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"And the LORD God made ... trees that were pleasing to the eye ..." Gen. 2:9, New International Version.

"Bonsai isn't just something I do; it's part of what I am." Remark to my wife and daughter.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Dog Dishes As Training Pots

(With apologies to Snoopy.)

     I'm like most bonsaiists who work with a limited budget, I think: I'm always on the lookout for new ideas for inexpensive training pots. A year or so ago I found another kind of container that fills the bill quite nicely: rigid plastic dog dishes.

The dishes I found at a major chain discount store are round, 9 inches (almost 23 cm) in internal diameter and just over 3 inches (7-1/2 cm) deep; a perfect size for many small-to-medium bonsai-in-training. I got them for around $10 apiece, and they'll last thru years of repeated use.

The dark material in the center is glue from the label; I couldn't get all of it off.

The plastic is not as rigid as metal, but it is rigid enough to not flex with ordinary handling. For any who don't know, that's important because if the walls of a container flex very much, the soil inside flexes and shifts. When the soil flexes, the roots are flexed as well. And - here's the reason it matters - roots, unlike branches, aren't made to take much bending. Finer, not-yet-lignified roots in particular - including the all-important feeder roots - break easily with any motion of the soil.

(I used to use flexible plastic containers, such as dishpans and oil drain pans, as growing and training containers because they're inexpensive. At a workshop with Kathy Shaner in 2006, I realized that a training container with flexible walls and bottom is not a good idea, and why it's not. No more plastic dishpans!)

A homeowner's cordless drill works fine for creating the holes. I used a 3/32-inch bit for the small holes, and a 1-inch wood bit for the drain holes.

(Yes, I need to clean the rust off the bit. It still did its job.)

Three 1-inch drainage holes should be fine.
The small holes in clusters of three, running around the circumference of the pot roughly an inch below the rim, are there to encourage air-pruning. Any small root that grows into one of those holes will emerge into the open air, and its tip will dry out and die. The rootlet will respond in two ways: it will seal off the dead tip, which will keep out pathogens; and it will branch further back along its length, within the soil. The more that happens, the more of a compact root system the tree will have.

Its marks don't show in the picture, but I also used a rotating wire brush to rough up the inner surface of the walls. A rougher surface will both give the roots something more to grip, and encourage them to branch a little more.

Inexpensive stick-on plastic "bumpers" do a very adequate job as feet, to keep too much water from collecting under the pot. They cost under $3 at a local DIY store.

You can also see the holes for tie-in wires, which don't show up well in the previous picture.

I leave you with a picture of this training container with its new (as of yesterday) occupant: a shohin-sized yew bonsai-in-training!

Taxus x media 'Densiformis'. After two years in this container, it should ready for a permanent pot.

:-)  :-)  :-)

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