PHOENIX  BONSAI  SOCIETY :
FREQUENTLY  ASKED  QUESTIONS
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PHOENIX  AND  TUCSON  METRO  AREA  SPECIFIC

How do I care for my bonsai which were moved with me from another state?
My juniper is starting to turn brown — what should I do?
Why did my tree die?
Should I buy a bonsai from a Roadside, Mall or Garden Center vendor?
How often should I water?
What are the recommended types of fertilizer and water to use here?
How do I care for my trees when I go on vacation?
What are the best times to transplant or dig here?
How do I get rid of spider mites or white flies?
What desert plants can be used for bonsai?
Where do I find bonsai containers for my trees here in the Valley?
Should I use cut paste on pruning cuts?
How do I grow moss here?
But my tree’s not ready yet for showing…
What about indoor bonsai?
Do I need to join a club to learn bonsai?  (plus Clubs Links)


How do I care for my bonsai which were moved with me from another state?

        (1)  Make sure that none of your trees get unfiltered direct sunlight after midmorning.
        (2)  Immediately read this site’s Hot Weather BotanyPlant list (to see if any of your trees are listed), Seasonal Care, and Back-to-Basics information to better understand what your plants are about to experience.  (The rest of this FAQ page is helpful also.)
        (3)  Do NOT overwater.  Do NOT fertilize during this first season these bonsai immigrants are here.
        (4)  Contact the Phoenix Bonsai Society for additional assistance.

 


My juniper is starting to turn brown — what should I do?

 

        Prepare to give the tree a burial and clean out the pot for reuse.  Junipers (and pines) have an unfortunate habit of being dead a few weeks before they start to show it.  By the time you notice the foliage turning dull green and brittle, the tree already “has left the garden,” as it were.  If only asingle branch is dead, you could try to save the rest of the tree by pruning off the departed.  But NO amount of fertilizer, Superthrive, reverse osmosis water, repotting, or compost mix will ever bring back the tree.  And it does not matter how old the seller said the tree was (or wasn’t).
Note: Relatively few people are either aware of or will admit to this being true, including many nonnursery sellers of the ubiquitous juniper in a blue glazed pot “mallsai” (nontrained starter plants as found in a mall shop or roadside stand).
Consider the lesson learned, clean out the pot well, and find it   Your studies will progress much further doing that.  By the way, virtually everyone who has attempted to learn bonsai in the past century or two has lost at least one juniper: novices, advanced students, masters.  You are in good company.
Try junipers for the range of foilage and bark textures, for the variety of branching and growth patterns, for the relatively small retail price on untrained nursery stock, for that wonderful scent of clipped/pinched needles.  Try other plants for more certain success and longevity, for flowering or autumn shedding of colored leaves, for fewer pains in your fingers. 

 


Why did my tree die?

 

        (1)  It was overwatered.
        (2)  It was kept indoors.
        (3)  It was overfertilized.
        (4)  It was in the wrong soil mix for here.
        (5)  It was repotted or transplanted in the wrong season.
        (6)  For its particular variety and size, it was overexposed to the sun and other elements.
        (7)  It was pruned incorrectly/too much.
        (8)  It was not healthy enough when you got it in order to survive as a bonsai here.
        (9)  It was weakened by any combination of the above and became ripe for insects or disease to start to break it down.
      (10)  It was underwatered.

 


Should I buy a bonsai from a Roadside, Mall or Garden Center vendor?

 

        Be advised that most of the so-called bonsai you will purchase from these places are non-Phoenix-raised plants which have little training or shaping and which have usually been potted in the wrong soil mix for this area.  Those dealers’ actual hands-on knowledge of the growing of bonsai in this challenging location is minimal at best.
        IF you are experienced, know what to look for in a healthy tree andcan find one with true potential, you probably could get a good starter plant.
       IF you absolutely must get a plant from one of these sources, get something hardy like a Ficus.  The ubiquitous junipers in the glazed pots have a nasty habit of being dead or dying before they start showing it.  (If you did have a juniper, save the pot.  It can be cleaned and reused.)
        Your best option is to check out our more reliable and recommended Sources.
        We will have more to say on this later.

 


How often should I water?

 

        Whenever each tree needs to be watered.  No sooner and no later.
        Now, try putting that easily into practice!
        Learn about the needs of each of your trees and the water-holding ability of each pot of soil mix:  some trees such as bougainvillea, crab apple, and the maples can be watered after they first start showing leaf wilt.  Elephant food can go between drinks until its largest leaf pads start to wrinkle from dehydration.  Junipers and pines are too far gone if they start showing wilt between waterings.  The more organic material in the soil mix, the more water-holding potential — and that can be good or bad.
        Get Back-to-the-Basics and study the Plant list.

 


What are the recommended types of fertilizer and water to use here?

 

        Remember,  Back-to-the-Basics.

 


How do I care for my trees when I go on vacation?

 

        As a timely nod to the season, we include the following from the Summer 1998 issue of our club newsletter, Fujii Notes:
VACATION PLANT-SITTERS
        Probably the single greatest challenge of growing bonsai in the Phoenix area is this: How does one take any type of extended vacation (longer than two or three days) during the summer months?  To answer this question, we humbly offer the following Top 10 Phoenix Vacation Plant-Sitters.  Be advised that two or more methods can be used at once:
        10.  Rent a travel film from Blockbuster Video [or Netflix] and stay at home.  (Really, they do have a large selection of exotic places to see…)
          9.  Take your trees with you in the R.V.
          8.  Move to some location where summers are much more temperate (but don’t forget what the winters will be like…)
          7.  Water heavily right before leaving, put shade cloth over all the bonsai, and go play and pray.
          6.  Teach a [non-enthusiast] friend, relative or neighbor how to water several weeks in advance, with constant reminders including written notes and pop quizzes.
          5.  Set up a greenhouse in which to keep your trees.
          4.  Install a foolproof, salt-resistant drip irrigation system.
          3.  De-pot your trees and plant them in a shaded and well-mulched growing bed for the summer.
         2.  Live next to or near another club member who will plant-sit for you.
         1.  Just grow large, established, native plants as bonsai.  They can take full sun or part shade, and the large container could hold adequate but not excessive moisture for up to a week.
 

 

For some additional options, we present the following hand-out from around 1990 by Jim Claycomb, a past President:
VACATION NOTES
        When it comes to vacations, business trips, or the like, remember that your Bonsai are like your favorite pets, or children, and should be afforded the same attention and care you give them when you’re home.  Around my house, everything is fed and watered in due order –> Bonsai –> pets –> children !
        If you are looking for someone to attend to your Bonsai while you are away, the best Bonsai Sitter is someone who has their own Bonsai — if they’re successful at it!  A second, third, or fourth choice is someone who has a garden, has a number of pets, or a lot of children.  These people are used to taking care of things, and should be fairly reliable.  if none of your neighbors, or friends, takes care of anything — Good Luck!
        A few weeks, days, or if pressed — hours — before you leave, make some notes as to the needs of your Bonsai.  How much water, how often, special considerations, and so forth — even if your Bonsai Sitter is another Bonsai person — WRITE IT DOWN!  Make a couple of copies — one for them to take with them, and another to be posted in your garden.  If you have a back-up Bonsai Sitter, give them a copy too.  As an additional help, make a couple of notes as to who gets the children, pets, and especially for club members, the Bonsai — just in case you decide not to come back!
        The use of electro-mechanical timers and dripper systems may be used for watering as a last ditch effort, if you can’t find a suitable Bonsai Sitter.  Or, if you’ve got the time and means, you might move your collection to another Bonsai person’s to be attended to.  But remember — possession is nine points in Law!
        Consider also the time of year your vacation, or trip falls in.  Try to avoid going away if the season is a stressful one for Bonsai — it makes it much more difficult for the Bonsai Sitter to attend to them.  If you must go away in August (115 F) or in January (20 F) — don’t fault the Bonsai Sitter for a couple of fried Juniper, or cracked pots!
        Finally — Have a nice vacation — and if you see any worthwhile Bonsai — take some pictures.
       See also  Summer Care .

 


What are the best times to transplant or dig here?

 

        For most plants here the windows of opportunity are January through March and September through November.  For large, old, landscape specimens of Bougainvillea only, the best time is the middle of summer.  Get club member advice on specifics.

 


How do I get rid of spider mites or white flies?

 

        Get Back-to-the-Basics.

 


What desert plants can be used for bonsai?

 

        We have had experience with Sweet Acacia, Desert Willow, Texas Olive, Texas Sage, Desert Fern, Mesquite, and Creosote, among others.  Check out the Plant lists for specifics on each of these.

 


Where do I find bonsai containers for my trees here in the Valley?

 

        See Sources.
        Check also the various import stores, Oriental markets, and thrift shops.  Many of our members have been pleasantly surprised by the occasional “diamond in the rough” discovered at these kinds of places.
        Finally, consider these traditional American (if somewhat heretical) alternatives if your trees are anywhere from just dug to a ways to go before you would consider them ready for formal display:  ceramic food serving trays, wooden packing crates or oak whiskey barrel halves, the ubiquitous orange Italian clay flower pots, some of the less ornate Mexican clay flower pots, thrift store-found ceramic pots, partly hollowed-out pieces of pumice rock or slabs of slate, metal or plastic oil pans or mortar-mixing bins, and even large plastic mixing bowls or cut-down milk jugs.  Very large specimens have even been known to get a dedicated wheel barrow.  All of these need to be given necessary drainage holes before they can be used as half-way homes for your potential masterpieces.

 


Should I use cut paste on pruning cuts?

 

        Unless the cut is over, say, 2 inches across, it really isn’t necessary.  Cut paste seems to be more for cosmetic purposes than medicinal.  Cut paste is superfluous on conifers.  The least recommended type of cut paste is soil.  You can introduce harmful microorganisms into the cut with that.

 


How do I grow moss here?

 

        If the universe feels you should have moss on the base of your trees here, then you will have moss.
        In the meantime, you can try the Kyoto spores available at many nurseries.  You can get a tree that already has moss on it (hopefully, locally grown).  You can try transplanting moss from other locations, such as a damp and shady spot on the other side of your house.  You can set your pots near a bonsai that has moss growing on it and hope that the wind will carry viable spores to your trees.  You can try the beer and moss puree recipe (or the soured milk and moss puree one) and coat part of the surface of your soil mix with that.  You can risk very certainly rotting the roots of your tree by keeping the soil mix damp enough to insure moss.
        Many of us have tried one or more of the above.  The very first sentence — the universe — seems to be the most consistent and realistic.  The Phoenix area is probably the most challenging location in which any of us will attempt to raise bonsai.  And that is why we will continually challenge ourselves to find a near-foolproof way to achieve all the techniques of this art…

 

But my tree’s not ready yet for showing…

 

        Oh, yes, it probably is.  See our Display notes for the criteria.

 


What about indoor bonsai?

 

        IF you can provide the proper conditions of light, humidity, air circulation, etc., indoor bonsai are definitely an option.  These tend to be the more delicate or tropical varieties, such as Ficus, Sago Palm, Sedum, Schefflera, Fukien Tea, Barbados Cherry, and so forth.  See the Plant lists for specifics on each of these.
        Junipers and pines are NOT suitable for indoor bonsai.  Period.  At the most, you can safely bring them in to use as tabletop decorations IF THEY ARE HEALTHY, but for ONLY two days at a time per season, maximum!  (Mark your calendar, set the alarm clock — DO NOT keep coniferous bonsai in the house any longer than that!  Be sure they don’t entirely dry out during their visit.)  And they would rather stay outdoors all winter rather than be shockingly nice and warm for two days at Christmas, or in the path of the air conditioner vent for two days in the summer.  (Do you get what we’re trying to say here?)
        Contact our sources for additional information.

 

Do I need to join a club to learn bonsai?

 

         With all the books, magazines, videotapes, and web sites out there, do I really need to join a club to learn how to create and care for bonsai?  I can track down all the plants, pots, tools, and wires I need.  I can also find out when some local shows are being presented: I can hang out all day there, look at individual trees up close for hours at a time, and ask the members all the questions I need to have answered.  What more do I need?
Clubs offer participation in shows so that your trees can be on display and you can be answering the questions of the public — and new and advanced students.
Clubs offer relatively instant feedback — as opposed to only at shows — to new questions and ideas you have and, over a period of time, access to and participation in detailed answers, accumulated local experiences, andhands-on training which cannot be or are not always conveyed quickly or in other media.
Clubs offer access to and participation in public and nonpublic workshops, demonstrations and lectures conducted by local, regional, national, and international teachers whose hands-on training will tremendously develop your knowledge and abilities, pointing out both your correct and incorrect application of techniques.
Clubs offer access to and participation in digs and nursery crawls to obtain often unique material.
Clubs offer continual exposure to local members’ collections, problems and solutions, and their ideas and feedback on new teachings and techniques.
Club participation in regional and other conventions and exhibits can occasionally offer exposure to some other members’ and teachers’ collections and abilities.
Clubs, similarly, can offer exposure of others to your collections, problems and solutions, abilities.
Clubs are able occasionally to get discounts on the price of many supplies.
Clubs can offer a forum for your ideas and abilities to be eventually taught to others.
Clubs, if you are so inclined, can offer you various offices in which to serve and help others.
And, yes, to be perfectly honest, as is the case with seemingly all human associations, during your membership in a club you will probably be exposed to some petty politics, some boring — to you — meetings, and some do-nothing-new annual schedules.  In that case, you can ride the doldrums out or skip some meetings, search out another club, or “roll up your sleeves” and actively contribute new ideas, abilities and leadership.