pH level in bonsai .....

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Re: pH level in bonsai .....

Post  fiona on Sat Aug 04, 2012 10:23 am

This seems to me to be a very simple issue:
1. Trees that are grown in a medium which is very alien to their preferred conditions will suffer. The extent of that suffering is, in simplistic terms, in direct proportion to the alien-ness of the growing medium. Solution = what we all try to do - fix the soil mix at repotting.
2. Trees that are watered using a mix that is converse to their requirements will suffer - with the same direct proportion aspect. Solution = collect rainwater as Marcus suggests and/or adjust the pH balance of the watering solution.

The real question is, how alien is alien before we need to worry about measuring and monitoring? An observation: I am very fortunate to live in a part of the UK with very soft water and a neutral to slightly acidic soil. I grow trees, including Larch, that like these conditions and I have no need to measure pH and would only do so if a tree was suffering and I was trying to eliminate causes of why that should be. My sister, on the other hand, lives in a part of the UK with hard water and alkaline soil. I gave her husband a bonsai larch for a milestone birthday four years ago. Both of us water using tap water. Both of us feed using seaweed based fertilisers. Yet despite the significant differences in water, there is no discernible difference in the health or vitality of our larches.

I am not a scientist but I am a researcher and appreciate that one "experiment" does not a conclusion make. But it does seem to me to be pointing towards a simple conclusion that the degree of alien-ness" has to be pretty extreme before trees will get seriously affected. Clearly that extreme has not been reached in the case of my brother-in-law's larch. Otherwise there would be no azaleas and rhododendrons in parts of the UK and there would be no Beech trees in my local park. My eyes tell me there are and they are looking okay.

It also seems to me that this whole issue hinges on "known quantities" - as indeed good horticulture practices should. I know the parameters afforded my my local conditions including water pH and the growing conditions required by my trees. Ergo, I have no need to worry about "tinkering and fussing" over pH. (that was an ironic comment before anyone shoots me down. Here are a couple of these to prove it Very Happy Wink ) But if I lived in an area with different conditions then I rather suspect, since I am a gadget geek, I would.

So, to resurrect Coh's point: maybe Efishn has a major issue with soil and water conditions - maybe he lives on a daily basis with the "extreme" conditions I mentioned above. Efishn, if you haven't lost the will to live reading this, I for one would be very interested in the answer to that question. For while I myself have no requirement to fuss and tinker, I still remain interested in the issue and in the experiences of those who do have definite problems with an extreme of soil or water condition.


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Re: pH level in bonsai .....

Post  fiona on Sat Aug 04, 2012 10:34 am

On a slight aside, I am always amused by the way many bonsai folk, including some who would consider themselves good bonsai-ists, use imported soil mixes without really knowing what their value is. It was almost fashionable at one point to use akadama et al on the basis of "it's Japanese - it must be good". Great news for soil sellers, but possibly not so great for our trees. And when the bags these soils come in have no English translation, many bonsai people have often been guilty of blind buying - certainly over here in the UK.




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Re: pH level in bonsai .....

Post  efishn on Sat Aug 04, 2012 4:18 pm

Hello everyone again Smile
I'm reading your responses with great interest as the person who started this post and I'm somewhat surprised.
Although I am new in bonsai, less than one year, I am working and researching it very intensively, on a daily bases.
To my understanding, from everything I read including scientific research, There is no doubt that pH control is important to the optimum growth of plant. yes ! plants can grow just fine without balancing pH as many guys said here. but....
The main claim from those who are against balancing pH was "look at my trees they grow well and they are happy". This claim seems to me like the claim of those who smoke and look and feel fine. Are they really fine?
So the question is not whether pH control is important or not. The question is: are we willing to invest time, money and efforts to give the bonsai the optimum environment for their growth. just like stop smoking, doing sport, eat organic food, breath clean air etc.

So with this out of the way I would appreciate your kind input to my initial question, how...how do I balance my trees ?
some info:my irrigation water = 7.78 pH
my soil: 4 ordinary garden soil + 2 compost +2 red lava rock + 2 perlite + 1 humus

Greetings
Efi

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Re: pH level in bonsai .....

Post  drgonzo on Sat Aug 04, 2012 4:18 pm

fiona wrote: I still remain interested in the issue and in the experiences of those who do have definite problems with an extreme of soil or water condition.

I am one of these poor folks.

My solution was to identify the tree species that will begin to have nutrient deficiencies when pushed beyond their pH threshold, or are salt intolerant and to only water and most importantly mix my fertilizer for these trees with rainwater. So far that is every member of my Japanese Maple collection, my Beeches, my birches, azalea, Pomegranate, Bougainvillea, Larch and spruce. As you can see its a goodly number of species that need this special consideration. The difference for these trees watered with well water last year and rain water this year has been profound! People without disolved salts in their water supply would probably never have to go to the lengths I do in order to maintain acceptable plant health.

It's also important to understand that trees growing in the ground benefit from the enormous ability of the surface area of the soil particles around their roots to buffer pH. In a bonsai pot the amount of soil (and thus this available surface area) is most limited as is its ability to buffer pH. In container culture Soil pH can get out of whack much faster and with much more pronounced effects then it would for a tree planted in the ground. Thats why consideration of Ph can actually be more important in container horticulture then in regular agricultural practice.

Many chemical fertilizers that you mix yourself, will actually mix out very acidic, luckily the pH of this solution after it interacts with your bonsai soil often achieves a pH where basically all of its nutrients are made available to the tree for absorption. However if your Bonsai soil pH gets too high (through watering with hard water and it's dissolved bicarbonates let's say) Nutrients will begin to become unavailable to the tree. Iron at ph greater then 7.5 and Magnesium are classic examples of this. For some sensitive species this pH threshold is MUCH lower. It will be difficult also to treat these deficiencies once noticed if the soil pH is not altered back into the range in which the tree is able to absorb these elements.

Unfortunately letting water sit or rest will do nothing to elevate the dissolved Bicarbonates from a 'Hard water" source that contains them, they do not "settle out" (oh if only it were that easy) and it's what is dissolved in my well water, not it's pH per se, that has been my issue from the get go. Hard water is a major pain for the container grower, knowing the functioning of soil water pH in container horticulture has allowed me to understand just why that is and how to work around it so I can grow the trees I want to and not be too limited by the poor quality of my water source.

-Jay


Last edited by drgonzo on Sat Aug 04, 2012 4:58 pm; edited 4 times in total (Reason for editing : added a "y" and Pomegranate)

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Re: pH level in bonsai .....

Post  drgonzo on Sat Aug 04, 2012 4:20 pm

efishn wrote:
The main claim from those who are against balancing pH was "look at my trees they grow well and they are happy".

A good analogy would be like saying to a diabetic, "I don't take insulin and I feel fine....why should you need to?"
-Jay

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Re: pH level in bonsai .....

Post  fiona on Sat Aug 04, 2012 4:48 pm

drgonzo wrote:
efishn wrote:
The main claim from those who are against balancing pH was "look at my trees they grow well and they are happy".

A good analogy would be like saying to a diabetic, "I don't take insulin and I feel fine....why should you need to?"
-Jay

Haha. Well now, that's both a good analogy and not a good analogy. It is not good because I am diabetic and don't take insulin. In fact taking insulin would be immensely bad for me - but I'll add to that the statement with my type of diabetes. Which all goes to show what this particular non-pH adjuster means when I say I have no need to adjust pH because my trees are operating within their own parameters - within their "condition" if you like.

But it is a good analogy in that those of us fortunate enough to be able to know with certainty that our trees are healthy and happy without pH balancing shouldn't make assumptions that everyone else is in the same boat. Very Happy

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Re: pH level in bonsai .....

Post  drgonzo on Sat Aug 04, 2012 4:53 pm

Another thing I would like to add to the management practice I listed above is that every now and then, say once a month, I DO water all the sensitive species with my well water as it provides a ready source of both Calcium and Magnesium along with some dissolved iron. Another interesting factoid is people who regularly drink hard well water generally don't need to take Calcium or Iron dietary supplements..so it's not ALL bad.

It's also important to point out that the term "Hard water" is fairly broad. It can refer to any water that has dissolved metals in the form of soluble salts within it. 'Hard water' in California may have a very different composition then 'hard water' in upstate NY or in Germany.. For instance one persons 'hard water' may not contain enough dissolved bicarbonate or other salts to effect their soil water pH, but there could be other disolved salts that would effect the trees in different ways.

-Jay

PS and forgive me Fiona I should have specified Type 1 diabetes in my analogy. Very Happy

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Re: pH level in bonsai .....

Post  fiona on Sat Aug 04, 2012 5:20 pm

drgonzo wrote:PS and forgive me Fiona I should have specified Type 1 diabetes in my analogy. Very Happy
Don't apologise - it has served precisely to show how generalisations can be dangerous and that specific circumstances need to be dealt with in a specific manner. Very Happy cheers

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Re: pH level in bonsai .....

Post  marcus watts on Sat Aug 04, 2012 7:03 pm

there is the flip side that many who say "look at my trees, they are fine, i dont need to worry about ph, or fertilizer, or soil etc" may never see.....and that is just how fast a tree develops at optimum conditions. You can very often see trees 10-20 years in training that could have been done better in 4 or 5 years if they had been potted, fed and watered properly.

Like all hobbies though you can go into it as deep as you like - or leave as much to nature as possible, really it is just about what you want back from the hobby......but if you want to keep a very varied collection of species in tip top condition without having trees die or be dissapointing you need to have a better understanding of both horticulural needs and your own garden conditions - you get out what you put in after all

cheers Marcus

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Re: pH level in bonsai .....

Post  coh on Sat Aug 04, 2012 7:24 pm

efishn wrote:Hello everyone again Smile
Hello! Glad you're still here.

efishn wrote:
So with this out of the way I would appreciate your kind input to my initial question, how...how do I balance my trees ?
some info:my irrigation water = 7.78 pH
my soil: 4 ordinary garden soil + 2 compost +2 red lava rock + 2 perlite + 1 humus

Greetings
Efi

Do you know any of your other water parameters, such as alkalinity and dissolved solids? That might help.

The soil mixture you're using is pretty heavy on the organics. Most use mixtures that are very heavily weighted toward inorganics. I'm curious as to how you've come to use this mixture? Is it the standard among bonsai growers in your area, or something you've come up with?

And finally...what species of trees are you growing and how are they doing under your current conditions? I think that info is necessary for people to provide further advice.

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Re: pH level in bonsai .....

Post  coh on Sat Aug 04, 2012 7:30 pm

drgonzo wrote:
Knowing my situation with hard well water prevents me from keeping some pH sensitive tropicals that I would LOVE to work with as they would be subject to my well water indoors throughout our long Upstate NY winters, they would come out in spring well beyond their acceptable pH threshold, no doubt both Iron AND magnesium deficient...and in short pretty poor looking.
Would something as simple as a brita filter remove enough of the impurities to allow you to grow these? Obviously you wouldn't want to rely on this method to water your entire collection, but maybe for a couple of trees during winter...or maybe your water would clog up a brita too quickly.

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Re: pH level in bonsai .....

Post  efishn on Sat Aug 04, 2012 9:15 pm

Hi Chris,

yes i'm still here .... u know... i'm here from the beginning Smile

i don't know nothing about the other parameters in my water.sorry.
my mixture : well, i build it from my experience.nothing special. is "heavy on the organics" is bad ?
my trees: Ficus , Olive, Bouganvillea , Ulmus, Callistemon, Juniper, Pine, Pistacia , Cercis
siliquastrum L.

thx
Efi




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Re: pH level in bonsai .....

Post  drgonzo on Sat Aug 04, 2012 9:23 pm

coh wrote:
drgonzo wrote:
Knowing my situation with hard well water prevents me from keeping some pH sensitive tropicals that I would LOVE to work with as they would be subject to my well water indoors throughout our long Upstate NY winters, they would come out in spring well beyond their acceptable pH threshold, no doubt both Iron AND magnesium deficient...and in short pretty poor looking.
Would something as simple as a brita filter remove enough of the impurities to allow you to grow these? Obviously you wouldn't want to rely on this method to water your entire collection, but maybe for a couple of trees during winter...or maybe your water would clog up a brita too quickly.

The metallic salts are dissolved in the water, I don't think I couldn't filter them out any more then I could filter out the sugar from a sugar water solution. I don't know how brita filters work as I don't own one. To the best of my knowledge the only way to remove them is via reverse osmosis.
-Jay

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Re: pH level in bonsai .....

Post  drgonzo on Sat Aug 04, 2012 9:38 pm

Here I'll do a quick water sample test for you Efi..... Very Happy

Does your water leave white chalky stains/residue on your shower curtain or Bathtub that are difficult to scrub off?

If so you have hard water, but I am guessing if your water pH is 7.8 its soft, as metallic salts dissolve more easily in acidic solutions then those that are mildly basic. I you are on municipal water from your city or town it may likely be chemically softened and can contain a significant quantity of salt that will harm your plants if used regularly.

Your water at pH 7.8 is alkaline. But thats only the pH, what you'll need to find out is what's DISSOLVED in your water.

Ultimately Chris is right a quick water test telling you total dissolved solids and Electrical conductivity will be the foundation upon which you can build further refinement as you work out what "works" best for your situation.

-Jay

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Re: pH level in bonsai .....

Post  coh on Sat Aug 04, 2012 9:40 pm

Brita filters use activated carbon and some kind of resin, they supposedly remove some of the dissolved metallic contaminants...it's not just a filter. Might be worth a try! I'm just trying to help you acquire more plants Wink

And of course, small "under counter" RO systems are not all that expensive these days!

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Re: pH level in bonsai .....

Post  drgonzo on Sat Aug 04, 2012 9:47 pm

coh wrote:Brita filters use activated carbon and some kind of resin, they supposedly remove some of the dissolved metallic contaminants...it's not just a filter. Might be worth a try! I'm just trying to help you acquire more plants Wink

And of course, small "under counter" RO systems are not all that expensive these days!

I will look into it further. It sure would open the door for several different tropicals I would like to keep! And I won't tell my wife, should she ever meet you, that you were the guy who recomended the means by which all the windows in the house are now filled with tropicals all winter long! Razz

-Jay

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Re: pH level in bonsai .....

Post  coh on Sat Aug 04, 2012 9:48 pm

efishn wrote:Hi Chris,

yes i'm still here .... u know... i'm here from the beginning Smile

i don't know nothing about the other parameters in my water.sorry.
my mixture : well, i build it from my experience.nothing special. is "heavy on the organics" is bad ?
my trees: Ficus , Olive, Bouganvillea , Ulmus, Callistemon, Juniper, Pine, Pistacia , Cercis
siliquastrum L.

thx
Efi
I don't think "heavy on the organics" is necessarily bad, if you've developed your cultural regimen (watering and fertilizing) to accommodate that. It's just that most people these days use "soils" that are largely inert and coarse to facilitate drainage.

That said - can you tell us how your plants are doing? Are these plants that are in bonsai pots or are they in nursery pots "in development"? How long have you been working with them - do they seem to be healthy and growing well, or are they suffering various leaf maladies and declining? Some photos might help.

I mean, if what you're doing is working, you don't need to change it - right?

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Re: pH level in bonsai .....

Post  efishn on Sun Aug 05, 2012 8:12 pm

drgonzo wrote:Here I'll do a quick water sample test for you Efi..... Very Happy

Does your water leave white chalky stains/residue on your shower curtain or Bathtub that are difficult to scrub off?

If so you have hard water, but I am guessing if your water pH is 7.8 its soft, as metallic salts dissolve more easily in acidic solutions then those that are mildly basic. I you are on municipal water from your city or town it may likely be chemically softened and can contain a significant quantity of salt that will harm your plants if used regularly.

Your water at pH 7.8 is alkaline. But thats only the pH, what you'll need to find out is what's DISSOLVED in your water.

Ultimately Chris is right a quick water test telling you total dissolved solids and Electrical conductivity will be the foundation upon which you can build further refinement as you work out what "works" best for your situation.

-Jay


Hi Jay and thx for your help.
I'm starting to be a little bit confused. till now we talked about pH. now i need to know how much nutrients do i have in my water? what for?
It doesn't matter where the nutrients come from, soil or/and water, whatever. we also have to balance the pH to make the nutrients available to the tree . to my understanding - that's it. tell me please where is my mistake ?

Efi


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Re: pH level in bonsai .....

Post  drgonzo on Sun Aug 05, 2012 8:27 pm

efishn wrote: now i need to know how much nutrients do i have in my water? what for?

There can be many dissolved solids in you water including different salts that are not by any means nutrients for plants. In fact they can be quite detrimental. A professional water test will let you know what your irrigation water has dissolved in it before YOU begin to add your own nutrients to your water.

This would be your tap water (or whatever you use to water your trees with) you would want to have tested, without any additives. Straight from the spigot.
-Jay

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Re: pH level in bonsai .....

Post  marcus watts on Sun Aug 05, 2012 9:49 pm

i have an industrial RO unit plumbed into the unit and it is not the route i'd go down for plants - it creates water so pure it is devoid of everything - (we use it to replace evaporation on the martine coral test tanks). RO is even dangerous to drink as it will leach essential minerals FROM the body, so would need a full scale replenishment of dissolved minerals and elements to be balanced for plants. Brita will mostly remove impurities added to tap water - RO filters leave a dissolved solid value of 0.00ppm.

efishn........which species are thriving in your collection and which do you think could be better?

cheers Marcus

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Re: pH level in bonsai .....

Post  efishn on Sun Aug 05, 2012 10:02 pm

marcus watts wrote:
efishn........which species are thriving in your collection and which do you think could be better?

cheers Marcus

In general all my species are fine. the Ficus, Olive, Bouganvillea , Callistemon, Pine, Pistacia are great.
The Ulmus and Pistacia could be better.

tnx
Efi

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Re: pH level in bonsai .....

Post  efishn on Sun Aug 05, 2012 10:14 pm

drgonzo wrote:
efishn wrote: now i need to know how much nutrients do i have in my water? what for?

There can be many dissolved solids in you water including different salts that are not by any means nutrients for plants. In fact they can be quite detrimental. A professional water test will let you know what your irrigation water has dissolved in it before YOU begin to add your own nutrients to your water.

This would be your tap water (or whatever you use to water your trees with) you would want to have tested, without any additives. Straight from the spigot.
-Jay

JAY- if my water was "quite detrimental" i was already knew that, no ?! believe me they are just fine.
now, let's say I'm giving my trees distilled water. and i have commercial pH down (i already purchased one) so what now ?

thx
Efi


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Re: pH level in bonsai .....

Post  marcus watts on Sun Aug 05, 2012 10:31 pm

efishn wrote:
marcus watts wrote:
efishn........which species are thriving in your collection and which do you think could be better?

cheers Marcus

In general all my species are fine. the Ficus, Olive, Bouganvillea , Callistemon, Pine, Pistacia are great.
The Ulmus and Pistacia could be better.

tnx
Efi

you seem happy that your trees are doing great so you do not need to do anything different- only fix what is not working or you end up very confused. For me Ulmus likes very organic soil and not free draining bonsai soil, but your climate and conditions are not like mine, so giving concrete advice is difficult

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Re: pH level in bonsai .....

Post  drgonzo on Sun Aug 05, 2012 10:42 pm

marcus watts wrote:
you seem happy that your trees are doing great so you do not need to do anything different- only fix what is not working or you end up very confused.


Efi,

Your above post is the first mention you've made that your trees are doing fine, if thats the case then don't change anything. If there is ever a problem, thats when you want to investigate your growing conditions (ie fertilizers, water quality, soil composition) further to help determine cause and then treatment if necessary.

If it ain't broke don't fix it.
-Jay


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Re: pH level in bonsai .....

Post  coh on Sun Aug 05, 2012 10:43 pm

marcus watts wrote:i have an industrial RO unit plumbed into the unit and it is not the route i'd go down for plants - it creates water so pure it is devoid of everything - (we use it to replace evaporation on the martine coral test tanks). RO is even dangerous to drink as it will leach essential minerals FROM the body, so would need a full scale replenishment of dissolved minerals and elements to be balanced for plants. Brita will mostly remove impurities added to tap water - RO filters leave a dissolved solid value of 0.00ppm.
cheers Marcus
Marcus, I don't know if the small home RO units are quite as efficient as what you are using, they may leave more impurities in the water. In any case, I've read that some people will mix a small amount of unfiltered water back into their RO water to add back some minerals. That is always an option. Also, some of the hydroponic fertilizers are designed to work with pure water, probably one would have to use one of those.

Don't know how much or exactly what kinds of impurities brita-type filters remove, but their website claims a variety of dissolved substances are removed. I know that our brita-filtered water has absolutely no residual taste of chlorine, metal, etc, but I currently have no tools to measure pH or EC with any accuracy.

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