During November, spring growth will continue and one must be mindful of keeping vigorous trees trimmed to encourage short internodes. Fast growing trees can be trimmed back to two leaves per branchlet, whilst less vigorous to four leaves. Australian natives can be pruned relatively hard after flowering. I have just come in from spending the morning pruning back many of my deciduous trees, including crepe myrtles, maples and elms. The recent rain and cooler weather has meant that they were going pretty wild!
To keep your bonsai in healthy and active growth, regular fertilising is a must throughout the growing season. I usually use a soluble food such as Charlie Carp or Powerfeed every fortnight, but granular fertilisers can work just as well. Fertilising on a regular basis is important because nutrients are leached out of the soil which is by necessity, heavily watered. Some people fertilise a little and often but it all depends on how much time you can devote to this practice. It is important to emphasize that in times of high temperatures (above 30 degrees) DO NOT fertilise. Because the soil will be drying out very quickly in the heat, fertiliser becomes more concentrated in the soil during these times, causing root and possibly even foliage damage (fertiliser burn). The use of slow release fertilisers can help prevent this happening. Seasol is always a good tonic to use when your trees may be feeling stressed from recent repotting or very hot weather.
Continue to monitor candle growth on your black pines, which can vary considerably from tree to tree and even within the same tree. When the majority of candles have elongated, pinch back to 3 to 5 mm. If more than one candle has developed on a branch leave two of similar growth and remove the rest. This will encourage future branching. Also older needles can be thinned particularly those facing straight up or down on a branch.
Other conifers can be trimmed or pinched back at this time to encourage back budding and denser foliage growth on branches. If you are cutting back conifers, do not cut through the foliage, but rather behind a section, so that browning is minimized.
Wisteria should now be in full sun and in water trays, as they are very thirsty plants. Keep pruning branches back to one or two buds as they are growing so rapidly. Tender plants, such as maples, should go into a more protected area so the leaves do not burn. Stop pruning crepe myrtle at the end of this month or they will not produce flowers.
Wiring can still be done but try not to wire tightly as the trees are still growing relatively strongly and may suffer wire marks if not properly supervised.
Be diligent with watering and try to saturate the whole surface of the soil to encourage a wider and deeper spread of roots, therefore making the plant more drought tolerant. Try to avoid watering late in the day, as wet foliage overnight may encourage fungal diseases. However, it is a good idea to spray foliage in the morning to clean the leaves of dirt and pollution and discourage some pests. Check your plants for powdery mildew which is a fungal disease. The trees prone to this are crepe myrtles, maples, crab apples and oaks. A way to avoid this is have plenty of space between your trees and to not water foliage late in the day.
Figs are in their element at this time of year and you may start repotting, defoliating and pruning from now onwards, throughout the summer months. Large leaves can be cut off and new growth pinched out. When pruning figs it is a good idea to spray the milky sap with water to prevent the sap leaving stains on trunk and branches. Overgrown figs can be pruned back very hard, but it is a good idea to repot at the same time and add a good measure of slow release fertiliser to your mix. Always ensure that the bonsai mix you are using is coarse and well drained, which helps prevent root problems such as rotting.
Be watchful for insect attacks on your trees, which can be a constant problem during the growing season. Spray azaleas regularly with a systemic insecticide through spring and summer to prevent lace bugs, which give the leaves an unsightly silvering effect once they are present. As I was pruning back trees this morning, I also found a few tiny caterpillars hiding among the branches. These hungry little creatures can do a lot of damage very quickly, so pick them off when you see them. Tidier foliage makes them easier to spot too!
Weed free bonsai is a dream we all aspire to but rarely achieve, and weed growth is likely to be more vigorous through the growing season too. Weeds rob your trees of nutrients and also occupy valuable soil space in small pots, so it’s important to try and keep them under control and especially don’t allow them to go to seed among your bonsai collection. There’s an old saying that goes: ‘One year’s seed, seven years’ weeds.’