Bonsai from Garden Centre Plants

The increasing popularity of gardening means that garden centres are becoming more widespread. As a result plants and shrubs are more easily available today. Many of the plants sold in garden centres are suitable for bonsai. All that is needed is guidance on the choice of variety and what to look for in each individual specimen.

There are three guiding principles to remember when choosing plants for bonsai. The plants themselves must have interesting shapes, the leaves must be fairly small and the trunks fairly thick. All three attributes help to give your potential bonsai that instant aged look. The trunk is perhaps the most important aspect of any bonsai because it is this which makes your shrub look like a real tree. An interesting trunk shape is therefore vital because this cannot easily be altered. The shape of the branches is not such a problem because the branches can be rearranged by wiring.

Most nurseries and garden centres today tend to be very conscious of their presentation, and the condition of the foliage of their plants is therefore of the utmost importance. The trunks and branches are secondary. Thus, very often those plants which have been scorched by the sun or damaged by frost will have untidy leaves and these are put to one side and sold off as seconds. This invariably applies to old stock which has been lying around for a year or more. Such plants are of course ideal for making into bonsai because they are much older to begin with and their trunks will normally be much thicker than the new plants that have just come into the garden centre as new stock. The condition of the leaves should not worry you because these can be grown again. A rummage around the ‘seconds’ area is usually extremely worthwhile and can be a rich source of potential bonsai raw material.

The examples of bonsai trees or plants detailed below are intended to give you some idea of the possibilities which exist in your local garden centre today. The raw material is there in plenty. All that is required is a little courage and imagination. Bonsai is really quite easy. There is no mystique about it.

Potentilla Bonsai

Potentilla is not often seen as bonsai because it is not a species that one would imagine could be used for this purpose. However, potentilla make excellent bonsai for two reasons — they have lovely trunks and beautiful flowers. This is also a species that is easily available in nurseries and garden centres.

Potentilla are hardy, vigorous shrubs. When planted in the garden they can spread to about four feet (1.2 m) in diameter. Their trunks thicken in time giving them a tree-like appearance. They can be pruned fairly rigorously, without sacrificing many of the flowers. In recent years, many hybrids of this species have been developed; their flowers range from red to pure white, with several shades of yellow in between. However, my favourite is still the pale yellow variety, Potentilla fruticosa.

What to look for

Being shrubs, potentilla tend to be multi-stemmed rather than single-stemmed. But this in itself is not a disadvantage; on the contrary, multi-trunked specimens can be used for making into any of the multiple-trunk styles such as twin, triple, five and seven trunk etc. ‘11-y to find plants that have interestingly shaped trunks as these will form the basic structure of your bonsai. If branches are not in the right place, new ones can be encouraged to grow over the next couple of seasons.

Special points

Potentilla are such vigorous shrubs that they soon become a tangle of twigs and branches when left in the sales beds of garden centres for any length of time. Consequently this is a plant which is often sold off cheaply when it becomes old and straggly. This is ideal bonsai material as the trunks will be much thicker and older. Do not be too concerned if the plant is pot bound as the roots can be disentangled when you repot the tree. Potentilla can be used for making into most of the traditional bonsai styles.

Pyracantha Bonsai

The pyracantha or ‘firethorn’ is often seen as a hedging or wall shrub. It is a lovely plant with many good qualities: it is evergreen, it has creamy-white flowers in spring, followed by bright red berries in autumn. Although it is extremely vigorous when grown as a garden plant, it is not entirely hardy when grown as a bonsai. Pyracantha needs winter protection. Apart from this however the plant is very suitable for training into bonsai. It is used quite extensively in Japan for this purpose. Most garden centres stock pyracantha and there are many new varieties that have orange, yellow and even pink berries.

What to look for

Always look for plants that have interesting trunk shapes. A bent or gnarled trunk is more interesting than one that is absolutely straight. Good low branches are preferable to a few high ones. A few dead branches here and there do not matter as new ones will soon grow again.

Special points

Pyracantha has long sharp thorns so care is needed in handling this plant. The older branches can be slightly brittle which means that they cannot be bent too much. Of course the younger branches are more pliable and these are better suited for wiring into the desired shape. The young shoots of pyracantha are prone to attack by greenfly and the plant is also susceptible to soft scale. These pests are not a problem and most insecticides can deal adequately with them.

Dwarf spruce

This is really a dwarf conifer of the spruce family. It is very slow growing and has a lovely rounded shape. It is best used for bonsai when it is no more than nine inches (23 cm) high. Even small cuttings of this plant make very attractive miniature bonsai. It puts out new growth in spring which is a lovely bright green colour. Not many spruces are suitable for bonsai. Those that are suitable are Picea glauca ‘Albertiana conica’ (dwarf Alberta spruce), Picea abies ‘Little Gem’, and of course the famous ‘Ezo spruce’ Picea glehnii. The ordinary Christmas tree Picea abies or Norway spruce is too coarse for use as bonsai, as are most of the remaining spruces. Many of these have whorls of branches which make them very difficult to use for classic bonsai shapes.

What to look for

Look for shrubs that have interesting trunks. This may mean parting the foliage or removing dead foliage from inside the tree and closely examining the base of the trunk. Some of the dwarf spruces have multiple trunks which make them highly suitable for multi-trunk bonsai. The needles should be green and healthy and not sickly yellow. A lot of plump young buds is usually a sign of vigour. It does not matter if the tree is a bit pot bound as the roots can always be teased out and pruned.

Special points

As this is a dwarf variety of spruce, even fairly small plants can be quite old. Most dwarf spruces will therefore have interesting and gnarled-looking trunks. Do not worry if the foliage is a bit sparse inside the shrub as new foliage can be made to grow again with careful pinching back of the older shoots. Look for branches in the right position, especially the first and second branches which will form the basic structure of the bonsai. Spruces attract red spider and this can cause the needles to drop. Red spider and other insect pests can be controlled with most proprietary insecticides.

Rose Bonsai

Most gardeners will know that the rose comes in many guises. There are the hybrid teas, rugosas, old-fashioned shrub roses and so on. However only those varieties that have small leaves and flowers are suitable for bonsai. Anything else would look out of scale. This makes the miniature roses an obvious choice. But there are also varieties that have naturally small leaves and flowers, such as ‘ballerina’ and ‘nozomi’. These small-leaved varieties are excellent for growing from seed as they remain small for a very long time. Growing rose bonsai from seed is in fact much better than using material that has been grafted, since the graft union is not very elegant.

What to look for

Try to use varieties that are fairly disease resistant. Nothing could be more unsightly than a rose bonsai that has black spot or mildew. Although these diseases can be treated they tend to persist. When selecting roses for bonsai from garden centres look for ones that are well grafted. The graft union can sometimes be used to great advantage if it has a lot of character.

Special points

Roses and most flowering trees when grown as bonsai prefer a loam-based compost. Flowering bonsai should therefore be potted in John Innes No. 2. They will need to be fed regularly during the growing season. Any flowering or fruiting fertilizer such as rose or tomato fertilizer is very good for this purpose.

Chinese juniper

‘San Jose’ juniper is a low-growing ground cover shrub. It is normally sold as a plant suitable for camouflaging manhole covers in the garden. It is a vigorous grower and can spread to eight feet (2.4 m) in diameter in about 15 years. This juniper is suitable for bonsai as it can stand very cold winters on the one hand and very hot, dry summers on the other. Although it does not mind being positioned in the sun all day, it does turn slightly yellow in these conditions. However any good general fertilizer should soon turn it green again. The San Jose juniper has prickly foliage, but this is a small price to pay when the shrub has so many other good qualities.

What to look for

Most junipers have interesting trunks and branches but the San Jose juniper beats them all. When choosing a plant from your garden centre, look for one that has a fairly thick trunk at the base and one that is preferably gnarled and twisted at root level. It does not matter if the foliage is a bit ragged and untidy because the foliage will soon grow again with care and attention. Make sure that you choose a plant that has many low-growing branches as these will be needed for forming the lower structure of your bonsai.

Special points

Junipers are one of the best species for bonsai. They look good and the scale of their foliage is right for the tree. They have very interesting trunk shapes and they are extremely hardy. As a rule, junipers do not require any winter protection in temperate climates. They are not usually attacked by pests, but are slightly prone to scale insect infestation. Juniper scale is a small flat creature which is no more than I/16 inch (1 mm) in diameter and greyish-white in colour. Most proprietary brands of insecticide will soon get rid of this pest.

21. March 2012 by admin
Categories: Bonsai, Featured, Plants | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Bonsai from Garden Centre Plants

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