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Old 07-30-2019, 04:30 PM
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Default Premna Pre-Bonsai in 36 gallon Bowfront

Hi All,

I am presently the proud owner of (2) 10 gallon Vivariums. One has been going for close to (2) months now and all the plants and mosses are starting to get rooted and established well. The second was just assembled this weekend.

I have (3) different Begonias between the two tanks, I have (2-3) species of ground covers and some plant I bought because he only had one and it's supposed to be slow growing (I bought it because it was the most expensive plant on his table and he only had one, judge me... lol)

I also have Pillow Moss, Sheet Moss, and Java Moss in both tanks.


I am going to be combining both tanks into a single 36 gallon bow front aquarium in about 6 to 8 months. I'm picking up a nearly brand new tank and stand complete with the glass lid (it's an Aqueon tank and the dude didn't like the plastic so he bought a glass one). To start I'm going to grab a 30" Finnex LED strip as I like the 20" ones currently on my 10s, but I don't think this will have enough light for this tank so I've contacted Steve at Steve's LEDs about having a custom light made for this tank.

What I REALLY want to do with this tank is to plant a small tree in it and keep it dwarfed. Not a true bonsai, but a pseudo bonsai. I've done some research and it appears that Premna is one of the few trees that meets my needs and I can order one that is appropriately sized out of Ohio and have it shipped to me.

I've looked around the forum and searched, and I find a few threads that people discuss this, but no one appears to have ever followed through. It's also been a lot of discussion about using Ficus, but it would be too quickly growing.

I understand that the tree will eat a lot of the available light, and I'll probably have a spot where not much grows undernearth it. I'm good with this as I'll just have a nice spot for leaf litter.

I planned on planting the Begonias on the sides anyway with the ground cover being dispersed around the tank to root in multiple places instead of just the one potted section for each I have now.

IF this is totally stupid tell me and I'll get off of it too, but this seems like it would be an amazing thing to do to facilitate living vertical space.
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Old 07-30-2019, 06:37 PM
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Default Re: Premna Pre-Bonsai in 36 gallon Bowfront

Greetings,

When it comes to bonsai, people want a small tree that looks properly proportioned. That means a small tree with small branches and small leaves. Small leaves are a challenge to create since leaf surface area is the exact thing that most trees try to maximize - especially trees that lose their leaves in winter.

There are two ways to get properly-tiny leaves in a bonsai tree: Select a tree (like a juniper) that already has tiny leaves OR treat a larger-leafed tree harshly enough that it only produces tiny leaves. Ironically, this harsh treatment comes disguised in the aesthetics of bonsai: small/shallow pots, exposed roots and, often, scraggly branches with small tufts of foliage.

The result of a limited root run in those shallow pots and the regular pruning of fresh growth along with a watering frequency that isn't too generous and outdoor growing conditions where plants must contend with lower humidity and the drying effects of wind forces trees that would normally make larger leaves to produce tiny leaves instead. You really do have to force it: Extra fertilizer, too much water or an oversized new pot will cause a bonsai tree to start producing out-sized (really just normal-sized) new growth.

Growing a typical, tree bonsai in a viv is going to be a problem because you won't be able to control root run and humidity and soil moisture will be consistently high. In addition, lighting in most vivs is not intense enough for most small-foliaged trees.

Based on all this, I would say it will be very difficult to get a traditional bonsai to work in your conditions. You would be better off trying to grow some non-tree species as pseudo-bonsai. You can sometimes find coffee bushes that have been prunes back to stumps sold as houseplants. You can find Ficus microcarpa trained to have very thick trunks and exposed roots also sold as houseplants. Both of these could give you the right trunk proportions but you won't get tiny foliage. Likewise there are some tuberous begonias and some Peperomias that can be tree-ish. All of these will require regular pruning to keep in-check as well.

Last edited by kimcmich; 07-30-2019 at 06:39 PM.
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Old 07-30-2019, 06:51 PM
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Default Re: Premna Pre-Bonsai in 36 gallon Bowfront

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Originally Posted by kimcmich View Post
Growing a typical, tree bonsai in a viv is going to be a problem because you won't be able to control root run and humidity and soil moisture will be consistently high. In addition, lighting in most vivs is not intense enough for most small-foliaged trees.
I can certainly echo the difficulty of keeping bonsai-associated trees healthy in a viv. I have an "ex-bonsai" Ficus retusa, a tree I bought as a partially-grown bonsai with the intention of having it grow wild in a tall terrarium.

Although I probably have high enough light and the roots spreading out everywhere is desirable in my case, I have great difficult meeting the water needs of ordinary viv plants while at the same time keeping the substrate not too moist for the tree. Consequently (I think), quite a lot of leaves yellow and drop off the stems.
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Old 07-30-2019, 07:47 PM
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I have some Jacaratia corumbensis seedlings that would probably work. Although they’re caudiciform like, I have them in a tropical greenhouse room under misters. They’re fine with that. I suspect they’re deciduous nature would not be an issue in a static environment like a terrarium.

Here’s a root over rock I did with one this spring.
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Old 07-31-2019, 05:15 PM
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Default Re: Premna Pre-Bonsai in 36 gallon Bowfront

Hi All,

I don't know that this is the direction I intended my questioning to go. From what I understand, the Premna species used in the Bonsai art form are natually small of leaves, slow growing, and a tropical wet species. Their roots should handle the humidity with out rot.

I think I'm getting a lot of generic Bonsai questions and nothing specifically about this species. IT is good information though. I may take the gamble and try it out myself, worst case I have to pull it and treat it like a tree.

Thanks again though for the thoughts. They are appreciated even if not exactly what I sought.

Best,

Paul
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Old 07-31-2019, 06:09 PM
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Default Re: Premna Pre-Bonsai in 36 gallon Bowfront

If I can try to paraphrase / not mangle what Kimcmich said, it's this:

"the inherent tension in this aspiration, is that a viv is like plant paradise, whereas to achieve the bonsai effect, you need to impose hell"

That said, Premna (of which I am woefully ignorant) looks like a great subject to torture.

I'm thinking the main things you'll need to manage are 1) rooting volume (minimize it), 2) light intensity (maximize it), and 3) water and nutrients (minimize them AMAP while not forcing a ton of leaf drop).

I'm thinking that, as with typical bonsai, you want "perfect drainage". Maybe grow on Turface or expanded shale, for example. And don't have a false bottom with a lot of dead pool - if you can drill the bottom, do so. Or, drill as low down on the back or side as possible. Or, just hand-water, and don't drain the tank at all (because it won't need it, because you're putting in no more water than required for turgor + minimal growth).

I assume this is a plants-only viv?

Good luck!
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Old 08-01-2019, 03:16 AM
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Default Re: Premna Pre-Bonsai in 36 gallon Bowfront

Pbenner,

I promise I was responding to your question with the plant you mentioned in mind (and jgragg did a fine job of summarizing).

Premna microphylla, despite its name, does not produce tiny leaves without a bit of harsh treatment. When happy it will produce leaves 2 inches long (or longer). You achieve small leaves in Premna, as with all broad-leafed bonsai, by minimizing roots, heavy foliage pruning, and controlled moisture. In a viv, you'll be hard-pressed to control root run and moisture (if you want to keep other viv inhabitants that like moisture and humidity). You can still prune aggressively - but I don't know if that, by itself, will result in small leaves.

To achieve the small, dense leaves you see in the "show quality" Premna bosnai on the web, you also want short distances between small leaves. Internode distance is greatly effected by light intensity (and moisture). Unless you have unusually bright light for a viv, your Premna will tend to stretch its growth to get the leaves closer to the light.

I think you'll be able to keep a Premna alive in a viv - but I don't think it will be easy to maintain a bonsaid Premna in a viv.
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Old 08-01-2019, 07:28 PM
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Default Re: Premna Pre-Bonsai in 36 gallon Bowfront

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Originally Posted by kimcmich View Post
Pbenner,

I promise I was responding to your question with the plant you mentioned in mind (and jgragg did a fine job of summarizing).

Premna microphylla, despite its name, does not produce tiny leaves without a bit of harsh treatment. When happy it will produce leaves 2 inches long (or longer). You achieve small leaves in Premna, as with all broad-leafed bonsai, by minimizing roots, heavy foliage pruning, and controlled moisture. In a viv, you'll be hard-pressed to control root run and moisture (if you want to keep other viv inhabitants that like moisture and humidity). You can still prune aggressively - but I don't know if that, by itself, will result in small leaves.

To achieve the small, dense leaves you see in the "show quality" Premna bosnai on the web, you also want short distances between small leaves. Internode distance is greatly effected by light intensity (and moisture). Unless you have unusually bright light for a viv, your Premna will tend to stretch its growth to get the leaves closer to the light.

I think you'll be able to keep a Premna alive in a viv - but I don't think it will be easy to maintain a bonsaid Premna in a viv.
Ah, forgive. I did not see the final reference. Let me step back and say this:

I would not even begin to butcher the art form called Bonsai by calling my clumsy attempt at stunting a tree in a vivarium by that name.

As such, I an okay with the proportions being wrong, the leaves not becoming small, as long as I can keep said tree alive, and stunted, in this vivarium.

I would eventually like to have a pair of dart frogs in this tank, and I have seen more than one display recently that housed both Micro Geckos and PDFs in the same tank and fell in love. The idea behind the stunted tree comes from there. This would be the perfect place for the Geckos to spend most of their time as I understand it.

In regards to light, my intention right now is to purchase a 30" chinese LED strip with a 24 hours cycle and then to purchase (2-3) high powered 24" lights from Steve's LEDs to provide a "mid day" light for the tank. Run them as a pair from 10am to 4pm and 12pm to 6pm or as a trio from 10 to 4, 11 to 5, and 12 to 6 depending on how much total light I'm going to need.

I could see myself trying to start a small amount of Spanish Moss in this Vivarium as well if the tree takes hold.

Again, I thank you all for tolerating me. I can be a dumb sometimes.

Best,

Paul
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Old 08-01-2019, 07:45 PM
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The bowfront are ~50cm? Seems doable but if there’s a taller option would you?

Not sure the Spanish moss would survive. It might, but it’s not a fan of being wet long term.
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