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Summer Relief Tips for Your Bonsai
July 21, 2017

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Summer Relief Tips

It's hot and your bonsai are hot! I don't often repeat newsletter content, however this month’s Bonsai Banter is, in part, gleaned from an earlier issue.

But first ... when I saw this Neea picture, I knew I wanted to include it here!

A Tropical Treasure

It doesn't seem that long ago when the bonsai artists of Puerto Rico introduced us to their native Neea buxifolia. (Common name "nia.") However, I'm guessing it's been about 20-25 years ago by now! Since that time many growers have learned to love them.

The two bonsai shown here ("Mini" and "Maxi") are both Neea buxifolia and belong to Mike Sullivan in South Florida. The small one was a "$1. twig purchased years ago. "Maxi" was originally imported from Puerto Rico and went through several hands before he fine tuned it to the beauty it is today.

Since Mike first discovered his passion for Neeas, he's learned a lot about them, and currently has several. He has air layered them with great success, and suggests cuttings from old wood, may be worth a try. I asked him to tell us more.

"I've found there seems to be two varieties. One has a red petiole with smaller tighter growth habits, and a greener variety that flowers profusely but tends to larger leaves.

"Also, I find the more you cut and stay on top of them, the better they respond. I've played with fertilizer - organic vs chemical ... and found no difference.

"They love the summer heat and rain, it make them sprout shoots like crazy. However, with the dense canopy, watch for fungus

Mike's nias grow on a West facing bench that gets full afternoon Florida sun. Seems like this month's weather is just perfect for them!

Summer Relief Tips
for Your Bonsai

Here are the tips I promised above (from 2012, but still valid.)

Dave Bogan wrote -

. . .here in S. Indiana we have been experiencing severe heat and drought. Our trees are suffering. With this in mind, I just tried a new experiment and thought I would pass on my results.

I have started covering my pots that sit in hot direct sun with heavy wet bath towels . . .

Dave actually measured the soil temperatures and said that wet towels can reduce the soil temperature by 15 degrees Fahrenheit or more! (9.5 degree Celsius)
Kenny Popp, Louisville, KY, USA added:

You may want to try cutting 1/2 Styrofoam pieces that cover the pot on the sunny side, shim them up with a few rocks (or pieces of foam) and cut the trunk area out. (Do not use the insulation styrofoam that has the foil on one side.) A larger rock on top holds them down.

The soil temps will be what the temps are in the shade ... monitor them on windy days, but the blue Styrofoam does absorb and reflect the heat.

They must be up enough for air circulation and can be easily removed for thorough watering.

Pauline Muth, upstate New York, USA had another suggestion - “Here, we’ve been using boards slanted on the pot to the south . . .”

Keeping Shohin Moist

I mention this technique often, because it is a bonsai life saver!

You may already be growing your smallest bonsai as seen in this graphic. If you're not, summer may be a good time to give it a try. Placing miniature bonsai in a bed of sand or soil-less mix keeps them moist and also keeps them from tipping over.

I used an old cracked bonsai tray, similar to the one above, for my smallest mame. Containers of any kind including plastic are fine. Whichever you use, they should have a drain holes!

If you use this technique, it is important to pick up your miniatures from time to time, as the roots will grow through the bottom of the bonsai pot.

Read more about Miniature bonsai

Summer Dormancy?

Yes! Many years ago, I noticed this dormancy period in my leguminous and buttonwood bonsai. The trees had seemingly just shut down!

They “pouted” and even shed a few leaves. Another symptom was little to no new growth.

Summer dormancy is a temporary inactive phase caused by chemical changes within the plant cells. This growth arrestment is caused by high temperatures.

During this period, allow your bonsai to rest. They have stored up enough nutrition to sustain themselves. Do not try to wake them up with fertilizer.

Summer Watering

You may find some trees wilt from the heat.

Before you water, check the soil moisture. You may be surprised. Don’t overwater, make sure your bonsai need it.

If you water with a garden hose, remember, if it's in the sun, the water within the hose is HOT and can burn plants, including roots! Let the water run out until it cools down.

Rain and Fertilizer Tips

from David Van Buskirk, Central Florida, USA

One of David's Favorites
a Very Popular Serissa Bonsai

Currently, Florida is having high temperatures and lots of rain. When there are many days of excessive rain (no matter where you live) consider the following:

"If you are using a slow release fertilizer such as Osmocote, your trees are pretty much being fed the whole time it is raining, and they will love it. Steady days of rain deplete slow release fertilizer before its allotted time, such as if you are using a 3-4 month you might only get 2-3 months, and 8-9 month maybe only 6-7 months.

"Many days of rain may also wash out all of the organic and inorganic fertilizer, so you might have to adjust your fertilizing schedule for that. I keep a rain journal to help me know if I need to re-apply any sooner.

If your tree is not reacting to the fertilizer and has some yellowing of the leaves with darker veins, your soil is probably low on magnesium. This is pretty common with all the watering they receive now. Mix two tablespoons of Epsom salt in a gallon of water, and water them as you normally would.

Until Next Month

Summer means hot, hot means things dry out faster, drying out faster means more frequent watering.

The same goes for people, wear a hat and drink lots of water.

Consider bringing a tree indoors to work on! Stay safe.

Most Sincerely,

Mary Miller

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