Re-potting a root bound tropical bonsai (Video)

The tree I’m working on in the video below is a tree from one of my clients. This is the first time I touch this tree. 8 to 10 years ago my client had someone re-pot this tree. Now as I come to work on it, I find that the tree is severely root bound, and the pot is way too small. The first thing to do is to prepare a big enough pot for the tree to grow in. The grow pot I am using is an over-sized mica pot. Because it is a grow pot and not a fancy show pot, this pot does not need to be pretty. Once the tree was removed from the pot, I inspected the root ball. Most of the roots were very unhealthy and the wrong soil mix was used, (too much organic matter in the soil which hinders good root growth). To promote new growth, all the unhealthy roots needed to be removed as well as all of the old soil. All other roots that lay across one another also needed to be removed. What was left was a very minimal amount of roots.

Some words of wisdom: do not prune or style the tree during the re-potting stage. The foliage will provide the tree with energy so that the roots can heal and grow. A re-potting is very stressful for the tree and doing too much at one time can kill the tree. I recommend that a newly re-potted tree be left alone to recover for at least 2 to 3 months before fertilizer can be applied, and up to a year before any major styling can be done.

After all the unhealthy roots have been removed and after a quick rinse to remove the remaining old soil, its time to accommodate the tree into its new home. Using sifted and washed bonsai mix, fill the pot approximately half way with the bonsai soil. Make a small mound where the tree will sit so that you can settle it into position. Once you have the right root ball height then use the cage clam method to tie down the root ball to the pot. Once completed, fill in the rest of the pot with the rest of the bonsai soil. Make sure to eliminate large air pockets with a chop stick. Once the pot has been filled with bonsai mix, make sure that mix is level and not mounding up. Make it flat. this will prevent water from sheeting off to the sides when watering.

After everything is done, the last step is to water thoroughly. In the video I show what is the proper watering technique. I use the shower setting on the hose trigger. I make sure that the water pressure is low so that I am not spraying the soil away. It might seem like I am using a lot of water however, I am making sure that first, the water that comes out the bottom of the pot comes out clean and clear. Second, that the whole pot got watered. And third, all of the bonsai mix got properly saturated so to provide the roots with moisture and not to dry out. This particular tree was incorrectly taken care of for many years. It has been styled incorrectly, It has been neglected, but it sill has that will to live. A trees health starts with good healthy roots. This is just the beginning.

In the next months and years to come, I will be correcting past styling mistakes and making the tree healthier. Let me take a moment and say something about after care. After a re-potting as drastic as this one, it is very important that you keep the roots from drying out. If it’s windy or hot out, you may want to water it a little extra. The tree in this video is a ficus nerifolia of as commonly known as narrow leaf ficus. Another fact is that this is Florida. We live in a state also known as a green house. This type of tropical tree grows like crazy here and its almost impossible to kill. This drastic of a re-potting would kill any other tree. So please DON’T try to do this on a pine or juniper. Those types of trees need a different approach.

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