Arbutus: The indoor arbutus

Discussion in 'Ericaceae (rhododendrons, arbutus, etc.)' started by Urban Legend, Jul 20, 2008.

  1. Urban Legend

    Urban Legend Member

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    I thought I'd start posting my findings on this enigmatic tree. First of all some photos to bolster my credibility as I am sure what I will be saying will fly in the face of conventional wisdom ( I call it 'urban legends'). The first picture shows a ten foot specimen transplanted 2 years ago. In the second one you can see the amount of root disturbance this plant has gone through to effect a bonsai cultivatable stock where the growths can be manipulated into twist and turns just by orientating the tree about its flexible roots. The third picture and subsequent close up show a sample grown in a bottle. The next one shows the plants in my mini-nursery where the two year olds are projected to put on four feet of growths. The last pictures show the flowers on the ten foot tree. The five months indoors without sun probably delayed the blooming and caused the lost of a lot of the buds.
    While not a textbook way of laying down some of my findings, I will jump in with a time appropriate discussion --- summer irrigation. This tree will not survive in the urban environment without human intervention to provide water. Remember in the wild, especially in the mountain rocks there are natural aquifers. There are no such things where we live after we've put up tar and cement, roofs and downpipes and the almighty storm drains. The arbutus tree uses water more wantonly then the proverbial water thirsty rose, so if you have just transplanted one into the ground, water, water and more water! Why do people say don't water? Probably because of thr 'Dead man walking' syndrome exhibited by this plant to be discussed at a later date. Supprisingly, this syndrome is caused mostly by dehydration.
     
  2. Urban Legend

    Urban Legend Member

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    Ataching the photos missed in the last post.
     

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    Last edited: Jul 20, 2008
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  3. Urban Legend

    Urban Legend Member

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    To start the forum on the indoor treatment of the arbutus Menziesii, here is a photo of a specimen. Curently it stands 30 inches from the bottom of the pot which is 8 inches deep. Photosynthesis is suprisingly efficient with this specie despite literature to the contrary; literature at best is speculative, the data here is field or rather 'home' tested. With this kind of efficiency, a rather small unintrusive led light supplement will allow placement of the bonsai away from windows. In fact light rationing is the way to dwarf the growth of the plant- whereas my nursery potted seedling are putting on four feet of growths this season, a 18 year old plant on my Bowen Is lot is a viable two feet model just because of restrictive growing conditions. An unique characteristic of the tree is the permanence of every crook and bend fashioned into the trunk or branch after the growth is more than a month old. Another is the prominent knobbly caps formed over pruned branches, again growing bigger, not growing out, as time goes on. To sum it up, take a look at a seductively shaped denizen in the wild that poets and photographers rave about, shrink it to a two to three foot size and you've got an indoor abutus bonsai!.
     

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  4. Urban Legend

    Urban Legend Member

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    These trees are universally portraited as being notoriously difficult to grow. It is the body of media surrounding this genus, for the lack of the real McCoy, that is the main contributor to this difficulty. It is insane to deprive the plant of water in summer when foilage growth take place this time of the year. It is insane to transplant them onto rock outcrops or gravelly or sandy ground. These places become bone dry in a matter of hours. Yet a newcomer to this specie will inevitably be steered towards this direction by published data on the net. There are reasons why you find a lot of specimens growing in such an environment --- these are the sole survivors of the tens of thousands of seeds that han been propagated by birds after major construction or forest fires. We cannot accept this kind of odds. Sprouts do have an even worse odds of survival when seeds are deposited in lush areas. They almost always seccumb to damp off pathogen and to a small degree to herbivores. These huddles we can mitigate. The battlecry we should adopt is 'moisture in the ground' but 'no moisture in the air'. Given these parameters the urban environment is better
    than 99% of land in the wild. Now if we could only get rid of those pesky storm sewers! Oh well, we can live with them and do without the 100 feet arbutus tree on our front lawn; a stout ten footer that we have to water in summer will do. Or for that matter, go indoors.
    If there is one notoriety you can attribute to this tree, it is its refusal to readily and timely accept change, good or bad, to its underground environment. It takes a seed up to three months to put out its first root and just as long for the roots to respond to say receiving water after being drought stressed. When the change is really bad as when the drought finally kills of thr active roots, the tree goes dormant to conserve moisture and unless ideal conditions s restored and for a long time, the condemned tree will live up to another six to twelve months with moisture still being absorbed through membranes of the woody root mass. As the rot of the roots progress up, it reaches the basal crown. Whereas the moisture flow continues with a compromised root system, it stops as soon as the stem is infected and the tree shrivels up and 'dies.' This is what I call the 'dead man walking' syndrome. Anyone looking at the tree at this stage of apparent death sees the rot at the base, tests for molds and fungus and deduces that the plant seccumbed to a fungus attack!. And it could all have been avoided if the plant had been watered when it need it.
    I am attaching another specimen being prepared for a bonsai, this one a growing burl.
     
  5. Urban Legend

    Urban Legend Member

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    Trying the attachment again
     

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  6. Urban Legend

    Urban Legend Member

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    Posted in this entry are photos of the active roots of the arbutus menziesii. These are extremely delicate and can be lifted like this only if the soil medium even while damp, is as loose and light as ground pepper, floated by agitation so no force is encounted as the roots make their way out of the medium. Made of thin soft membrane filled with water saturated cells, sturgid such that any significant bend of the roots will cause cell rupture. The combination of outright breakage during plant extraction and the subsequent collapse at the bends during reinterment of the plant makes transplant a dicy proportion. Planted with the rootball, even with a lot of disturbance; for instance, loping off the trailing roots in the photo, will still make for a viable transplant as enough active root tips are preserved in the rootball. Pathogen entry via the cuts presents no contribution to plant deterioration as compartmentation of the damage is very efficient. The only danger after transplant is maintaining the balance of water intake at the roots to the loss at the top, and may need pruning to achieve this. The final word is don't go cutting off roots or pull specimen out of the ground. Even with a nusery potted plant the balance of water movement after transplant into the ground is paramount. 95% of transplant failures occurs because the dry earth surrounding the rootball sucks every drop of moisture out of the root surround and kills the plant within a couple of days. Once collapsed, the root almost never regenerate, even though the plant tries by going dormant and absorbing enough water through the inactive root membranes to look alive for several months.
     

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  7. Douglas Justice

    Douglas Justice Active Member UBC Botanical Garden Forums Administrator Forums Moderator VCBF Cherry Scout Maple Society 10 Years

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    Wow, you've been busy. While I don't disagree with much of what you say, I feel it's important to point out a few things. First, you obviously have a gentle touch and much intuition when it comes to handling these plants. This would account for much of your success. It's unfortunate that others don't observe these phenomena as closely. Clearly, some people are "tuned-in" to plant responses and processes, while others blunder through, killing all but the most adaptable and forgiving of plants.

    Watering is obviously one of the most critical issues in raising Arbutus menziesii in containers. A common mistake that many people make is to pour water onto a containerized plant as though all excess water will exit the container via the holes in the bottom of the pot. Any container filled with soil (or artificial media) will have a saturated zone at its bottom after water is applied. This zone shrinks as water is withdrawn, either by evaporation or transpiration. People who are careful about watering, know (intuitively or otherwise) that a continuous supply of water (e.g., drip, drip, drip) will maintain a saturated zone. Many plants will grow under these conditions, maintaining a root mass above the saturated zone, but others, particularly those that require plenty of oxygen at the roots, will not tolerate these conditions. Knowledgeable gardeners water sparingly so that the saturated zone is kept to a minimum.

    Planted in the the ground in areas of high winter rainfall, water-sensitive plants will quickly succumb to oxygen starvation and water-borne root diseases, unless the soil-water drains away quickly. Hence, arbutus require exceptional drainage in the Vancouver area, where soils are mostly compacted, thin and subject to subsurface flooding in the winter. In warmer climates, and in deeper soils, soil-water tends to move more rapidly, either because of gravity, capillarity or evaporation (or transpiration when plants are growing).

    Established arbutus trees are capable of entering prolonged summer dormancy when water is unavailable. Dormancy is the wrong term--near-dormant is probably a more accurate one, as roots are undoubtedly in contact with some small amount of moisture and transpiration is taking place (otherwise, leaves would heat up excessively and die). However, the plants probably don't require much moisture, unless they are in active growth. In containers, plants can be manipulated to continue growing, and when they are in growth, their water requirements are greater.

    Final note: "specie" is a numismatic term meaning coin money. "Species" is both singular and plural.

    Keep up the good work.
     
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  8. JaredJEstes22

    JaredJEstes22 New Member

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    This is a wonderful thread and i thank you so much for the information! I have a 2-3 year old Arbutus menziesii that i am going to attempt to grow indoors for as long as possible. Your information is vital to the propagation methods of arbutus as well as just plain general information regarding the Arbutus which is lacking. - Jared J. Estes
     
  9. Delvi83

    Delvi83 Member

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    Arbutus unedo is easier and gives satisfaction....
     
  10. dshort

    dshort New Member

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    Thanks for the info, this is great work! Could you give us an update? I can't tell from the original post whether you've been growing Madrone indoors previously or if the first specimens were brought inside in 2008. Are they still thriving inside? If so, have you fertilized Arbutus like other Bonsai?
     

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