Ask the Master Gardener: There Are Many Options for Growing Bonsai Trees – Brainerd Dispatch

Dear Master Gardener: Is it difficult to create a bonsai or is it better to buy one and try to maintain it?

TO RESPOND: The Japanese art of bonsai is a combination of horticulture, art and philosophy. The goal of bonsai is to produce a miniature planting that looks old and visually balanced. The placement of the branches, the style and the pot all express symbolism and respect for nature.

The five basic bonsai styles are: upright formal, upright informal, leaning, semi-cascade, and cascade. There are also advanced styles, which would be best learned by joining a bonsai club. You are working with living plant material, which will need to be pruned throughout the growing season to maintain your chosen style. To successfully achieve a mature bonsai that looks like an old miniature tree, pruning is crucial.

The best plant material to use for bonsai should have small leaves or needles, attractive bark, and the trunk should give the illusion of maturity. The trunk should have a good-sized diameter, but proportionate to the rest of the tree. The trunk should taper gradually towards the top of the tree.

To give the appearance of age, the top quarter to one third of a mature bonsai’s root structure is frequently exposed on the surface of the soil in the pot. The wire is used to shape and twist the branches. There are special shallow pots for a bonsai and unless you have a round or square pot, a tree is never placed in the middle of the pot, but rather planted off center in an oval, rectangular or free form.

Your bonsai will need frequent repotting when young, perhaps even twice a year until it is 5-10 years old.

Contributed / Metro Newspaper Service

Your bonsai will need frequent repotting when young, perhaps even twice a year until it is 5-10 years old. Spring is the time for repotting, root pruning and branch pruning. The growth rate of the tree will determine the frequency of repotting. Bonsai trees are made from hardy woody plants, which remain outdoors during all seasons of the year. You will therefore need to use a plant resistant to zone 3. Junipers and maples are often used by beginners. They are cared for like any other landscape tree; although they may need to be watered at least once a day during the summer, as they are in shallow pots. Watering is essential to avoid permanent damage to the root system.

This is a very superficial answer to your question, and if you’re serious about starting your own bonsai, it may be beneficial to check out a book on how to bonsai from Brainerd’s public library. If you are lucky enough to visit Washington, DC, the National Arboretum has one of the largest collections of bonsai and penjing (the Chinese counterpart) in North America. Their bonsai festival takes place the first week of May. The Minnesota Bonsai Society helps its members learn the art of bonsai. It has special programs for bonsai beginners and offers a wide variety of programs and activities for all bonsai skill levels.

Dear Master Gardener: I would like to grow blueberries. What do I need to know to be successful?

TO RESPOND: Blueberry plants are available at local nurseries and online. Be sure to buy zone 3 hardy cultivars. If you buy plants locally, find potted plants that are at least 2 or 3 years old. If you buy them online, they will most likely be bare root. For successful pollination, you will need to plant at least two different varieties. April or May is a good time to plant them.

Blueberries need acidic soil (pH 4.0-5.0) that is well-drained, loose, and rich in organic matter. Have your soil tested to determine the pH. If the pH is above 5.5, the soil is not acidic enough for blueberries. You can add an acidic soil amendment such as sulfur or sphagnum peat moss to the soil to lower the pH before planting. Sulfur is preferred due to the environmental concerns of sphagnum peat moss extraction and the packaging will tell you how much to use. It is best to modify the pH with sulfur in the fall before planting because it takes several months for the sulfur to modify the pH of the soil. So if you’re planting them this spring, mix 4-6 inches of sphagnum peat moss into the top 6-8 inches of soil because it takes more sulfur to lower the pH. Blueberries should be planted in full sun.

Keep in mind that the plants will not bear much fruit the first two or three years. The harvest will be greater after five years. It takes eight to ten years for blueberries to reach their adult size. Get ready to cover them with netting – birds and bunnies will eat them all!

Dear Master Gardener: My wife and I were purchasing cabinets and doors for our renovation project and noticed that knotty alder is a very attractive wood. Do alders grow in Minnesota?

TO RESPOND: Alder trees are part of the birch family. They tend to grow in moist, slightly acidic soils, especially along the edges of wetlands. Mottled alder grows in Minnesota and has gray bark interrupted by pale warty lenticels (raised pores on the stem). Alder trees form a symbiotic relationship with a nitrogen-fixing fungus in their roots and convert nitrogen from the air into a usable form in the soil. This not only allows the tree to grow well in very poor soils, but also makes nitrogen available to other plants growing nearby. Just as adding legumes can improve life in our gardens, alders perform the same function in the forest, often benefiting the trees, shrubs and understory plants around them. Because they have aggressive growth potential and improve soils, they are useful for land reclamation after disturbances. Alder can actually be beautiful and functional and can be trained to a tree-like shape by removing the lower branches.

The most common alder used in woodworking is red alder, which is a North American hardwood typically found in the Pacific Northwest. It can range from rustic with heartwood, streaks, pinholes and open knots to clear and unmarked. It is a softer wood than maple or cherry, it has consistent color and stability and accepts stains and finishes very well. So it turned out to be an excellent essence for furniture and cabinetry.

You can get your garden questions answered by calling the new Master Gardener Helpline at 218-824-1068 and leaving a message. A master gardener will call you back. Or, email me at [email protected] and I’ll reply in the column if space permits.

The University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners are trained and certified volunteers for the University of Minnesota Extension. The information provided in this column is based on academic research.

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