Much needed advice for my potted Ukigumo

velamina(7)August 11, 2010

In June of this year I purchased through mail order a 3 to 4 gallon Ukigumo. I received 2 very large branches (approximately 4 feet long) forming a very wide open and floppy vee, supported by a short trunk about 6 inches high. I didn't know what to make of this purchase and I was unhappy with my order, but decided to keep it and learn from it.

I immediately potted my tree after receiving it into an appropriate sized granite pot with a good potting mix that is prepared at my local nursery.

The shape of my tree in its current state is not appropriate for my small porch and I will have to prune at least one branch about half way. Not sure about the other one yet, but the diameter of both is less than one inch.

I also have another issue that begs attention: She currently has drying leaves which could be due to under or over watering (or poor drainage).

I have decided to repot her and check the roots (I imagine there will be some cutting away involved). I thought I would use Fafard professional potting mix to replace what I currently have, or choose a custom blend (not sure which way to go yet).

When should I coordinate all of the above to cause the least amount of trauma? Should they be done at different times of year or all at once? Is there a specific manner to make the cut when I prune? Last, what should I look for when I repot?

This is my favorite type of Japanese maple and I want her to grow beautifully. I have not fertilized because I was told she shows her best qualities and coloring when nutrients are gone from the soil. Currently she is all green, which is the way I received her.

I appreciate all of your help. Thank you in advance!

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I have a Ukigumo growing in the ground that is probably 20 ft high now. I remember it took a while before the distinctive foliage appeared and agree that lush, well-fertilized growth will just result in standard green leaves. Like you, I like my maples to have a single trunk. From your description, I'd be tempted to remove one of the two main branches at the same time I repotted it. Reducing the leaf mass will help reduce stress on the roots of the newly repotted tree. I'd set the root ball at an angle so that it leaves the single trunk growing vertically. Since the original "trunk" is only 6 inches high, you won't notice that it comes out of the soil at an angle after the tree puts on some growth. As for the leaf problem, I'd move the tree into shade immediately to reduce stress on the plant. I live in Zone 7 too (hot, humid SC), and I prefer to wait until September before I do much transplanting. However, since this is a container plant you could do it sooner. Good luck! Tom

    Bookmark   August 12, 2010 at 1:03PM
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Kent, thanks a bunch. I was contemplating doing something similar a while back ago (planting at an angle), but your additional suggestions I believe will most definitely help the situation.

I think I resolved my drainage problem early on (hole was in direct contact with the ground) and I have since given the pot the space it needs to drain properly. I just need to know what to look for in the roots (assuming that what doesn't look white is not healthy). Changing the media is definitely still in order.

So, I will coordinate doing both activities at once to finally give this tree a chance to rest for a while afterward. I get conflicting info as to appropriate pruning times but read mostly either fall or winter.

If I coordinate doing both asap as advised because of the stress on the roots and additionally because as you say it is potted, will I be placing the tree at a disadvantage by pruning too soon? I only need to reconfirm timing now, because fall is fast approaching. Thanks in advance.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2010 at 1:52PM
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I would select one of the two main branches that come out at the 6-inch level  choose the one that will give the better looking shape  and cut the other one off neatly right where it emerges from the original "trunk." Then repot the tree setting it so the new single trunk is upright. This is, of course, major pruning, but it will reduce the total leaf surface area and, in turn, reduce the transpiration. This reduces how much water the roots must take up. I wouldnÂt do more pruning until next spring just after new leaves emerge. My experience is that some branches will die back naturally over winter, so I wait and see what has died and what is putting out new growth before I prune.
Japanese maple roots are fine rather than thick, and healthy roots have a reddish brown color. IÂd try not to disturb the roots more than necessary if they look healthy so you donÂt place additional stress on the tree. If you feel that new media is needed, tease away some of the existing media at the root tips without breaking the roots. If the tree is potbound with roots wound around at the bottom of the pot, gently untangle them. Then replant with some new media in a larger pot.
My earlier advice was based in part on your comment that the leaves didnÂt look healthy. ThatÂs why I suggested moving the tree to a place where it gets shade. Rethinking the whole operation, IÂd move it into shade first. If itÂs holding its own after a few weeks, go ahead with the reshaping/repotting operation.
I hope youÂre successful,

    Bookmark   August 12, 2010 at 4:52PM
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This is sound advice. Pruning away one branch will be a big improvement to the entire structure of the tree, and the larger one that I will be left with which is very long and curved will give it an unusual charm for now. I am already looking forward to the way she will look next spring and hopefully she will show more variegation in the leaves.

I will prune and repot soon; I would like her to become adjusted to the new media before she goes dormant. I haven't yet decided what blend to use but I suspect there will be a larger quantity of bark and perlite in the mix.

Tom, I already have her in quite a bit of shade, mostly dappled morning sunlight with only about an hour of bright, indirect sunlight. I have a sheltered porch and she is in a good spot, but I suspect that her leaf problems have more to do with the stress on the roots as you said, and the onset of poor drainage, so I'm almost positive she is okay where she is until I prune. If it is customary to move her into deep shade after pruning and repotting, I will certainly do so if it will help her to heal.

Thank you for the great advice and the encouragement as well :)

    Bookmark   August 12, 2010 at 6:21PM
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The place you describe with dappled morning sunlight and only about an hour of bright, indirect sunlight sounds perfect. Have fun! Tom

    Bookmark   August 13, 2010 at 10:21AM
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One more thing -- you may want to use a cane or plastic stake to keep her straight since you describe the branch as long and curved. I routinely stake up dissectums such as Crimson Queen. Left to their own devices they grow sideways and don't achieve much height. By staking and training them much like a bonsai, I get them up to about 6 feet tall before I let them cascade down. Tom

    Bookmark   August 13, 2010 at 10:33AM
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I have a sturdy wooden dowel from HD that would be suitable for staking; that is if it doesn't break down over time. I imagine that it would last about a year. I also have a roll of 'stretchable' nursery green tape/tie.

I purchased Fafard Professional Potting Mix. It says that it contains Processed Pine Bark. Upon examining the mix the bark is very small (I imagined bigger pieces). I also read that it contains Canadian sphagnum peat moss, perlite, and vermiculate along with limestone and gypsum (I think for adjusting PH). This is supposedly a "soiless" mixture and it is supposed to be designed for good drainage. I'm trying to keep things simple and keep costs low since I will only be doing this one important pot for now. Anyway, I hope I made the right choice with the mix.

Ukigumo surgery is scheduled for tomorrow. I will probably add a very small amount of Dyna Grow Grow (7-9-5) and Superthrive to the potting mix, even if it means adding unwanted nutrients to the soil. I'm only thinking of the roots atm and I will leave them as undisturbed as possible.

Cinnamon is recommended for sealing cuts on orchids to prevent infection and as an antifungal. I was wondering if the same is done for pruning cuts? I would like to avoid another trip to the nursery and making another purchase for sealing the cut, but will do whatever necessary. Thanks again!

    Bookmark   August 14, 2010 at 2:18PM
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I would not add any fertilizer to the plant at this time of year. It will encourage top growth, which is not what you need this close to winter. Could result in winter damage.

You should not have to seal the cut at all. Just use clean pruners. Disinfect before use with a mild bleach solution or alcohol.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2010 at 7:13AM
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Thanks Kaitain. How about Superthrive? It's supposed to be used with fertilizer, but I will be eliminating that.

I think that my mix has some fertilizer in it but I will double check. I will call the nursery tomorrow and see if I can make an exchange for something more suitable.

I'll make sure all is sterile before I start. Thanks!

    Bookmark   August 15, 2010 at 10:32AM
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