Two months ago, Felix Laughlin, President of the National Bonsai Foundation, requested tips for how to fill a tea bag with fertilizer quickly. The process does seem to take a while, but I’ve found I can fill about 9 bags per minute with the following approach.
The most important thing is setting up everything within easy reach – tea bags (flap side up), fertilizer and scoop. From there there’s not too much to it.
The basic setup – the fertilizer here is E.B. Stone’s Starter Food, 4-6-2
I start by picking up a bag by the flap.
Picking up the bag
Gently folding the bag opens it.
Next the fertilizer goes in.
Filling the bag about 2/3 – 3/4 full
Under filling the bag can work when only a little is needed; over-filling the bag makes it difficult to close the flap.
Tea bag filled with fertilizer
I close the bag by tucking my thumbs into the flap.
Starting with the thumbs
Next I pinch the top of the flap with my index fingers.
Pinching the flap
From there I can quickly close the bag.
Bag ready for use
I usually keep a second container nearby so I don’t have to move around much between bags.
One down, many to go.
Here’s the process in real-life action.
Hope this helps!
I’ve been experimenting with fertilizers lately. For years, my primary fertilizers have been cottonseed meal and fish emulsion. Both are easy to find and easy to use.
I’ve been happy with the results too, but have been curious about newer products that have components beyond the standard NPK. Today it’s easy to find fertilizers with humic acid, mycorrhizae and a good variety of micronutrients. After talking with Ryan Neil about Mirai’s approach to feeding – Ryan has observed good results from such fertilizers – I decided to give several a try.
E.B. Stone Natural & Organic Starter Food
Dr. Earth Life pellets
Happy Frog Japanese maple fertilizer
I’m using the fertilizers in tea bags and directly on the soil. Some trees get only one of the above, others get some of each.
Chinese quince with cottonseed meal, Dr. Earth Life, and E.B. Stone Starter
3-1/2 year-old black pines with Happy Frog Japanese Maple Fertilizer
2-1/2 year-old black pines with E.B. Stone Starter
2-1/2 year-old red pines with Dr. Earth Life pellets
1-1/2 year-old black pines with Dr. Earth Life pellets
Shimpaku cuttings with a mix of fertlizers
Several different fertilizers together
I don’t expect to see big differences in growth or health with the different fertilizers, but I am curious to see if any trends develop.
A few things I noticed right away. The E.B. Stone Starter works its way into the soil well, but it can inhibit drainage as the fine particles can form a crust on the surface of the soil – as a result, I like using it in tea bags. Water drains through Dr. Earth Life pellets applied directly to the soil better than it does through the E.B. Stone or the Happy Frog Japanese Maple fertilizers. Cottonseed meal works great on the surface of the soil or in tea bags.
I’ll continue to experiment with more of my trees throughout the year and will be sure to share if I notice any general trends.
What’s wrong with this picture?
Cork bark black pine
The tree is growing, but there is no sign of fertilizer.
With tea bags filled with cottonseed meal
That’s better. The sooner I can start fertilizing, the stronger I can make the tree by decandling time.
I enjoy seeing the male flowers on pine, despite the mess. Here is the tree from the back and sides.
I usually start with 1-2 units of fertilizer for small sized trees and 3-4 units for larger trees. I treat young and middle-aged trees the same.
11 year-old black pine
21 year-old black pine
While it’s more common to hold off on fertilizing deciduous varieties to avoid long internodes and large leaves, I make some exceptions.
My plum is the first tree to show signs of growth each year, and if I don’t start feeding quickly, the leaves turn yellow.
Why mention fertilizer so early in the season? Because the sooner fertilizing begins, the more vigor can be produced in a given year. While this can be important for all varieties, it’s especially important for pines that are to be decandled as there’s only so much time between repotting and decandling.
I usually wait three weeks after repotting to begin fertilizing. My standard fertilizers are fish emulsion and cottonseed meal, but this year I’m planning to use a greater variety of fertilizers to ensure the trees get a broader variety of nutrients.
Is it time to start fertilizing in your garden?
A few weeks ago I was struck by yellow foliage on a number of my young pines. After thinking about it for a moment, I came to the conclusion that I hadn’t been fertilizing enough. Black pines in development require a lot of fertilizer. If they don’t receive enough food they can quickly turn yellow. Fortunately the solution is simple – feed more! I began feeding my trees more frequently – about twice a week with fish emulsion – and applied chelated iron to help the trees green up. As you can see below, some of the trees greened up more quickly than others.
The tree on the left is still a bit yellow – both trees receive full sun
Feeding this time of year is important for all varieties as it’s the last chance trees get to increase their strength before winter. This is especially important for trees that we may not feed as heavily in the spring like white pines or deciduous varieties.
Depending on the weather, some varieties will continue to grow into December where I live. Others are already slowing down. I’ll continue to feed the trees that are active and slow the feeding schedule as the weather cools.