Flowering Bonsai


Flowering Bonsai is a vast part of Bonsai and not an easy subject to condense into one article. However, I have been asked to touch on the subject, so here goes…
Most Bonsai species would develop‪ ‬flowers at some point if left to‪ ‬grow into bushes, but we don’t‪ ‬see flowers very often because most plant‪ ‬species produce flowers at the ends of long‪ ‬new shoots and these are the shoots that‪ ‬need to be removed to keep the tree shape.‪ ‬Some species, like Bougainvillea, produce‪ ‬flowers from old wood (like the trunk) fairly‪ ‬easily, and with some careful pruning one‪ ‬can still retain the tree shape and be‪ ‬rewarded with a good display of flowers.

There are, however, not too many‪ ‬indigenous species that are well known for‪ ‬producing flowers. Erythrina Caffra can‪ ‬produce some wonderful flowers, but it‪ ‬requires subtle techniques to coax even‪ ‬just a few buds out – even experienced‪ ‬Bonsai growers struggle.

The most famous flowering Bonsai‪ ‬come from the Azalea family. Of this family,‪ ‬a group called Satsuki is particularly well‪ ‬known and includes thousands of varieties‪ ‬all originating from the Tokyo region of‪ ‬Japan. Satsuki definitely deserves a full article – look out for this in future issues.‪

When dealing with flowering Bonsai, it is‪ ‬important to realize that even though one‪ ‬can reduce the size of the leaves of most‪ ‬trees, the flowers and fruit do not reduce in‪ ‬size. The only way one will get small‪ ‬flowers on a bonsai is if the variety of plant‪ ‬is one that already has small flowers. One‪ ‬can perhaps reduce the leaves of a citrus‪ ‬Bonsai to quite a degree, but the subsequent‪ ‬fruit will be of the regular size that‪ ‬one buys in the supermarket.

Something else to consider with flowers,‪ ‬is that flowers are the plant’s way of‪ ‬attracting insects and birds for fertilisation‪ ‬and reproduction. Most plants produce‪ ‬flowers from middle to late winter so that‪ ‬their own offspring begin to grow in‪ ‬spring when the conditions are best. If the‪ ‬flowers bloom naturally in a dry period,‪ ‬too much water during this period will‪ ‬not produce flowers. For a good show of‪ ‬flowers in almost ALL plants (garden‪ ‬plants too), one needs to hold back on the‪ ‬water for a period of time – normally two‪ ‬weeks to a month – leading up to the‪ ‬display time. Water less but still give it‪ ‬water otherwise the plant will die. Once‪ ‬the plant blooms one must take care not‪ ‬to water the flowers themselves as this‪ ‬can stain them and even make them rot.

Flowering Bonsai needs more fertiliser‪ ‬than non-flowering Bonsai. Fertilisers‪ ‬contain three main ingredients; Nitrogen,‪ ‬which promotes the growth of stems and‪ ‬leaves; Phosphate, which is needed for‪ ‬buds and flowers and improves the colour‪ ‬of the blooms; and Potassium, which‪ ‬improves the general strength of the‪ ‬plant and also helps with the growth of‪ ‬leaves and stems. Most fertilisers will‪ ‬display the various quantities in a ratio‪ ‬like 5:3:1 (5 parts Nitrogen, 3 parts‪ ‬Phosphate, and 1 part Potassium). A ratio‪ ‬like this, with a high middle number, will‪ ‬be a good one to use on flowering Bonsai‪ ‬shortly before it is to produce flowers.‪ ‬Avoid fertilising towards the end of‪ ‬summer though, because the plant will‪ ‬soon go into winter sleep mode and all‪ ‬the additional Nitrogen would either get‪ ‬wasted or worse, confuse the plant’s‪ ‬natural clock, and it might begin growing‪ ‬again at a time when it should be resting.

Finally, dead blooms must be removed‪ ‬from the tree as soon as possible. This is‪ ‬because while they remain on the tree it will‪ ‬attempt to revive them and continue to give‪ ‬them food. Once they are removed the tree‪ ‬can use the nutrients for the remaining flowers.

Here are some flowering species to look‪ ‬out for, but there are many more so don’t be‪ ‬afraid to experiment:

Wisteria – pictured here.
Pyracantha – small red or white flowers and‪ ‬small red berries.
Cotoneaster – white or pink flowers.
Serissa Foetida – small white, pink or mauve‪ ‬flowers. It can be very sensitive to temperature‪ ‬change. Avoid variegated leaf varieties.
Azalea – Satsuki in particular.
Fukien Tea
Crab Apple

Grewia Occidentalis (Crossberry) – pink or‪ ‬mauve flowers.
Dalbergia Armata and Dalbergia Multijuga – clusters of small white or creamy yellow‪ ‬flowers.
Coddia Rudis – small bell-shaped flowers.
Erythrina Caffra – large orange to red‪ ‬flowers.
Eugenia – clusters of small white aromatic‪ ‬flowers.
Schotia Brachypetala, Schotia Capitata or Schotia Latifolia – all three varieties can produce‪ ‬beautiful red flowers in dense bunches.

The Gardener