Bonsaist’s Nightmare

My trees, or more precisely what is left of them after the disastrous spring of 2018, have started to grow rather merrily this year a few weeks ago. This picture was taken on April 28. and normally this sight would be a source of delight for me after a drab and colourless winter. This year it was a nightmare to behold.

As you can see, the trees are piled up under the benches and not on them – that is because this is how they were stacked for the winter, out of the wind, huddled up and askew, so water does not freeze in the pots in such a way that would break them apart. I had trouble to replant my trees for a few years by now, because I just could not get vacation time off at work, but that would not have been a problem this year. This year I was sick for six weeks non stop, and nature does not kindly wait until one heals. That meant that works did not continue at snail’s pace and on weekends only, as it was in the last years – they stopped completely.

However replanting bonsai trees, finished or even half-finished like most of these is a must. The roots fill up the whole container during vegetation season and eat up all the nutrients. The substrate gets compacted and does not take water particularly well anymore. There are species that can do without replanting for a year or two, but not more, and there are also species that simply must be replanted every year, no exceptions. The roots must be cut back and for some trees the time window at which this can be done can be very narrow and if the roots overgrow for too much and too long, they cannot be cut at all without significant risk to the tree’s health and life. When the tree starts to grow, it generally means that safe time to cut the roots is rapidly nearing its end – and in the picture above, all trees have started to grow.

Luckily the weather cooled down a bit again when I finally got time and was fit enough to work, so the trees slowed down their frantic spring growth again. Nevertheless I had to hurry up, a lot.

First thing that I have done to save time was to buy pre-made substrate this year and plant all trees in it. It is more expensive, and the pre-made substrate has some downsides (but to be fair some upsides too), but I just could not manage to mix my own substrate this year and still replant all the trees.

Second thing that I have done was to completely reorganize the glass house where my pomegranates grow – see the picture to the right. Those had to be replanted too. They are not in pots yet, but the roots must be cut as well, otherwise they would grow too long, thick and deep and the plant could not be put safely into the pot when the time comes. But pomegranates were grown very significantly already, and the only way to increase their chances to survive was to cut about 3/4 of their crowns (coincidentally, in the background you can see one of my three fig trees – it has sprouted nice sticks and I had to cut it back for place reasons – you might remember last year I feared it died due to late frost).

When the glass house was reorganized, I could take the trees that are in pots now in there and work on re-potting and neither rain nor snow could stop me. But, I hate to say it, I had to cut corners and I have done a rather sloppy job with many trees. Just like with the pomegranates, I had to cut crowns a bit more than I would normally do, so aesthetics went out of the window for the moment, important was to secure survival.

The same treatments have got all the trees that are not in pots but freely in a flowerbed, which is done either to rejuvenate damaged trees, or to allow for quicker and stronger growth in general for trees that are at the beginning of their journey to becoming a bonsai, like having their roots slowly reduced etc.

When I finally finished, I got a bit of luck this year – the weather got cold, but not freezing cold, for the next two weeks. We had even a bit of late snow.

That is not something that would make me happy, normally, but it did this time. It meant the trees grew slower, they needed less water and the constant drizzle and rain meant that unlike last year, they were not in danger of getting over-dried and overheated at just the wrong moment. So far, so good, by last inspection yesterday evening there were no signs of impeding disaster. I hope that when the weather gets warmer again (according to forecast this weekend), that they all resume their growth  without problems. Lets hope.

Would some of you be interested in short series “Bonsai for Beginners”? I have been thinking about writing up something for people who might want to have a few bonsai trees or perhaps just one without making it a big-scale hobby – like what species to choose from and how to care for them, some generic advice etc. Let me know in the comments.


  1. rq says

    Yes, this would be interesting!
    I hope all your replants recover and grow well this year!

  2. Jazzlet says

    Glad you managed the repotting even if it was a bit more rough and ready than you wanted! And I too would be interested in Bonsai for Beginners.

  3. lumipuna says

    Not really into bonsai, but I fantasize about keeping a tiny fruit tree on my glasshouse-like balcony. It could be wintered in a cold storage room, which provides shelter from rapid temperature fluctuations, rain and the drying spring sun. A grapevine could be pruned back for winter and grown much bigger, along wooden supports, during summer. I already have the supports built, for tomatoes if nothing else.

    This year I also have a potted Ficus elastica houseplant I got for free, and it looks like it might grow into quite an impressive size on my balcony over the summer. I don’t have a space for storing it over winter, except for a cutting that could be kept indoors.

  4. Nightjar says

    Would some of you be interested in short series “Bonsai for Beginners”?

    Yes, I’d love it! I once tried to make a bonsai tree and failed, quite likely because I didn’t read enough about it to know what I was doing. I’ve been thinking of giving it another try, so a short series would be really nice.

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