The long awaited re-potting of one of my oldest bonsai trees. How a compacted soil mixture can influence your watering routine...

in #bonsai4 years ago (edited)


It's been a while since I have been on the site to upload an article. I started my own company in May 2019 and it has taken up most of my time trying to get the company of the ground. I'm happy to announce that BWR Productions (PTY) Ltd is now registered and fully functioning. It has been a hectic few months but I can see that everything is starting to work out for the best now.

Now that I have more time on my hands I will be posting more regularly (or at least I hope to be posting more). As I am getting ready for the new growing season I thought it would be a good thing to share my routine during the season with you. Last week I started fertilizing again and will be repeating this process every two weeks. The weeks in between I will be applying Oleum to the trees. This helps keep the bugs and insects under control. As the temperature rise and watering of the tree becomes more frequent the humidity and the moist creates the perfect breeding ground for insects.

To kick off this weekend I replanted this Liquid Amber.
This tree is one of the first trees I ever planted. This tree is older than my daughter... I've had this tree since my High School years. I got it in the 10th Grade and it is still going strong. I bought this tree for R15,00 back then. The journey together has been long and hard. I have only recently started to get the satisfaction of enjoying the tree. As you all know when we start out with bonsai we make weird and sometime wonderful mistakes with taking care of bonsai. This tree use to be on a rock (sandstone) which as the years went by faded out, cracked and eventually broke. I then re-potted the tree into the container it was in with a bonsai soil mixture that a bought from a bonsai nursery. The tree did great in the new soil mixture and pot for a few years but it is now time to re-pot this tree.

Here is a photo of the soil mixture of the tree before it was re-potted.
If you look closely at the photo you will notice two things.
One the soil mixture is completely compacted and two the fine roots of the tree have started to come up through the surface of the top soil. The compacted soil does not allow water to penetrate through the soil and reach the roots. This causes the water to stand on top of the soil and run down the sides of the pot. What does this all mean? In short the water does not reach the whole root ball, thus I have to dip the tree in a bowl of water every few days to ensure that the tree gets watered properly. This does take a few extra minutes during the day but I'm not the only one that waters my trees. If I am away for a few days my wife normally waters the trees. So I can not expect her to take the tree and dip it in water. During last years water crisis this was one of my trees that suffered the most. The leaves on this tree would hang almost every other day. It was mind boggling as I watered it regularly. I then took the time to look at the soil mixture as there was no problem with the watering routine. It was then that I discovered the compacted soil mixture. The roots have also almost filled the whole pot. This tree has quite a big canopy for it's size so it uses up a lot water during the warmer seasons. I have defoliated the tree an dip it in water all just to keep it from dying.

I have waited for almost six months now for the tree to be re-potted to solve this problem. The time has finally arrived and I am so excited. The trick with re-potting deciduous trees is to wait just before there leaves start to open and then re-pot them. As you can image getting the timing just right is kind of tricky. If you re-pot too soon recovery is slow as the tree is still sleeping and all the growth is still in the roots. If you re-pot to late and the leaves are all open you might just kill the tree as the tree will be relying on the roots for the amount of leaves on the tree to keep it alive. If you disturb the roots of the tree during this fragile stadium of the season the balance between tree and it's roots will be thrown off therefor you will loose a branch or two. If you get the timing just right recovery will be quick. The tree would usually be covered in leaves seven to fourteen days after a re-pot like this depending on the tree and the timing of the process. I wait till the buds are swollen and one or two are slightly open just to make sure I get the tree at the right time.

Here you can see the tree just out of the pot. If you look at the side you can see the active roots at the bottom and on the top of the soil mixture. The middle section looks compacted and there is no real visible active root to been seen there. I had to work my way through that roots to open up some space for the new soil mixture.

This is the root ball from the bottom. Look at the left side of the root ball and then look at the bottom center of the root ball. Can you see the difference? The left side is wet as you can see the light reflecting off the water and the middle looks dull and dry. This tree was watered this morning!

A close up of the trees surface soil after it was re-potted. The soil mixture looks lighter. You can see that there is larger soil and stone portions then in the previous soil mixture. I have watered the tree and set it aside in a shaded area away from wind and extreme weather conditions.


The tree is now re-potted and ready for the new growing season. I will be posting updates on this tree as it recovers. I have removed the biggest buds on each branch of this tree about a week ago in preparation for this re-potting. The reason why I did not remove the buds at the same time as re-potting is to give the tree some time to recover in between work done on it. Every time you work on a tree it goes through some kind of stress, so it is best to allow your tree time to recover before you work on it again. If your tree is not healthy and vigorously growing rather wait before working on it. If the tree is in real bad shape and you need to work on it to increase the health of the tree it might be a good idea to move it to a shaded area and not to over water. Keeping the leaves and soil mixture moist will also help in recovery.

That's it for today. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. Hope you enjoyed it. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to leave them in the section provided below.



Wonderful details on this tree. Thank you for sharing invaluable knowledge about repotting bonsai trees.

Check your tags. I think you spelled #gardening wrong.

Thank you. 😊 did a whole blog and I miss the tag 🤦🏼‍♂️

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