Japanese Beech Problems

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Japanese Beech Problems

Post  Stephen_S on Sun Apr 27, 2014 9:29 pm

Hi,

I noticed that my Japanese Beech Fagus Crenata, hasn't been doing well for a while now. So two weeks ago, I repotted it and used good quality substrate. Whilst repotting, I was very surprised at the lack or roots on the tree and I think this must have been caused by poor drainage and over watering. However, over the last two weeks; its been looking a lot better and the leaves are just beginning to break out.

Now to my question. The top half of the tree is far stronger than the bottom. But given It has a poor root system at the moment, can I cut back the crown and the other strong areas of the tree, or should I leave it until the tree recovers?. If so for how long. I live in Manchester, England.

Any help you can give me would be much appreciated.

Stephen

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Japanese Beech Problems

Post  MKBonsai on Mon Apr 28, 2014 12:18 pm

I would leave it to grow for at least 12 months in the hope that the new top growth will help new root growth - which it should do all other things being equal. It may need longer as, depending on health, vigour and size it can take more than 12 months for some trees to recover to the point where they can be safely chopped back severely. Depending on how much the tree is worth it may be best to give it 24 months just to be on the safe side. Hopefully the lack of roots isn't the result of vine weevil attack or similar and the change of soil will help it going forward. (I haven't had any issues on beech trees with vine weevils so can't say if they are immune or not).

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Re: Japanese Beech Problems

Post  marie1uk on Mon Apr 28, 2014 8:09 pm

My JWB is very top dominant too. Let it recover from the repot then use leaf cutting as a twofold method of balancing vigour and keeping inner buds alive (so you have live buds to cut back to).

Partial leaf cut the apex when the leaves have hardened off, folding the leaves in half and cutting against the lines in the leaf. This will give you a beech leaf shape (see 2nd link below). Alternatively, one in 2 leaf pairs can be pruned away fully if they start to form a dense canopy. Also prune the apex back to 1 or 2 buds after they have extended to 4 or 5.

In the lower third don't leaf cut and allow the buds to extend fully. We want to pump this section up as much as possible so leave on as much leaf mass as you can. Only where these leaves start to shade out the inner buds should you consider leaf cutting. When you've finished step back and guess timate the leaf mass - hopefully after your intervention the bottom branches should more closely match the apex in terms of leaf area. You might have to repeat this for a few years to get it rebalanced again before less radical treatment of the top.


As you say this area is weak this shouldn't be a problem til it gets vigourous again. I'd also review your branch structure with a view to working out if the branches above are shading out the ones below. If so some pruning may be needed to reduce their spread or density and allowing some light to enter.

HTH.

PS Some links to read up on:

http://nebaribonsai.wordpress.com/category/deciduous/japanese-beech/

http://www.bonsaibasho.com/micromarket/#/library/library/a329




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Re: Japanese Beech Problems

Post  Stephen_S on Mon Apr 28, 2014 10:31 pm

Thank you for your replies so far. To give you a little more information. Initially, the tree was planted in moler type cat litter, this has become popular in the UK in recent years. When I removed the tree from the pot, I found that the substrate was completely water logged, and I'm sure this was the cause of the poor vigour.

The cat litter hadn't broken up, but in retrospect, I think that the size of the individual pieces were so small, that it didn't allow for decent drainage and air circulation. So I don't think I'll be using cat litter again.

The tree is about 30" tall and there is thick branches in the top third, which should have been cut back years ago. I agree that I should wait to do this. But for how long? sometime in mid summer, or next year?

Stephen


Last edited by Stephen_S on Tue Apr 29, 2014 3:01 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Re: Japanese Beech Problems

Post  marc74 on Tue Apr 29, 2014 6:07 am

Don't ever risk cat litter

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Japanese Beech Problems and the use of Cat Litter

Post  MKBonsai on Tue Apr 29, 2014 7:42 am

A lots been written about cat litter - see the Bonsai4me.com website run by Harry Harrington as an example. I've been using "Sophisticat" baked clay granules from Pets at Home. This contains fairly large (up to about 6mm) particles plus smaller particles. It doesn't turn to mush and I've never had any problems whatsoever with over retention of water. That's not to say there isn't better material out there however, but I can recommend this particular brand and have hundreds of thriving trees growing in it.

If you start serious top level surgery on a weak tree be prepared to potentially lose it - I would leave it at least 12 months if it has not much root due to root die back.

JT

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Re: Japanese Beech Problems

Post  Deano on Tue Apr 29, 2014 9:14 am

marc74 wrote:Don't ever risk cat litter

Couldn't disagree more. Just make sure you use non clumping/dust free. Sophisticat is essentially the same as Tesco Low dust non clumping. There's an article somewhere which showed that it's made by the same people that make hort molar clay for the UK.

That's not to say it's ideal for every tree on it's own but everything I have is in at least some CL and happy. It's drains freely and retains moisture nicely.

There are scare stories out there spread by 'certain' bonsai retailers, but then they have their own agendas to fulfil by shifting Akadama etc - and oddly enough it's those retailers whose trees I've had the worst experience with in terms of clumping/disintegration of substrate at repot time.

Having had to hack that stuff out of rootballs(set like concrete), losing a lot of root in the process, I can safely say I'll never be risking the health of my trees with Akadama- it simply doesn't stay together in the UK climate well enough in my experience

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Re; Japanese Beech Problems and Cat Litter

Post  MKBonsai on Tue Apr 29, 2014 11:32 am

On average, I've found the Tesco offering to generally be a smaller particle size than the large bags of Sophisticat. I therefore tend to mix one with the other to get a more varied mixture.

JT

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Re: Japanese Beech Problems

Post  Stephen_S on Tue Apr 29, 2014 12:00 pm

I used the cat litter from Tesco's, but for me, the individual pieces were far too small, being about 1 to 1.5mm. I'm new here, so I don't know if I can mention Bonsai retailers, so I'll just say that I replaced it with the premium mixture No2 from a well known UK Bonsai retailer beginning with K. I was happy with this, except that the company added some kind of soil, and I would have prefered to go completely inorganic.

As for the Beech, I think its generally agreed that the prunning should be done next year, but I'm OK to leaf cut in a few weeks time.

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Re: Japanese Beech Problems

Post  marc74 on Tue Apr 29, 2014 1:37 pm

I was using his mix 2 but then went to bonsai workshop recently and he said it was mostly inferior junk with added bark and not very good at holding any water. just washes through

cat litter is a risk due to adding extra bits that they may not advise about.  not its main function so a risk.

I'm trying akadama now in uk. price was good and advised is the better to use.  many varying opinions on everything though


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Re: Japanese Beech Problems

Post  Stephen_S on Thu May 01, 2014 1:27 am

Just another quick question on this issue please. Given that the tree has just had a repot and also has a poor root system, what should I do about feeding?

I normally feed my trees with chicken manure pellets, plus a monthly high nitrogen liquid feed. Would this be appropriate for the tree, or should I reduce the feeding?

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Re: Japanese Beech Problems

Post  Richard S on Thu May 01, 2014 8:56 pm

I'm afraid I can't resist having my two pence worth regarding the cat litter = bonsai soil debate but please bear with me because it is relevant to the original question.

I've only been doing bonsai for three and a half years but for three of those I've been using Tesco Low Dust Light Weight Cat Litter as either a component in a soil mix or as the main substrate.

Not only have I found it to be very effective but I've actually used it to successfully nurse two very sick trees back to health. Both trees (a Chinese Elm the Deshojo Maple in my user photo) were suffering from serious root problems which showed through a refusal of the trees to extend any new growth at all and from a frightening level of branch die back.

On re-potting I found many dead and rotten roots entombed in the claggy airless soil (which I the case of the Maple included quite a lot of Akadama)! Both trees were re-potted in the Tesco cat litter with a small amount of bark chips added and both have made miraculous recoveries.

The Elm stayed in it's recovery pot for two years but was re-potted this spring. The transformation in the root system genuinely amazed me! The Maple is now entering it's second season and like last year is growing very strongly and extending shoots from virtually all areas.

The only difference in treatment the trees received was the root prune and re-pot into the cat litter soil.

I didn't feed either until I saw healthy extension growth (although that began almost as soon as the trees leafed out) and then only occasionally with a relatively weak NPK 4-4-4 liquid fertiliser.

Now I'm not an expert and I'm not pretending to be. I know that in bonsai terms even three years is not really a long term test of any product but the problem you have had with your Beech sounds very similar to the problems I experienced and I found cat litter to be the solution not the problem.

I don't know if this helps but that's been my (admittedly limited) experience anyway.

Actually I will add one caveat to that. I found early on that the fairly small and often rather angular particles in Tesco low Dust Light Weight could wedge in the mesh I used over the drain holes and in rare occasions block them completely. As a result I now always add a drainage layer of grit. Problem solved.

Anyway, that was my two pence worth   Smile  and no I don't have shares in Tesco or the Danish company who produce the cat litter.

Regards

Richard

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Re: Japanese Beech Problems

Post  Stephen_S on Fri May 02, 2014 12:57 am

Hi Richard, and thanks very much for your comments.

This is the same product that I used, and I do know that many people use it very successfully. However, I didn't add any bark, which may be one reason why I had problems. But I must say, that I would still be concerned by the very small particle size of the media.

I'm a big admirer of Walter Pall, and he says that you can't separate, the substrate, watering and feeding in Bonsai. In other words, each is interdependent on the other. Therefore, having a substrate with a larger surface area allows you to feed and water more heavily, and this should increase the rate of development of your trees. My point is, I don't think particle sizes of no more than 2mm is really enough.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was certainly watering a lot, and found the roots to be soaking wet when I repotted. But in fact, I also have a Deshojo, which is still in the cat litter. It was too late to repot, as the leaves were already out. So I've reduced the amount of watering, as I'm assuming that the roots would be too wet, and fingers crossed, it seems to be doing very well.

Now its very early days, but along with my sick Beech I also repotted two other trees with No2 soil mix, and they are doing better than they have ever done at this time of the year. So if you are happy with your cat litter, thats fair enough. But have you got anything to compare it with? And would you dare to use anything stronger than a 4-4-4 fertiliser. For example, I know that some people use nitrogen levels of 27 and even more. But you could only use those levels, if you were sure that your drainage was excellent.

In conclusion, I don't think I'm against cat litter, and crucially, you also used bark and I didn't. But perhaps we should experiment more, which to me would add to interest to Bonsai.

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Re: Japanese Beech Problems

Post  Richard S on Fri May 02, 2014 7:26 pm

I once read an article on the now defunct Art of Bonsai web site that suggested that one of the reasons why there is so much difference of opinion regarding soil among bonsai enthusiasts is because it is actually possible to grow bonsai in virtually any medium. You just have to apply an appropriate watering/feeding regime.

Having said that, some mediums will obviously make your life a lot easier than others Wink  To some extent this observation is rather similar to Walter Palls. It's not just about the soil it's about your whole approach.

The trick I guess is finding a substrate/mix which suits your approach. The cat litter appears to work for me but I know it's certainly not the only way and I fully agree that it would be interesting to experiment more.

So, regarding the question of watering and feeding, I water once daily during the growing season and quite heavily. Water readily flows from the drain holes within seconds. In the past I doubt that I was fertilising as frequently as I could have been but I have occasionally used stronger feeds. Mind you, only a bit stronger.

I'm talking of NPK 6-3-5 or at most 7-7-7 at a dilution rate of 15ml to 4.5 Ltr.

This to me has appeared to give good results but as I say I'm no expert and I'm not trying to pretend I am. Having said that, what feed have you been using and how often? A nitrogen content of 27 (assuming a similar dilution rate) sounds excessively high to me and I would definitely be worried about burning roots.

As Colin Lewis put it in one of his books "remember you are growing a miniature tree, not a prize marrow" Laughing  Laughing  Laughing I have heard that over fertilising will kill a tree far quicker than not fertilising.

Mind you, that might just be my ignorance again. I certainly haven't tried anything that strong.

I think more experienced growers are going to have step in to advise you (and me) on that point.

Good luck with the Beech anyway, they are beautiful trees.

Cheers

Richard

I

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Re: Japanese Beech Problems

Post  Stephen_S on Fri May 02, 2014 9:09 pm

I use chicken manure and a monthly liquid feed, NPK of 6-4.5-4. I have occasionally used something stronger, but not very often. I agree with you that nitrogen levels of 27 sounds very high, which is why I said you would probably  have to have very good drainage in order to allow you to water more. In fact, this is the approach taken by Walter Pall. He simply buys the cheapest liquid fertiliser that he can find, and multiplies the dosage by a factor of three or four. He also says that people worry too much about substrate, so I think you are definitely right on this point. Before I attempt higher nitrogen levels, I will take advice from more experienced members of the forum then me.

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Re: Japanese Beech Problems

Post  Kev Bailey on Fri May 02, 2014 9:32 pm

There is a lot of speculation about cat litter on the web. The truth is that you have to understand that there are many different types. Only one type is suitable as a bonsai substrate. High fired moler or Danish moler is a perfect bonsai substrate that is stable, moisture retentive yet well drained, (holds moisture but allows excessive moisture to drain through) I've used it as a soil component for almost all of my trees for 30 years and wish that I could afford to buy more of it!

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