Still waiting on spring and a quick update

This winter seems to be going on forever. It’s 30º (Fahrenheit) and snowing when just days ago it was close to 50º outside. It’s been a semi-productive winter. I’ve been studying since I haven’t really been able to do much work on bonsai. I picked up a couple books from Stone Lantern, the Juniper and Shohin books. This year I’m going to get some junipers and attempt to style them by what was described on Al Keppler’s blog as the Jim Gremel yamadori style juniper. I can’t find a way to link to the exact post, but it’s easy to find when looking at the junipers tag on his blog. 

As far as really being productive, I replaced my old indoor light setup with a new wire shelf and a shop light. The light houses two 32 watt T8 6400k daylight fluorescent bulbs. Now that’s a mouthful.

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It’s certainly a lot cleaner and easier on the eyes than the last light setup I had with the different 23 watt CFLs dangling around a repurposed bookshelf. This is really what I should have done to begin with, but you live and you learn. I was telling someone on the BonsaiNut forums to skip trying to use a CFL for his plant because in the end you’ll end up with more plants and more lights. This setup uses around half the power and puts out a little more light than my old jumbled mess of CFL bulbs. I laugh now when thinking of the $50 “grow light” that I bought from Amazon. This shop light cost me around $25 when factoring in the price of the bulbs.

While I’m still waiting impatiently on winter to pass, I have these nice white flowers popping all over on my fukien tea. I’ve been trying to get my girlfriend interested in bonsai so I left this at her house in a south facing window. She told me she was reading my Bonsai 101 book also conveniently left at her house.

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Updates have been sparse, but now that winter is passing I should have more to write about. Tomorrow is my ever bonsai club meeting with the Indianapolis Bonsai Club. I’m excited and a little nervous. I’m sure I’ll have some more stuff to talk about in the coming weeks.

Fukien Tea tree round two

Last fall I ordered a little Fukien Tea tree stick in a pot off of Amazon.com to try to train as bonsai. Everyone in the bonsai world seems to acknowledge that it’s a hard tree to take care of, especially outside of its natural climate. Mine was doing all right for a while, even putting out several shoots of new growth, until I decided to repot. I removed too many roots I think and didn’t give it time to recover before trying to move it to another pot where I thought the roots would have a little more space to grow.

Yesterday I went to my local nursery for some pots and more Diamond Pro calcined clay. I was also looking for a Chinese Elm, but the few that they had did not look very appealing. They had several Fukien teas and I decided to try my hand at taking care of one again. Of course this one is much older and established than my little cutting in a pot. I think that even with the generic mallsai s-curve, this one has potential to look interesting.

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The nursery had it potted in a mixture of turface, haydite, and pine bark fines. The ratio was way out of whack with much too many pine bark fines in the mix. It was probably convenient for the nursery, since it would mean they wouldn’t have to water as much. I pulled it out of the pot and trimmed the roots a bit. It was relatively pot bound with a couple feet of roots wrapped around the wall of the pot. I put it in a mixture of Diamond Pro, diatomaceous earth, lava rock, granite grit, and pine bark. There’s no science behind the specific mix, I was more of less just trying to get rid of excess aggregates left over from the previous soils I had experimented with. I think the tree will like this soil much more than the stuff from the the nursery. The Diamond Pro makes a top dressing as well.

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My first soil mix

Earlier this year when I first started becoming interested in plants, not just bonsai, I opted to use regular potting soil with some extra perlite thrown in for better drainage and avoiding soil compaction. My houseplants did fine in this mix. Eventually I grew tired of that and started using cactus/succulent potting mix from Schultz (or maybe Miracle Grow). The succulents fared alright, but I feel like they would have grown a better root structure had I used a mostly inorganic mix.

As I have started to get more serious about bonsai lately, I decided that I should really work on making my own soil mix. Of course by soil mix I really mean a mostly inorganic substrate that allows adequate drainage, holds moisture, and allows the roots to get the oxygen they need. Earlier in the week I purchased a bag of NAPA Floor Dri #8822 and a bag of poultry grit from Tractor Supply Company. The Floor Dri is actually diatomaceous earth, which the the bag says was calcined by firing it at a high temperature.  The poultry grit is actually just crushed granite granules and happen to be almost perfectly sized before it’s even been screened. The Floor Dri has at least twice as many fines as the poultry grit, but they look like they could useful for cuttings and mame.

My mix is 2 parts diatomaceous earth and 1 part crushed granite. The crushed granite has a nice purple color when wet. I wetted the left side so you could see the difference between wet and dry.

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Since I had all of this new mix to use, I went ahead and repotted all of my succulents. It will be interesting to see how they handle being in a completely inorganic mix. I’m not sure where to find a good supply of pine bark fines to mix in, but I think this mix will be fine for my other trees for now. Outside next summer may be something different, however.

Oh and I also made a hardwood ficus cutting and stuck it down in a small terra cotta pot filled with my new mix.

 

I think I may cut off one of those “branches” on the top, but I haven’t decided yet. I’ll keep it in a humid environment for a while and hope that it takes root. I did dab on a little rooting hormone, but ficus shouldn’t really need it. My last cuttings didn’t take root because I didn’t really create a suitable environment for them. I can’t wait to see this one start pushing out new growth.

A week in the new setup

After changing my little vivarium setup I went on vacation for a week. It’s very impressive how quickly my Burtt Davyi grew.

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Of course not having any air flow in the container for a week lead to a little bit of fungal growth on the rocks at the bottom of the container. I’ll have to make sure to air it out every day or two. Still, the plants seem to really love it in there.

Schley’s Bonsai Trip

I came down to Florida for vacation and decided to check out one of the nursery’s down here. My original plan was to head over to Wigert’s, but the location was too far out of the way. Searching online I found a closer nursery, Schley’s Bonsai, and checked it out. It’s a relatively new place, but had a nice assortment of prebonsai stock, trees in training, and finished bonsai.

My main goal was to find a tree with a good trunk. Recently I had read advice that I found incredibly insightful, “Buy for the trunk, grow the branches.” I found a willow leaf ficus with a nice base at the trunk. Next time I’ll have to remember to have had a lighter or something in the picture for size comparison. It’s going to make a great shohin.

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Indoor grow setup update

I decided to bare root and repot the willow leaf ficus a bit earlier than I had planned. It’s now in a terra cotta bulb pan. It might be a little big for the plant, so I lined the bottom with some lava rock then layered the bonsai substrate on top. Hopefully it will keep the pine bark fines from getting too waterlogged and deteriorating as quickly.

As well as repotting the willow leaf, I cleaned out the “vivarium” aka plastic container and lined it with aluminum foil. I had sealed the top with a couple strips of plastic wrap after I made my last post about it.

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Keeping the humidity in with the sealed top seems to have helped the Burtt Davyi with the new foliage growth. When I opened it today it was somewhat warmer than the room, which was really a bit surprising since the CFL lights don’t put off much warmth. Here it is after I just watered it.

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And a final shot of the vivarium. Boring, but I felt like I should include it so I can look back on the progress I’ve made.

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Willow leaf ficus

I got my willow leaf ficus in the mail. I thought it had delivery confirmation, but it turns out the mailman just left it in the package box. It doesn’t seem like the cold weather hurt it any. Maybe the packing peanuts are better insulation than I give them credit for.

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There’s some spindly winding growth going on, but I don’t want to cut too much off. I’m planning on just letting this little guy grow unchecked so that the trunk can get bigger. I think I’ll wait about a week for it to acclimate to the environment, then repot it.

My indoor setup

This is just a quick post to show a picture of my indoor growing setup for my tropical plants. It’s not much, but at the moment it’s getting the job done.

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The fluorescent lamp is a single 24 watt T5 bulb. it was sold specifically as an indoor growing light. the bulb is putting out light in the 6400k spectrum. The two additional lights are 23 watt CFLs in the 5200k spectrum. I haven’t read much about the difference the lighting spectrum makes for the plants. So far they seem to be doing well.

The plants are in the plastic container for two reasons. One, it allows me to put pebbles and water under the plants to increase humidity and two, so that they don’t dry out as quickly from the rotary fan I usually have blowing air around in my room.

The extra terra cotta pots a there to boost the plants up so that they’re closer to the lamps. As they grow larger I’ll be able to pull the pots out from under them to lower them down. It seems to be the best option at the moment since each plant needs its own height adjusted individually.

Hello world!

Welcome to Indiana Bonsai, my new blog about learning the art of bonsai here in the hoosier state.

I’ve read that killing trees is the price you pay for learning bonsai. I only started learning about bonsai earlier this year and I have already killed a couple small juniper trees. Hopefully I have learned from my early mistakes, but I know that there will be more down the road.

I plan to update this blog quite frequently with all of the ups and downs with my trees, so feel free to subscribe to keep up with my updates and learn bonsai with me.