Species of trees and shrubs that have small leaves and bud back on old wood are the best plants to train as bonsai. When choosing a specimen, look for these characteristics:
- many closely spaced branches
- naturally small leaves
- short, thick, tapered trunks
- surface roots well distributed around the trunk
Bonsai can be divided into three main groups, according to their winter hardiness:
1. NATIVE MANITOBA TREES and other winter hardy, but non-native species, are the easiest to work with and to look after. In Manitoba we call these trees outdoor trees, because they can survive our long, cold, prairie winters outdoors. Indeed, they require a long dormancy to survive, and without this prolonged rest period would soon become exhausted and die.
Some popular outdoor trees include:
Tamarack (larch), Jack Pine, Scots Pine, White Spruce, White Eastern Cedar, Mugo Pine, Birds Nest Spruce, Dwarf Alberta spruce, Junipers, Siberian elm, Amur Maple, Cotoneaster, Lilac, Crabapple, Wild Plum, Hawthorn, Potentilla.
All of these trees are available at local garden centres or can be collected in the wild.
2. TEMPERATE TREES, which thrive in a moderate climate such as that of Japan, England or Vancouver, cannot survive our Manitoba winters outdoors. But like their hardier cousins, they do require a cool rest period. This makes them more difficult to grow, as they require a cold frame with regulated, moderate temperatures.
Some popular temperate trees often available locally include:
Procumbens Juniper, Boxwood, Black Pine , Japanese Maples , Mountain Hemlock, Azalea.
3. TROPICAL and SUB-TROPICAL TREES can be grown in your home if you have supplemental lighting, and if you can keep humidity levels high around them in winter.
Some popular tropicals and sub-tropicals include:
Ficus Retusa, Ficus Golden Coin, Ficus Tigerbark, Ficus Salicifolia, Serissa, Myrtle, Black Olive, Pomegranate, Buttonwood, Jade, Fukien Tea, Bougainvillea, Chinese Sweet Plum, Privet, Arboricola, Orange Jasmine.
ALL TREES SHOULD BE KEPT OUTDOORS IN THE SUMMER!
Some florists carry ‘gift bonsai’, and frequently small bonsai can be found in garden centres and even home centres. Be very cautious about buying these ready-made bonsai. If it costs the same as a bouquet of cut flowers, expect it to last just as long. Buy your trees from a reputable retailer who offers healthy trees and sound advice. Better still, create your own bonsai. After you learn the bonsai basics, start your bonsai collection from good nursery stock or dig a tree from the garden or from the wild. Florist shops and some garden centres carry selected tropical house plants that can be trained with bonsai techniques. This will take longer, but it will be much less expensive, and it will truly be ‘your tree’!