Bonsai beginner with a few questions

cookrnNovember 13, 2006

I bought a couple of bonsai about 4-6 weeks ago. My first mistake(which I knew at the time) was that the trees were unlabeled and came with no instructions. I'm over it. I did some basic research from a book(Bonsai Survival Manual by Colin Lewis) that my brother had and found out the classification for one of my trees. The known tree, I believe, is a Serissa foetida or a tree of a thousand stars. The book seems to give fairly in depth directions on the care of the tree including optimal temperature, water, soil, fertilizer, and sun conditions. Cool. My second tree, which I suspect to be a type of Juniper, was not listed specifically in the book and therefore I have been continuing care according to my basic plant knowledge.

Both trees have shown growth, much more so in the Serissa(about an inch) than the Juniper(?)(about a centimeter). I have done some very minimal aesthetic pruning on both trees and both seem to be ok with it. The Serissa has produced probably 6-10 flowers since I have owned the tree.

Things that should be noted before I ask my questions. In neither of the soils of the trees were there pebbles glued on to anything. The soil of the Serissa is mostly organic(dirtlike) with some gritty compounds, which is how the book describes the optimal soil. The soil of the Juniper(?) is definitely more gritty and water runs through it very easily. My growing zone is 6 with a potential for zone 5 temperatures. Ok questions:

1) I have broken up the soils in both pots with a very thin screwdriver to allow for some aeration and mixing. Is there a general opinion on this practice?

2) Is it ok to allow dropped leaves(Serissa) or clippings to decompose in the bonsai's pot. I have been leaving them there in the thought that the decomposition would add nutrients to the soil. Am I wrong in thinking this?

3) Through reading it seems that the consensus is that any type of Juniper(?) is best suited to an outdoor environment. Should I slowly adjust the Juniper(?) to living on my outdoor balcony(with wind protection)?

4) Should I buy a grow light? Maybe one such as the Spot Clamp On? If so 60 or 150 watt?

5) On the Serissa plant, some of the leaves have brown(dead/infected) tips? Some of the leaves are also misshapen in that they seem overly large and contorted. Any ideas on this?

I think that is all for now. I will try to post pictures soon. Thank you very much in advance for any help that you could give me.


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Hi, and good luck with your trees. Don't do the screwdriver thing... you're more likely to introduce trouble (and mess up the roots) than anything - besides if the soil is a good mix (as you think it is) there's no need to 'aerate' like you would for a lawn (same answer for the dead leaves really - remove them). The juniper should be outside starting right this minute. Do sink the pot into a larger one with it's own drain holes, and stuff mulch in between and on top to the first branch (from the soil). If you do get serious deluges, before things freeze up, you could put it under shelter for the worst of the rain. Do let it get snowed on. Certainly get a grow light for the serissa... hang a full spectrum 40+w bulb(s) 4" or so right over the tree for 14 hrs/day. The brown tips may have more to do with lack of humidity than anything so put the pot on a wide tray of stones and water, but always keep the water below the pot bottom. Can't say for sure about the contorted leaves, but if after a few wks under the lights and on the tray they're still growing in funny, you might ask an expert (horticultural person at a good nursery, or the University Botany Dept.) what's going on.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2006 at 1:41PM
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Hello Ryan! Welcome to the forum and to bonsai.

My personal take is on the fallen leaves is that it is best to take them off. What minimal nutrients they return to the soil is overweighed by the host of problems (fungal, insect, disease) which may develop. It's also cleaner and more aesthetically pleasing if you keep the soil surface free of "litter." A good soil mix/fertilization program should be sufficient to keep the tree healthy.


    Bookmark   November 13, 2006 at 1:57PM
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First. Thank you both very much for your helpful replies. I have a couple clarification questions.

1) Based on the pictures (sorry they are pretty bad since I donÂt have a proper camera for close-up photos) in my flickr photoset, can anyone tell me if the one tree is a type of Juniper?

2) Can anyone suggest a specific ballast/light that could work? There seems to be a lot of choices. I don't think I will be expanding my collection beyond 2 more trees than I have(4 total). Are there any lights that can handle maybe three plants that are around 100 dollars or less?

3) For the tree that I think is a Juniper, I should have two pots with one inside the other. Both pots should have drainage holes. Normal juniper-usable soil should be in the inside pot. This pot should be placed in the outside pot, which is full of pine bark. This pine bark goes over the top of the inside pot and is leveled off when it reaches the bottom branches of the tree, therefore covering the surface of the soil and the trunk of the Juniper. Does what I have written sound correct?

Thanks again in advance for any suggestions that you could give me,


    Bookmark   November 13, 2006 at 9:42PM
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I would put a very large amount of money on it that your unidentified tree is a juniper of some sort. I really cannot differentiate between the junipers well. I have 2 junipers and it does look alot like my "Juniperus chinensis 'Parsonii'", I can definitely tell you it is not a "Juniperus chinensis 'Blue Vase'". Both of these are Chinese Junipers that have been selected to look different. Kind of like a black dog compared to a white one of the same species.
I have been searching for a site that can help me differentiate the different junipers. I have not found one yet. If you come across a site like this, send me an email (its in my profile). Here are links to look at the two types of Chinese juniper I mentioned above. (photo less than a month) and (photo is about 8 months)

As for your lighting. You can find a 18" florescent light fixture that will hold one or two bulbs, its your choice there. Then go to the pet store and get a bulb for aquarium plants. These bulbs throw out huge amounts of the spectrum and are very bright. You could even buy the hood (light fixture) for the aquarium there. It would be more expensive at the petstore ($40) compared to a Lowes/HomeDepot store ($25) for the light fixture. The bulb should run you around $25.
I just searched Lowes and found a single 18" fixture for $15. Then at the petstore the bulb is $25. If the fixture comes with bulbs, I would replace them with grow lights, and hold on to them for backups.
I would go with a double bulb fixture if you are trying to stay under $100. They are cheap enough.
Good luck, hope this helps.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2006 at 10:38PM
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Thanks Bill. I should have access to a camera in a week or so that will allow me to take some awesome close-up photos. They could then, in turn, be used as examples of whatever type of Juniper it ends up being. The lighting suggestions were awesome.


    Bookmark   November 13, 2006 at 10:48PM
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Ryan, I am no expert, but I'm guessing that the juniper is the standard Juniperus procumbens "Nana". They're very common subjects for commercial bonsai. There are a lot of terrible Nana bonsai out there (i.e. mallsai), but there are also some very good ones as well.


    Bookmark   November 13, 2006 at 11:31PM
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gnome_in_pa(Zone 6)


Here is a link that may help with your lighting concerns.


Here is a link that might be useful: Specialty Lights

    Bookmark   November 13, 2006 at 11:54PM
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The pot-in-pot thing is to give your tree's pot somewhere to be (apart from in-ground) that will give it a wider area of protection than it has alone. You could use a box (milk crates seem popular!), or anything appreciably wider to give lots of room for mulch in between and, yes, the rims should be about equal height, but the larger one can be higher (good wind protection), with the mulch in your pot 1++" above the soil.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2006 at 4:58AM
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