Category Archives: Tips & Techniques by Scott Chadd

February 2014 Tips & Techniques by Scott Chadd

February is always the busiest month of the year for us here at the nursery. The month begins with the California Shohin Seminar which is held the last weekend in January in Santa Nella on the even numbered years. This event draws bonsai persons from all over the country. Shohin bonsai are those that are quite small (usually less than 8″ tall) and the display is truly breathtaking. There are workshops, demonstrations, seminars, great companionship during the social hours, and a large area for vendors. Prices for the work- shops are very reasonable because all the talent donate their time to the Shohin Society. This year there were over 250 people attending the Saturday night dinner and auction. Try not to miss this event as it is one of the best in the US.

Next comes our annual dig at the growing grounds in Oroville. For the last 12 years we have been taking material started here at Lotus and planting it into the ground at the rear of a large industrial nursery next to the Feather River in Oroville. The nursery is not open to the public but the person who manages it is one of our students and we have partnered up to bring our small material to highly advanced bonsai rapidly. The soil is 20′-50′ deep and a sandy silty loam that the trees love. They grow 5 times as fast in the ground up there as they do in pots here. There are about 400 trees planted in the acre of ground. They include Japanese Maples, Mikawa Black Pines, Shimpaku Junipers, Trident Maples, Ume and Crab Apples. Once a year, usually the second weekend of February, we open up the growing grounds to our students and they lift material. Some of our club members have attended this event and enjoyed themselves while ac- quiring great bonsai futures.

Finally, is the Mammoth Bazaar fund raiser held at the Garden Center at Lake Merritt in Oakland. This event is the 3rd weekend of the month so this year it is February 22-23. There is an auction of bonsai held on Saturday and the material at this auction is some of the best on the west coast. Sunday there is a large member sales area where bonsai club members from the Bay Area bring material to sell; there is a vendor section and demonstrations are held in the audito- rium. This raises money to support the GSBF Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt which is one of the two major bonsai collec- tions created by the Golden State Bonsai Federation. The other resides at Huntington Gardens in Southern California.

We are on the run this month and enjoying the opportunity to share this hobby that we love.

January 2014 Tips & Techniques by Scott Chadd

Now is a good time to be repotting trees. During this time of dormancy the fluids inside the tree are still so trimming of roots and branches can occur with little lasting damage. Because the weather has been so warm and dry many of our trees our beginning to bud out. Ume are busy making flowers and Amur Maples are going strong. Many of our trees are fully convinced that we are in the middle of April.

So…………….if you wait until February or March it may not be possible to repot this year due to the growth patterns that are occurring.

Last year we had a similar weather pattern and many of our Japanese Maples really suffered. Just like this year they began to break buds in January then froze in February and March. Making the second batch of leaves quite weak and the Fall color very pale.

Good luck.

December 2013 Tips & Techniques by Scott Chadd

The change in seasons from hot and dry (July, August, September) to cool/cold/wet (October, November, December) to very cold and wet (January, February, March) to mild, warm and sunny (April, May, June) once, a long time ago, seemed to be moderately predictable. To my eye this really started to shift about 10 years ago.The new and emerging weather systems are far less predictable and the peaks and valleys are higher and lower.

This climb in magnitude and reduction of cycle times is common in physical systems undergoing rapid alteration. The meaning of all this variability for bonsai is not yet clear. Hot is getting hotter, wet is wetter, cold is colder and the wind is blowing harder. Each of these activities in our environment re- quires us to recalibrate our responses to keep our small potted trees strong and healthy.

One of the many things I love about bonsai is its focus on nature and how she works. Every time I go outside to look at the nursery I am conscious of the space we occupy. I notice the temperature, humidity, angle of the sun, wind, bugs, diseases, soil conditions, growth patterns, the plant/earth dialogue as it is played out in the lives of my trees. This awareness of ones surroundings is somehow being lost as many of our people, young and old, spend the great majority of their time indoors looking closely at small electronic devices. The world spins around them without their attention. I think the outcome of this situation is not going to be pretty.

Anyway, keep your trees from drying out. Don’t over water but don’t let the bonsai pots become dry. If the pot is dry and there is a hard freeze the roots are full of water and the soil is dry so when the root freezes there is no countervailing force to keep it from bursting. If the pot and the root are both moist then freezing happens equally on both sides of the cell wall and things remain stable.

Pick off any scale insects that are over wintering on your bonsai, now is a good time to find them and they come off easily. If you have some sooty mold (your trunk and branches will become dark) it is a good time to gently use power washer or hard hose nozzle with a tooth brush to remove it. Once it is washed off you can apply an agricultural oil (Neem, volck or some other) to stop it from coming back. Now is a good time to do heavy trimming, removing branches that don’t enhance the design. Being able to see into our deciduous trees lets us apply styling wire with ease; so go ahead and do that. It was 18 degrees at 7am here three days ago. We will discuss repotting in January.

October 2013 Tips & Techniques by Scott Chadd

You can begin the final defoliation of your deciduous trees. If the leaves are brown, grey and faded now is a good time to remove them. Be careful because there are a lot of small buds at the base of those leave that are going to make your new branches next year. With trees whose leaves are still green you can apply a bit of 0-10-10 once a week for the next month at 1/2 strength to provide potassium and phosphorus that is so important for root growth. This application can also cause brighter color in many of the trees. If your bonsai are showing great fall colors (Amur Maples, Tridents, Gingko, Crabapples, and Elms are yellow, orange, red and gold right now), relax and enjoy them.

For conifers and junipers it is a good time to wire them. Remove all the old needles and leave 5-10 bundles of needles at the end of the branch. Protect the new buds which are growing at the very tip end of the pines. On the junipers you can let the new distal growth run but remove those nasty little groups of pincushion needles that are emerging at branch divisions and in the crotch of leaf separations. Because these trees are beginning to slow down bending is easier than in the Spring and Summer. Use sealer to repair any damage where the branch cracks or splits.

The weather keeps getting stranger and stranger so keep your fingers crossed and don’t let your bonsai dry out.

September 2013 Tips & Techniques by Scott Chadd

This is a time of year when our trees are almost dormant. The more or less constant high heat has caused the process of photosynthesis to slow down. There is an optimal growing temperature for all trees, and each is a little bit different. Pines, Junipers, Cypress and other conifers should be showing a lot of brown/yellow needles or scale growth due to the fact that they are putting a lot of their energy into forming new buds. As the new growth is formed the older growth must be abandoned because it is simply not as efficient as the new growth. Remove the brown needles with your hands or tweezers and your bon- sai will look a lot nicer.

For our deciduous trees the leaves are beginning to tire. They have been working hard since March/April to produce more tree and the molecules that conduct photosynthesis are starting to wear down. During this time it is possible to repot maples, elms, oaks, beech, crab apple, wisteria, and many other deciduous bonsai. As long as the roots are not treated too harshly the trees will still have time to make leaves before the weather gets too dark and cold for them to produce the proteins, carbohydrates and sugars the tree needs to grow. If repotting is needed remove all the leaves and go ahead. In October/November the leaves will begin to change color with most of them falling by December here at the nursery.

July 2013 Tips & Techniques by Scott Chadd

The last three weeks of June and the first week of July have been perfect examples of “Global Wierding”. Everything I thought I knew about the weather, and I learned a lot being out in the woods for twenty years and growing bonsai for many more, is all for naught. One day it is 105 with a nighttime low of 92 and the next day (I mean the very next day) it is 80 with a nighttime low of 60. These wild swings of temperature do bad things to our trees. Most frequently with deciduous material the leaf margin will turn brown or yellow, or the leaves will be deformed, or the tree may simply drop all its leaves. If your trees are in the sun a lot of this damage will occur because the pot gets very hot.

For Junipers and Pines it is different. They like the heat and sun but they often suffer when temperatures fluctuate over about 25 degrees from one day to the next. With conifers and junipers damage takes much longer to be manifest. It can often take a couple of months for your pine tree’s needles to turn yellow after it has been burned.

Remember all of our new roots and tender young shoots are growing right next to the inside wall of the pot. If it is a ceramic container the temperatures where the roots are trying to grow can get over 140 degrees. Guess what happens… the roots in that zone die. The tips of your pine needles will start to turn brown and the needles will die back down from the tip. Junipers will start to drop weak limbs. All the foliage will turn yellow or brown and the branch will die.

This is becoming more of a problem in the last 10-15 years than it ever was before. During my visits to Asia, I find that bonsai nursery persons over there are having to be more careful with their trees. Wrapping the pots with burlap, swamp cooler pads, or wet rags will really help. If possible move the trees into full shade or a space with morning sun only. Don’t be afraid to water two or three times a day. If your bonsai are in good soil there will not be a problem. You can spray the leaves with Cloud Cover or Anti Stress 2000. Both of these are a harmless latex coating that will reduce water loss through evapo-transpiration.

If your tree looks ugly and it is good and strong, move it into a shady spot and cut off all the leaves. It will revive in about a months and look good. If it is weak move it into the coolest spot you can find and let it rest. As the leaves die, you should be able to see tiny little buds emerging right at the base of each leaf. On pine there should be new buds right below where the old needles are dying. For Junipers look into the base of the dying branch or on a strong branch nearby and you should see new lime colored growth.

Remember, Mother Nature does not even know we’re here and she can be a wild and crazy girl.

October 2012 Tips & Techniques by Scott Chadd

Things have been very busy here at Lotus Bonsai. We took a group of 12 persons to the Eastern Sierra’s east of Bishop and then up to Mammoth Mountain. This trip was at the same time as our last club meeting. We are also working on places to go for Sierra Junipers and will keep you posted on our progress. Going to the high desert and great mountains of the west is always very cool.

In addition Greg, Paul Holtzen and I are the main persons running the 2012 GSBF annual convention in Sacramento at the Double Tree Hotel, October 25-28. Hope a bunch of our club members can attend to join in the festivities, check out the exhibits and look over the Vendors area for the best prices.

Here at Lotus we grow a lot of different Japanese Maples and this time of year they are usually turning gold,  orange, red, and pink. This year the leaves are turning brown and falling off the trees. I think it must be the great fluctuations in temperature we had back in February, March, and April. My diary shows that we had temperature differences of up to 40 degrees over 4 days. From hot to cold then back to hot again. No won- der our trees are confused. A couple of exceptions to the leaf deal are the Amur Maples and Sweet Gums which are putting on a pretty good show.

You can use Liquinox 0-10-10 on you trees now to get the roots prepped for winter. Usually 2 tablespoons in a gallon of water applied every 2 weeks until the end of November. Lots of Yellow Jackets this year but not many other bugs. The aphids showed up in mid June but never really got a foothold. There was also quite a bit of powdery mildew this year. You can control powdery mildew by spraying your trees 3x with a dormant oil this winter when they are asleep.

April 2012 Tips & Techniques by Scott Chadd

As most of you have discovered this is the time of year we begin finding Aphids on our deciduous trees. There is also the appearance of scale insects. It is my experience that where those two critters show up ants, powdery mildew and sooty mold cannot be far behind.

Here are some suggestions:

1).   Aphids are small sap suckers that come in about a dozen different varieties. They are here now because there are a lot of young tender, juicy shoots for them to suck on. As they suck out the sap from our trees they poop a clear sticky fluid called “Honeydew” of all things. Ants love this poo and consume large quanti- ties of it. Ants carry the fungus base for sooty mold on their little shoes. So lots of ants are a problem for us. Also ants will set up shop keeping and homestead your pots which is a big problem. Solution: Watch closely as these little guy’s can take over a tree before you even know about it. They are not easy to see on a casual inspection. They are routinely under the leaves and at the very tip end of the new shoots. Lady bugs and Praying Mantids will consume millions of these little aphids every day. The only problem is that the Lady bugs don’t start moving around until it warms up and it is still too cool for the Praying Mantid egg cases to hatch out. Use Insecticidal Soap or agricultural oil (Neem, Volk, or Stylet oil) for control. Try to spray sparingly be- cause these products will also take out our beneficial buddies. You will need to treat the trees at least 3-5 times to eliminate the bugs. Spray early in the morning or late in the afternoon early evening. Do not ap- ply anything to your trees during the heat of the day. You can also defoliate and then spray the tree with a strong stream of water washing all the aphids off.

2).   Scale insects are quite a story. I will not bore you with all the details (go to Google and you will see what I mean), suffice it to say that they are really tough customers. They are like the Mike Tyson of bugs. There are 5 types that show up here every year. They love our fruit trees, Apple, Pear, Cherry, etc. are all like candy to them. They will appear as shiny, hard little bumps on the branches, they usually do not get on the leaf. When you smash them sticky juice comes out, that is your tree they are eating inside that little fort they have constructed. They don’t move once they have set up shop. You need to use oil on them at least 5-7 times. Spray every three days for 2 or 3 weeks. Mashing them works good and is very satisfying. Both of these insects will not usually kill your tree but they make everything a big mess, bring a lot of other problems with them and will weaken the tree. If you see Lady bugs or Praying Mantids do not spray; these guy’s are really efficient Aphid predators. For the scale you will need to spray and smash.

3).   Powdery Mildew and Sooty Mold should be treated with any of a dozen fungicides. Oil also can help out quit a bit. Pulling off the leaves works good for powdery mildew. Sooty mold (the bark and branches of your tree will appear to be getting dark grey to black in color) is a tough thing to eradicate once it is on your tree. Fungicide will work but it takes many applications over 2 growing season. I have had some success power washing the trees when they are dormant, be careful not to scrub the bark off. Sooty mold appears on our Elms, Oaks, Zelkova’s, and fruit trees mostly, although it is occasionally found on some others.

Good Hunting!