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How to Care for your Defoliated Specimen

Updated: Sep 2, 2019

If you took advantage of our Summer Defoliation Sale, you are the proud owner of a very naked kratom tree. This sapling comes to you totally bare, as she has just been through her first complete defoliation. Defoliated specimens have unique needs and care instructions. Read on to learn how to tend to your new addition and what to expect.


New branches and beautiful leaves developing along the stalk of a previously-defoliated kratom sapling. Six weeks before this photo was taken, this specimen was a bare stick. Defoliation triggers alkaloid production and massive regrowth. Later defoliations generally require less bounce-back time than early defoliations.


Why do we defoliate kratom?


Kratom is defoliated semiannually to harvest leaves and trigger new growth. Defoliation signals your tree to produce more alkaloids and new branches. Between six months and a year of age, production trees should be given their first complete defoliation. This means all the leaves are removed except for the very top pair and/or terminal leaf buds. Defoliations are very important to the toughness and productivity of live kratom.



A group of young kratom trees following their first complete defoliation. It can take several weeks to a few months for kratom trees to rebound following a complete defoliation. Some refoliate more quickly than others.


What happens after defoliation?


After a complete defoliation, kratom trees can experience shock and become dormant. It takes time for them to come back out. It's a protective state until everything is ideal for growth. It's the desired state for shipping because it reduces trauma and they don't need as much water, food or light. It also makes acclimation easier, as they are going to produce leaves based on current environment.


It can take several weeks to a few months for kratom to rebound after a complete defoliation. The average seems to be 51 days, but don't worry if it takes longer. During this time, although nothing visible is happening outwardly, inwardly your tree has toggled into Protection Mode. In this mode, your specimen produces protective alkaloids that will be passed on later to new foliage.




When your specimen returns to Grow Mode, the bare stalk will begin to erupt with new branch buds. Watch the new growth for signs you need to modify the environment. If the first leaves to appear on the buds are dry and crumble off, your specimen needs more moisture. You can increase humidity or limit direct sunlight until the new growth comes in green (or another beautiful color) and lush.





The first leaves to re-grow are small. This is normal, especially along the stalk as the leaf buds slowly develop into new secondary branches. Eventually the top of your tree will begin producing pairs of leaves that will get larger, wider and more lush over time, as long as the environment is conducive to their development.



After defoliation, new leaves grow in perfectly suited to the current environment. These leaves were formed in dry hot wind, a far cry from the stagnant humidity of Indonesian swamps.


Post Defoliation Care


Just because your tree starts off with no leaves, don't think she doesn't need care. Defoliated trees need just as much care as ones that are fully greened.


Watch all terminal buds to be sure they do not dry out, and maintain air and soil moisture levels. Dehydrated terminal buds will look hard and shriveled. If the specimen is not adequately rehydrated, the end of the branch can die. In the event this occurs, use a sterile razor to cut below any dead node, and the specimen will begin growing again from that point.


Use cotton or tee shirt material soaked in distilled or pH adjusted water (5.5-6.5) to wrap the tip of the freshly cut branch to keep the area moist. You can also dab honey directly on the cut before wrapping. Honey stops drying and inhibits bacteria. Be sure to keep the dressing moist as the cut heals.



This tree was completely defoliated and has begun the process of regrowing its leaves.


Consider light levels


Unless otherwise indicated, your kratom tree has been in a greenhouse (either indoors or in an open outdoor setup) on 24 hour light (either fully artificial or sunlight supplemented with artificial light). If she is moved to a location that offers her less than 24 hour light, this will increase the amount of time she takes to bounce back into grow mode.





Provide large pots with rich soil and nutrients


Prior to shipping, your specimen has been in a one gallon pot to control her growth and she is going to love graduating to a big pot or deep hole of rich soil. Feeding her nutrients is important. We recommend Botanicare's CNS17 Grow, one cap to the gallon, every other day with a minimum of 1/4 gallon of water-food given to each specimen during her dormant state. When you begin to see leaves, you can increase the amount of food to two or three caps to the gallon, depending on the amount of foliage. If your specimens are not properly fed, eventual leaf yield and growth rate will reflect the deficiency.



The plant on the left was defoliated and left outside in high wind. This wind was strong enough to blow empty trash cans over and it lasted for several days before giving way to lighter wind that kept the leaves constantly moving for several weeks. The plant on the right was defoliated and kept indoors. Both environments were low humidity, because we enjoy pushing the boundaries of the species to see what acclimates best to our North American climate. In both cases, the plants produced leaves perfectly suited to their environment post-defoliation. For the plant on the left, the short thick leaves were tough enough to withstand wind that broke down sunflowers outside... and the plant on the right grew lush new leaves and branches in spite of low humidity. Overall, these are two clear and differing examples of how kratom trees may look when they begin to refoliate. Environment dictates how the leaves develop.


Acclimation


Acclimation is a breeze after a defoliation. Although it takes time for a defoliated specimen to begin refoliating, when she does so all her leaves will grow in perfectly suited to her new environment. We have regrown defoliated specimens in numerous weather conditions including high dry winds. In extreme conditions, the leaves will take on an appearance that best tolerates these extremes. In high dry winds, the leaves are very thick and small. For lush and traditionally beautiful leaves, warmth and humidity with a gentle breeze is ideal.





It's a waiting game


The most important instruction with your defoliated specimen is to be patient and kind. It's a waiting game. It may take her two to three months to start looking leafy and happy. Remember the first defoliation is the hardest, and nurture her while this strengthens her and pushes her to be bigger and better than before. Give her lots of love and support her as she takes her time coming around. With the proper care and accommodation, she will come to astonish you with her beauty.



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