It’s time to put the bonsai to bed for the Maine winter. Possibly past time; they’ve endured at least one snowstorm on the outdoor work table and while they look wonderfully romantic with snow-covered branches, all that freezing and thawing is hard on roots and ceramic pots.
In past years I’ve stored our hardy bonsai specimens in the bulkhead, but they are prone to damage from extremes of heat and cold, dry air and rodents. I’ve been reading about methods to winter the trees outdoors and the idea of burying them in the garden, as they do in Northern Japan, might solve those problems. We don’t have many non-hardy trees left in our collection because space by a window in our 20′ x 30′ cape is at a premium over the long winter.
For the trees that can spend the season outside, I dug the soil out of a bed close by the house and piled it on a tarp.
According to my very old and tattered Japanese paperback, the next step is to carefully place the pots in the bed. At least this is what I think is going on in the rather sketchy illustrations – I can’t read the text. Then dig out or fill in so that small pots are at the same level as the taller trees and point branches inward, rather than overhanging the outer edges of the bed where they might be broken or tripped over in deep snow.
I sprinkled Plantskydd rabbit and “small critter” repellent in and around the pots, and followed that with sprigs of tansy, lavender and garlic chive. I’ll put another layer on top when the bed is filled in. We have field mice, shrews, voles and red squirrels and, even though none of these bonsai are particularly edible, even the critter exploration can be damaging. Then I filled the bed back in to the level of the pots with the reserved soil and tamped it gently into crevices to insulate against rapid changes in temperature. Watering the soil in helped, too.
Now the trees are overed over with a layer of insulating pine needles, another layer of rodent repellent, and waiting patiently for spring. If this works it will be how I store them going forward – it was a lot easier than carting the pots down cellar and making room.