pomegranate & trees from seed and growing in ground vs in a pot

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pomegranate & trees from seed and growing in ground vs in a pot

Post  Leo Schordje on Mon Nov 12, 2012 9:18 pm

Punica granatum var nana - my first bonsai, from seed started in 1971, 14 inches tall, 7/8 inch diameter trunk.

I've posted a fair amount without showing any of my trees. This is because it is much easier to type than it is to actually do bonsai. Rolling Eyes I know horticulture, keeping a tree alive for 41 years is proof in of itself. As to bonsai artist? Well, I am definitely not there yet. Maybe someday.

I do not consider this pomegranate to be 'good enough to exhibit', it has lots of issues, but I am using it to show three things.

One is that you can get something nice from seed, given enough time.

Second is that one really needs to plan and use escape branches to thicken trunks if you choose to grow in a pot rather than putting a tree in the ground. This is a good example of what happens when you don't plan for and create escape branches to thicken parts of the tree. I easily could have a much better tree had I built in a number of escape branches, before setting a 'style'. What I did wrong was to shape a skinny tree for show, thinking the thickening of the trunk would 'just happen' over time. It eventually does happen, but very, very slowly.

The third thing it shows is the value of joining a bonsai club, seeing trees live and in person and taking a few workshops with visiting artists. For the first 30 years of this tree's life I thought I had learned all I needed to know from Books (many of you should ask your parents about the days before Internet). In 2003, in a brief moment of mental clarity, I realized my tree looked awful, at best a stick in a pot. So that's when I joined the Milwaukee Bonsai Society. Best thing I ever did for my trees. I started learning all over again. I am now correcting some of the worst issues with this tree. Ted Mattson is really a good teacher, he really helped me learn to put into practice the main tools of bonsai. His knowledge is broad and his eye is good. I like his style for handling students who come to the hobby with uneven skill sets in terms of knowing technique. Got to learn to walk before you run.

It is my first bonsai. I started it from seed back in 1971. It has always been in a pot, never in the ground. I live in the suburbs between Chicago and Milwaukee. This is zone 5b, way too cold to grow this outdoors. Our outdoor growing season is about 5 months outdoors where the temps are high enough that a pomegranate would actively grow. During the winter, I ran it as a warm subtropical, under lights, with my orchids. These results were not real satisfactory. Indoor growth was always a bit weak and usually would have to be completely cut off once outside in Spring. Beginning in 2003, I started leaving it outside to about 27 F, or -2 C. This knocked it into complete dormancy. Then I would put the leafless tree in a root cellar, where the temperature stays below 40F or 4C, but above freezing for the winter. This resulted in no weak winter growth, a nice flush of new growth in spring. (this is climate zone envy, trying to work with trees that can't handle your local climate)

The biggest flaw is the trunk at 1 inch above the soil is barely 7/8 of an inch in diameter (2.3 cm dia). The tree is only 14 inches tall (35 cm). This is disappointingly thin for a tree that today is 41 years old. I made the mistake of not planning low escape branches while growing it in a pot. Now the lower trunk is too old to back bud there, and grafting in a branch to use as an escape branch for thickening would mar the very nice looking aged appearance of the bark. Though as I type, I am reconsidering this. Perhaps a thread graft in the future might be in order.

So this is an example of why the seasoned veteran bonsai practitioners here tell the newbies that they should put trees in the ground to thicken them up. It is not impossible to raise a bonsai from seed using only pot culture. But to get something nice, it really is important to plan escape branches to get proper thickness on the trunks.

This did start as a three trunk "flat top savanna style", but around 1995 I removed the 2 secondary trunks, and lowered the height of the tree from 20 inches to 14 inches. The scar is still visible as a shari. Now it is more or less a 'literati'. The shape of the 2012 photo is a bit square in profile, but that is because I let it grow out and bloom. The apex needs development, as does the first branch. The first branch was largely broken off by the neighbor's cat in 2010, and has not regrown enough to convincingly replace what was lost. I have some good primary branching, it needs better secondary and tertiary branching. It will take at least 10 years for me to fix everything I screwed up during the tree's first 30 years, but it is an old friend, still living through many moves from one house to another, and many changes in life and life style. Through tornadoes, storms, vandalism, squirrels, cats and dogs. Dropped pots, and pots dropped on it. Droughts and lack of water while I was on vacation. All manner of abuse and it has survived. Pomegranate is a great species for in-pot culture.

First image is from 2012, the second is roughly the same view from 2008. The tree is over-potted on purpose. When I am happy with the tree's design I will move it to a pot about 1/2 the size of the one it is in. It is over potted in an attempt to get the tree growing vigorously again, and let a few branches escape to thicken and bulk up lower branches. If I can get it to fill out some, I might change the front, but right now this is the 'best' front. Its a work in progress.

Comments on where it should go from here will be appreciated, though basically I am planning to merely fill out and broaden the canopy that I have with more finely ramified branch structure.

August 2012


April 2008

Leo Schordje
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Re: pomegranate & trees from seed and growing in ground vs in a pot

Post  Khaimraj Seepersad on Mon Nov 12, 2012 10:05 pm

Leo,

my friend told me to look out for this post from you. Thank you.

Have you tried just planting the tree in the ground in a large colander for the few months and allowing the bottom branch to extend?
Or just a large pot ?

It's attractive and I wouldn't have any problems owning it.
Good job and 41 years, a nana, impressive!

Thanks for showing.
Khaimraj

Khaimraj Seepersad
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Re: pomegranate & trees from seed and growing in ground vs in a pot

Post  coh on Mon Nov 12, 2012 10:45 pm

Leo,

I think it's great that you've had this tree for so long! That in and of itself is an accomplishment, and it looks very healthy.

It is a little sobering to realize that after 41 years the trunk is still less than 1". What sizes of pots did you grow this in over the years? Did you generally keep the pot pretty small, or did you gradually increase the size to encourage faster growth? Do you think you've learned enough about soils and fertilizing that you could get faster growth (and a thicker tree) if you were to start another one today?

coh
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Re: pomegranate & trees from seed and growing in ground vs in a pot

Post  Leo Schordje on Tue Nov 13, 2012 4:33 pm

Khaimraj Seepersad wrote:Leo,
my friend told me to look out for this post from you. Thank you.

Have you tried just planting the tree in the ground in a large colander for the few months and allowing the bottom branch to extend? Or just a large pot ?

It's attractive and I wouldn't have any problems owning it.
Good job and 41 years, a nana, impressive!
Thanks for showing.
Khaimraj

Thanks. I didn't hear, or think of planting a tree in a colander until maybe 5 or so years ago, so that thought never occurred to me. I have 8 trees right now in either colanders or pond baskets. For this tree, I did plant it in the ground for the summer very early in its life for one summer, while I was traveling and unable to care for it. Our summers are too short for planting in the ground to do much good. Average frost dates, before 'global warming' hit were May 15 for last frost and October 10 for first frost. Too short a season for tropical trees. This last decade it has definitely been warmer, but at best I get an additional 30 days of frost free. Were I to start another pomegranate, I would definitely use colanders and plant the colander in a growing bed for the summer.

Right now I am keeping this over potted so I can let escape branches grow from that first branch to size it up.

Leo Schordje
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Re: pomegranate & trees from seed and growing in ground vs in a pot

Post  Khaimraj Seepersad on Tue Nov 13, 2012 4:49 pm

Leo,

as far as I know Punica nana is able to handle up to zone 9

http://www.gardenweb.com/zones/europe/hze6.html

So you might be able to factor in a few more months in the ground with another try, a new pomegranate.
In Florence [ Firenze ] on the map, the nana's stayed outside all year round.
It snows heavily in Florence and gets very dark and gray with very little sun.

I believe the nana is more cold tolerant than the Punica g.
There is also a minima available as well.

Here in the tropics only the Punica g, with the large fruit does well. The nana gives trouble, dying back frequently.
I am experimenting with seeds borne and grown locally.
Congrats once again.
Later.
Khaimraj

Khaimraj Seepersad
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Re: pomegranate & trees from seed and growing in ground vs in a pot

Post  Leo Schordje on Tue Nov 13, 2012 5:40 pm

coh wrote:Leo,

I think it's great that you've had this tree for so long! That in and of itself is an accomplishment, and it looks very healthy.

It is a little sobering to realize that after 41 years the trunk is still less than 1". What sizes of pots did you grow this in over the years? Did you generally keep the pot pretty small, or did you gradually increase the size to encourage faster growth? Do you think you've learned enough about soils and fertilizing that you could get faster growth (and a thicker tree) if you were to start another one today?

I feel confident if I were to start another pomegranate from seed, it could be up over 2 inches in less than 5 years, knowing what I know now. But I am not starting any new trees that are not able to cope with my climate. If its not winter hardy, I don't want it. I'm trying to cure myself of "climate zone envy". I do have a number of flowering quince I started with small pots from Brent Walston. All the 2.5 inch pot cuttings went into 1 gallon nursery cans or pond baskets. They are very cold hardy.

I have learned a lot about fertilizers recently, and am testing what I have learned. So far so good. I will post my results once I have a year or two with this latest mix.

Yeah, when stodgy old farts like myself tell the enthusiastic newbie you really need to thicken that trunk before you do any serious bonsai training - we mean it. As a beginner I was treating this tree with 'finished' technique. So 41 years later and my trunk is still less than 1 inch in diameter. Brent Walston really says it best, and clearly in his articles. First you grow the trunk. Don't worry about the rest. If you follow his articles, he grows his trees segment by segment. Trunk and nebari first, then the fist segment after the 'trunk chop', then the next. He doesn't worry much about the finished design until after constructing the raw material for the base. His only worry about branches is to make sure he has a lot of branches, so he has future options available.

The pomegranate was mostly developed by clip and grow. Most years all new growth was pruned to the first set of leaves, not leaving any escape branches. The end result, no trunk development, no thickness. The plus side being the beauty of not having a single straight branch on the tree. Most every branch has lots of movement. The tree doubled in thickness since 2003 when I started going to club meetings and seeing what people actually did. I do enjoy this old friend, and I am in the habit of pruning it back to 'amateur show shape' every year so I can enjoy it. Since 2003 I have begun leaving escape branches on the tree more than one season. That is why the trunk doubled in thickness since 2003.

Yeah, even though this tree is not properly proportioned yet, all the branches have lots of movement. Don't see that in most pomegranates. Most tend to have a lot of straight runs in their branches. Mine are all small bends and turns. I used wire on this only in a few years, only recently. It is largely a clip and grow tree. The 2012 photo shows wire, I was getting too much vertical new growth, so I bent all the growing ends down, so the new 'verticals' would shoot out horizontally, or nearly so. I've done this maybe 4 times over the history of the tree. Once these bends set, I won't have to do it again for several years, it will be back to clip and grow. Except for the strategic placement of escape branches.

The first branch had been broken way back at least 3 times in this tree's history, at least twice by feral house cats and once by me being clumbsy with my wiring, and bending the wrong way with that branch. That is why it is the weakest element on this tree. I need to fix it this next couple years or remove it. But removing it would definitely be a commitment toward a long time interval before the tree could be shown. I hope with escape branches, and aggressive fertilizing, and good sun, I can have this show worthy within 5 years.

Cat lovers, keep your cats in your home. Don't let them wander the neighborhood. They will wander into your neighbor's yard and knock over or break their bonsai. They also catch and eat song birds. The good news about feral cats, is that in my neighborhood a pack of coyotes has established itself. The neighborhood feral cat, rabbit and deer populations have dropped somewhat, and that is a good thing. Fun to hear the coyotes yipping and yapping at night. Not something I ever thought I would hear at home, in a very urban-suburban setting.

Leo Schordje
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Re: pomegranate & trees from seed and growing in ground vs in a pot

Post  Leo Schordje on Tue Nov 13, 2012 6:26 pm

Khaimraj Seepersad wrote:Leo,
as far as I know Punica nana is able to handle up to zone 9
http://www.gardenweb.com/zones/europe/hze6.html
So you might be able to factor in a few more months in the ground with another try, a new pomegranate.
In Florence [ Firenze ] on the map, the nana's stayed outside all year round.
It snows heavily in Florence and gets very dark and gray with very little sun.
I believe the nana is more cold tolerant than the Punica g. There is also a minima available as well.

Here in the tropics only the Punica g, with the large fruit does well. The nana gives trouble, dying back frequently.
I am experimenting with seeds borne and grown locally.
Congrats once again.
Later.
Khaimraj

Hi, thanks, I did set up a growing bed, for in ground growing of my other trees. I will likely put this in a collander and plant it in the growing bed for the summer. But it does need to be lifted, as I really am in zone 5b right now. Winter lows of -5 F (roughly - 18 C) are still common here. Twenty years ago this house, same address, was considered to be in zone 4b. We have warmed up that much in the last two decades. That has given me a full month longer growing season. Who know's how warm the next decade will be. I have decided within the next 2 years I will have to install central air conditioning. It just doesn't cool off at night like it used too during the summer.

I have a large collection of orchids, and they tend to be my 'money makers', so they get priority in my indoor light garden. When winter comes, the tropical bonsai have to suffer in the shadows on the edges of my light garden. So I am not planning on starting any more bonsai that are not fully winter hardy outdoors here. There is physically no room to expand my light garden. This is what it looks like just before an orchid show in October. http://www.iosoc.com/forward-2/misc%20photos/lightsetup-main.jpg
Squeezing in trees for the winter is not easy.

But the techniques for bulking up seedlings are the good part of this conversation. In many ways, in terms of why we grow them, think of the flowering quince as our northern winter hardy version of your pomegranate. We grow the quinces for the flowers, and occasionally let them develop fruit for display. We have standard and dwarf forms of quinces, and both are grown more for the fact that they can have scattered blooms all season long, rather than focusing on just one mass bloom as in flowering cherries or apples. Everything mentioned in this thread about putting size on my pomegranate can be applied to winter hardy species. So this conversation is really useful.

And as mentioned earlier on this page and in 2 other threads, I do have a bunch of winter hardy trees I am starting from seed. Knowing what I know now, it shouldn't take 40 years from seed to get a 1 inch diameter trunk. Raising trees from seed is fun, and if I follow the techniques, (planting in the ground, large colanders, escape branches, etc.) something nice can be had in a decade or so.

Leo Schordje
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Re: pomegranate & trees from seed and growing in ground vs in a pot

Post  coh on Tue Nov 13, 2012 7:37 pm

Wow, look at all those orchids! Now that's a grow room. I assume it's a basement? (edited to add) Do you keep them under lights all year, or put some of them out for the summer?

What are the fixtures on the ceiling, metal halide? What wattage? I've just dug out an old 400 w metal halide fixture that I had in storage for the past 10 years, it's now set up over my small tropical bonsai collection. I had forgotten how much heat those things put out.

I haven't started any trees from seeds, but have acquired quite a number of small seedlings (year or two old) and cuttings. Many of the hardy ones are in the ground and I have been tracking their size each year (height and trunk thickness). Some put on girth very quickly, starting in the first year, while others seem to need to get "settled in". I've learned quickly that the roots can get out of control if attention is not paid...

coh
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Re: pomegranate & trees from seed and growing in ground vs in a pot

Post  Leo Schordje on Wed Nov 14, 2012 1:35 am

coh wrote:Wow, look at all those orchids! Now that's a grow room. I assume it's a basement? (edited to add) Do you keep them under lights all year, or put some of them out for the summer?

What are the fixtures on the ceiling, metal halide? What wattage? I've just dug out an old 400 w metal halide fixture that I had in storage for the past 10 years, it's now set up over my small tropical bonsai collection. I had forgotten how much heat those things put out.

I haven't started any trees from seeds, but have acquired quite a number of small seedlings (year or two old) and cuttings. Many of the hardy ones are in the ground and I have been tracking their size each year (height and trunk thickness). Some put on girth very quickly, starting in the first year, while others seem to need to get "settled in". I've learned quickly that the roots can get out of control if attention is not paid...

Yep, quite a sight isn't it. Orchid Grower Gone Wild. My carpenter friend thinks its quite a fright. The light garden is in the basement. If I were to do this over again I would definitely install a vapor barrier to protect the rest of the house from damage due to high humidity. I do have moisture damage from humidity condensing on window sashes etc on the upper floors. Oh well. More to fix before I sell.

The high intensity discharge lamps are all High Pressure Sodium lamps. I found them better in terms of light output than Metal Halide. For my set up 430 Watt Sun Agro bulbs are the HPS bulb of choice. I do have a 1000 Watt HPS lamp and the heat it throws is definitely a problem. I have fans running 24 hrs/day in the basement to keep air moving. No matter where you stand there is enough a breeze to make the leaves of grassy plants wave a little. Also an exhaust fan to pull heat and moist air out of the basement. The exhaust fan runs from late February through December. Only in very cold weather do I completely close the windows for fresh air. Fans are critical to success in a light garden.

Other lamps I use, for seedlings and smaller plants - ordinary 48 inch shop lights with the inexpensive $1.49 Cool White 40 Watt T-12 lamp. Very inexpensive to set these up. Great for plants less than 12 inches tall. You want as much as possible all the leaves to be within 12 inches of these lamps. Hang the shop lights as close to the plants as you can and you will be able to raise sun loving plants quite well. If you only have shade loving plants, the height of the shop lights can be up to 24 inches from the plants.

My favorite new technology replacement for some of the now 25 year old HPS fixtures are 48 inch T5 Fluorescent Lamps. A well designed fixture is critical, I prefer Sun Blaze, check out you local Brew and Grow Hydro Shop. If you don't have one near you, check out High Times. The reefer growers always have the best in the latest technology for Light Gardening. They have the financial resources to work these things out. The rest of us can benefit from their investments in developing this technology.

The T-5 lamp fixture I am using is 48 inches, has 8 lamps and draws roughly 375 Watts. I use it as a replacement for the 430 Watt HPS Fixtures. The tubes are T5, 6500K, so they are sunlight bright, and with the high quality Sun Blaze reflector, the light delivered to the plants seems to be every bit as intense over the whole area as the HPS was, with a color that is easier on they eyes than the orange color of the HPS. The T-5 fixtures do throw heat, but it is not as intense as the HPS. The up side, I don't spend as much as my neighbors heating the house in winter. Down side is the heat the lights generate in the summer time. I was not happy this summer. I do put some orchids outside in summer, but not enough to turn off more than a small part of the light garden.

Day length for the light garden is 18 hour day, 6 hour night, and I follow this 365 days a year. No adjustment for seasons. Most orchids (only a few exceptions, and I don't grow those) are day length neutral for blooming. Longer day length can make up for lower light intensities. So a long day length lets me raise the height of the fixtures a little, illuminating a wider area, allowing me to pack more plants in under the lights.

Leo Schordje
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