- "Water" is the liquid. "Watering" is how that liquid is applied. "Humidity" is the relative amount of vaporized water in the air around the plant. And, "moisture" is the amount of relative amount of water in the rock or potting media. It's necessary to understand the different terms and how to increase or decrease each to obtain the desired results.
- WATER. The different kinds
- of water, and recommendation
- for distilled or reverse osmosis
- water in hard water areas.
There are many kinds of tap water and you should know what type you have. Hard water contain a lot of dissolved minerals and this will result in your rocks or containers developing white deposits. The deposits can be scrubbed off with a toothbrush and vinegar (a mild acetic acid) but it comes back. Softened water contain salts. Rain water, pond water, water from aquariums, or rain barrel water are generally good, especially if there are guppies or fish in them to add some nutrients to the water to be used for watering the plants. Distilled water or reverse osmosis water are increasingly being used to avoid the unsightly white deposits from minerals in hard water.
WATERING Fuku-Bonsai indoors. Both rock plantings and potted bonsai need to be thoroughly saturated, then allowed to be almost dry before watering once per week.
Watch for firm white root tips which indicate the plant is healthy. If roots are rotted and black, you are likely over-watering.
When over-watered, roots and trunks rot and the soft bark can easily be peeled off. It is very unlikely to recover.
The photo above shows a badly under-watered plant that has dehydrated and developed tiny vertical creases in the trunk.
OUR ROCK PLANTING INSTRUCTIONS: Check your plant every few days until you understand how much water is needed. Once per week set you plant in clean water to cover the entire rock for 30 minutes. Place the lava planting on DRY gravel. Do not allow it to become "bone dry" but don't have it always sitting in water either! The 100% air and water exchange keeps the plant healthy. White roots indicate that the plant is healthy. As roots grow, tuck them under the rock and trim any that grow out beyond the rock. Allow the roots to build a mat under the rock and trim from time to time. Roots (and later the trunk) will rot when over-watered, and the plant will die.
OUR POTTED BONSAI INSTRUCTIONS: Dwarf Schefflera should not be allowed to dry completely. Fully saturate in water up to the rim of the pot for 30 minutes each week. This watering method forces out old air. When you remove the pot, water drains out from the holes and new air rushes in. By the end of the week most of the water will have been used up. In hard water areas, use distilled or reverse osmosis water. Do not water a little every day or you'll rot the roots which will turn black. The weekly air-water exchange keeps the root tips healthy and white. If you do not see firm white roots, review your watering practices to improve the health of your Dwarf Schefflera bonsai!
OVER-WATERING IS THE MOST COMMON WAY THAT TRUE INDOOR BONSAI ARE KILLED!
FIRST AID FOR UNDER-WATERED PLANTS: Plants that are badly under-watered can sometimes be rehydrated by soaking the entire rock planting so the water covers over the rock for at least 1/2". If it is a mild case and just some of the leaves, leaf stems, and the green part of the trunk are shriveled, it may absorb enough water in two or three days so the creases disappear and the plant could recover.
Dwarf Schefflera needs to have a very light and porous potting media in which AIR is a major component. When plants are over-watered, the roots don't have a weekly air-water exchange cycle and this kills the roots and the plants die. If you cut off a branch and leave it in water, it will root and the plant will stay green for a long time. It seems to be able to live in water but grows poorly. Sometimes it may live for over a year. We have customers who claim they sit their plant in water so the plant roots never has a chance to air out. Too often we get emails requesting help when plants are obviously dying.
HOW OVER-WATERED PLANTS DIE.
Those with outdoor bonsai generally have a number and water with a garden hose. They should direct the water into the tops of the trees to dislodge dry leaves, discourage insects, and allow water to fall like rain to not disturb the soil in the pot. If the level of the soil is 1/2" below the rim of the pot, a 1/2" of water will collect. This water may take 5 minutes to be absorbed and may wet an inch of soil. When the plant is watered a second time, it will be absorbed a little faster and may wet another inch of soil. But if a pot is 6" deep, it may take six watering passes to wet the entire soil mass. Bonsai books tell you to water as many times as necessary until you see water coming out of the drain holes of the pot.
But even that is not adequate if the potting media is compacted and has shrunk away from the pot. In this situation, water will travel down along the sides of the pot and out the holes without penetrating the root mass. Too often when we accept new memorial bonsai for the Hawaii State Bonsai Repository, we find that there are absolutely no roots in the center of a dense root mass. After exchanging the media of alternating pie-shaped sections over several repottings, the trees take on greatly improved growth.
Generally, watering practices are matched to the type of potting media that you use. Outdoor pines generally do well in high aggregate-low organic matter media formulations. Outdoor deciduous type trees need more clay and organic components. True Indoor Bonsai need a very loose gravelly media so the plant can drain quickly as poor draining media contributes to root rot caused by over watering. So how much water and how often?
WHEN YOU WATER, TOTALLY SATURATE ALL MEDIA OR THE ENTIRE ROCK PLANTING! The ideal method is to soak the bonsai so water can enter from the drain holes in the bottom of the pot or a rock planting can be sitting in a pan of water for at least 30 minutes. For a potted bonsai, the water should be up to the level of the pot rim and in 30 minutes it is very likely that every single tiny air space has been replace by water.
When you lift the pot or rock planting out of the water, some water drains out and you can imagine air rushing back in. It's this weekly air and water exchange that keeps a True Indoor Bonsai healthy! Generally, potted bonsai is watered again when the surface feels dry. But each plant has a different requirement. Brassaia likes to be very dry between waterings. Dwarf Schefflera and most others prefer to be watered while it's still slightly damp. After a while you'll be able to judge when your plant needs water just by lifting it. A recently watered plant is heavy!
OVER OR UNDER WATERING
If you badly overwater you'll kill the roots, rot the trunks, and kill the plant. There's not much that can be done if the trunk of the plant is soggy and rotting even if some leaves are still green. If you forget to water and the trunk is hard with vertical creases showing, it's dried out, the leaves will have a dull sandpapery appearance. Trim off the bad leaves, rinse off any rotted areas, totally saturate the media, and place in a polybag or wide mouth gallon jar. The high humidity will reduce the load on the roots and roots may recover. After the first new leaf develops, open the cover for a few days, and if the new leaf stays up, place it back to it's normal growing area.
The moisture in the air is difficult to control. In dry climates, plants will benefit from being on "Humidity Trays." A simple one would be an aluminum cookie sheet filled with gravel. Keep water in the gravel but allow the top of the gravel to be semi-dry in the morning. Place the bonsai on top of this and it will benefit from the moisture given off by the gravel.
In extremely dry climates, it's possible to create more humidity by using deeper "Humidity Pans." Some have been constructed with clear acrylic bottoms and walls as much as 6" high. Gravel or plastic lighting grid panels is placed on the bottom and water kept below the top of the gravel or plastic panels. Bonsai placed on this enjoy a greater humidity and the wall help contain the humidity.
This can be carried to a higher level by using an aquarium as the higher walls help hold more humidity. For use as an emergency first aid station, obtain a piece of glass to use as a cover or tape plastic sheet to obtain 100% humidity like a terrarium. This is a good environment for rejuvenating plants that have been dried out, over or under watered, over fertilized, or those that have been exposed to excessive heat or cold.
PLANTING MEDIA MOISTURE
Soil moisture depends upon the media mix; the ratio of gravel to organic matter and the size of the aggregate particles. Generally all soil contains aggregate, clay, and organic matter. Indoor Bonsai mixes should not use clay at all as it will eventually break down and clog the drainage. Fuku-Bonsai's non-soil media is ideal and made up primarily of volcanic pumice and peat moss. We supply it as part of workshop packages and conversion kits. Although the materials are inexpensive it is extremely costly to ship via Federal Express from Hawaii. We are, therefore, encouraging the creation of an ideal True Indoor Bonsai potting mix that can be sent more cost effectively throughout the continental US by UPS Ground. We've made good progress in the past year and hope to make formal announcements and endorsements in the near future.
This series of articles will attempt to explain the various factors affecting plants. This will continually be amended to include recommendations or suggestions of how to improve your environment to get the best possible growth. Continue to:
- * Fertilizing
- * Problems, symptoms, & first aid
- * Bugs, Insects, & Other Critters