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in too much of a hurry???

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Over the last several years my life has settled and evolved to the point where I have more time for all aspects of bonsai.  I think maturity and patience have also played a role in my transformation.  Along the way I have had the opportunity to make many observations and to mull over much of what we do in this hobby.  As a result of this, one of the things that I have come to recognize is that I, and many others, may be do something that is not be in the best interest of  the development our trees. 

I contend that we are in much too much of a hurry to put trees in bonsai pots and soil.  If our goal is to create the best trees possible in the least amount of time, I think we would be much better served to develop trees in the ground and grow boxes for a much longer time that we do now.

Here is my purely anecdotal reasoning based on my own experiences, observations and climate...

1. material develops much faster in larger containers or in the ground
2. with most species all but the final ramification can be developed in far less time
3. in GENERAL, trees in bonsai containers and bonsai soil do not exhibit the same level of growth and vigor when compared to grow boxes and the ground.
4. in GENERAL, long term life in a bonsai pot tends to reduce vigor...this can also be a desirable thing but not if your trying to develop the material.
5. there is much more risk of environmental catastrophes with trees in bonsai containers...they are more susceptible to cold, heat, lack of water, etc...  these things may not kill a tree but will certainly hinder its development.
6. this in turns  can also make them more susceptible to disease and infestation.
7. I think this applies more to small and medium size trees that it does large and extra large.

I think we just get in hurry to see our trees in bonsai containers even when it will be 10-20 years before a given tree will develop into something worthwhile.  I am starting to look at cycling trees.  This starts with the patience to wait until a tree is really ready for a pot...when it is potted it done so with a development goal in mind...perhaps a show or display in the future...or even if it just for your own pleasure for a few years...then at some point, maybe 3 to 6 years down the road, the tree is placed back in larger container or the ground and allowed to regain its vigor. 

I realize this is not a new concept and there have been many before me to recommend something of this nature, but I think it is one that if followed would generally help us reach our goals of developing fine trees in a timely fashion.  Of course this goes against the stereotypical notion of immediate gratification for which Americans are famous:)

I would be interested in reading your thoughts on this notion.


great advice.
A long time ago someone said get two trees pot on in a bonsai pot while you put the other one in the ground. Work on both.
After x years the one in the ground will be a great bonsai while the one in the pot will be OK.
Mimics your ideas.

Jerry Norbury:

I am in complete agreement.

I have experienced the same over the last few years since using a growing patch in my back yard. I've even run a couple of tests with cuttings from the same tree grown in the ground vs grown directly in a pot. The difference can be staggering. I've had common Elms grow 2m (6'6") in one season in the ground while the pot bound sibling grew maybe 30cm (1ft).

I have already started the re-cycling process, replanting trees in the ground after a few years in a pot. I find this particularly valuable with smaller (large mame/shohin) trees which have lost (for whatever reason) their vigor.

I am experiemnting this year with super-feeding following Walter Palls suggestions of 3x stated concentration more often than recommended (weekly). This is ALSO producing good results. According to Walter we have been starving our trees when we moved to inorganic soils...

The only problem with having trees, especially the little one, in the ground is it's really difficult to prune something or keep a good eye on its growth when its in the middle of a forest of other little trees in the ground! At least in a pot I can pick it up.

Jerry Norbury

As far as underfeeding trees, I believe that with my experience with tropicals, and sub-tropicals and using mainly inorganic soils that we do vastly under-fertilize.
Jerry "Bonsaihunk"

Jay Wilson:
John, I am in full agreement with you on this....

It's one of the reasons I don't have but a couple of trees in bonsai pots. Most of my trees seem to need another year or two or five before they're ready for that final ramification.

I have found that letting them get root bound in a grow box for a year or two helps to get refinement of the branches well on the way.

You suggested that trees lose vigor in bonsai pots with bonsai soil and in other posts you've mentioned using good quality potting soil in your larger containers while growing out trees.....Could you expand on this a little?  What makes a good potting soil?

Thanks for all the informative posts and videos,



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