Bonsai, An Ancient Art

Source(s): Stephen D Pettis

The art of bonsai is very old indeed. The first people recorded to practice the art were the Chinese who, in the 14th century, collected naturally dwarfed plants from the wild and transplanted them into containers.


These ancient gardeners appreciated the wild, contorted beauty of the plants that were stunted by the harsh extremes of altitude and poor soil. They brought this beauty into their homes and gardens through ingenuity, cleverness, and an understanding of plant physiology.

The word bonsai literally means ‘plant in a tray’. The concept is simple; restrict the growth of a plant’s roots and shoots, allowing the trunk to grow. The end result is a plant that appears to be a miniature representation of its relatives in the wild.

The actual mechanics of bonsai are simple enough that anyone could become an enthusiast. The skill that most of us are lacking is the patience that is needed to allow a plant to properly develop. Bonsai trees can take years to develop. There are many trees in existence today that are over one hundred years old. In nature, trees grow relatively slowly and even slower when cultivated as a bonsai. Achieving a dwarf plant that is a true mimic of a tree in nature in one of the specific styles is the art of bonsai.

There are many styles of bonsai. The simplest would be the formal upright or erect style. The trunk is encouraged to grow straight and the tree is usually pruned into a symmetrical form. Another simple design is the informal upright. The tree is trained vertically but is not forced to grow straight. Other upright designs include the double trunk and the leaning.

There are more challenging designs for advanced gardeners. Using a trailing groundcover shrub, the cascade design allows the plant to hang over the edge of the pot and grow toward the ground. Other very interesting styles are the roots-over-rock style where the tree is planted so that it grows over stone and the windswept design where the plant is pruned to make it appear as though it is growing in the desert.

Things You’ll Need for A Simple bonsai: Grow or purchase a tree seedling or rooted cutting such as Red Maple, Japanese Maple, Chinese Elm, River Birch, Chinese Zelkova, Pine or Juniper in a 4 inch container. Obtain a shallow container, well-drained soil, very small BB sized gravel, and copper wire. Tools needed include small pruners, a trowel, a clean spray bottle with water, a pan of water, and a small paintbrush.

Planting: Remove the plant from its original pot. Using your hands, dislodge all the soil from the roots of the plant until the roots are bare. Using the paintbrush, finish cleaning the roots. Dip the roots in clean water and gently the wash them. Keep the roots moist throughout the planting process by misting with a spray bottle.

Using the pruners, lightly trim the roots and the shoots or branches. Trees need to maintain a specific ratio of roots to shoots. Prune the roots and the shoots to balance the ratio to 1:1. If you plan to train your tree, install the copper wire now. Wrap the end of the wire around the crown or the tree (the area where the roots meets the trunk) and gently coil the wire around the trunk until you reach the top. Cut off the extra wire at the top of the plant and wrap the wire loosely to the end to the central branch. Now the trunk may be bent to the form you wish your bonsai plant to take. The same may be done with the branches by attaching wire to the main trunk and wrapping the branches with wire.

Planting the tree correctly is important. In a shady spot, begin by lining the bottom of the tray with one-half inch of gravel and a layer of soil. Spread the roots over the soil layer so that the roots are extending in all directions. Cover the roots with soil being careful not to cover the crown of the tree with soil. After you firmly press the soil with your fingers, the soil level should be one-half inch from the top of the tray. Sprinkle a thin layer of gravel on top of the soil and arrange any stones, moss, or other decorations on the surface. Fertilize with a balanced tree fertilizer. Remember, bonsai are not houseplants. Most bonsai trees need plenty of sun so place the tree in a partly sunny to sunny outdoor location.

After Planting Care:
 The new bonsai plant may need periodic pruning or pinching. Prune or pinch back any errant branches to keep the plant in its proper form. Remove leaves to reduce the demand on the roots for water and nutrients. Pinch new shoots and the buds from old shoots to keep the amount of new growth to a minimum.

Bonsai trees need regular care. Due to the restricted roots and relatively small amount of soil, the plants can dry out rapidly. Daily, irrigate the tree thoroughly. On very hot days, the plant may need water twice a day if it is in full sun. Fertilize with a diluted liquid fertilizer every couple of weeks.

 Bonsai trees are generally repotted every two or three years in the late winter or early spring. Re-use the old pot or use a slightly larger new pot. Repeat the root cleaning process discussed during planting so the roots are washed thoroughly. While keeping the roots moist, prune the roots and the shoots to maintain an even balance between the two. Adjust the copper wire to prevent it from becoming too tight as the tree trunk grows. Re-pot in the same manner as before except now it may be necessary to wire the roots to prevent your growing tree from toppling out of the pot. Run copper wire through the drain holes in the bottom of the tray. Fasten these over the roots. Again, finish re-potting by sprinkling gravel over the soil surface and fertilizing. To learn more about bonsai, contact the your County Extension Service.

Center Publication Number: 104

Azalea Lace Bug

Source(s): Stephen D Pettis

The azalea lacebug is a pest that gardeners in the South face nearly every year. As azaleas begin to bloom, the insect begins its lifecycle. By the end of the summer, gardeners find their azalea leaves covered with yellow speckles and the plants are stressed. This leads to reduced vigor and flowering the subsequent year is diminished.


This nuisance pest infests most Rhododendron species although less serious infestations may go unnoticed. Damage appears as stippling or yellow spotting caused by the insect’s feeding on leaves with its sucking mouthparts. Feeding mars the appearance of foliage on both deciduous and evergreen azaleas. The feeding occurs on the underside of the leaves and is apparent on the upper leaf surface in the form of bleached, chlorotic spots that persist through leaf drop. Severe infestations can cause leaves to turn brown and impact overall plant health and vigor.

The adults are between 3 mm long and 1.5 mm wide and dark in color. The insects have a hood-like covering on the head and net-like, lacy, off-white wings with mottled brownish-black markings that may be seen with a hand lens. The insect resembles a fly that has lacy wings thus the name lacebug. Eggs may be visible with the use of a hand lens and appear as smooth, white football shaped objects that are deposited on the underside of leaves. These deposits are usually found along the central leaf vein and are covered with blackish, varnish-like fecal spots that are a diagnostic sign.

Nymphs, the tiny immature insects that follow the eggs in the lacebug lifecycle, are colorless when newly hatched, but quickly become dark and develop spines. The insect passes through five nymphal stages and sheds its skin each time. The cast skins often remain attached to the underside of leaves.

Azalea lacebugs over-winter primarily as eggs on the underside of leaves thus favoring evergreen azaleas. Eggs mature in response to temperature and in Georgia typically begin to hatch in March to early April. There are usually 3 to 4 generations per year and during the growing season the insect progresses from egg to adult in about 30 days.

Controlling this insect is simple. Growers should begin scouting for the eggs and cast skins in Mid March. Usually, a single well-timed spray is sufficient to prevent serious aesthetic injury. Applications should be timed to coincide with the first signs of the nymphal hatch stage that normally occurs in March to mid April. Chemical controls include acephate Orthene (acephate), Bayer Advanced Insect Spray (imidacloprid), oils, and soaps. Remember to read the label carefully and follow all instructions when using pesticides. If you have any questions about azalea culture or about azalea lacebug control, please contact your local County Extension Agent.

Resource(s): Insect Pests of Ornamental Plants

Center Publication Number: 65

Asian Ambrosia Beetle

Source(s): Steve Pettis

If you own a cherry tree or a Japanese Maple, be vigilant! There is an insect pest out there stalking your prized landscape tree. It is very tiny but it can bring even large trees down. The insect is a beetle and it is an illegal immigrant known as the Asian ambrosia beetle.

Asian Ambrosia Beetle

Asian Ambrosia Beetle

The Asian ambrosia beetle was accidentally imported to the United States in some peach trees in North Carolina that had arrived from China in 1974. Since then, this insect has spread all over the U.S. and has caused millions of dollars in plant loss. Every year, nursery owners spend money to prevent its damage in the southeast.

Asian Ambrosia Beetle Behavior

The female Asian ambrosia beetle emerges in spring from her winter habitat inside an infested tree and travels to a suitable nearby shrub or tree. She looks for a small plant or limb 1 to 2 inches thick, and begins to bore into it. She moves fast eating her way through an inch of wood per day.

As the insect eats her way through the tree, she ejects sawdust out of the entrance hole. The sawdust exiting the hole forms toothpick-like protrusions. This is the key diagnostic feature of Asian ambrosia beetle damage. Scout for this sawdust in early spring on trees and shrubs.

Asian Ambrosia Beetle Diet

The insect doesn’t actually eat the wood but excavates tunnels that serve as habitat. She introduces a fungus into the tunnel, which is carried on her back from her last home. When her eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the fungus. It is this fungus that kills the tree eventually. It clogs the vascular system of the plant causing it to wilt and eventually die.

Many species of trees and shrubs are susceptible to this beetle. I have observed them attacking Tulip poplars, oaks, ornamental cherry, crape myrtle, redbud, hickory and Japanese maple. Asian ambrosia beetle will attack almost any broadleaf tree or shrub and that is a suitable size healthy or not.

Asian Ambrosia Beetle Life Cycle

Almost the entire life cycle of the insect is spent inside the plant, making the beetles hard to control with insecticides. The only time out of the tree is when it emerges in early spring to either reinfect the same tree or to seek out a new one. There are traps that can be used to monitor the insect’s emergence in February.

Asian Ambrosia Beetle Control

Asian ambrosia beetles must be controlled but how? There are no systemic insecticides that will kill the beetles in the trees. Once in the tree, the beetle itself is harmless. It is the fungus that actually kills the tree. Infested trees will most likely die eventually.

The best way to control AAB damage is by prevention. Trunk sprays using pyrethroid insecticides applied in late February or when the first beetle is trapped offers protection. Products available to commercial pesticide applicators such as Pounce, Astro and Onyx all show great promise in controlling this pest. Homeowners should use outdoor tree and shrub insecticides containing imidacloprid or bifenthrin. Homeowners should remove affected plants or plant parts and they should be burned. The trunks of remaining plants should be treated with an appropriate insecticide and monitored.

Resource(s): Insect Pests of Ornamental Plants

Center Publication Number: 107

Arborists Maintain Tree Health

Source(s): Steve Pettis

Who do you call when you need someone to prune a one hundred year old, one hundred and fifty foot tall oak tree that sits ten feet away from your house? Who do you call if your favorite 80-year-old pecan is starting to decline?


A certified arborist, that’s who. Arborists are the surgeons of the tree trade as well as the physicians. They diagnose tree problems (diseases, insect infestations, and decline), implement strategies to mitigate poor tree health, and provide emergency tree care. At some time or another, everyone will need an arborist. Remember, trees are investments that can become liabilities if not cared for properly.

What does it mean to be a ‘certified’ arborist? It means the arborist has been through a rigorous training and testing process to assure that he or she meets the standards set by the International Society of Arboriculture for a qualified professional arborist.

These persons are well trained in tree health, pest management, soil fertility, assessing storm damage, cabling and bracing, and proper pruning techniques. In other words, they are specialists in the care of trees. If you were hiring a company to do any tree work at your home, I would recommend only using certified arborists. When soliciting for quotes, ask for proof of insurance and references as well. Always get three estimates. You will usually be required to sign a contract, so read it carefully.

Tree work is tough and physically demanding. Imagine spending your whole day climbing towering trees with spikes on your boots and a chainsaw attached to your belt. At first glance one might think these people are a little crazy, especially when one sees one of them walk out to the end of a limb sixty feet in the air. Crazy that is, until you realize they are always wearing safety rigging that is attached to the main trunk of the tree. The rigging is the same type used by mountain climbers. Every responsible tree person wears safety rigging, a hard hat, earplugs, and eye protection.

When an arborist does a consultation, he or she evaluates tree health and tries to recommend a plan to stop any tree decline. The arborist might recommend pruning to remove any dead wood or to shape the tree. If the tree has any unsafe branches or bad branch angles, the tree professional might cable the offending limbs. Cabling involves using heavy gauge stainless steel cable and eye bolts to secure limbs and trunks. The arborist may recommend a fertilization regime to increase the tree’s vigor and stop any decline. Trees are often fertilized using a 3-2-1 ratio liquid fertilizers injected into holes that are drilled in the soil around the tree.

If the tree is not salvageable, then the arborist will recommend removing the unhealthy tree. Often, the tree will be in a location where it cannot be felled easily. Maybe there is a structure under or near the tree or the tree is near the property line. In this case, the arborist may decide to rope the tree. Climbing the tree, the arborist ties ropes to the branches. Then the branches are cut off one by one allowing the rope to break the fall. In essence the tree is removed from the top down. The branches will be lowered down gently to workers on the ground to prevent any unwarranted damage. After removal, the company will chip the tree into mulch with a machine or haul it away. Reputable companies will leave the property only after they have cleaned up the mess and the customer is satisfied.

Trees are assets that add value to one’s property and should be cared for properly. With the help of certified arborists, homeowner’s trees will remain healthy and safe through proper fertility management and pruning. If you have need for a certified arborist, please call the Gwinnett County Extension Service for a list of local companies at (678) 377-4010.