I have been looking for a Magnesium additive for a few of my trees that I think have an issue. I have a maple in a garden pot  and a Fuji cherry bonsai that last year had a yellowing of the leaves.  A wise man once told me that feeding won’t necessarily help the tree. The tree needs magnesium to help it break down the fertiliser.

I searched the local garden centres for the old En-Mag product with no joy. I had actually given up when I went into a very local, pokey family plant and paint shop and found Chempak’s Magnesium product and, to make it even better, their Trace elements one as well! I’m not sure they make these any more, haven’t seen them for a long time, perhaps old stock, but they’ll do me.


Saruyama Wisdom

Mr Warren has let me share these words of wisdom here, what a gent 🙂

I would hope that by the end of the last post you realised that it was actually a bit of an April Fools inspired post. There is no benefit to placing your fertiliser on your trees in a clockwise fashion from the back, under a full moon with underpants on your head. Glad to see some people came up with some suitable suggestions though. In actual fact putting dead fish on your trees is a great fertiliser, but very smelly.

There is a lot of nonsense out there about fertilising trees and not a lot of application of common sense. There is no one size fits all method, scheme or single product that does everything. What is suitable for John A in his garden with his soil is not suitable for John B in his (There are a lot of Johns in bonsai if you didn’t realise). Regular clients should now be used to my seemingly random instructions of fertilise this half strength after the leaves harden and then stop for the summer and then full strength in the autumn but give seaweed extract on regular intervals. Despite this seeming incredibly complex, it is actually just the application of a few basic ideas.

As you can imagine from the April fools parody, I am a firm believer in keeping it simple. All successful bonsai nurseries do and I aspire to be successful. I use only three products on a regular basis and there is no need for anything else. The comment yesterday about using only organic was a very valid point. (Biogold, maxicrop seaweed extract and another similar seaweed extract with extra iron in it if things look yellow)

The importance of micro organisms and bacteria cannot be stated enough. Without them your bonsai is growing in a sterile environment, and using some of the modern substrate mixes we do in bonsai, this is especially true. How can we encourage an eco system in the soil that creates a healthy root system and subsequently a healthy tree? Steer clear of cheap chemical fertilisers…or for that matter expensive chemical fertilisers. There is plenty of information about the benefits of organic over chemical out there and so I need not go into too much depth.

In terms of fertilising more is definitely not better, especially not if using anything chemical. Balance is key. I was reading some stuff and I came across this incredibly obvious law, but until I read it, it didnt occur to me…Leibig’s Law of the minimum

Yield is proportional to the amount of the most limiting nutrient, whichever nutrient it may be.


This means that if the soils is deficient in Magnesium, then it doesn’t matter how much Iron you pump into the soil, the growth is limited to the Magnesium deficiency.

Like I said, it was so outstandingly obvious after the fact but it changed my thinking. That is why we read books I guess. There is a lot of in depth science that is interesting if you like that sort of thing. But if, like 99% of the Japanese bonsai masters it doesn’t matter as long as it works, the follow some simple guidelines and success is more likely.

  1. Use a good quality solid organic fertiliser. Ideally solid cakes or pellets are best, powder tends to create an hard crust on the surface very quickly.
  2. Supplement with a good quality seaweed extract to provide micro nutrients
  3. Apply according to requirements and only when average air temperature is between 12 and 34 degrees Celcius.

The difficulty is in finding 1 and 2 and then figuring out 3. Even in Japan there is great difficulty in finding a good fertiliser. I spent a good hour talking with Akiyama-san recently about how modern abura-kasu (oil seed cakes) were useless because they squeeze all the nutrients out during the pressing and so the stuff that remains is ineffective as fertiliser. Even the gold standard of bonsai fertiliser, Bio Gold, can be patchy depending on when it was made and how much it got mixed up. One of the problems with organic fertilisers is the uneven distribution of nutrients.

Seaweed extract is used not to promote growth and increase extension, but consider it the bonsai equivalent of taking a vitamin supplement. Strength, resistance to disease and improved colour are all benefits. Everyone who uses it claims that the colour and the health of their trees improves.

Number 3…apply according to requirements. As long as the pH of the water and soil is fairly neutral and balanced organic fertiliser is applied then nutrient deficiency will not be a problem. Only once the pH starts to move towards one end or the other then nutrient deficiency starts to happen. The uptake of nutrients depends on pH as shown here...and here in technicolour…

Iron deficiency in plants is often not caused by an absence of iron in the soil, but a pH that inhibits uptake of iron…so it doesnt matter how much iron you add to the soil, like me at a cheese board, it won’t be able to eat it. Reduce the pH and it will solve the problem.

So following on the line of thought…how does the pH of soil get out of whack? Excessive chemical fertilisers and water impurity. Some European growers have such hard water that they need to resort to using reverse osmosis to lower the pH.

So getting back to the requirements…ask yourself the question…what do I want the tree to do? Do I actually want my tree to grow? For some bonsai, the answer is “No, I don’t actually want my tree to extend or thicken.”…for others it is “Yes, I want the trunk thickness to triple in a year”. How to achieve these objectives is not just simply down to how much fertiliser is applied as remember more is not always better. Allowing unchecked growth assisted by fertiliser is the way. For builidng delicate ramification, pinching out the terminal shoots assisted by a complete lack of fertiliser is the way forward. Pushing growth with one hand and stoping it with the other is the way round and round in circles.

Work out the balance between : What does the tree need to stay healthy and balanced all over versus What do I want to the tree to do

Why is the temperature so important? Lower than 12 degrees and the bacteria that breaks down the fertiliser into easily absorbed compounds are yet to become active. Above 34 and bacterial activity will cause the soil temperature will rise to dangerous levels, killing both the roots and also the bacteria in the soil

I appear to have taken a very simple concept and made it incredibly complicated. maybe I should have just left it as an April Fool…That’ll learn me.

Air Layer Woe

Apart from one tree a few years back, my air layers have never failed. I always use the same method, strip a ring of bark, apply moss and wrap with cling film. I can usually remove within 4-5 months. It would be easy to only post about success on the blog, but we all know bonsai has it’s fair share of failures and woe 😉

This year I did two layers, one on a Japanese Maple and one on a Trident Maple. Both species I’ve layered before.

The maple was slightly different this time as I used a cut flower pot to hold the moss in place. The Trident was done as normal.

This was the result of the Japanese Maple.

Roots only issued from one place that were of use.

Some other roots appeared but from below the layer on the parent trunk.

The tree had managed to bridge an inch wide ring to rejoin with the parent trunk.

I removed the unwanted roots and any unwanted bridging callus. I then removed even more of the heartwood to be 100% sure that bridging wouldn’t occur.

This time I opted to use root hormone to stimulate the tree. I mixed power with water to make a paste which was applied to the area where roots are wanted.

I then replaced the moss with a akadama mix with a little grit.

We will wait and see !

The Trident didn’t fair much better!

Loads of callus and very early signs of roots

As it was close to bridging, I removed the bottom but left the top portion as this will add to the future width of the nebari.

Moss reapplied and the mini tree was pruned to get a little structure into the future new image.

I’ll keep you updated next year.

Mini Maples

When we had Robert Porch over speaking at the club last year, he was talking about how a lot of the small maples we see from Japan are air layers developed on a parent plant and then layered off. One of the techniques that is used is to ring the tree with wire at the point where you eventually want to layer. Then while you develope the tight branch structure the wire bites in and causes the trunk to swell at this point. Then when you are ready to layer you already have a wider nebari to work with.

I’ve been meaning to do this all year on a maple in my garden but only got around to it a few weeks ago. Late in the season, but  maples tend to bulk up in the autumn and I intend to leave the wire on through next year and layer off in 2015. I’ll keep you posted as to how this works for me. In the meantime here are a few of the bits I’m layering off. Some better than others but I want to do as many as possible on the same tree.

Mother and Child Hawthorn

I’ve had this tree for about 10 years and have never done much with it. I pruned back now and again, I think I even wired it at one point a few years back. I toyed with the idea of layering off the top at one point last year but opted against it. I brought it into the garage on Friday night past for a look and after some tilting and thinking I decided that it was time for a little work and a repot.

This was it just off the bench. A big lump of wood.

Some nice movement in the trunk line, not a lot of taper but I still like the image.

I changed the front slightly to show the movement off better and tilted the tree into a slightly more upright position.

The root at the right hand side was possibly dead. I wouldn’t know until I repot.

I did some basic wiring and removed some of the unnecessary branches.

Transferred over to the repotting table.

Tools at the ready.

Mix at the ready too.

During the repotting I was able to get a good look at that root and although it was partially alive, it was extremely weak and I was able to remove and do a little basic carving. This can be refined at a later date.

This was the problem root.  I needed to twist the tree about 20 degrees to a new front. This root would not allow me to fitr the tree into the pot at the new position.

I was able to remove the fine root from the last few inches without impacting to much on the health of the tree.

This allowed me to remove this portion to facilitate the new position.

About 2 years ago I remember nicking the underside of the baby trunk in an attempt to get it to root. Not a great success but it did root.

Outside for a watering. I had to get my eldest son to assist with the repot as it would have been impossible to do this on my own. He snapped a few shots while I was watering it in.

This is the new position. Pot is not ideal but the only one I had that worked. I now have a basic structure to work with and must admit that I rather like the mother and child image that is created by leaving the small secondary trunk. Not for everyone but I like it. I looks as if Mum is protecting the child. I wouldn’t mess with her, she bites like Suarez 🙂

Now tucked away in the tunnel to keep it out of the wind for a few weeks until it settles down. I see a few flower buds on the tree as well.

Another Maple Layer

This time it’s a mame Trident Maple. I have a stump of maple that is far from attractive. I opted to layer off the little apex.

Rescue Maple Air Layer

After spending the last few years getting this maple back to health, it was time to make a decision about the rotting wood at the base and slight inverse taper. The tree has obviously had a hard life and large areas of the trunk have died back. After consideration I am opting to try an air layer.

I marked out the best spot for stripping the bark. Not easy as the deadwood always breaks the circumference of the trunk at some point.

Sharp tools at the ready and some Sphagnum Moss at hand.

Strip removed and a clean upper edge created. Lots of evidence of a hard life in the heartwood of this tree.

Instead of doing the usual air layer with cling film I opted to use a flower pot as it can sit at the base of the tree. Pot sliced and a portion removed to allow the trunk to fit through the bottom.

Taped up and ready for the moss.

Filled with moss and cling filmed over the top to help retain moisture.

Here we go. Update in the Autumn.



Parent and Layer Update

An update on the parent plant and the layer I took on a Cork Bark Chinese Elm in 2011.

This is the parent now achieved from a stump in a year. A few bits need to be cut back to balance out the growth but not bad for a year. Might even get a suitable instead of this Sh1te one 🙂

This was it in September 2011

And this is the layer a year on.

Post about the layering

Ivy Air Layer

I decided yesterday to check on the air layer done earlier in the year on an Ivy. THIS is the previous post about it.

I’ve had to trim back the foliage a few times since the layer was added in May. This was it as I started yesterday.

On removing the black cover and cling film I was happy with the results.

I think this will make a rather nice little shohin. I potted it into a slightly larger pot than required. Nothing suitable on the shelf. Also potted at the wrong angle to ensure that the new roots are sufficiently covered. If the roots are coming out of the bottom in the Spring I might repot properly then. In the mean time it will go back in the poly tunnel to add a little time to the growing season to encourage more root.


Ivy Air layer

I finally got around to layering a little ivy I collected last year from a beach. A bit late but should be fine with this species.

As you can see, the trunk has major issues as it sits, inverse taper and lack of interest.

This part of the tree has loads of interest and was worth layering.

Layer in progress.

Sphagnum moss and cling film

Finished off with black pond liner to help attract heat and encourage rooting.

As usual I’ll keep you posted right here.