Upon return home from Australia I discovered that we did not have our typical brilliant autumn colors upstate New York is famous for. The colors were beautiful, but not like in the past years. In fact, many of my deciduous bonsai still have green leaves, even though it snowed a couple of time. Yes, I’ve had shoveled too.
There are several factors which affect the coloring of deciduous bonsai foliage in autumn. Of course the reduced daylight actually triggers the onset of dormancy. I’ve watched as it actually noticeable in late July. The daylight gets shorter each day and the foliage changes from a bright green to dull green.
In addition to the reduced daylight, I’ve learned that watering and feeding the bonsai will greatly affect the autumn coloring. If a bonsai is stressed by not providing adequate water, especially in late summer, the colors often are more intense. Also, maintaining a regular fertilizer schedule with high nitrogen, through September and into October will delay the onset of autumn coloring.
Actually high levels of nitrogen in autumn will help bonsai over winter and provide them with what they need to grow vigorously in spring. NO, the application of nitrogen fertilizer in autumn will NOT stimulate new growth which will be damaged by autumn frosts IF your bonsai have been regularly fertilized throughout the summer growing season. The addition of a nitrogen content fertilizer will not stimulate new growth. However, IF your trees have not been fertilized regularly an application of a nitrogen content fertilizer may stimulate late summer new growth which may be damaged.
Late each summer I select a few deciduous bonsai which will receive extra loving care in preparation for excellent autumn coloring. The trees are repositioned in different areas in my display garden which receive the maximum amount of full sun. Even though the entire display area is in a full sun exposure, through the past 26 years I’ve learned there are several “sweet spots” which receive better sun. The selected bonsai are moved into those areas and rotated weekly so the sunlight will reach all areas of the deciduous trees. Also, watering is carefully maintained and often fertilizer is stopped earlier rather than later.
Usually, this technique works. Last year I got lucky, and we also had better weather. The trees which I selected were cared for and turned into their brilliant autumn coloring, just in time for my friend, Joe Noga who traveled from North Carolina, to take the final photos for my new book. The trees were outstanding, as can be appreciated in my newest book: Classical Bonsai Art. If you don’t have it, you should add a copy to your bonsai library, not only for inspiration, but also for detailed training and plant information not found elsewhere. The book also makes an excellent holiday gift, even for yourself, and can be easily ordered at:
Classical Bonsai Art is still on sale for only $50 which is a bargain for a large size book which includes over 675 detailed and color correct photos.
The photographs included in this post show my bonsai in beautiful autumn color, especially to those in areas of the world where they can’t experience it. However, the colors are not as intense and brilliant as in the past, as people in our area will confirm.
We have had two snowfalls and the low temperatures have dropped to below 25F. As the snow melts over the bonsai it tends to clean the bark which is good. Normally, this would be the best time to put your bonsai into their winter protection structures. However, I still feel it’s too early for our region. The temperatures for the next few days should reach 60F, and I’d rather have the bonsai outside rather than in, especially since my winter protection areas are in low light.
Bonsai are trees! Trees want to live and can withstand some cold temperatures. This tends to “toughen” the bonsai and makes them healthier. It’s not a good idea to pamper your bonsai too much as it often weakens them.
As we were preparing the bonsai for winter, by removing old, dead, discolored foliage and organic fertilizer remnants, a few looked pretty good so I took the time to photograph a couple. Photographing a bonsai requires the skill and knowledge of photography and also a few secrets to create the best photos. Yuji Yoshimura taught me that it’s better to photograph bonsai when dry. This allows the detailed bark to be easily seen and photographed. If the bark is wet, it’s dark and does not show any detail. When I returned home from Australia one of my finest sinuous style American larch bonsai was looking pretty good. So, I brought it into my photo studio, set up the lights and noticed that the base of the trunk was wet. I took a few photos and confirmed that the bark was too wet. I left the bonsai on the display table but moved the lights and waited, and waited some more. After 11 days, I finally decided enough is enough and photographed the bonsai, and a few others as well. The brilliant golden color of the foliage was lost, however it was still attractive. And, those of you who grow larch know that the small needles quickly drop and make a mess all over the moss, container and display table and needed to be cleaned up several time. After I photographed the bonsai I took it outside and used the leaf blower to remove many of the old foliage. That’s a handy tool to use in autumn.
All my best bonsai will remain outside until I return from Japan, then we will put them into their overwintering areas. This coming weekend my Saturday Bonsai Crew will help again and the bonsai in the sales area will be moved into the poly houses. I still have a few trees which look pretty good. I hope they lose their leaves quickly as I’m preparing bonsai for the Winter Silhouette Exhibition in North Carolina on December 7-8th. Information can be found here:
I hope to see many friends and some beautiful bonsai at the show where I’ll be presenting a lecture/demonstration on Dwarf Japanese Maple Bonsai and a critique. Enjoy what is left of autumn.