Beginner question

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Beginner question

Post  mimstrel on Sun Feb 26, 2012 2:30 am

Hello everyone!
First, to introduce myself - I'm Emily, but you can call me Mim. I'm a grad student (Biology) in Illinois (USA). I've been interested in bonsai for a long time and finally decided to take the leap and buy a couple of plants.

Now, being a grad student means funding is short. As in, "Do I want a tree, or do I want to eat sometime this month?" short. I don't have anywhere to collect wild trees, nor do I have a yard. So I opted to go with purchasing yearling trees and practicing my patience growing them in pots. I've read a few places that gallon-sized grow-out pots are a good choice for this, so that's what I've been planning on using.

I originally intended on about four plants. Curiosity led me to want a couple of "fruit trees" even though I'm not even sure bonsai versions of fruiting peach and cherry will ever grow fruit, and certainly it's not in my best interest to let any fruit develop for many many years! (Anybody want to weigh in on the fruit-producing-bonsai question? Do they? Should they?) At the very least, they have lovely blossoms in the spring. And I wanted at least one, maybe two non-fruiting deciduous trees.

Here's where the issue comes in.
I got some great deals on packages of trees online - especially the fruit trees - I got 8 for the price of one! - So I have a total of 13 trees on the way: 4 cherry (2 each of two different varieties), 2 peach, 2 apple, 3 trident maple, one river birch, and one katsura. I figure that this would have been a nice place to start growing out to select the best candidates from - IF I had the space for thirteen trees. Realistically, five or maybe six gallon-sized pots would fit on my balcony and still leave room for me. I think I've managed to re-home one cherry and one apple.

1) Can I use smaller pots than gallon-sized? I'm not looking to grow big trees - the fruit trees maybe about 24 inches tall, the others probably shorter than that.
2) If I want to do either the maples or the remaining three cherries as a group planting, could I start them growing in the same pot?

Thanks,
mim

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Re: Beginner question

Post  Poink88 on Sun Feb 26, 2012 2:47 am

Mim,

WELCOME!!!

You will be amazed how much you can fit in a space when you want/need to so be careful LOL. (hint: shelvings). Re: cost...check Craigslist for free items. I get a lot of trees, plants, bushes, shrubs, revolving stool (for bonsai), etc. through Craigslist myself. I've seen free shelvings pop up in my area regularly.

I prefer using dish pans than regular pots myself but I doubt you should go smaller than a gallon pot. Keep the trees separate until you are decided on your group planting design. Again, welcome to the madness Very Happy

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Re: Beginner question

Post  Orion on Sun Feb 26, 2012 2:59 am

Hi Mim,

Do you have any pics of them? This way the other members can see what you are working on.

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Re: Beginner question

Post  mimstrel on Sun Feb 26, 2012 3:00 am

Thanks!
A shelf is possible... if I can find one that would fit and is allowed. The apartment complex has some strange and complex rules about the sorts of furniture allowed on balconies, not to mention the right-hand wall is the access to the water heater (side note: dumbest location for a water heater, ever.) and the left-hand side is the door into the apartment. And there's not that much space in between.

What do you mean by dish pans? Like, the metal kind you boil spaghetti in?

Orion: I will post photos as soon as the plants arrive. I ordered online, so they'll head my way hopefully Monday or Tuesday.

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Re: Beginner question

Post  Poink88 on Sun Feb 26, 2012 3:43 am

Like this. http://www.amazon.com/Sterilite-12-Quart-Dish-White-12-Pack/dp/B004GXB6LE/ref=sr_1_15?ie=UTF8&qid=1330227166&sr=8-15

I buy the black version from Walmart for $1.97 each. You need to drill holes on the bottom though. I use 2" wide gypsum wall board tape on the drilled holes as screens.
Sample of the dishpan...and free plants through Craigslist Wink
http://ibonsaiclub.forumotion.com/t9153-yaupon-holly-ilex-vomitoria-tips-needed?highlight=yaupon
http://ibonsaiclub.forumotion.com/t9077-apple-malus-quince-urban-yamadori?highlight=apple

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Re: Beginner question

Post  mimstrel on Sun Feb 26, 2012 4:22 am

Ah. I actually have a stash of the plastic "shoeboxes" that are very similar in size, shape, and composition; they haven't been used for anything in a while and I could definitely put some holes in the bottom.

A couple more questions:
Does my choice of potting media depend on the species of tree I'm growing? For instance, should I use something that retains a little more water for the birch? I see a lot of places that say "use something that drains well" and I have some idea of what does and doesn't drain (the loamy clay in my parents backyard doesn't drain; the sand at my grandma's does) but I'm not sure exactly what I'm going for here. Am I mixing something that retains water, like regular potting mix, with something like sand or pea gravel?

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Re: Beginner question

Post  Poink88 on Sun Feb 26, 2012 4:29 am

Soil is a major topic. Ask 10 people and you will get 12 different answers. Wink

I am using Turface MVP mostly now...it drains well and retains water at the same time. I amend it as needed with potting soil, moss, decomposed granite, chopped pine bark, etc. depending on the trees needs. Your weather and humidity will affect your ideal mix as well. Others also use; lava rock, akadama, charcoal, grit, haydite, perlite, vermiculite, etc.

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Re: Beginner question

Post  mimstrel on Sun Feb 26, 2012 5:02 am

So basically yes, the birch is probably going to want some extra water retention, and for everything else, mix any of the above according to what will drain well but retain enough moisture to keep plants healthy in the local climate. I think I can manage that. Very Happy
Thanks!

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Re: Beginner question

Post  Poink88 on Sun Feb 26, 2012 5:19 am

Don't forget air, the roots need to breath so let the soil dry a bit between watering. This is the main reason why clay and "mucky" fine soil is discouraged and usually sifted out.

In my mix...I am using about 80% Turface now (it is evolving).

There are lots of good info here and online. Read about soil, watering, fertilizing, and about each of your plants. Good luck!

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Re: Beginner question

Post  mimstrel on Mon Feb 27, 2012 4:28 am

A couple more questions. I'm getting things ready to go - got my substrate and planters figured out today.
1. If I'm planning to do some of them in slanting or cascade styles, do I plant them at an angle now, or plant them upright and then when they've matured a little re-plant at an angle?

2. Should I/Will I need to prune them at all before fall? The birch in particular is supposed to be a fast-growing variety, and I'm a little confused based on information found here vs. other sources as to whether I should be keeping it short (pruning or removing apical buds) or letting it grow and then chopping it back, to develop taper.

Thanks,
Mim

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Re: Beginner question

Post  fiona on Mon Feb 27, 2012 9:51 am

Hi Emily and welcome to the forum.

I don't think you can really answer those last questions until you have the plants there in front of you and you can see exactly what you have to work with. I am assuming these plants are coming on the form of very young saplings or whips, so to be honest you don't want to do very much other than let them develop for a year or so.

But as I said this is all guesswork until we see what you have actually got. Let's have a look at your pics once the plants have arrived and we can make some more informed suggestions.

Regards

Fiona

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Re: Beginner question

Post  mimstrel on Sat Mar 03, 2012 12:48 am

Got my trees yesterday, finished planting them today. It was too cold to be out planting (37 isn't bad, but the wind was managing to reach even my sheltered little balcony)

Important question:
It's supposed to get down to the twenties over night for probably a couple weeks yet. Should I move them up next to the window (behind the camera in the photo above) or will they probably be okay where they are? I'm not used to trees in pots outside, and now that they're here I'm kind of paranoid about killing them.

Anyway, here's the line-up:
River birch - about 12 inches tall now, but advertised as growing up to five feet in the first growing season. Now, obviously that's not gonna happen in a pot, but I'm not sure how tall I should let it get before I make a cut. Ideally, my plan is for this one to be finished at no more than 12 inches, and if I can manage it, I'd like to do it as a twin-trunk.


Katsura - This one I don't really have a plan for, except that I'm figuring on it being one of the larger trees in the end, 3' or so. It's about that tall now; do I need to do anything to it to start creating taper in the trunk, or just let it grow for now?


White Cherry #1 - All of the fruit trees (there's six of them total) need to do a lot of growing, so I'm assuming that's the order of business for this season... but just to check - if I want any of these to have fairly contorted trunks, should I start wiring at all now? Or does most of that happen by chopping off the main trunk once some girth has been established, and using a new leader?


White Cherry #2 - same deal.


Bing Cherry - this one has a little bit of a nice twist to the trunk at the moment. Would be nice if that would stick around as it grows.


Trident Maple #1, 2, 3, 4 - These four need to branch out a bit, but I'd like them to be small in the end as well, so this is another case where I'm not sure, should I be watching and cutting them down at some point, or just letting them grow this year and worrying about creating taper next year?
(Oh, yeah, and I somehow wound up with four even though the listing was for 3... Probably I will do three as a group planting and one as something else)





Red Apple - Another one for the "grow, grow, grow!" pile!


Peach Elberta #1 and 2 - Not planning on needing to cut these at all this year, but they also come in under, "wow, that's a really straight trunk... should I be doing something about that if I want these to end up, well, not straight?"


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Beginner Question

Post  bonsaisr on Sat Mar 03, 2012 1:16 am

Sorry, most of the fruit trees you have are not considered suitable for container growing or bonsai. They are orchard trees. Concentrate on the river birch, katsura, & trident maple. Yes, if you want movement in the trunks, wire them now. But don't make the curves exaggerated like you see in the stores. It is actually poor taste. Wire them in gentle curves. Get some books out of the library.
You can't make the river birch a twin trunk unless you have two of them.
As was previously advised, get these trees into large training pots, like dishpans or the washbasins they give out in the hospital. It will take several years before you can do anything else with them.
Later on, if you still want fruit-type trees, choose crabapple. flowering cherry, and other flowering trees grown for bonsai. Avoid grafted trees, unless they are grafted specifically for bonsai.
Since these trees have just been potted up, keep them frost free this spring. On the porch is OK, but against the house with some additional protection for now.
Iris

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Re: Beginner question

Post  mimstrel on Sat Mar 03, 2012 2:03 am

Thank you, Iris.
bonsaisr wrote:Sorry, most of the fruit trees you have are not considered suitable for container growing or bonsai. They are orchard trees.
What makes them unsuitable? I understand if they won't, or shouldn't be allowed to, fruit while grown as bonsai; but I'm not sure why the process works for crabapples, oaks, maples, and so on, and not other sorts of fruit trees.

I guess my theory is I will let them grow and see what happens; worst case I wind up with dead trees. And if they survive a few years but aren't doing well, hopefully I will eventually have a house and a yard where I can plant trees.

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Beginner Question

Post  bonsaisr on Sat Mar 03, 2012 3:34 pm

First of all, check to see if they are grafted. If not, are they named varieties? Were they sold as cutting grown or seed grown? If they are seedlings, they won't bloom for ten or fifteen years.
Orchard trees grown for fruit may not adapt well to living in a pot, with the exception of crabapples. As long as you have them, you can practice on them, but in the future you would do well to invest in starter trees that are grown for bonsai.
Iris

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Re: Beginner question

Post  mimstrel on Sat Mar 03, 2012 4:45 pm

Thanks!

The apple I don't think is a named variety (it just said "red apple"), but the others are "White Anatolian Cherry" and "Elberta Peach" which sound vaguely more official to me? They're rooted cuttings, not grown from seed. The place that I got them claimed that even orchard grown, they don't grow all that big (15 feet was the tallest), and "can be kept much smaller if desired." Ah, well, we'll see if they work. Mistakes are how you learn.

It's a good thing I got a variety of trees; that way if a subset of them do poorly, I'll still have the rest to work with.

Right now they're in two-gallon "grow bags" (supposed to be good for soil aeration), which is about as big as I have space for. I'd seen gallon-sized pots used for this part of the process, was hoping the two-gallon bags would work. I thought I had a few shoeboxes that would be similar to those wash tubs, but turns out they're smaller than I thought - the two-gallon bags are bigger.

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