Ideas / Suggestions welcome :) - blueberry

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#1
Hello, I'm new here and relatively new to Bonsai as well. I have spent a lot of time (too much time :oops: ) researching and googling Bonsai and related topics. :eek:

Anyways, as seen in the picture below (not the best picture, sorry!), I managed to salvage this little wild blueberry bush (Vaccinium alaskaense I believe) from a job I was working at. I have seen several interesting Bonsais created from various types of blueberries online. The middle branch is about 10 inches tall, the left branch about six inches long and the right (dead wood) branch about six inches long and an inch thick.

What I would like is some advice / ideas for this little blueberry of mine. (First I plan to let it recover and grow for a season.). I know how to take care of blueberry bushes (both wild and domestic) and have a lot of experience what that. But when it comes to attempting to Bonsai it... that's where any and all advice would be welcome. :) (Heck, if you think I shouldn't even bother with this specimen, feel free to say so as well).

Sincerely BR,
Cheers. :)
 

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#5
I got some with nice trunks on my property but they got very tall stretching for sunlight so I would have to cut very low,I don't want to dig it up if it's gonna die
 

sorce

Nonsense Rascal
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#6
No problem!
Though I didn't realize you know BB already as a plant.

I think you already know but don't know that you know that you know wether or not that is a good start!

I would like to hear the story of why this plant is your first subject.
How did Bonsai come about?

I think you should keep it...grow it...
And see what you can do with it.
No matter what anyone thinks.

Possibly keeping the left and right trunks.
I like how those feel. (but I have my future vision goggles on)

The middle should go IMO.

Yeah...Thwark the Middle trunk....
And the Middle of the 3 left branches and wait!

Sorce
 
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#7
No problem!
Though I didn't realize you know BB already as a plant.

I think you already know but don't know that you know that you know wether or not that is a good start!

--> Took me a few reads to decipher this sentence. ;)

I would like to hear the story of why this plant is your first subject.
How did Bonsai come about?

--> I've liked bonsai for a while. I work with the "fake" (pseudo - bonsai ) at work a lot through my landscaping business. The ones people make out of junipers and cedars, etc, that have a few clumps on long stems, etc. Not "true" bonsai IMHO, but a similar idea. I've always wanted to try my hand at creating them.
--> As for this being my "first", that's not quiet true. I got several other plants I have "started / collected" around the same time as this one. A small Pacific Yew that came from a rooted branch with many 'odd' angles. Two small red dogwoods and two red alders that came from the side of an old logging road that i'm just using to "practice" things on (since they both grow like weeds). And a small birch stump that has a few 'shoots' coming out of it, and a lot of deadwood thats still nice n solid to work with.
--> But all that being said, blueberries are one of my favourite plants (and not just for the berries :cool:


I think you should keep it...grow it...
And see what you can do with it.
No matter what anyone thinks.

--> Will do.:p

Possibly keeping the left and right trunks.
I like how those feel. (but I have my future vision goggles on)

The middle should go IMO.

Yeah...Thwark the Middle trunk....
And the Middle of the 3 left branches and wait!

--> Feel free to explain your "future vision" in far more detail. I am intrigued. :cool:

Sorce
My replies in BOLD above..
Thanks for the reply and ideas.
 

sorce

Nonsense Rascal
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#8
'Feel free to explain your "future vision" in far more detail. I am intrigued.'

Well shit....

Don't scrap the Middle trunk...
Scrap the left one. Oops.

Ahh All Bold. Like A1 Bold.

So you already know...don't make decisions too fast!

Ah....
This is bad.
aviary-image-1481593056848.jpeg

I think it will have to grow much bigger to make sense....or work.

Sorce


 
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#9
I like the vision, only problem is the trunk on the far right is dead (99.9% certain) so it won't be budding out... that being said I will let it grow for the coming summer and see what happens to it / see what other ideas others throw out. XD Thanks for the reply.
 
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#10
Hello @Bavarian Raven - sorry I did not drop into this thread right away. I usually read BNut, while away from my laptop and which threads get looked at is pretty random. The reason Sorce tagged me is that my cousins and I as a group bought a blueberry farm in SW Michigan a couple years ago. This winter, on my ''To Do'' list is "prune 1200 blueberry bushes in field 3 and 430 bushes in field 2". Of course pruning for fruit is pretty much the exact opposite to pruning for bonsai.

Blueberries in general, and the ones used for commercial fruit production specifically, require an acidic soil, more acidic than what an azalea needs. In the plant world, they are considered ''calcifuges'' in that they want a potting medium that has a low calcium/magnesium content. They do well with soil pH between 4.0 to 6.0, and will ''just barely'' tolerate pH up to about 6.5. The closer to neutral, 7.0, the more important it is to water them with water that has low alkalinity, or low total dissolved solids. Rain water is best, RO, distilled, or water collected from dehumidifiers or other condensation sources will work too. Some parts of the Pacific Northwest are lucky enough to have soft water for their municipal water sources, maybe you are lucky in that respect, otherwise I suggest collecting rain water, to supplement when you don't get enough rainfall.

Both at the farm in Michigan and where I live between Chicago and Milwaukee, the tap water in both places has a fair amount of dissolved Calcium, roughly 220 parts per million total dissolved solids with 175 ppm as calcium carbonate total alkalinity. This is ''medium'' on the hard water spectrum for municipal water supplies, but it is more calcium than any blueberry wants to see. I try to water my blueberries in pots with rain water I collect. I do use municipal tap water when I run out of collected rain water, but I try to not do that for extended periods. Fortunately we get rain often enough that I have not had to use tap water for more than 6 weeks in summer.

The potting medium I use for blueberry bonsai is a blend of roughly equal parts of sifted pumice, sifted kanuma, sifted fine fir bark, preferably composted for a year & sifted Canadian peat moss. Majority of peat will fall through a fine sieve, I throw the fines onto the vegetable garden. The peat that is retained on a 2 mm screen (screen typically used as window screen is near this size) is what I use. Peat moss does break down, blueberries in this mix will need repotting every 24 to 36 months or so in my climate. At first, peat as it breaks down becomes more acidic, which is good, then suddenly the pH starts climbing, becoming more alkaline, which is bad. SO the need to repot every 2 to 3 years is to avoid the peat accumulating calcium and becoming too close to a neutral or alkaline pH. If you are growing blueberries in nursery size pots, a mix of just fir bark, or pine bark and Canadian peat moss is all you need. You can throw in up to 20% sawdust too. In a bonsai pot the structure from the pumice is helpful. Top dress with live moss, or dry long fiber sphagnum moss to hold the light kanuma into the pot. Perlite can be substituted for pumice in this mix. Perlite is very light, so the moss top dressing is very important. In commercial fields sawdust is the preferred mulch, you can add some sawdust, maybe up to 20% to your potting mix with good results. Hardwood sawdust is best, avoid walnut sawdust. Pine sawdust will work too, but hardwood has the best effect in commercial fields. The mycelium associated with blueberries is a facultative saprophyte, the sawdust feeds the endomycelium associated with blueberries. For those who have alkaline soils in their gardens, and want to grow blueberries for fruit, use containers, the nursery trade ''20 gallon'' size or larger will work. Wide & shallow is better than deep. Half a wine barrel is perfect. A highbush blueberry in this size pot will yield 4 pounds of fruit fairly reliably, and 10 pounds is possible if your care and fertilizing is good.

Water soluble Fertilizer - DO NOT USE A FERTILIZER THAT LISTS CALCIUM OR MAGNESIUM IN SIGNIFICANT AMOUNTS. The Cal-Mag fertilizers from Peters, or Dyna Gro, or Green Care, all have calcium in quantities that approach or exceed the amount of Nitrogen. This type of fertilizer will kill a blueberry dead, possibly in a single application - I killed a couple thousand or so first season cuttings with a hit of MSU Orchid fertilizer, which is essentially a Cal-Mag formulation. The "Mira Acid" type fertilizers designed for azaleas and evergreens is fine. Any fertilizer with 2% or more Sulfur as a component will work. Calcium in the presence of Sulfur forms an insoluble salt, Calcium sulfate, so formulations for liquid fertilizers, if they have sulfur, will not have added calcium or magnesium. Ammonium sulfate is also a good water soluble nitrogen source. At the low pH that blueberries prefer, they take up nitrogen in the form of ammonia rather than as nitrate. Organic fertilizers such as seaweed, fish emulsion and soybean meal all work well.

Blueberries tolerate a fair amount of shade, but best fruit is in full sun. The Northern Low Bush species, native to northern half of the USA and all of Canada are extremely winter hardy, good to -30 F or -32 C. The Highbush V. corymbosum hybrid varieties then to be hardy only to USD zone 5, with flower bud damage at - 15 F (roughly -25 C) The Rabbit Eye type blueberries are designed for USDA zone 7 and warmer and are suitable for northern Florida through to about Saint Louis Missouri. Your locally native blueberry, or related huckleberries will of course be hardy in your own area. There are 50+ species of Vaccinium native to North America, from Mexico through the Tundra. Huckleberries are in the genus Vaccinium, are similar in horticulture to blueberries, and differ mainly in that they tend to have smaller, less juicy fruit, and a taller, more tree like growth habit. Cranberries are a low ground hugging sub-shrub also in the genus Vaccinium. Hawaii has a tropical member of Vaccinium, that resembles a blueberry in growth habit, but fruit is the size and color of a cranberry with its own unique flavor. The Hawaiian Vaccinium is more tolerant of heat and low humidity than most Vaccinium. as it has fairly leathery leaves. Its a pioneer species on old lava flows.

Notice so far I haven't said shit about blueberries as bonsai - my skill is horticulture, my sense of art and design is ''not so good''.
 
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#11
Nick Lenz in his book "Bonsai from the Wild, Collecting, styling ans caring for bonsai" is still available from Stone Lantern Press. It has 3 pages of text on blueberry.and a few photos Nick praises blueberries quite highly.
 
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#12
I have learned a few things from my limited blueberry as bonsai experience, and from pruning a few thousand blueberry bushes, but I am only a couple years into learning about blueberries, so my knowledge is more ''book and internet and Ag Extension agent knowledge" rather than hands on real world experience.

The normal habit of a blueberry is that they are very long lived shrubs, bushes a century old are still productive in commercial plantings. Their root system is the long lived part of the shrub, they routinely send up new sprouts, which usually emerge as long unbranched whips. The terminal bud of every whip and secondary branch tends to die in winter, so each years extension tends to be from either the root system or from secondary branching of the branch you are looking at. Year one is a whip with no branches. Year 2 and 3 the second and tertiary branches are formed. At the end of the third growing season, on robust branches, the terminal bud will become a flower bud, first blooming and fruit can happen as early as the 4th growing season. Each year afterwards, the branches will continue to ramify, and the terminal buds where the branch is vigorous and has good light, will form flower buds and fruit. As the levels of ramification increase, the total number of flowers continues to increase but the total weight of the larger number of berries remains constant, meaning the berries get smaller, more in proportion for bonsai, but bad for the commercial fruit market. At about 10 years and up, the total yield by weight, of fruit from a ''cane'' or branch coming from the roots begins to decline, and eventually, usually by about year 20, the root system itself withdraws support for the "cane'', and that branch dies. So when looking at a century old blueberry bush that has not been pruned by a human, none of the above ground wood will be much older than 20 to 30 years old. The bush ''self prunes'' to eliminate older wood.

I used quotes around cane, as the stem from the rhizome is technically not a cane, blueberry stems are true wood, they could be considered trunks, or sub-trunks, or branches in the same sense as a branch or multiple trunks of a maple are true wood. Blackberries and other brambles have true canes which have a central core of pith, rather than true wood.

For fruit production, pruning has the goal of eliminating wood over 10 years old, and encourages new shoots from the roots to replace the older wood that is removed. An interesting aside, most highbush blueberries are self fertile, and don't need cross pollination. Most northern low bush types require pollen from a different clone to get fruit. Solitary orchard bees and bumble bees are the most efficient pollinators, the honey bee usually has to visit a blueberry blossom more than once to get pollination. Blueberries bloom while weather is too cool for honey bees to be a peak activity, so the native solitary be species are the best for blueberries.

For bonsai purposes, a shoot can be encouraged to last 20 to 30 years without much trouble, and a good fertilizer program will help it to possibly last longer. But do plan on letting the occasional new shoot survive, to eventually replace the oldest ''trunk''. Every year, multiplee new shoots should emerge if the bush is healthy, remove new shoots from the root system, in order to preserve the oldest shoot. Blueberry branches, once they have more than 3 levels of ramification have a bad habit of ''self pruning'', withdrawing support from the ramified secondary branch in favor of a young, unbranched epicormic bud on the primary ''cane''. As bonsai you will have to keep an eye out for these, and remove them before their second growing season, or the stem will withdraw support from nearby branches that have multiple levels of ramification. A middle of the growing season pruning to remove these juvenile unbranched shoots should be good enough, I do mine no later than the middle of August. This way any new growth stimulated by pruning will have time to harden off before winter. A good time to prune blueberries and not affect their winter hardiness is after leaves have dropped in autumn, through winter and up until new growth resumes in spring. So in my area, the two time for pruning are winter dormancy and July into early August. Wiring is best done in autumn or winter. Bark is thin, like on azaleas, so wire should be checked often and removed the minute it begins to cut in. Bark of young branches tends to be a beautiful rusty red-purple. Older bark is gray, but thin with some flakiness. Autumn leave color is in various shades of yellow, red and purple, and can be quite nice. The white bell shaped flowers in spring are delightful, and the blue fruit is tasty.

This all sounds complicated, but once you get into it, it is less complicated than training an azalea. (a distant cousin of blueberry).

Note: the habit of a blueberry to have the terminal bud abort, or make flowers, means that primary whip, from the base of the roots will not add additional height the subsequent seasons from the main stem. Additional height will come from a side bud that bends itself, or is wired by you into position to continue to gain height. You currently have 3 trunks with the oldest and thickest being the shortest. You will have to keep the more slender trunks in check, and encourage, by wiring, the thick trunk to grow to be taller than the other two, or your sense of perspective will be lost.

I think Sorce's virtual can work, as can your original plan. If it were mine, I would keep only a single, probably the oldest trunk, eliminate the rest, then when new shoots emerge the next growing season, keep the one that is in the "right spot, with the correct angle" and eliminate the rest. Do it as a "mother daughter" twin trunk until year 5 to year 10, then allow a third new stem to develop, and train it as a 3 trunk connected root clump. Because new shoots will have zero ramification, and be sparse for several years, a blueberry bonsai will only be in "exhibition form" for maybe 2 years out of every 10, but heck, this is true of most trees. Most of the time, they will be pleasant to look at on the bench at home.

Remember, as a vague guideline, twin trunk designs the secondary tree is either one third the height of the main tree or two thirds the height of the main tree. A twin trunk where the secondary tree is approximately half the height of the main tree tends to look awkward. In the 3 trunk design the secondary is two thirds, and the third is one third the height of the main tree. These are suggested guides, as they have been proven to work in the aesthetic of Japanese bonsai, you can do what you like and if the tree in front of you is attractive but doesn't conform, that is perfectly acceptable.
 
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#13
'Feel free to explain your "future vision" in far more detail. I am intrigued.'

Well shit....

Don't scrap the Middle trunk...
Scrap the left one. Oops.

Ahh All Bold. Like A1 Bold.

So you already know...don't make decisions too fast!

Ah....
This is bad.
View attachment 125740

I think it will have to grow much bigger to make sense....or work.

Sorce



If you were going to let the tree recover for a year anyway, and IF you were going to shorten the middle branch like Sorce suggests (and I think it's a good idea) I'd wait a wee bit, then try and air layer the top off of that middle leader... I can see a nice formal upright there, although it would be really small.
 
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#17
Thanks again for your well thought out reply. While I already knew a lot about blueberries through my own work and research, you taught me a few things as well!

One of the reasons I like collecting / using blueberries for ornamental shrubs (in my own yard) and now for bonsai (or attempting to bonsai) is their availability. They grow wild almost everywhere out here and they grow in dense patches. It's easy to grab a few shoots and not damage the overall patch (or even lessen the berry output). They grow fast, take the shade, acidity and wet soils that are prevalent here.



Note: the habit of a blueberry to have the terminal bud abort, or make flowers, means that primary whip, from the base of the roots will not add additional height the subsequent seasons from the main stem. Additional height will come from a side bud that bends itself, or is wired by you into position to continue to gain height. You currently have 3 trunks with the oldest and thickest being the shortest. You will have to keep the more slender trunks in check, and encourage, by wiring, the thick trunk to grow to be taller than the other two, or your sense of perspective will be lost.
The only problem is that the oldest, thickest trunk is deadwood. Its hard and dried out. :/ Though i might be able to make it into a dead wood feature with a bit of carving. I want to wait until its well rooted and 100% sure its dead before carving it (i'm 99.9% certain it is dead though).

As seen in the picture below, I have three ideas...lol...1) remove the "orange" branch (least fav idea) and eventually replant it on a slant. 2) Remove the blue (middle) branch and work with whats left. 3) Leave all three branches and keep all three for now.

Eitherway I plan on letting it grow basically untouched this coming season to let the roots fill out and see how the branch develop. Though part of me wants to put a bit more curve (wire) that middle branch right now. lol. Patience is not my virtue :p
 

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#19
Wow, good thread! I plan to put some in big pots for fruit. Since we are going to flip houses, my whole garden will be portable. And maybe I'll try one as bonsai. My grandmother had a hedge of blueberries near Atlanta, and my family has some in the ground but are selling the place in NC and buying/flipping more. Which leads me to my question. What type would be best for living in a pot? I'd love to have a few bushes I can raise organic. So this has all been great info, a crash course in blueberries!And since I plan to have a few native azalias , sounds like the stuff I buy will work for both. Cool. Thanks for all the info!
 
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#20
Wow, good thread! I plan to put some in big pots for fruit. Since we are going to flip houses, my whole garden will be portable. And maybe I'll try one as bonsai. My grandmother had a hedge of blueberries near Atlanta, and my family has some in the ground but are selling the place in NC and buying/flipping more. Which leads me to my question. What type would be best for living in a pot? I'd love to have a few bushes I can raise organic. So this has all been great info, a crash course in blueberries!And since I plan to have a few native azalias , sounds like the stuff I buy will work for both. Cool. Thanks for all the info!
In North Carolina you would most likely choose the Rabbit Eye type hybrids or Southern Highbush hybrids. These have a lower requirement for cold dormancy, and tolerate higher heat. Don't buy mail order unless it specifically lists your climate zone, and states what type of hybrid it is. For mail order I recommend
https://hartmannsplantcompany.com/
They are a good wholesale or retail supplier. If you meet the minimum anyone can order wholesale, but it is a big minimum. Do read the wholesale catalog, as it is much more informative on specific traits of blueberry varieties. The retail catalog has some other fruiting plants that are really interesting. They list some Rabbit Eye hybrids and some Southern Highbush hybrids, even though they are located in the heart of Northern Highbush country in SW Michigan, just down the road from my family's farm. They have extensive greenhouses, over 2 acres worth.

IF you get back in time, digging up older established bushes will be a quicker route to blueberry bonsai. Their roots tend to be shallow and wide rather than deep, so digging in late winter is easy. Even 50 year old bushes transplant well, prune branches relatively low, get as much root system as you can, that's it. For fruit, move to a 2o gallon plus size nursery pot, or half a whiskey barrel. A pot that large will be big enough to get about 4 pounds of fruit per year. If they have been growing for years in NC, they are likely a suitable variety. Use the peat moss, composted bark, & composted sawdust mix for large pots, don't bother with an inorganic component. (if you add inorganics, make sure they are inert, perlite or pumice are ideal)

For bonsai training, a large shallow grow out tray say a square 2 ft x 2 ft by 5 to 6 inches deep for initial in pot training. The highbush types will make better trunks than the low bush & half high types.
 
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