What to do this month

What to do In July

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What to do In July

Winter is here with lots of wind and rain.  Cape Town often experiences strong winds, so protect your trees.   Strong winds can blow your trees of the shelves, breaking of branches and damaging pots.

Make sure the drainage holes are free of snails or other blockages and that your pots drain well.  If you find a pot does not drain well, tilt the pot to one side so that access water can run off.  

Please note that rainwater, and lots of it, does not cause problems for your tree.  We often get the question how to protect a bonsai from rain.  Rainwater is full of oxygen and nitrogen and will not harm your trees, as long as the pot drains properly.  Drainage problems is when the water does not drain from your pot and stay in the pot for days/weeks.  The worse that can happen with rainwater is that it will wash the nutrients out of the soil.


It is time to start with your winter pruning as well as designing of your trees.  Beware.  Branches can brake easily without warning, often meaning that you lose all off last season’s growth.    

You can start pruning Swamps and White stinkwoods, and then move to Maples and crab apples from the middle of July.  If you have got a large collection and need a longer pruning season you can start earlier.  Towards the end of July, you can start with Elms, cotoneasters, firethorns, and privets.  You can continue with pruning until late in August.   


No need to fertilize your trees this time of the year.  Most trees are dormant due to the low temperatures.  (Depending on the growing method you use for your pines you can feed your pines.  Just make sure if you need to feed them or not.) 

Slow release fertilizer like Bonsai Boost or liquid fertilizers like Go Organic or Nitrosol works well.


If you are looking for a new pot for your tree, take the tree with to a nursery and ask them to assist you with choosing a pot.  There you will have the opportunity to see what the tree will look like with different pots, and you will be sure that the pot is the right size. 

Wait with repotting till next month.

Pests and diseases

Spray your olives with a preventative spray for root rot.

Deciduous trees that already lost their leaves can be sprayed with diluted lime sulfur.  Mix the lime sulfur with water in a ratio of 1 part lime sulfur to 30 parts water.  This mixture ratio won’t stain unglazed bonsai pots much.  You can use much stronger mixtures but it will stain unglazed pots.   Spraying deciduous trees with lime sulfur while they are dormant will kill off unwanted pests and their eggs as well as other diseases.  Lime sulfur will also help with the control of fungal diseases like anthracnose.   

Cover unglazed pots when you spray the trees with something like glad wrap to prevent the lime sulfur from staining these pots.  Repeat the spray after 10 days.  Lime sulfur can burn/damage new growth.

Lime sulfur loses its effectiveness after a while.  It’s best to buy new stock each year. 

Look out for scale on Junipers.  The scale is tiny white insects usually sitting where the leave or needle meets the branch.  

Signs of browning of the foliage on your juniper can be an indication of scale.

Spray with a systemic poison like plantcare or give your trees koinor for long lasting effect.  The scale will not fall of so do not worry if its still there after you sprayed.

Styling and design

Spend some time working on the design of your tree, planning ahead on your design, not only for the next year but for the next 5 years, taking in consideration the tree’s growing characteristics, making use of its strong and weak points.  Often bonsai growers make the mistake of gathering too many trees to soon, getting to a stage where they do not have enough time to work on all their trees, eventually neglecting them all instead of working on a few good potential bonsai materials. 

Bonsai growers will often spend years working on bonsai material that’s not suitable material, or not good stock.  Start with good bonsai material.  Rather spend money on one or two good trees than spending the same amount on lots of trees that will take forever to develop into bonsai, if ever.  Starting with good bonsai material can produce a good quality bonsai within three to five years.  And do not forget the wiring. 

A good tip is to look at your bonsai through your cellphone camera.  A photo can be very critical and makes it easy to see problems.


Proper wiring together with the right pruning methods is essential for the development of a good bonsai.  With this statement I am probably stepping on a lot of toes of bonsai growers making use of the clip and grow method.  There is a place for the clip and grow method in any bonsai collection, especially where you’ve got a lot of trees and can’t keep track of the wire on all your trees, or where you don’t have the time to wire them.  But it is my opinion that you will get better and faster development of your bonsai with proper wiring.

Don’t feel disappointed when your first wire job looks a bit shabby compared to that of Ryan Neil or the Japanese masters.  We don’t wire for show purposes, we wire to develop the tree.  And with time you will find that you get the feeling of wiring and things will go faster and look better.   Surf the internet.  There are lots of articles on how to wire.  But the most important part is to practice.  It is worth it to spend money on some wire and a good bonsai wire cutter.  Also invest in small pliers that you can use to help you bend the wire and branches.  Pliers are a very efficient tool to use when bending branches.  (It’s difficult to describe how bending with plier’s work, rather ask an experienced member to show you how it works.)

A good selection of aluminum wire for beginners and small collections will be 1.5 mm, 2 mm, 2.5 mm and 3 mm.

 Keep the rolls of wire tidy (use a cable tie to keep the coils together).  It can be rather frustrating if you drop a roll of wire causing what the fishermen call a crow’s nest. 

You can make use of copper wire or aluminum wire

You need a thinner gauge of copper wire to bend the same branch than with aluminum wire.  But copper wire tends to damage the bark of trees like maples, elms, olives, privets, etc.  Copper works better on trees like Pines and junipers.  It does not mean that you cannot use only copper or only aluminum.  Since it is rather difficult to get hold of lots of copper wire, we only use aluminum wire at the nursery.

Copper wire needs to be annealed first before use.  The copper wire is then soft and it is easier to apply to branches.  As you work the copper (bend it around the branches) you will find that the copper will become stiffer.  This contributes to the fact that you can use a thinner gauge of copper wire than aluminum to do the same job – bending your branches.  Copper wire can be obtained from several sources – but keep it legal or you may meet with the ‘Copper Heads’.

Do not use steel or soft iron wire.  It is very stiff and hard and tends to damage the bark.  Over time it will start to rust, staining the bark of your tree.  It can also be “poisonous” to some plant species.

General maintenance

Even though some of your trees may be dormant they still need water to survive.    Also see that trees standing in protected areas, like patio’s etc., get enough water.  Often placing trees near or next to your house to protect them from the wind can result in them not getting any rain and they will dry out.

Remove moss from trees with soft bark, like cork bark elms, acacia etc.  Leaving the moss on the trunks will cause the bark to rot.  Also remove moss from the soil.  Moss retains a lot of moisture in the soil which can cause root rot on trees like olives.  Keep moss in shallow trays for use later in the season.

Moss can be killed by spraying it with vinegar and then carefully removing it with tweezers.  

Protect your ficus trees from frost.

During these cold winter months make use of the internet to gather information on your trees, study how other bonsai growers made use of the same type of tree, studying different growers’ styles and methods, deciding on which method and style suit you and developing your trees accordingly.

Please note.  Only follow one method at a time.  Several bonsai professionals/enthusiasts make use of different methods to reach the same goal.  Do not mix the different methods.  You will probably kill your tree.  Learn from all the different methods, watch the video’s, discuss them with other growers and then look at the grower’s trees before you decide which method to use. 

Some trees like Azaleas will be flowering.  Remember to remove spent flowers.

Remove your trees from the shelves and clean shelves of old leaves and dirt.  You can also disinfect them with a strong Jeyes fluid mix.  Place it in a spray can and spray the benches with it.  Only replace your trees on the bench after the smell has faded.

In General

If you plan to sow your own seeds then now’s time to prepare (stratify) your seeds before sowing – read more from Bonsai Tonight written by Jonas Dupuich .  You can use Sphagnum moss, vermiculite or perlite  to place in the bag with the seeds.  Read the article.

Keep warm, and read a good book.


Also visit our face book page at ‘Stone lantern bonsai nursery’ for more articles, photos and events.  Please feel free to make suggestions on how to improve the page and what you would to know more about.