Enemies of Bonsai

The main enemies to keeping bonsai alive in New Mexico are:

  1. Direct and reflected full sun.
  2. Desiccating winds, both summer and winter.
  3. Lack of any meaningful humidity.

There are a few others, like poor (alkaline) water, and extreme temperature variations, often occurring in the same 24 hour period.

Very few plants can handle a full day of Albuquerque summer sun, especially in the afternoon, and especially reflected from walls or fences. You must provide some sort of shade mechanism from about 10:30 am onward, and it needs to be pretty damn thorough. Some of our folks have sufficient large tree growth in their yards to provide dappled sun all day, and it works for them. Most of us require some sort of structure or shade cloth moorings to get the job done. My first effort in Socorro involved wood lattice over a ramada. It did not provide nearly enough protection, and the wood eventually deteriorated from the elements. This year, junior and I got serious and recovered the frame with 90% filter shade cloth, and the difference was huge. Everything we have, including the toughest junipers, are enjoying a far less stressful environment. I have also blocked the S. Western exposure with a new plum tree that really helps, as well. The problem is that a lot of shade cloth is truly ugly, especially in black. I like the looks of those sail-shaped babies though, and they provide an opportunity to create something actually quite beautiful. The cheapest stuff is available at Harbor Freight, they call them “mesh tarps.” I’d suggest doubling them if they’re in full sun. Amazon also has an extensive selection. Some of you have had good success keeping trees on east and north-facing walls which block both sun and wind.

The problem of wind is difficult to solve. I’m currently having decent luck with a layer of bamboo screening mounted against a chain link fence— it’s held up amazingly well for some years, considering the fact it gets a full summer blast from the south. You’re going to have to be creative about this, or it’ll drive you back to your old hobbies of Green Stamp collecting and Zoophilia. I have in the past allowed enough surplus hangover of shade cloth to create a wind block, and have had mixed success. Much of this requires some serious thought as to siting…. best to get it right the first time if you can.

The issue of water is simple to grasp but hard to fix. Nearly all trees do much of their survival work through their leaves and foliage, of course. In our climate, with humidity usually pushing zero, trees need to hunker down for long periods between rains, and wait for the merciful monsoons to get them going again. So, we have the curious phenomena of summer dormancies, and such. I would guess that 80% of all lost bonsai die from water issues. With our coarse soil mixes, it is virtually impossible to over-water outdoor bonsai in ABQ, and I am always terminally skeptical when any of us claims over-watering to be a problem here. So, our trees need copious water both in roots and on foliage. When I water in 95 deg. weather, I soak down everything—- benches, ground, structures, surrounding trees and shrubs, even shade cloth. I have had endless trouble with automatic watering systems, so I don’t really trust them, but I bought a ton of misting- system stuff and would like to see how it works. Do any of you use misters?? Watering is taken with extreme seriousness in Japan—it takes at least a year for apprentices to be trusted with the task. When we are at Queen Connie’s, that is one of the things you all should learn from her—she is a Maniac Master of watering.


— John