Questions on newly received holly

by D
(Westchester, NY, USA)

Hi


I recently received a neglected holly shrub from a friend that is still in it's nursery pot. They didn't want it and knew I was starting to learn bonsai art. It is ilex glabra, inkberry. While root bound, the leaves on low branches are dark green and fairly horizontal, but most leaves are high up and light green and point somewhat upward. I'm curious as to when and how to do what and I'll explain further.

The tree is quite leggy, approximately 2.5 feet tall. Most branches only have clusters of leaves on the very ends of the newer shoots which are green/yellow and not woody. I'm not sure when to prune because different sources say different things. Some say winter, others say spring and summer.

I removed a good deal of leaves that had black spot fungus. I would like to use a natural herbicide made from fresh or dry herbs I have such as garlic, rosemary, chamomile, lavender, goldenseal, myrrh, frankincense, etc. Any suggestions? I don't want to harm the tree. Some suggest peroxide and baking soda or a cinnamon brew in water or rubbing alcohol.

I live in southern NY close to NYC. It's pretty hot and humid in July so I am hesitant to repot, though some sources say you can repot without disturbing the roots much into a pot twice as wide and 2/3 deep while pruning 1/3 of the roots.

I'm also curious when I can wire the branches. I don't want to do drastic wiring, just mild position shift. This holly has interesting nebari, pruning scars that are interesting, and almost looks windswept and I think it can become a very nice bonsai.

Anyway, I hope you can help as others I have asked have never dealt with holly species. Any information you can offer will be a big help. I can't send photos from my iPad, but if you email me I can send back images from my desktop computer.

Thanks and hope to hear back from you.

_______________________________________________________________
Hi D,

Wow, sounds like you have quite a task on your hands!!!

You're right, Holly is not often the most practiced-on tree!

Basically, we would suggest 2 things -

1. Don't repot at this stage, if the tree is sick and you have solved the fungal problem you'll probably be ok. Just make sure there are no pollutants in the soil.

2. Don't worry so much about shaping yet. Allow the tree time to gain strength - possibly until next season. If you try wiring/shaping now, you may damage the branches.

Feeding will be a necessary part of the growth process. holly is quite hardy, but will need to be fed next spring, after it has regained some strength.

As far as pruning goes, you should wait now until the start of Spring. That will be primetime for your Holly's growth. Prune all new growth as it appears.

Good luck, keep us posted!

Thanks for sharing!


Lee (admin)

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Aug 24, 2011
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pH
by: D

Thanks for the suggestion. I performed a "poor-mans" pH test a few weeks ago by taking 2 soil samples and adding vinegar to one and baking soda to the other. The soil appeared to be more acidic. This obviously wasn't exact but was a starting point.

I will check and see if the local nurseries carry PH soil tests.

Aug 24, 2011
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pH
by: Anonymous

Thanks for the suggestion. I performed a "poor-mans" pH test a few weeks ago by taking 2 soil samples and adding vinegar to one and baking soda to the other. The soil appeared to be more acidic. This obviously wasn't exact but was a starting point.

I will check and see if the local nurseries carry PH soil tests.

Aug 24, 2011
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Continue
by: Lee (admin)

It sounds as though you are on the right track. The quickest way to test for pollutants is to performa pH test on the soil. Head to a local nursery and ask for a kit, they should be able to give you some advice on using it.

Good luck!

Aug 18, 2011
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pollutants?
by: D

almost forgot. Exactly how am I supposed to make sure there are no pollutants in the soil?

Aug 18, 2011
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update
by: D

some good news and some bad and some action.

first the bad, there were ants living in the roots. I only saw them in one part on the very top of the soil near the edge of the pot. I hacked them out.

some action: I gave the tree a little dose of liquid chelated iron diluted in water. Forget the brand, some organic stuff for iron and acid loving plants (had holly on the label btw).

Next, I treated the leaves and the soil with organic neem oil I mixed with organic castille soap and water. That was about a week ago a few days after I did the iron boost. I also "tilled" (if you can call it that given the mm I can dig in this dense mass) Azomite into the soil. I read it wasn't fertilizer and just adds minerals that will break down from the micro organisms in the soil.

It's also been raining a lot recently in NY. thunderstorm bursts to all day torrential.

Now the good news. The leaves are starting to get darker :)

it seems to be creeping up the tree, generally speaking. the second highest pads (or clumps the way they look) are darkening up. There is a little young branch or two growing that is still fairly yellow. I've only seen maybe 2 completely yellow leaves in the last week as opposed to 20 or 30 a day. a few hear and there look like they were leaf mined. overall though, the entire tree is a deeper green, I'd say maybe 30% of the leaves are closest to the deep dark green on the bottom, maybe 80% there. the rest are probably half way in between but it's noticeable.

Anyway, hopefully I'm doing the right thing. As I didn't hear back right away I had to make an executive decision to try and help this tree. I think it can turn out really well though. the bottom of the tree looks like something you'd see in a poem from when you were a kid, and it's kind of curved/windswept in a way. If I can post pictures somehow let me know.

thanks for the advice as well. I haven't done anything else to it, and only water it if it feels nearly bone dry at the surface because of the rain.

one last thing... I assume I should bury this thing in Mulch once the cold hits?

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