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Top 5 Flowering Species of Bonsai

The only thing more stunning than a large flowering bush or tree in your outdoor garden is a miniature potted tree that surprises and delights with colorful blooms that overtake the tiny specimen, resulting in a conversation piece that brings years of joy.

If you got into the art of bonsai because you wanted to cultivate trees with a rewarding color show, these five gorgeous species will not disappoint.

Azalea

azalea
The Azalea genus, which also includes Rhododendron, encompasses hundreds of flowering cultivars. One of the favorites of enthusiasts is Satsuki, or Rhododendron indicum. It’s easy to see why when you explore the multitude of different colors and patterns produced in the form of blossoms that can range from 1-5” across. Whether you want purples, pinks, or reds, there’s something for everyone. Not only that but the flowers may display flakes, stripes, or variegated margins of colors, which may even vary from year to year on the same plant. Adding to its appeal, Satsuki can be grown indoors or out.

Bougainvillea

bougan
Though this plant is actually a vine, it still makes a very suitable and beautiful bonsai. With a bevy of varieties to choose from, like the rosy pink Bougainvillea glabra ‘Magnifica’ or yellowish-apricot Bougainvillea buttiana ‘Golden Glow’, there’s no shortage of stunning choices. With a gnarling, woody stem, a drought-tolerant nature, and the ability to grow either horizontally or vertically, Bougainvillea is a real bonsai crowd-pleaser. Watch out for the thorns when trimming as they can be a bit of a pain.

Dwarf Cherry

cherry
Eugenia myrtifolia is a native of Australia and comes in several natural dwarf cultivars that are beloved bonsai subjects. Australian Dwarf Brush Cherry and Teenie Genie are two good choices. The small, dark green, glossy leaves are perfect for shaping and flowering varieties are marked by little cream-colored spheres that turn into charming starbursts of white. It is a versatile tree and will tolerate being an indoor or outdoor plant, as it doesn’t require all-day full sun.

Snow Rose

snowrose
The appeal of Snow Rose as a bonsai is evident in its nickname, Tree of a Thousand Stars. When in bloom, it wears a coat of lovely star-shaped white blossoms, accented by tiny little dark green leaves making up the foliage. The trunk of Serissa foetida displays flaky textured gnarling bark, and best of all the tree can bloom at any time of year (though the heaviest bloom activity is usually between spring and fall).

Gardenia

gardenia
With Gardenia you not only get lovely glossy, green foliage, but this species is also accented by sweet-smelling waxy flowers that start out white and transition to a creamy yellow color. Native to Asia, South Africa, and Australasia, this subtropical responds well to defoliation, which will only encourage more vigorous flowering activity. It can also live inside or out, making it perfect as a showpiece for entertaining.

These gorgeous flowering trees prove that bonsai isn’t all about the green. With a bit of care and effort, you can bring the bright, bold colors of your garden right into your own home.

Edible Bonsai Trees – Good Eats!

Bonsai – Good Eats!
There are a number of species appropriate for bonsai that will actually produce edible fruits or other parts, given the proper conditions. As exciting as this sounds, there are a couple of things to remember when developing a tree for the purpose of causing it to fruit:

  • Because a bonsai is a tree in miniature, you will not get the yield you would get out of a full-size specimen. The production of edible parts is more for novelty than to feed your family.
  • Too much flower or fruit production will stress a small tree, so you don’t want to overdo it.
  • You will want to grow your edible bonsai in a larger pot than you normally would. A bin or other large receptacle should be placed outside in a location where it doesn’t have to be moved.

That said, here are a few species that may produce edible parts if cultivated properly:

Pomegranate: one of the more common fruiting bonsai, pomegranate is a surprisingly hardy plant for a subtropical. It should be kept outdoors as long as possible, and brought inside when the weather starts hitting around 40°. Once inside, give it a sunny window. Pomegranates are monoecious, which means they can self-pollinate, but fruiting is generally more successful with two plants.

Cherry Laurel: Prunus caroliniana ‘Monus’, or Bright ‘N Tight, is a monoecious flowering cherry that is suitable for bonsai. The sweet, white blossoms turn to black edible fruit. This evergreen plant is fairly adaptable, but should be kept outside when it’s warm, in full sun to partial shade.

Fig (Ficus): Fig trees are great beginner bonsai, and sometimes fruit in both spring and late summer. The fruit is technically an inverted flower, but still, edible. Figs love heat and should ideally be kept in a warmer climate so they can be outside in the sun most of the year. If you live in a temperate climate, you might consider grow lights. Some cultivars are monoecious and some dioecious so you’ll want to find out if you need one plant or two for pollination.

Rosemary: this is a fantastically hardy plant and can tolerate temperatures to 30°. Rosemary does need a lot of sunshine, when indoors make sure to provide it with artificial lights or a south-facing window. The best part about this bonsai is that the leaves can be used to season your cooking, and you can harvest them when you’re performing regular trimming of the tree.

Most bonsai are simply ornamental, however there’s nothing wrong with experimenting to see if you can get an edible variety to fruit. Just make sure that if it does flower and fruit, that you remove some of the flowers so that you don’t overstress the tree with too much fruit production.

Edible bonsai can be a fun step in the world of this fascinating art-form. The key is knowing exactly what kind of plant you have so that you know whether you need one or two. Keep your plant outdoors when possible, and offer plenty of light. Happy bonsai!

Top 5 Reasons New Bonsai Artists Fail

You’ve seen these fascinating little trees either online or perhaps in a friend’s home and you’ve decided that bonsai seems like a great new hobby. Before you jump in with both feet, however, you should realize that many new enthusiasts give up long before reaping the rewards of their hard work because they simply don’t have all the necessary information to succeed. Here are some common pitfalls to avoid:

1. Choosing the wrong tree: this often happens when people see an eye-catching display marked “bonsai”, down at the local big-box hardware store. Given the tongue-in-cheek term “mallsai” by the enthusiast community, not all of these trees make bad bonsai, it’s just that they may not be in the best health and the prominent display inspires impulse purchasing – which means you might take one home before you even know what to do with it. Your best bet is to order a quality tree from an experienced grower and use the delivery time to research care.

2. Lack of understanding the commitment: some enthusiasts like to say it’s easier to have a pet than a bonsai, because the pet will be very vocal when it needs something. While there are many easy care trees, like ficus and juniper, you will still need to commit to checking on your plant regularly, repotting it when needed (generally every 1-3 years), and arranging for its care if you’re away for extended periods of time. The enjoyment and visual rewards you get out of your bonsai will be commensurate with the effort you put into it.

3. Over-enthusiastic trimming: the minute that exciting little botanical beauty arrives, it’s very tempting to go full-on Edward Scissorhands so that you can get a head start on turning it into the shapely bonsai of your dreams. Because the art-form is one that requires years of training, pruning, and pampering, you should resist the urge to try for the “instant bonsai”. If you think you might be a little too gung-ho about trimming, try a fast-growing plant like juniper or jade; that way your leafy little friend will regenerate more quickly if you accidentally go too far.

4. Getting discouraged too quickly: just as with any type of gardening, you’re probably going to kill a tree or two. No one is perfect at any hobby right away – we fall when we’re learning to ice skate, and we end up with plenty of ugly cakes no one would pay for when we try our hand at bakery-level decorating. Identify your mistakes and try again. You will get it right!

5. Lack of patience: few factors defeat more new bonsai artists than simple lack of patience. Don’t expect miracles overnight – this art-form is not end-goal oriented, rather it’s a years-long process of waiting, and learning, and trimming, and waiting some more. In reality just a few minutes a day can give you a relaxing, visually rewarding hobby that becomes an ever-evolving gift lasting years and years.

Start out right with a healthy plant and reasonable expectations, and these tips will help you bypass common mistakes, giving you an even more satisfying bonsai experience!

Must-See Bonsai Exhibits Across the USA

Most people don’t realize that there are bonsai all around us – possibly even in a museum near you. Here are some of the best exhibits across America for enthusiasts and admirers alike to visit:

The National Bonsai and Penjing Museum

http://www.usna.usda.gov/Gardens/collections/bonsai.html
Location: Washington, DC
Admission: Free

This exhibit in the nation’s capital was established in 1976 and is considered the premier destination for those interested in the art-form. Located in the United States National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., the exhibit boasts many beautiful specimens including the famous 390 year old tree that survived the Hiroshima explosion. Don’t miss this expansive display of Chinese, Japanese, and American subjects.

The Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt

http://gsbf-lakemerritt.org/
Location: Oakland, CA
Admission: Free

This exhibit in Oakland, CA is maintained by the Golden State Bonsai Federation and contains an impressive collection of literally hundreds of trees, from Trident Maple and Korean Hornbeam to Redwoods and Shimpaku Junipers. The list is exhaustive, and there is something for virtually every enthusiast in this beautiful, colorful collection.

The Huntington

http://www.huntington.org/WebAssets/Templates/content.aspx?id=15393
Location: San Marino, CA
Admission: $10 (Kids) – $23-25 (Adults)

The Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA is the second of the two exhibits maintained by the Golden State Bonsai Federation. The Huntington’s collection is considered one of the finest of its kind in the United States, and their ever-changing exhibit contains trees ranging from relatively young to around 1000 years old. The collection numbers in the hundreds, with a multitude of species. The trees span two peaceful courtyards, with the shohin collection residing against the soothing background of a beautiful water feature.

The North Carolina Arboretum

http://www.ncarboretum.org/
Location: Asheville, NC
Admission: $12 (Parking fee only)

The bonsai collection at the NC Arboretum is fairly new, having been established in 1992 upon the generous donation of a number of trees from a private donor. The Arboretum took off with the concept of a display and assigned caretakers to the precious trees. Since that time, the exhibit has grown to over a hundred specimens, including some cultivated from seeds or cuttings right onsite. The Arboretum takes particular pride in their local species, such as the Eastern White Pine and American Hornbeam, which represent the Blue Ridge region and allow the exhibit to retain a local flair.

Marie Selby Botanic Gardens

http://selby.org/
Location: Sarasota, Fl
Admission: $6 (Kids) – $19 (Adults)

The story of the Sho Fu Bonsai Exhibit at Selby in Sarasota, FL is an interesting one. The Sho Fu Bonsai Society approached Selby in 2007 with the idea of instituting a bonsai exhibit. It took two years and much negotiation and fundraising on the part of the society, but in 2009 the exhibit finally opened, appropriately timed during the Asian Festival. The display is small but elegant, and is a testament to the devotion and perseverance of enthusiasts. Volunteers from Sho Fu maintain the exhibit.

If you have the opportunity to visit one of these beautiful exhibits, you won’t be disappointed. It might even inspire you to donate a tree or two to your own local botanical gardens. As awareness and popularity of the art-form spread, more and more people will be exposed to bonsai through amazing displays like these.

Which Bonsai Shape is Right for YOU?

There are so many ways to train and shape a bonsai, you will want to spend some time perusing photos of the various forms until you find the one that speaks to your soul. Some shapes are more complicated than others to achieve, such as Windswept, so try to choose one of the simpler forms if you’re a beginner.

Some of the most common shapes include:

Informal upright – Moyogi

Informal upright is frequent in both nature and the art of bonsai. The trunk is tapered, from wider at the bottom to narrower at the top, with a discernible “S” shape, and leaves branches occurr at all of the curves.

Formal upright – Chokkan

Formal uprights also have a tapered trunk, but no curving. This tree shape is very common for bonsai and occurs frequently in nature as well. The very top of the formal upright is one single branch. Conifers are well-suited to this shape, and the finished tree is a clearly recognizable triangle.

Broom – Hokidachi

The broom has a straight trunk which ends and branches out about a third of the way up the tree. The branches spread out into a large, rounded broom shape – a sight which is very familiar in nature, particularly in winter when all the branches are bare and the full broom effect is recognizable. Fine-branched deciduous species take particularly well to this bonsai.

Semi cascade – Han-kengai

Possibly one of the most stereotypical shapes that appear in our imagination when we think of bonsai, the semi-cascade has a trunk that is only upright for a small portion, then bends down to the side. The tree’s crown remains above the level of the pot, while the branches dip down below the rim, but not below the pot’s bottom as they do on a regular cascade bonsai.

Slanting – Shakan

Slanting occurs in nature when the wind blows consistently in one direction or when the tree is forced to bend in order to obtain sunlight. With a tapered trunk that may contain some curvature, the tree should be at approximately a 60-80 degree angle from the surface of the soil. The root system is stronger on one side in order to keep the tree upright. While almost any tree can be trained to slant, pine and maple are especially suited.

Double trunk – Sokan

One of the less common styles in bonsai art, the double trunk is often seen in nature. Its defining characteristic is the two trunks that share a root system, although sometimes one trunk will grow from the other just above the surface of the ground. One trunk is more substantial while the other comes out to the side a bit and is typically thinner, and the tree is topped by a unified crown of leaves.

It’s easy to get caught up just looking at all the different bonsai shape options; each is unique and beautiful, and one of our bonsai trees may just be perfect for you!

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