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Bedtime for Bonsai

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Here's what's involved in Bedtime for Bonsai. First, you knock them out of their pots.
Then, you wrap the trunks in foil to keep voles from girdling them over the winter.
You load them on the garden cart.
And wash and store their pots inside.
In another session, you've already dug out the bonsai pit, pulling out armloads of spearmint that you've used all summer for mojitos and fruit salads. Spearmint comes back.

The pit yawns like an open grave, which gets a little larger every year.

You tote the wrapped, potless trees down to the pit, which is under the deck, on the west side of the house.
You say a special good-bye to each tree as you layer them into the pit, heeling them in on their sides because they're too tall any more to stand up. You cover their roots with soil.
Chet Baker has kept you company this whole time, running the bunneh route and periodically checking to make sure your back isn't too sore, which it is.
He checks for chiptymunks.

Finally, you straighten up, for the only thing remaining is to water and wash the glass shower doors you'll use to cover them when the weather gets really cold.

And you notice the last rose of summer, blooming bravely against a deadened landscape
and you stop to inhale its fruity apple scent, and remember that that's what gardening and bonsais are all about: stopping to appreciate these wonderful things that we have made. If you just do the chores without sitting down to marvel, you won't have replenished your spirit with what you need to keep doing the chores.


What size are your bonsai? I'm wondering how heavy they are and how tall.

I've been working on a Japanese maple, a cherry and an apple tree for about three years now. I've never had to bed them down for the winter. Milder here.

I collected some Atlantic white cedar natural bonsai some time ago before I moved to the new house. They were growing on stumps in a swamp. Unfortunately when I moved, I managed to kill two of them and the third I planted in the yard and forgot about it. It is now twenty feet tall. Oops.

Bruce, my bonsais are in excess of two feet tall now, and they gain an inch or so a year. If you've visited arboretum collections, you see trees three and four feet tall. The popular conception of bonsai is mame bonsai, which is a miniature, teacup sized tree--actually quite rare, as they are so difficult to care for. My big trees weigh, I don't know...four or five pounds?
You're getting bonsai the way I do--from seedlings and rarely from nursery stock. Mostly seedlings. I've had these since they were two inches tall.

Hi Julie:

I've heard that there is a Japanese term for bonsai that are larger than the usual perception. Do you know what it is?

My current bonsai are about eighteen inches high and were grown from seedlings, except for the apple tree, which came from a sucker.


Bedtime for Bonsai - good one, Julie.

Is that a Peace rose? They are my favorite +++

Ah, thank you, Sylvan; you have to have lived awhile to get the pun. The rose is a color-changer called Rio Samba. I also have Chicago Peace (pinker than the classic) but she's just getting started. Maybe gave me three blossoms this year total. Rio Samba can crank out 25 at a go. What a rose!

Bruce, I don't know the term for a large bonsai. They do mess with your head, though, when you look at a tree that is shaped and weathered like something 60' tall and it's only up to your chest. I don't know where I'll put mine when they're that venerable. Maybe I'll have to store them in the garage instead of the pit. I saw the Arnold Arboretum collection stored in a cold dark underground hallway (once they'd dropped their leaves, of course). Didn't seem right but they were lovely.

Great post, Buckarette Bonsai! I miss them when they go underground.

Hi Julie,

I admire your care and commitment to your plants. I'm wondering why they fare better underground, rather than in your greenhouse - or in the house proper? Do they need some type of winter air?


Lenka K

Posted by Anonymous November 17, 2009 at 4:51 PM

Hi Lenka! These trees are all temperate-zone species which need a winter dormancy period when they can drop their leaves and rest. It's too cold to keep them in their little pots outside; they would freeze solid and that would kill them. So they must be kept cold all winter, but in soil that is protected from freezing solid. There are several ways to do this, but a cold frame works best for me. I only cover it with glass when the night temperatures drop below about 30 degrees.

Temperate bonsais, despite popular belief, die immediately when kept in a heated house. A greenhouse would be almost as bad. The heat would kill them. They're outdoor trees, and they don't do any better indoors than a sugar maple would do, if you dug it up and brought it in and put it on the dining room table for decoration. Japanese bonsais are often photographed looking fabulous indoors on polished cherry tables, but you may be sure that they have been brought inside for a day or two, no more, and then taken back out to their benches in the sun, wind and rain.

The exception to this are tropical bonsais. I have three, and all are Ficus species, which make a lovely little tree, and can take the low humidity and heat of a house in winter. That's about it for indoor bonsais, at least for me. Jen, re. your comment on the previous post, your azalea will need a winter dormancy period--maybe in a garage or bright basement window. Humidity is all-important, so keep a tray beneath it with water--but don't let the plant contact the water.

Buckarette, every year I marvel at the work you put into your Bonsais, who, by the way, grow more beautifully every year to please you. The last rose of summer is stunning. I gasped at that photo.

All fascinating stuff... but where do you find the time! (or do you just never sleep).

It's amazing that they just go to sleep on their sides and await repotting and awakening come spring. It must be hard to say goodbye to them for the winter.

That was a most informative post.....I didn't know how to treat these bonsai in winter. (Therefore I don't have any.) I intend to try again in the spring!

Posted by Susanne Stam November 18, 2009 at 6:50 AM

Maybe bonsais are like turtles, eh? Loved the whole lesson, Julie; especially the last bit. Amen sister!

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