Repotting and heterogeneous substrate distribution

clic8991

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I have been studying bonsai for ~18 months. I often read about substrate composition (well draining, particle size, etc). These topics generally refer to a standard mix of a certain percentage of different components, which will be mixed homogeneously to produce a substrate which is placed into the container with the tree. My question is:

Are There any situations in which the components of the mix are not homogeneous?

I can think of a couple scenarios where this might be appropriate. Most of these thoughts came about from from my initial observation looking at how roots grew in the substrate following my first season of bonsai repotting last spring. My mix consisted of ~50% turface, 25% potting soil, 25% pine bark. What I saw was that often feeder roots had migrated and attached themselves to the large pieces of pine bark, which presumably retain water the longest. While this could be the result of poor watering habits on my part, I thought of a couple situations where this can be useful.

1. Directing the induction of new "surface" roots from the nebari in a particular direction. In this case, Could one place pine bark (or anything relatively water retentive) in the pot at the side of the tree which you wished to develop roots?

2. Similarly in the case of a root over rock style; Could one put a zone of water retentive substrate at the base of where they desired the roots to reach? In this way directing existing roots to extend and clasp the rock, etc.

3. Could beginners, such as myself, place a water retentive zone at the bottom of their training containers to provide a generally well draining soil that still maintained a zone of moisture at the bottom. In this way the substrate composition may be relatively forgiving providing a less stressful to the tree until my watering skills became more consistent.

Does anyone have any insight on this topic or think it is worth experimenting with?

Thanks,
Colin
 

Brian Van Fleet

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Welcome...the answers are sort of, sort of, and no...often the retentive ingredient used where roots are desired is spaghnum moss, but putting it somewhere in the pot hoping roots will find it won't work. Place it (lightly and temporarily) on the surface of the soil to reduce transpiration (solves #3), and at the point on the tree where you want root growth to emerge (rather than somewhere in the pot where you want it to end up). Read Brent Walston's article on Soil Collapse...it's very enlightening, and right on the money:

http://www.evergreengardenworks.com/soils.htm

and on soil structure properties in a pot:
http://www.evergreengardenworks.com/earthpot.htm
 
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Brian Van Fleet

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Here is a quick sequence on a pyracantha that I had to saw flat to collect. Right side had roots, left side didn't. Over the last few years, I scraped some of the callous, applied rooting hormone, and packed the area with spaghnum moss, the rock was used for stability. You can see it's working. I am eager to see the results of the last 2 years next month when I repot it again. I think this silly thing may develop some nebari in spite of itself!
 

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maveriiick

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Here is a quick sequence on a pyracantha that I had to saw flat to collect. Right side had roots, left side didn't. Over the last few years, I scraped some of the callous, applied rooting hormone, and packed the area with spaghnum moss, the rock was used for stability. You can see it's working. I am eager to see the results of the last 2 years next month when I repot it again. I think this silly thing may develop some nebari in spite of itself!
Can you explain how you collected this? did you airlayer or cut it and place it in soil direct? Is the latter possible? My understanding is that most hardwood will not root (only younger greenwood) whn placed in water or a growing medium like soil. Hardwoods I thought where only collected through airlayering or groundlayering. Please let me know.
Thanx
 

jk_lewis

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It depends on he plant. This one it seems was dug up, then had to be trimmed so that one side lacked roots.

Pyracantha can be grown from quite sizeable hardwood cuttings, through -- 1/2 inch or even larger if you live in a warm climate. But you are right that you don't start hardwood cuttings in a glass of water (except for willows, of course). You use rooting hormone, then plant in damp sand, keep it warm and wait.

It's quicker and better to grow from a layer, through, if you can. But if you don't control the parent tree, layering is usually not possible. Then you take several cuttings and hope one or two take.

On soil: Don't overthink soil and bonsai. There's a LOT of drivel written about bonsai soil. All it needs to do is drain well. Period. You adjust watering to take into account how well it retains water.

A basic mix: 80% Turface equivalent, 20% composted bark.
 

irene_b

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Good God Brian that looks like a Hernia maker!!
Colin it would help us all to answer in greater detail if you would update your profile on where in the World you are...
 

clic8991

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Thanks for the replies. I updated my location. Durham, NC, USA Zone 7B.

Colin
 

Brian Van Fleet

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Can you explain how you collected this? did you airlayer or cut it and place it in soil direct?
Shovels and a chainsaw;)
It was a big, overgrown stand at my mother-in-law's down in Pas Christian, MS, the spring before Katrina wiped out the area. I had to get it out in 3 chunks. This chunk had roots on one side, and the other side was cut through with a chain saw. I'll try to find some photos. Roots grew over time; pyracantha is very strong!


Good God Brian that looks like a Hernia maker!!
Funny, but not far off! In 1997 I got a hernia form horsing around a big Scots Pine. This is smaller, but still a pretty heavy tree. Also, slightly overpotted!
 
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Brian Van Fleet

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No glory shots yet ;-), it's still a couple years away, but here is a decent photo from 2008 with berries. Realized I never photographed it in '09 after I cut it back pretty hard. I'll shoot it again when I repot it. I've been working on getting branches to form on the right trunk to balance the left. Go figure, the side without roots is stronger than the side with!
 

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Brian Van Fleet

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Repotted this weekend. I HATE this pot, but it is a good size for the tree now. Last year was a year of tightening up the ramification, this year should be a good year for improving the profile...
 

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Yamadori

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And how were the roots? Are you getting development where you applied hormone and sphag?
 

jk_lewis

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Pot looks fine to me for this tree. What don't you like?
 

Brian Van Fleet

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Roots have made a lot of progress over the last couple years, and think in a few years, they will actually be decent visible surface roots. I applied sphagnum moss one more time, but probably didn't need to. I want them to thicken up a little before I expose them...maybe next time.

The pot...just ugly, and cheap...and ugly. But, this combo is probably the best I've come up with since I bought the pot. The size is right on, and the color seems to work with the Pyracantha.
 

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Shima

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Roots have made a lot of progress over the last couple years, and think in a few years, they will actually be decent visible surface roots. I applied sphagnum moss one more time, but probably didn't need to. I want them to thicken up a little before I expose them...maybe next time.

The pot...just ugly, and cheap...and ugly. But, this combo is probably the best I've come up with since I bought the pot. The size is right on, and the color seems to work with the Pyracantha.
Just call it a growing pot, then your exquisite taste won't be compromised and you won't have to get all exercised about it.:D
 

Shima

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Just call it a growing pot, then your exquisite taste won't be compromised and you won't have to get all exercised about it.:D
Oh jeeze Brian. I meant this to be funny but now I see it seems kind of snarky. Still haven't learned to avoid subtlty on forums. My deepest apologies.
 
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