Thursday, December 27, 2012

How to Storage Outdoor Bonsai in Winter

In many areas of the world bonsai require no special winter storage. Bonsai in warm areas remain outdoors during the winter, just as they do during the rest of the year. However, these bonsai do experience some degree of dormancy.

Great Place for Storage of Your Bonsai.

In cold areas that experience only occasional frost, trees should be grouped together and mulched with leaves, peat moss, or marsh hay. Mulch prevents evaporation of water from the soil and freezing of roots. Spread the mulch under and around the container, and also place one or two inches on top of the soil. Do not cover the foliage, as air circulation is important.

winter storage for outdoor bonsai
Outdoor Bonsai in Winter.
Image Source:

In areas with harsh winter, you must place your plants in some sort of winter storage, as in one of the following:
1. In an unheated basement or attic that remains cold and where the temperature does not fluctuate a great deal.

2. In an unheated greenhouse. Again, be certain that the temperature does not fluctuate. Greenhouse are usually built in the sun, so be sure to watch the temperature.

3. In the garage. Place the trees on a bed of mulch in a shallow tray with drainage holes. Fill in the area around the container with mulch and also place one or two inches of mulch on top of the soil.

4. In a cold frame, that is, an unheated, boxlike, plastic, or glass covered structure for protecting young plants. These structures are easily constructed, and various plans are available.

5. In the ground. Where it is possible, this is an excellent way to store trees in winter.

Prepare Your Bonsai Storage.

Prepare the spot before frost by digging a hole the shape of your container, and about two inches deeper and two inches wider than the container.
After a hard, killing freeze, place the tree on a two-inch bed of mulch, then place the mulch around the container and over the top of the soil.
Do not cover the foliage. Select an area where the foliage is free from drying winds and where snow does not slide off a roof, in other words, an area where the tree will remain cold and dormant.
A sunny spot can cause a thaw and freezing, neither of which is desirable. The purpose of storage and mulching is to keep the temperature constant.

An important advantage of outdoor storage is that trees do not have to be reintroduced to the elements. By being outdoors, dormant trees go into and come out of dormancy naturally, adjusting smoothly to changes of temperature and length of day. In contrast, trees coming out of garages, cold frame, etc., should be watched carefully. A sudden exposure to wind can cause the tips of branches to dry and die back.

All trees should go into winter storage with soil that is moist but not soaking wet. Water plants a day or two before placing them in storage. Throughout the winter, check the stored trees, and if they are dry, water them. Watering should be done in the morning so excess water will drain out during the day, before night falls. A long, unseasonable winter warm spell requires more frequent checking of stored trees’ water needs. They should return to total dormancy when the cold returns.

Growing Indoor Bonsai in Winter

Many bonsai need water every day, sometimes twice a day, so you should check them often. And summer heat and wind cause bonsai to dry out more quickly than usual. As days grow longer, bonsai also grow more hours a day. They use up and need more water. Also, with longer days and more active growth, plants should be fertilized.

Watering also washes needed nutrients from the soil, so you may want to review the section Fertilizer for Bonsai Tree.

growing indoor bonsai in winter
Growing Indoor Bonsai in Winter.
image source:
As day become shorter, growth slows down and bonsai use less water. At this time, plants are preparing for the dormancy of winter. The complement to this post and the explanation of winter storage of outdoor bonsai in the bonsai container section should help you meet your plants’s winter needs.

Growing Indoor Bonsai in Winter

In areas where tropical material will not survive winter temperatures, trees must be brought indoors. Bring your trees inside before the windows in the house are closed and the heat is turned on. This will allow them to adjust to the house climate more easily. The trees may or may not become dormant, but they will keep their foliage and require good light. In most cases a sunny window will suffice. If artificial light is used, refer to the section Artificial Light for Bonsai.

Indoor bonsai are not always dormant during the winter, and dormancy is not always easy to identify. If a bonsai continues to send out new growth, it is not dormant but merely growing at  slower rate than other times of the year. An indoor dormant plant is often described as “looking fine, but doing nothing”.

A plant holding its foliage and color but showing no new growth is in a state of dormancy, manufacturing food and using only enough water to maintain its health. At this time be careful that you do not over-water your bonsai. As a general rule, remember that throughout the year the amount of light received and the amount of water needed are in direct relation to each other.

Trees going into outdoor winter storage and, more important, trees being moved indoors should be clean and free of insects. Areas to check are the foliage, both  top and bottom, under the rim of the pot, and the drainage holes. If you find a problem, ask your local garden center for advice. Remember to wash the foliage when you water the tree.

Monday, December 17, 2012

When You Should Re-potting Your Bonsai

Re-potting an established bonsai is never as difficult as creating a new bonsai. The reason is fairly simple: the roots of a root-bound tree are the exact shape of the container, while the roots of a plant in a nursery pot bear little resemblance to the shape of the bonsai pot.

sign for re-potting bonsai
Bonsai Sign for Re-potting

Read the Sign from your Bonsai

Bonsai are re-potted and root-pruned at intervals dictated by the vigor and age of each tree. In the case of deciduous trees, this is done as the tree is leaving its dormant period, generally around springtime. Bonsai are often re-potted while in development, and less often as they become more mature. This prevents them from becoming pot-bound and encourages the growth of new feeder roots, allowing the tree to absorb moisture more efficiently.

Of course, you have to know when to re-pot a plant. The following are indications that your bonsai is ready for re-potting:
1. Roots are growing through the screen that covers the drainage holes on the bottom of the bonsai container.
2.The tree dries out more quickly than it should
3.The tree is growing fast, is full of healthy growth, and requires frequent pinching. These are signs of a fast developing root system.
4.The roots seem to have raised the tree in the container.

If you observe any of those signs, look at the plant’s root system. Do not hesitate to look at the tree’s roots. Too often beginning students fear that looking at the roots will harm the tree but that is not true.

How to Find Out if a Bonsai is Root-bound?

To look at the roots, do not pull the tree out of the pot. The best and easiest way to find out if a tree is root-bound is to turn the container over and gently slip the pot off, a procedure that does not harm the tree. It is much better to check the roots often, in this manner, than to allow the tree to go into decline. Young bonsai should be checked every year. As tree age, the interval between re-potting become longer.

If no roots are visible and you see only soil, return the plant to the pot. But if the roots have spread to the edge of the soil or across the bottom of the soil, and no loose soil falls off, it’s time to re-pot.

How to Repotting Bonsai Trees

The best time of the year to re-pot is spring, when bonsai trees are most active and send out new root and top growth quickly. If a tree is root-bound in the fall, re-potting can be risky. Rather than re-pot  it is better just to add a pad of fresh soil under the root system. Of course, re-potting the plant should be the first thing you do in the spring.
how to re-potting bonsai
Re-potting Bonsai Trees
image source:

Prepare the Bonsai to Re-potting

To re-pot  place the bonsai on the work bench, and remove the moss and loose soil from the top of the root system. Use a rake or tweezers to rake across the top, down the sides, and across the bottom, removing old soil. Look at the root system and remove the heavier new roots.

Trimming the roots allows you to re-pot the tree in its original container. Before doing that, wash the pot to remove any remaining roots and debris. You can slip a tree in and out of a clean pot without damage to the root system. If a pot is not clean, the roots will not slip in and out easily and safely. After washing the pot, replace the screen, then add stones and a pad of soil.

The completed tree should be placed in bright light, not direct sun. Shelter it from the wind, which is very drying. Light misting of the foliage is beneficial and cuts down on stress.

Feeding roots develop when they move in search of moisture. Be certain that air has returned to the soil surrounding the root ball by checking daily how quickly moisture has left the soil.

These first watering are very important. The root ball directly beneath the trunk should be allowed to dry out. Roots left dry will callus over and not take in water. On the other hand, too much water will rot the roots. Adding water on top of water is like wrapping the root ball in a wet blanket.

Use the fresh soil and new wire

While you have the plant outside the container, keep the exposed roots moist by misting them. When you place the tree back into the container, spread out the roots on all sides. Be sure to re-pot with a fresh soil mixture, and chopstick the soil into and around the root ball as needed.

If there are wires on the tree, make sure they are not to tight. Do not allow wire to grow into the trunk or branches. Be sure to use wire cutters to cut wire. Do not try to unwind wire, as that can damage the bark. You also run the risk of breaking the branches you have been carefully training. Pinch new growth, not only to refine the tree but also to conserve the tree’s energy.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Step by Step to Create Saikei

To create saikei requires good planning. First you have to prepare the design and layout of saikei you will create. Before you make it real, you create first in your mind and manifest into a sketch on paper.

Here are the steps you can follow to make bonsai saikei:

1. Sketch your idea for a saikei. Make a full size diagram to plot your saikei.
2. Assemble all the materials listed above.
3. Remember to wear gloves while handling soil mediums and nutrients. Some of these are harmful and can diffuse into your skin.
4. Prepare the trees for use by reducing the roots and wrap each root ball in plastic. If the trees can be shaped, wire them for later positioning. If the material is young, you may decide not to wire.

seikei sketch
img source:
5. Arrange the rocks to create your landscape. These may be cemented in place with hydraulic cement or epoxy putty.
6. Once the cement is dry position the trees on the tray while they are still wrapped in plastic. Allow for land topography by placing small pots or rocks under the trees as you place them.
7. Remove the trees and place them on the plot diagram.
8. If you discover that your trees will not be able to stand on their own, set up wires to hold them by using epoxy putty to fasten them if no holes are in the tray or slab.
9. Put a layer of coarse bonsai medium on the base of the tray, this is especially needed if you are using a tray or slab without holes. If you are using a slab you may need to put a ring of muck around the planting area to hold the soil in.
10. Position the trees. Use muck under area where you want a higher topography. Fasten with wire where needed.
11. Add in micro-nutrients, chelated iron and rooting hormone under the trees.
12. Fill in around trees with bonsai soil and chop stick in.
13. Water in the trees.
14. Add accessory plants and mosses. Be sure to use plants in scale and vary for mosses for good texture. Use darker colors under the trees and lighter colors in clear areas. At this point add in any ornaments you wish remembering the rules.
15. Gently water the whole planting.

16. IF you have not disturbed the roots of the plants, the saikei will not need special care but if you have cut or disturbed the roots, put the saikei in semi-shade for a week or two. If constructed late in the season, greenhouse for the first winter if using hardy material. It is BEST constructed in spring.
17. Keep your saikei trimmed and water. In time you may even decide to remove a tree or two from the saikei to train as an individual bonsai.
18. Transplanting is usually only needed after 4 or 5 years depending on the growth rates of the trees.

Monday, November 19, 2012

First Things to Know to Starting Saikei

By studying landscapes in nature, we can envision saikei we would like to construct. As you travel throughout the country, take pictures of various landscapes for inspiration. When constructed the saikei will include rocks, trees, grasses, mosses and perhaps an accessory or two to complete the picture all staged on a beautiful tray or rock.

bolt and nuts of saikei
Saikei Ornament
img source:

What is needed for saikei?

First let us consider the nuts and bolts of saikei. This is a general list; there will be cases where not all items would be used.
  1. A container (see list below)
  2. Small trees (see description of ideal traits of saikei trees below)
  3. Rocks: these may need to be cut
  4. Grasses and small plants
  5. Mosses
  6. Accessories if desired
  7. Bonsai mediums (soils) appropriate for the species of trees
  8. Muck
  9. Wire
  10. Epoxy putty
  11. Hydraulic Cement
  12. Fiberglass dry wall tape
  13. Plastic needlepoint grid
  14. Bonsai tools and gloves
  15. Small plastic bags
  16. Grid or large paper and pencil

What are the characteristics of a saikei container?

  1. Shallow
  2. Sized in proportion to the amount of material you will work with.. more room it usually better as it conveys good spatial relationships
  3. Shaped to reinforce the design
  4. Colored in harmony to the design
  5. Light and moveable once designed …being able to move the final saikei is critical to its care in the northeast
  6. Sturdy
  7. Have drainage (if no drainage holes are present, you may drill them or compensate by using a larger grain size drainage layer under the growing layer and modifying your watering technique to drain the basin after watering)

Materials that make good containers:

  1. Rock slab or slabs
  2. Pottery
  3. Cement (reinforced), consider using Ciment Fondue
  4. Wood, you can make you own containers
  5. Three dimensional rocks

What are the characteristics of good trees for saikei?

  1. Small leaves
  2. Short internodal spaces that create tight growth habits
  3. A good silhouette that looks like the fully grown tree even when young
  4. Firm, small well developed root ball that will allow you to work over a wider time period when designing your saikei
  5. Tolerant of heat and cold and shade
  6. Long lived
There are many species that work will in saikei; if the tree fits all the above characteristics it is worth a try.

To prepare seedlings for saikei:

  1. Grow seedlings or cuttings in small containers to allow transplanting at any time
  2. Keep the trees well trimmed and shaped
  3. Wiring can be done while in the training pot if you wish or later while in the saikei

Characteristics of grasses or ground cover plants to be used in saikei:

  1. Naturally short with leaves close to the ground
  2. Strong root system
  3. Spread rapidly in container conditions
  4. Hardy
  5. Shade tolerant

Characteristics of mosses to be used in saikei:

  1. Fine texture
  2. Short
  3. Good color that is retained throughout the year
  4. Tolerant of dryness
  5. Spreads easily
  6. Variety of species

Bonsai mediums (soils) for saikei:

  1. Have excellent drainage
  2. Are well sifted
  3. Are dry to start with
  4. Match the needs of the species being used
  5. Need to be of at least two sizes
  6. Larger grains for the base
  7. Smaller grains for the main growing layer
  8. Optional fine grains as a top finishing layer for mosses

Ornaments for saikei:
Ornaments can be used with restraint in these landscapes to add to the visual illusion. Be sure they fit these requirements:
  1. Sized proportional to the landscape
  2. Delicate in design and color
  3. Used sparingly
  4. Fit the mood you are trying to create

Rocks for saikei:

  1. Illustrate full sized landscape rocks even through they are small
  2. Match in texture and color
  3. Will survive winter weather conditions
  4. Have shapes that replicate those in your vision of the landscape

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Introduction to Saikei

A saikei is a miniature landscape composed of rocks, trees and often a riverbed of rocks and sand. For saikei you can use smaller, younger and less perfect trees, material that would probably not develop into a first-rate bonsai. The landscape you create can represent a mountainous area, a coastal region, or even a desert scene with succulents. As with bonsai, with saikei you should strive to reproduce what is found in nature.

Who's Introduced Saikei

Saikei literally means living landscape. In this form of bonsai, the artist depicts not just a tree or a forest but a full 3 dimensional landscape. In Japan the school of saikei was founded by Toshio Kawamoto after World War II. He based this bonsai art form on the principles of group plantings and rock plantings of bonsai.

Seeing the need for a form of bonsai that would be easily accessible to the average person, he created saikei. Young seedlings can be used and grown into older trees while they create a beautiful scene for us to enjoy. Kawamoto wanted a bonsai form that could look lovely even when freshly planted unlike the many years true bonsai takes to develop. His 1967 book, Saikei: Living Landscapes in Miniature has been the bible of Saikei since its  introduction.

When Kawamoto introduced this style, he did not use any well-developed trees in his saikei. As time passed, other artists took this style to higher levels by training each of the trees in the saikei. Today Saikei can be designed with young seedlings or rooted cuttings or well developed bonsai. The choice is yours and is only limited by the materials you have available and your skill and imagination.

Containers used for saikei are often oval trays, brown and unglazed. The tray should be shallow, but large enough not just for the trees, rocks, and riverbed but also for open space. Miniature houses, animals, or figurines can be included, but they should be used with care.

bonsai saikei
Saikei featuring Seiju elm
image source:
Materials for Saikei
Material used for regular bonsai is appropriate for saikei, but is usually smaller and younger. Trees should be of the same species, of assorted heights and trunk sizes. Material with a bare side can be planted with similar material, allowing the bare areas to mesh. As in other multiple plantings, the trunks in a saikei should all be in harmony, that is, all straight or all leaning in the same direction, as though the wind has bent them.

Rocks used in saikei should be compatible with the plants used, ones that could appear together in a natural landscape. Rocks should not look as though you simply placed them on top of the soil. To look both natural and old, they should be emerging from the earth. If only a portion of the rock is available, it invites the imagination to guess its size. Large rocks should be placed in the empty tray before the soil or trees. Florists’ clay placed on the bottom of a rock and pressed against the bottom of the container should secure the rock.

Arrange and rearrange the rocks and trees until you create the landscape you envision. Wire the trunks of the trees if they need it. Branches too should be wired, pruned and pinched as necessary. If any grasses or accent plants are used, be certain they have the same care requirements as the trees.

The care of a saikei planting is a little different from that of a bonsai. Saikei trays hold more soil and will not dry out as quickly as most bonsai containers. Water according to the trees’ needs. If your trees need a little dryness between watering, be sure to check several different parts of the landscape to be certain there are not wet areas of soil.

If you are interested in learning more about saikei, there are many sources that you can find on the internet. Or if you're new on saikei, or you want to get an idea of ​​saikei, you can visit the gallery below of International Saikei Association. Visit this link: Saikei Gallery.
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