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Basics: Getting Ready for Repotting Season

Posted by Martha Goff on 3/26/2014

It’s Coming: Are You Ready?

Here in South Florida, we have all the signs of spring around. If you are going to be ready, you need to get things in order.

  1. Have you chosen the pots you will need? Remember, it doesn’t have to be the ‘show pot’, rather the right pot for the development of the tree. Many of my trees are still ramifying and need a little more room in the pot to push a lot of growth.  I put little post it notes in each pot so I don’t forget which tree goes where. It’s an aging thing. Those under 20 won’t understand.

  2. Are the pots cleaned, screened and wired? I find this saves me so much time when repotting starts. Of course, if you are using the same pot, be sure to clean, screen and wire before putting the tree back in the pot. A good cleaning is always a good practice.

  3. Get your materials ready:  a. wire b. soil c. fertilizer (organic) d. tools (cleaned and sharpened)

    1. Wire: Check your sizes and amounts. Aluminum wire is typically used in the subtropics and tropics as trees grow so rapidly that wire has to be changed often.

    2. Soil: I make my own soil which can be a bit work intensive so I start early. After washing, drying and sifting my soil components, lava and pumice, I mix them together adding horticultural charcoal and, for small trees, turkey grit. Everything is stored in a large sealed garbage can on wheels. By the time repotting arrives, everything is ready. When I repot, I do not discard my old soil. Since it is a ‘soilless mix’, I put the old soil on a screen and wash and sterilize completely. Once dry, it goes into another garbage can on wheels and is good to use again. Soil can be one of the most expensive parts of bonsai. My method is much cheaper and recyclable.

    3. Fertilizer: Since I make my own Organic Tropical Green Fertilizer, it is what I use. I make three different types and two different forms. When I repot, I place Tropical Green Organic Fruiting/Blooming Cakes in the pot after the tree is wired in and before adding the remaining soil. There is no danger of burning roots with organic unless it is high nitrogen so this practice ensures the tree gets a boost. I use Tropical Green Organic Fruiting/Blooming Fertilizer because it is high in phosphate which encourages root development and budding. For Mame or Shohin trees, I might use granular instead of the cakes for the size. A month after repotting, I add granular Tropical Green Organic Acid Fertilizer to ensure greening. I spread it on the top of the soil and work it in with a chopstick. Many use cakes on the top of the soil, which is fine, but I have fewer problems with critters stealing the granular than the cakes. After this nitrogen treatment, I revert to the type of Tropical Green Organic Fertilizer suitable to that particular species, whether it is Fruiting/Blooming, Acid, or Balanced. For my tiniest trees and my Kusamono, I use Tropical Green Organic Tea which can be diluted in water and then applied.

    4. Tools: One of the most difficult areas of maintaining your bonsai tools is keeping them sharp. If you don’t know how to sharpen tools, you need to find someone who can. Check with your local and state organization for contacts for people who do this professionally. A scissor sharpener is not a bonsai tool sharpener.

      Tools should be cleaned thoroughly after each use. I keep a container of diluted liquid Lysol (unscented) with me when I am working. This product will keep fungus and bacteria that you might transfer with your tools and also will remove sap that some trees leave behind. Keeping your tools oiled will help prevent rust and ease use. There are a number of safe products available that can be used without harming your trees.

  4. Get your tree ready. Before repotting or potting for the first time, the tree needs to be cleaned, pruned and wired for design. This process is as involved as is required. By this I mean, if the tree has never been worked or the tree is almost finished, the amount of tree preparation is different. I usually start this process about a month before I plan to repot depending on the weather. I think it was John Naka who said, “One insult at a time,” referring to the amount of work done on a tree in one session. When I repot, I only want to work on the roots. Experienced people have their own methods that work for them. New people should use caution.

  5. If you don’t know how to wire, learn. The quickest and surest way to complete a design is by using wire. Wiring incorrectly can cause harm to the tree and defeat the purpose of wiring. If your club or group does not teach wiring, find someone who does. It will make the results of all your hard work much more rewarding.

Tropical Green Sheets II has more detail on making your own soil for those interested. Pictures are included and the entire process is done step by step. There is also an article showing you how to make a repotting tub that will make repotting much less messy. These articles and many more can be found in the appendices of Tropical Green Sheets II.

 Basics: Getting Ready for Repotting Season
 Air Layering for Bonsai
 What is Kokedama?
 What is Kusamono

 March 2014
 February 2014
 January 2014