This is an on-going story that began in 2002 that is posted at www.fukubonsai.com/4c3b.html. The story continued in 2006 at www.fukubonsai.com/4c3b1.html. Kathy Alameda and husband Hank of Lincoln, California visited us in 2006. When we introduced the Introductory Workshop Package, she was one of those who I asked to do a field trial that included two of her friends too.
In April 2014, Kathy Alameda contacted me again requesting advice concerning the increasing mold problem. Kathy is an old customer who is a great photographer who is very prompt in making email responses. Somehow I did not fully understand her situation and realized that in addition to the mold problem, that she was over-watering. I asked her to keep track of emails and the following is her report.
4/3/2014 Kathy: Aloha David, I have a
question for you. My bonsai is in a wooden bowl that I purchased
from Dan's Greenhouse and it's the third one I've had. Each bowl
has slowly disintegrated, I guess due to the constant water in the
bowl. Can I put the gravel and bonsai in a small glass bowl, or
does it have to be teak? Your response will be greatly
appreciated. Thank you and have a great day.
David: Aloha Kathy, we get a lot of problems of people who follow directions given by Dan’s Green House and we recommend soaking the plant for 30 minutes once per week and when removed from the water --- after the stream becomes a --- drip --- drip --- drip, PLACE IT ON DRY GRAVEL! If you see white roots all is well. If roots turn black you’re likely over-watering! But I know you get great growth so I can’t explain it.
Kathy: Thanks for your quick response David. Ever since I've had the bonsai I've watered it once a week for 1 hour. Then I put it in the gravel rock filled bowl and filled it with water and I have always made sure the bowl was full of water. The big thick roots are black but the small thin roots are white, so I guess it's being over watered? I will take your suggestion and transfer to dry rocks and try to bring the big roots back to white. I will take before and after pictures and journal it. But one more question: Should I put a little bit of water in the glass bowl, or just keep it dry all the time with only watering the bonsai once a week?
David: Aloha Kathy, if your plants are used to your system, you may get some wilting while you are in the transition. In the suggested “semi-terrarium” concept the glass walls will retain more humidity so it’s kind of a halfway between system. The gravel is kept dry except for the slight amount in the rock that will continue dripping into the gravel. At the end of the week when time to water again, there should be only a slight amount of moisture under the rock with the rest of the gravel visibly dry. I think you’ll notice roots become heavier and whiter. Try taking photos before and every two weeks for a month or two.
4/5/14 I decided to gently brush off the ugly mold so the rock and roots would have a good start to recovery. I couldn't get all of it off, but hopefully after some period of time the roots will be healthy and turn white again. I didn't want to shock it too much with only a 30 minute watering, so I soaked it for 45 minutes in distilled water with Schultz Liquid Plant Food. The next watering will be 30 minutes as David suggested. Here's a photo after it's bath in it's new glass bowl.
4/12/14: It's been one week and there is some wilting, but not too bad. There was never any excess water in the bowl from the last watering. So I'm not too sure about the "semi-terrarium” concept that the glass walls will retain more humidity, but I have to give it a fair try to see if this works. I watered it again today for 30 minutes and will watch the wilting.
4/21/14 I have been watering it every week for 30 minutes with no water in the glass bowl. It continues to look dry, but the mold is gone.
5/5/14: I've upped the watering to 1 hour; I felt 30 minutes just wasn't enough because it looked so dried out. It continues to wilt a bit in between the watering. I have not seen a change in the root structure since 2 weeks ago.
5/20/14: No change, still looks a bit on the wilted side, the leaves touch the counter top which makes the tips of the leaves turn brown. There is one new leaf. The only reason the roots look slimy is because I watered it then took the picture, so they are wet.
6/2/14: No change in the roots, they remain dry and free from growing mold. There is another new leaf in the past 2 weeks.
KATHY ALAMEDA'S CONCLUSION
Here's my conclusion after 2 months of testing out the glass bowl and not leaving water in the bowl. I do believe that it was getting too much water in the old wooden bowl, hence the mold. Since using the glass bowl, the mold is gone. I believe the glass bowl should be more closed in toward the top to give it a more terrarium enclosure to possibly help hold in the water drippings after watering.
There's absolutely no water in the bowl when it's time to water. The roots have not become heavier and whiter as we hoped they would. When the plant is wilted and the leaves touch the counter, they have turned brown at the tips. So my overall impression is that it helped to get rid of the mold, but not so much to give the plant strength, although it has 2 new leaves.
Because it's so dried out and wilted between watering, I just think it needs more water so I'm going to try something else. I'm going to keep some water in the bowl below the main big roots to see if the smaller, thin roots underneath the rock can soak up some of the water to help in this effort.
COMMENTS BY DAVID
Aloha Kathy and mahalo for a great effort and 2-month report! I must admit that I still don't fully understand what is happening!
Why is your plant is still alive after 12 years during which time, by our best known theory and practices, you clearly had over-watered it! But at least we resolved two of your problems:
1. That nice glass bowl is a suitable substitute to replace the wooden bowl that has rotted. And,
2. We seem to have stopped the build-up of that black mold. Some of it seems to still be there when you photograph it when it is wet. It could be hard and attached to the roots like a hard film and you may need a harder brass or fine stainless steel brush to get more off although you will likely abrade the skin of the root. But it should improve the appearance and will likely recover. You might try continuing to remove a little at a time if it bothers you.
I think your report confirms that once you build a mat of roots under the rock planting there is strong likelihood that you'll have the rock planting survive for a very, very long time and this should be the goal of all owners of rock plantings that want to keep the plant to the same size. I think your plan to keep a small amount of water in the bowl when you water each week should work. But don't make it so wet that at the end of the week when it is time to water, that the gravel may be damp, but not visibly wet.
RECOMMENDATION & REQUEST: Many years ago when you first contacted me, your goal was to keep your lava planting small and just allow it to grow a tiny amount over the years, you've been successful in pruning the tree several times. To complete this report, would you again prune the tree just a small bit out from your previous pruning points and take photos to complete this third major report. You'll have then the third in a series of photos showing your same tree in 2002, 2006 and 2014!
I believe you can safely remove half or more of the roots when you prune the top foliage but you should try to direct the roots in all directions under the rock instead of creating a heavy one-way single circling set of roots. On way to do this is to cut a single heavy root and remove it with younger attached roots. Then select and remove another heavy root, cutting in another area. If you cut three large roots in three different places under the rock, you'll be able to reduce the height of that bundle of roots and have just a shallow mat that will produce roots evenly under the rock. Just keep tucking longer stronger roots under the rock and it will be easier to reduce the root ball each time you do a major branch pruning and your tree should become more attractive without getting much larger.
I believe you are still using the original recommendation of Schultz Liquid Plant Food. Would you confirm and describe how you are using it to inform our newer customers the fertilizing alternative? It would be great to also have another photo of you holding up your tree with your face behind it!
Congratulations Kathy! Your reports are the oldest documented small lava planting report and you've done very well to demonstrate that Fuku-Bonsai's focus is on long term success and enjoyment. I'd love to hear from other of our old-time customers and to see how their plans are doing.
Warm regards, ~~~David (June 3, 2014)
© Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and Fuku-Bonsai, 2014