Do you want a bonsai that brings some color into your life in winter? Then the Camellia bonsai might just be the plant for you. Camellia is actually a genus that includes several species of trees that belong to the tea plant family (Theaceae).
Camellia bonsai are small versions of the evergreen shrubs and small trees that form part of the Camellia genus. Of these little trees Camellia japonica, Camellia reticulata and Camelia sasanqua are the most popular in bonsai form. Camellia sinensis is the species most commonly used as the real tea plant. In the wild, Camellia shrubs or trees can be found around eastern and southern Asia.
These little trees have glossy oval-shaped leaves with a leathery appearance and dark green color. The bark is quite smooth and a light beige color but the feature that makes this bonsai stand out the most is the flowers. They can be white, pink, red, or even yellow and appear at the ends of branches in late fall through early spring.
Camelia bonsai make excellent indoor trees. They can be placed outside during summer but must be protected against frost at all times. It is best to bring your tree indoors in the early fall to prevent it from getting damaged and dying.
Camellia sasanqua is the smallest of the popular camellia bonsai, and also the most compact. Unfortunately, this little tree is also the most sensitive to frost. The parts of this tree that usually get damaged first are the delicate flower buds and soft new growth.
Care Guidelines For Camellia Bonsai
Camellia bonsai needs to be placed in a warm, airy area with bright light in summer. Summers can be quite harsh on this little tree, but you can help it out by providing dappled morning sun and afternoon shade. Never leave your bonsai in direct sunlight during the heat of the day.
During winter you will need to protect your bonsai against frost. Keep your bonsai in a cool area with a temperature between 40° to 60° Farenheight (4.5°-15.5°C) with the optimal temperature being 50° to 59° Farenheight (10°-15°C). This will allow your plant some rest before the growing season and stimulates flowering.
Some people bury their trees during the winter months and mulch up the first branches to protect them against frost while still allowing them to stay cool. Another method is to place your bonsai in a shed or garage to keep it dormant during the three months of winter. While your little tree is dormant, it doesn’t need light, but you will still need a proper watering schedule.
During the growing season, sufficient sun will be necessary. Even though Camellia bonsai are indoor trees, they do best when left outdoors. Being indoors away from sunlight for too long is detrimental to the health of your little tree during the growing season. It should also be kept away from any unnatural sources of heat such as central heating systems and heaters.
Camellia bonsai should never be allowed to dry out completely. It is ideal to keep the soil uniformly moist but not completely soaked. You can usually water your plant as soon as the surface of the soil feels dry.
In winter your plant will need less water depending on the temperature you’re keeping it in. It is usually sufficient to water only once every two weeks. It is also best to use neutral or slightly acidic water since Camellia bonsai doesn’t tolerate alkalinity very well. If you can, water your plant with rainwater. You can use an aquarium or pool testing kit to determine the pH of the water.
Your watering schedule will vary depending on where you keep your bonsai, the size of your pot, and the type of soil you’re using. No matter your watering schedule, make sure the rootball of your tree never dries out.
If you’re keeping your tree indoors during winter, place it on a tray with gravel and water added. Doing so will reduce the amount of moisture lost to modern heating systems. Your plant will also appreciate being misted every day.
Soil And Fertilising
Since bonsai are grown in such a small amount of soil, fertilization is vital to survival. Camellia bonsai are no different. They need to be fertilized with a fertilizer for acid-loving plants or a general-purpose liquid fertilizer every two to three weeks after flowering.
Avoid fertilizing your plant in winter or when your bonsai is in bloom. Use about half the recommended strength of fertilizer supplied on the fertilizer’s packet if you plan on feeding your bonsai. In the case of liquid fertilizer, you can even mix it into the misting spray and apply it to the foliage every other week.
During the growing season, you can even increase feeding to every week with liquid fertilizer if you want your tree to grow more. Make sure to use a special acid feed since Camellias don’t handle alkalinity very well. Solid fertilizer should only be used once every four weeks.
The ideal time to prune your Camellia bonsai is in spring just after flowering. Pruning at this time will promote back-budding. To do this, trim away any wilted flowers and new shoots, they’ve reached a number of four to six leaves. Make sure to leave around 2-3 leaves on the new shoots.
You can trim away any unwanted buds and shoots at any time of the year. You can also do some light root pruning once a year to keep your little tree healthy. Never remove any new growth completely. There should always be some new growth left to sustain your tree’s health.
Propagating this bonsai is quite simple. It can be done by using seeds, taking semi-hardwood cuttings, or even air-layering. The best time of the year to take cuttings is during the growing season, the same goes for air-layering. Growing seedlings is the slowest method and it can take many years before your young tree flowers for the first time.
Potential Pests And Diseases
Camellia bonsai is quite a delicate little tree and is susceptible to several pests and diseases. Some of the pests and diseases that affect Camellia bonsai are aphids, mealybugs, spider mites, scale, weevils, petal blight, canker leaf gall, root rot, camellia yellow mottle leaf virus, and sooty mold.
Since Camellia is an actual tree, it can be treated the same as any other tree for pests and diseases. If you discover any insects you can use a pesticide to help your little tree. If you’re unsure of which pesticide to use, ask your local nursery for help.
If your plant has a fungal or another type of infection, you might need specific fungicides and other plant medicine to rescue your camellia bonsai. It is best to prevent diseases and pests by keeping your bonsai as healthy as possible. A healthy Camellia bonsai is less likely to fall victim to any nasty critters and diseases.
Camellia bonsai need to be repotted every two to three years in late winter or early spring, but only after flowering. Only do light root pruning if it’s necessary at all. If you’re replacing the soil, make sure to use a humus-rich acidic mix.
Repotting will always be required at some point or another. The whole point of repotting is to supply your bonsai with fresh, nutrient-rich soil and to encourage root density. You will need to judge when to repot your bonsai based on its health and root system.
If the roots are visible through the drainage holes of your pot, it’s definitely time to repot. Trees grow at different rates depending on their living environment so you might need to repot more often. To be safe, examine your tree’s root system every year.
Wiring Your Bonsai
The best time to wire Camellia is from Autumn to winter. By this time the new growth should be hard enough to withstand any forming without breaking. Camellia bark is very soft and can easily be damaged by wiring. If you plan on doing this, cover the wire in soft fabric or kitchen towels to protect your tree. Before training your tree in any way, make sure to do the proper research first.
Camellia bonsai isn’t the easiest bonsai to care for, but if you take the time to learn, anything is possible. If you’re planning to add this tree to your collection, just remember to always have fun and enjoy the amazing blossoms!