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More Bonsai Myths

This page contains more bonsai myths, many of which have to do with bonsai tree care instructions. These are some of my all-time favorites.

Many people were surprised by the subjects listed on the first Bonsai Myths page. To me, the following are even more interesting.  I've even listed a couple that I personally followed for years.

"Sea Salt is good for Oceanside Trees"

The first time I heard the recommendation to use sea salt in the water for watering certain bonsai trees, I was more than a little surprised.

Someone brought a beautiful buttonwood bonsai to a program on tropicals.  The leaves seemed to be extraordinarily thick.

(Recently collected Conocarpus often have very thick leaves because of their proximity to the ocean.) 

I asked if this was a recent purchase.  "No, I purposely make the leaves that way with sea salt, just like they get from the ocean."  I tried to explain that the whole idea was for the plant to exude the salt through the leaves, not to keep it. (The owner was not convinced.)

Years later, the same subject appeared on the internet regarding a Pemphis in the Philippines.  "Salt water will really help for the health."

I couldn't help commenting online:

"... Using sea salt for the health of shoreline trees is a bonsai myth.  It won't hurt but it does not make the tree healthier."

My comments were not well received. To verify my statements, I contacted Dr. Nina Shiskoff at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  Her reply:

"Well, first of all, the leaf thickening will only occur in salt-tolerant species. I wouldn't try to do this with a plant that isn't adapted to brackish water.

For plants that are able to tolerate brackish conditions, brackish conditions don't make them healthier, they simply tolerate it better than plants that aren't adapted. Therefore, they can grow where other plants can't ... Most plants that can grow well in extreme environments can also grow perfectly well in good conditions.  So my feeling would be: if you want the thick leaves, go ahead and add a little salt."

"Mid-day Watering Burns Leaves"

The thinking is, supposedly the sunlight is magnified by the water drop on the leaf and causes it to burn.  This is one we only have to think about briefly.  What about "sun shiny showers"?

I put this on my list of more bonsai myths that are hard to imagine how they got started.

According to Robert Cox, Horticulture Agent, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension ...

"The root of this notion may have come from the effects of applying poor-quality water high in dissolved salts. As water drops evaporated from leaves, the salts left behind could cause a leaf burn."

It is highly unlikely this will ever be your bonsai problem.

The next two myths are still very controversial. I debated about including them on this More Bonsai Myths page.

The Vitamin B1 Myth

This is one more bonsai myth I personally swore by!  I purchased it by the gallon and sold hundreds of those little brown bottles.

One day I ran out (during the Hurricane Andrew recovery.)  We continued to pot and repot without it.  Plant recovery results were equally successful to what they had been previously.  We never used B-1 again.

Linda Chalker-Scott, PhD, Extension Horticulturist and Associate Professor, Puyallup Research and Extension Center,  Washington State University says:

"Applying vitamin B-1, or thiamine, to root systems of whole plants does not stimulate root growth. This is a myth that refuses to die, though it has been repeatedly refuted in the scientific literature."

To quote Michael Hagedorn:

  "Superthrive is essentially a brain tonic."

"Use Wound Sealers and Cut Paste"

Use of these items are still common practice in many areas (including Japan.)   For many years, while I was in the bonsai business, I recommended, sold and used cut paste and other sealers.  I even had my favorite brands. Now I've included them in more bonsai myths.

Over time I found that under these sealers, I often found soft wood and decay that needed removing.  When I let the tree "do its thing," it "healed" much faster.  I stopped using sealers.

Then, someone gave me a Dr. Shigo's book.  Dr. Alex Shigo’s discoveries went against what arborists of the day had been using for centuries ... including techniques such as sealants.  This book confirmed my suspicions.

After years of research, the current American National Standards Institute standards for tree pruning consider wound sealants totally unnecessary.


As Mother used to say:
"Just because everybody's doing it, it doesn't make it right."


Do You have More Bonsai Myths?  Send them to me.

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