Bonsai are trees that live in increasingly shallow trays, and that remind us of landscapes rather than nature, as each one has its own defined style. This style doesn’t look forced; that is, the designer has respected the movement of the trunk of the plant, thus making it look very natural. But, what types of plants can we use as Bonsai? In summary, it could be said that all those woody plants can be candidates to become one of them.
- 1 Trees
- 2 bushes
- 3 conifers
- 4 climbing plants
- 5 Final Tips
Of course, trees are at the top of the list: their trunks are woody and the vast majority accept pruning well. But… not everyone is suitable for Bonsai, and even less so if we do not have the necessary knowledge for its cultivation. We will exclude those that have some of these characteristics:
- large leaves (such as those of the Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) or those of some Ficus such as ( Ficus elastica )
- excessively rapid growth (such as that of Albizia procera )
- life expectancy of two to four decades (like Leucaena leucocephala )
Some of the best candidates most used for Bonsai are:
- All kinds of maples (either Acer palmatum, Acer ginnala, Acer pseudoplatanus ,…)
- Small-leaved ficus (such as Ficus retusa or Ficus benjamina )
- Serissa phoetida
Shrubs are exceptional plants to use as Bonsai, as most have small leaves, and very controllable growth. Without forgetting that many of them have highly ornamental leaves and/or flowers. Some of the most used are:
- Japanese quince ( Chaenomeles japonica )
Conifers, the most primitive type of plant currently in existence, have been used for many centuries in the Bonsai technique. Today, in the most prestigious exhibitions, specimens two or three millennia old can be seen . All conifers can be formed as Bonsai. However, some of the most used are:
- Pinus silvestris
- Pinus halepensis
- Pinus pinea
- Taxodium (Bag Cypress)
- Taxus (Yew)
- Cupressus (Cypress)
Climbing plants can be used as Bonsai, but… they have a little added difficulty: they have to be pruned regularly to control their “climbing instinct”, and thus concentrate their energy on the trunk so that it can thicken. Not all climbers can be used; only those with a woody trunk. For example:
- Jasminum nudiflorum (Jasmine)
- Bouganvillea (Bougainvillea)
- Parthenocissus tricuspidata (Virgin vine)
Now that we have an idea of which plants can be used as Bonsai, and which ones are best left for later, we can go in search of our nursery plant that will help us learn and gain experience.
My advice is don’t go looking for an expensive plant. In nurseries there are usually many plants on sale or labeled as “Opportunity Plant” which are highly discounted, which can be useful to you. It is highly recommended that you acquire native plants to start with. They are the ones that will give you the least problems, and with which you will enjoy the most. If you don’t know what they are, ask the nursery staff any questions you have.
It is important that, regardless of the price, it looks healthy . If you can, take it out of the pot and check that the root ball does not crumble. Take the opportunity to make sure that it has many roots and that they are in good health. Take a good look at the branches and leaves, the upper part and the lower part. If they look yellow and/or have many dry ones, it is a sign that they are not having a good time.
Once at home, you can move it to a larger pot. This has to be big; for example, if the pot it is in is about 20cm in diameter, the new pot should be at least 35cm in diameter. The substrate to be used may be universal, or mixed with perlite. The location will have to be in full sun, except if it is a plant that lives in partial shade. Do not forget to water it abundantly and pay it every fortnight, from March to October, always following the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Last but not least: be patient. There are no »Bonsai express» . During the first year it is best to let the plant acclimatize to its new home. From the second we can start pruning and clamping only if necessary.