More thoughts on winter protection
This article is getting put together on the first weekend of January 2018. Central Ohio, like a great deal of the country has been experiencing record-breaking weather extremes. Extreme low temperatures have a hit the Eastern 1/3 of the country, and heavy snow fall has been piling up in places that are used to snow, and plenty of snow if falling in places where it almost never does so.
If you’re reading this newsletter, Im certain you’re concerned about the outdoor pets and the kids waiting at the bus stop, but reports of severe weather probably elicit one response: What about my trees? It a natural question, and even though I’ve been in the bonsai game for a good long while, I still get that gut reaction.
The good news is that the trees will be alright…probably. Trees have been dealing with extreme weather for millennia, so they know what they’re doing. We as growers usually just have to get out of their way and let them do what they do. However, we can make the job easier by giving a proper environment and a moderate amount of preparation.
I say the trees will PROBABLY be alright because a tree that has had the opportunity to prepare itself for dormancy and is growing in an area where it can cope with the climate. Problems crop up if the tree has not been able to prepare, or if its outside it’s usually growing zone..
A distinction has to be made about temperatures, specifically air temperature and soil temperature. In general, trees can tolerate quite low air temperatures but their limit for soil temps is not as extensive. This information is posted on The Morton Arboretum’s website:
Root tissues apparently do not acclimate to temperatures much below freezing and can be killed or severely injured by soil temperature below 15°F. This is especially true for shallow rooted plants. Fortunately, the presence of mulch, leaf litter, or snow cover insulates most soils sufficiently to prevent soil temperatures from falling much below freezing. Plants with frozen roots may wilt and decline after growth resumes in the spring.
This hardiness difference between roots and trunks/branches is the most important reason that all trees should be heeled in and properly mulched. A bonsai left on a porch railing or deck bench will experience every fluctuation of air temperature-an almost certain death sentence. Heeled into a mulch bed, and shaded from sun light, the temperature around the roots will stay much more steady.
Since temperatures have been at or near zero for at least two weeks at this point, the root zone of most bonsai will be fairly close to the danger range. This is a circumstance that calls for patience-there is little to be done once the trees are in the situation. Frozen in place bonsai are tough to move, and extra blankets and quilts won’t work.
Only thing to be done is grit your teeth, cross your fingers and hope. The most frustrating part of the process is that there is really no human intervention that will be effective. If for what ever reason the Frost Gods claim a tree, there’s no way the grower can reverse the ‘damage’.
Among my many admirable qualities (among them, modesty) is a real sense of frugality. Although my family uses a different term, I am devoted to getting value for the money I spend. Part of that value for money is recognizing that I spent money not just for a product, but the container it came in. Once the product is gone, that container is not trash. I’m green enough that Id like to keep plastic out of a land fill, but when I think of plastic recycling, I’m not considering sending bales of plastic to be processed into other things, the recycling is more immediate.
In one photo you can see three ways that I have taken plastic items out of the recycle bin and made use of them in a bonsai or horticultural way. The plastic bottle formerly held dish washing soap. When it was empty, I unscrewed the cap and drained the last bit into the new bottle. Once drained as much as it could be, it was filled with a teaspoon of MIracleGro and plain water-no rinse required. Any residual soap acts like a wetting agent and makes the water penetrate soil more easily. The squeeze bottle is easier to direct and use that a standard watering can, and as a bonus the snap lid on the detergent bottle will prevent spills-an important safe guard in homes with young children or inquisitive pets.
The name tags are cut from plastic bottles. The example is from a milk jug but any other container would work. Written on with a permanent Sharpie type marker, they last as long as purpose made name tags. At the bottom right of the photo a small Erodium is being immersion watered in a small plastic container. It originally held mushrooms. These are surprisingly durable and can be used for training pots and cutting starters. Ive used them to portion out soil ingredients in workshops and of course, if you have small bonsai they make great basin for watering