COMMON NAME: Parrot’s Beak, Snapdragon Tree
SPECIES: Gmelina philippensis
Consists of 33 evergreen species, an extraordinary round and spiny tropical evergreen tree native to the Philippines, India and Southeast Asia. Parrot's Beak can grow as small tropical tree or shrubs but is mainly growing as a vine or climber reaching a height of 10-15 feet. The leaves vary from oval to ivy or "duck foot" shape.
Bark/Foliage/Flower/Fruit: The trunk over time will develop a cork like texture. As a shrub it produces pendant branches. They have spines or sharp edges. The ivy shaped leaves are sized up to 3” long. It has exotic flowers which are comprised of yellow, there are also white and red varieties blooms, which emerge at the end of a tube-like structure of overlapping bracts. It blooms mid spring to mid fall. Parrot's Beak will bloom as bonsai, but the flowers are out of proportion to the tree, flowers open during the night and remain open 1 to 2 days, before falling off. The flower pod has one seed. The fruit is fleshy, smooth, yellow, pear-shaped and about 2 centimeters long.
Fertilizing: Use balanced fertilizer during the growing season with an occasional boost iron during the summer months. Lack of iron will produce yellowing of leaves.
Repoting: Root prune every year in spring before the leaves emerge. The root mass needs to be contained or the branches and bud nodes will elongate excessively. Does not like to be root bound.
Soil: Any well-draining soil. Parrot's Beak likes a variety of deep moist soils with an ample supply of nutrients.
Insect/Disease: No known insect problem.
Watering: Needs regular watering, keep moist but not soggy. Like all tropical plants, it will enjoy occasional misting.
Light: Full sun is best for small leaves
Pruning/Training: They can be defoliated in order to reduce leaf size. It will reduce leaves to ½”. As it grows in a vine-like fashion it needs to be pruned often to maintain a bonsai style. Branches can be pruned to 2 or 3 leaves after it has developed 5 or 6 leaves. As Parrot's Beak breaks out easily on old wood, major trimming will stimulate intense budding. During the dormant season it is a good idea to defoliate, thereby encouraging an early new growth of smaller leaves.
Temperature: Protect below 50°F
Propagation: From woody cuttings and air layering. Collect seed head/pod when flowers fade: depulp, allow to dry. Remove any remnant of pulp, which will otherwise cause rapid fungal infection during storage. Sow seed in spring in standard potting mix with good drainage. Keep lightly moist.
Styles: Lends itself to many styles, including informal upright and cascade.
COMMON NAME: Parson’s Juniper
SPECIES: Juniperus davurica, Juniperus prostrata
This ground hugging evergreen shrub can cover a 3’ by 3’ area and get as tall as 3’ in 2-3 growing seasons. There are 2 other cultivars: J.’ Expansa Ariegata, which is mottled with golden splashes, and ‘Expansa Variegata’ which has creamy white variegated foliage. The Juniper family is native to Asia, Siberia and possibly Japan. Because of its salt tolerance Parsonii is ideal for seaside locations.
Foliage: Young leaves are like tiny scales that are held closely against the twigs. Older leaves are prickly needles 0.5” (1.3cm) long. The foliage is bluish-green and has a soft texture.
Fertilizing: Use a balanced fertilizer 20-20-20 or time release pellets.
Repotting: December through February with night temperatures mid to low 50oF, biannually for young trees, every 3-5 years for older trees. It is best not to remove more than 1/3 of its roots at each repotting.
Soil: Tolerates acidic to slightly alkaline soils. Orchid charcoal can be added to soil mix.
Insect/Disease: This tree is relatively insect free, however, it is advisable to treat for Spider Mites at least every other month. Use 1 tablespoon Dawn with 16 oz. water. Spray plant top and bottom of all foliage. Allow the soap to work the plant for at least 15-20 minutes, then wash soap off plant.
Watering: Enjoys moist soil but does not like wet feet. Also enjoys misting of foliage.
Light: Grown in full sun tree will develop fuller/denser foliage, whereas partial shade will result in a thinner foliage mass.
Pruning/Trimming: This tree takes well to pruning, back budding is excellent. May be wired in the accepted method of training, especially during the colder season. Remove buds growing straight up and underneath the branches.
Temperature: Cold hardy, no protection from cold needed in Zone 10.
Propagation: Best propagation is tip cuttings in the winter months and stem layering in early spring.
Styles: Informal upright or cascading style
COMMON NAME: Sand pine, Spruce pine, Scrub pine, Slash Pine, Swamp Pine, Cuban Pine, Yellow Slash Pine
SPECIES: Pinus clausa, Pinus elliottii
Sand Pine, a North American native, is an evergreen coniferous species of tree that grows to mature heights of 65 feet with a straight and erect to leaning and crooked trunk up to 32 inches in diameter, measured at breast height. Trees grow with dense branching with a mostly rounded or irregular crown, it is usually seen as a scrubby tree, capable of reaching 100 feet in height, but more often seen 15 to 40 feet tall. The brilliant evergreen leaves, 2 needles in a sheath, are no more than 3 in long. The tree thrives in almost any soil condition. The bark is reddish brown, and the trunk is straight and long. Branches grow spreading to ascending and are poorly self-pruning. Twigs are smooth, slender, violet- to red brown in color, rarely glaucous, aging gray. Foliar buds are cylindric-shaped, colored purple brown, measuring up to 0.4 inch with white-fringed scale margins. Leaves (needles) are borne 2 per fascicle, growing spreading and ascending, persisting 2 to 3 years on the tree. Needles measure 2.4 to 4 inches long and circa 0.04 inch wide. and grow straight to slightly twisted, colored dark green. Needle sheaths measure 0.12 to 0.2 inch with a persistent base. Pollen cones are ellipsoid shaped, circa 0.4 inch long and brownish yellow in color. Seed cones maturing 2 years after pollination, shedding seeds soon thereafter or are often long serotinous. They are borne in clusters of 4 and are long-persistent on the tree with whorled, spreading, symmetric structure, lanceoloid shaped before opening, ovoid to broadly ovoid when open. Cones measure 1.2 to 3.2 inches long, red brown in color, sessile or on 0.4-inch peduncles. Cones scales with have a dark red-brown, purple, or purple-gray border distally on adaxial surface. Apophyses are thickened, shallowly and angulate raised, transversely rhombic shaped, and cross-keeled. Umbo central on the scale, low-pyramidal, tapering to sharp tip or weak, often deciduous prickle. Seeds are obovoid-oblique shaped with a 0.16-inch body. They are dark brown to nearly black in color. Attached wings are up to 0.68 inch long.
Slash pine is a native of the southeast United States, from South Carolina to Louisiana and the Florida Keys. It is fast growing, likes humid climates and moist soi is an evergreen coniferous species of tree that grows to mature heights of 100 feet with a straight to contorted trunk up to 32 inches in diameter, measured at breast height and conic crown that becomes rounded or flattened with age. Bark is orange- to purple brown in color, irregularly furrowed and cross-checked into large, irregularly rectangular, papery-scaly plates. Branches grow spreading to ascending. Twigs are stout, rough and scaly; up to 0.4-inch thick, colored orange brown, aging darker brown. Foliar buds are cylindric shaped, colored silvery brown and measure 0.6 to 0.8 inch long with fringed scale margins. Leaves (needles) are borne in clusters of 2 or 3 per fascicle, spreading or ascending from their origin, persisting circa 2 years on the tree. Needles measure 6 to 8 inches long and 0.048 to 0.06 inch wide, growing straight, slightly twisted, pliant, and yellow- to Blue green in color. All surfaces bear stomatal lines, finely serrulate margins, and abruptly acute to acuminate apices. Foliar sheaths measure 0.4 to 0.8 inch with a persistent base. Pollen cones are cylindrical-shaped, 1.2 to 1.6 inches long, and purplish in color. Seed cones mature 2 years after pollination, falling the year after seed-shed. They are borne single or in pairs, with symmetric, lance-ovoid form before opening, ovoid or ovoid-cylindric when open. Cones measure 3.6 to 7.2 inches long, colored light chocolate brown, with a peduncle up to 1.2 inches long. Apophyses are lustrous (as if varnished), slightly raised, and strongly cross-keeled. Umbos are centrally located, depressed-pyramidal shaped, with a short, stout prickle. Seeds are ellipsoid shaped with an oblique tip. Seed body measures 0.24 to 0.28 inch, colored dark brown with an attached wing up to 0.8 inch long.
Fertilizing: Fertilize newly planted trees using a slow-release, general-purpose fertilizer that won’t burn the sensitive roots. A regular balanced fertilizer with an NPK ratio of 10-10-10 is fine once the tree is a couple of years old.
Repotting: From December through February: Pines only need to be repotted every 4 to 5 years. Sand Pine are very sensitive to root pruning; it barely tolerates transplanting. Needles will turn brown, when plant is root bound.
Soil: A pine tree can grow in acidic and alkaline soil conditions as well, these trees prefer to grow in well-draining soil that mixed with clay, sand, gravel, or loamy soil. Akadama, pumice, & lava mixture in the same amounts will be the best soil.
Insect/Disease: Red spider mite will turn needles to a grey-green color. South Florida Slash Pine is less susceptible to disease and insects than other varieties.
Watering: Water moderately in a well-draining soil. When pines become dry needles will turn brown.
Light: Full sun during winter (November to April), morning sun only during hot summer month.
Training/Pruning: Thinning out needles has to be done with great care. Remove downward pointing needles, but leave some upward pointing one, so that the branch will develop a “pad” on top. Some owners of Slash Pine like to reduce the length of the needles by shortening them. This is a matter of personal taste. Pruning branches back to internodes can produce back budding. Do not prune branches extensively if the sap is flowing. This weakens the tree and can kill it. Wire can be used for training branches.
Temperature: Some freezing is tolerated but Sand Pine needs to be protected from extreme summer heat. Protect under shade during heat of day.
Propagation: Collecting is the best way to get a nice trunk. When collecting, get as much sand as possible.
Styles: Both Sand and Slash Pines lend itself to formal and informal upright, as well as literati.
USDA Fact Sheet ST-458, Wikipedia, Photo on right: Mature stand of Pinus elliotti-Slash Pine. Photo right courtesy of North Carolina State University,
Bonsai-BCI species guide
COMMON NAME: Podocarpus, Buddhist Pine, Fern Pine
SPECIES: Podocarpus macrophyllus
The name is derived from the Greek for podos – foot, karpos – fruit. Podocarpus is a very ancient species. Members of the Podocarpus family can be found in Australia, Southeast Asia including southern China and Japan, as well as Chile and Argentina. This evergreen species is tropical to sub-tropical. P. is used in landscaping as shrubs and trees. Trees can grow to a height of 40’ and higher. The edible fruit can be eaten raw or cooked into jams. The fruit is slightly toxic and should only be eaten in small quantities. Birds eat the fruit, which disperse the seeds with their dropping. For Bonsai the species most commonly used is P. macrophyllus.
Bark/Foliage/Flowers: This tree is slow to develop trunk size and bark. With age the bark will produce scales, which can be removed with a steel brush while the trunk is wet, exposing the beautiful burgundy colored bark. The leathery leaves are arranged spirally, glossy green on top and lighter underneath. New leaves are bright green, turning darker with age. P. is self-pollinating, having both male and female flowers on the same tree, followed by red, purple or blue fruit.
Fertilizer: A well balanced fertilizer (20-20-20) may be enough. P. also thrives with fish emulsion and fertilizer cakes. If the leaves turn pale it might indicate a Magnesium deficiency. This can be remedied with 2 – 3 applications of Epson Salt (1 tbsp per gallon of water) per year. Do not fertilize before or after leaf pruning until new growth appears.
Repotting: Every 2 – 3 years when nighttime temperatures are low to mid 50ºF (or February), when buds begin to swell. Moderate to heavy root pruning is successful but avoid removing more than 50% of the feeder roots.
Soil: Pines like moisture, but a well-draining bonsai soil is a must.
Insect/ Disease: Scale, mealy bugs and blue aphids can be a problem. A Systemic insecticide in granular form works well. Overwatering can cause root rot.
Watering: Likes to be moist, but soil must be well draining.
Light: Full sun is best but strives for some protection during the hottest part of the day.
Pruning/Training: Pines have a tendency to grow straight up. Growth can be cut back hard, resulting in heavy back budding. In Florida P. will produce 3 to 4 growth spurts. It is best to time work to the beginning of these growth spurts. After the last growth spurt, any major pruning should be left to the next growing season. Branches remain flexible for a long time and can be wired. The wire can be left until it cuts in slightly, in order that the branch is set.
Temperature: Protect below 45ºF
Propagation: Through air layering and cuttings. Cuttings can be rooted in water and then planted when roots developed. Can be grown from seed, but seeds are difficult to come by.
Styles: Lends itself to various styles, except broom.
Common Name: Pomegranate
Species: Punica granatum
This small tree is native to Asia and the Mediterranean. In colder environments the species is deciduous, but in our environment the growth is continuous. It only makes small, densely twigged trees or shrubs with narrow, alternate leaves. When appearing the leaves are red then green. The intense, red-colored flowers form at the end of new shoots from midsummer onwards. Pomegranate grows best in warmer climates but needs a cool dormant period to produce fruit in abundance. The trunk naturally twists, making it perfect for bonsai with the ancient and gnarled presentation.
Bark/Foliage/Flower/Fruit: Punica granatum ‘Nana', Dwarf Pomegranate. This miniature version has small blossoms and fruit and works well for smaller size bonsai. Punica granatum ‘Nochi Shibari’. This plant produces a truly outstanding deep red flower that resembles a carnation in form but does not produce fruit.
Fertilizing: Fertilize heavily in early spring and throughout the growing season with organic fertilizer.
Repotting: Minimum night temperature – low to mid 60°’sF. Repot second year in early spring until 10 years old, then as necessary. Roots are delicate, and it does not mind being pot bound. Plant in a pot that is a bit deeper than usual.
Soil: 6.6-8.0 ph. Some organic materials may be added to bonsai mix. When using well-draining non-organic soil watering and fertilizing need to be increased.
Insect/Disease: No major pests or diseases have been reported.
Watering: Moderate watering in a well-draining soil. Drought tolerant.
Light: This plant is does best in full sun.
Pruning/Training: Wire with care as branches are brittle. Clip and grow works best on the foliage but be careful on bloom shoots in spring. Some growers reduce the number of flowers and fruit on the branch, in order not to weaken the tree, allowing a branch to fruit once every two years. With careful selection there will be flowers and fruit somewhere on the tree every year. Trim non-flowering new shoots during the growing season. It is considered best to root prune lightly at each repotting. The top can be pruned heavily.
Temperature: Protect below 45ºF
Propagation: Can be propagated from either seeds or cuttings.
Styles: Pomegranate is ideal for making into small bonsai. Informal upright works well in order to display the flowers and fruit. Other styles have also been used successfully.
Common Name: Firethorn or Pyracantha
Species: Pyracantha coccinea
The experts say that this plant is very easy to maintain. Watering, fertilization, and repotting are extremely easy and that’s why this plant will always be among the best choices for a bonsai beginner. If you are just getting into bonsai plants, you will love to have this plant as you won’t have to go through any complex maintenances. Pyracantha is a genus of ten different species. This bonsai plant is native to the temperate regions of Asia and some Mediterranean countries.
Generally, the pyracantha plant is evergreen and has broad leaves along with thorns. If you will leave this plant untrimmed, it can grow as big as up to 18 feet tall.
Bark/Foliage/Flowers: These plants grow white flowers that are typically white and are born in corymbs in mid-summer, in spring that later turn into red or orange berries during fall. The spherical berries (pomes) start out green and by August/September turn yellow, red or orange depending on the species.
Fertilizing: From early spring to early summer feed with high nitrogen fertilizer, then switch to low nitrogen to promote flowering and fruiting. May also use a balanced fertilizer.
Repotting: In early spring every 2 years as leaf-buds extend. Pyracantha resents repeated root-disturbance but left too long roots will coil dramatically with no new root hairs.
Soil: More inorganic than organic. Prefers well-draining medium.
Insect/Disease: Aphids, scale, spider mites and fire blight. Needs good ventilation to avoid fungus.
Watering: They will tolerate slightly drier conditions, but never allow it to dry out completely. During flowering and fruiting, water generously for best results.
Light: Full sun or partial shade, but protect from hot, midday sun in summer to avoid drying out.
Training/Pruning: On young, recently re-potted or weak trees, flowers can be removed to encourage vigor and growth at the expense of berry production. Remove spent berries in early spring. In late fall shorten long new growth down to 2 or 3 nodes, to focus the energy in and keep the current shape in better check when flowering comes around. Prune new growth down to two or three leaves in early summer. Continue pinching throughout the growing season. Flower buds occur at the tips of mature short branches. Firethorn will grow new branches from new thorns, so remove them judiciously. Wire new branches before they become too inflexible. Older branches are stiff and hard to move. Clip and grow works well. Can be trained into various styles like multiple trunks, informal upright, group planting, as well as cascading.
Temperature: Cold hardy but protect below 40°F.
Propagation: Soak seeds overnight before sowing. Cuttings or air layer in spring or in summer.
Styles: There are so many different species and styles of the pyracantha bonsai plant out there. You can choose your favorite one and bring it home.
Common Name: Red Maple, Red Maple, Swamp Maple, Scarlet Maple
Species: Acer rubrum
Is a common deciduous tree along the eastern cost of the United States. In our area the Red Maple is a wetland tree, growing well in alkaline soil. At Maturity it reaches a height of 50 to 75 feet. Red maples are oval in shape and are fast grows. The bark is thin and easily damaged.
Foliage/Flower/Fruit: The new leaves are reddish in color, turning gradually green. They are opposite arranged, typically 2-4" long. The Red maple should be grown with a single leader. In Florida the small red flowers appear from February or March and signal the beginning of spring. The seeds of Red Maple are popular with squirrels and birds.
Fertilizing: Fertilize weekly during summer using a balanced fertilizer 10-10-10.
Repotting: Minimum night temperatures low to mid 40°F. Red maples like to have more root, therefore a larger than normal pot is advisable.
Soil: Soil must be water retentive. Too much acid will cause leaf yellowing. PH 6.0-7. Some organic material is suggested.
Insect/Disease: Borers, gall mites as well as aphids are possible. For treatment use a systemic or mild insecticidal foliage spray.
Watering: Red maples love moisture in well-draining soil.
Light: Full sun to part shade.
Pruning/Training: To encourage leaf reduction and ramification the maple can be defoliated several times during summer. Remember to leave the petiole. Maples can be wired but be careful the bark scares easily. Pruning is the primary means of shaping. Trim new growth by allowing one or two nodes to grow, then pinching back to one. The more frequent and severe the pinching, the shorter the distance between leaves and new branches.
Temperature: Protect below 40°F.
Propagation: From seeds, cuttings or collected from the wild.
Styles: The Red Maple grows naturally upright, therefore suitable as formal or informal upright and very popular as forest plantings.
Common Name: Royal Poinciana, Flamboyant, Flame Tree, Red Flame Tree, Mohur Tree, Fire Tree
Species: Delonix regia
A native of Madagascar, it is high on the list of the world’s most beautiful flowering tree. Today this fast growing, multi-branched, board, flat-crowned tree is found in most tropical regions of the world. It is considered a shade tree growing to a height of 40’ and takes on a natural umbrella shape to a width of 60’. In areas with long dry season, it sheds its leaves, in other areas it is virtually evergreen. Because it is a legume, the tree has nitrogen-fixing and soil improving properties.
Foliage/Flowers: Leaf arrangement is alternate. Leaf type is bipinnate compound. The leaflet shape is oblong compound. The fern-like leaves are light and bright green. The large flowers have four spreading scarlet to orange petals up to 8 cm long and an upright 5th petal called the standard. The standard has yellow and white spots. The variety flavida has striking yellow petals. Allow young trees at least 5 years to produce first blooms. In Florida trees bloom from May to July. The drier the season the more flowers the tree produces, which are followed by large (12” or more) dark brown seed pods, containing multiple seeds. On old trees the branches droop almost touching the ground. The wood is weak and susceptible to breakage. The bark is smooth and grey. The tree often displays surface roots.
Fertilizing: In Spring when the growing season begins feed with well-balanced 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 slow-release fertilizer. Again, feed in midsummer.
Repotting: Some sources suggest annual repotting. Moderate to not more than 1/3rd root pruning is advised. Remove deadened roots back to root mass.
Soil: Any kind of well-draining bonsai soil. Some sources suggest equal parts of coarse sand, nutrient-rich potting soil and organic compost, such as pine bark.
Insect/ Disease: Usually not affected by pests
Watering: A mature plant that flowers water thoroughly and infrequently to provide a slightly dry environment, especially during spring to promote flowering. Never allow the tree to completely dry out. Over watering will cause root rot.
Light: Enjoys full sun.
Training/Pruning: In early spring hard prune this vigorous grower to maintain health and shape and to promote desired shape. Continue pruning throughout the growing season. To increase light penetration and air circulation thin interior branches and stems.
Temperature: Protect below 40°
Propagation: By seed.
Styles: Informal upright, multiple trunk. More suitable for large bonsai due to size of leaves and flowers.
Common Name: Rubicon White Cedar, Atlantic White Cedar, Red Star
Botanical Name: Chamaecyparis thyoides
Is a pyramidical or columnar shaped evergreen shrub reaching a height of 15 to 25 feet. Red Star is also known as the cultivar ‘Ericoides’. Red Star is native to the Mid-Atlantic States of the United States. Even though recommended for Zones 4 to 8, it grows well as bonsai in our area following a few simple rules.
Bark/Foliage: The short leaves are of soft feathery texture, star shaped, and blue-green in summer. The first growth in spring covers the tree with beautiful light green foliage. In our zone Rubicon does not change color during the winter months. The trunk is reddish brown, turning scaly with age. The growth habit is moderate.
Fertilizer: Use a balanced fertilizer.
Repotting: Every 2 to 4 years for young trees and 3 to 5 years for older trees during the coldest time of the year from December through February. Do not remove more than 1/3 of the root at the time.
Soil: Tolerates well-draining acidic to neutral soils. Some organic material is recommended.
Insect/ Disease: No major pests noted.
Watering: Loves moisture, but well-draining soil.
Light: Filtered sun to partial shade for young trees. Older trees tolerate more sun. Protect Red Star from the hot noonday sun during the summer month.
Pruning/Training: Best shaped through constant pinching of some of the new growth. Can be styled and wired in the normal manner. Remove dead branches and needles.
Temperature: Protect below 40°F. Does not like to be exposed to freezing conditions.
Propagation: Green or young woody cuttings in spring.
Styles: Formal upright, suitable for forest planting.
Common Name: Sea Grape
Species Name: Coccoloba uvifera
Is a tropical evergreen tree also grown as shrub or hedge native to coastal beaches in the Caribbean, Central and South America, as well as South Florida. It is used as dune stabilizer and coastal wind break. In nature Sea Grape grows naturally as multiple trunk or clump style to a maximum height of 30 feet. Sea Grape is part of the buck wheat family and very salt tolerant.
Bark/Foliage/Flower/Fruit: The yellowish bark is exfoliating revealing a beautiful smooth rusty color in mature trees. The trunk grows slowly. Leaves are leathery, alternate, simple, rounded, and very large. The primary vein has a red color and the whole leaf turns red as it ages. In cooler weather leaves turn orange-red and fall off before the new spring growth. Sea Grape is dioecious – male and female flowers are borne on separate plants. After cross pollination by bees and other insects' grape like green fruit develop, containing each one big seed. When ripe in late summer grapes turn purple. The fruit is edible and tasty and can be made into jam and is used in wine making.
Fertilizer: Balanced fertilizer e.g., 20-20-20 every 2 weeks during growing season, and every 4-6 weeks during winter.
Repotting: Minimum night temperatures low 70°F. Repot every 2-3 years as roots grow slowly. Root prune moderately. Remove the same percentage of foliage and roots.
Soil: Well-draining bonsai soil.
Insect/Disease: Occasional nipple gall on upper leaf surfaces and borer on stems as well as aphids on new growth.
Watering: Sea Grape is drought tolerant but when in a bonsai pot, it likes water.
Light: Likes full sun (best for leaf reduction) but will grow in partial shade.
Pruning/Training: Regular pruning of foliage is needed to develop good ramification. Directional cutting is important. A healthy tree can be defoliated 2-3 times per year. This will also cause dormant buds to shoot and create new branches. When cutting branches leave enough room for die back. Sea Grape can be wired, but the thin bark is subject to scarring. Tie downs can be used to reposition branches.
Temperature: Sea grape in nature survives up to 35 F. Doesn't tolerate freezing. As bonsai protect below 40oF.
Propagation: Woody or green cuttings, by seed, as well as nursery stock. The seeds need to be planted immediately as they cannot be stored.
Informal upright with or without dead wood, literati, clump/multiple trunk, cascade.
Common Name: Sea Grape
Species Name: Coccoloba uvifera
When it comes to flowering bonsai, nothing is more striking, colorful, and unique than a hibiscus. Hibiscus is a flowering shrub of the mallow family. The shrub is native to the tropics and other regions that enjoy tropic-like climates. The plant is an ideal bonsai candidate, and it makes a particularly beautiful bonsai plant that is a study in contrast.
Foliage/Flower: The large leaf and flower size can be an intimidating obstacle to anyone attempting to shape a bonsai from a hibiscus, but the payoff is a gorgeous plant that produces striking, vibrantly colored flowers the whole growing season and provides a wide variety of flower colors to choose from.
Fertilizer: Hibiscus plants require regular feeding to support leaf and flower production. Pale-colored leaves and sparse blooms are clear indications of nutrient deficiency. The plants prefer organic fertilizers. A liquid organic fertilizer that has balanced nutrients is ideal: Fertilizers with bone meal is particularly useful for stimulating flower development. Blood meal will stimulate leaf growth. Solid organic fertilizer or water-soluble liquid fertilizers, both work best for hibiscus bonsai.
Repotting: Hibiscus bonsai trees should be repotted in a new container, soil, or environment, once in a couple of years. Make sure that the new container has a bit more nutrients and healthy ingredients so that they can allow the bonsai roots to take place in a new environment and grow in a more efficient manner. While repotting bonsai, you don’t only need to trim the branches and leaves, but you should also trim roots so that they can grow easily in new soil.
Removing dead or unhealthy roots is recommended so that they don’t inherit issues in other roots as well. Make sure you use a big pot because providing good space for roots to grow will bloom more flowers onto the plant which will eventually enhance its looks and charm.
Soil: As with any bonsai, the most important aspect of caring for a hibiscus is the soil. Because of the small size of the container the plant is growing in, it will burn through the nutrients in its soil very quickly they need organic material in their soil to maintain their large leaves and flowers, and a sixty to forty percent aggregate works well.
Insect/Disease: Hibiscus is one of the few trees that have minimum chances of getting attacked or affected by pests and diseases. Watering impure or calcareous water can sometimes lead to the emergence of chlorosis which could cause issues.
Watering: Should be done on a regular basis as hibiscus bonsai cannot bear complete dry out of the soil. If the soil remains dry for a time that roots don’t have enough moisture, the flowers and the buds can shed dramatically.
Light: Although hibiscus bonsai trees can grow efficiently in partially shaded areas, providing full sunlight would be ideal as they love maximum light. Experts claim that you should expose your hibiscus bonsai to sunlight for about 4 to 6 hours on a regular basis but if the temperature is adequate, you may go for 8 hours. Only make sure that you don’t burn leaves of bonsai.
Pruning/Training: The plant can be pruned to shape as desired. Hibiscus plants do tolerate wiring. Nevertheless, young wood has a tendency to spring back. As such, bending of the trunk or branches may require the use of guy wires.
Temperature: They love warm climates and can easily withstand any temperature above the freezing or near freezing point. Any temperature below 50F can be lethal for the hibiscus bonsai.
Propagation: Woody or green cuttings, by seed, as well as nursery stock. The seeds need to be planted immediately as they cannot be stored.
Styles: Broom, Formal upright, Informal upright, Slanted, Cascade, Semi Cascade, Literati and Windswept
Common Name: Serissa, Tree of a Thousand Stars, Japanese Boxthorn
Species: Serissa foetida
Is a flowering semi-evergreen or evergreen shrub native to the sub-tropical woodlands and wetlands of Southeast Asia, from India, China and Japan growing to a height of 45 – 60 cm. There are different cultivars. The main difference is in the size and shape of the flowers. Serissa is used a lot as bonsai but is a very fussy tree. It drops it leaves if over-watered, under-watered, too cold, too hot, or even moving the tree to a new location. Very often it does not recover from the shock.
Bark/Flower/Leaves: Serissa flowers year-round, but particularly from early spring to near fall. The 4- to 6-lobed flowers are funnel shaped and 1 cm wide. The buds appear pink but turn to a profusion of white flowers. The leaves are naturally small, oval, deep green, and rather thick. When bruised the leaves have an unpleasant smell, hence its name foetida. The trunk has an attractive rough, grey bark, which tends to get lighter in color with age.
Fertilizing: Every other week during the growing season, at other times once per month. Organic fish emulsion is recommended. As always only fertilize when soil is moist.
Repotting: Serissa dislikes root pruning and can be left for 2-3 years. Repot when average nighttime temperatures are in the low to mid 60o F. This helps the root system to recover quickly.
Soil: A well-draining bonsai mix.
Insect/ Disease: Scale insects. Yellowing leaves and leaf drop caused by incorrect placement, irregular watering and humidity levels.
Watering: Regular watering in a well-draining soil.
Light: Grown in full sun to partial shade.
Pruning/Training: The branches are quite flexible and can be wired. As to pruning, Serissa is a hardy plant and can be pruned to shape as needed and responds well to directional pruning. Hard pruning can cause root suckers to develop, which should be removed unless in a multiple tree style and the sucker is needed.
Temperature: Protect below 50°F. Cold sensitive.
Propagation: Softwood cuttings in spring or early summer.
Style: Broom, Informal upright, Multi Trunk, Slanting and Semi-Cascade
Common Name: Simpson’s Stopper, Twinberry
Species: Myrcianthes fragrans
A member of the Eucalyptus family the Simpson’s Stopper is a hardy, evergreen tropical that is native to South Florida, the Keys, and the Caribbean. It may be a large shrub or small tree and can reach a height of 20’ with a 15’ spread. The red, peeling bark is beautiful.
Foliage/Flower/Fruit: The tiny, deep green, oval shaped leaves are arranged opposite. They contain aromatic oils with the fragrance of nutmeg. The Simpson’s Stopper has fragrant, white flowers that occur periodically throughout the year. These flowers then develop into attractive red-orange berries that are edible. The fruit has a sweet citrus-like flavor. The flowers attract butterflies, and the fruit is appealing to birds.
Fertilizing: Use balanced fertilizer.
Repotting: Repot in spring when the average night temperature is in the low to mid 70°’s F.
Soil: Use well-draining soil. PH 6.5-7.8 (from mildly acidic to mildly alkaline).
Insect/ Disease: No major pests noted.
Watering: Moderately water in a well-draining soil.
Light: Stoppers like morning sun to partial shade.
Pruning/Training: Can be pruned back hard, as it is a vigorous grower. Shorten new shoots with 6-8 pairs of leaves to 1-2 pairs. Can be wired while in active growth, but better shaping results are achieved with pruning. Protect the branches, as they scar easily. Leaf pruning can be done in summer on strong plants, but is not generally advised, as better leaf reduction results from timely pruning.
Temperature: Protect below 40° F.
Propagation: Cuttings in summer, air layering in spring and collecting.
Style: Informal upright and Multi Trunk.
Common Name: Snowbush, Snow on the Mountain
Species: Breynia nivosa
The Snowbush is a tropical shrub from the South Pacific that is well adapted to South Florida. It is named because it gives the appearance of its leaves being covered with snow. Snowbush is closely related to poinsettia, crotons, and other members of the Euphorbia plant family. Snowbush is an upright shrub that can reach up to 8 feet in height if left unpruned. Breynia disticha is a smaller leaved dwarf form that has many tightly growing stems.
Foliage/Flower: The small, rounded leaves show a lot of variation in color. In shady areas the leaves are green with white, exposed to medium to full sunlight darker reds to purple color appear with the white and green leaves. New growth comes in pink. Leaves will become larger when not exposed to sufficient sunlight. The stems are bright red. Small parasol-shaped flowers appear during the summer month followed by seeds pods. New plants can be found growing around established shrubs.
Fertilizing: A well balance fertilizer every 2 weeks during the growing season and monthly during the cooler month.
Repotting: Repotting in early spring and throughout the summer months every 2 to 3 years.
Soil: Snowbush is happy in any well-draining soil medium but is not salt tolerant.
Insect/ Disease: Even though the Snowbush is hardy and healthy it is susceptible to the tiny Snowbush spanworm caterpillar, which can do a lot of damage to the foliage. Snowbush is also prone to attacks by aphids, spider mites and the white fly.
Watering: Moderately water in a well-draining soil.
Light: Full sun to partial shade.
Pruning/Training: Regular pruning is tolerated. Can be wired and trained in the normal fashion.
Temperature: Protect below 40°F
Propagation: Grows well from green or woody cuttings and seeds, as well as division of suckers.
Style: Any upright style is suitable.
Common Name: Tamarind
Species: Tamarindus indica
An evergreen native of tropical Africa is was introduced to India and Persia, where western botanist first described Tamarind as Tamarindus indica, the Arabic derivative of the Persian and Arabic name “tamar al-Hind”. From here the tree was introduced widely throughout Southeast Asia, Taiwan and tropical China. Spanish and Portuguese colonists introduced Tamarind to Mexico and South America to a degree that it became a common ingredient in everyday living. It has become the most widely distributed fruit tree in the world. In Asia its pulp is used as a flavoring agent in meal preparations and is also recognized as having many medicinal properties. In the Caribbean region the pulp is used to prepare juice and often used in ice cream. Tamarind is long living and can reach heights of 80’ to 100’. The tree is wind and salt resistant and is widely used in our area as shade tree. When the wood is burned it gives off an intense heat, and the resultant charcoal is used in the manufacture of gunpowder.
Bark/Foliage/Flower/Fruit: The bark of the Tamarind is nicely furrowed. Trunk circumference can reach 25’. The compound leaves are bright green, dense, pinnate and alternate. They close at night and during drought conditions. Blooming in spring the 1” wide 5 petaled flowers are yellow with orange streaks and are arranged in small racemes. Edible pulp of the fruit forms within a brown pod and tastes sweet and astringent. Trees will produce flowers and fruit on new growth after about 8 to 10 years.
Fertilizing: During the growing season any balanced fertilizer e.g., 20-20-20. Over fertilization prevents good ramification and causes long internodes. Cut back on high nitrogen fertilizer after new growth is established.
Repotting: Repotting in early spring is best, just as the new buds appear – usually mid to upper 60oF. Root prune carefully and gradually; remove the same percentage of foliage and roots.
Soil: Prefers a well-draining sandy soil. In nature can be found on sandy beaches, as well as any other kind of soil condition.
Insect/ Disease: None.
Watering: Keep evenly moist. Do not allow to dry out. If Tamarind wilts, irreversible foliage damage occurs.
Light: Full sun.
Pruning/Training: Drastic trunk/branch pruning should be done between May and August. Regular pruning is needed to develop strong structure. Tamarind is a strong top grower. Keep top clipped to strengthen lower branches. After severe top pruning Tamarind breaks out with growth on old wood. A healthy tree can be defoliated 3 times per year. Use the clip and grow method with directional pruning. When using wire continuous caution is advised to avoid scarring. Slow to medium growth
Temperature: Protect below 50° F.
Propagation: Seed germination, cuttings, air layering or grafting.
Style: Any upright style is suitable.