Improvised noob setup

Ray777

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Hello all. So I’m just several days into my Bonsai hobby, though I’ve been researching nonstop lol
I dived right in, and jury rigged a growing setup for my first two plants, a red maple and a juniper pre bonsai. Using an aggregate of information, educated guesses, and supplies I had on hand, I made the following setup. Looking for any insights or critiques.
Each plant is in a 10” unpainted terra cotta pot with drain hole, on top of a humidity and drainage tray, with black lava rocks. As a precaution, and to reduce effective depth, I placed about 1.5” layer of black lava rocks to the bottom of the pots. I happened to have just enough bonsai mix, from the nursery I bought the plants at, and in a garage closet (I’m guessing, as from Rogers Gardens) a high quality organic potting mix. I added about 85% dose of organic fertilizer from the nursery, per 3 month formula, and then watered somewhat lightly, just until the pot started dripping. Then I pulled the plants carefully from the little pots, loosened them a bit, and planted them. It somehow felt like common sense to water lightly the first time though I’m thinking there might be an issue with fertilizer being too concentrated at the surface, though I think it fortunate I added the plants after fertilizing the big pots.
So any observations or pointers would be appreciated. The plants seem to be growing quick and healthy.

For two matters I could use a suggestion. Is foliar feeding essential? And what about disease and pest prevention (as opposed to just treatment). Is this essential? And should the treatment and prevention be on the tree and/or into the soil?

Sorry for the long message lol and thanks in advance!
 

Colorado

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Welcome!

- Is foliar feeding essential? No, but can be beneficial during the growing season.

- Is pest and disease prevention essential? No, but many practitioners use these preventative measures. Many others take a more holistic approach devoid of chemicals.

- Should chemicals be on the tree or the soil or both? Depends on the product. There are products designed for soil application and others designed for foliar application.

Hope this helps!
 

Bonsai Nut

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A couple of quick comments...

(1) If possible, you should keep your trees outside. At the minimum, your red maple requires a dormancy each year, and any conifer like your juniper is going to require brighter lighting than most indoor setups provide (not ALL, but most). CDM is mild enough that you are never going to have to worry about a freeze, so your trees will only experience a short dormancy - but even that is necessary to allow anything less than a full tropical to rest each year.

(2) At this time of year, you should hold off on repotting because your trees are heading into dormancy. I used to repot my pines in December, but all other trees in early spring like Feb/Mar just as they are waking up. Again this is for SoCal where you don't get freezing temps.

(3) Be careful with fertilizer. You definitely don't want to fertilize right now if your trees are not actively growing. There are also times when you want to hold off on fertilization for other reasons - like when you repot, or at certain times in the seasonal growth of your trees when you don't want them to have leggy branch extensions and long internodes.

It is easy when first starting out to dive in and start working on your trees... and ask for advice after the fact :) I've done it, as have probably most people. It is best to ask for advice prior to doing work. I spent a lot of time yesterday talking to Julian Adams about his successes with Japanese White Pine cultivation. I specifically asked what he did, and then told him what I would normally do, and get his critique of all the mistakes I was about to make.
 

Bonsai Nut

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Oh I should have started with the most important thing...

How is your water? Your water utility (in CA) has to post annual water quality reports. If you are using unfiltered tap water, make sure you understand you water pH, hardness, and pay particular attention to sodium levels (since you are close to the ocean). If you are using a water softener (recharged with potassium chloride pellets) or reverse osmosis water, you will be in significantly better shape than if you are using unfiltered water (assuming your water is anything like mine was).

This may impact the fertilization regimen you adopt, or your soil mix. There is a reason why Home Depot stocks those big 40 lb bags of soil acidifier and Ironite in SoCal :)

Some trees (like Japanese black pines) are more resistant to higher pH and elevated sodium levels. But maples and azaleas - no way - particularly if you get any spray from the coast, or if your tap water is above 7.5 pH.
 
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Ray777

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Thank you all for all the detailed information! I will be certain to take it all into account, as time goes on and I have a chance lol

A quick question, though... what about the proportions of half & half Bonsai mix to potting soil? Is it too much of one, or the other? Or would you all suggest adding something to, or removing something from the mixture? Will the layer of black lava rocks on the bottom of the pots (which have holes) help matters?
 

Potawatomi13

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about the proportions of half & half Bonsai mix to potting soil? Is it too much of one, or the other?
Indeed. "potting soil" generally too moisture retentive. Some "Bonsai mixes" also have too much organic matter. Conifer should be largely inorganic(like pumice), broadleaved trees can have 20-40% organic matter. Also supporting call to keep outdoors if wanting good solid strong growth:).
 

Ray777

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Indeed. "potting soil" generally too moisture retentive. Some "Bonsai mixes" also have too much organic matter. Conifer should be largely inorganic(like pumice), broadleaved trees can have 20-40% organic matter. Also supporting call to keep outdoors if wanting good solid strong growth:).
Thank you for that. These are also important details I will be sure to remember. I would like to know, presuming that I would like to, at the moment, use at least some potting soil in big grow-out pots, what would be a most highly recommended pre-made potting soil for this purpose, with Bonsai in general? Thank you again! 😋
 

Bnana

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I would never use potting soil in a bonsai mix. It's a mess and clogs everything You can add pine bark if you want organics. Different layers in a pot trend to become a mess as well and is not advices in general.
I must say I'm in a much wetter and cooler climate.

On pest prevention I'm off the opinion that if you need that you're doing something wrong. A healthy tree doesn't need that and a bit of mildew in September or a few aphids are part of life. Not anything to worry about and start chemical warfare. In some cases you need to treat a pest but the classic soap-ethanol treatment goes a long way.
 

Ray777

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I would never use potting soil in a bonsai mix. It's a mess and clogs everything You can add pine bark if you want organics. Different layers in a pot trend to become a mess as well and is not advices in general.
Thank you for that. I guess what I'm looking for, is a value for the money bonsai mix to use in big pots. It's exorbitant to use 'premium' bonsai mix in big pots, but I've bought Bonsai mix from a nursery for about the cost of Miracle Gro potting soil, about $15 for 2 cubic feet. I would like to find something like what I got from the nursery, only order it online, maybe on Amazon, and receive quickly lol just wondering if there are any suggestions about this, something other than the Miracle Gro Cactus mix...
classic soap-ethanol treatment goes a long way.
I will have to look into this. My Mother was doing something along these lines with a plant recently:)
 

rockm

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Thank you for that. I guess what I'm looking for, is a value for the money bonsai mix to use in big pots. It's exorbitant to use 'premium' bonsai mix in big pots, but I've bought Bonsai mix from a nursery for about the cost of Miracle Gro potting soil, about $15 for 2 cubic feet. I would like to find something like what I got from the nursery, only order it online, maybe on Amazon, and receive quickly lol just wondering if there are any suggestions about this, something other than the Miracle Gro Cactus mix...

I will have to look into this. My Mother was doing something along these lines with a plant recently:)
Skimping on bonsai soil is similar to skimping on car maintenance. The soil is the engine that runs your bonsai. At some point, if you skimp on that engine, your tree will pay for it with slowing growth, yellow leaves and potential death. Potting soil is very bad in bonsai applications. Cactus soil is also inadequate for bonsai use for the most part. Both contain fine particles that slow drainage and compacts over time killing roots. Potting soil is formulated to hold on to water and complicates watering. Good bonsai soil is meant to drain excess water and keep smaller amounts within larger porous granules that don't compact.

Bonsai soil can be expensive, but it is generally worth the $.


 

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