Coast Redwood

Attila Soos

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I posted this thread over at BonsaiTalk as well, since some people don't frequent both forums. Here it goes:

This is the first time I am posting something like this, but this is very serious, so I need some advice from those with direct experience with Sequoia sempervirens.

About 5 years ago I purchased two collected redwood yamadori from Mendocino Coast Bonsai. Both were old stumps, with a very large nebari. One became a little grove (with interconnected trunks), the other one a double-trunk bonsai. For the last 4 years I trained them in nursery containers, building up the trunks and reducing the rootball to a flat pad. The trees were doing great, pushing out tremendous amount of growth every year, so I constantly had to prune them to keep them in check.

Last year I moved them into bonsai pots. They were medium-to-large size bonsai. I continued to grow them in the bonsai pot, and they were healthy and vigorous, the same way as they were in the nursery pots.

Then, this year, finally I started some more serious styling: wired all the branches, reduced branches to their proper length, removed all the superfluous buds growing everywhere (redwoods keep pushing new buds everywhere, from the nebari to the trunk). Redwoods are also a very thirsty species. The soil needed constant watering to prevent it from drying out. The medium that I used for them was 70% pumice, 20% orchid bark, 10% leaf mulch.

Everything seemed to be all right, until, late August this year, disaster hit. The new foliage started to dry out. The trees tried to push new growth, but all the green shriveled, and the trees slowly died. It took them about two months to die.

I also had a young redwood, this year I trained it into a literati. I have been growing it for many years, without serious styling. This summer I did some serious wiring and pruning, but a month ago this tree died as well.

The two large redwoods were the pride of my collection.

Here is the question:

What happened, that all 3 trees died, after some wiring and pruning? They were all healthy in small containers for so many years. Not just surviving, but very vigorous and healthy.

And the most important question:

What is the proper way to train the Coast Redwood into bonsai, so that this doesn't happen again in the future?

My suspicion is that I removed too many branches, and the tree's system collapsed. But the reason I did this, was because I know that redwoods bud back profusely from anywhere. May be I should have done the styling in the middle of Spring, and should have left them alone for the rest of the year, instead of constantly pinching and removing useless buds? I don't know.

I have one redwood left, that is unstyled. It is a medium-sized tree, and healty and vigorous, growing in a nursery container. I am planning to do some styling next year. I wonder whether it will have the same fate.

Obviously, I need to do something differently, but I have no idea, other than this time, I will just wire the branches without pruning them. May be, going very slowly, will help.

Just to add one more thing - I have hundreds of trees, in various stages, and I have not killed a single tree for years. But the mystery with these redwoods, just blew my mind.

What's your advice?
 
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Eric Schrader

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Atilla,

It's hard to say for sure, even with all the detail that you have given. What I do know about redwoods is that they tend to bud back when you wire the branches. If you wire a branch it will get weak and then send buds out at the base. So you have to keep the tree strong and not bend all the branches all at once. But likely the wiring was not what caused your trees to suffer. Look at the natural habitat of redwoods, soggy winters and foggy cool summers. Where I grew up there were redwoods growing on one side of the valley and oak savanah covered hills on the other side.

The combination of repotting, wiring trimming and most importantly, the hot dry climate that you have in southern California is likely all responsible for the deaths of the trees.

I saw the thread on BT, excessive pinching will definitely weaken any tree, I would never pinch all the new growth on a juniper or redwood. Grow out and cut back to maintain a healthy metabolism in the plant.
 

Attila Soos

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Thanks Eric for the feedback.

I got an e-mail response from Bob Shimon (from Mendocino Coast Bonsai) this morning.

Nobody has a definite answer to this, but I now believe that the early summer pruning and agressive wiring has weakened the tree. Bob said that a good fertilizing program makes a the tree respond to bonsai training much better. I only fertilized sporatically. Since the soil was slightly on the heavy side, it became too soggy inside the pot because the weakened tree has a much lower water intake. The top of the soil looked dry because the hot summer, so I kept watering it more than necessary.
At the end, root rot killed them. My soil was great when the tree was growing wild, but not so good for bonsai training. I will be important to change the soil to what Bob recommended. Also, after a strong session of styling, the tree should be left alone for a few months, no pinching or any kind of disturbing.

This is Southern California, not the most ideal location for a redwood. Every mistake is costly here.

So, I learned a lot from this, at the cost of 5 years and several hundred dollars. I don't really care about the money, but the loss of 5 years bothers me. Those trees were 2 years away from being virtually finished. Now I have to start from ground zero. I only do it because I just love redwoods so much. To me, creating a miniature tree from such a giant (tallest tree on Earth) is the ultimate bonsai experience, both horticurturally and artistically. I love challenges.

Anyway, I will try again soon, and this time I am pretty sure that I know enough to keep those trees happy.
 
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Redwoods Growing Conditions

Attila,

Have you considered putting in a green house with a humidistat? I know that Redwoods hate hot dry Santa Ana winds, and they like humidity. A green house could solve a lot of your problems if your planning on investing in Redwoods in the future. I use a green house for Californica Junipers after digging, for grafting and for sick trees to recover.

Juniperus Californica
 

Attila Soos

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Attila,

Have you considered putting in a green house with a humidistat? I know that Redwoods hate hot dry Santa Ana winds, and they like humidity. A green house could solve a lot of your problems if your planning on investing in Redwoods in the future. I use a green house for Californica Junipers after digging, for grafting and for sick trees to recover.

Juniperus Californica
Actually this is an absolutely great idea, can't believe that I have not thought about it. I am planning investing in a few large redwoods this winter, and I have a few other trees that would love to have some nice humid air. They do all right without, but a small greenhouse would greately improve their lives.

I do the same with my collected California junipers as you do: I keep them in a plastic bubble for about 6 month. I never lost a collected California Juniper this way. A small greenhouse would solve the problem of the plastic bubble as well.

What kind of greenhouse are you using? How about a small plastic tunnel - would that work?
 

Attila Soos

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This was fast: I actually ordered a greenhouse a few minutes ago.

Here it is:

http://www.greenhousemegastore.com/prodinfo.asp?number=HG-FHDH

It is very easy to set it up - a few minutes, and you can zip several together, if you need a larger one. It's only $225 apiece.

I am looking forward to set it up next week. Thanks JC for the idea!

Now I just need to get a humidistat.
 
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Green Houses

Attila,

That green house will do the trick, I know someone that has it. I have the following green house: One Stop Gardens 47712-1VGA, 6' x 8' from Harbor Freight. This is the link:

http://search.harborfreight.com/cpisearch/web/search.do?keyword=green+houses&Submit=Go

I'm getting ready to expand to the 10ft x 12ft, because I've already run out of room. This green house is great because it's rigid and blocks out wind and is easy to assemble. To make it work, you should run water & power to it and then you can put a humidistat, auto irrigation, heat etc.

Good Luck

Juniperus Californica
 
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