Potting

Forbes

Seedling
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I have two fairly new Bonsai's (Chinese Elm and Fukien Tea) that came to me in fairly small pots 4" I believe. I pulled one and it was easy to tell that the roots were fairly a mess. I would like to put in a little larger pot 6/7". I have read on a few forums and sites of the different soils people use for potting. I recently read where some folks put small or crushed stone in the very bottom of the pot to help in draining. I'm sure it probably varies from tree to tree and from personal experiences, but is there a fairly "safe" method for repotting? Should this be done in "layers" or is okay to mix some dry ingredients (percite?) with a premixed bonsai soil and just have it mixed throughout the pot? I have come across some fairly small 1-5mm rounded stones that i would like to spread on top of the soil as well. Should this be okay as long as the soil can breath?

Any help, ideas, or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
 

akhater

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Hi Forbes,

the general rule is that you want a very well draining medium for your trees in pots, do not use what is sold under the name of "bonsai soil" it is just not good.

a lot of people would use 100% pumice or lava rocks or even akadama (more expensive) without any "soil" per say or organic material. Depending on your location you can mix some more water holding material in your mix as rough peat moss.

Also it is a VERY bad idea to "layer" different medium in your pot it will make the watering impossible since different layers of different material each having a different draining factor is a total mess.

This being said adding some rocks on the bottom of the pot is not a bad idea and will indeed help the draining, however this is not required in substrate like the ones I told you about previously (lava rocks, pumice, akadama)

Good luck
 

sfhellwig

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In the past when a more humus based soil was used a drainage layer of crushed stone or a mixture of the soil with gravel was the norm. I have seen the layers of soil suggestion in older texts. Modern soil choices tend to be very coarse and fast draining. When people talk of 100% inorganic and not being able to over-water their trees then the drainage layer is essentially built into the medium. It was also perhaps being abandoned in traditional camps as it really just raised the perched water table higher in the pot. Soil science goes deep but you can expect that for each soil type there will always be a drier area and a wetter area. If you go and subtract from the already shallow pot by using gravel you are forcing this action to happen in a narrower area.

As I am "loosening" up my soils this year I am eliminating my gravel layer. All I have found is that the roots run down there and gather probably due to aeration. If you build the porosity/air space into the soil you just end up with a better, finer root system in the first place.

The other mistake to avoid is making your re-potting soil too different from the existing soil. Since it's probably too late to do root work and you would be slip potting them, the new soil needs to match the old soil somewhat. If you have them in a very "dirt" based soil and slip pot to a very course soil, the pot will never stay a consistent moisture. The roots will sense this and "stay" in the soil it prefers instead of growing to fill the pot.
 

jk_lewis

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You don't give us a hint of where you live, but if in the USA, I'd head off to the library and check out a book on bonsai. They all discuss potting, and in more detail that we can give you here.
 

Forbes

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Thank you all very much for the feedback. I live in southern Pennsylvania. The trees are currently in a fairly slimy based mixture. I've read that reporting should only be done yearly or biannually I was thinking about trying to keep a little of the current soil and just adding some more coarse ingredients. I had some leaf yellowing so I backed off on watering and both seem to be doing pretty well.

The closest club or group looks to be about an hour or so away so I may reach out to them as well. Again, thank you all for your feedback. I'll try to post some pics soon.
 

treebeard55

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Welcome to the forum, and to bonsai. Be aware that the bonsai bug's bite usually proves to have life-long effects!

The fact that the existing roots are a "mess" suggests that an emergency repotting might be needed, but it's hard to give an opinion without seeing the tree. Your best option, I believe, is to get to a meeting of that bonsai club at the first opportunity and take the trees with you. People there will be able to examine the trees closely and give you better-informed opinions. They are also the ones most familiar with growing conditions in your area.

Until you can get to a club meeting, keep a close eye on your trees, and be sure to let the soil partially dry between waterings. That lets air (bearing oxygen) into the soil to reach the root cells.

As a general rule I would agree with akhater about buying bonsai soil on the Internet. One source I do trust is Meehan's, in Rohrersville, MD; another is North Star Bonsai, near York, PA. I'd call rather than use the website, especially with North Star.

Fukien tea is a tropical, so can handle repotting any time of year as long as conditions are warm. Chinese elm is a temperate-zone species, so spring is the best time.
 
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treebeard55

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Oops!

I just double-checked Meehan's website, and they don't sell soil after all. My bad. Meehan's is still one of the very few growers from which I will buy a tree without seeing it in person first.

You can also ask people in your nearest club where they get their soil.
 
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painter

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look up nature's way for all around good info. and good quality stock.it maybe worth the drive. i dont know the relation to where you are but he is in pennslyvania
 

Forbes

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Thanks all. Well, i had already ordered some soil from JoeBonsai (Complete soil mix (Rootopia)), and some additional horticultural vermiculite. I mixed half and half, cleaned the roots gently from all the compacted soil that they were in, trimmed a few of them back just a little and repotted with the new soil. I have noticed the need to water a little more often, closer to once a day, but both trees look to be doing very well. Both have continued to sprout new grees leaves, no yellowing, and no loss of leaves. I'm taking that as a good sign.

I never thought Bonsai trees would be something addicting, but they are. I'm trying to learn some things from the websites, forums, and talking to others, but i'm a little bit of a "trial and error" guy by nature... i guess since i'm doing any shows or anything, and i've started with fairly inexpensive stock, i can do that for now. :) Thank you so much for all of the information. I'm learning a good bit from this forum.
 

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