Garden Detective

Garden Detective: Can a bonsai grow in the ground?

Craig Shaw of Fair Oaks wants to return this shrub to its original bonsai-like shape. Just don’t call it a “bonsai.”
Craig Shaw of Fair Oaks wants to return this shrub to its original bonsai-like shape. Just don’t call it a “bonsai.”

Q: I have included a picture of what I think is a 10-year-old coastal pine. It is 3 feet tall and 5 feet wide. It was a bonsai when I received it with five rounded balls, each the size of a softball. If you look close, you can see where these balls were. Do you know of anyone who would like to practice on my plant, returning the bonsai balls, or maybe something else?

Craig Shaw, Fair Oaks

A: For the answer to this puzzle, we turned to an expert: Ronn Pigram of Satsuki Aikokai Sacramento, one of four bonsai clubs in Sacramento.

First, it appears the plant is a blue juniper, not a coastal pine, Pigram noted. And if it was a bonsai before, it definitely is not one now.

“Since it is planted in the ground, it cannot actually be a bonsai, as bonsai is Japanese for ‘potted tree,’” Pigram explained. “The shaping you describe of being cut into five ‘balls’ is just that – shaping.

“(The juniper) can be shaped into a natural form, or sheared to be like a hedge, or returned to the five balls,” he added. “For a bonsai club, or a member of a bonsai club, to take on restoring or reshaping your plant, it would need to be in a pot, and if you do not have experience with taking a plant out of the ground (and transferring it) to a pot, it could very easily die.

“So, now the good news: All you need is an idea of how you want this plant shaped, and a gardener who has the skills to shape it that way,” Pigram said. “I suggest you visit the Web page for the Golden State Bonsai Federation, look at the junipers there, and decide on a shape for your plant. And then perhaps the best gardener is the one who owns it now. Are you willing to take on that task?”

The federation’s website includes several photos of junipers – all in pots – that have been shaped and contoured. Find it at www.gsbf-bonsai.org/.

Garden questions?

Questions are answered by master gardeners at the UC Cooperative Extension services in Sacramento and Placer counties. Send questions to Garden Detective, P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852. Send email to h&g@sacbee.com. Please put “Garden Detective” in the subject field and include your postal address. To contact UC Extension directly, call:

Sacramento: (916) 875-6913; 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. Monday-Thursday

Amador: (209) 223-6838; 10 a.m.-noon Monday-Thursday; email ceamador.ucdavis.edu

Butte: (530) 538-7201; 8 a.m.-noon and 1-5 p.m. weekdays

Colusa: (530) 458-0570; 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. Tuesdays; website: cecolusa.ucanr.edu

El Dorado: (530) 621-5512; 9 a.m.-noon Tuesday-Friday

Placer: (530) 889-7388; 9 a.m.-noon Tuesday-Thursday or leave a message and calls will be returned; website: pcmg.ucanr.org/got_questions

Nevada: (530) 273-0919; 9 a.m.-noon Tuesday-Thursday or leave a message

Shasta, Tehama, Trinity: (530) 225-4605

Solano: (707) 784-1322; leave a message and calls will be returned

Sutter, Yuba: (530) 822-7515; 9 a.m.-noon Monday-Tuesday and 1-4 p.m. Thursdays

Yolo: (530) 666-8737; 9-11 a.m. Tuesdays and Fridays, or leave a message and calls will be returned

  Comments