Forum Posts

Paul Koenning
Jan 08, 2022
In RMBS Forum
My Elephant bush bonsai started off as a Home Depot rescue, and was a 3" cutting when I started growing it on in 2012. In the photo above you can see the cutting has filled in quite a bit in the small pot in the middle of the glass shelf. My apologies for the poor photo quality on this one. The thing that I absolutely love about Elephant bush and jade growth is that it is distichous, meaning that the leaves are arranged opposite from each other on the stem, but the following node will be turned 90 degrees and so on. This gives endless opportunities for design options when using the directional pruning method. Directional pruning takes advantage of the fact that new buds form at the base of leaves. By knowing this it is possible to plan the direction of future growth by pruning back to leaves pointing in the direction you would like future growth to go. Once branches begin to develop, directional pruning really helps to build lateral branch pads as you can easily prune to lateral/ horizontally pointing leaves/buds. I always allow my plants to grow out seasonally and then prune them back once over grown. In that regard, I also always put my more tropical plans outside in the summer to enjoy as much natural sunlight as possible. With summer sunlight and winter lighting I typically prune my tropicals including this Portulicaria twice a year. It lines up nicely to prune before I take plants out in the summer and in for the winter. This makes moving them easier, and also allows for a nice display as you bring bonsai out in the late spring here in the Denver Metro Area. The above photo was from when this elephant bush was about 1 year old. As you can see I am pruning to develop a lot of bends in the trunk line, and also working to encourage branches at the outside turns of possible trunk lines. Knowing that variegated plants grow more slowly, my goal has always been to keep this as a smaller bonsai, so the pot size has always been small. This is also important with succulents as pots that are too large will hold water often too long which can lead to rot. Rot is the number on killer of succulents, so always error on the drier side. I also prune and repot my succulents dry, and will keep them dry for a week after to allow proper callusing of any larger wounds made. By allowing the plant to grow out and then cutting back many more buds swell and grow back. Think of any tree as a road system of water and nutrients. The trunk is a 5 plus lane Interstate highway, the branches are main roads and more rural highways, and the sticks are well the roads out in the sticks! 😉 Not a lot of energy is created out on the branch ends, neither is a lot of water or nutrients needed by the small amount of foliage at the end of a branch. Alternately, all of the water and nutrients pass through the trunk, as well as the vast majority of energy created via the foliage during photosynthesis. Now you can understand why after a large branch is removed from a tree it will often re-sprout in that same area vigorously for many years. Removing the branch causes a serious "traffic jam" of water and nutrients that used to have a route to follow. Just like may of us being alerted to traffic ahead by our GPS, the water nutrients will seek out alternate places to go. Sometimes that is adventitious sprouting at the site of the larger branch removal, but many buds in and around the area will also benefit from the now excess water and nutrients and begin to swell and grow. The buds exposed to light will quickly grow and fill the area in with new branch opportunities. Travis asked me about lighting for Elephant bush and I have to say nothing beets putting your plants outside in the summer. These guys, and pretty much succulents in general, will love as much direct sunlight as you can give them. With that said, I do spend about a month to transition my tropicals from indoor lighting to outdoor sunlight. To do this I place all of my bonsai in the shade outside initially, and over the course of a month slowly move their pots to their final outdoor spot. For indoor lighting I have used pretty much every option available minus High Pressure Sodium lighting. If you have a south or west facing window, your plants will be happy if they are within roughly 6 inches of the glass. Light quality diminishes exponentially for every inch you move away from the glass, so it can be done put think green house windows, not a bonsai as a center piece on a table 6 feet from the window. A center peice situation should only be used for temporary display. I now prefer LED lighting inside as the longevity and cost have reached a point of being competitive with other options, and the spectrums generated by top quality lights cannot be beat. I use Black Dog LED lights on a light mover to expand the lighting footprint, and reduce apical dominance. I also still have some fluorescent T5 fixtures I still use as well. The issue I have with fluorescents, is that they induce apical dominance, and the lower branches of my bonsai are visibly weak by the end of a winter under them. For small bonsai this is not as much of an issue, but worth considering, as all plants continue to grow. Thank you Travis for asking about this Portulicaria afra Verigata bonsai, and please let me know if I can answer anything other questions this post my have generated.
Portulicaria afra verigata (Elephant bush) progression   content media
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Paul Koenning
Mar 22, 2020
In RMBS Forum
I have found moss to be a challenge to cultivate, and thought the forum would be a great place to determine what works and what does not. To begin with, there are many different types of moss, and they all have their own desired environment. Most of this discussion on moss will relate to silver tip moss, although most of the mosses that exist in our high arid desert conditions will follow the same protocols. The first major hurdle to overcome is maintaining enough moisture at the soil surface to maintain moss growth. Using a top dress of shredded sphagnum moss helps to achieve the desired moisture retention. Most plants tend to photosynthesize best at a temperature of 76 degrees fahrenheit, while moss seems to produce its best growth around 50 degrees fahrenheit. For this reason I believe the early spring is the best time to get a jump on moss growth. The third issue generally seen is that moss prefers a pH of 5-6 where as most of our bonsai prefer a pH of 6-7. To make things more difficult water from an aquifer typically has a pH of 8-9, and Denver water has just changed their water parameters to a pH of ~8. The fouth parameter to be aware of is the total amount of dissolved solids (TDS) that are in the water being used. My tap water tests at about 700 TDS and has proven to not grow moss well if at all. I have been using a reverse osmosis filter to reduce the TDS to 4, and then using a fertilizer made for RO water, which brings the TDS back up to 200. For the past 3 months the water with a TDS of 200 has proven to work great for keeping the moss vibrant and alive. Theses are a few of the parameters I have been able to determine thus far, and I hope will will share some of the tips and research you have used to successfully grow moss for your bonsai.
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Paul Koenning
Jan 04, 2020
In RMBS Forum
I have always loved root over rock bonsai, and thoroughly enjoyed researching and developing the process that grew the narrow leaf ficus pictured above. I have broken down some of my process below. I welcome feedback and questions so that everyone has the opportunity to continue learning. This Ficus salicaria, narrow leaf ficus, was started from a cutting and grown on in a pond basket for about two years. The pond basket helps provide air pruning of roots to eliminate circling roots within the container, and they are not expensive at all. In this image you can also see the rock before the roots were grown over it. At this point I pruned and wired the ficus to build the initial structure of the tree, while also working to complement the rock the tree will be grown on. The pond basket does work very well to eliminate circling roots, but there were still some. I made the decision to use a supper roots container, which is pricy but works incredibly well and comes in many sizes. Because all roots are air pruned as they reach the edge of the container no rooting energy is wasted on circling roots. This builds an incredibly ramified root mass, in this case all around the rock placed in the supper roots container. The ficus was bare rooted in order to place the roots over the rock in desired locations. I use grafting tape to hold the roots to the rock, and a few steel wires with rubber padding to hold everything in place. Once the repot was done I placed the tree in a humidity tent to allow the roots to recover. This works by drastically reducing transpiration which allows some photosynthesis to happen with little or no water loss. I repotted the tree every June to prune excessive roots, and further train and hold young roots to the rock. I have already pruned many roots in this photo, and as you can see the rooting is very vigorous. It is important to allow the foliage and top growth to grow freely, as the foliage and roots like to maintain a balance between each other. Look at all of the root choices to use to continue training the roots on the lower half of the rock! This ficus is now 6 years old, and grown from a 6 inch cutting. I plan to show it this year, and welcome any feedback or comments. Thanks for taking a look at some of my techniques.
Root over rock narrow leaf ficus progression and techniques used content media
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Paul Koenning

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