Species Specific > Ponderosa Pine Bonsai Discussion

my experience with Ponderosa Pines, relative newbie to them

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Leo in NE Illinois:
So taking the advice that has been often repeated by Marcus Watts, Walter Pall and many others, I bit the bullet and in 2005 began buying a few Ponderosa Pines from Andy Smith (Golden Arrow Bonsai). The purpose being to work on better quality material, that already has some age on it. I only recently joined this forum, and only recently saw the videos and articles about Ponderosa Pines by Ryan Neil, thanks to this forum and the IBC forum.

Ryan's advice makes sense. Between 2005 to 2008 I picked up 6 Ponderosa's from Andy Smith. Today I have 3 left. The big mistakes were to try to rush things. Expensive lesson. I know now Andy puts them in an all inorganic mix that includes lava and akadama, so the only organic in the pot is the native soil that came with the trees. I repotted 5 of the 6 within 2 years of getting them. All the fatalities were from the group that was repotted. All 5 had very little native soil, so when the 6th tree was slow to 'wake up' and start growing vigorously, I simply put off repotting it. It has been 6 years now from the collection date on Andy's tag, the pot is still draining well, so I am in no hurry to repot this aproximately 150 to 175 year old pine. It needs time to grow a new root system. No need to rush and repot one of Andy's trees, especially the older ones. If the soil drains so that water doesn't puddle on top, its probably just fine.

Each one of the fatalities was from doing 2 or more traumatic treatments within 12 months of each other. Repotting too soon after being collected and the initial potting up, repotting and pruning and wiring in the same summer. Using power tools to carve dead wood without being careful to prevent vibration and movement of the trunk relative to the roots. Apparently broke newly formed roots with the movement of the trunk. Carving in middle of summer is probably bad timing even on an established tree. Next time I'll carve in late winter. Each of these things killed its respective tree. BUT, three Ponderosas have survived. Lessons learned.

The last 4 summers I got nice growth out of the largest and oldest tree, the one that hasn't been repotted yet. 2 years ago in early autumn I did Larry Jackal's treatment, where I eliminated downward needles, and needles from areas I did not want back buds. Then in late summer, early fall I removed all terminal buds. It has taken 2 years but I have excellent back budding. First summer after terminal bud removal I had new buds form, but most did not grow much, second summer all put on some nice growth, some new buds actually looked like JBP candles. It is clear that bud pruning should be done infrequently. Maybe once every 5 or 6 years, only if the design could be improved by it. Ryan is right. Removing terminal buds is a big stressor, it will set back for the tree. Best to just keep it growing.

This summer I had some dense foxtails of needles on the uppermost branches, and the lower branches were looking weaker than the top. So beginning in September I plucked needles. I thinned the top as Ryan had suggested for balancing black pines. But Larry Jackal's book was adamant about not removing old needles in areas where you wanted back budding and Ted Matson also suggested keeping old needles. In the excessively strong areas the needle bundles were 3 needles to a bundle, I would pluck 2 and leave one. So I did not eliminate needle bundles or older needles, I just brought them to single needles in the strongest areas of the tree. Summer of 2013 will be the year to assess this treatment. I thinned needle bundles rather than remove them to keep any dormant back buds in case I needed one. Turns out, I learned from the video posted here leaving them may also help with the hormone balance for the tree if I understand Ryan correctly. I will report how the tree responded to this next fall. I hope it is the right way to go. I had also seen an old Bonsai Today where Kimura would pluck single needles from JWP bundles, leaving 1 or 2 in the strongest areas, 3 in the medium areas and pluck none in the weak areas. He left old needle bundles on that particular tree, just reduced the number of needles per bundle. Since Ponderosa is a slower pine, and responds better to white pine treatments, Kimura's technique seemed to be worth a try.

So I would have to endorse the Larry Jackal book and Ryan Neil's comments most enthusiastically. I also have to give Ted Matson props for suggesting that I try an approach similar to Ryan Neil's approach. And Ted mentioned that he personally had never owned a ponderosa at the time I talked to him. This conversation with Ted was shortly after I bought my first tree back in 2005 when Ryan Neil was still in Japan. So Ted is good and conservative with his approach to Ponderosa. I guess the program would be fertilize like a Japanese White Pine, in terms of timing. Larry Jackal's suggestion for the one time back-bud forcing. No JBP style candle pruning in summer. And only subject them to one trauma a year. Don't keep messing with them and don't rush them. "Speed kills" as is said elsewhere.

That's my experience. As time permits I'll add photos, but the photos I have right now all have bad backgrounds, you can't see what is really there in them. I will have to shoot new images before I post.

Chrisl:
That's great information Leo, Thanks so much for writing that out and sharing your experiences.  I have two, one I've had for 2 yrs now and one I got this spring.  I fed the hell out of them, even in the spring.  So yes, I got long needles, but I have back budding and I haven't done any candle trimming yet.  I just pruned to more proximal buds on my older this fall for the first time.  The second is one of Andy's 'burlap' trees and given that it was just potted up this spring, it grew very well with a fair amount of back budding even!  And I haven't done a darn thing to it exc. feed it aggressively.   So I've taken a kinda hands off approach to needle reduction, candle trimming etc. so far. 

The first one is in mainly pumice that has broken down over the last 3-4yrs since the initial pot up.  Stays wet at the bottom of the pot, but is draining well and growing well.  I'm thinking of repotting it, but like you said, if it's draining well, then does it really need to be repotted despite the wet feet?  I'm unsure and haven't made up my mind yet.  That, or try Larry's technique on it? 

The second one will stay in the wood box for the next few yrs.  I will prob. style this one next year as it's growing really well already and I know can endure the stress at this point. 

It'd be great to have other people share their techniques and results on Pondys.  I've seen some really nice ones, with close buds, ramification and 2-3" needles.  So I know it can be done.  I recently also watched Ryan's lecture on pine care.  Next yr. I'm going to follow his technique for ponderosas incl. the fert. routine and needle reduction.  So I'll start to reduce needle length and hopefully start on some ramification.

Great topic Leo!
Chris

Leo in NE Illinois:

--- Quote from: Chrisl on November 29, 2012, 10:50 AM ---That's great information Leo, Thanks so much for writing that out and sharing your experiences.  I have two, one I've had for 2 yrs now and one I got this spring.  I fed the hell out of them, even in the spring.  So yes, I got long needles, but I have back budding and I haven't done any candle trimming yet.  I just pruned to more proximal buds on my older this fall for the first time.  The second is one of Andy's 'burlap' trees and given that it was just potted up this spring, it grew very well with a fair amount of back budding even!  And I haven't done a darn thing to it exc. feed it aggressively.   So I've taken a kinda hands off approach to needle reduction, candle trimming etc. so far. 
--- End quote ---

My potting mix is a blend of dry stall pumice, turface, granite grit and some akadama. A small amount (10% or less) of used on the orchids, orchid bark. Since my main collection is orchids, used bark is easy to get, a full year of 'composting' before being repurposed to bonsai mix.

Fertilizers and feeding - Because of the orchids, I have a set up that makes using liquid fertilizer very easy. I don't use a proportioner, because the less than $100 units are prone to inaccuracy & break down. I am able to mix fertilizer directly into the water I'll be using. SO, that said, the bonsai get the same water the orchids do, which means, whether I want to or not, I am using a continuous feedling program. Every time I water by hand I am dosing the trees with a very dilute dose of fertilizer, about 50 to 70 ppm as N. The nutrient ratios were designed for producing bedding plants in synthetic soils, then modified slightly for orchids. Since we are using synthetic soils for bonsai, I am convinced this is a better blend than what is commonly recommended. The ratios are 13-1.8-2 with 8 calcium, 4 magnesium, and a very long list of minors in precise proportions. The color of my pine needles are excellent. My 6 Ponderosas went from yellow green to rich green with a little blue tone in the first season. Unfortunately needle length is a bit on the long side. This is not a heavy dose of fertilizer, I have to add cake fertilizer to my Jap. Black Pines because they clearly are not getting enough, especially in spring. This dose rate does seem near ideal for JWP, but then again all my JWP are youthful trees, still in early development. My longest in my care tree, a pomegranate, seems to really appreciate this, though like JBP I add cake fertilizer in spring after it goes outside.



--- Quote from: Chrisl on November 29, 2012, 10:50 AM ---The first one is in mainly pumice that has broken down over the last 3-4yrs since the initial pot up.  Stays wet at the bottom of the pot, but is draining well and growing well.  I'm thinking of repotting it, but like you said, if it's draining well, then does it really need to be repotted despite the wet feet?  I'm unsure and haven't made up my mind yet. 
--- End quote ---

Having lost 3 trees due to rushing them, my thought is that if a tree is over 100 years old, and has not been in captivity for  at least 15 years, then be reluctant to re-pot. 4 or even 6 years between repotting is reasonable, especially if your mix is mostly mineral, without much in the way of organics. These trees are still adapting. If the mix is draining well, the break down of the pumice is likely not a big deal. I've noticed that Akadama will loose its appearance of structure fairly quickly, yet the trees don't seem to mind, grow quite well in fact, at least for another season or two. I do believe repotting is necessary, but I think until one sees very, very vigorous growth, it might be best to take it slow.  

For the majority of us, I don't think we have seen truly vigorous ponderosa growth. Most of us are dealing with trees that have been less than 10 years in captivity. Judging by the dense needles on the upper branches of the largest and least 'worked' of my surviving ponderosas, I am guessing when they get truly growing, they will be very vigorous, more like a JBP growing in moist coastal California (not a desert grown JBP). I am thinking the large amount of back buds and nice big terminal buds is only the beginning of the pick up in vigor. I am going to still hold back and see if I can get the dense foxtails of needles even in the lower branches. Then I will work the tree like a tree that is established.

If I had your trees, the growth you describe I would guess is signs of 'half way' on the way to vigorous growth. I would still be slow to do much with them.

Pam W. in the Milwaukee bonsai club has a very nice small Ponderosa that looks more like a JBP with very old bark. She left it alone, without working it much beyond infrequent repotting for 15 years before starting to really work the tree. Part of that was she hadn't decided what to do with it, initially no design options leaped out at her, except it kept saying 'potential'. I don't think we have to wait that long, but the health of this small tree was remarkable when I saw it at a workshop with Ted Matson we did together. SO my advice that I have to keep repeating to myself to keep myself in check is to GO SLOW at first and that SLOW zone may be 10 years.

Now I don't mean do nothing, but with 3 dead $250+ trees behind me, I am thinking SLOW is good. One work day per year, or one technique per 12 months for a while, for possibly 10 years or so. The reason I say 'per 12 months' is that I tend to think pruning & needle work in fall and repotting in spring as being a year apart, yet only 5 months may have actually passed.

MatsuBonsai:
I got 2 trees from Andy this year. One was a burlap tree and the other was 2 years from collection.

The burlap tree I bare root reported into my normal soil. After a month or so of adjustment I started feeding cakes.  I continued to feed aggressively for the rest of the year. Tree is doing great.

The other tree looked to have been growing in mostly granite with a large amount of duff around the rootball. I repotted, half bare root into my normal soil. After a month or so of adjustment began feeding, and fed aggressively throughout the growing season. This tree also grew well, but not nearly as aggressively as the first.

My advice, get the mountain soil out of the pot as soon as possible. If it takes 2 years, fine.

coh:
I've been wondering what to do about that native "soil". I also picked up a couple of "burlap bonanza" trees in spring 2011. After reading the Jackel book (and other stuff) I decided to pot them up without removing most of that old soil. The trees are doing OK, one is stronger than the other but I wouldn't call either one particularly vigorous. There's been some roots showing at the drain holes, but not a lot...and when I dig down into the bonsai soil surrounding the original root mass I don't see a lot of roots. So I figure I'm going to leave them as is for at least another year (and I have poked some holes through the original root mass and filled with bonsai soil as recommended). But what do I do when it is time to repot? Remove part of that old soil, all of it, something else?

Chris

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