Chinese elm probs...sort of an unwanted gift...

lauren.gMay 3, 2007

For Christmas, my very sweet, but clueless boyfriend bought me a beautiful Chinese elm. While the idea was very nice, I privately knew that I was not ready to handle such a challenge in the plant/tree department. After all, I'm new to houseplants in general...

Anyway, I didn't want to hurt his feelings so I have been caring for it to the best of my abilities. After bringing it home in Decemeber, it lost all the leaves and I moved it to the coldest room in our apartment to rest for the winter.

Since Spring, I moved it into a sunnier location until it was warm enough to put it on our balcony. I also fertilized it one time so far.

What I have noticed:

- the soil takes forever to dry out (I am not watering often AT all)

-the leaves are starting to come in, but slowly and some are drying up and falling off

The tree has pebbles on top of the soil and I always wondered if that was a problem as well the little moss pile on it. They came with the tree as a decorative feature I suppose. Should they be removed so I can get a better look at the soil?

HELP please. Many thanks in advance for your advice.


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The pebbles should have come off the day you brought it home, and the moss. Now, the soil mix is 99% sure to be peat ('potting soil'), which is why it stays wet all the time. The thing to do is repot, throw away 2/3 of the soil and replace one third with perlite (the tiny white things in bags from Wal-Mart) and the last third with small size gravel for aquariums. Mix it all together, don't put a separate layer of anything on the bottom, and just trickle layers of soil in as you go without pressing any down (tiny taps to settle in all gaps are important though). Water well afterward and put it in the most sun you have (outdoors now at least til the fall, but depending on where you live, it might even do better outside for life (write back with info).

    Bookmark   May 3, 2007 at 6:45PM
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That is what I was thinking....
o.k so off with the pebbles and moss...(why the heck do they use them in the first place if they're no good for the tree??) Then only keep 1/3 of original soil and mix with perlite (which I have at home) and aquarium pebbles.

I live in Montreal so it is not an option to keep it outside all year long.

Should I prune the roots at the same time?
How do I mix the old soil with the the other stuff? (stupid question I know)

    Bookmark   May 3, 2007 at 8:32PM
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Lauren, not stupid at all. I'd use new soil to start with, dry, not the old soggy stuff, and if you're anywhere near a garden centre/nursery, etc. ask them for something with coarser particles than peat, so long as it's clean - tell them you want something that drains well. When you get the tree out of the pot, very carefully crumble off the old stuff and if you have trouble (roots breaking off with the soil) then if you have a good kitchen sink sprayer, hose it off - if it's wet to begin with you should have a lot of trouble, and if little bits up nearer the trunk don't all come off don't worry about them. I wouldn't prune the roots except possibly for any long, old woody ones (by 1/2) that aren't supporting a lot of young 'feeder' roots, which you really want to encourage to grow up nearer the trunk anyway. DO use a larger (wider, if not a lot deeper) pot though, to allow it to develop faster and if in anywhere from a year to 5 yrs you are happy with the trunk size, then it could go back into a bonsai pot, or stay in whichever one you're using but you'd then start pruning roots on a more routine basis yearly or every two years. Quelle part de Mtl? Je suis nee moi meme en NDG, apres ca marriage dans l'Outremont, Toronto x 20 ans et maintenant NS!

    Bookmark   May 4, 2007 at 4:53AM
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What a small world! Most of my girlfriends live in and around NDG, but I am living all the way out in Pierrefonds. I am close to all the schools that I have connections with ( I am a new elementary teacher). Nova that must be a totally different rythmn than Mtrl and T.O. It must be nice.

Lucy - thanks a million for your help. When I get back from work this afternoon, I will post a pic of Bonnie the bonsai so that you can get a better look at the pot. I wasn't thinking of getting a new one until you suggested it above. Apparently it is a very old tree...or so my bf was told. You can be a better judge once you see pics. Hope you're willing to take a look!

Have a great day!

    Bookmark   May 4, 2007 at 7:03AM
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Anyone else had to repot a Chinese or Japanese Elm out of season? I've had to gently remove a few being careful not to upset the roots and place them into bigger pots in prep for the hot summers we have here.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2007 at 11:29PM
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Lucy, if you are still there, here's an update for you. Once I took off the pebbles and moss it totally started to thrive. I don't think I will repot because the soil is no drying in a reasonable amount of time. Take a look:

    Bookmark   May 12, 2007 at 10:32AM
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Great! What I'd do myself now is trim back most of the longer branches to get more twiggy growth and foliage, after I had chopped off that 2-3" top piece (no leaves on it now so it's easy to see), along with one of the ones in a 'V" formation to the left of it in the pic. I'd cut the skinny twigs otherwise so they don't cross each other, point downwards or inward, and snip of any growing from the inside of a curve (tho' leave the larger one also on the left. Get a little shaping going, because it's messy right now.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2007 at 12:03PM
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Ok - so I went a bit crazy, but it is definitely neater now. I did discover a big ugly spider living in it, so I redirected it to a new home....any tips for upkeep? Did I take off too much?

    Bookmark   May 12, 2007 at 1:23PM
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