What's your mix? How often do you feed?

maplesandpaws

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Hello all,

While I am not entirely new to bonsai (been an enthusiast for many years, and in the last few have finally started with some trees), I am fairly new to maples - and have become hooked (line, and sinker, lol). Important info to know: I live in Kansas, my maples get indirect morning sun to about 10am then bright shade with some dappled sun for the rest of the day, and are protected as much as I possibly can from the wind.

I know maples don't care for wet feet, and I thought I had a decent soil mix, but I think it is still too water-retentive as I haven't needed to water for 2-3 days. I know it's due in large part to the horrendous heat we've had the past 2-3 months, but a lot of my leaves are quite singed along the edges, but I'm worried too that it's because they're too wet. Granted, it's been more humid this last week after finally receiving rain, but am I right in thinking it needs to be faster draining? I've been using a standard tree and shrub soil (like Miracle Gro, Scotts, etc) with some extra pine bark, haydite, kanuma (like haydite, but ericaceous (sp?)), and fine chicken grit mixed in. I've also added some Happy Frog Soil Conditioner to it.

The majority of my maples are 1-2 year grafts with a couple that are a little older, so I know they are more sensitive to conditions at this stage, and I'd hate to be stressing them more unnecessarily by doing things wrong.

Also, how often should I feed them? I know the general rule of thumb with bonsai is about twice a month, but I know too that maples don't necessarily need - or do well - with too much fertilizer. Is there a fertilizer you'd recommend? I have a general purpose bonsai fertilizer (7-9-5) I had been using, but have recently purchased Fox Farm's Japanese Maple fertilizer and Neptune's Harvest Fish and Seaweed Blend; haven't had a chance to use them yet as I bought them after it got so terribly hot.

Any and all feedback and recommendations would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!!
 

Brian Van Fleet

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First, welcome! Second, you know that asking a forum with 1500 members about their soil mix could prompt 1500 answers at best...and it gets worse from there!!! The best guidance will be to find a mix that allows your trees to thrive under your watering habits. It does sound like your mix is a bit retentive.

Feeding; no rule of thumb, but regular feeding keeps them healthier. I use organic cakes (lots of them) and heavy doses weekly of Neptune's Harvest fish + kelp...from spring through fall without breaks during the heat of summer.

Here is a series of a maple's development that needs to be updated with this year's work, but it's a decent start.

Enjoy.
 

Mike423

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Your leaves being singed is most usually attributed to too much sun exposure. Your maples should be receiving partial shade, preferably receiving sun all morning and then shaded through out the hottest part of the day.

As for fertilizer you would probably be as well off with an average fert. as the 'specialized' Jap. maple one. Just be sure your tree is also receiving trace elements in addition to fertilizer (some fertilizers have trace element's already in them). I use a 10-10-10 solution for my Deciduous Bonsai from late spring/early summer (once the leaves have hardened off) to late August. Then from then until winter I use a 2-10-10 fertilizer so as not to promote new growth as well as help the tree build its reserves for winter.

If your in Kansas your probably in a Zone 6 area?? which is almost the same as me (zone 5). I generally use a mixture of Turface, Rough sphagnum peat moss (sifted to remove everything but the bigger rough chunks) and a non porous component like Haydite, chicken grit, course river sand, whatever you can get your hands on. The mix is even proportions ut I have been trying a mix with just the rough peat and turface which seems to be doing just as well. A mixture that will work pretty well from Cali to Chicago recommended by Boon and seems to be the best that I'm looking into trying is equal parts Pumice, Lava rock, and Akadama.
 

PaulH

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This is what I do. It works great for me, but I think your soil mix, water, and microclimate may affect results.
I use the standard soil mix of 1/3 akadama, 1/3 lava, 1/3 pumice for everything.
I feed every Saturday between March and October alternating with Miracle Gro full strength; mix of fish emulsion, liquid seaweed, and humic acid; and Monrovia brand organic granular all-purpose fertilizer. The rest of the year I feed every Saturday with Liquinox 0-10-10 liquid.
You need to experiment, however, with your own conditions and find what works for you.
Paul
 

maplesandpaws

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First, welcome! Second, you know that asking a forum with 1500 members about their soil mix could prompt 1500 answers at best...and it gets worse from there!!!
Thank you! And yes, I know how it goes when you ask multiple people for their opinion... :D


After talking to someone at one of the local nurseries about my problem, he suggested that for now, I could try moving my maples so that they could get more airflow and that would hopefully help dry out the soil better, but still remain in mostly shade. They had been in the corner of the yard, up against the fence on two sides under a couple of large trees; it's not still, but as it's the corner, the air doesn't move around as well as it could. So, I moved them a few days ago and I think it's helping, though time will tell.

From what everyone is saying, and what I've been observing, I will definitely be making the mix more gritty come spring though... Speaking of which, would it be ok to repot them in a better draining mix if they'd already been potted this spring/summer (1-2yr grafts)? Or would that stress them more than staying in the pots/mix they're currently in?

Some people say to only start fertilizing once the leaves harden off (which would be April/May or so?) to help reduce too much wild shoot growth, while others start feeding right away in spring (ie, March)? What are the advantages/disadvantages of both methods? When some of you say that you keep feeding them through summer, do you still do that if you're consistently in the 90's and hotter (107 again today)? I had always thought the trees went pseudo-dormant during prolonged excessive heat and continual fertilizing could burn the roots... Please correct me if I'm wrong. And sorry for all the questions, just trying to learn without making too many mistakes (and killing too many trees!). :)

For your viewing pleasure, I've attached a pictures of some of my maple babies; it'll be many years before they're anything close to a bonsai.
 

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jk_lewis

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You have much too many ingredients in your soil. Simple is best.
2/3 inorganic 1/3 organic is all anyone needs for maples. For me, that's Turface and composted pine bark.

But remember, we're nearing the end of summer -- a long, hot summer. Maples -- especially Japanese maples -- will have a few (or more) ragged leaves by this time of the year. There's no avoiding it.

If there is some reason for your trees to have perfect leaves -- a show or display somewhere in the next few weeks -- you need to simply cut off all the ragged, burned leaves (leaving the petiole) and allow new ones to grow.
 

maplesandpaws

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You have much too many ingredients in your soil. Simple is best.
2/3 inorganic 1/3 organic is all anyone needs for maples. For me, that's Turface and composted pine bark.

I would LOVE to use composted pine bark, but can not seem to find it anywhere local. Where do you get it, or what do I need to look for? All I can seem to find is pine bark mulch, which I know is not what you're referring to.
 

Smoke

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I would LOVE to use composted pine bark, but can not seem to find it anywhere local. Where do you get it, or what do I need to look for? All I can seem to find is pine bark mulch, which I know is not what you're referring to.

You are quite right. Most people are confused about just what exactly composted material is. Compost is inert, it is no longer "hot" meaning it has decomposed past the point of needing nitrogen to keep living. Once organic material is composted it then gives up its nutrients fully needing nothing in return for the service.

This is why I am such an advocate of adding humic acids to my bonsai. You can't beat 350 million years of composting!

Good luck. Al
 

jk_lewis

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I would LOVE to use composted pine bark, but can not seem to find it anywhere local. Where do you get it, or what do I need to look for? All I can seem to find is pine bark mulch, which I know is not what you're referring to.

Yeah, I don't suppose there are many pine forests in Kansas. This stuff is more easily available where there are harvested forests.

But pine bark mulch would be OK as long as it isn't the nuggets; you'd probably still have to sort out the stuff that is too large. One potential solution -- though not an immediate one -- is to buy several bags of the smaller mulch and compost it yourself for a year or two.
 
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