What lessons have you learned along the way?

I realize that this list could be vast, but I’ve learned a lot of lessons recently and I was curious as to what others have learned. Here’s my ever growing list.

  • I styled my hinoki far too soon. I’ve had a couple of branches die and I wasn’t sure why. Watching the shimpaku stream it turns out that I was bending branches before the cambial layer was able to re-adhere to the woody core. This caused it to separate in a couple of my bends which turned into a slow death for the branch.
  • I water too much lol
  • Don’t fall in love with one feature of the tree and try to “style around it”
  • Always be prepared and have extra soil/material on hand. You never know when some random bonsai opportunity is going to pop up.
  • I still water too much :weary:
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Yup, I’ve made a lot (I’m talking a concerning amount) of mistakes in the short time I’m doing bonsai. Here is what I’ve learned so far.

  • Don’t put maples in full sun

  • Don’t water on a schedule and check each individual tree before watering instead of watering everything “just because you’re there anyway”.

  • Do not prune a pine the same way you would prune a maple

  • When in doubt, don’t make the cut. Growing a new branch on almost the same location is a real pain.

  • Air layering a cherry blossom is surprisingly difficult!

  • Seedlings grow faster in regular soil comparing to akadama

  • Chopsticks are used to fill air pockets in the bonsai container and not to create akadama dust :sweat_smile:

  • The garden is not to be used only for bonsai according to the misses :roll_eyes:

Hahaha, the akadama dust one cracked me up. :rofl: I’ve learned that about maples as well. :weary:

I’ve been thinking about this topic lately.

  1. My biggest lesson learned is how susceptible new buds are to sun burn. I fried some beautiful new growth this season.
  2. The two prong cheap moisture meter I’ve been using has taught me a lot about watering.
  3. Bonsai benches are a top priority when you have dogs!
  4. California natives and flowering plants like azalea, camelia, gardenia and hibiscus have become my thing.
  5. Get a lot of plants so you can tinker a bit every day and kusamono and shitakusa are outlets to scratch the impatient itch.
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Definitely a must with dogs lol. My nursery pots that sit on the ground get lots of “fertilization” on the sides of the pots. :weary:

Do share your moisture meter. I’m intrigued.


Here’s the meter. Bought it for ph but it doesn’t seem accurate when compared to a test kit. I don’t think the moisture part would work well with lava/pumice, etc but I find it accurate for moisture in soil. I’ve learned which plants are root bound, drink more water, which stay wet longest, etc.

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I’m sure this one is going to be controversial, but never dig Garry Oaks in the spring. Dig them early fall after a few days of rain while the leaves are still green and don’t reduce the foliage. Many people say they don’t like having their roots disturbed but that’s only the case if you dig in the spring. I have been collecting them for three years, and every tree I dug in the fall did just fine and kept all of it’s ramification in tact even though the soil was rock hard and it took almost 4 hours to dig one tree and cut the tap root.

Spring may seem great, the wet soil cuts like butter and making it easy to cut the tap root without disturbing the shallow roots. Spring of 2018 I dug three oaks and only one survived with no ramification in tact. This spring, I dug 12 (from a private ranch where they are bulldozing them to make pasture land) and three survived and only one kept it’s ramification. I will never dig a Garry Oak in the spring again.

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Interesting @Delrious. I wonder if this applies to other native oaks like live oak. That’s an evergreen in my area. It takes hundreds of years for them to get interesting, but I wonder if a juvenile representation in a container would be cool.

Find a local club, or group and join it.
That is the single best piece of advise/lesson learned that I have gotten or can pass on. It landed us all here, but a local group is imperative. Even if it is just a few like minded individuals in your town, it is key.
To be able so share local information about climate, soils, watering, native trees/plants, collection, and how various species live locally from people doing it there first hand is priceless. It has made great friendships, allowed me to lend a hand and ask for help when needed. It will likely open you up to the opportunity to care for a tree that once belonged to someone else. Legacy trees. There is something magical that connects me to them. The past of that tree and another human caretaker, the continued journey of a living thing, that passing is special. It doesn’t matter if that tree is bought or gifted or rescued from neglect, I find that to be powerful.

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Sadly there are no local clubs nearby. :’(

What I learned along the way:

  • If you start plants from seeds, start a large batch of plants and only keep the very best ones. Donate/trade the rest to fellow club members. Next spring, I’m starting 100 JBPs, 50 JWPs and 100 blackthorns
  • when trawling nurseries, look for the smallest believable tree you could chop off the nursery plant
  • spending $20 more to buy a larger nursery tree ends up saving you years of training/care, compared to growing it from a smaller tree. I will soon chop a shohin off a larger field maple, the trunk line and the structural branches are already in place. “All” that is left to do is repot, secondary/tertiary branching and leaf reduction
  • unless it has killer bark or you’re rescuing it from certain death, there’s no point in collecting a tree that you can find for less than $20 at the local garden center or nursery. Many members from a previous club were collecting 2 or 3 years old seedlings during our collecting trips
  • dwarf Japanese maples are awesome, but thicken ever so slowly… I’ve had a mapi-no-machihime maple for 9 years, 6 years in an oversized flat box and 3 years in the ground. The trunk isn’t yet an inch across, but the bark is looking so nice now. The nebari isn’t half bad either, if I say so myself :slight_smile: The leaves reduce to sub-pinkie-nail size with early spring pruning, and the internodes can get real short too

For oaks, I had a similar experience with Quercus robur… far better recovery with trees collected in leaf either as they just start hardening or after the summer dormancy. Recovery of spring collected Quercus robur can be improved by sweating them post collection, maybe that would work for other oaks.

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I’ve come to the realization that when I style a deciduous tree I end up wanting to make flat tops with no hopes of getting any taller. I find myself wanting to lay down the branch that wants to keep reaching for the sky. This is due to my lack of ability to see the next iterations of the tree. I focus so much on wanting to build these pads of foliage. If I don’t control myself I’ll end up with with trees that only hobbits will find attractive. :pensive:

Every Oregon White Oak that I tried to sweat never pushed buds. I wouldn’t recommend it with that species.