Confusion regarding timelines for nursery stock

Hi Mirai and all fellow bonsai enthusiasts,

I joined the community a couple of months ago and have learned so much by all the super informative streams! Ryan and Mirai deserves all the praise there is, that must be said first with this being my first ever post here.

Long story short, I’ve been growing bonsai on and off for about 20 years now, but just a year ago me and my wife finally got our first ever house, including a small garden, so in some ways it’s like I’m just getting started, or at least I’m trying to go from two outdoor trees that I’ve grown and kept on several balconies and a handful of ficus indoor trees to a fuller collection of various species to tend to out in the garden.

That has lead me to a situation where I now have about 15-20 trees/plants in various to-be bonsai stages, and having a family and a regular job, time is short to get everything done and done right. I need to structure my upcoming work for the next season to avoid having some of the trees just waste an entire growing season, growing and advancing but not in the right direction.

Thus, I now have several pre-bonsais that are not yet neither styled nor re-potted, and some that have gotten an initial reduction of branches to various degrees.

What now confuses or puzzles me a bit is the following. With reference to Ryan’s work on the “Christmas tree” in the nursery stock series, he started with styling and then later performed a repot, wherein when he performed the repot he said that styling first was the general and preferred manner, before the coming repot. However, he has also stated that it is good to utilize the fuller canopy of a tree before heavy reduction to get a good root production, which would lead to a repot first being the better way of doing things. As an example of this, if I remember correctly now, there was a rather recent forum Q&A in which Ryan said that some member seemed to have a solid plan by going with a repot first and then wait with styling until the tree responded and showed vigour (I think it was a pinus mugo that was the topic at hand).

Should this be based on individual species? Or the type of tree (elongating etc)? This is where I am a bit confused at the moment, which has led to me not having a good solid plan of work for the next spring… And when I don’t have a plan, I tend to get too passive with actions.

I now have abies nordmanniana, picea abies, pinus mugo and several types of juniper that all fall into the above in various degrees. I also have some other deciduous species that are in the same situation, such as J maple, a burning bush and some hornbeams, but I feel more comfortable with those overall so the question is mostly related to my conifers here.

What am I missing here? Which do you prefer to do first, and why? I’ve gone both routes before, but now I want to fully understand the details and reasoning herein.

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Welcome, first of all.
There’s loads of people more experienced than me on the forum, and i’m sure some will start piling in with good advise.
What I took from the repotting / styling conundrum was that nursery stock is generally young/vigourous enough to bounce back from the pruning/styling quickly. This means that you have your structure set up, including any angle change, before you go to repot.

its probably safer to keep on as much foliage as possible for the repot, however. Though the problem with not styling first is that you might not get the exact right front or potting angle, as the full movement of your tree hasnt yet been established.

There are also species / type considerations (the specifics of which im definitely going to leave to the forum) to think about, like the deciduous tend to tolerate heavier root work and definitely be careful with pine roots.

My general approach with nursery stock this year is a fairly simple one: If i’ve pretty much left it to grow/not pruned this year (except cleaning etc), then Im happy to repot in spring (with best guess at front and angle etc), see how well it responds, then style after its hardened off next late spring/ summer.
If I’ve worked something heavily this year, ill probably let it grow out next year.
That being said, there is value in wiring out a tree as much as possible prior to repot (without taking off much foliage- i think this technique was touched on in one of the field grown pine streams), as the orienatation of the branches in a photosynthetically efficient way will help the tree to recovery after the repot.

Thats my intrepretation anyway, I hope that helps.

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Welcome to the forum! Ryan has definitely contradicted himself a bit on this topic, but generally he’s said to repot nursery stock then style. Style Yamadori first then repot. He’s been consistent on the Yamadori front.

Regardless, I always look for the nebari first on my nursery stock. That, in conjunction with trunk movement, helps me find the front and angle of the tree.

Hi Kuma
If the soil in the nursery container is not very bad, I would always go with styling the tree first. Like this (as Jimothy mentioned) you know exactly what your front and angle will be. After this initial styling, I would make sure that you let the trees gain strength again and let them grow, before you then repot it the next spring. Like this, the tree will have enough foliage mass to support root growth, you know exactly how to pot the tree (front and angle) and you already have your primary structure set.

What I know is what I learned from Mirai, so if anybody with more experience than me wants to correct what I just said, feel free =)

Option is also to consider the species in the approach.
If strength is in the foliage/tips then use this to drive root recovery/build up
If strength is in the roots then use this to drive recovery from styling.

eventually also consider a two step approach, where the first repotting is to get root mass down to manageable pot size but keep it in a training pot to then move to bonsai pot in second stage(similar to the grow box for yamadori).

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I like to repot nursery stock before I style for the following reasons.

  • Most nursery stock is rather rootbound so there will be lots of root disturbance and having lots of foliage to drive recovery is good.
  • I have found nursery stock with so few roots that put the tree straight into the compost bin.
  • The roots can be too poor to be used as a bonsai so it goes into the landscape.
  • Roots can need a bunch of work to make a good bonsai. See the first point.
    I feel that a good bonsai needs a good nebari (root base) so I am more aggressive in my root work that many. Most nursery stock is low enough value that it lose it during the first repotting I don’t feel too bad. If I have spent hours styling and then a year or two with after care I feel worse if lose it during repotting.

I have a scots pine literati that I styled first and the roots still stink after 10 years. The only way I will get it to keep the correct position in properly sized pot will be to drive a screw in from the bottom of the pot. I guess I need to make that pot this winter.

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In the beginning we all tend to want a set workflow, a step by step guide to success. Often our trees fit into a typical sequence. Sometimes they don’t and sometime we just want to style a tree now even though we know we should wait. You kind of need to look at the nuances of each tree to determine your next steps based on “what you are trying to accomplish”.
Think about what you want for a few of your trees and post some pictures so we can see where these trees are at. Without seeing the trees I think it’s impossible to give sound advice.

Ryan

This point kinda drives it home for me. Of course speaking in generalities and assuming that the trees are healthy enough for the potting operation.

How many times have we seen Ryan decide on a new front and angle when executing a second repotting of a tree though? Root work is my first priority. Gotta get that right. Take care of any circle roots which you’ll definitely have in a standard nursery pot holding a root bound plant.

At the end of the day, do what feels comfortable to you. I personally like to find the nebari/base and front first. Let that chill for a bit and reevaluate my decision as I wait for spring. Sometimes you deviate from what you thought you’d do. Had you not waited on pruning the branches you need to support your new idea are gone. :sob:

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Thank you all for your replies! (I’ve had some family issues so been absent after my post)

Lots of well thought through concepts and ideas here, and I think it helped burst my bubble of restricted/locked thinking that I’ve been trapped in.

I’ll stop looking for a magic formula and just see what each tree needs the most, and adapt after that.

As soon as I have something ”post worthy” I will share pictures!

Thanks again!

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