Article: Growing beds

Vance Wood

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Not knowing for sure where this should be posted I have posted it here assuming it will be moved at Bonsainut's discretion. I know it is far from a complete disertation on the subject but hopefull some input from the members of the forum will help add to the subject.

PREPARING A GROWING BED

There is hardly a day that does not go by where someone on the Internet recommends suggests, or brow beats someone to plant their intended bonsai material in the ground. This is sound advice for the sake of growing out stock and hastening the development of a trunk and in many cases back budding. However there is a caveat. Growing in the ground is as dependant on the quality of the soil in the growing bed as it would be in a pot. People are never told of this and they just assume that being in the ground is a magical place for quick development.

The truth is that if you do not have the right conditions in a growing bed you are better off growing a young or developing tree in a large pot with a decent soil mix of your own device. There are almost as many parameters for a good and efficient growing bed as there are for a potted soil medium. It must be arable, drain well, maintain its structure and be more or less a neutral PH.

Let’s look at an ideal growing bed.
1.) It should be elevated. This means that the soil and the tree should sit above the surrounding topography. This promotes drainage, preventing the tree from sitting in a possible puddle during times of heavy rain and storms. Simply planting a tree in the ground in the corner of the family garden may or may not work well; the above parameter is one of the major reasons for lack of optimal performance of this planting.
2.) Simply taking advantage of the nature of the existing soil is usually a mistake except in certain conditions where the available soil is of very high quality. This is not likely. In urban and suburban environments the majority of the good top soil was removed when the home was constructed and ironically sold back to the home owner as top soil from any number of businesses that deal in this material.
3.) The soil should be amended. This means that there are some materials that should be added to an existing soil to improve its ability to grow trees in the manner you desire for bonsai. Assuming that the existing soil is clay based which is common over much of the United States, the first amendment is a product called Gypsum. This is added to help break up the clay and prevent it from adhering together. Humus is another item that is needed in a growing bed. Many gardeners us Canadian Peat Moss. I no longer use this material because it is dangerous to the user and if it dries out it is very difficult to rehydrate. I prefer composted Pine Bark Mulch, just like the stuff I use in my bonsai soil. You should also add some Calcined clay like Turface to add some grit to the mix as well as some very fine gravel or coarse sand such as #2 sand blasting sand. This should all be mixed together with the existing soil using a shovel or a rototiller.
4.) A good growing bed should be about six feet long and three feet wide. The bed should be located where it gets a good deal of sun.
5.) A tree should be planted in this raised bed and left alone for at least two seasons, three for a pine. After the prescribed time the roots have to be trimmed. This is easily done by cutting around the tree with a sharp shovel about six to eight inches out from the trunk all the way around the tree for a tree less than two feet high. It is assumed the grower has some sort of program for cultural development of the tree beyond this issue so I will not touch on that here.

This entire process is a bit more complicated than I have described here and it is possible that in certain areas of the country the materials used will have to be different. I hope it is clear to the reader that growing in the ground, though a good option, is not a simple dig a hole and toss in a plant routine. There are a lot of variables and conditions no one has told you about that should be thought through. Water is one. Many people think that once the tree is in the ground you don’t need to worry about water. It is true the tree will not need as much attention as a tree in a pot, but to neglect water is to have dead trees.

Fertilizer: The simpelist is to use a product like Osmocote, a dried concentrated palletized material that takes all summer to break down. It is a do it once and forget about it for the season application. You will have to watch out for rodents, insects and disease. You may have to build a small fence around your growing bed and you may have to spray from time to time.

Growing beds are fine but they are not fool proof.
 

bonsai barry

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Thanks for the article, Vance. I have two growing beds similar to what you describe. What I am experimenting with is the optimal placement of the trees for maximum advantage of the space.
 

irene_b

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Thank You for this Article Vance...
I agree it is something that is not talked about.
I do have a question or two:

#1 With the raised bed in mind and in light of all the talk about collanders can these not work in tandem?
#2 What would be the best soil to use?
Top soil, garden soil or landscapers mix.
Irene
 

irene_b

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Thanks for the article, Vance. I have two growing beds similar to what you describe. What I am experimenting with is the optimal placement of the trees for maximum advantage of the space.


Button stuck?
 

cbobgo

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"#2 What would be the best soil to use? "

Did you read the article, Irene? He has a whole paragraph on what to do with the soil.

- bob
 

irene_b

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"#2 What would be the best soil to use? "

Did you read the article, Irene? He has a whole paragraph on what to do with the soil.

- bob

Yes Bob I did!!! :D
And it did not answer my question!
I live on rock...So I have to buy soil....
Irene
 

Vance Wood

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Thank You for this Article Vance...
I agree it is something that is not talked about.
I do have a question or two:

#1 With the raised bed in mind and in light of all the talk about collanders can these not work in tandem?
#2 What would be the best soil to use?
Top soil, garden soil or landscapers mix.
Irene
Collanders and growing beds are two different issues. I use bonsai soil for my training planters, the same would be true for the collanders.
As to the Growing bed, I have included the amendments to be added to the field, or garden soil. The importance here is to airate the soil, provide improved drainage and better growing conditions all the way around.
 

Vance Wood

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Yes Bob I did!!! :D
And it did not answer my question!
I live on rock...So I have to buy soil....
Irene
If you growing conditions are that bad you need to build some very large boxes and fill them with bonsai soil, probably with a bit more composted pine bark in it than you might use in a bonsai pot due to the speed things dry out there in Texas. As I mentioned in the article if the ground is really bad, and in your case I doubt you can fix it, you are better off groing in a large container.
 

John Hill

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Great article Vance!
Here at home I like to use mostly sand it drains very fast and the roots love it. The only thing that I have noticed is the trees tend to lean a bit. Man it could get expensive to bonsai soil for grow beds. But all you need is something that drains well. That is bonsai soil right? In the field I can see where pine mulch will drain fast to a certain extent. It will eventually break down and you are back to square one.

A Friend in bonsai
John
 

Vance Wood

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Great article Vance!
Here at home I like to use mostly sand it drains very fast and the roots love it. The only thing that I have noticed is the trees tend to lean a bit. Man it could get expensive to bonsai soil for grow beds. But all you need is something that drains well. That is bonsai soil right? In the field I can see where pine mulch will drain fast to a certain extent. It will eventually break down and you are back to square one.

A Friend in bonsai
John
You are right but by the time it does that you have substantially altered the original soil enough that usually all you have to do is add more gypsum, maybe a little garden lime and some coarse sand and you are good to go. Most of the stuff you need is available from stone and cement businesses. The sand I use is #2 sand blasting sand, garden lime is cheap and the gypsum you can usually get at any reputable garden center and not too great a cost. Unless you are doing an acre at a time the cost should not cause you a problem.
 
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Remember, you can add that soil to your beds you are usually throwing out when you re-pot a bonsai.


VAnce, isn't Gypsum just a short term solution?

Will
 

Vance Wood

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Probably, but in a growing bed you are dealing with short term solutions all the time. The gypsum helps break up the clay, the decomposition of the pine bark mixes with the clay and improves the quality and structure of the soil over all. Eventually all of these things together will make a more or less decent growing medium. Remember in a raised growing bed field capacity is not that big of an issue like it is in a pot so time is not as big of an enemy.
 
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I see the short term effect of using gypsum doesn't matter because by the time it starts to fail, other admendments have started to serve the purpose.


Will
 

Rick Moquin

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Interesting read indeed Vance, thanks for posting. My grow beds have a similar composition with the exception of the gypsum which I didn't know about.

Someone referred to dumping their old bonsai soil during repots in the growing beds, a good idea wrt recycling, however a word of caution, only recycle soil you are completly sure is free of disease. As for the rest all my sifted material winds up in my grow beds. Because I live on clay and the property does not drain well, I have been using my sifted turface fines on the lawn as well. The price of treating my lawn iaw Profiles recommendation is cost prohibitive, therefore why not recycle, I use a fertilizer spreader to apply the turface. Because not nearly enough fines get collected yearly to do the lawn, I do add a couple of complete bags with the fines.
 

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Lighting

For lighting, do you need to put a screen for trees like maple?
 

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