The art of bonsai is more than a thousand years old. Explore the trees, shrubs and vines you can use to create your own sublime miniatures.
Bonsai Azalea in Bloom
“Most azaleas used in bonsai are Satsuki azaleas,” says Barbara Bogan, Executive Secretary of the American Bonsai Society. These plants (Rhododendron indicum) have evergreen leaves and summer flowers. “(This) is an exposed root azalea.” From the collection of Dave and Barbara Bogan of Indiana.
The trunks of tropical buttonwoods (Conocarpus erectus) often look like pieces of gnarled driftwood. If grown outside, they should be moved indoors before the temperatures drop below 50 to 60 degrees F. From the collection of Dave and Barbara Bogan of Indiana.
Shimpaku Juniper Bonsai
Because of its hard, resinous wood, Juniperus chinensis ‘Shimpaku’ is a good choice for sculpting into advanced forms. These Japanese natives are best grown outdoors, so they’re exposed to the natural change of the seasons. Eric Schrader, president of the Bonsai Society of San Francisco, says “All bonsai need to be protected from temperatures below 28 degrees, and from freezing winds.
Winter protection should take the form of a cold frame for most species, or a space heated to between 32-36 degrees for the duration of the winter.”
This Chinese Wisteria bonsai is a show-stopper, with long racemes of fragrant, purple flowers. Japanese wisteria can also be trained as bonsai. Tree by Andrea Burhoe.
Fuschia aren’t traditionally grown as bonsai, but they’re easy to train. While a bonsai gardener can control the size and density of a fuchsia’s leaves, its flowers will be regular size. For smaller flowers in scale with the leaves, try ‘Lady Thumb’, ‘Tom Thumb’, or F. microphylla.
Japanese White Pine
Nicknamed Bertha, this bonsai is a Japanese white pine, believed to be over 100 years old. It was imported from Japan from the late Daizo Iwasaki’s nursery,” says bonsai expert Barbara Bogan. (Iwasaki was a renowned bonsai collector.) From the collection of Dave and Barbara Bogan in Indiana.
Bonsai with Fall Color
To develop their best fall colors, Japanese maple bonsai need a sunny location, but their leaves can burn in full sunlight. Choose from many types, including rough-barked, red leaved and dwarf cultivars. From the collection of Dave and Barbara Bogan in Indiana.
Literati Bonsai Style
Photographed in the spring, these three Japanese black pines were trained in the literati style. Literati is a Latin word indicating refinement and elegance; the style doesn’t have specific rules, but typically involves twisted trunks and few, relatively sparse branches. “Literati style is also known as bunjin,” says Schrader, named for “the cultural elite in Japan and China…
They developed a sparse and elegant style in bonsai that was different than the traditional, powerful image. Think of a bunjin tree like a fine whiskey – it should have a strong character that is subtle, and typically it is not well-appreciated by those who have not developed a taste for it.”
Rocky Mountain Juniper Bonsai
“Trees collected from the wild can make some of the most rugged bonsai,” says Eric Schrader, president of the Bonsai Society of San Francisco. Rocky Mountain Junipers like this one are native to the western United States. Tree by Ryan Neil.
Japanese Flowering Quince Bonsai
‘Chojubai’ is a dwarf Japanese flowering quince that blooms in spring and sets small fruits in fall. “These small bonsai flower profusely and have small leaves and wonderful age in the bark and branching,” says Schrader. Tree by Michael Hagedorn.
Tiny Japanese Maple
“The spring growth…can be just as beautiful as (the) fall colors” on this tiny Japanese maple, says Schrader. Tree by Eric Schrader
Chinese Juniper Bonsai
Juniper bonsai are characterized by twisting trunks and deadwood sections, like this mature Chinese juniper (Juniperus chinensis). Deadwood can occur by natural means, or it can be created by various techniques to give the tree character and an aged appearance.
Chinese Juniper in Training
“Bonsai take many years to create,” says Schrader. “This tree was trained from a small cutting to this point. While growing the trunk or working on the larger structure, using oversized containers allows the plant to grow more quickly.”
Japanese Black Pine Bonsai
These seedling Japanese Black pines sparkle when they catch drops of morning dew. “One of the most popular species for bonsai, Japanese Black pine grows vigorously in many climates,” says Schrader. “Growing from seed is the best way to create a high-quality tree and can take as little as 10 years.”
Japanese Garden Juniper
Japanese Garden junipers are evergreen shrubs or trees commonly grown as bonsai and sold at nurseries and garden centers. “The size of the trunk is very important to a bonsai composition, lending character to this composition,” says Schrader.