I bought my first Bonsai - a privet in need of TLC.

Wattsup

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Hi all,

I’ve always been fascinated by Bonsai trees and when I saw this Privet at a very knock-down price at a local garden centre, I just couldn’t say no...

It was in a bit of a sorry state and all I’ve done is tidy it up a bit. The tree is still alive and seems to be growing OK.

Even though it looks a bit bare, I think the trunk an overall shape are quite pleasing. It has potential, I reckon :)

The big question is: what do i do now?

any help would be much appreciated.

Martin

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Cofga

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Ok, first it is hard to kill Chinese provet, but you can drown them. We used to have a stand of them about 30’ tall in my back yard until I went at them with a chainsaw and Roundup. Six years later I am still killing root sprouts that won’t go away, so don’t let it escape into your yard. The soil yours is in looks very organic and very wet, so first let it dry out a little. In the end you may need to do an emergency repot to save if of it looks to be going downhill. In a well drained bonsai soil it will grow like crazy.
 

Wattsup

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I’m going to move it outside when it gets a bit warmer - here in the south of England, it still drops to around 35 degrees F at night.

I’ve been watering it every day and the soil is indeed quite moist - is it better to wait until the soil feels almost dry before watering? Definitely don’t want to over-water it.

Martin
 

Cofga

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Take a bamboo skewer and cut a piece about 3-4” long and poke it into the soil. If no skewers then use a chopstick. To check soil moisture pull out the stick and see if it is wet or dry. When it is almost dry water.we are experienceing the same temps as you right now so I am moving trees in and out each night myself—welcome ot the bonsai dance.
 

Shibui

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35 F is above freezing! No problem for Ligustrum, even as bonsai. All my privets live outside all year round down to occasional -5C but below freezing most nights so they can manage some cold without ill effect.

What now?
Check rootball - press down on the soil, try to wriggle a finger into the root mass. If there's plenty of give no problem but if the roots are solid it will need a repot and root prune. Spring is a good time but I suspect they would also handle summer root prune too.
Water when it needs it - [U]Cofga[/U] has given good directions above.
Fertilise regularly - any plant fertiliser mixed as per directions - every 2-3 weeks for liquid feed.
Trim shoots as they extend. With developing trees like this one it is good to allow shoots to grow a bit long (maybe 6-8 sets of leaves) before cutting back to 1 or 2 pairs of leaf on each shoot.
 

Cypress187

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Grow it strong and chop that baby! Welcome to the forum.
 

Wattsup

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Take a bamboo skewer and cut a piece about 3-4” long and poke it into the soil. If no skewers then use a chopstick. To check soil moisture pull out the stick and see if it is wet or dry. When it is almost dry water.
Thanks for all your help so far.

One question, do I leave the skewer in the soil all the time, then pull out to test the moisture level?

The forecast is for nice weather, so i’ve moved it outside now. Looks happier already ;)

I’ve done the rootball finger test and it’s not rock solid, but there is a fair bit of resistance. You can hear the roots breaking as the finger goes in. Wriggling the finger, I can feel roots are all around. Time to repot or wait a bit?

I’m going to let her grow, as suggested - there are already a few shoots coming along nicely.

Cheers, Martin
 

Cofga

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Thanks for all your help so far.

One question, do I leave the skewer in the soil all the time, then pull out to test the moisture level?

The forecast is for nice weather, so i’ve moved it outside now. Looks happier already ;)

I’ve done the rootball finger test and it’s not rock solid, but there is a fair bit of resistance. You can hear the roots breaking as the finger goes in. Wriggling the finger, I can feel roots are all around. Time to repot or wait a bit?

I’m going to let her grow, as suggested - there are already a few shoots coming along nicely.

Cheers, Martin
Leave it in, that way it is in hydrologic equilibrium with the soil and will reflect how wet the soil is.
 

Shibui

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I’ve done the rootball finger test and it’s not rock solid, but there is a fair bit of resistance. You can hear the roots breaking as the finger goes in. Wriggling the finger, I can feel roots are all around. Time to repot or wait a bit?
I've only been growing these particular weeds as bonsai for a short time but it seems to me the roots are quite fast growing and can fill a small pot in a single year. Given that you already seem to have plenty of roots I think it would be best to repot now while it is optimal season. Quick growing roots could mean that by midsummer the pot could be packed with roots which can mean it gets ever more difficult to water properly. I have lost trees from being root bound.
Repotting does not usually set trees back as many believe. My trees have a spurt of growth after root pruning.
This may not apply to you with just a single tree but I recommend repotting as soon as practical after purchase so you know the state of roots, trees are in a mix you know and trust and you are then aware of when it was repotted - all very important factors.
 

Wattsup

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I've only been growing these particular weeds as bonsai for a short time but...
Weed? How dare you call my beautiful tree a weed... :D LOL

I took your advice and repotted her this afternoon - the roots were indeed solidly packed into the pot.

Not sure if i did it right - I removed all the earth from the root and then thinned it out to about 50%.

Then I prepped the pot with the mesh and wire (it had neither before).

After wiring into place, I refilled with Bonsai mix from the local garden centre. I also made sure that there were no air pockets.

I’m not 100% convinced about the bonsai mix, as it seems like earth with a few bit in and not the gravelly mix that I was expecting.

Have now watered her and hoping for the best.

Please let me know if I did good (or not)...

Martin

Some photos:

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Shibui

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Very good for a first time.
There probably was some mesh in there but the roots grow under it and it disappears into the root mass and gets cut off when pruning the roots. You should see that when you repot again.
Much of the 'bonsai' mix that is sold here is also quite fine grained too while most of the experienced bonsai growers use a coarse grained free draining mix. Maybe the finer commercial mix allows for beginners and occasional bonsai growers who don't water very often - fine grained mix will hold more moisture for longer. You can still grow good bonsai in such a mix but need to monitor watering a little more closely to make sure it does not stay soaking wet for weeks on end.
There is probably little fertiliser in the potting mix so after a couple of weeks start feeding and fertilise every 2-4 weeks as long as the tree is growing.
Allow shoots to grow to maybe 6" long then cut back to leave just 1 or 2 pairs of leaves. The more you cut the bushier the tree will get.
Weed? How dare you call my beautiful tree a weed... :D LOL
Over here the local climate suits them so well that they have become feral and are looked down on as a bonsai species as a result. Our local Landcare group has adopted a section of land along the local creek to try to rehabilitate and promote the local native vegetation and fauna. I helped by digging up around 30 privets that had some potential for bonsai. Several thousand more have been nuked with herbicide and we've only just started.
 

Wattsup

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Thank you for all your help.

I think you are right about my Bonsai mix. It’s still really wet, even though I haven’t watered it since repotting. She’s now enjoying the outdoor life in the back garden.

I’ll now let her grow for a while before trimming back, as suggested.

We have a lot of Privet hedges here in the UK, but I don’t think they are a problem though. Have you done anything with the Privets that you got?

Came home from work today to discover that the Maples in my garden now have leaves! Summer is on it’s way :cool:

Cheers,

Martin

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Cofga

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In this area it is classified as a major invasive weed. It forms thick stands which smother out the native vegetation and clogs ditches and stream sides. They form thick stands due ot extensive root sprouting and as a result it is very difficult to kill by simply cuttnig back to the ground. It is similar to the problem you have with Japanese knotweed in England.
 

Orion_metalhead

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@ wattsup, looks like you did a good job on the repot. I would get a cheap strainer and strain out future store bought soil to get rid of the fine particles. Itll help your mix stay less wet and moist and allow you to essentially never overwater or at least reduce the risk.

Nice tree!
 

Shibui

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Have you done anything with the Privets that you got?
Too soon to do much. Collected trees usually need a season or 2 to re-establish before doing much work. Most of the collected privets have had one or 2 quick haircuts over summer but that's about all.
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These little ones were probably collected the year before so have had a little more pruning to establish early design as shohin sized bonsai.
One main trunk juiined to create dead wood. Still deciding what to do with the rest of it.
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This one even went into a bonsai pot. Not a spectacular bonsai but should be adequate to fill a space in a 7 point shohin display sometime.
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Wattsup

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I really like them! Especially the 2nd and 5th.

Hopefully mine will look more like that and less “sticky” in a few months time.

Martin
 

Wattsup

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Ooops, I think I might have killed it....

I put her outside at the end of last week and I think that Saturday night may have been a bit too cold. I was away for the night and didn’t bring it in

The leaves have all lost their bright green colour (more like grey now) and most are curled up as if they are going to drop.

I don’t actually think it’s dead, just not happy.

What do I do now? I’ve moved it back indoors - do I take off all the damaged leaves or leave it as is?

Any advice would be most appreciated.

Martin

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Shibui

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Cold damage is likely. I guess those leaves were used to much warmer temps.
Privet is really tough. I think it should grow new buds and new leaves. Ours all live outside all year round down to -5C and lose the leaves in winter.
I would put it out again and leave it to get accustomed to the real weather. It should grow when the season is right for it.
 

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