Help me not quash my Bonsai's second life
June 29, 2009 2:20 PM   Subscribe

My Bougainvillea Bonsai dropped all its leaves after I bought it due to the climate change (I think). Since then it has regrown lots of new leaves and shoots, but most of the original branches are leafless. Are they dead? Should I trim them? Help this Bonsai noob!

A recent mefi post details some problems I had a couple months ago with a new Bougainvillea bonsai. Briefly: I bought it, and it promptly dropped all its leaves. I chalked it up to the change in climate and kept watering it and such, and it eventually grew new shoots. One of the new shoots in particular is decidedly un-bonsai-like, having huge leaves and sticking straight out at a funny angle - it's quite long as well. The other leaves grew on new shooter shoots and mostly around the bottoms of the original branches. The region from middle to end of nearly all of the original branches is still leafless. It has been nearly two months since the leaves started growing out again and there is no sign of new growth on these bare branches. However, if I snip off the "nubs" of the old leaves, the branches still seem green all the way through. So, two questions:

1) What should I do about these bare branches? Should I wait much longer to see if they get new growth? How long might that take and when should I think about trimming them?

2) What can I do about this mutant branch? It's so long and leaf-full that I'd like to "train" it to a better shape, although I know nearly zero about how to do that. Any good tutorials online?
posted by RobotNinja to Home & Garden (2 answers total)
I'm new to bonsai myself, but I think the best way to tell if the branches are still alive is to scratch away a bit of the bark and see if it is green underneath. I know this is true of ficus bonsai and think it applies to plants in general. I would trim back any branches that aren't green. As for the second part of your question, I would be patient and not cut back the new growth until the tree has stabilized.
posted by msharp at 2:55 PM on June 29, 2009

Basic species info here. Before you try to fix anything, get the thing in bright sun and don't make a habit of drowning it. I would also avoid feeding it when it's weakened. This may necessitate weeks or even a couple of months of nail-biting on your part, but you can expect to kill some trees if you're going to have this hobby.

Get the plant healthy. Check drainage, avoid drafts. Wait. Bonsai is 4-D sculpture, after a fashion; don't forget that time is just as essential as air, water & light.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 3:23 PM on June 29, 2009

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