What to do this month - Stephen le Roux - February 2019

Submitted by williamdewitt on Fri, 02/01/2019 - 16:00

Temperatures are very high, days are dry and then you add the wind. Altogether this weather conditions dry out our bonsai at a very fast rate. The temperature of a bonsai pot in the full sun can be very high. This situation just increases the rate of evaporation of the moisture.

Make sure your trees are protected against the sun and heat and water your trees regularly. I water my trees in the morning and afternoon. Try not to water your trees just before sundown on hot days. Water on the leaves promotes fungal diseases that attack the leaves of plants, i.e. grapes, coral trees, azaleas, maples, etc.

Mame trees can be placed on humidity trays. This can be made from drip trays filled with river sand or gravel. Put enough water in the drip tray to the level of the gravel/sand. Then place the mame on the gravel. Do not let the pot stand in the water. If the pot is placed in the water it will cause root rot on the mame. The idea is for the water in the drip tray to form a more humid environment around the tree. Several mame can be placed on the same drip tray.

With the water restrictions you can try and place your trees in a cooler corner and place some moss on top of the soil. Even if the moss get burned and damaged by the sun and heat it will still help to keep your soil cooler and help preventing lost of moisture.

The second growing faze will start soon. Though the growth in the second growing faze is slower, the trunks and branches fatten up fast. Keep track of wire on your trees and be careful of wire bite. Do general maintenance pruning.

For those of you who defoliated their trees, you will find that your trees started giving new leafs. Remember these leafs are very tender and young and need to be cared for during the heat and wind, until they have hardened off. If the wind or heat damage these leafs now, you will sit with them until autumn. Don’t forget to pinch out the new growth and treat the tree the same as in spring. Also don’t feed the trees you have defoliated until the new growth has hardened off. Feeding them now will increase the growth, giving bigger leafs and longer intermodal lengths.

It’s too late to defoliate Maples, but you can still do your Stinkwoods till middle of the month.

This is an important time in keeping track of the development of your junipers (apex growth) as well as the pruning and development of your pines. Because there isn’t so much to be done, this time of the year is a good time to work on your junipers. Spend some time on wiring them and planning their development. Remember that if you do a lot of work on junipers (pruning, wiring, and bending), you place the tree under a lot of stress and it’s a good idea to place the tree in a protected area (under shade cloth) for three weeks before gradually moving the juniper back into the full sun.

Keep to normal feeding programs feeding your trees on a monthly basis.

Keep weeds under control as well as pests and diseases that thrive this time of the year.

Inspect your bonsai on a regular basis. Several growers found larvae of rhino beetles in their Coral trees. Look out for signs of sawdust on the tree and on the ground. If you see any signs act immediately. Stick a piece of wire down the hole in the branch to kill the larvae. Treat the tree with Koinor to prevent any infestation.

We’ve also found a large beetle (nearly 2.5 cm long) eating on the bark of a Ficus, ring barking several branches. Sorted that out with a size 9 tekkie.

I’ve also seen several dead black beetles with white spots on them under the Olives that were earlier treated with Koinor.

Look out for worms on figs. The worms are small and black and can defoliate a fig in a day. Keep a lookout for ants. They will be a sign of other pests like aphids.   Use a contact spray for both.

Damage to the growing tips of Buddleja is caused by a small little worm. Spray with a contact insecticide.

Also look out for signs of Thrip on your Wild Olives. On the first sign of marks on the Olive leafs spray your trees. Look for white fly on the underside of the leaves of Olives. Spray your olives with a preventative spray for root rot. Also look out for a gold colored beetle on your olives. They damage the young soft growing tips, stopping the development of the branches on olives. Spay with a contact insecticide.

Note that there is direct link between the Japanese Bonsai masters spending several hours, sometimes days, wiring a tree(OK, mostly their apprentice do the work), and the quality of their trees. It’s worth the effort to learn how to apply wire properly. Wire does not have to be of professional quality at the beginning, but you will only learn how to wire properly with regular practice. It will take you several hours to wire a medium size juniper. Start off with the overall design of the tree, first wiring the trunk and main branches, moving on to the secondary branches etc. Look at this article from Peter tea:



and Ryan Neil


Wiring the tree right from the start will make a huge difference in the quality of your trees as well as the rate of development of the trees. It will also teach you more about your tree, i.e. how far you can bend the branch, how long it takes to harden off etc. And don’t be shy. It’s worth it buying yourself a few sizes of wire to work on your trees. Rather spend money on wire than buying another potensai. It will be worth every cent. Also remember that it will take you at least three years to develop a good basic bonsai tree from a trunk. But already in the first year you will see a huge difference.

Now is the time to enjoy your trees, work on deadwood, treat deadwood with lime sulfur, clean pots and display your trees for all visitors and friends to ‘Ooo! and Aaa!’, but mostly for you to enjoy your hard work instead of discussing the current water situation.

Scratch around on the internet, books and fellow bonsai nuts’ collections. Plan new ideas and bonsai for the next season. Go around and see what type of bonsai you like (forest/cascade/leaning trunk/etc) and set yourself a challenge to create the bonsai that you always wanted. Then do some research on the particular subject (tree/style/method/etc.) and start looking for some stock to fit your design.

And while you at it, visiting other’s bonsai, surfing the net, try to be nice. Too many bonsai growers’ only remarks towards other person’s bonsai are usually negative. Try to say something nice – even if your remark is that the pot is nice.

Challenge yourself. Join a club and take part in their young designers’ competitions. For all you know you are the next “wonder child” in bonsai. It’s a good opportunity to not only test your skills, but also to learn from your mistakes and the ideas of others.   Supporting this kind of initiative help to develop bonsai in SA and give us the opportunities we need to learn.

Also visit our face book page at ‘Stone lantern bonsai nursery’ for more articles, photos and events.  Please feel free to make suggestions on how to improve the page and what you would to know more about.