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.

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