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Winter Bonsai - Cold Feet and Weird Wilt
November 18, 2018

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Tropical Bonsai in Winter

Most reputable bonsai sellers will not ship tropical plants during the middle of a snow storm, however, unfortunately it's not beyond the realm of possibility.

Tropicals are not the only ones that can be damaged during winter travel. Small plants of any variety are especially vulnerable.

Why risk it? Wait for spring before ordering plants online.

If you're planning to purchase a tree locally during a cold spell, take special care. Even if it's just from the shop to the car! A plastic bag (large enough to enclose the entire tree) is perfect for that short trip. Do not leave the tree in plastic on very long. Once the car is heated up above freezing, open the bag, temporarily.

Having lived in Florida most of my life, it's sometimes difficult to relate to the special needs of tropical plants in other climate zones. However, my readers keep me in line.

I continue to be amazed at the lengths to which people go, to keep tropicals alive through the winter.

When Dale Cahoy was selling tropicals in Ohio, those that didn't sell in summer, were placed under lights in the basement for the winter. The closer to lights the better.

Carl Rosner kept his Bougainvillea collection in a sun room. Look closely and you can see snow on the shrubs outdoors.

Cold Feet

If you find you have a tropical that just doesn't seem happy indoors in winter, but otherwise is healthy, perhaps it has cold feet. Buttonwood (Conocarpus erectus) and Bahama Berry (Nashia i. bonsai are especially fond of "foot warmers" for their roots.

Propagation Mats, often called 'seedling starters,' could be the answer. They are available in many sizes and the low prices are worth every penny.

Winter Wilt

Bradley Barlow's Ficus, shown above, obviously doesn't have a problem. However, Buttonwood, Ficus and some legumes have been known to display their discontent with cold by wilting. I call this weird event "pouting."

Strangely, these plants may do the same thing in the heat of summer. Sometimes this wilt is misidentified as a need for water.

Always check the soil before reacting to wilt. Make sure they need water before drenching.

Tropicals in the Tropics

Bonsai people living in the sub-tropics have their share of winter worries. If we're lucky, Frost & Freeze Fabric is the only thing we need.

If it gets too close to freezing, we begin the "dance of the tropicals" - taking bonsai indoors and out again.

* "Tropicals" is a term widely used to include both tropical and sub-tropical plants.

Often Missed Pages

While reviewing my BonsaiMary site, I recently discovered the fragrant Bahama Berry Bonsai is one of the least visited pages. If you've ever wondered how a new plant is discovered for bonsai, you may enjoy this story.

This plant is a true tropical shrub, native to the southern Bahama Islands. It loves the heat and hates the cold.

From time to time, I'm asked if I'm familiar with the Bahama Berry. It always makes me smile, I gave Nashia that common name!

The Unique Bonsai page has just that, some very unique bonsai.

Phil Krieg's kite and bonsai is just one.

Jukka "Fatalii" Kilpinen, from Finland, is an expert in the chili pepper world. I know there is some controversy about peppers as real bonsai. However, you have to see his peppers (also on the "Unique" page.)

Bonsai Mary Gets Mail

Barry R., Minnesota, USA

Hi Mary, thank you for sending the Bonsai Banter letters.

Question for you. I have a willow leaf ficus growing on a flat rock. The root structure is about 4 inches thick and I would like to thin it down by an inch or so. It just came in from outside last week, when would be a good time to cut the bottom of the root structure off?

My Response

Barry, so glad you asked, rather than just do it! There's an old saying in real estate that equally applies to bonsai ... location, location, location!

The quick answer to your question, based on where you live is, not now.

Minnesota has three climate zones, which makes specific advice difficult. Nevertheless, the best time will be when you take your Ficus bonsai back outdoors into the warm fresh air ... when you hope there is no chance of frosts or freezes. That should give you enough recovery time, before it's time to go back indoors again.

A Favorite Photo

Whenever I think of snow on bonsai, this Walter Pall photo comes to mind. Speaking of photos . . .

Holiday Photos Wanted

In every December newsletter, I post both beautiful and fun Christmas bonsai photos. If you have a unique bonsai for the holidays, share it with us!

They can be serious or funny. I may not be able to post them all, so I guess that makes it somewhat of a contest!

Contact Bonsai Mary

(I will then give you best instructions for sending pictures)

Until Next Month

Have a festive Thanksgiving! Keep your eye on the weather, don't be caught off-guard. I know I repeat this often, however ... If you care whether it lives or dies, be sure your bonsai in a safe place!


Mary Miller

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