Plan of attack for a "special" Oak seedling

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Just recently I graduated from a higher educational facility. It is a tradition at this school to give their graduates an Oak seedling. Oak in particular, because it is kind of our unofficial school "mascot." I was told to plant it, and "watch it grow, as I watch the fruits of my education grow as well." I thought the symbolism (plus a free plant) was neat. I was able to get two (but don't tell anyone, lol).

One I put in a soil container, with the hopes of being able to plant it whenever I find a more permanent location and let it grow naturally. The other I put in a 4" net pot with some "bonsai soil" in the hopes of turning it into a bonsai some day. I apologize for not having photos (I'm away on business) but will get them as soon as I can.

Anyway, I was really hoping to be able to hold onto this Oak seedling for a while (I don't think I'll be graduating again for quite some time . . . or ever) and turn it into a fantastic bonsai. But I need a little help with a plan of attack. I know seedlings aren't really the way to start, but this is a little different.

I've read that planting it into the ground is the fastest growing method. Unfortunately, this isn't an option for me. I'm currently transitory between permanent locations. Containers is the only thing I can do at the moment. Plus, I don't have much experience digging up trees (and while I plan on getting more, and getting better at it, everything I dig up seems to die on me). I've decided against placing in the ground.

But exactly what type of planter to put it in, for how long, and the size of the planter has got me baffled. I've read good things about the air-pots (and have some for experiment purposes), and I've also read conflicting information about depth vs. length of the container.

Basically, can anyone help me design a schedule for the seedling. Something such as: keep it in a 4" net pot for this season, then transfer it next season to a __" air pruning pot for ___ years to develop the trunk. Then place in a shallow flat for ___ years (and ___ size) to develop the nebari. Then place in a smaller (non-bonsai) container for ___ years to work on style and development, and finally place it into a bonsai container and work on final styling.

I know it's really all over the place, and very time dependent, (as well as goal oriented, i.e. size of the tree you want) but I was hoping to be able to get an idea of where I need to be going with this thing, and what I need to be doing each season. I was hoping to have an end product of about an 18"-30" tree, formal upright or broom style. I would hate to have it sit in a container that is too small for too long, or too big too early, only to have it slow it's growth and potential down.
 
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Gene Deci

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Oaks are not the easiest species for bonsai. The leaves are usually too big and they do not transplant well due mostly to the tendancy to grow a very large tap root, but I understand your desires for this oak and I think that is great. Do you know what kind of oak it is? That can make a difference. Since putting it in the ground is not an option, the largest container you can manage is the next best thing (given the proper soil for a container). Given the source of the tree, it might not be in soil intended for long term container growing. But if it is it well- draining soil and the tree is doing well, I would not transplant it until next spring. I wouldn't worry about a time table for traning the tree now. It will take many years to develop and as you learn more about bonsai you will learn what to do and when to do it. It is hard to wait but you lose nothing by being patient.
 
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PaulH

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Many types of oaks make great bonsai. They're some of my favorite species to work with.
I would just concentrate on growing the tree for the next ten years or so. You don't really need to overthink things. Just feed the trees heavily and move them to a series of larger containers as they grow. Wood boxes work best. All the oaks I work with tolerate root work very well and develop pretty good nebari. I use pretty much the same techniques as on maples. All the usual branch development techniques work well on oaks depending on the stage of refinement. Trunk chops, thread and approach grafts, pinching, and defoliation all work well.
You didn't say what kind of oak you have but please remember, the goal should e a bonsai that looks like an oak tree. To achieve this you will have to advance beyond the standard styles we learn when beginning bonsai. While your tree is growing up you'll have plenty of time to study oak trees and see what I mean.
Good luck! Your post struck a chord with me because one of my favorite trees is a cork oak I grew from a seed from a tree on the U.C. Davis campus when I was a student there in the 70's. Still doing great over thirty years later There really is something special about a bonsai you have created from nothing.
(notice the root grafts in the photo, they worked out well)

[url=http://www.servimg.com/image_preview.php?i=39&u=15736438][img]http://i43.servimg.com/u/f43/15/73/64/38/th/bonsai10.jpg[/url][/IMG]
 

jk_lewis

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What kind of oak is it?

As to pots. You will have to change pots as it grows. Since it appears this will be a rather ambulatory oak for the forseeable future, you don't want to put it into a pot that will add to the stress of occasional (or frequent) moves.

You don't say how large these "seedlings" are, but since one is in a 4" pot, I'd say that's about right for the first year or two. I don't know about the "net" pot, though. I'd think a standard 4" nursery pot would be ideal; it hold soil, will drain water quickly and is large enough for a seedling to grow in for a year or two AND is easily transportable.

In a couple of years go to a 6" pot, then an 8" azalea pot for the next several years.

You will just have to face that this "bonsai" will be a long time growing, because you won't have it in the ideal pots for rapid growth, though it will be quite happy in the azalea pot when it is 4-5 years old and for a few years afterward.
 

Bill S

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There is a '"turkey oak that has fairly small leaves.

Your biggest problem maybe keeping the squirrells from eating it before it sprouts.
 
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Do you know what kind of oak it is?

Sorry, I guess I forgot that part. It is a Quercus Nuttallii - or Nuttall Oak.

Just feed the trees heavily and move them to a series of larger containers as they grow. Wood boxes work best.

That is what I've read so many others using, but in reading up on the different containers, the air pruning pots seemed to have several advantages. They provide optumum air for the roots, and cause superior root ramification. Unfortunately, most of the reading I've done on them is in regards to their usage on pines. I havn't seen much on their usage with deciduous trees.

If I can, I would like to stick with air pruning pots. But at the same time, I'm not willing to experiment with this tree. I can't get another one. So I'm very open to suggestions.

As far as the wood boxes go, is there a series of demensions I should look at making?

Good luck! Your post struck a chord with me because one of my favorite trees is a cork oak I grew from a seed from a tree on the U.C. Davis campus when I was a student there in the 70's. Still doing great over thirty years later There really is something special about a bonsai you have created from nothing.

Very nice. Refreshing to see an "end product."

You don't say how large these "seedlings" are, but since one is in a 4" pot, I'd say that's about right for the first year or two.

I couldn't tell you how old they are, but when I got them in May the seedlings that they were handing out (overall) were mostly between two and two and a half feet tall. Some larger, some smaller. I didn't measure the one I have, but I tried to find a "shorter" and healthier one. They were all grown in 3" airpots before I acquired them.

In a couple of years go to a 6" pot, then an 8" azalea pot for the next several years.

I was tossing between transplanting to a larger pot in August, or if I should wait until next year. I've already noticed that the roots have made their way out of the net pot, and have begun being air pruned.

Once I move to an 8" pot, you wouldn't recommend going larger than that after a few years? Will an 8" pot still provide sufficient trunk thickening and nebari?

There is a '"turkey oak that has fairly small leaves.

Thanks Bill, but I don't really have the option of choosing the type of oak. It was already selected for me.

Your biggest problem maybe keeping the squirrells from eating it before it sprouts.

They are significantly larger than a sprout, and I'm not growing from seed. They have been chilling hard in my yard for over two months now, and I havn't had any issues. I havn't had squirrells attack any of my plants, trees or seedlings. Even the JBP I started from seed appeared to be left alone, so I think the squirrells are taking the "live and let die" approach, at least for the time being.
 

rockm

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"That is what I've read so many others using, but in reading up on the different containers, the air pruning pots seemed to have several advantages."

This will slow trunk thickening to a crawl. You're putting the cart before the horse. You have a seedling, which needs some bulking up. That means providing it with maximum space for root run. Using a container that inhibits root growth kind of short circuits that.

Root ramification is nice, but at a later stage of development.

I'd put the plant in large-ish wooden box with a screen bottom. The dimensions are really up to you. There really is no formula. The box should be large enough to allow some root run, but small enough as to not remain constantly wet--the more soil, the more space for water to sit...
 

jk_lewis

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Once I move to an 8" pot, you wouldn't recommend going larger than that after a few years? Will an 8" pot still provide sufficient trunk thickening and nebari?

I thought you said you'd be moving around and caring the tree with you. To me, that means very slow development, because you don't want to stress it. In that case, annual lifting and root trimming will slow development, but that's not all bad.

It depends on how large a bonsai you want. I always think of shohin, or just a bit larger, trees. If you want a 2-3 footer, and a fat trunk, you soon will be lugging a 50 pound tree and pot around with you.

Remember, travelling will NOT be good for it.
 
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I hope not to be moving TOO much in the next couple of years. But I do know that I will likely be moving again in the next 12-18 months. From there, it will likely be a few years till I permanently place myself at a location (i.e. purchase a home). So one move in a year or so, and a second one likely within five years, but probably not more than that.

Based on the moves, I can't place it in the ground, but I don't think carrying a 50 lb tree (or even a 100 lb tree, possibly larger) would be much of a problem. I realize it will create stress on the tree, and I'm trying to relocate as infrequently as possible (and not only for my tree's sake).

I'm also looking to go a little bit bigger than shohin (not too up on my terminology), but I'm not really looking for a massive 4-5 foot tree. I think it would be too big, bulky, cumbersome, and time consuming. I realize a larger than shohin will take a significantly longer time period to accomplish, but I'm hoping that it will be worth it in the end.

Does that affect your advice, or do you still think an 8" pot is my goal? Just trying to make sure I fully understand the situation and my options.
 

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