Bonsai Study Group Forum

General Category => General Bonsai Discussion => Topic started by: gsmith on March 05, 2011, 01:29 PM

Title: ponderosa pine
Post by: gsmith on March 05, 2011, 01:29 PM
Hi gsmith here. this is my first post,  what I would like to know is how hard it is to keep a ponderosa pine alive on the east coast. I have heard that they don't like the humidity.  I am in zone 6a thanks
Title: Re: ponderosa pine
Post by: Walter_Pall on March 05, 2011, 01:39 PM
Instead of Europe you might as well say East Coast.

Growing Ponderosa in Europe
by Walter Pall

When I first got in touch with Ponderosa Pines in America I listened to all sorts of advice of how to take care of them.  The advice I got in a nutshell: water sparingly, do not expose to rain in winter, keep very dry, feed very little, almost no nitrogene as it will cause very long needles.  In more than ten years of caring intensively for more than a handful of Ponderosa Pines in my garden in Germany I can say that obviously the opposite of the general advice works much better. I can say this comparing the looks and vigor of my trees with just about all Ponderosa Pines that I see in America on  may many trips. I have seen too many trees which were not in good shape at all and obviously going downhill. Most Americans coming to my garden could not believe that what they say were Ponderosa pines. They mistake them for black pines normally. So it cannot all be wrong what I am doing.

What do I do?

Water: It is correct that the Ponderosa Pine is able to survive long periods of draught, but it clearly grows much better with normal watering which compares to other pines. A prerequisite is a very well draining substrate. Then one can and even should water every day heftily. If the right soil mixture is used one can leave the pines in one location all year round, also during long rainy periods. It sometimes rains for ten days in a row where I live and the ponderosas afterwards look healthier than ever.
The chemical contents of the water don’t seem to matter. If water with a high concentration of calcium is used over extended periods of time it does not do harm to the trees but a grey film on the needles may well be the result.
Long needles are the result of a combination of much water and feeding as advised here. Therefore a ‘finished’ bonsai  will finally get less water and feed. But this only after more than a decade in development.

Repotting: Collected trees can stay in the same substrate for a very  long time. But this is only true if they stand in modern bonsai substrate! The soil from the natural habitat must be removed as soon as  possible. Coming to think of it the main difference between my ponderosas and the ones that I see in  America is that mine had to be bare rooted at import and that the American ones usually stand in the soil of their habitat surrounded by modern substrate. Afterthis original soil is removed it often is not necessary to repot for more than five years. The best time is spring. When repotting one should use the chance to remove old soil from the root ball which still might be there. Collected trees should not be root pruned for a long time. The roots should be left in the full length as the tree was collected. If necessary they can be somehow crammed in a spiral form into the container. Collected trees often have a very firm root ball which has awkward shapes. It has the shape of the pocket in the rock where the tree used to grow. Sometimes it is difficult to plant this root ball into a decent bonsai pot. The ancient roots cannot be bent without severe damage. Therefore the bonsai enthusiast is advised to first of all try to find out into what sort of container the tree will fit at all before the crown is styled. It does not make sense to style a good crown over many years, only to find out that the pine never will fit into the forseen kind of container.

Soil: The substrate must be very well draining and aeriating. It should be slightly acid to neutral, sandy with no or almost no organic content. Andy Smith recommends 70% coarse Akadama or similar plus 30 % bark mulch. Other bonsai enthusiasts work with granite gravel with added organic contents. Very good results were achieved in Central Europe with a mixture of 85% coarse pumice or lava or baked loam plus 15% rough peat. With all these substrates it is quite important to know that they contain almost no feed. It is therefore indispensable to feed a lot and often.

Cutting and pinching: As with all pines one must never cut back a branch to where no or very few needles are left. The branch will die inevitably. One can expect that a Ponderosa Pine will develop several buds on the tips, but they hardly ever bud back into old wood. Therefore one should avoid cutting off branches as far as possible and rather work with what is there and create a good crown with the existing needle whirls.
For getting shorter needles one can also practice the following method: In May with all whirls the needles are cut back to the length that one would have liked. The buds must remain intact. These buds will develop candles which have a bit shorter needles, because they get somewhat less energy from the shortened needles. The tips of the needles will look slightly ugly though for one season.
In late summer the buds for next year appear. With Ponderosa Pines these are very often the rhombical flower buds all over the tree. Flowers should be avoided. In fall the rhombs are rubbed off in such a way that the very center, which is the normal needle bud stays. On very healthy trees one can also take off the whole flower bud.

Feeding: Regular feeding throughout the vegetation period is a must. Good results are achieved with organic as well as anorganic feeds with medium to high nitrogen content. Strong feeding in fall stimulates the development of buds, even several buds on one whirl. In spring and summer slightly less feeding is appropriate to avoid too long needles. But during development of a bonsai one can well work with very high nitrogen contents in organic feed. Long needles will create a lot of energy which leads to lots of backbudding. Later, when the bonsai is ‘finished’ one can feed less.

Location: Ponderosa Pines want a lot of sunshine. A location in full sun is just right. Even in very hot and sunny summers they grow very well as long as they are watered well. In summer at temperatures of above 30°C partial half shade is required when one cannot water fully every day. When substrate is used that is not very well draining it is important to protect the tree from long rain periods. In most areas a location on a wall facing to southeast is good. The rain, which usually comes from the west will be kept away by the wall. If the recommended kind of soil mixture is used it is possible to leave the Ponderosa Pine at the spot even in long rainy periods.

Hardiness: The pine is hardy to very hardy (zone 5b). It is jeopardized by late frosts. Recently collected trees need good protection for several years before they are fully established. In winter they should be protected from permanent rain. On the other hand it is a big mistake to keep them too dry in winter.

Diseases: The Ponderosa Pine is usually free of diseases and critters as bonsai. Sometimes one finds aphids which can be removed with the fingers. One can spray with oil emulsion in late winter as preventive measure. Collected pines with much deadwood can contain bores which can become quite dangerous. Small mistle toes in the branches are not cute but reason for immediate alarm. They will kill the tree and there is no cure.

good luck
Walter Pall
Title: Re: ponderosa pine
Post by: gsmith on March 05, 2011, 02:43 PM
hi walter, thank you so much for the grest info on ponderosa pines. I couldn,t find that info anywherel thanks again gsmith
Title: Re: ponderosa pine
Post by: MatsuBonsai on March 05, 2011, 05:03 PM

Great information and outstanding trees.  Are we going to see one of these in the Tree of the Month contest?
Title: Re: ponderosa pine
Post by: Treebeard55 on March 05, 2011, 07:11 PM
Thanks for posting the pictures, and the info, Walter.  :) :)

A year or two ago my wife came downstairs about 1:00 AM, and heard me, at my computer, saying, "Wow!" over and over again. I'm not sure just what she expected to find on my computer screen when she came over; but I was looking at your gallery of bonsai!  :D

I understand you will be in Indianapolis later this year, Walter. Maybe I will have the chance to meet you then.
Title: Re: ponderosa pine
Post by: Walter_Pall on March 05, 2011, 09:32 PM
You can take one of the ponderosas for the tree of the month contest.

Indianapolis? We'll see how the agreement works out. I am looking forward to it.

Title: Re: ponderosa pine
Post by: Grog on March 07, 2011, 03:31 AM
Just to add in my experience of what happens when you don't do what Walter described.  I bought a fairly nice little semi cascade ponderosa at a workshop Andy Smith did two years ago and did not repot it as was recommended at the time.  It got watered daily along with everything else and was dead by last spring.  Stupid and obvious in retrospect but that's how it goes I suppose.  Another person who was at the workshop repotted his tree and removed as much of the old native soil as he could without bare rooting and it's coming along very nicely.
Title: Re: ponderosa pine
Post by: Treebeard55 on March 07, 2011, 10:12 AM
Grog, my mistake with my first ponderosa was to repot in March, then not let the tree break dormancy for about a month! Never again!
Title: Re: ponderosa pine
Post by: mcpesq817 on March 07, 2011, 01:12 PM
I've kept ponderosa pines alive on the east coast the last two and a half years without any problems.  With mine, I've cleared out a lot of the muck in the first spring after arrival and they seem to be quite vigorous after it.  I think with the rain and humidity I have in my area, as well as my watering habits, keeping a tree in its native soil is a recipe for disaster.  

That being said, I think some have had success in my area leaving the tree as is for a few seasons.  However, I lost a really nice douglas fir that I got in a fall workshop the following June.  It could have died for other reasons, but when I pulled it out of the pot, the root mass was in a solid brick that wasn't well aerated and seemed filled with dead roots.  That experience, along with seeing how poorly the roots of field grown trees are in original field soil, have made me lean towards a first repot as soon as I can.  

So, I now try to clean a big portion of the rootball the first spring after the tree arrives, slowly working the native soil with tweezers and chopsticks and not cutting any roots.  It can take a long time to do this, so I have a water spray bottle nearby to keep the roots moist as I work.  I do not completely bare root, nor do I use a hose on the root ball.  I also let the tree rest with no styling that year, and feed and water pretty heavily.

Just remember when you repot to tie the tree down very securely into the pot, especially if you might be putting in heavy bends in the future.

Title: Re: ponderosa pine
Post by: jferrier on March 15, 2011, 05:15 PM
Hmmm. I have a collected ponderosa I acquired in Nov. that was greatly lacking in fibrous roots.  When repotting, I used the original soil at about a 1/3 to 1/4 ratio mixed with 1/8" to 1/4" grit only. My thinking that it would be best to leave some of the original soil, so that there was some remaining mychorrizal fungi for better root development. Its still hanging in there, but after reading this I'm wondering if I should have tossed out all the old soil?
Title: Re: ponderosa pine
Post by: mcpesq817 on March 16, 2011, 02:32 AM
I probably wasn't as clear as I should have been.  What I did (and seems to have worked for me) was to remove as much of the compacted native soil as possible from the rootball, but then add some of it back to the 100% inorganic potting mix that I used (for the myccorhiza, etc.).  When added back though, I broke up the soil so that it was lighter and fluffier (for lack of a better term), and was not in that hard, extremely compacted brick-like form.  I would think that the original soil itself is not so bad when cut with a big proportion of modern substrate, but it's more the fact that the original soil on these trees is so compacted that is the problem.
Title: Re: ponderosa pine
Post by: John Kirby on March 16, 2011, 08:19 AM
Adding junk back to the soil mix is not a good thing. If you carefully remove the majority of the "duff" that the trees are found in growing on rocks, not using a hose to blast it, using chopsticks or tweezers, you will leave enough of the microorganisms required to provide a healthy environment without leaving a lot of the organic muck that will eventually kill these trees, particularly in areas with hot humid climates.

Walter helped me a lot when I was having a hard time getting Ponderosas to prosper, many I had originally gotten from ANdy Smith had just not improved (health and vigor wise) until he made the same suggestions that he has in his piece in this thread and in Larry Jackel's book on Ponderosa. In my experience, in the middle of the US (zone 7) the single most critical step is to get the trees out of the muck and in to good, well draining soil with little of no organic matter in it- slightly different from Walter's recipe- but in my climate with as many as 90 straight days a summer in the 90's, with all of the fertilizer and water that we use the organic matter in the soil soon breaks down to muck. Understand, the densely foliaged Ponderosa that Walter has up in the tree of the Month contest is not an accident, you get those results with healthy, well cared for trees- and that includes plenty of feeding, watering and appropriate level of repotting in to a medium that works in your location.
Title: Re: ponderosa pine
Post by: Treebeard55 on March 16, 2011, 04:02 PM
General question: has anyone found it helpful to add a mycorhizzal inoculant (e.g., Mynoc,) to the potting mix for a ponderosa? As opposed to leaving a little of the native soil mixed into the new medium.

(Boy, all forms and derivatives of the word mycorrhiza seem to give my spell-checker fits!)
Title: Re: ponderosa pine
Post by: John Kirby on March 16, 2011, 10:17 PM
No, because the specific fungi are generally not included in a general mix.
Title: Re: ponderosa pine
Post by: mcpesq817 on March 17, 2011, 10:09 AM
Thanks John for your thoughts.  With mine, I only added back a very small amount of the duff back into the soil mix, maybe on the order of 5%.  But it sounds like I didn't even need to do that - thanks for the tip.

Treebeard -- I wouldn't rely on my spelling :D
Title: Re: ponderosa pine
Post by: Billkcmo on July 21, 2011, 03:17 AM
I have two ponderosa pines in my collection.  One large that was collected in Colorado in the mid 1980's and doing great here in Kansas City, Missouri.  Very hot and humid here now.   The small windswept I got last year and it looks great.  They are potted in Haydite with a small amount  turface and a few  dime size chunks  brown peat.  It is a fast draining mix.  Any organic fertilizer is works.  In the fall I cut the needles in half and I swear it causes them to back bud.  I do not  pull needles or cut candles.  When I wire in the fall I reduce any growth that is not needed.  Full sun and waterer daily and they thrive.  Good luck.
Title: Re: ponderosa pine
Post by: pwk5017 on August 17, 2011, 12:47 PM
Perhaps not the best thread to post this question, but it is full of great info on ponderosa, so here it goes:  Can someone direct me to an explanation on balancing energy on ponderosas?  I have heard typical 2 needle care does not apply to ponderosa.  I have two collected trees that have vigorous tops and not so vigorous lower branches.  Both were collected 2 years ago and both are 75-100 years old according to jim doyle.  They have not been styled yet, but I want to balance the energy on both trees before I style next year.  Thanks