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Author Topic: my experience with Ponderosa Pines, relative newbie to them  (Read 3714 times)
Leo in NE Illinois
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« on: November 29, 2012, 12:14 AM »

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.
« Last Edit: November 29, 2012, 12:23 AM by Leo in NE Illinois » Logged

Chrisl
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« Reply #1 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. 

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
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Leo in NE Illinois
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« Reply #2 on: November 29, 2012, 12:45 PM »

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. 

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.


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. 

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.
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MatsuBonsai
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« Reply #3 on: November 29, 2012, 01:06 PM »

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.
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coh
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« Reply #4 on: November 29, 2012, 02:31 PM »

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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John Kirby
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« Reply #5 on: November 29, 2012, 06:18 PM »

Ponderosa Pines will live a decade or less if you don't get them out of the mountain gunk and you live in a hot or hot and humid climate.  We aggressively remove the mountain gunk from trees we get from Andy, Larry or Randy. Get them in to Good soil mix and they will grow extremely well, and reliably. Leave them in goo, they will decline.

Leo I am not sure what it is you plan to do with yours, but bad soil won't help. Treating them like Japanese White Pines is great for getting them to grow in a controlled fashion, whil trying to gt them to back bud and force congested development fertilize them like JBP, early, often and all the time- Walter Pall's approach. It works.

Larry's book is very nice and has very good information in it, even in the chapter that I contributed.

John
« Last Edit: November 29, 2012, 06:25 PM by John Kirby » Logged

MatsuBonsai
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« Reply #6 on: November 29, 2012, 06:29 PM »

John,

How are you treating your Ponderosa up at your new digs?
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« Reply #7 on: November 29, 2012, 06:36 PM »

Lot more fungicide....... Treating the same, still trying to figure out if I can leave outside without protecting the pots.
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Chrisl
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« Reply #8 on: November 29, 2012, 07:33 PM »

Leo, Thanks for the advice.  I figured my Ponderosas would take longer to develop.  I'm also followed Walter's advice John of a " early, often and all the time" as well as very strong fertilization.  Much stronger than the recommended dosage.  I believe it's why I've had such tremendous growth and vigor on these two.  But the burlap tree still has a good 60% soil around it per Andy's recommendation.  Then I'll definitely repot next spring this one and remove another 30% and repeat in 2014 in total organic if that sounds reasonable John?  Or do you think I should replace the remaining all at once?  (funny, we just kinda had this discussion about my JBP Wink )
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John Kirby
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« Reply #9 on: November 29, 2012, 07:49 PM »

Chrisi, I would carefully remove the muntain soil from 1/2 of the tree and then assuming that it grows well in 13 and 14, repot the other half in 15. Ponderosas can fill a pot with roots faster than you think, the point is to repot when needed and not just on a timeline.
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Chrisl
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« Reply #10 on: November 30, 2012, 10:15 AM »

I'll do that John, glad I asked, I thought getting rid of the old soil should prompt me to do it in sequencial years.  Giving two yrs between repots sounds very safe. Thanks for the advice! 
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coh
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« Reply #11 on: November 30, 2012, 01:22 PM »

So my burlap trees have been potted for 2 seasons now...it sounds like the consensus is that I should get in there next spring and remove 1/2 the remaining native soil, then wait 2 years (depending on results) and remove the remaining soil?

Any tips on removing that old stuff? As I recall, it seemed pretty dense (and still does) and as I peeled away some of the outer sections I couldn't tell if I was losing lost of roots. Do you just carefully pick at it with tweezers/etc, do you wash it off, or some combination?

Chris
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Leo in NE Illinois
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« Reply #12 on: November 30, 2012, 04:58 PM »

Ponderosa Pines will live a decade or less if you don't get them out of the mountain gunk and you live in a hot or hot and humid climate.  We aggressively remove the mountain gunk from trees we get from Andy, Larry or Randy. Get them in to Good soil mix and they will grow extremely well, and reliably. Leave them in goo, they will decline.

I agree, a point I really take to heart. I didn't miss this point in your earlier posts.

Leo I am not sure what it is you plan to do with yours, but bad soil won't help. Treating them like Japanese White Pines is great for getting them to grow in a controlled fashion, whil trying to gt them to back bud and force congested development fertilize them like JBP, early, often and all the time- Walter Pall's approach. It works.

Sorry, I didn't make it clear. I am planning on repotting in spring 2013. It was collected in 2006, so it is time, even if the soil isn't 'bad' looking yet. The tree we are talking about is mainly in Andy's bonsai mix, his bonsai mix is pretty good quality, maybe not the "best", but overall pretty good. I poked around when I first got the tree and without knocking it out of the pot, I am pretty comfortable there is relatively little native soil, perhaps no more than 10% or 15%. I know sometimes his trees have much more native soil. When I repot this spring 2013, I would be surprised if I found more native soil than I predicted. The fact that this pot still drains well also leads me to believe that the amount of 'gunk' in there is relatively small. The fact that each year this tree improves number and volume of buds and needles, better thickness, color, and other signs of good health also lead me to believe this particular tree is okay for the moment. Its been going forward, slowly at first but the last 2 years it has accelerated growth nicely.

One minor point, I'm in zone 5b, so the heat here is not quite as bad as it is for those further south, though we had 2 of the hottest summers we have ever had within the last 5 years. But I do realize gunk will form, even in zone 5b. And it can form quickly, no matter where you are if conditions in the pot are conducive to make gunk.

Quote from: John Kirby
Larry's book is very nice and has very good information in it, even in the chapter that I contributed. John

That is totally cool, I will re-read your chapter, its neat to get advice from someone with real experience, not just "internet experience" Wink And you have more experience now, as the book has been out for quite a while now. I really will try to follow your suggestions. I'm changing my plans as I type, especially my thoughts around fertilizing. So forget what I said about JWP. I will begin a heavy fertilizer program beginning in spring. My comment about supplementing my continuous feeding of low dose liquid fertilizer with cake type fertilizer for my JBP, is misleading. Any tree I have that shows signs of vigorous growth got cake fertilizer this 2012 growing season, not just the JBP, though they got the heaviest dose. AND, there was improvement over 2011.

I am trying to improve what I do from one year to the next year.


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John Kirby
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« Reply #13 on: November 30, 2012, 05:32 PM »

Chris, use a chopstick and curved tweezers. I guess the key word is to be careful, you can use very gentle water. I believe that is you go to Chris Johnston's site, bonsai no sahieda, that you cansee what we did with a large ponderosa in the article on repotting and dealing with difficult roots. http://bonsaikc.com/advanced-techniques/dealing-with-difficult-roots/
« Last Edit: November 30, 2012, 05:35 PM by John Kirby » Logged

Leo in NE Illinois
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« Reply #14 on: November 30, 2012, 05:38 PM »

About fertilizers. There are as many fertilizer programs as there are bonsai growers. Many will work. And many have the quality in their trees that objectively prove their programs do work. More than one way to skin a cat.

I know a little about plant nutrition in general horticultural terms, but my knowledge about applying this to bonsai trees specifically is a little on the weak side, especially in terms of timing of fertilizer applications. So I still consider myself a student.

That said. I did analyse the program outlined by Walter Pall, which uses a much higher than manufacture recommended dose rate. (frightened me at first, that's a really high dose) After a serious look; Walter Pall's system will work! It will work with spectacular good results. BUT you must follow the whole program. Walter states this himself. If you use the dose rates he recommends, you MUST be watering the way he does and MUST use the same type of potting mix. Change the potting mix, or change the watering frequency, and his system will crash your trees. The way he waters and pots allows the trees to take advantage of his extremely high fertilizer concentrations. Walter says so himself. You must follow his whole program. His trees are proof it works, and when I look at it from the hort science (non bonsai, but crops in pots) his system is in agreement with the science. BUT his watering and potting mix are equally important in conjunction with his fertilizer strength and nutrient assays.

Just wanted to repeat this warning that Walter himself gives, because his system does "give me the willies" in terms of the high dosages he uses. My orchids would be dead in a minute if I tried his dose rates on my collection without being able to match his watering.

My 'fertilizer program' is not ready for prime time, though I think I have a very good one for orchids. I have to adapt what I do for bonsai and test it for a few years. I'll post when I think I have the system worked out and have actually seen good results. I can not follow Walter Pall's system, I can not water the way he does. So I am developing my own. I will try to use the science his system is based on. BUT because I can't follow the whole system, I can't use his high concentrations of fertilizer.
« Last Edit: November 30, 2012, 05:52 PM by Leo in NE Illinois » Logged

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