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Neglected Schefflera in need of some help (prune/repot/etc)

Posted by enigma7 SE PA (My Page) on
Tue, Jan 5, 10 at 7:58

Hello everyone,

I've been on this forum for a while (mainly in the compost and lawn subforums), but I recently aquired a bonsai from my mother. She had been given this at least 5 years ago so I'm going to guess at the age being between 6-10 years (don't know how long they normally are grown for before selling). It is a Schefflera, and I'm positive that's the only reason it's still alive.

It has spent it's entire life since in our family in the same pot, I don't believe it's ever been pruned, and it really hasn't grown that much. The good news is it seems to be very healthy. My mother watered it with a weak miracle grow solution every week (or 3!), but it's main reason for lack of growth was it getting very little indirect sunlight (house is shaded and it wasn't completely in the window).

So because of this IMO the shape of the tree is pretty nice, just that 1 or 2 of the branches are probably much longer than they should be. Since taking ownership, it's been kept at my work an we have VERY good lighting. The lights just got upgraded and now it's almost like daylight. The lights stay on probably ~13-15 hours per day (except for the weekends). So I'm expected a much greater growth rate.

I'll post a couple pictures when I get home from work (have to download them from the camera).

What I really need to know is:

1. As a first course of action should I repot or hack off the large limbs (once it is decided which ones should be cut)? (this will affect the timing for the rest of my questions)

2. I'm a beginner and so would like the easiest course of action in regards to final style (I like the hanging root look (bantam?) and the root-over-rock) but really do not want to kill the Schefflera.

3. From my little research it is usually never recommended to keep downward-direction leaves. I have quite a few that are going straight towards the ground. Can I clip these off first?

I know these questions are difficult to answer without seeing the pictures (which I'll post up this afternoon), but hopefully even without them I can get some advice on my first course of action.


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Neglected Schefflera in need of some help (prune/repot/etc)

First of all, the reason the tree hasn't grown is because it's been stuck in that pot for so long without any root work being done (and won't last long that way!). You really want to read up on bonsai if you can, at least get the basics from www.bonsai4me.com and more indepth advice on tropicals from www.bonsaihunk.us/cultural.html. Hacking anything should wait until the tree's been repotted properly, into the right mix, until the spring (though tropicals can otherwise usually be worked on at any time, should be given recovery time between different procedures). Do you know how to set up a humidity tray? Without it, you don't have a hope of 'banyan' anything. Offices are generally not good places for trees - too dry, dark weekends and maybe cooler temps then, plus any lighting that is NOT hung 6 inches over the tree for 15 hours a day - though Shefflera is one tree may actually prefer 10-12" - is definitely not ideal.


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RE: Neglected Schefflera in need of some help (prune/repot/etc)

Thank you for the reply larke. I've read quite a bit the last couple days but most of my research is about starting a bonsai, not about correcting an almost decade old one that has likely overgrown it's intended size. But from your post it appears the answer to my first question is to repot the bonsai and then in a couple months deal with the overgrowth (or decide it will just be a larger-sized bonsai).

You are probably right about the work humidity (it is pretty low), and so banyan is probably not a viable option. As for the lighting, as I mentioned they recently upgraded our lights. No joke, it has to be 3-4 times brighter than it used to be and the bonsai is currently on the top of my shelving unit and so only about 2ft from the light source. While I'm sure you are right about the lack of growth due to not being root pruned or repotted, I'm also confident the light level it was in was SIGNIFICANTLY less than what it is now.

I've also read about the 2 types of Schefflera. One they recommend moist-er soil while the other prefers to almost dry out between waterings. Is there any way to nail down which type I have because I assume this will change the substrate I choose when I repot? I've read a bit about using Turface as the only substrate, and also about using different ratios of inorganic/organic material.

Pretty much, I have read just enough to know that I have no clue where to start and I really don't want to damage/kill the tree by using a general recommendation that isn't specific to my situation and plant.

I'll get the pictures up in a couple hours and then hopefully someone can reply back with some specific comments (even though unless someone says, "Do this first", you have suggested repotting before anything else). The good news is that would give me a couple months to delve deeper into the ways of the bonsai. :)

Thanks again.


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RE: Neglected Schefflera in need of some help (prune/repot/etc)

Forgot to mention on the lighting issue that I have a fishtank next to my desk that is on a timer and so I could have much more regulated light (including the weekends) if needed by setting up a proper light at the proper height above the bonsai. Actually that is probably such a good idea I'll do that instead of relying on the office lighting.


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RE: Neglected Schefflera in need of some help (prune/repot/etc)

Great idea, and those timers are cheap. The other 'Shefflera' is not really a different species, just a different variety, so both are treated the same (I think the different advice you got was more about who wrote it and where and how they were growing their trees). They like to get quite dry between waterings, but it is important to have humidity, so put a wide tray with water under the pot, but keep the pot up on pebbles or something above the water and you won't get rotten roots (it's more effective than spraying BTW). I personally like small gravel for aquariums, and mix in a little organic something for about 15% or so of it all. The soft bark in Orchid mixes (like Schultz) that you can break up into smaller pieces is good, or small pieces of sphagnum moss. And of course you will get rid of old straggly and woody roots, about 1/3 or so, when you repot. Would like to see your pictures!


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RE: Neglected Schefflera in need of some help (prune/repot/etc)

Hi enigma, all of Larke's advice has been right on, so I will not add anything there. I have had a Schefflera bonsai for many years, so I have a little experience with them. Mine lives in a greenhouse so light and humidity are well within its tolerance range at all times. The humidity tray will help in an office situation but your tree will always be at the drier edge of it tolernce range. Nevertheless it will almost certainly live and may even thrive. My only advice is on two points. First be sure to have a soil mix that drains well, particle size should be about 1/8-1/4". Use pumice, scoria or turface as the main incredient. You could add about 10% orchid bark 1/4" or cactus mix for a little organic component. Second, When you are sure your tree is established in its new pot do not be afraid to cut it back severly. Scheffleras tolerate pruning very well and resprout vigorously. You can safely cut off all the leaves and shorten it back to mere stumps. It will be ok. Sever purning is best done as the days are warming and lengthening. In your situation in an offie that may be less important. Good luck, Jack


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RE: Neglected Schefflera in need of some help (prune/repot/etc)

Thanks both of you for the replies. I was able to take the pictures yesterday but my normal route of posting (photolocker.net) seems to be having problems. I'll have to find another site to host or see if I can figure out what the problem is.

As of now I'll defintely be repotting first and my new pot will be situated over a water tray as recommended.

What size and dimension of pot works well for Schefflera? The pot size the bonsai is currently in is 7" X 5" (oval-shaped) and 2 1/2" deep.


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pictures

OK signed up with photobucket. Here's the pictures:

[img]http://i902.photobucket.com/albums/ac230/justin7777/bonsai2.jpg?t=1262778379[/img]

[img]http://i902.photobucket.com/albums/ac230/justin7777/bonsai1.jpg?t=1262778457[/img]

[img]http://i902.photobucket.com/albums/ac230/justin7777/bonsai3.jpg?t=1262778475[/img]


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picture attempt #2

Apparently I don't know how to post pictures directly in my posts on this forum. Normally the img tags work. If you copy these 1 by 1 into your browser address bar and hit enter you'll see the pictures.

http://i902.photobucket.com/albums/ac230/justin7777/bonsai2.jpg?t=1262778379

http://i902.photobucket.com/albums/ac230/justin7777/bonsai1.jpg?t=1262778457

http://i902.photobucket.com/albums/ac230/justin7777/bonsai3.jpg?t=1262778475


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RE: Neglected Schefflera in need of some help (prune/repot/etc)

After looking at your pictures, I have a couple of suggestions but I'm not sure you will like them. The tree looks healthy and I think it can be cut back at the same time you repot. The trunk is very straight and uninteresting without taper. The solution to that is to cut back very short say about 2 inches above ground level, then when you plant it tilt the trunk at about 20 degrees from the vertical. That way when it resprouts you can get some interesting curves. Get rid of the rock in the pot. It does nothing for the aesthetics of the tree. That trunk is less than an inch in diameter so your tree should be only about 6" high when it is finished. At those proportions it would look quite nice. I would put it in a round or oval pot about an inch deep and 5" in diameter. Brown unglazed would work or dark green or ivory glazed would also be attractive. A rectangular pot would be too formal and masculine for this tree in my opinion. I think that if you do what I suggest you will have a pretty attractive little bonsai in about six months to a year. Good luck, Jack


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ouch!

Wow Jack, that is a serious hacking recommendation! I'm going to have to think about the idea of completely removing 90% of the bonsai for a couple days. Is the reasoning because I cannot bend these older limbs? If so, I've read a bit about cutting out a notch and bending toward the cut to introduce a bend, is this a possibility with a Shefflera? I would really like to keep 1/2 of the tree intact if possible....

My original naive goal was to have a final height of about 9-10" above the substrate. Can you comment on why you have a very short final height recommenation? I've been to Longwood Gardens (a local place) and seen some of their very old bonsai (I think some approaching 100-200 years old), and while most of small there were some medium/large bonsai that I was going to aim for.

Thank you very much for the detailed suggestion, you were right though, I don't neccesarily like it. :)


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RE: Neglected Schefflera in need of some help (prune/repot/etc)

Cutting back trees is how 90% of bonsai develop their fatter trunks, and also makes it easier to train younger branches. You don't have to 'stop' at 6" in the end, but at least you'd have a 'bonsai' rather than an overgrown (as it is now) houseplant. It is also much better to focus the tree's energy on a few (always uneven #) if not one trunks and the result is more interesting. The tilting idea is also done, but again, you don't have to use it. I do disagree with doing root and top work at the same time though.


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other options?

Is there any way I can replant the cut off portion (rooting hormone and defoliating to prevent stress)? Or would my only option for this be air-layering?


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RE: Neglected Schefflera in need of some help (prune/repot/etc)

Try it, or the airlayering, both can work, but don't defoliate too much, just a couple on the bottom of a not-overly long piece.


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prep work over the weekend

OK, I've done a lot of work since my last post (but not much to show for it!). I did some research and found a local NAPA auto parts store that carried Oil-Dri. This has been recommended on several forums as a suitable bonsai substrate. I got a 40lb bag for $10. When I first opened the bag up I was extremely disappointed because the substrate size appeared to be much too small and not in line with the online pictures I saw (this apparently is very common as the Oil-Dri product is variable). I cleaned about a cupful of the stuff under water and then let it sit out, but was very discouraged and thought it was a lost cause.

Then I remembered that most (all?) people grade their substrate by sifting through a mesh grate. I had an old aquarium top that had the perfect-sized openings and proceeded to sift the Oil-Dri. Only about 20% or so of the product was of the proper size, but the sifting took about 2 minutes for much more than I'll need for my bonsai pot. After washing this sifted material and drying it out, I'm VERY pleased with the end product and for under $10 for ~8lbs of substrate with a couple minutes work I couldn't be happier. The left over I can use for it's intended purpose of soaking up spills around the house/garage or for traction when it ices over.

So with that done I got my bonsai pot. I had hoped to find the proper pot at Home Depot (yeah I know), but was left underwhelmed. It's funny; they sell tons of mini-cacti in perfect little shallow pots, but they don't actually sell any pots by themselves in this size. I ended up getting a ~3/4" deep 6.5" diameter "pot" which was actually the base to a tall pot of the same diameter. It of course had no drain holes drilled. While at HD I picked up some Shultz' Rooting Hormone and a 1.5lb container of dry Miracle Grow to use at 1/2 strength during watering.

When I got home I took out my trusty 1/4" carbide bit that I had used to cut a hole in my kitchen tile during a renovation. I CAREFULLY drilled 5 1/4" holes evenly around the base of the pot. I was worried I'd crack it on the last hole, but fortunately it worked out fine. All told it took about an hour to drill, but for ~$4 I had a very nice dark blue glazed pot (it's close enough to green that I think it will work based on Jack's color and size recommendations.

With that out of the way I cut some plastic screen and attached it to the drain holes to prevent clogging/losing substrate and I'm all set for the potting (hopefully tomorrow).

Since I purchased the rooting hormone and am strangely attached to the plant (can't really call it a bonsai any more) I've decided to keep it mainly unchanged. My plan is to trim back the largest branches to the point where the air vines are visible (basically where the trunk is brown and mature), and remove anything above that point. There are 2-3 young green shoots that are very pliable and my plan is to wire these when I repot to get a bit more interesting bends out of the plant. The clippings that are removed I plan to try to save using the rooting hormone, and hopefully these can be trained from the beginning in the proper bonsai form.

My guess is that since the current substrate has never been changed not only will the plant be root bound, but the substrate has probably all but disintegrated. I've been reading on the bonsai4me site about bare-rooting when repotting, and plan to do this.

I'll try to grab some pictures during the process if possible over the next couple of days.

Thanks again for everyone's help!


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RE: Neglected Schefflera in need of some help (prune/repot/etc)

Hey, good work!
Try soaking and then freezing a small amount of Oil Dri.
You want to make sure that it has been fired long enough to where it won't revert to clay/mush.

Josh


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quick questions

OK I think tomorrow will be the day. My plan is to fist cut off the unwanted overgrowth (to avoid problems once removed from the old pot), then remove the plant, completely remove the old substrate, trim the roots, and place in 100% Oil Dri substrate.

I've been reading the Bonsai Faq and the last recommendation says not to fertilize until new growth is seen. Since my substrate will be devoid of any nutrients I had originally planned on watering with 1/2 strength Miracle Grow water so that there are some nutrients available in the soil? Should I just use regular tap water instead?

And since this will be in my office and not outside (and I'll be doing the pruning prior to repotting) do I still need to anchor the plant to the pot? I'd prefer not too and the plant seems like it will be pretty stable once planted since it has pretty even growth (probably not liked in a traditional bonsai).

Thanks.


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help

Anyone?


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RE: Neglected Schefflera in need of some help (prune/repot/etc)

Fertilization for the gritty mix - search for Al's Mix.

I wish I knew more about it.

My gut says don't fertilize right away.

Josh


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RE: Neglected Schefflera in need of some help (prune/repot/etc)

Tap wateris usually best. I think you need a little organic something in the mix for a tropical, even if it's only some bagged Orchid mix wood broken up in little bits, or a little sphagnum moss (also in bits). I guess if you're careful not to knock the plant, you don't to wire it in. I think you can fertilize at any time, though I'm not sure emphasis on acid is necessarily the best for that tree - maybe just a well balanced house plant type.


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clarification?

Hi larke.

Tap water in reference to what? What I will use for watering or that I should only use tap water (and no fertilizer) when potting?

I had read that many people use no organic component at all in their substrate? If I need to get some Orchid mix I can do that, but it was easy to just sift the Oil Dri and go with that.

Glad to hear I don't have to wire the plant. Again since this will not be a traditional bonsai, and especially since it won't be in an unbalanced position as several of the popular styles are, I think once it's in place I will attempt to not move it frequently.

I don't understand where the acid comment came from? The Miracle grow that I purchased is "All purpose plant food". I do not think it is specifically formulated for acid-loving plants (or was that in regards to the Orchid mix?).

Still havent' started the project since I need to get some wire as I want the plant ready prior to repotting since I won't be anchoring.

Thanks for the advice.


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RE: Neglected Schefflera in need of some help (prune/repot/etc)

You asked about the water... I meant for watering. You can have 100% grit, but it's more appropriate to something like pines, rather than tropicals that do better with a little compost-like stuff for nutrition and water holding (relative water holding - tiny bits that stay in the mix vs none at all). Again, pines, azaleas and e.g. holly need low pH's, but tropicals not so much. I guess I sort of read "Miracid" for Miracle Gro, which is different, so never mind (though do keep the point in mind :-).


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thanks

Ah ok that makes sense now. It was the acid comment that threw me for a loop. I think I'll take your advice and go with a small percentage of orchid mix (say 10-20%). I'm so excited to repot but first need to get the wire and (now) the Orchid mix. Looks like it will have to wait until Mon/Tues, but I may find time to come to work on the weekend to repot. YUCK. :)


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extra pics

In the meantime here's a pic of my drilled pot and substrate. The flash makes the pot look much lighter blue, it is in fact darker and more difficult to tell whether blue or green. The substrate is the sifted and washed Oil Dri that I got from NAPA.

I'm going to give posting pictures directly in the post another shot...can someone tell me how to do it if this try doesn't work?

http://i902.photobucket.com/albums/ac230/justin7777/pot1.jpg?t=1263575251

http://i902.photobucket.com/albums/ac230/justin7777/pot2.jpg?t=1263575282


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Real progress!

Hello again everyone,

This morning I started the work on the bonsai. Today's agenda was to take clippings to get a smaller size plant and attempt to grow new plants from those cuttings. I took 3 main cuttings, did some very minor defoliating (so they would easily fit in a baggy, misted the cut ends, dipped them in rooting hormone, and put them in a moist Orchid mix. I then ziptied the baggy closed to seal in the moisture and put the plants out of the light (they get weak indirect light which I believe I read to be best during rooting).

For a 4-8" stalk how many Schefflera leaves should I have to avoid killing the plant since the roots can't provide nutrients until they've regrown? Right now I have 8 on the 4" plant, 7 on the 6" plant, and 10 on the 8" plant. Do I need to cut some of these off or will they be fine?

Next up I tried to find the "front" of my not-so-bonsai. I've linked 2 pictures (I personally prefer the first angle for the front). Once that was decided I tried my hand at wiring (of which I am NOT good at and was very worried I'd snap a branch/leaf. The only size I had available at Home Depot was 1mm and even on the small green branch I tried it seems like it's not holding exactly where I want it.

That's all I planned on doing today. Tommorrow I will repot and hopefully get a final picture of my sad attempt at a bonsai.

Thank you again for all of your help!

Picture #1, (my personal preference for a front for the bonsai):

Picture #2, another angle:


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RE: Neglected Schefflera in need of some help (prune/repot/etc)

Hi, it's not really a bonsai yet, and it would sound so much better if you called it your tree, or Scheff, etc., rather than "the bonsai", which is like "the wife" in a way.


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finished!

Hello again everyone,

I have completed my repotting and would like to share a couple pictures.

Here's a pic of the roots; as you can see the spiraling of the roots had this guy very pot bound (I was shocked to see so few roots overall however):

Here's the finished plant:

So I removed the plant from it's old pot and got to chopsticking. The dirt removed easily and was definitely very powdery (seemed like pretty much 100% peat moss and very fine). After working all of the old substrate out I washed the roots gently to remove anything trapped. Then I trimmed the roots, and applied a thin coat of rooting hormone to the cut root ends.

I mixed a 25/75 orchid mix/ OilDri substrate, put a thin layer of this in the pot, made a little mound of substrate at the center (after finishing I wish I would have made it a bit higher in the center), and then proceeded to add the rest and work it around well. Then I gently submerged the pot in water for 10-15 minutes, then let it drain.

As you can see in the final pic I have a weight on the opposite side that the plant is leaning. While it wasn't going to fall on it's own, I decided that since I didn't anchor the plant I'll just keep a bit of weight on this side for a couple weeks until I'm confident new roots have formed to firmly hold the plant. I hadn't originally planned to have the plant tilted, but the combination of that and my pruning has it a bit less balanced than I would like. In the future I would have anchored the roots, but live and learn. :)

Thanks again everyone for your help and advice, and I'll report back to this post in a couple of weeks, hopefully with good results and 3 new plants to be trained as actual bonsai from the cuttings!


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RE: Neglected Schefflera in need of some help (prune/repot/etc)

Hi... There should be NO substrate, no layering with bonsai - everything goes into one mix and is mixed throughout. Also, submerging the pot for 10 mins. could be fatal. It's not the way to water it. Also, a couple of weeks is not nearly enough to grow the root system necessary to anchor the tree - months is a lot more like it.


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RE: Neglected Schefflera in need of some help (prune/repot/etc)

I think there may be a miscommunication. By substrate I mean the 25/75 mix. I come from the aquarium hobby and when we say substrate we mean the sand/gravel/rock/etc. You may have a different meaning of the word.

The 25/75 was mixed prior to starting the potting procedure and was the only thing used. I had read on several sites to be sure the air has been completely removed to submerge for that amount of time. I'm not a bonsai-aficionado, but do know a bit about plants and they can survive significantly longer than 10-15 minutes in water. Heck they can likely survive that long in 5% bleach.

That is not my watering technique, it was simply the potting procedure I was using. For watering I'll be watering twice about 15min apart with 1/2 strength Miracle Grow being sure to fully saturate the soil but drain immediately.

I think a couple weeks will be fine for anchoring. Honestly it was probably fine after the submerging where the air was removed and the substrate compacted onto the roots. I just didn't want any issues like getting the camera out to take a picture and have it flop on its side. It's more of an insurance policy than a needed remedy.

One thing I am very pleased about is after removing the old substrate I realized that there was a nice root flare at the base of the tree that was hidden by the old pot and rocks. I made sure not to bury this and so while not a bonsai, at least my "tree" has a bit better presence.


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RE: Neglected Schefflera in need of some help (prune/repot/etc)

Oh, ok, you do know what you're doing :-)! Believe me, there are plenty who don't!


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Schefflera help (prune/repot/etc)

This Schefflera has been in this pot for 13 years. I love your forum as I'm feeling that I can address this little plant a lot better with your help. (I was told that Scheffleras are temperamental, shouldn't be moved, etc., so was deathly afraid to do anything to it but wishing I could.) I know I need to prune, but also am wondering if I should repot it into a new, 2" larger pot, or, clean up the roots and repot with fresh soil in the same pot, or, just prune it and add fresh soil to the same pot. Any suggestions? Also wondering if it's too early, maybe I should wait until June? It is an indoor resident of my home as we are in Michigan.


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