burned all the roots of all the trees but the ficus. If, they where using so much fertilizers it should not be deficient then right?
Probably not, but tight roots alone are enough to cause the inner foliage to die off, leaving only the relatively new growth at branch tips. Did you ever notice how trees grown as houseplants that never get repotted (as opposed to potting-up) look? I get lots of trees to 'rehab' from church members & I can usually tell at a glance when they're root-bound, just by noting how/where the foliage is situated. To be fair though, it's often a light issue acting also as a contributor to that 'tufted' look where houseplants are concerned.
Hi Al. I know this is an old thread, but I've been toying with the idea of asking you this question all winter, and when I found this thread tonight I thought it might be a good way to ask.
I am not referring to bonsai here, so maybe it is a bit off-topic, but here goes.
I have a salix Hakuro Nishiki grafted so it is in tree form. I originally stuck it in a pot until I figured out what to do with it. Well, about five years later it's still in a pot and we really love it on our patio.
I plan on repotting it into a larger pot. My question is two-fold. One, I realized after I bought it that this plant is a water hog, and I guess really should not be in a pot. But I want it to be in a pot!
So, would you recommend a pot WITHOUT drainage holes for this? (I have a friend who has one planted in a garden that has standing water many months of the year and it is thriving, so I know you can't overwater it.)
Secondly, what is the best medium to pot this in?
And I guess thirdly - to combine the two questions, would there be a different medium for a pot with holes and a pot without?
Okay, sorry, just thought of another question - should I root prune when repotting? I have never root-pruned in my life, so I'm kinda hoping you say not to bother, lol...
You can kind of see the tree on the right of this photo. It is directly behind the MG-covered fence (I mention this because someone once thought it was farther away, next to the door, and thought it was a huge tree! It is abour 7 or 8 feet tall in the pot).
Thank you for any help you can give me (and thanks for all the help you've given me in the past just by answering other people!)
Your question had me stumped for several minutes because I had headed down the wrong path in my thinking. In my mind, I was going through what differences there might be between growing a tree planted out in a waterlogged soil and one in a container w/o holes. I was thinking about all the methane, ethylene, and sulfurous gasses that would be produced from the anaerobically decaying medium and comparing that to a mineral soil with only 5% organic component, when it dawned on me that I needed to be thinking in terms of TDS/EC. Total dissolved solids and electrical conductivity are roughly a total measure of all the solubles in the soil solution. Even if there weren't issues with the gasses in the rhizosphere (root zone) the steadily accumulating solubles in plantings w/o drain holes (or plantings watered in small sips because the soil is so heavy root rot must be guarded against) from fertilizers, tap water, and the material in the soil breaking down would soon make it impossible for the plant to absorb water and the nutrients dissolved in water.
The level of solubles inside of living cells needs to be higher than the level of solubles in the soil solution, or the plant cannot absorb water. The plant 'works' toward a state of isotonicity, which means the level of solutes inside of cells and that in the soil solution have equalized and reaches a sort of stasis. When the level of solutes in the soil solution is higher than that in cells, water can actually be 'pulled' from cells in the same way that salt pulls water from ham or bacon. When this occurs, we call it plasmolysis, because plasma is torn from cell walls as cells collapse and the cell/tissue dies. Commonly, we call it fertilizer burn.
You'll need to decide what soil is best for you. W/o hesitation, I would use the gritty mix. Even plants that tolerate wet feet, don't necessarily appreciate it. Watering is not an issue for me because I have to water my other trees daily anyway, so I don't even think about that aspect, but it might be important for you to arrange your priorities differently, thus your choice of soil is up to you.
Bad news coming ... but no where near as bad as I think YOU think. ;o) Your plant does need to be root-pruned to maintain its vitality and to allow it to grow at as close to its considerable level of genetic vigor as possible. Willows are (almost all) so vigorous that you can get away with thing you couldn't get away with in working on other trees. You can reduce the canopy and root-prune now if you wish, or just prune the canopy & do a little root work to get you through until next spring. I'm assuming your tree is in leaf already? If not, then I would do a full repot right now with the accompanying bare-rooting and root pruning. You couldn't have a more forgiving tree to start out on than yours. Don't worry, whatever you decide the tree will be fine, but you do need to pay regular attention to the roots. Once roots become congested to the point that the root/soil mass can be lifted from the container intact, growth is negatively and permanently affected - until you or someone else corrects the root situation. This holds true even if you were to plant the tree out. (C Whitcomb, PhD in Plant Production in Containers II)
If you need additional help, or need questions answered, just let me know.
Hi Al! Thanks so much for taking the time to respond. I have to admit I had to read that a few times for it to sink in, lol, but I do understand what you are saying.
One question I still have - do I HAVE to prune the canopy if/when I root prune? The tree IS in leaf already, but it desperately needs to be potted up. I haven't tried yet, but I am absolutely sure just by looking at it that indeed the root mass will lift right out of the pot in one piece. So since I have to go through repotting anyway, (which in itself won't be the easiest task) I'd like to do the full root-pruning now and get it over with (which makes me wonder - how often would this thing need to be root-pruned? Gee, I hope not yearly!)
I will go with the gritty mix as you suggested and see how things go. I'm still a bit worried about the watering that will be needed, but I suppose if I want to keep it on my hot, sunny patio that is the price I will have to pay to keep the tree as healthy as possible. Being on the patio it is close to the door and we all pass it on a daily basis, so it's just a matter of *remembering* to water it!
Thanks again for your help. As usual I have learned a lot from you!
What would allow you to root prune this tree when it wouldn't be prudent to root prune other deciduous trees (while in leaf) is it's tremendous genetic vigor. I wouldn't hesitate to do a full repot and root prune at this time, but I would also reduce the canopy considerably. The reason I say this is because if you work on a dormant tree and prune the roots w/o pruning the canopy, the tree will only open the buds it can support until it has enough root mass to open the rest. If you prune the roots of a tree in leaf, the tree will 'take it into its own hands' and shed branches it is unable to support. This can be important because if branches critical to the design you had in mind for the tree are shed, it can be very disappointing. If, on the other hand, you reduce the canopy of trees in leaf at the same time you work on the roots, YOU get to decide what branches get retained because YOU select what you want to be 'mechanically shed' (pruned).
If I was in your place, I would:
A) Saw the bottom 1/3 of the root mass off
B) Remove all encircling roots and about 1" of soil from the outside of the existing roots
C) Pot up or return the plant to the same container using a soil similar to that which remains in the root mass
D) Have everything ready & in place to bare root and root prune next spring before budswell.
This should allow your tree to regain some vitality this year and store enough energy before dormancy to allow you to do just about whatever you want to the tree in the spring.
You should plan on a full root-pruning/repot every other year at the longest. It won't be too difficult after you get the plant into the gritty mix, because it really makes repotting much easier. Once you've completed the process once, a full repot on a tree that size should be able to be completed in an hour, less time than that as you gain proficiency.
Don't be afraid to prune the top of this plant. Remove crossing branches, any branches that grow downward or grow back toward the center of the tree, all branches in the lower 2/3 of the tree that grow straight up from a rather horizontal branch ... basic stuff - just like you would treat a tree in the ground. Keep it in bounds. Reducing the length of any branch is going to force back-budding and make the tree fuller. This gives you lots of pruning opportunities and allows you to immediately remove anything that looks out of place or that spoils your vision for the tree.
If you like trees in containers, you might want to consider treating yourself to an Acer buergeranum (trident maple). They are very easy to care for and make beautiful little container trees.
Okay, I will do as you say. But I should fess up - "prune" is a four-letter word to me, lol. I don't know why, but pruning terrifies me (more than root-pruning!) - as you would be able to tell by any shrubs or roses, etc., in my yard.
But I will give it my best shot! Actually, I'm kind of glad you recommend repotting in the same soil type for now - this will give me time to gather the materials for your mix, and not feel pressured to get this poor tree out of it's pot right away while I look for them. I can repot and look for materials at a more leisurely pace (which probably means I will be frantically looking for them at the end of next February, lol!)
Thank you again for your help. It really is much appreciated! (And I will look into the acer also!)
You're welcome, Dee. ;o) I'm not one of those people that gets a big sense of satisfaction when I think someone is following my advice to the letter. I'm more about trying to make things easier in the long run instead of more complicated. Within my abilities, I try to give you all the info you need to make good decisions - then it's up to you. What does give me a lot of satisfaction though, is the thought that something I might have said has helped or will help you improve your effort:satisfaction quotient.
Hi Al, I know you said your knowledge of citrus trees isn't as extensive as other woody plants, but I think this is a general enough question that I'd appreciate your advice on it.
I have an orange tree planted in a half wine barrel (using your soil recipe). It's growing well and is flowering nicely right now. While I am growing it primarily for the fruit, it is on my patio and I want it to look aesthetically pleasing. Which leads me to my question. I've noticed that the growth is more vigorous on the southern side of the tree where it gets more sun so the tree is starting to look lopsided. Would rotating the barrel every now and then eventually help the tree balance itself out or would it be better to train and prune the branches to create balance?
You should rely on frequent rotation of the plant so all sides get lots of sun, and pruning to keep the tree in balance. Sometimes a tree can become weak-sided on the side that gets the MOST sun, too. This often occurs as branches die back as a result of root death on the south side of trees due to higher soil temperatures. I'm sometimes guilty of not paying as much attention as I should to trees I'm growing on as future bonsai in black nursery containers. If I forget to turn them, I often discover rather lop-sided root systems that need time to be remedied.
Trees are varied in the degree to which certain parts of the roots affect certain branches or plant parts. In trees like Thuja, you can almost be sure that veins arising from individual roots will feed only branches directly above those veins. This is so pronounced in Thuja that I've seen very old trees with the heartwood rotted out that you would swear was a group of several smaller trees; but what you're actually seeing are individual veins and roots, still living, though the dead parts of the tree have rotted away leaving them free standing.
Sorry - I'm off track here. ;o)
Additionally, if you want to keep the tree nice and balanced, it may also require that you allow the weak-side branches to grow freely for a while, while you prune the branches on the stronger side back, or partially defoliate the stronger branches. This allows the weak branches to gain vitality and helps to keep the energy balanced. Occasionally spritzing the weak branches with a weak dose of soluble fertilizer and withholding it from strong branches is also helpful for trees that are able to absorb nutrients from foliar applications. I would think citrus leaves to be so high in cuticular waxes that this particular technique would only be marginally effective at best.
I can't even begin to describe the many tricks and techniques associated with maintaining trees in containers that I've learned over the years in my pursuit of bonsai.
HELP!! ALL THE LEAVES FALL OFF MY CITRUS TREES INDOORS! TREES DIE!
I bought a nearly 7-year-old Washington navel orange tree a few months ago from a local nursery that had the plant for several years in their greenhouse (it did not sell). I placed it indoors (because of cold temperatures outside) under a 48-inch X 24-inch fluorescent grow light -- four red and four blue. The plant flourished. Dozens of bloosoms. Fragrance incredible. A lot of fruit followed.
I then placed the plant outdoors and it continued to flourish in the same way, surrounded by bees pollinating the tree. Just before leaving town for a week (high-wind storms were predicted), I moved the tree back indoors. Same watering, same grow light, by windows that were wide open, no heat (heat turned off). When I returned home, one-third of all the leaves on tree had fallen off. ALL the fruit was gone. I immediately returned the tree outdoors, but no more bloosoms, no fruit and the leaves continue to fall off, e.g. at a slower rate. Many branches are now naked.
The same thing occurred late last fall. My two Meyer lemon trees and two orange trees flourished outside all summer. I moved them indoors November 1 (we had mild temperatures until then), povided artificial grow light (above), and as always utilize Osmocote fertilizer in the soil and Miracle-Gro Miracid Plant Food in the watering can, all to no avail. Eventually all the leaves fell off all four citrus trees and the trees died. When I checked with local nursery in business for two generations, they advised that they quit carrying citrus trees in our White Plains, New York location because the trees usually do not tolerate being moved indoors. Typically, the owner of the nursery told me, the leaves drop off, despite the best care (plenty of light, no artificial heat, near a window, well-balancd weekly watering, etc.) and the tree dies.
Anyone have any idea what to do? Is there anything a dedicated grower can do? I have spent $2,000 on trees, pots, special planting soil (quick draining), grow light, fertilizer, etc., all for nothing. My Washington navel orange tree is back outside but looks dormant, no bloosoms coming back, no fruit, and leaves still falling (a little slower rate). I spray the trees with Messenger (a protein known to stimulate flowering and fruit production), but nothing is working. The two new commercial lemon trees (Lisbon) continue to flourish outdoors, though one has dropped 30% of its leaves even though there are four good size green lemons that look strong and healthy. The trees are in large 22" pots mixed with fast draining soil and regular soil which stays moist ("4" on the tester) at depth (pots just do not dry out completely).
I don't know a lot about your tree in particular, but I do know quite a bit about trees in general. First, trees don't react well to sudden decreases in photo-intensity. It's a pretty normal reaction for trees to defoliate or partially defoliate when you suddenly bring them indoors after they've been luxuriating in the sun. The various Ficus species are noted for throwing their leaves on the floor if you make any significant reductions in either photo-intensity or photoperiod; so while I don't know if your tree is on the list of those particularly sensitive to light reductions, it wouldn't be a tree that stands alone in exhibiting defoliation in reaction.
Second, leaves are only able to adjust to a certain amount of increase or decrease in light. I'll illustrate with some numbers on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being almost dark and 10 being extremely bright. Let's imagine your tree growing in a nursery setting under shade cloth so it's getting sun at a level of 6. The leaves on that particular tree are only going to be capable of adjusting to light levels within a rather narrow range on either side of 6, say from 4-8. If you site the tree in light outside the tree's ability to adapt, the leaves abscise and new leaves adapted to current light levels take their place.
Light is only one possibility. Anything that creates a drought response can also cause a consequential/environmental dormancy. If you have a high TDS/EC (fertility level) in the soil, the plant can't absorb water and will shed leaves and branches. The same holds true, obviously, if you under-water, but over-watering can also cause a drought response.
There's not much you can do but wait & see what happens. I would put the tree in the shade and be SURE not to over-water. Your plant will use much less water with a reduced canopy mass. When you see new but movement, return the plant to full sun.
BTW - some plants, most, in fact, just do not tolerate indoor conditions. Remember, there are no such things as houseplants; only plants that tolerate indoor conditions to varying degrees, 'varying' being the key word.
I wish you the very best, and I hope you found what I offered helpful - maybe even encouraging.
Thank you so much for your thoughtful and quick response. The Washington Navel Orange Tree is outside since my return home (May 18; I had left the Grow-Light on to correspond to the exact hours of daylight the tree had been experiencing outside). The orange tree is on a covered part of the porch, so it has direct sunlight only about half the day. The two Lisbon Lemon Trees are on a ledge in front of the entrance and receive hot sun many hours. I have been reading everything in your thread and learned that the soil combination I have is less than ideal (drainage stone and in the other pot, "popcorn" packing styrofoam was used in the bottom to "promote drainage" something that cannot happen in a container). What bothers me is that the "experts" from the California nurseries insist that the drainage should be such that between watering, the soil saturation should drop to "2" on the moisture meter (mine stays at "4" -- saturated -- from a depth of about 3 1/2 inches or so all the way to the bottom of the container). It never completely dries out so I wait until the top several inches are dry and water sparingly.
I may be over fertilizing (Osmocote in the soil and Miracle-Gro Miracid in the watering can). There is a lot of new growth on one of the Lisbon lemon trees with the three-four large, green lemons, and less on the other Lisbon lemon. Both are budding again and flowering (last time about 6 weeks ago). Most of the little lemons dropped off the one, while the other has the 3-4 green lemons which are probably 3 months or so from being edible. The one with the largest new growth is dropping the most leaves.
The orange tree continues to drop leaves since being placed back outside 2 weeks ago, but there are small new growth at the top (most of the leaf drop is toward the bottom of the plant). All signs of budding and flowering are absent and all the little, tiny green oranges are gone (having fallen off indoors while I was gone).
Al, I do not know what to do with watering. The Moisture Testing reveals "4" (= saturated) a few inches deep, and the West Coast nurseries insist on waiting until it reaches "2" to water even though the top soil is dry for about three inches. The root ball is planted even with the surface, as required in the directions. The California nurseries insist most of their trees die from over, rather than under, watering. The root balls are nice and loose, of course the tress all have been planted in their new pots just 4-6 weeks ago. I was told that Osmocote is an ideal choice since it doesn't "burn" the trees (my Lisbon lemon trees are true dwarfs from Monrovia Nursery and orange tree, also from Monrovia, is a full size tree and has a large, solid trunk). I probably should have left it inside permanently, since it did so well for 6 weeks after bringing it home from the nursery where it was in a greenhouse with a glass roof for several years (they could not sell it so I bought a 7-year-old tree for $89, a good buy).
Maybe I need to find your soil mixture here and re-plant the trees.
I'll send along some photos later to see if you can see anything about leaves, etc. I'd sure appreciate your expert opinions and advice. You are very helpful.
If you suspect the issue is a high level of soluble salts in the soil, you need to correct that immediately. Excessive salt/fertility levels can prevent water uptake entirely, or in severe cases actually 'pull' water from cells in the same manner curing salt pulls water from ham or bacon. As this occurs, the plasma membrane is torn from cell walls as it collapses. The technical term for the occurrence is 'plasmolysis', but we commonly refer to it as fertilizer burn. If it is severe enough to have caused the defoliation, it will be fatal unless corrected.
Do not trust your moisture meter to tell you how wet/dry the soil is. It doesn't measure moisture, it measures EC (electrical conductivity). To illustrate, insert a clean probe into a cup of distilled water and note that it reads DRY. Add a little table salt or fertilizer and suddenly it's wet. Your finger, a sharpened dowel stuck deep into the soil, or a wick through the drain hole used as a 'tell' are all more reliable indicators of moisture levels than the meter.
Thank you very much. I am treating the orange tree exactly the same (same soil mixture, fertilizer, watering, sun, etc. as the two Lisbon lemon trees. One of the Lisbon lemon trees is losing leaves near the bottom third of the tree, while there is marked new growth high above (and there are several lemons increasing in size to larger than my thumb). That tree just began to flower (again) and has multiple buds and flowers (the bees are having a field day). Oddly, the other Lisbon lemon tree is growing modestly, and not losing a single leaf (also full of flowers and new buds again). The Washington Navel Orange tree continues to drop leaves the last two days and is now about one-third naked. I do use my finger and a dowel rod. There is plenty of moisture below the three-inch level all the way to the bottom. I am stopping all watering (we had rain today with more predicted -- four days in a row -- over the upcoming weekend). The driest of the three trees -- one Lisbon lemon -- is doing well although the little fruit is not growing larger as it is on the Lisbon lemon tree that is dropping leaves. The whole thing reminds me of the first-year of medical school where nothing makes sense -- every disease is a blur that just does not fit. I am lacking diagnostic skills here, but you are not. If you were here (or I still lived in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan where I grew up), we could settle this whole matter quickly.
I strongly suspect you too, have a medical background, probably medical school or something similar. I haven't heard those terms since Guyton's Textbook of Medical Physiology (I just pulled my dusty, old copy off a bottom shelf). And oh yes, your concepts are easy to understand, but not so easy to apply diagnostically in a patient...oh, oh, I meant citrus tree.
Thanks again, Al, for your time and trouble. I really appreciate it. Color photos to follow (once I figure out how to attach them to an email -- no I don't have any computer expertise, either. Not even medical schools had computers for student use in 1973).
Thanks for the kind words, Russell. I just had a conversation last night with a friend, and we actually discussed problem remediation in our plants. Most often, there is a list of possibilities that might be causing the vitality issues we observe. The trick is to have enough knowledge that you don't miss considering any possible causes (because you KNOW the one you miss will be causal), and then be able to winnow the list until only 1 or two make sense.
There's not much more I can add unless you observe something you think is worth mentioning, so I have my fingers crossed for you, as I'm sure anyone else that might be following does as well. Good luck.
When is a good time to root prune conifers? Now is probably about the worst time, since they are still pushing new growth in my area, but when is a good time? Is that something I should do in late summer/early fall?
I have a few conifers in pots and have followed your thread here with interest. A few weeks ago I lost one of my favorites, Pinus parviflora 'Hagarumo'. I dug it up and sure enough, the roots were just a tangled mess. It declined suddenly over a 1-2 week period. I had planted it in 2007 and back then didn't do anything with the roots, just moved a plant from container to ground. I was one of those people who thought that "root pruning" was a nutty idea. Well, I'm a believer now. After the Hagarumo, I removed my Pinus flexilis 'Cesarini Blue' from its container that I planted it in last year. The roots were less of a jumbled mess but still pretty bad. I untangled what I could and planted it in the ground, as I had finally cleared a spot for it. Hopefully it survives the year of neglect, followed by root pruning at a less than ideal time.
Al, this is one of best, most informative threads I subscribe to. I love your work on that schefflera. What I am wondering is: could I do the same with this rubber tree?
I would love to have the room it is taking up for my favorite indoor plants, begonias.
It is in a much smaller pot inside the clay pot which I use to help it stand up. How do you think it would respond? I would be very excited if I could miniaturize it.
IC - I move right into repotting my conifers (except for pines) right after I get done doing all my deciduous trees, so probably between the first week of April and the second week of May would be good. The pines I do early in August.
I'm sure you were sad when you lost your little 'pin cushion' ;o) I had planted a Chamaecyparis nootkatensis many years ago before they were widely grown and before I knew much about trees. It grew ok for about 5 years, then it started to decline. I checked for bugs under magnification and took branches to a large local landscape/nursery operation, and THEY checked under magnification for bugs/diseases & found none. After it died, I dug it up and the roots didn't look a whole lot different than when I planted it. The killer was a girdling root that, after it fattened up a little, choked the tree. Had I been a little more knowledgeable, I could have either have easily corrected the condition after planting, or prevented it altogether with a little root work before planting. Such is life - we live, we learn.
The moral to that story is we need to give some consideration to the condition of the roots when we plant. If the root mass comes out of the pot cleanly, that is to say with the roots/soil intact, we need to take steps to correct the condition, or growth could be permanently affected. If we want to maintain trees in containers over the long term and expect them to grow at as close to their genetic potential as possible, root work is a requirement. It can't be any other way.
That 'growth spurt' we think we see after we bump a tree (pot-up ... move it up a pot size w/o root work) isn't a growth spurt at all. It's simply a stressed or strained tree temporarily returning to closer to it's normal ability to grow. It's easy to illustrate with numbers. Say trees growth/vitality scale on a 1-10 basis shows 1 a dead tree & 10 the epitome of health. We'll say the best we can do in containers, for the sake of discussion, is an 8. Two trees (A & B) are potted at the same time and are genetically identical. As they become root bound, they decline to a level of, say 5. A is repotted (includes root work) and returned to the same container, while B is bumped up. A quickly returns to the highest growth.vitality level possible (8) within other cultural limitations, but B can only manage a 7. 3 years later, the trees have again declined, A is again at 5, but B is at 4. Repotting brings A back up to 8, but B only back to 6 this time. After another 3 years, A has again declined to 5 and is returned to the max of 8 after repotting, while B is bumped again and only returns to 5 this time. A goes on indefinitely between 8-5, while declines gradually in sets of 8-5 bump 7-4 bump 6-3 bump 5-2 bump 4-1. We might be fooled into thinking that all is well after the bump because we see that 'growth spurt'; "But Now You Know ... The Rest of the Story!
KDW - thank you for your kind words. Fixing your tree will be a snap, but first please tell me if you want a multi-stemmed 'clump' or a tree form?
Thanks Al, I'm trying to develop more of the "we live, we learn," attitude as it applies to gardening. It just really stings that the tree did well for more than two years before the decline. That is how I've planted most of my conifers in the past three years and hopefully most will be okay. Many had good root systems when they went into the ground and I've moved a few more in the past few weeks that were not girdling. I potted up a Pinus strobus 'Niagara Falls' two weeks ago and its root system looked beautiful when I moved it.
Last fall I planted a very rootbound Pinus contorta 'Taylor's Sunburst' that I purchased at a clearance sale. I actually had to break apart the large square wooden container it was in with a sledge hammer. The spring show this year was spectacular but now that I know the decline can happen so quickly, I will probably worry about it. It is too large to dig up, I barely got it planted on my own, so all I can do is hope for the best and be diligent going fowards with new purchases. There are a number of conifers in my garden that are not too large to dig up - which is exactly what I'll do in a few months - to check on roots and prune where needed.
Al, multi-stemmed. Man, this will be a thrill. Will the leaves be significantly smaller when it leafs out? That would be great.
And I am ready to do anything required because I wouldn't be that upset if I lost it. But if it does well and I can keep it small I will treasure it.
Should I go back up the thread and follow the same instructions as for the schefflera?
I don't like to prune and repot (tropical) Ficus at the same time, and the picture doesn't give a very good idea of what the branch placement is, but I think we can work from general instructions.
You want to envision the new apices a-puh-sees ... the new tops of the stems after you prune them) in the shape of a tepee. First pick the branch closest to the center of the branches. You can change the planting angle when you repot, so keep that in mind. It would be helpful to put something under the pot to tip it so your main stem is vertical before you prune. Start with the outside branches and prune the outside stems back to 2 healthy leaves by cutting about halfway between the second & third leaf. The stem will die back to the leaf & you can cut it back to live tissue later after back-budding. Your main stem should have 4-5 leaves on it and it the top of the tepee. After you have the outside branches and the main apex pruned, prune the remaining branches to whatever leaf fits into the tepee best. They will probably be 3-4 leaves, but prune back to 2 if it fits the tepee better.
Get the tree outside into good light. It will tolerate full sun well, but acclimate it gradually. Don't worry if it sheds the leaves you left - new leaves will grow back quickly. It will back-bud like crazy & grow a bunch of new branches (with smaller leaves). Ficus leaves naturally get larger (when mature) as the branch extends, so if you wait until branches get 4 leaves, then prune it back to two, your tree will be bushy & full by summer's end. Sometime shortly after the 4th of July, we'll root-prune & repot and your tree will be sooooo rejuvenated it won't know where to grow next.
Be thinking about what you want to use for soil, too! ;o) If you're up for making it - the gritty mix will make your tree very happy.
The shape you're shooting for is something similar to this scheff in my office:
Fantastic, Al. I will make the gritty mix. And I am glad to know it is a good long-term mix.
Oh and I wanted to say. I started this spring using your recommended potting mix of 1part perlite, 1 moss and 5 pine fines. Although I did reduce the pine fines to four parts because my tub I mix soil in was a little too full using the scoop I had. But I may find a different scoop or tub to mix with so I can use the original ratio.
I have NEVER been able to grow plants so well. Everything! I know I get a little too excited and carried away sometimes but I have been searching for a good potting soil recipe for years. And this is IT!
Also I am only using Osmocote and gypsum and no magnesium source and so far so good. I am way more than satisfied. Any improvements? Let me know.
I really am in debt to you.
Lol - Not laughing at you, that was a warm chuckle because of your exuberance. It's always a wonderful thing to be even a small part of someone else's enthusiasm. I'm really glad the soil helped to add to the satisfaction you get from your gardening experience.
BTW - I clicked on the wrong picture, this is the shape you're shooting for:
I don't like perlite because it is so white and floats. Can you substitute the same rock used in the gritty mix for the perlite in the container mix? Or substitute turface? I guess what I'm asking is, does it work just as well to do 5 parts bark, 1 part peat moss, 1 part turface and/or 1 part grit?
Lol - have a little faith & think positive. There's very little chance that you'll fail. Trees are reactive organisms & they can pretty much be counted on to react in the same fashion on a species to species basis. The amount of foliage on your tree tells me it has enough reserve energy to easily tolerate a hard pruning like I described.
I often take trees that are 8-10 ft tall & cut them back to a 3-4" (that's 'inch')stump and train up one of the sprouts that arise from the adventitious buds as a new leader, only to repeat the process 2-3 years later at a 6" height. This is how we build the rapid taper into bonsai trees that make them look so old.
You and your tree will be just fine, but please do keep us posted. It will add to my credibility! Lol
GG- I have a lot of friends that use some combination of pine bark and unscreened Turface because they have an aversion to perlite. Turface adds a lot of additional water retention, so (depending on the bark size) you might want to do away with the peat in the mix and just use some combination of bark/Turface. If you show me a picture of the bark, I can probably get you pretty close to a ratio that will serve you well.
Al, how right you are. I have cut trees back that far. Especially if the top was very weak. It actually helps some trees regain their vigor. I have a huge beautiful pin oak that was doing poorly. I cut it back to the ground and waited for the resprout. It is now as big and pretty as its fellow oak planted the same time that needed no help.
GG, just curious but why would your perlite be floating in the water anyway? I consider perlite as indispensible.
G - sort of need to see at least a picture of the bark to guess at how much turface to add.
KDW - "Sexual maturity (flowers/fruit) and to a fair degree, the stage of genetic vigor, are determined by the ontogenetic (not chronological) age of tree organs. We tend to think of the age of plants in the same manner we think of age in humans or animals - chronologically. We, like plants, go through several life stages - embryonic, juvenile, adolescent (intermediate in plants), and mature, are stages roughly mirrored in plants. Where we vary greatly is in the way our cells age. In animals, body cells all mature at approximately the same speed. Plants grow by consecutive divisions of cells at the growing points (meristems), so their various parts are different ages (the top of the plant is younger than the basal portion, chronologically, but older ontogenetically).
When you cut a tree or shrub back to the trunk, or close to the trunk, it's called rejuvenation pruning because you're cutting back to juvenile tissues, which are much more vigorous than tissues in sexually mature phase. It literally rejuvenates the plant.
To further confuse you, dormant buds retain the ontogenetic age of their origin. In plants, the more times a cell has to divide to make the tissue, the older it is - ontogenetically speaking. With this in mind, imagine this: Take a cutting from the basal part of a plant (remember, this formed first & dormant buds retain the age of the tissue at the time they were formed, so the cutting will be immature, but vigorous) and a cutting from the upper portion (this is the older tissue). Let's imagine the cuttings strike (make roots) and begin growing at the same time. The basal cutting will take much longer to flower and fruit because it is taken from a portion of the plant that remains in juvenile phase, while the other cutting will be quick to flower/fruit, because it was taken from mature tissue..
Since juvenile cuttings are more vigorous, it's best to take cuttings from the lowest parts of the plant to help insure a high % of strikes, but fastest flower/fruit can be had by taking branch end-cuttings from upper parts of the plant, often at the expense of a lower strike rate. The reason basal suckers root so readily is that they arise from dormant tissues that retain a young ontogenetic age, making them juvenile and vigorous.
I'm not sure if the branches with no foliage are dead or not, but you were supposed to leave 2 healthy leaves on the viable stems. Those stems may or may not push new growth, but in the end it won't make much difference in the appearance of the planting if they don't make it.
The tree will back-bud now and you'll be able to shorten it even further after it recovers and regains some vitality. If I didn't mention it, a thorough flushing of the soil, then a dose of MG 24-8-16 is a good idea.
KDW, to answer your question about why perlite would float, if I try to immerse the pot in water it will float off. And if I water from the top too hastily, the perlite will tend to fall over the rim, or else just rise to the surface from slightly lower. Either way, it shows up and I don't like the white color. If perlite came in brown, I'd be much more forgiving! ;-)
Al, this weekend I was at Home Depot and finally saw the MG 24-8-16. But I noticed it has only a few trace elements, unlike the Dyna-Gro, which has a bunch of them. So I didn't buy it. I wasn't sure how the plant would get the trace elements if it isn't in the fertilizer. I do put the micro-nutrient in the mix the way you recommend, but that is different from the trace ones, I assume?
Al, further up in this thread I believe you said you use higher mineral content soils (griity mix?) for longer term plantings including houseplants. Am I correct? And if so, would the gritty mix be OK even for begonias for example?
I am also planning to do a grapefruit the same as the ficus we were discussing above.
I guess I'm asking is there anything the gritty mix isn't good for?
I grow everything I expect to be in the same soil for more than 1 growth cycle in the gritty mix. I've grown geraniums, hostas, Impatiens, begonias, snapdragons, and dozens of other perennials, + all my houseplants - including cacti & succulents, in the gritty mix with excellent results. I've never tried growing a plant that didn't respond very favorably to it.
Actually, the people who started using these mixes named them - I didn't have any say in the matter. ;o) They just started calling the 1:1:1 mix of bark:Turface:grit the gritty mix because ... well, because it's very gritty. Someone started calling the mix with pine bark:peat:perlite the 5:1:1 mix, and it stuck.
The bark looks very good for mixes like the gritty mix - too coarse to be ideal for the 5:1:1 mix. For the 5:1:1 mix, you want something that looks like this (@ 3,6,or 9).
I don't know - what you're using. For the gritty mix, they should be screened, or there is little reason to use it. Use whatever passes through 1/2" screen in the 5:1:1 mix, and use what passes through 1/4" mesh but doesn't go through 1/8" in the gritty mix.
Al, I've been iffy about trying Episcia in the 5:1:1 mix, but I'm potting up some extra stolons in it this morning. They like evenly moist, but not soggy soil, normally I grow them in Pro Mix and wick the pots. Is there any point in wicking this mix? I am on the fence about whether wicking plants works because it provides drainage, or more constant moisture. The picture of the African violet growing so well was well-timed, growing conditions for Episcias and AV's are similar.
FWIW, I have killed several tropical hibiscus in the past, and I now have two doing very well in the 5:1:1 mix, even though it's been colder here than they'd prefer.
Celene - are you wicking to supply water or to drain water from an otherwise soggy soil? The 5:1:1 mix does hold some perched water, but no where near as much as peat/compost-based soils. Wicking (to drain the soil of excess water) would be helpful when plantings are immature and the roots haven't fully colonized the soil mass, but it also promotes a build-up on salts in the soil, so I avoid using it for extended periods to SUPPLY water to my plants.
For me, the key to tropical hibiscus in containers has been A) be sure they don't get too root-bound. They usually need potting-up or better yet - a root-pruning when you bring them home, or before they get going in the spring B) Never use a high P fertilizer - they do not like P. I use 24-8-16 or 9-3-6 at doses just high enough to keep foliage green, and supplement the K with Pro-TeKt 0-0-3. You could also just include a little potash in the soil when you pot them. I have 4 or 5 right now that are doing very well.
Normally, episcias and other gesneriads are wicked to maintain even soil moisture, without sogginess.
For purposes of my 5:1:1 vs. Promix comparison, should I just water normally, and not wick the pots? I will be wicking the Promix pots.
The hibiscus came to me superduperincredibly root bound. They were about 24" high and in a quart pot, and I trimmed most of the matted root mass when I repotted them into glazed ceramic in May. I think you mentioned to me in another discussion about the P in fertilizer, and I got the Stokes hibiscus fertilizer, which a lot of local hibiscus folks love.
Al, got a question. Can't a tree be 'bonsaied' in a regular pot and not a shallow bonsai type pot? Or when you repot trees do you use standard bonsai methods on the roots anyway?
I hope you get what I'm asking. This is probably answered somewhere in these threads. Could you save me some hours or days in research?
I regularly root prune every tree I own, whether or not it will ever be a bonsai. It's required if you want your trees to grow at as close to their genetic potential within other culturally limiting factors as possible; and it's important to the tree's vitality level. Once your plants get to the point the root/soil mass can be lifted from the container intact, both growth and vitality are affected by the stress.
Bonsai is a form of living art. In bonsai, our hand joins with nature's to manipulate trees in the visual areas of shape, harmony, proportion, and scale to make something pleasing to the eye and emotionally evocative. What you don't see is the ongoing care it takes to keep trees healthy in small, shallow containers, which are much less forgiving than large containers, but more esthetically pleasing, because smaller containers make the tree seem larger and older. I have dozens of trees in various stages of development I've been working on for a number of years that are still in 'training containers'. Some of these are very beautiful, and could be moved to bonsai pots and make much more impact, but most are still in training pots because I'm working on correcting flaws that require growth in certain areas or energy management.
For instance - I might have a maple with a low branch (on the trunk) that is critical to the design, but because the tree is apically dominant (focuses it's energy at the top) the branch is weak. I may cut the top of the tree back severely, the middle not so severely, and allow the lower branches to grow wild until they have regained vitality and have fattened so they are the thickest branches on the tree - just as they would be in nature. Once that is achieved, I might then put the tree in a bonsai pot to begin the fine ramification (branch work) that will set the tree apart from the coarser trees still in large pots. Large pots = coarse trees with big leaves & long internodes. Small pots = fine ramification and smaller leaves.
There are many other tricks and techniques that help us manipulate trees to get them to bend to our will; I just thought I'd mention a couple.
An actual tree question (sorry for my OT blithering earlier). I want a weeping larch for a container for my patio, and the vendor assures me that they do NOT survive living in pots. Thoughts on this?? It's a Larix decidua "pendula". I've seen larch used as bonsai...
I have several larch bonsai. They are genetically vigorous and quite forgiving, and will do very well in pots/containers, but you do have to attend to root pruning regularly - at least every 2-3 years. That's just a fact of life if you want to maintain woody material for the long pull in containers. The upside of that is root work isn't as daunting a task as you might think, and larch are among the easiest trees to work on. I would encourage you to try one. They can make a striking container specimen.
The tree is about 4" tall and has about a 1" trunk. I found it on sale at Menard's for $10. Here you can see I stripped some low branches off to give the VERY low branches some sun. These are the branches that made me buy the tree. I have no use for the top of the tree unless it's to utilize as a source of dormant cuttings.
In this picture, you can see that I've wired a branch up and to the left to serve as the new top of the tree. Next spring. I will chop the trunk off just above the branches where the wire crosses the trunk. After that, the branch on the left will be allowed to fatten. We call these sacrifice branches because we let them grow long and large, never intending that they will be a part of the composition. We use them to fatten the part we're going to use, and when their job is done, we 'sacrifice' them - the same way I'll sacrifice nearly the entire trunk of the tree. This is how we build rapid taper into our trees to make them look ancient.
If you look carefully, you can see another very small branch wired back to the right coming off that branch. I'll only be using a couple of inches of the branch coming off the trunk on the left. After it gets to be 1/2-5/8" thick, I'll chop it off where the little branch comes off of it and comes back toward the right, and I'll start developing that little branch, utilizing yet another sacrifice branch.
Within 3 years, I'll have another nice fat tapering trunk I can start building branches on to make a beautiful bonsai. In 5 years I'll have it in a pot and in 6-7 years it should be nice enough to show.
That's really fascinating...I kinda want to try my hand at cloud-pruning, my patio plants have an Asian/tropical look. I don't think the Larix decidua "pendula" is the right tree at all for that, but there will be other trees...I've gotten a couple of good-looking smaller conifers from the bargain bin at the local nursery; the stem will be nice, but the branches have gotten stepped on or fork-lifted, so I grow them out and prune them up, though not as bonsai, just attractive pot plants.
I can root prune with no trouble, but pruning foliage to that degree makes me almost weep with apprehension.
Very interesting pictures and commentary, thank you!
I have a question about your 1:1:1 mix. You may recall my fir bark is a bit on the large side (picture above in this tread on June 11) and you recommended I use it for the gritty mix, not the 5:1:1 mix. Which I did, and I have now (inspired in part by your picture of an African violet in the mix) put a chamaecyparis (outdoor pot) and a ming aralia (houseplant) into it. But I'm finding it very hard to tell when it needs water. I can stick my finger in an inch and it doesn't feel damp, but that occurs a day after I water, so I'm not sure my finger is telling me anything useful. How do you decide water needs in the gritty mix? Thanks
Celene - you could cloud-prune the larch if you want to. The only difference between that tree & the upright varieties is the clouds would be pendulous. I've started (in my gardens) a J procumbens nana and a J horizontalis, both prostrate plants, that I'm training (the trunks) to sinuous vertical growth. They'll be very interesting after a few years. I've seen these plants grafted to other J understock, and I've seen them ungrafted and staked straight, but I've not seen them with sinewy trunks, so we'll see. You didn't mention whether your plant is on its own roots or if it's grafted to something vertical?
GG - Your comment is pretty common. When you first pot a plant, you need to give some consideration to where the roots are. If they're in the top 3" of soil, you need to water a little more often, but if they run deeper into the pot, you'll be surprised to see how much water the soil holds and how long it holds it.
You'll get used to the soil over the summer. You could use a sharpened dowel rod stuck deep into the soil to test for moisture, too. You could also stick a wick in new plantings until they are established. You can use the wick as a tell - don't water until the wick is completely dry right where it comes out of the soil. If you have a plant that wilts, try withholding water until you see it begin to wilt (for the information - not as a regular practice). This will give you an idea how long your plants can go between waterings. Remember though, that established plantings have roots all through the container, but young plantings might not.
Hey Al, Thanks for all this great info! I had to wrap my head with duct tape to keep it from exploding from all the stuff I'm learning!
I have a question about watering with tap water witch is "hard". I don't recall the exact value, but will it be ok to use until I can "McGuyver" a rain water barrel. How does water hardness affect potted trees, especially JM's?
Also, If you please, I got a new acer at the nursery today (wasn't planning on it, but they got some new trees and an 'Orangeola' stole my heart). I would like to re-pot it using the gritty mix. Can I re-pot now, or is it too warm (90's), or should I wait until the cooler temps?
I can't express how thankful I am that you would take so much time to do this!
You're welcome, Mark. Alkalinity and hardness can have a significant affect or a minor one, depending on just how alkaline/hard you're talking about, and on your watering habits. If you're using a urea-based fertilizer, like 24-8-16, and watering properly (so you saturate the soil and at least 10-15% of the total volume of water applied exits the drain hole every time you water), it shouldn't be anything to worry about. My tap water has about 100 mg/L alkalinity, which is on the high side (100 mg/L is at the upper limit of what's considered ok) - especially because hardness is usually greater than alkalinity. About the only ill effects I notice is that my plants sometimes have a little difficulty with Fe. I've found that minute amounts of Sprint 138, an Fe chelate specifically for high pH applications, fixes that issue very quickly. In the winter, I simply add enough vinegar to bring irrigation water down to a pH of around 6.0, and that frees up the Fe and prevents the upward creep in pH that makes the other minors hard to take up.
If your acer is really root-bound, I would break off a little of the root mass from the bottom and score the sides of the root mass deeply with a utility knife, pot up one size and wait until spring. I have been repotting my maples before bud movement in the spring, but I've had 2 bonsai masters tell me that it's better to wait until leaves are appearing but still indistinct as leaves before repotting. I also just read the same thing in a recent issue of one of my bonsai magazines - also written by a master. I'll be changing my repotting timing to coincide with their observations, so it would probably be best to wait until spring and you see buds moving before you repot. There are probably instructions somewhere upthread - if not, come back (if you need guidance) and we'll work through it.
Vinegar is distilled through a fermentation process from grain, apples, or grapes. Common household vinegar has an active ingredient called acetic acid, usually diluted to a 5% concentration. This may be labeled as 5% acidity.
Acetic acid, like most strong acids, is a desiccant. That means it removes moisture. When sprayed on plant foliage, the water in the leaves is drawn out, and the top growth of the plant is killed. Whether or not the root is killed depends on the type of plant and its maturity.
The strength of the solution of acetic acid determines how fast and how completely it will kill weeds. Full strength vinegar, not diluted with water, will be strongest. Vinegar with higher acidity is available, though it is not commonly found everywhere. A serious caution on using stronger vinegar in a home made weed killer formula, or for any household usage, will be presented later.
Vinegar is not selective when it is sprayed on plants. It has the potential to kill any and all foliage. This means that if you spray weeds in your lawn, your grass will die as easily as the weed. If you spray weeds in your flower bed or vegetable garden, the good can die as well as the bad. As a home made weed killer, vinegar will have limited application, and will require that valuable plants be protected.
Some plants may be more resistant to absorbing it. Leaves with a waxy or hairy covering may absorb less of the solution and suffer less damage. Some plants may die above ground, but send up new growth from the root. This means that you will not get 100% control using vinegar as a home made weed killer.
How And Where Do You Use Them?
This is another ambiguous area. Consider these comments about the effects of these home made weed killers on your soil, and how long they have this impact:
(Note, these are not truths, they are opinions)
* try to avoid spraying it directly on the soil. Vinegar breaks down the soil structure and kills beneficial microorganisms. In areas where this is applied, the vinegar can render the soil sterile for several years.
* don’t spray it on the soil. It is non-selective in what it kills meaning it will kill any plant life it comes in contact with and it will sterilize the soil for up to two years depending on how much you get on the soil.
* You will not be able to plant where you spray it for several months.
* The nice thing about using a bio-degradable homemade weed killer is that you are not harming the micro-organisms that live in the soil.
* Vinegar will indeed kill micro-organisms in the soil. It is a known germ killer as well. The good part about it is that it won't harm you or your pets, but don't spray it where you need the soil to be healthy with micro-organisms!
* The great thing about using this solution is that it is natural. Natural solutions are essential for a cleaner environment.
* Bear in mind it's a broad spectrum killer. Homemade products aren't necessarily better or safer than commercial ones.
* It is non-selective in what it kills meaning it will kill any plant life it comes in contact with and it will sterilize the soil for up to two years
I repeat, these are only other people’s opinions, found on the internet. Which one can you believe? Who would like to experiment and find out?
One thing that must be clarified is the mistaken belief that because something is called “natural”, it must be safe and helpful. An item that is derived from natural sources may be without harm in some settings, but could be poisonous in others. It could be helpful in one setting, but worthless in another.
Please use common sense if you attempt to make and use your own products, like home made weed killers, based on hearsay. But realize that you are embarking on a trial and error procedure. As they say, your results may vary!
What is certain is that vinegar and other home remedy products are effective at killing many plants, or defoliating most plants. You can use it where desirable plants would not be in danger. The long term effects for growing other plants or starting seeds are unclear, so take that into account with your future plants. (Acetic acid would lower the pH of the soil, which could be good or bad for your next plant.)
I am not opposed to using vinegar as a weed killer, only the cavalier promotion of the idea. I have used it myself with success in some areas. Read more about the vinegar recipe trials and several recipes that have been used at Vinegar, The Weed Killer. I don’t try to use it exclusively. Use it if you wish, with discretion. (That would be “taking it with a grain of salt” … but don’t add the salt???)
I'm certainly not an expert on this, I copied and pasted from:
Mmhmm - it can be phytotoxic, but so can fertilizer, and I'm not suggesting you use it full strength to kill your plants. The poison is in the dosage. I've used it for years to acidify irrigation water for the plants I winter over indoors, and have been helping others to resolve micronutrient issues (deficiencies) by advising they add it to their irrigation water when I think it's warranted.
Other acids very commonly used to acidify water for plants are nitric acid, sulfuric acid, citric acid, phosphoric acid ..., others - all acting as both fertilizers and acidifiers, but potentially potent killers of plant tissue at higher doses - again, the poison is in the dosage.
BTW - household vinegar is very ineffective as a weed killer, even at full strength, because it generally acts primarily as a local herbicide - killing only those tissues it contacts directly & little more. Even horticultural strength vinegar doesn't work well on anything other than easy-to-kill species with shallow fibrous roots.
From reading the above on vinegar it seems more harmful environmentally than Roundup. You can grow anything in a Roundup-treated area almost immediately. Plus, you can spray some areas and, depending on the seed load in the soil, have brand new weeds in about a week in the same area.
Al's right. The poison is in the dosage.
Now that I've had time to think about it, plain water, be it of the proper ph or not, can kill a tree (I almost proved that!). Fertilizer can kill a tree if too much is used.
It reminds me of a lesson learned from my father about over watering. He always said "WITHOUT water, you could live for a week, maybe 10 days. UNDER WATER, you only have about 3-5 minutes". It goes by the old addage that if a little is good, a lot must be better. We all know this is not true.
You also advocate the usage of minute amounts of Epsom salts, either up-post or in another treatise (although I don't recall the exact purpose) which is another "weed killer method" listed in the article.
So I'll concede that in small quantities vinegar can be beneficial, or at least tolerable. That being said, I think I'll stick to the urea based nitrogen process you described previously (again, up-post, or in a different discussion) and MacGuyver a rain barrel, and leave the vinegar out.
Wisdom is born of knowledge, experience and patience, and your wisdom is a boon to us all!
I have a question. I have a Globe or Navajo Willow in a huge tire, filled with composted wood, horse manure on top of Caleche soil. I figured the tree would go toward the caleche and the composted material would hold some moisture and fertilize it. It was fine at the end of last summer and it was great until a month ago or less. It lost it's leaves and now the branches are breaking off when I flex them. I don't know if it is Borers, as they come with them.(I have treated it with systemic, twice and fertilized with Fish Emulsion, but nothing. The mix is very damp down there I think and maybe it is too damp for the desert tree, however it is a mix that tends to not hold much moisture in containers that I have in the yard so I have been keeping it damp, when I push down about 3 inches.
What should I do? Take it out and plant it in the ground or what?
Did you notice any oozing coming out of the tree anywhere?
Excess moisture because of the underlying caliche could be an issue, but there is no way to tell from here. Soils with underlying caliche are often very high in soluble salts, another possible issue. Is the caliche bed solid? how deep beneath the soil? High soil pH is also often a problem, causing micronutrients to be insoluble and unavailable - particularly iron and often manganese, which would also be made worse by soggy soils as the lack of O2 in these soils causes additional precipitation/unavailability of these elements.
I don't know what to tell you, other than to say (not in a mean way) that what you're facing fortifies the idea that selecting the right plant for the right place will go a long way toward alleviating frustrations with your landscape.
Al, I realize this is the tree/container forum, but I have a general question about the screening you recommended upthread "Use whatever passes through 1/2" screen in the 5:1:1 mix, and use what passes through 1/4" mesh but doesn't go through 1/8" in the gritty mix." I start screening, using the 1/2, 1/4 and 1/8 meshes, and try to follow some 'logical' progression and end up getting confused -- I now have bags/containers, etc. containing what will not go thru the 1/2 (the biggies); what goes thru the 1/2 (the mids), what goes thru the 1/4 (the smalls), and then what goes thru the 1/8 (the babies) -- my aim is to make both the gritty and the 5-1-1 mixes -- use the biggies elsewhere, the mids in the 5-1-1, the smalls in the gritty, but what to do with the babies? Also, you've mentioned you have sources for two different bark fines -- are you allowed to give brand names, store names, websites (if there is one)? I've only found "Landscapers Pride Soil Conditioner" which I'm fairly certain is at least partially composted, but it's the best I've found so far. It's also very wet so that's complicating the process also. I do really appreciate all the information and guidance you're providing. I really want to make my own mixes as the most prevalent market mixes around here are peat-based, mainly Miracle Grow with fertilizer already added...
I try to use a product that contains dust through 3/8 for the 5:1:1 mix, but I don't panic or feel like I need to remove the few 1/2" pieces in the bags. If I was adding additional fine screenings to bark like I just described that is going into the 5:1:1 mix, I would forgo adding all or a portion of the peat. The peat is basically used to adjust water retention, so as the % of fine particles in the bark increases, so can/should the peat fraction. Basically, a little perched water is ok in the 5:1:1 mix, but the whole point of going to the larger bark particles is to eliminate the 3-5" PWT common to soils based on peat/compost/coir.
If you have a bagging mower with a sharp blade on it, you can use it to chop up the larger pieces & screen them again ... or a friend that has a brush chipper ...
I use prescreened fir bark in 1/8-1/4" size in the gritty mix. The product I've been using for a number of years is packaged by Shasta Forest Products in Yreka, CA. I buy it on my trips to Chicago & it costs $17 for 3 cu ft, $15 when I buy 20 bags or more, which is the norm. The other products come from several different manufacturers, and it probably wouldn't do any good to list the names. You need to look for the product - sold often as PB mulch or PB soil conditioner. Look for it whenever you're in a store that swells it. I don't always get it from the same place, but I've found 5-6 places that sell fine pine bark, so I buy what looks best, often stock-piling up to a pallet at a time.
If you had a 3/8" screen, you could use what passes that but doesn't pass through 1/8". Since you only have 1/4", use what passes through that, but doesn't pass through 1/8" in the gritty mix. Mix the discards into the bark you'll use for the 5:1:1 mix, unless they're very large. Unconfused or moreconfused? ;o)
The tire I have it in is about 3 1/2 feet deep so it has a long way to the Caleche. I put it there because it is close to a compost hill so the soil is probably broken down there quite a bit, under the tire after our El Nino rains this year, there is also a lot of paper under it. No seepage is evident. I do have alkaline soil in many spots but a lot of it has been amended with a lagana bed of some varying decay. The globe willow is so large if they make it, that I could only put it in a couple of spots too. I may take it out and move it, then as a last ditch effort. Thanks.
Hey, Al -- thought I had scored a big one from Oak Hill Gardens for fir bark ... the original receipt showed 13.50 for shipping two bags, yahooo hoooo, but ... then Greg followed up with email clarification: shipping $70, grand total $104.00. Oh, well.
Thank you so much for this thread; it's just what I was looking for. We put in a beatiful patio last summer but it needs a little more shade & I'd like to use some potted trees or large shrubs while we wait for in-ground trees & shrubs to get bigger.
One question remains: what do you do with these potted trees over the winter? If the pot is flexible enough, or cheap enough to be easily replaceable, can they remain outdoors in my zone 6?
Oops, yet one more question. If we purchase potted trees or shrubs from the nursery now (nearly August,) can they remain in their pots untouched until early spring when it's time to root-prune?
How you over-winter sort of depends on how hardy the tree/shrub/plant material is compared to your zone. As a rule of thumb, I usually figure plants hardy to a zone colder than mine will over-winter outdoors with a little root protection, and plants hardy to 2 zones colder are ok w/o protection, though the 'chill factor' needs to be tempered with how tolerant the plants (evergreens mainly) of drying wind/sun exposure. The north side of a building where plants are sheltered from wind would be good - an unheated garage or out-building better.
Anything that you would buy from a nursery that looks healthy, has some interior foliage, & doesn't have all the greenery in tufts at the branch ends (usually indicative of really tight roots) should be fine until spring in the container it came in.
I just linked a friend to this thread & noted it hasn't seen any interest in a long while. Forgive the bump, but I think there is a lot of information here that could represent significant help to anyone growing woody material in containers.
Thanks, LL ... very much! I can't remember the last time I bumped one of my own threads, but I think there is a fairly high % of growers tending woody plants in containers that don't fully understand how to keep them healthy over the long term who could benefit from reading at least the OP.
Take good care.
Most growers never grow to understand the difference between people time and plant time. Bonsai teaches you what it's like to be on plant time.
Oh love the brugs, all my brugs and tropicals are in pots since I am zone 5. Works well for me. I am not big on rushing around and trying to dig up everything when the weather says SURPRISE we are having a hard freeze...rofl.
happgarden, the blue flowers belong to that of Thunbergia grandiflora. They're a tender perennial vine (hardy to zone 7b+). They usually are hardy in the garden (here) except some unusual harsh winter. So I've those growing both in the ground and in hanging baskets in order to safeguard some for the following year should there be real bad weather. Like Al has explained; trees in pots without being root pruned/ and repotted at intervals. The result is decreased vitality in the plant itself. An example; my' Dr. D/ brug. This is losing its vigor (notice the leaves are small & scarce) because I haven't repotted it in several years. Insufficient root mass and lack of nutrients.
Mine just doesn't bloom in the pot at all, it leafs out nice but no blooms since about the first two years and each year it got less. I brought it in this year early to see if it won't die back to the ground like it usually does and see if it makes a difference.
The first notable symptom of root congestion is reduced extension of branches, main stems, or vines. As the congestion gets worse, foliage tends to become concentrated nearer and nearer to apices (the growing ends of branches, from which growth (extension) actually originates). The result of that is often a poodle or pompon look. In some plants, a little stress from mild root congestion can slightly increase the number of blooms a plant produces, but stress is stress, and as such has a negative effect on the organism. How much stress (the collective) you want to subject a plant to is up to the grower, but stress unchecked quickly turns to strain, which is a much more serious condition. It's enough to know that no plant LIKES to be grown under root-bound conditions.
To optimize growth and vitality of what we grow in containers, woody plants should be potted up before the soil/root mass can be lifted from the pot intact; or, if the roots happen to be allowed to get congested - root pruning then becomes an important part of how well the plant is capable of doing from that point on. Even plants planted out after their root systems were allowed to become congested at any point prior, are sure to be permanently affected by the root issues that developed in their too small containers.
Since we can reason that plants can never grow at beyond their potential, the increase in growth rate and vitality that occurs after a potting up or a repot, what most growers consider to be a 'growth spurt', is actually only proof of how restrictive root congestion is. In the case of potting up, you reduce SOME of the limitations imposed by tight roots, so the plant can resume growing a little closer to what its potential is. Repotting, as opposed to potting up and when done correctly, eliminates ALL the limitations imposed by tight roots; thus allowing the plant to return to growing to its potential (within the limiting effects of other cultural factors).
Maintaining our plants so their roots have room to run is an extremely important part of keeping plants happy over the long term; and is why bonsai trees often live for centuries in very small pots, while many of us have trouble keeping plants happy beyond their first year or two in our care.
Al, many thanks on the lesson on root-bound conditions. I've over the years learned some pointers how the environment alters ways that plants behave. Now, I'm gaining new experience with other factors such as soil, air-movement, and 'room to grow'. Some of the very basic, but so essential to plants' health.
hellnzn11. How high is the ellevation where you're? Do you get snow and hard freeze in the winter? Brugs are root hardy here, provided that we provide enough sun light which is essential for them to bloom. Too much shade in the garden (like mine) are problematic for brugs. Not only they refuse to bloom, but are susceptible to root rot over our mild and wet winter. I have noticed my neighbors' sunny sites where they have their brugs. Theirs, die back to the ground each year, but come back with re-newed vigor each spring and seldomly fail to bloom. Once they bloom there are hundreds of blooms, instead of a few scattered blooms compared to those that are being kept in pot culture. I said all that to return to the point of discussion of root-bound theory.
New questions; how and when to prune Juniper? I was told by the street- side vendor that this is a 3 year-old "Japanese Juniper" and when I asked about its temperature range for optimal growth? I was told 35F. to 105F degrees. (that's helpful so I know when to take precaution for freezing weather ect.) I am unable to differentiate between procumbens and horizontalis species. In any case, I was instructed to repot/root prune yearly in each spring. Am I lead to the right path in caring for this tiny "tree".? Thanks in advance Al.
You can prune a juniper any time. Just make sure you leave some healthy green on any branch you want to remain as part of the composition. Juniper bonsai also get pinched and thinned. Thinning is usually done with scissors and is done very selectively. Pinching is usually done as new buds are extending. Both the thinning and pinching are part of the process of forming pads or clouds of foliage. How to thin and pinch isn't something that you can describe in a forum setting - even in a book, with pictures, it's difficult to describe.
Your plant is J procumbens, and the cultivar appears to be 'Nana', which is most commonly sold as small bonsai. The primary identifying difference between J horizontalis and J procumbens is that horizontalis will have loose and floppy branches that grow close to the ground, and the plant has no recognizable crown. Procumben's branches are initially ascending, and the plant will have a dome-shaped crown as it matures, but this is only helpful for identifying plants in the landscape. For plant's in pots, the average beginner is unlikely to come across a J horizontalis being sold as bonsai starter material, and the primary difference is the loose, very flexible, floppy branches of horizontalis vs the more rigid and ascending branches of the procumbens.
Care would be the same. I would protect your plant against actual soil temps below about 28* and consider about 90* as their upper limit. If I was you, I would just bury the pot and all in the garden now & forget it until spring. It will do fine, as long as it doesn't dry out, so toss some snow on it from time to time, or water it if the ground gets dry. I repot junipers in late Apr - early May, so you could repot any time in Apr. They like a little warmth after being repotted for best root regeneration, so don't be in too big of a hurry. They want a fast-draining and well-aerated soil, like the gritty mix, and seem to really like Foliage-Pro 9-3-6 fertilizer.
This first is I have a 30inch box Chitalpa that will be planted into the ground but the bottom of the box was missing, we didn't know when we dragged it seven feet. I know there are roots that were that low, they are some thick ones, will the tree be damaged now by the dragging, The tree was container grown, I doubt they did any root pruning though. What should I do for the tree for it to have the best chance in the ground? I also have a red oak, but its box has the bottom so its ok, Yet, I do wonder if I need to do any root pruning for it as well.
The second question is about a weeping cherry that started sprouting and then just stopped, I have a fruit bearing tree that did the same. I was reading your thread about the pruning, can I just cut the top of the weeping cherry off and let it regrow from the trunk? Can I do the same with the fruit bearing cherry?
I never put a tree in the ground unless I'm sure there are no problems in the root mass. That means I remove as much soil as I need to, in order to be sure there are no roots that are encircling/girdling, j-hooked/growing back toward the center, or growing upward. Any of those conditions are problems with the potential to limit growth, cause the death of branches on one side of the tree, or eventually kill the tree outright. Unfortunately, nurseries don't invest in the kind of care that YOU would if you were bringing a tree along for your own landscape.
At a minimum, you should top the tree on it's side and check to see if the roots are badly mangled, and remove the damaged roots with a pair of sharp bypass pruners.
Unless I misunderstood, it sounds like you might have P. x 'Snofozam' grafted to common cherry understock. By the sound of it, the graft union probably didn't take and the grafted part died. If that is true, you'll have a common upright tree growing from the understock that will look nothing like the cherry you bought.
Thank you very much Al. I closely inspected my weeping cherry and I think your right on with what happened with a bad graf, it explains why half of it was never performing as well as the other half. It has since passed away. El Paso's temperatures have changed so much recently and both cherries went into shock after a few cycles of temperature dips after leafing out. Today we are in the 50's with lots of wind.
I read a lot on your thread about roots and container plants. I had to report my indoor plants, I had one plant with two roots that went round and round the bottom of the pot, just long ropes. Unbelievable. It was my fault for waiting so long. I also removed a lot of bad hardened roots that hooked and did weird things. My plants look a lot better now even though I took a bit of roots out and I did some pruning as well. So thanks again for this thread.
I'm very glad you were able to find parts you could put to use. I regularly think about how easy this stuff is to learn when you have someone to teach you or help you reason through it, but how difficult it is to put everything together when you have to do it on your own. Sharing some of the things I've learned through my efforts to become as proficient at bonsai as I'm capable of is fun for me. I suppose I enjoy nurturing people who nurture plants almost as much as I like nurturing plants - maybe even more. How lucky I am that if I ever get to the point that nurturing plants is a chore bigger than I can handle - I might still be able to nurture the growers. ;-)
My winters are cold and rarely get snow at this particular house. We have heavy Caleche soil though that makes Brugs vulnerable to rot. The other Brug someone here sent me, just went hollow when it got too wet. I don't know how often they bloom. Mine just bloomed so is that it? I could look it up but I thought you could just tell me and save me the time, if you know.
My brugs and datura bloom all summer long, then spend the winter dry, in a cool basement. They get repotted (as opposed to potting up) EVERY spring into a 5:1:1 mix of pine bark fines:sphagnum peat:perlite. If you're using a water-retentive soil based on peat, compost, composted forest products, or other fine ingredients, you can get a LOT more potential from your plants if you partially bury the container ... which turns it into a mini raised bed, from a hydrological perspective.
Well I am about to have lots of Dats blooming, various stages of growth but the wild desert ones are blooming now. My Brug, is leafing out really good, so I need to fertilize every two weeks and see if I can get some more blooms out of it? Good to know that it can keep blooming?
Mine bloom all summer until I let them dry down so they can be move to a cool basement w/o roots rotting, where they stay for the winter, nearly completely dry. The roots of Datura and Brugmansia are so vigorous the plants need to be root-pruned and repotted yearly for best results (like Hibiscus). The plant blooms best when slightly root bound, but there is a big difference in the volume of blooms between slightly root bound and severely root bound (significant reduction in bloom profusion). In most cases, even if you prune roots and repot every spring, the plant will fill the pot and be at LEAST moderately root bound by the end of summer, which means that you're sacrificing blooms, growth, and vitality by neglecting annual root work.
Datura and Brugs are heavy feeders, so if you're seeing chlorosis and/or shedding of lower/inner leaves, you're probably not fertilizing enough, or you're seeing the effects of root congestion. Don't use a "bloom-booster" fertilizer. Fertilizers in a 3:1:2 NPK RATIO (NPK RATIO is different than the NPK %s. 24-8-16, 12-4-8, and 9-3-6 are all 3:1:2 ratio fertilizers) are very good choices. I'm very partial to Foliage-Pro 9-3-6 soluble fertilizers, and use it for almost everything I grow - ALL my trees except Hibiscus; but even then I still USE the 9-3-6 but modify it by adding some additional K (potassium) in the form of KCl (potash) or Dyna-Gro's Pro-TeKt 0-0-3.
This has been a wonderfully exciting thread!! I've been reading for about 3 hours half way while watching a movie.
Anyway I have 2 JM's growing in the ground that are probably 10-12' tall.& 10-12 years old. Could these be dug and root pruned and top pruned into a shaped small tree in a container?? Neither is planted in a very good location. I welcome aNY ANd all input you may have for me.
The first thing that comes to mind is, 'are these trees from seed or are they grafted to Acer understock - and if they ARE grafted, how high/low is the graft'? The pics below are from collected seedlings and are about 20-30 years old, which gives you an idea of what CAN be done, and how compact you can keep even very old trees if you have the knowledge and the will. I wouldn't expect that you would be able to produce specimens like those in the pics, but certainly maintaining a collected maple compact and attractive in a container is within reach.
The last picture is a maple forest that will be coming into its own over the next 3-5 years. All are collected seedlings about 8-10 years old
What you likely have is the result of a scion of a particular species that has been cloned for uniformity and one or more of its more desirable genetic traits, and grafted to (usually) a cold-tolerant and vigorous root system and/or stem. This is closer to the rule than the exception for most nursery stock these days. The reason it needs to be determined if that's how your plant has been pieced together is because if you cut the plant back too far, or don't prune correctly, you might end up with growth originating only from the less desirable understock. Usually, you can see the graft, which often results in a conspicuous lump or change in bark texture at the graft union.
nonsai I love them, but I have a question how do you water with the soil level being above the pot? I was given a hypertufa that was planted the same way and have a terrible time watering it. Only hypertufa I have.