Refine your fertilizing this year!
Nothing like a dogmatic title for good dramatics, right? I should add an ‘Or Else!’ but I don’t have the heart for it. Nevertheless, we should be duly chastised for broadcasting fertilizer as if it were an unmitigated good.
Whatever that guy is using should obviously be applied with discretion-
For bonsai, generally we don’t need axes to control growth. And for fertilizing bonsai, we can make this one basic distinction:
- Begin fertilizing a young, unrefined tree when it begins growing early in the spring
- Wait a bit with an older, refined tree—usually begin fertilizing when it’s just hardening off it’s spring growth
This makes two assumptions:
- For the young tree, you wish to develop the trunk size and continue it’s youthful vigor…to fatten trunk, develop branching, get big joyful growth, have loud cellular parties
- For the old tree, you wish to retain an ‘old tree’ feeling…to have thin twigs, small leaves/needles, short internodes, fine ramification, and pianissimo afternoon teas
To give some kind of perspective to this, at Shinji Suzuki’s garden in Japan where I studied, we started fertilizing around May 15. That was when the spring shoots were just finishing elongation. About 90% of the trees were attended to this way; the other 10% were fertilized later or earlier according to purpose. Here in my yard in Portland, Oregon, I’ve only got a handful of trees that are developed enough to follow the May 15 rule, so my percentages are reversed. I have mostly undeveloped trees, so I’m seeking more trunk size, branch creation, big leaves, and/or massive budding—so I fertilize most trees with the start of growth in March.
Ok. Quiz: If we were to fertilize everything the same, strongly, starting early in the year, what would happen?
- The young trees would stay forever young
- The old, developed trees would become young again
And here’s another one to nibble on:
- The older the tree, the more important fall fertilizing is
(Disclaimer: There are plenty of exceptions to everything I just said, which naturally makes blogging about bonsai a total disaster. For example: Black pine, forget all about the old tree stuff. You want to fertilize the pants off even old trees in the spring if you’re cutting candles. And if you’ve actually got a pine with pants on, you’ve got bigger problems.)