Watering Techniques

Mortalis

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Currently I use a scale to weigh my trees. I weigh the pot, the soil mix and the tree. Then I pot the tree up, water and weigh again. With these two data points I know when the tree is dry. I weigh again after watering each time and update the watered weight as the tree grows. I then add the difference back to the dry weight and I have my new data points.

This method has become time consuming as I have 17 trees now. The reason I do it this way is other methods seem to escape me. Every time I try to water any other way I start to get yellow leaves.

If I sticking my finger in to test for wetness how do I get to the bottom of the pot without disturbing the roots to much.

Same thing with the chopstick method. How do you avoid disturbing the roots.

How do you guys tell when your trees are dry?
 

Ang3lfir3

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Wow just reading that description made me tired. What I am about to say will have me shuned... scorned and thrown out into the streets of bonsai. But I will reveal my secret and my sin.

I use a free draining soil and water every day unless the soil seems to be wet or we have had a hard rain (we get 36" of rain a year so yeah it can water a pot). I know sacralige... burn him at the stake. On REALLY hot days, we had some of those recently, I water twice. On really mild periods I water every other day. I water all the trees at the same time.

Now I can get away with that because of two things. 1. Climate - in the PNW the word mild doesn't begin to cover how pleasant the weather usually is. 2. Free Draining Soil - my soil holds X amount of water everything else passes through. Once the soil is moist it will stay that way for up to two days in mild weather and usually one in warmer times. Regardless the soil holds the same amount of moisture every time I water (aprox blah blah some variations may occur).

I know its sacrolige but I have lots of trees to water and some of them I don't even want to try and weigh much less move. (I don't want to know what that damn bougie weighs)

So thats how I do it. That is how Daniel Robinson does it. That is how a lot of folks do it. why? you ask.... because we aren't interested in beating our selves up, and our climate lets us get away with it.

YMMV (your milage may vary)

ok... now for people to give me grief about it. I suggest you listen to those closest to your climate.
 

Rick Moquin

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.. and that s pretty much what I do as well Eric, so no pire fires today ;)

Mortalis, you forgot to mention that you're a dunker.
 

greerhw

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Sounds good to me...

keep it green,
Harry
 

Dav4

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I use a free draining soil and water every day unless the soil seems to be wet or we have had a hard rainQUOTE]

Me, too. Like Walter Pall has said here and elsewhere, "Any fool can water their bonsai if it is in a modern, free draining mix". Honestly, I have too many trees to assess their individual need for watering...if the soil surface is dry they get watered. I've been using a completely inorganic mix and daily watering for 4 years now and the trees, including Rocky Mountain Juniper, Ponderosa Pine, and Japanese Red Pine all have done quite well.

Dave
 
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FrankP999

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Same thing with the chopstick method. How do you avoid disturbing the roots.

How do you guys tell when your trees are dry?
I use a wooden skewer intended for grilling shish-ka-bob. It has smaller diameter than a chopstick and a pointed end which makes it easier to insert. I don't worry about disturbing the roots with such a small diameter. Also, I do not have a skewer in every pot. I have a few in different size pots and judge the needs of the whole collection based on the skewer in just a few.

Frank
 

DaveV

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Hi Dave4, What type of mix do you use? I live in Iowa and have not been able to find any pumice, anywhere. Small lava is also difficult to find. My mix is 1 part of each; haydite : turface : granite : lava : pine bark mulch. So overall, its 20-15% organic.

Dave V.
 

Mortalis

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Frank do you leave the skewer in all the time and remove it only to test moisture?

I am going crazy.. I thought I already posted this.. but

I am testing two mixes at the moment.

100% lava and 50/50 lava pine bark.
 

mcpesq817

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I pretty much follow what the others do - free draining mix, no chopsticks, no weight measurements, etc. Generally water once a day, twice a day in hot summer, and fewer if we've had rain or the weather has been really mild.
 

Ang3lfir3

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I am testing two mixes at the moment.

100% lava and 50/50 lava pine bark.

100% lava will work however since you are in Texas (you guys have too many climates.. maybe Texas should be smaller :p ) you will probably see better results with the 50/50 mix. Also since the bark mix will contain bark that is breaking down you will get some minor nutritional value from that as it decomposes. If you can find it fir bark is a better bark medium due to it having a rounded shape as it breaks down shedding unneeded water and not creating a surface for water to "stand" on. Otherwise if you can manage it 50/50 lava and turface or akadama or calidama would be an effective mix as well. You should be able to acquire akadama from Dallas Bonsai for a somewhat reasonable price.

Most of the real traditionalists go so far as to only water each tree "when it needs watering" but that is a lot harder to do than it is to say. I've seen no ill effects and as you can tell neither have a lot of others.

it goes without saying that if you can use pumice instead of lava you should see great results as well and your pots will be much lighter ;) however it may be hard to find.
 

wvbonsai

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Watering every day in summer is actually fine. By this point the trees should have established root systems. Watering every day is more of a problem during the cooler spring months. If your bonsai arent permitted to dry out a bit between waterings at this point the roots will not be encouraged to spread out and seek water, leading to a small inadequate root system.
 

Rick Moquin

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Frank do you leave the skewer in all the time and remove it only to test moisture?

I am going crazy.. I thought I already posted this.. but

I am testing two mixes at the moment.

100% lava and 50/50 lava pine bark.
After 17 years I thought you would be done experimenting :confused::confused::confused:
 

Mortalis

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I have been into bonsai since I was 12 give or take but have only had time and space for it since I was 28 or about 4 years seriously.
 

head_cutter

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Loved it Mortalis, want you to come measure and weigh my 'welcome' tree.

I always had way too many trees on the benches to do that, would have been an all day job for two people. Always believed in the right pot and the right soil mix to handle the hard part. When I was in the states I used a mix of sieved Pine Bark mulch and Haydite, mixed 2 ways depending on the tree. Normally made 2 passes until the the water had been running freely through the holes. In warmer weather that was enough along with some misting if it was really hot.

If there was any doubt about how wet they were I'd just shove a finger in the soil. That takes all of the rocket-surgery out of it.

Set it up right in the beginning then just enjoy the hobby.

Here I have to water at least twice a day, mist 2 -3 times in the dry season. The only thing available as 'soil' is a mix of coarse sand and Basalt chips.

Bob
 

Mortalis

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I know my problem is growing indoors. I can't water every day because of that. I am sure that when I get my yard fenced in I can start doing that with most of my trees. But then in winter when I have to bring them in I am back to the problem.

I am trying Franks skewers and at 97 cents for 100 no big investment if they don't do it for me. But in just this first day of using them I can see how they may just be the trick I need.
 

Dav4

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Hi Dave4, What type of mix do you use? I live in Iowa and have not been able to find any pumice, anywhere. Small lava is also difficult to find. My mix is 1 part of each; haydite : turface : granite : lava : pine bark mulch. So overall, its 20-15% organic.

Dave V.

Right now, I use lava:turface:grit, equal parts. This mix may change in the future as I have recently moved from New England to North Georgia. The mix worked great for me in MA, and so far so good down south. By the way, when I moved, I took my supply of soil ingredients, including #400 of turface, #100 of lava, and #100 of grit:cool::eek:.

Dave
 

Mortalis

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Well since starting franks skewers I have been judging from them and then weighing to check if I am correct. Well Frank your skewers have been on the money. I'm dropping the scale. Thanks.
 

rockm

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If you're dunking the trees in a basin, that's probably your biggest problem. That is the absolute worst way to water bonsai--UNLESS it's done immediately after repotting or in a situation when the soil needs to be immediately saturated--like when the soil is left to dry out completely and the foliage is wilting.

Watering IS hard, regardless of what is said. Using a free draining mix, as Mr. Pall does in moist, humid Germany, can be murder in Texas summertime sun for a deciduous tree, possibly even for some conifers...

Watering on a schedule is also a pretty bad way to water. Watering once a day in extremely hot humid weather in the Southern US WILL result in root problems. Heat induces a summer dormancy in some trees. Some will stop active growth and use significantly less water.

Weighing trees is not necessary. Getting to understand how the soil mix you're using drains and dries throughout the seasons is necessary to understand when you need to water. This can take some time and astute observations. When you go out to water, note the soil's color (darker soil is moister soil). You can lift one side of the pot off the bench (do this right after you water one day to get a feel for how heavy each "watered" pot is.) Note the weight. If it is NOTICEABLY lighter, you may need to water.

Chopstick in the soil can be a help in the short term, but should be used a temporary measure until you learn by sight and feel when to water.

Watering is an individual, changeable thing. Weather can play a huge role in the when. Sunny windy days in early summer can require a number of additional watering. Sunny hot days in late summer may require none...
 

mcpesq817

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Watering on a schedule is also a pretty bad way to water. Watering once a day in extremely hot humid weather in the Southern US WILL result in root problems. Heat induces a summer dormancy in some trees. Some will stop active growth and use significantly less water.

Watering is an individual, changeable thing. Weather can play a huge role in the when. Sunny windy days in early summer can require a number of additional watering. Sunny hot days in late summer may require none...

I've actually noticed this as well with my trees. Early summer I had to water twice a day. More recently, we have been having hot and very humid conditions, and I've cut my watering back to once a day or even less frequently (except for some trees that seem to be growing a lot and very thirsty right now, like my cork bark elms).

I'm pretty new to this too, but I think you eventually get the hang of eyeballing your trees and just knowing when you need to water or not water, without doing the weighing and other stuff. I'll also stick the tip of my finger into the edge of the pot on some of my trees just to see how much moisture is being held just under the soil line. But that's about it.
 
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