The now famous "Are You Ready?" article

Anne Spencer

Spring Repotting Time is Beginning! Here's What You Need.

Potting time is that time in the Spring when I stop watching TV and reading and start listening to talk shows or music while I labor away in my 7'x 7' greenhouse with the little Costco heater upping the 32 degree temperature to about 60 degrees. My greenhouse keeps a few marginally hardy plants safe in the winter but mostly I use it for doing spring repotting and for storing potting supplies. Before I had the greenhouse I used the back porch or the garage. The important thing is that you have a place to work where everything can be placed around you within easy reach while you're working on your plants. Wherever you choose to work should have a good bright light.

In December and January did you gather, buy, collect, sift, and put in tubs all the soil mix ingredients you'd need for spring repotting time? If you did pat yourself on the back and say, "Good job!" You have made your life easier for the next 2-3 months! Of course, if you don't have many plants you can relax immediately. Buy a bag of Bonsai Potting Soil and add pumice to it. For me, I'm talking hundreds of plants and I don't like the commercial mix!

Now, take a big breath. Tell your spouse or best friend you'd like to go out to dinner at a Koji Osakaya restaurant. They have the absolute best chopsticks for working your new soil into the root system. The place has excellent food, too. (Are they still in business?)

Are your plants ready to repot? Are the deciduous plants' buds just turning green but the leaves aren't showing? Are the buds swelling on your conifers? In February some of the maples, crabapples, plums, forsythia, and cherries will be ready. Check your plants daily for readiness signs.

Are you ready yet? Do you have the right pots, and are they clean? I use soapy water with bleach and a scrub brush and then rinse well. Also, did you know you can use an old toothbrush dipped in water with a tiny bit of liquid dish soap and a few drops of bleach to gently clean the green off bonsai branches and trunks. Be gentle and do it well before the growth starts.

You'll need big holed plastic screen from a craft, sewing, or bonsai store for covering the pots' holes. Window screen holes are too small to allow for good drainage.

Are you into wiring? There is really a lot of self-satisfaction in being able to do it well, and using wire correctly will upgrade the quality of your bonsai. Have on hand a variety of sizes.

Do you have bonsai tools? The appropriate tools make a difference in how your trees turn out. At the upcoming repotting workshop and at the February meeting we will show you what we use for which type of cutting and you can try them out. At a minimum you will need a branch cutter, small & large scissors, and a wire cutter. Don't invest lots of money until you are sure you are committed to growing bonsai! Buy a little bottle of rubbing alcohol to sterilize your tools between plants.

Have some 32 gal. trash bags ready for protecting your worktable. When you're done working it makes cleanup faster & easier. Also, those cute little hand brooms attached to a dustpan are handy to have.
A turntable is almost a necessity for viewing the plant on all sides as you work. Hit the garage sales and see if you can find an old Rubbermaid turntable. They work fine for the smaller plants. Invest in a good wooden or metal one later, or make one.

Some wet small towels are good to have ready beforehand if you have to stop working on a plant temporarily because of a phone call or unexpected visitor. Cover those fragile exposed roots! Fill a small spray bottle with water. As you work you will want to make sure those roots stay damp, too.

Think you're ready yet? Do you have a tub for soaking your newly repotted plants? Are you going to use Vitamin B-1 in the water? Do you have a bright place out of the weather to set the plants for a few weeks while they recover? What if it freezes, snows, rains, winds, hails, suns? Are you ready to protect your babies!

Have a camera with film ready to take a picture of your plant before & after you work on it. Also, have paper and pencil to keep a written record of what you do to each plant. If you already have a record system in place pat yourself on the back.

And lastly, if you're like me you are getting older. Having a hand lens that magnifies those little white spots so you can see if they are pieces of potting soil or little bugs or bug eggs on your plants will make you feel so empowered. YOU ARE READY!