Podocarpus bonsai

By Ruth Morgan

If you’re looking for a bonsai tree with oriental mystique then consider a Podocarpus bonsai. The common name for Podocarpus macrophyllus is Chinese yew. This is because it originates from China and Japan and its rich dark green foliage is similar to that of yew.

Chinese yew is an evergreen conifer which is slow growing with leaves up to 6cm in length. Various dwarf cultivators have been developed which have smaller leaves.

The natural growth habitat of Podocarpus is perfectly suited to bonsai. Secondary branches grow horizontally from the main vertical branches and the dense foliage forms dense pads.

Chinese yew can be grown indoors and outdoors. It thrives in sunshine but be careful to avoid too much loss of moisture. This can be achieved by giving some shade protection to the soil. When kept indoors protect from exposure to the midday sun through the glass.

Ensure that Podocarpus is kept well watered during the growing season and it’s a good idea to spray the foliage. However, be careful not to overwater.

Feed regularly during the growing season with a balanced feed. Continue feeding during the winter if the tree is kept indoors as it will still be growing. Podocarpus should be protected from temperatures lower than 5oC.

Pruning should be carried out during the growing season. New shoots can be cut back to 5 or 6 new leaves using sharp scissors. It is best to wire and shape the young wood as the older wood is much more difficult to bend.

The roots of Chinese yew are very sensitive and so need to be handled with care. When repotting, the roots should be untangled carefully to avoid damaging them.

As a general rule of thumb only prune about 10% of the root mass. Once repotted reduce the amount of watering for some weeks to encourage root growth.

If you’d like to see the development of a Podocarpus bonsai from nursery stock then take a look at Paul Pikel’s website. His photos show what can be achieved in 4 years.

Bonsai Gallery

By Ruth Morgan

It’s fascinating to watch the reaction of people who see a bonsai gallery for the first time. Parents explain to their children that the bonsai trees really are alive and that they are not fake trees.

Cameras are very much in evidence as people try and capture the magic of bonsai trees. There is much discussion about how you grow a bonsai tree and how it can survive in such a small pot.

For many bonsai enthusiasts their interest was first kindled at an exhibition or horticultural show when they saw bonsai trees for the first time.

Last weekend I saw lots of these reactions at the UK’s Royal Horticultural Society’s Spring Show. The weather was fantastic over the 3 days of the show and 24,000 people went through the gates.

Chinese elm bonsai tree

Many of them found their way to the 2 bonsai gallery areas. One was organised by the Federation of British Bonsai Societies and displayed trees by several bonsai artists.

One of the trees on display was this magnificent Chinese elm (Ulmus parvifolia). It is shaped in the broom style.

The second gallery was by John Trott of Mendip Bonsai Studio. His display won a Gold Medal and included some wonderful specimens.

Acer palmatum Deshojo

My favourite was this Japanese maple (Acer palmatum Deshojo) with its magnificent spring display of colour. This informal upright tree is about 55 years old.

Amongst the other bonsai trees were a 25 year old dwarf Japanese quince, a 45 year old cork-bark Chinese elm and a 90 year old English yew.

John has been growing bonsai trees for 30 years and has won numerous awards and medals. His website contains details about the workshops and courses he runs at his studio in south west England. The courses cover all levels – from beginner to advanced techniques.

One can only wonder whether some of the many people who bought bonsai trees at his stand will go on to become lifelong bonsai enthusiasts.

Bonsai Seedlings

By Ruth Morgan

It takes many years to grow a bonsai tree from seed but it is an immensely satisfying experience. To be able to nurture tiny bonsai seedlings to grow into mature bonsai trees is a real achievement. But it does require a lot of patience!

A few weeks ago I was at my local bonsai club meeting which was a repotting workshop. During the course of the evening one of the members mentioned that he had some maple seeds to give away.

Maple seeds

So I took him up on the offer and brought some home with me. He said he had used his own method to ensure that they were ready for germination and would not be sharing the secret!

Here is a photo of some of the seeds.

So the next day I placed them on a layer of compost in a seed tray and covered them with some more compost but didn’t press down. I then watered them and left the tray inside the garage by a window so that they would get light but not the unwanted attention of possible predators!

During the next couple of weeks I brought them outside at regular intervals during the day and kept the compost moist.

Bonsai seedlings

After 4 weeks this was the result – the good news is that most of the seeds have germinated and the bonsai seedlings are developing.

I will keep you posted on developments but this is my plan for the next few weeks.

When the first true leaves appear I will gently take the seedlings out of the tray one by one, being careful not to damage them. I will then investigate the root system. If there are sufficient side roots I’ll cut the tap root and plant the seedlings in growing pots. These will be placed in a sheltered area to encourage more growth.

Since the surface roots (or nebari) are very important in bonsai I’ll ensure that the side roots are spread out all around the stem. In years to come these will then be an important feature of the bonsai trees. So thinking ahead is very important even at this very early stage of development!

Bonsai Technique

By Ruth Morgan

If you want to grow your own bonsai tree you will need to learn about bonsai technique. To create a miniature ‘tree in a pot’ here are some of the bonsai techniques that will be required.

Wiring a bonsai tree

The bonsai tree will need to be shaped and that is usually achieved by a combination of wiring and pruning.

Wiring allows trunks and branches to be bent so that their position can be changed. Branches are often bent downwards to give an impression of age. Once the branches are set the wire is removed.

There are two types of wire that are suitable for bonsai – annealed copper and anodised aluminium. The copper wire is harder and more powerful than aluminium wire. Beginners are advised to start with aluminium as it is easier to work with.

The wire should be applied at an angle of 45o so that it is spaced evenly along the branch and it should be anchored e.g. on the trunk or by wiring two branches together.

The length of time required for branches to set will vary, with conifers requiring longer than deciduous trees. Once wired the tree should be checked regularly to prevent the wire cutting into the bark and damaging it.

Pruning is also an important bonsai technique and can be used to create the initial shape of the bonsai tree. Sharp tools are essential for this and the wounds should be sealed to help the healing process.

Pruning will cause the trunk to thicken which is important to create the effect of age.

Having established the initial shape, the bonsai tree will require regular pruning to maintain its form.

During the growing season new shoots will grow out from the buds. These shoots will require pruning. As a general rule, prune back to 1 or 2 pairs of new leaves when 6 or 8 new leaves have been formed.

With evergreens use your fingers to hold the foliage and then pinch out the new growth. If you use scissors the tips will turn brown.

Bonsai Basics

By Ruth Morgan

A bonsai is often given as a gift to someone with no previous experience of growing a bonsai tree. That frequently results in internet searches for ‘bonsai basics’. Searching for information on how to care for a bonsai is much better than simply treating it as a houseplant and hoping for the best!

Remember that a bonsai is a ‘tree in a pot’. This is not its natural environment and so it needs special care if it is to survive. Here are 2 important areas that you need to consider.

Firstly, if you want a healthy bonsai tree then it must have the right amount of water. It is a common mistake not to give the bonsai enough water and this is the main reason why bonsai trees don’t thrive or die. The amount of water required varies depending on the species, time of year, location and conditions. So do some research on your particular species.

During the spring, summer and autumn you should check your tree daily to see if it needs watering. One of the ways of doing this is to push your finger or a chopstick into the soil. Outdoor bonsai require less frequent watering in winter.

The best time to water is in the early evening – you will then avoid leaf scorch from the sun. There are various methods of watering but one way is to water from above using a fine rose or spray.

Japanese Akadama soil

Secondly, you must use the right type of soil. Your bonsai tree is totally dependent on the small amount of soil in its pot to provide all the moisture and nutrients that it needs to survive.

So ordinary garden soil or normal compost are not suitable. What the bonsai tree needs is soil that can hold enough moisture and nutrients to provide a steady supply to the roots.

Therefore, substances such as gravel, sand and granite are important components of bonsai soil. It is possible to buy bonsai soil ready for use or you can experiment with mixing your own.

For more information on how to look after your bonsai tree visit www.BeautifulBonsaiSecrets.com.

Topics: Bonsai, bonsai care

Bonsai Kits

By Ruth Morgan

When starting out with bonsai many people choose to buy bonsai kits. These provide some basic tools and equipment to get going with caring for your bonsai tree.

The content of bonsai kits varies greatly, depending on the seller. Some kits are solely tool based and include scissors, shears, branch cutter, knob cutter, wire cutter, root hook, coir brush and a case. Here is an example of such a kit.

Another kit might include a scissors, a bonsai book and bonsai feed. Some starter kits provide a bonsai tree which is a few years old, a bonsai pot with drainage hole covers and wire, bonsai soil and some instructions.

It is also common to see Japanese bonsai seed kits for sale. These include seeds of different species of trees along with compost, pots and labels. You then plant the seeds and start on a journey that will take many years before you have a bonsai tree!

If you are a bonsai novice this ‘kit approach’ might seem very appealing – an easy way to get going without too much knowledge. But there are several factors that you should consider before taking this approach.

If you want some hands on experience of styling and caring for bonsai trees then you shouldn’t start with seeds! Get a specimen that is a few years old so that you can start to feed, prune, wire and style your tree.

Before you start to spend money on bonsai trees and bonsai kits, my advice is to invest some time and money in learning some basic facts about bonsai. This investment will pay dividends as you will then be able to give the appropriate care to your bonsai tree.

It will be a much more satisfying learning experience. And you might well discover that you already have most of the basic tools required for bonsai care without purchasing additional tools.

As your knowledge and experience grows you can then decide what particular kit and tools you want to buy.

Topics: Bonsai, Bonsai Tools

Bonsai Help

By Ruth Morgan

If you’re looking for some bonsai help consider going along to a bonsai event or demonstration. You’ll meet lots of people interested in growing bonsai, many of whom will have been caring for bonsai for many years.

Favourite Bonsai - Hinoki Cypress

Last weekend the ‘Joy of Bonsai’ event was held in Bath in the U.K. It was a great weekend with a fantastic mix of activities and demonstrations. There was a display of some magnificent bonsai trees, including this Hinoki cypress, which received the most votes as ‘favourite tree’ by those attending.

There were also many bonsai trees and supplies for sale, so a great opportunity to stock up ahead of the busy season. The bonsai trees for sale covered the whole spectrum – from starter trees requiring many years of development to display level bonsai trees. The latter had a price tag reflecting the many years of care and styling that they had received from their owners.

But in addition to all this there were 11 internationally renowned bonsai artists demonstrating various design and technical skills throughout the weekend. This was a very popular attraction and people were able to sit and watch the demonstrators at work. They explained what they were doing and were very happy to answer questions.

Techniques being demonstrated included repotting and grafting, creating deadwood effects, wiring and shaping, pruning, creating a multi-tree forest planting and accent planting.

Between them the demonstrators had hundreds of years experience of bonsai but they were not all old! The youngest, Yannick Kiggen, from Belgium is only 20 but has been working on bonsai since he was 8.

One of the event’s organisers was Dan Barton and if you’d like to see some of his wonderful bonsai collection and unique bonsai pots go to his website here.

The Japanese have a saying that the ’student of bonsai is always learning’ and this was very evident at the ‘Joy of Bonsai’ event. Bonsai enthusiasts were catching up and sharing tips and suggestions about particular trees.

So if you ever have the opportunity to attend such an event don’t miss it!

Bonsai Plant Care

By Ruth Morgan

Give your bonsai the right care

People who are relatively new to bonsai usually have many questions about bonsai plant care. Quite often they will have been given a gift – perhaps a juniper bonsai tree or an elm bonsai tree – and they then want to find out about bonsai tree care.

There are lots of resources to help and I often advise people to start by considering the most common mistakes that people make when caring for bonsai trees. If they avoid those mistakes they are off to a great start!

So in this article we’ll discuss a common mistake – not keeping your bonsai in the right location.

Many people think of bonsai trees as houseplants and keep them indoors. Whilst it is possible to keep some tropical species indoors, it should be remembered that trees are designed for the outdoors – that is their natural habitat.

They thrive when they are exposed to seasonal changes of weather. The sun, wind and rain are all important to the tree as is the dormant winter period when the tree does not grow. Some classic outdoor bonsai include juniper, maples and pines.

Depending on the severity of the conditions, the stage of development and the species of tree, outdoor bonsai may require some protection in winter e.g. storage in a garage.

Species that are suitable for indoor growth include Serissa (tree of a thousand stars) and Ficus (fig). With indoor bonsai you will need to ensure that they have plenty of light and the right humidity levels. Avoid placing in draughty conditions.

In order to ensure that your bonsai tree is in the right location I recommend that you carry out some research on your particular species. It is always a great pity when a bonsai tree dies due to the lack of knowledge of its owner. So take advice and ensure that your bonsai gets the right care and thrives.

Topics: Bonsai, bonsai care

Boxwood Bonsai

By Ruth Morgan

Boxwood bonsai are not the most popular bonsai trees but have excellent potential. There is an abundance of foliage due to the short distance between leaves and it is easy to encourage the development of buds.

The leaves are an excellent size for bonsai and the roots will often exhibit strong surface growth.

There are many species of this evergreen shrub that is found across many continents. The two main boxwood bonsai species are Common Box (Buxus sempervirens) and Japanese Box (Buxus microphylla). The latter is much slower growing than Common Box with an eventual height of less than a metre.

Boxwood are outdoor trees that can be kept in sun or part shade. They need protection below -4o C. Some bring boxwood indoors to an unheated well lit area during the winter. If subjected to cold winds and frosts the leaves can discolour but they generally recover well.

Boxwood bark has the advantage of looking mature when still relatively young. The downside is that the trunks take many years to thicken. So if you can gather older boxwood trees from gardens and hedges that will be a great advantage.

Wiring needs to be carried out on the younger flexible branches. As they grow, the shoots become hard and brittle and will snap if wired.

Regular pruning and selective defoliation will pay dividends – reducing the size of the leaves and encouraging the growth of new shoots.

During the growing season feed every 2 weeks. Boxwood bonsai should be repotted every 2 or 3 years during the spring when the buds start to extend.

The informal style works well with boxwood and the multi-trunk forms reflect their natural growth pattern.

Over recent years a serious fungal disease has affected European boxwood. There is no chemical treatment for box blight so it needs to be taken seriously. The symptoms include leaf spots, loss of leaves and branches, black streaks on the bark and fungus growing underneath leaves.  Cutting off infected branches and isolating any trees affected by the fungus are some of the containment measures.

Outdoor Bonsai – Pyracantha

By Ruth Morgan

If you want a colourful evergreen outdoor bonsai then you should consider Pyracantha. It produces a wonderful display of flowers and berries and provides year round colour.

Pyracantha berries

The leaves are dark green and narrow and contrast with the small white to cream flowers which are abundant in late spring and summer. The flowers form in clusters and stand out like white sparklers all over the tree.

Then in late summer and autumn the berries develop and these can be red, orange or yellow in colour. These colours, along with the long sharp thorns on the branches are the reason why the common name of the shrub is Firethorn.

Pyracantha thrives in full sun but can cope with some shade. Some species e.g. Pyracantha coccinea are more hardy than others in winter and can survive frosts. However, it is advisable to protect them from very cold winds and temperatures below -5 degrees Centigrade. Less hardy species should be given winter protection.

Once established, Pyracantha should be repotted every 2 or 3 years in the spring. The soil should be kept moist all year round.

The old wood can be pruned early in the spring or after flowering. Too much pruning after flowering will have a detrimental effect on the display of fruit.

The branches can be wired and they respond better when they are green and young. During their second year the branches become brittle and they are more difficult to wire.

Use a balanced feed prior to flowering and then stop when the flowers appear. A low nitrogen fertiliser should be used after the flowering season.

Finally, a couple of tips. You can cut off the sharp tips of the thorns to make working on the bonsai tree easier and to encourage bud growth. Ensure that the branches are well spaced so that you can see the berries that hang below the branches.