Using Aussie Natives as Bonsai Specimens

Updated: Jul 6

Bonsai is the technique of minaturising trees through careful culture and is a lengthy process but definitely worth it and a great thing to pass down to the next generation.


Recently I attended a Redlands Bonsai Society event that showcased Australian Natives that have been grown successfully and so beautifully into Bonsai specimens, even I was surprised at some of the different varieties used!


For many years Australian species were overlooked by many and exotic species were favoured, I believe that this was just because traditionally they had never been used and also because people did not think that natives could be trained into Bonsai.

However, it makes sense to use Australian native species, particularly for us in Australia. We live in a huge country with many different climates within it and by using natives we can choose plants that are locally endemic or others that we know will grow well where we are situated.


Reasons for choosing Australian Natives for Bonsai

  • Readily available

  • A lot of choice

  • Fast growing

  • Can repot all year round

  • Can be wired

  • Can be leaf and root pruned

  • Australian natives are beautiful with unique features

  • Eucalypts have gorgeous shedding bark

  • Some species are deciduous although most are evergreen

  • Grow well in our climate



There are so many Australian native plants worthy of turning into a Bonsai specimen and when doing so there are a few things to consider, outlined below.


  • Start with a good healthy plant, a bushy one if possible with lots of different options for branch selection

  • Choose a plant with a strong and prominent root system

  • A thick trunk is appealing

  • Small leaves, flowers and fruit are desirable traits - leaf size can be reduced though Bonsai culture although flowers and fruit cannot

  • Use a good cutting tool - Bonsai snips, secateurs

  • Remove lots of the tiny leaves and branches, leaving the major branches

  • Lift the plants canopy by taking small leaved off the main trunk

  • Remove half of the roots (and usually remove half the foliage)

  • Wire and bend branches into contorted gnarled shapes that simulate older age - it is best to imitate the natural form of the species selected


A few well known Australian Natives to consider


Acacia

  • Prune back hard in early Spring to reduce growth rate

  • Provide as much light as can be provided

  • Turn often to maintain even growth

  • Appreciate ample water and fertiliser when in active growth phase

  • Less water required in Winter, do not let them dry out completely

  • If it drop its leaves in Winter, keep barely moist until new growth starts in Spring

Brachychiton

  • A great choice for a beginner

  • When trunk reaches 50mm in diameter cut 25mm off the top of the pot and remove the same amount of soil, continue preocess once a month until you expose 100 - 150mm of strong taproots

  • Use pruning shears to cut the trunk back to the lower 3 branches, in Spring remove the plant from the pot and slice horizontally through the rootball, cutting away about half of the roots

  • Repot into a Bonsai Pot and keep warm and barely moist for 1 month while new roots form

  • Cut back any branches any time to create a bushy appearance

  • Grow in a sunny position and protect from sudden cold or draughts

Callistemon

  • Easy to grow and vigorous

  • Easy to propagate

  • Not suitable for Winter temperatures below 10 degrees Celcius

  • Grow in a sunny position, water and fertilise heavily in Summer but keep less moist in Winter

  • Prune hard after flowering

Eucalyptus

  • Evergreen trees

  • Easy to propagate

  • Fast growing

  • Thrive in any soils and most conditions

  • Great choice for a beginner

  • Very tough

  • Grow in full sun

  • Keep them pot bound as they can grow quite large very quickly

  • Water well in Spring to Autumn, less in Spring

Ficus

  • Easy to propagate

  • Great choice for a beginner

  • Interesting form and features

  • Aerial roots add another element

  • Many Australian native figs to choose from

  • Grow in full sun

Grevillea

  • Evergreen shrub or trees

  • Showy and interesting foliage

  • Unique flowers

  • Can tolerate some light shade

  • Fast growing

  • Can be cut back anytime

Melaleuca

  • Great for a beginner

  • Easy to propagate

  • Relatively pest free

  • Tolerates light shade

  • Easy to propagate

  • Trunks add interest with papery bark

  • Grow in full sun

Remember that Bonsai takes a lot of patience and dedication, it is a long term commitment, when you start with a seed or seedling and train it into your own desired shape it makes not only a beautiful plant specimen but also into a piece of art!


Happy growing!


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