The magnetism and wonder of a small bonsai covered in colorful flowers is hard to deny. They brighten up any home, workspace or yard while brightening our hearts. However, flowering bonsai need to be cared for properly for their full potential to shine.
Selection of material
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.
The selection of the plant species, the time of pruning and fertilizing plays a crucial role in the creation of a flowering bonsai. Subtle techniques are required to coax even just a few buds out in most bonsais. To effectively style flowering and fruiting species, an understanding of the nature of that species is crucial.
Size of Flowers & Fruits
In flowering bonsai 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. Select materials with flower or fruit sizes appropriate for the final bonsai size you envision. There are numerous dwarf or pygmy cultivars for many species that lend themselves quite well to bonsai
When to Prune : Timing
Pruning depends to a large extent on why you prune. Light pruning and the removal of dead wood can be done anytime.
- Trees and shrubs that flower in mid- to late summer should be pruned in winter or early spring before new growth starts. These plants develop flower buds during the spring of the flowering season.
- Trees and shrubs that flower before the end of June should be pruned immediately after flowering. Flower buds develop during the previous season’s growth, thus, the flowers for the current year’s bloom developed last year and overwintered in the bud. If pruned before spring flowering, the flower buds will be removed, thus eliminating flowering.
- For trees that bloom in spring, prune when their flowers fade.
When Not To Prune: Fall Because decay fungi spread their spores profusely in the fall and healing of wounds seems to be slower on fall on cuts.
Pruning & Type of Species : Some species only flower on old wood while others flower only on new wood. If you’re working with a species that flowers on old wood, the time to prune is just after flowering is completed for that year. If you’ve got one that flowers on new wood, prune during repotting in the late winter or early spring.
Watering &The Flowering period
One should keep in mind while taking care of flowering bonsais, the period of the year when the plant flowers naturally. Ideally make a list of your flowering bonsais and the months they bloom.
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 need more fertilizer than non-flowering bonsai.
Ingredients : Fertilizers 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
- Potassium, which improves the general strength of the plant and also helps with the growth of leaves and stems.
Most fertilizers will display the various quantities in a ratio like 5:3:1 (5 parts of nitrogen, 3 parts of phosphate, and 1 part potassium). A ratio like this, with a high middle number, is a good one to use on flowering bonsai shortly before it is to produce flowers. During the winter, use low-nitrogen fertilizer. In the spring, use nitrogen-rich fertilizer, and in the summer use a balanced fertilizer.
When to fertilize ? Timing
Avoid fertilizing towards the end of summer, 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. Just before bud break is the perfect time. This is when your trees are beginning their annual growth cycle and “eat” the most food. You can fertilize up to a month before this, or if you’ve miss the ideal moment and the trees have already begun to bloom, you can still fertilize until June.
How much to fertilize ?
Too much fertilizer will lead to lots of leaves and shoots, and not a lot of fruit. It could even make your trees weak from too-rapid growth, risking broken branches later in its life.
Too little fertilizer can cause slow growth and under-performance, so you don’t get as much fruit as you want at harvest time. Not fertilizing fruit trees grown in poor soil can even lead to nutrient deficiencies, poor health, and trees that are less able to fight off diseases and pests.
Removing dead blooms
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.
Branches vs Flowers
- If you’re in a branch development phase, it often helps to remove the flowers early in their appearance for the year due to the energy required for flowering and fruiting. This allows more of the plant’s stored energy to go into activating latent buds that help create branch ramification. During the fall, selective reduction of fruit also helps the plant by reducing energy expenditure, allowing it to store more energy for overwintering and new spring growth.
- During development of secondary, tertiary, or further ramification, it’s often best to forego flowering and fruiting altogether.
- In late winter or early spring, before buds start swelling, prune for shape, leaving one extra bud long on each branch. This is also a good time to remove congested branch work, making way for a replacement. By removing terminal buds, the auxin signal to the roots is reduced and the plant responds by activating latent buds, usually with the strongest response being towards the end of the branch. If repotting is done at the same time, the total amount of stored energy from winter is reduced and the amount of cytokines coming from the roots to the branches is also reduced. This has the effect of shortening internodes considerably. This work is best done while the plant is still dormant, but temperatures are rising which reduced the likelihood of dieback.
- If required carry out a second pruning is carried out in late spring or early summer.
- By the end of summer, pruning is put on hold to allow the plant time to store maximum energy for the coming dormancy and following spring growth. The tree might look a little shaggy, but it’ll be in prime shape for the following spring.
- When styling flowering and fruiting species, apply wire when pruning and carefully twist or bend branches to place the flower buds on the outside of the silhouette. This will give the best visual impression during flowering and fruiting with the minimal amount of flowers, allowing the plant to retain as much energy and vigor as possible for good health and growth.
- As flowering species tend to be somewhat brittle, it’s often a good idea to combine wiring with clip-and-grow pruning to give the most movement with the least stress and potential for breakage. By retaining one extra bud beyond the one you want to keep, you give yourself a little insurance from possible dieback and accidental breakage. Once the leaf buds expand at the point you want, you can then remove this extra bud at the end of the branch.
So it is very important to study the flowering pattern of the tree in nature and apply the same principles to your little wonder in a tray to enjoy the beauty of your flowering and fruiting bonsai tree.