Elm diseased - help please

Dave M

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Hello everyone, this is my first post here and I am very much a novice.

I purchased an elm about 3 months ago. It initially did quite well but over the last month or so it has had alot of branches and leaves wither and turn brown/black. It still sprouts new branches and leaves but the older branches and foliage seem to wither up and dry. I've noticed one leaf hanging by a spider web thread (3rd photo attached hopefully shows this) and seen at least one other very fine spider web filament.

I am suspicous it has an infestation of some sort and I guess I veer towards thinking of a spider although I have not seen anything and to be honest would not know what to look for. Other than that, I am watering with 200ml every 2-3 days and fertilizing with a fishy smelling black organic liquid fertilizer they gave me (diluted 2 ml to 200 ml water) every week or so.

I hope these photos tell a story and would welcome advice on how to get my elm back on track.

Best wishes,

Dave Meddings
 

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Brian Van Fleet

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Where are you keeping the elm? Inside/outside, shade, sun?
Where, generally, are you located?

If I were to guess, it's inside and not near a window. It's dried out a few times, but still getting fed. It may or may not have an infestation, but this really looks like a tree that needs to be cut back to what's alive and moved outside, provided the climate is above 40 degrees...
 
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Dave M

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Thank you Brian.

I live in Geneva, Switzerland. The tree is being kept on a counter between our kitchen and living room, with large windows (East and West facing) approximately 5 and 10 meters away. Outside climate this time of year ranges from 7C overnight to anywhere from 20-35C during the day.

I know this may be bonsai heresy but I really wanted this bonsai to live indoors....I love looking at it sitting where it does and I was told at the very good nursery where I got it that it could be cared for indoors.

Anyway, hope the additional info helps,

Dave
 

Bill S

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The indoor life will end if you do what mama nature didn't mean for the tree, these need more than some indirect light. They aren't pets, even if they are sold as such.
 

Dave M

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Thanks Bill, I take it you are saying I can continue to try to cultivate it indoors but that I should find a setting nearer a window.

Should I be cutting it back at all? Does anyone suspect there may be an infestation responsible? Over watering/under watering? Basically it was doing marvelously well at the nursery and I have the feeling I am slowly killing the poor thing....

Best,
 

rockm

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You can continue to keep it inside, but you will continue to have significant health issues with the plant. I wouldn't suspect an infestation of anything is causing the damage. More likely it is a combination of a weak plant attracting opportunistic insects. The damage in the pictures looks like it is a result of a root problem. Drying foliage is a sign the roots are not transferring water to the leaves.

The soil the tree is in, combined with its location, are probably conspiring to kill the tree. THe soil appears far too dense for the tree's health. If you're watering it alot, it is not draining, which leads to root death.

I would say an emergency repot of the tree into better bonsai soil that drains, along with placing it outside would probably revive the tree.

Bottom line (and it's a hard one to learn when you get into bonsai) is you may want to grow the tree indoors, but it's what the tree wants that is the ultimate goal.
 

Bill S

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Dave I was too shortand cryptic, not enough coffe yet, rockm is right on the money on this as far as I can see. I did think the soil looks more like dirt than what we like to see for our craze, if true, like rock said the roots are probably starting to rot.
 

Dave M

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Alright guys, thanks alot. I will repot in new soil.

I do have the book by Jerome Meyer (Bonsai Book of Practical Facts) which I know contains good detailed instructions on making a soil mix, screeing for gravel size etc. Any particular things about soil that Elms like in particular I should be aware of? Please keep in mind I am in Switzerland so don't have access to many of the standard things/brand names many of you would be aware of.

I will also, with a heavy heart, place the tree outside. Connected with that I have a couple of questions....I was told at the nursery that these trees do not like air currents, and that if it was placed in sunlight, it was important not to expose the roots (!??). Thought that was a little weird but what I gather she may have meant is try and keep the leaves in sun and the trunk/soil in shade and avoid windy areas. Does that all sound more or less correct? And finally....do I have to leave the tree out all winter long? We get down to freezing and below freezing here in winter time, with some snow from time to time.

Best,

Dave
 

rockm

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"I was told at the nursery that these trees do not like air currents, and that if it was placed in sunlight, it was important not to expose the roots (!??). Thought that was a little weird but what I gather she may have meant is try and keep the leaves in sun and the trunk/soil in shade and avoid windy areas. Does that all sound more or less correct? And finally....do I have to leave the tree out all winter long? We get down to freezing and below freezing here in winter time, with some snow from time to time."

Trees NEED air circulation to remain healthy. Constant windy conditions can dry out the soil more quickly than in a non-windy area, but won't really hurt your tree if you keep up with watering.

Without some air circualtion, bonsai can develop all manner of fungal diseases, mold and other stuff. sun exposure is a matter of degrees. Elms, for the most part, can take full sun--although again, keeping up with watering is a necessity. A shaded pot retains water longer because evaporation and respiration is accelerated when the plant is in full sun.

You can and probably should leave the plant outside in the winter, provided you mulch the plant, pot and all into the garden when winter sets in.

You should get a more up to date bonsai book. The one you have is rather old. I have it. It has some rather questionable information in it and isn't really all that great. "Bonsai for beginners" by Craig Coussins is good as are a number of beginner books by Colin Lewis, Peter Adams, Harry Tomlinson or Herb Gustafson.

By the way, Switzerland has more than a couple of world class bonsai people. Pius Notter is one of the best:
http://ibonsaiclub.forumotion.com/t1512-bonsai-in-switzerland
 

Dave M

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Thanks rockm, I'll look for the Coussins book. Still curious to know if Elms have any particular preference for soil or if I should just aim for an all purpose well draining mix.

Finally, does Pius Notter post on this forum? Could be good to have his advice on locally available material.

Best,

Dave M
 

rockm

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Elms are not finicky about soil. They are tough trees that will grow in just about any soil (witness what your tree is suriving in). Basic bonsai soil mix is great for them. Make sure you get GOOD basic bonsai soil, however, from a reputable dealer. Being in the states, I can't really tell you who to get it from in Switzerland, however. I think there are more than a few bonsai clubs in your country though that might be able to tell you where to go.

A quick search turned up this link:
http://www.swissbonsai.ch/

and this one:
http://www.bonsaiclub.ch/
 

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Brian Van Fleet

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It's unfortunate that we repeatedly see advice for newcomers to repot trees at the wrong time, at the first sign of distress, with no indication that soil is a problem.

More often than not, it is the "emergency repot" that puts an ailing tree over the edge, when a little aerating of the soil and a concerted effort to learn how to water properly is infinitely more effective.
 

Dave M

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Brian, thanks for the note of caution.

I am happy to take some close up shots of my soil if that would help people help me.

Also, could you expand a bit on what you mean by proper watering? I have been giving 200 ml every 2-3 days, dripped out of a bottle carefully to cover the entire soil. I arrive at this frequency by monitoring the top of the soil with my fingers and when I can just feel a bit of dampness I water. As I said in my original post I also fertilize approximately 5 times a month at the moment (and was told to do so through September).

Finally, if I should be aerating the soil is this simply accomplished by pushing something small - a satay stick or a chopstick - in and out of the soil, or should I be lightly scratching the surface with a fork or similiar?

All ears and happy to repot, or simply change my watering regime, aerate, and place the bonsai outdoors.

Best to all,

Dave M
 

rockm

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"It's unfortunate that we repeatedly see advice for newcomers to repot trees at the wrong time, at the first sign of distress, with no indication that soil is a problem"

Oy vay...Take a look at the soil and wilting growth...Wilting dieing growth is not a "first sign of distress." It is an advanced sign of distress...
 

Brian Van Fleet

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For a tree this size, that's being kept indoors, proper watering is setting it in the kitchen sink and using the sprayer. Get the soil and top wet, let the soil absorb the water for a few seconds, then water again, then water again, until water is running freely out the holes in the bottom of the pot (if it doesn't have holes, they need to be added with a masonry bit). Ideally, by the time the soil is wet, it should drain out the bottom as fast as you can add it on top, without pooling and running over the edges.

This should be done every time the soil dries to about 1/3 of the way down into the pot. If this pot is 3" deep, water when the first 1" of soil is dry. This thorough watering ensures all of the soil gets wet, and refreshes the air in the soil.

To aerate the soil, just press a chopstick straight down until it touches the bottom of the pot, and make a hole every square inch or so. This is really only necessary if the soil doesn't allow water to readily pass through. If the water pools up and runs over the sides of the pot, aerate the soil.

Get it into more sunlight as well...preferably outside. If you do move it outside, acclimate it to more sun a little at a time over a couple weeks.
 

Brian Van Fleet

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"It's unfortunate that we repeatedly see advice for newcomers to repot trees at the wrong time, at the first sign of distress, with no indication that soil is a problem"

Oy vay...Take a look at the soil and wilting growth...Wilting dieing growth is not a "first sign of distress." It is an advanced sign of distress...

First, I'm not sure how you could tell looking at that photograph that the soil isn't draining, it's probably a good question to ask before suggesting a repot on an ailing tree.

Second, stating correctly, later, that elms are not finicky about soil doesn't really bolster the position for a repot.

Third, the wilted foliage, followed by the obvious etoliated growth = poor watering, excessive feeding, and no sunlight.
 

Dave M

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First of all just want to say I really appreciate the advice I've been getting from everyone.

I understand it's gotta be difficult giving me the best advice with only a few photos to go by and that ultimately this is an art and different people will follow different routes.

Regarding my soil and the repot/no repot issue: I have found from the day I bought the tree that pouring water onto it simply resulted in the water running straight off and over the edges. So that appears to suggest the soil is either not great to begin with, or overly compacted or both. I've adapted by watering out of a bottle with my finger on top, literally drip watering which allows the water to absorb. I have watered about once a month by placing it in a sink full of tepid water as well.

So at a minimum it sounds as if I should aerate with a chopstick and I assume from what you say Brian I should cut back on the fertilizing to maybe once a month (but happy to get some guidance on the right amount of feeding).

I have placed the tree outside today for 6 hours, and will bring it in in a little while. More outside time tomorrow and so on until it is out there all the time. My plan is to acclimitate it over about 5 days till it is overnighting out there.

All for now, thx again for the advice. I am listening and acting.

Dave
 

rockm

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"First, I'm not sure how you could tell looking at that photograph that the soil isn't draining, it's probably a good question to ask before suggesting a repot on an ailing tree.

Second, stating correctly, later, that elms are not finicky about soil doesn't really bolster the position for a repot.

Third, the wilted foliage, followed by the obvious etoliated growth = poor watering, excessive feeding, and no sunlight"

Getting into a battle over who advice is "fortunate" and "unfortunate" doesn't really help Dave. I offered my take on what I saw. FWIW, wilted foliage is usually a sign of dieing roots. Given the apparent condition of the soil, I suggested changing it to solve the issue outright. I wouldn't offer advice that I though would endanger the tree. Given the time of year, the species of the tree and the appearance of the soil, my opinion would be to address the problem now rather than later.
 
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