Bougainvillea - First Bonsai Questions

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Hi, everyone. I recently walked through a bonsai exhibit and fell in love with the beauty of bonsai. On a mad impulse, I found a bonsai nursery and ended up with this Bougainvillea (see pictures). I've been combing through Bonsai (DK Publishing) and have a good idea of some of the fundamentals, but I have been reading a lot of contradicting info around the web. As such, I wanted to see if you could help me sift through everything for what might work best and to correct any mistakes I might be making. For reference, I am in Southern California in a very small 2nd floor apartment with no access to ground planting.

Soil
One of the nursery workers told me that the most important thing is good drainage, and that a cactus/succulent soil would work well. Others have told me to use a more acidic soil like one for Azaleas. I've also seen people use a mix of standard potting soil and pearlite or volcanic rock.

Fertilizing
Fertilizing seems to differ greatly depending on who you ask. One source used a 12-0-0 to encourage a large spurt of leafy growth, and then a 6-8-0 to encourage blooming. Another source says to use low nitrogen fertilizer. However, I've also seen mention of "Bougain" fertilizer, which is 6-8-10.

Watering
The consensus seems to be to completely soak the plant through, and then water again only when the soil is completely dry. Occasional misting also seems to help.

Potting
I do not like the pot that it came in, but due to the sensitive roots of the bougainvillea, I am waiting to repot. When I do, I can fit up to an 18" pot on my balcony. Will this be big enough for any real trunk growth, or is that an exercise in futility? On the invernse, I've also seen that Bougainvillea grow better when rootbound?

Pruning and Trimming
It looks like the nursery has already trimmed the old bracts and flowers from a previous bloom, and I can see that it's been pruned with a broom type feel. Aside from eliminating any crossing branches, would it be beneficial to prune more?

Wiring
I've heard that Bougainvillea branches tend to be very brittle after they develop and that it does not respond well to wiring. Is this at that stage yet?

Yellowing on the Bracts
In some of the images, there's some yellowing on the bracts. I've seen a lot of explanations - overwatering, iron/water deficiency, not enough light, etc. Does anyone with experience have any ideas?

Styling
Any suggestions on styling are also welcome. It looks like the tree lends itself to improper upright, and I've been playing with the idea of altering the planting angle (maybe 3 - 5 degrees) in the future for something a bit more dramatic.

 

MidMichBonsai

Shohin
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Hi, everyone. I recently walked through a bonsai exhibit and fell in love with the beauty of bonsai. On a mad impulse, I found a bonsai nursery and ended up with this Bougainvillea (see pictures). I've been combing through Bonsai (DK Publishing) and have a good idea of some of the fundamentals, but I have been reading a lot of contradicting info around the web. As such, I wanted to see if you could help me sift through everything for what might work best and to correct any mistakes I might be making. For reference, I am in Southern California in a very small 2nd floor apartment with no access to ground planting.

Soil
One of the nursery workers told me that the most important thing is good drainage, and that a cactus/succulent soil would work well. Others have told me to use a more acidic soil like one for Azaleas. I've also seen people use a mix of standard potting soil and pearlite or volcanic rock.

Fertilizing
Fertilizing seems to differ greatly depending on who you ask. One source used a 12-0-0 to encourage a large spurt of leafy growth, and then a 6-8-0 to encourage blooming. Another source says to use low nitrogen fertilizer. However, I've also seen mention of "Bougain" fertilizer, which is 6-8-10.

Watering
The consensus seems to be to completely soak the plant through, and then water again only when the soil is completely dry. Occasional misting also seems to help.

Potting
I do not like the pot that it came in, but due to the sensitive roots of the bougainvillea, I am waiting to repot. When I do, I can fit up to an 18" pot on my balcony. Will this be big enough for any real trunk growth, or is that an exercise in futility? On the invernse, I've also seen that Bougainvillea grow better when rootbound?

Pruning and Trimming
It looks like the nursery has already trimmed the old bracts and flowers from a previous bloom, and I can see that it's been pruned with a broom type feel. Aside from eliminating any crossing branches, would it be beneficial to prune more?

Wiring
I've heard that Bougainvillea branches tend to be very brittle after they develop and that it does not respond well to wiring. Is this at that stage yet?

Yellowing on the Bracts
In some of the images, there's some yellowing on the bracts. I've seen a lot of explanations - overwatering, iron/water deficiency, not enough light, etc. Does anyone with experience have any ideas?

Styling
Any suggestions on styling are also welcome. It looks like the tree lends itself to improper upright, and I've been playing with the idea of altering the planting angle (maybe 3 - 5 degrees) in the future for something a bit more dramatic.
First of all, welcome to BONSAI!

I will try to answer your questions as succinctly as possible. The best thing that you can do is to find a bonsai club that is in your area. They will be able to best help you with "how-to's" that are specific to your region and their are lots of them in Southern California.

That being said:

Soil - pumice, lava rock, akadama in equal parts and between 1/8"-1/4" particle size. This will help with good drainage and facilitate fine root growth.

Fertilizer - Bougain will give you the best result. It is specifically design for these plants and will do the best for giving you flowers.

Watering - you have it right...soak and dry but never bone dry. Your watering regimen will be dependent on your soil's retention. Open structure, water more often; potting mix, less often.

Potting - Work on styling first. The right pot will be more clear after that. I would say you may want to get it into a more shallow pot so that the roots don't grow down and then circle at the bottom but rather fill the pot evenly. Generally speaking, root bound plants tend to flower better. That's a balance to walk because you don't want the tree's health to suffer.

Pruning - this is dependent on where you want to take the tree. Look at lots of pictures to get some ideas. Don't just prune to prune, begin with an end in mind and then pursue that image with your pruning and wiring.

Wiring - Bougainvillea branches are brittle so you have to wire in stages on old wood. That being said, they grow well so if you don't have the structure you want, you should be able to cut back and then regrow branching and wire them while they're green and supple.

Yellowing - Most likely due to wind or sun damage. No worries, new flowers will look great later.

Styling - I kinda like the natural broom style it has going. It could be an informal upright as well but they don't tend to grow this way in nature and I prefer a more natural look.


I hope this helps!
 
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joe44

Seedling
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Remember that this plant does best in direct sun. Especially for flowering. Well I have only a few years experience with tropicals, bougainvillea. Just posted for help with a root problem with my bouganvillea. Since moving to Florida 7 years ago I've switched from akadama clay, which for me is hard to find and is expensive. I make my own by using crushed lava rock, pine bark and turface, equal parts. Turface is a soil amender, I get at local Ace hardware. Drains well, which you want with your tree.. I use a 6-8-10 fertilizer, seems to work fine for me. The advise you got on watering is what I do, they don't like a very wet soil, will cause root rot.

Wiring I found tricky in the beginning, broke a couple branches, but can be done slowly to move the older darker branches. I had used clamps to move major branches, slowly tightening them over more than a year. From the pictures you posted, styling at this stage will be easier than in an older tree. Before cutting branches, I usually cover them with a rag to see what it will look like removed. Experiment with that idea, it does have to look of a informal leaning style. You'll get more responses from your post, I sure there will be additional ideas for styling. Good luck, repost the tree after basic shaping and wiring, I like to see the progress.
 

sorce

Nonsense Rascal
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Socal Socal!

I dont know Bougie, or nice weather, but I know tiny ass apartment growing.

Do you have outside space at all?

I'd try to get that thing cut down to the first branch. Don't know when or how fast, but that's what I wood do!

Welcome to Crazy!

Sorce
 
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Thanks for all of the responses! I'd love to join a bonsai club, but my long work hours and travel make it quite difficult to make regular meetings. I just bought a bag of Bougain and I'll see about making some soil for my next repot (I'll likely try Joe's mix first). The weather looks like it will be getting hot soon, so I don't want to keep it in the current container too long else the roots grow down, forcing me to prune them.

While I do have a small apartment, I do have a balcony that gets a decent amount of sun in the mornings. I'm keeping my bourgainvillea outside (see pictures), where it will get a bit of sun that comes through the gap in the railing. I'll see about getting a table to prop it up over the rail completely.

I head out for another round of traveling this weekend, so I'll try to repot and wire when I get back. I was hoping I'd be able to wire the trunk into a smoother curve (like below), but I'm seriously nervous about cracking the trunk. I'll likely keep it in the current broom shape.
 

corncan

Seed
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Letting the leaves wilt inbetween waterings is totally ok for bougainvillea; in fact, it usually stimulates new flowering. Full defoliation is also totally OK, and that stimulates new flowers too.
I read this every once in a while to get more confidence on my bougainvillea and remind myself what to do this year.

http://wigertsbonsai.com/bougainvillea-development/
 

Alain

Omono
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I don't know anything about bougainvillea as bonsai but I do know it was growing like weed in my yard in Tucson, AZ...
I doubt you can beat that in term of too much Sun, light and heat. :)
 
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So, I finally found time to do a little work. The soil looked like standard potting soil and I really did not like that pot, so first on the agenda was to repot. It took a good long while to get all of that potting soil out of the roots. I hadn't watered it in a week, and the soil was fairly moist throughout. Most of the roots were thin and fibrous, but there was one particularly strong root growing. I read that bougainvilleas don't take kindly to root pruning, so I decided to leave it and hope for the best.
IMG_1262.JPG IMG_1267.JPG

I didn't get a chance to find any pine bark or lava rock, but I did have a bag of bonsai soil from House of Bonsai (blend of forest shavings, grounded bark, peat moss, leaf mold, coarse sand, perlite, lava rock and gypsite). Since I won't be back for another week (or more), I decided to just mix it with some pumice for better drainage. I mixed in a ratio of about 1:1 and planted in a 14" shallow base pot that I'm using as a training pot. I then fertilized with some azalea fertilizer.
IMG_1272.JPG IMG_1273.JPG

I pruned and wired a bit before I left last week (wiring mostly for practice really). Most of the branch structure either had crossing / inward growing / vertically up / vertically down branches. What was left tended to be long leggy or weak growth, which resulted in a more massive prune than I was originally thinking. The structure is a lot more open, but I'm concerned that I don't really have a clear apex now. Any further suggestions are much appreciated.
 

Cadillactaste

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They do say they don't take to root pruning...yet the bougainvillea can be chopped,have no roots and stuck in substrate and grow roots to a very sizable trunk/branch. So...that I always found that comment puzzling puzzling.

Bougainvillea are quite hardy...but are proned to rot. Sounds like a very organic mix...so be watchful with what you have going on. I have mine in BGI's bougainvillea potting soil. (Very organic) With intentions of repotting mid June/July putting it into still a slight organic mix...but, Wee Tree brand which consists of soil a mix of compost, bark, black lava and pumice. I find it slightly organic...but, not overly as much as it's currently in. So a better alternative to where it stands now.

Good luck to you...bougainvillea are amazing. You're surely to grow to only love your selection choice even more.
 

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