Thuja occidentalis in need of love

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Thuja occidentalis in need of love

Post  tlmartin on Mon Jul 02, 2012 6:03 pm

Hi,

I'm relatively new to bonsai and have been given a few trees as gifts to start on, most of them as "in progress' trees (still very unformed), but my thuja is more of an heirloom tree and while I think I've been taking good care of it the tree seems to be ailing and I'm not sure what I may be doing wrong. I check the tree regularly for dampness of the soil (it's in soil, not a granular composition) and water it if the top of the soil seems to be drying out (until I can see water dripping out the holes in the pot). I've fed it some 10-15-10 (Schultz) a couple of times since March but I have not given it any water/vinegar mix (which was one of the recommendations from the 30+ year experienced individual who gave me the trees) since bringing it out in the spring.

A couple of the branches have had all the fronds and leaves dry up and fall off, but there were some green fronds up until a few days ago (hopefully the branches aren't dead).

The tree just today was moved into a spot where it will get full sun (zone 5) from about 9 til at least noon, then be in shade for the rest of the day - previously it was in a spot that got full sun from about 9 until 3 or 4pm.

I'll include a couple of pictures of the tree in its current state. Any suggestions on where I might be able to change or increase its care to get it to flourish some more?





This is a closeup of the branches that are dying/dead. They've also got a small green spore/pod growth on thin filaments sticking off of them that I posted about in the pests/diseases section as well.

Any advice is much appreciated.
Thanks!
T Martin

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Re: Thuja occidentalis in need of love

Post  coh on Mon Jul 02, 2012 7:33 pm

Geez, that looks pretty bad. My first thought, especially after reading "it's in soil, not a granular composition", is a root problem. How long have you had the tree? Did it look completely healthy when you got it? If so, when did the die-back start? If you had the tree over the winter, where did you keep it? Did it possibly dry out during the winter?

I've only got one of these and I'm trying to learn how to properly care for it, so hopefully others will chime in. But to me, this looks like a possible candidate for an emergency repot into bonsai soil. I'd check with the previous owner as well, as I wonder why it's in "soil".

Good luck!

Edited to add - it might help if you show a close-up of one of the branches where the die-back is not complete (i.e. both green and dead areas), it's hard to tell how the die-back is progressing.

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Re: Thuja occidentalis in need of love

Post  tlmartin on Mon Jul 02, 2012 7:47 pm

Hi coh,

I've had the tree for about 2-3 years. It was thriving when I got it and to my knowledge hasn't been re-potted for at least 5-8 years (I think). The person who gave it to me has had it for about 30 years and is an exceptionally experienced bonsai gardener (who's just out of touch for vacation for a bit).

The tree over-wintered in my shed (little to no light) and I kept snow packed gently around it as often as necessary (i.e. any time the pile melted or shrank). The tree came out of the shed this spring (April/May-ish) with foliage on every branch and a fair bit of brown on all the fronds (I pinched off as much of that as I could over the course of April).

The die-back seemed to get worse over the last month, with those few branches being pretty much bare for the last couple weeks.

I took another look at the ground in the pot and dug down a little (it's all damp so I hope that's good). The potting mix does seem to be more granular than I originally thought (based on the top layer), but it seems to have a lot of organic mix (hence my assumption it was purely dirt) as well it looks like there might be some sand and also small gravel-like grains. (Obviously I need to work on my terminology Wink ).

Perhaps this might be a tree I give back to its original owner for a while until I have more experience myself. I'd be devastated to have killed it. At the last estimate/aging it received the tree is more than a couple centuries old so I'm starting to feel the pressure.

Thanks,
Theresa

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Re: Thuja occidentalis in need of love

Post  coh on Mon Jul 02, 2012 8:01 pm

Hi Theresa (sorry to refer to you as "he" in the other thread)

OK, so it looked pretty good when it went in for the winter, but by spring had started to develop the brown/dead areas? Does it look like there could be a fungal disease? Can't really tell from the photos.

What part of Ontario are you in? I know here (just across Lake Ontario) we had a very mild winter and trees were starting to come out of dormancy very early. Then we had a series of devastating freezes after things had woken up. Don't know if you experienced any of that.

If you can't reach the previous owner, I'd try to get the tree seen by someone else in the area with more experience. I still suspect roots...8 years is a fairly long time for a tree to remain in the same pot, especially if there is evidence that the soil has broken down to some degree. But I've only been doing this for 2 years myself, so take my suggestions with a grain of salt.

It does certainly look like a situation that needs to be dealt with immediately...

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Re: Thuja occidentalis in need of love

Post  tlmartin on Mon Jul 02, 2012 8:10 pm

Thanks Chris (no worries about the "he" - easy mistake to make Wink ).

I'm in SW Ontario - near Stratford. We too had that early warm spell in March and then the following cold snap (I kept the trees inside during all that because I've experienced weather like that before in March and I know better - or at least for the bonsai trees I'm more paranoid/cautious).

As far as I can tell there's no other damage or infection or fungus of any kind visible (the thuja is the one tree I'm watching exceptionally closely). I'll check with one of the local club members as he did offer to come check the tree (but that was when the previous owner was due to come out and check the tree for me and the visit was postphoned by a horrible thunderstorm and so on and so on).

<sigh> I'm worried about the tree and being overly paranoid I think, but I'll keep looking for some hands-on help too.

Cheers,
Theresa

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Re: Thuja occidentalis in need of love

Post  Steven on Mon Jul 02, 2012 8:18 pm

I agree, I would try to find someone in the area with a bit more experienced with bonsai and that species of tree to check it out. I am not familiar with your climate and winters but from my understanding of this species they are very cold hardy and do well to winter outside rather than in complete darkness, that coupled with what sounds like a soil/root issue from soil breakdown, over moistened, and lack of a repot over the last several years may all be contributing to the problem, and possible the addition of the pest issue from your other post. Like Coh said, I am in no way an expert so hopefully someone else on the site with more species specific experience can confirm these issues or steer you in the right direction, either way best of luck.

Steven
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Re: Thuja occidentalis in need of love

Post  marcus watts on Tue Jul 03, 2012 6:54 am

hi,
it looks like 2 seperate sets of events here - if the foliage on the living side is going brown from behind ie green on the tips or just the inner shoots, I'd say it is due to the cycle of old foliage dropping off - as it does on all 'evergreens' after a few years. If a tree is left unpruned or unpinched on the tips to promote the inner shoots to grow you get this summer foliage drop which leads to the bare inner branches. It looks worse if the tip growth has been weak for a few years as you loose a lot more foliage than ends up remaining.

If the tips of the green foliage are the bits dying off it is a root issue - the tree needs TLC if the roots are so poor they cant keep the foliage green.

The soil looks old, solid and not that suitable for a bonsai conifer in your location, I's say the roots feeeding the branches on the green side are weak and they are dead on the other side as the branches are all dead on the same side.

it is a risky job emergency repotting in the wrong season but the tree will die slowly as it is so nothing is lost giving it a try. Gently remove the soil from any visible living roots, remove visible dead roots and prepare a pot properly with large particle bonsai soil with sphagnum moss chopped up and mixed in. gently place the tree and tie it in with aluminium wire very well - it must not move or wobble. continue filling in the spaces with the new soil leaving no air gaps. Water well then dont water again until soil is quite dry in appearance - mist the grreen foliage though daily as the water will be absorbed through foliage while the roots recover.

and loose the lump of old furnace waste, it looks like a clinker and may have leached toxins into the soil below leading to the death of the branches above, it may not have.... but all its doing is efffecting the air and water availability below it. If the tree fully recovers you can add a rock again if you like it.

good luck on the rescue, green fingers are needed Smile

Marcus


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Re: Thuja occidentalis in need of love

Post  Steven on Fri Jul 06, 2012 3:13 am

Just wondering if you were able to do a repot on this tree, or get some assistance with it, hope it all worked out.

Steven
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Re: Thuja occidentalis in need of love

Post  drgonzo on Fri Jul 06, 2012 4:32 am

I just found this thread and read Marcus's take and I agree completely. Root rot. And I'll bet you a willow leaf ficus that the dead root is that one around the back right on the edge of the pot.

My quess is; the tree sat saturated over winter with no light on the foliage and you lost a good hunk of the root system, thats the thing that drives me nuts about conifers, something can go wrong and you wont find out for 6 months!

I would advise a repot into a very free draining inorganic substrate, then into the shade for a few weeks then gradually into half sun. Without a re-pot the rot will continue and barring divine intervention it's a gonner for sure.

If done right NOW you may save part of the tree....jin the rest!
-Jay


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Re: Thuja occidentalis in need of love

Post  tlmartin on Fri Jul 06, 2012 11:54 am

Thank you everyone for the suggestions and advice! I am off this weekend to get assistance with a re-pot of the thuja from someone with more experience (original owner is still sadly on vacay). And just when I thought a scale infestation was going to be the worst part of the season. Wink

Saving the tree is my primary concern, style will obviously have to wait and see what survives. <sigh> Perhaps all time to grab a nursery thuja to use as practice so that I have some better ideas of how to care for this one. Losing the family heirloom tree would be bad.

As a sidebar, is it possible that over watering would have caused the root rot perhaps? We had a lot of rain here in the spring and the tree was out for all of it.

Thanks,
Theresa

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Re: Thuja occidentalis in need of love

Post  my nellie on Fri Jul 06, 2012 2:24 pm

I have lost a thuja (nursery stock) due to overwatering....

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Re: Thuja occidentalis in need of love

Post  coh on Fri Jul 06, 2012 2:28 pm

tlmartin wrote:As a sidebar, is it possible that over watering would have caused the root rot perhaps? We had a lot of rain here in the spring and the tree was out for all of it.

Thanks,
Theresa

It's possible, especially if the soil is old/broken down and the tree overdue for repotting.

Best of luck, and please keep us posted. In particular, let us know how the repotting goes, how the roots look, etc.

coh
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Re: Thuja occidentalis in need of love

Post  drgonzo on Fri Jul 06, 2012 3:29 pm

tlmartin wrote: And just when I thought a scale infestation was going to be the worst part of the season. Wink

It's OK

Just to let you know I've had to re-pot (out of season) almost every tree I have purchased so far this year from various events and sales all due to being in compacted, old, poorly draining, soil. I'm not doing root trimming mind you, just clearing away the old mush and re-potting into good free inorganic soil...all have responded wonderfully. None of these situations was life threatening to the tree I just do it because I know getting the old soil out of there even this late in the season and getting good soil under the tree will dramatically increase the vigor. You just do the work carefully..really making sure medium gets into all the root spaces.

So we have to do this sort of thing from time to time...take heart your not the only one.
-Jay

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Re: Thuja occidentalis in need of love

Post  coh on Fri Jul 06, 2012 5:39 pm

To follow-up on Jay's comments...

I mentioned earlier that I have one thuja, a collected specimen. I acquired it last June from a local club member who was downsizing his collection. The tree hadn't been repotted in a long time and the pot was too shallow - but the tree seemed healthy. Local club members advised repotting, despite the season. I repotted it on July 13, into a slightly larger pot. There were miles of circling roots in the old pot, these were removed and the old rootball was loosened a little, with some of the old soil removed (it really didn't look too bad). Tree came through the midsummer repotting just fine and is still doing well a year later. Again, though, it was not in the weakened state of your tree.

On the other hand, I had a mame-sized cotoneaster that was languishing for about a year. I thought it might be a root problem and considered repotting, but waited too long. Eventually the lower branches started turning black and dying, and I unpotted it to find...no roots. I think the pot had low areas and was holding too much water. Would it have survived if I had repotted sooner? Probably, but can't say for certain.


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Re: Thuja occidentalis in need of love

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