Fukien Tea tree, also known as Philippine Tea tree, Carmona retusa, or Ehretia microphylla, is a flowering tree that is often used as an indoor bonsai. It is native to southeast Asia and Australia, but its name comes from the origin of the bonsai which is Fukien or Fujian in China.
Bonsai made from the Fukien Tea tree tends to look mature earlier than most due to their cracked and fissured light brown to gray bark. The trunk also contrasts quite nicely with the dark-green, shiny leaves that grow in clumps on the branches. The leaves tend to have little white dots on their surfaces, which are often mistaken for insect infestations, and very fine hairs underneath.
The leaves of this bonsai will maintain their small size, no matter the age of your tree. Another attractive feature is the small white flowers of the Fukien bonsai.
As soon as your tree reaches blooming age, you can expect delicate, small white flowers to appear almost every month of the year if given the right environment. The fruits that follow resemble rosehip, a fruit common to the rose plant, though a lot smaller in size. The berries can be red, green, or even black.
Unfortunately, the Fukien Tea tree bonsai is not a project for beginners. It can be styled into many gorgeous designs but is usually very difficult to sculpt. Even just caring for and maintaining this tree can be quite a challenge and should preferably be done by someone with some experience. However, if you’re up to the challenge, you will be rewarded with a beautiful, one-of-a-kind bonsai.
It can be particularly tempting to buy this bonsai due to its evergreen status, frequency of flowering, and the ease with which it develops a thick, knotted trunk. When this bonsai is a young tree, the trunk may be thinner than desired with a light brown color to the bark.
As it matures, the trunk will slowly thicken, turn a light gray color and develop its famous cracked appearance. Once the tree reaches its prime, the trunk will be beautifully cracked and contrast nicely with its dense, dark green foliage.
Care Guidelines For Fukien Tea Bonsai
It is very important to keep your Fukien bonsai in a well-lit location, especially if you’re planning on keeping your little tree indoors. This tree is traditionally an indoor bonsai, but it can be grown outdoors if you live in an area with a warm climate. If grown outdoors, your Fukia bonsai will adapt to a variety of light situations for sunny to full shade as long as the light is bright enough.
If grown indoors, it is best to keep your bonsai near a sunny window where it has access to ample natural light. Only keep your bonsai outdoors during the summer months if the nights are warm enough. Fukien bonsai thrive in temperatures ranging from around 60 to 77° Farenheight (15.5-25°C) with 70° Fahrenheit (20°C) being the optimal temperature.
If you live in an area where temperatures regularly drop to below 60° Fahrenheit (15.5°C), you will need to put extra measures into place to protect your little tree. Regardless of the season or your climate, measures should be taken to never allow the temperature to drop below 55° Fahrenheit (12.8°C).
Fukien trees prefer warmth and humidity. It can be quite tricky to recreate these conditions if you keep your tree outdoors unless you already live in a tropical environment or in USDA zones 10 to 11. Your little tree also doesn’t do too well in direct midday sunlight when kept outdoors, but it does really well near a sunny window indoors or in a partially shady spot outdoors.
If you plan on leaving your tree outside in summer, make sure it is protected against scorching and won’t dry out completely during the day. It is best to allow your bonsai at least one hour of direct, but gentle sunlight, preferably morning or afternoon sun, every day. Doing so will trigger flowering. For the rest of the day, keep your little tree in a shady area with bright indirect light.
Keeping your tree alive in winter can be a bit more challenging. In winter there are limited daylight hours to think about as well as artificial heating systems inside homes. Artificial heating tends to dry out the air which will negatively affect this humidity-loving plant.
It is possible to supplement and extend daylight hours for your tree by using artificial grow lights. You will also need to regulate humidity but we’ll get to that in the watering section of this article. Also, make sure to place your tree away from drafts. Fukien bonsai should never be exposed to cold or frosty air from an open window or door. If your plant won’t be receiving any direct sunlight, make sure to leave your grow light on for at least 12 hours a day.
If you live in a climate where it’s possible to keep your plant outdoors in summer, you will need to take some precautions when bringing your plant indoors. It is best to move your bonsai indoor in stages to prevent any sudden changes that may cause your plant to go into shock.
The first step will be to move your plant to a deck or shady location that is cooler than its original sunny outdoor spot. After a few days, you can bring it inside and place it in a bright sunny window to allow it to adjust to indoor temperatures. Remember it is still important to give your Fukien tree at least an hour of direct sunlight every day, even in winter.
Fukien trees are very particular when it comes to watering them. They prefer moist to slightly dry soil, but should never be allowed to dry out completely. Common problems with watering Fukien bonsai is under and overwatering.
It may be quite tricky to keep your tree moist without overwatering. Fukien Tea bonsai are very susceptible to root rot when left to stand in soggy soil for long periods of time. It is best to water your tree thoroughly as soon as the top inch (2.54cm) of soil feels dry. Leave it to drain for a few minutes before removing any excess water in the collection tray.
Make sure your tree is planted in well-drained soil. Allow the soil to dry slightly between watering and keep an eye on the health of your plant. If you notice any mold on the soil surface or a rotten smell coming from the roots, your tree has most likely been overwatered. If the leaves shrivel, blacken and fall off, you might need to check how dry your soil is.
If you see any shriveling and after checking the soil concluded that your tree needs water, make sure to give it a thorough soaking immediately. If you travel a lot or are prone to neglect watering, this bonsai is not the best choice.
If your plant is left in full sun outdoors, you will need to water even more regularly. Make sure to check the soil of your little tree at least once a day and water as needed. If your bonsai got too dry, soak the entire pot in water before allowing it to runoff.
Another important factor to take into account is humidity. Fukien trees require very high humidity to stay healthy. As a result, they are often placed on humidity trays. Humidity trays will provide your tree with some moisture as the water evaporates into the surrounding air keeping it from drying out.
If you want to regulate humidity, fill a large tray with gravel and water. Place it under your bonsai, but do make sure that your bonsai doesn’t come in direct contact with the water. You can also use a humidifier near your tree to provide humidity. This is especially important if your house has a central heating system. In general, the Fukien Tea bonsai prefers a humidity level of over 20%.
Soil And Fertilizing
Bonsai are kept in a very limited amount of soil which also limits their access to nutrients. It is very important to fertilize your bonsai during the growing season for this exact reason. If you’re planning on using a liquid fertilizer, make sure to feed your tree once a week. Check that you’re only using half of the recommended amount of fertilizer to prevent damaging your little tree. Only add liquid fertilizer when your bonsai’s soil is already moist.
Fukien tree bonsai have very sensitive roots. It is often better to use solid or slow-release fertilizer at half strength. Only fertilize once every month or two depending on your solid fertilizer. When winter comes around, reduce feeding your tree to once a month for liquid fertilizer and once every two months for solid fertilizer. If you’re using slow-release fertilizer, you can possibly skip fertilizing until spring.
If your little tree was recently repotted, avoid fertilizing for at least two weeks to allow your tree to adjust. Make absolutely sure your plant has been properly watered and the fertilizer dosage correctly adjusted before feeding your little tree. Too much fertilizer can damage your bonsai’s roots.
Experts suggest using a high phosphorus fertilizer specific for bonsai in early spring. You should then switch to a high potassium fertilizer in late fall and continue on with it throughout winter.
The leaves of the Fukien tree are naturally small which will save you some time while pruning. If you want your tree to grow quite dense, then regular trimming is required. Fortunately, the Fukien bonsai handles pruning very well.
While the shoots are young, they are quite easy to trim and train due to their flexibility. Mature branches are much harder to train and can be quite brittle. Make sure to use appropriate tools while pruning.
You can cut back new shoots once they’ve developed around 6 to 8 leaves. It is recommended to leave at least two or three leaves to avoid damage to your tree. You can prune throughout the year as required and may be able to shape new shoots without the need for wires.
Fukien tree bonsai can be propagated by the use of seeds, cuttings, or air-layering. The most common method used is cuttings. It is best to take softwood cuttings between spring and summer. Place your cutting in a shady area to encourage root development.
Potential Pests And Diseases
If your Fukien bonsai is unhealthy for any reason, it will be susceptible to some pests and diseases. These include spider mites, scale, whiteflies, and fungus. If you suspect a fungal infection, you will need to get a specific fungicide to treat the problem. If you have an insect problem, a pest-specific insecticide or a homemade solution to repel pests will help.
You can try to burn insecticide sticks or wash your plant with a solution of 1 teaspoon dish soap mixed with water. Prevention is always better so make sure to give your plant lots of natural light and optimal living conditions.
Fukien Tea bonsai need to be repotted every two to three years. They aren’t very picky when it comes to soil quality and makeup as long as the soil is well-draining. Fukien trees are very sensitive to overwatering and may end up with root rot if your soil doesn’t drain well.
As you’ve noticed, Fukien bonsai prefers slightly moist to slightly dry soil. It is best to make it a habit to provide your tree with well-draining soil that retains some moisture over a long period of time. The best time to repot your plant is in early spring just before your plant’s most active growing period starts.
Fukien bonsai have very sensitive roots. For this reason, it is best to minimize root pruning to as little as possible. Experts suggest not pruning more than 10% of the root system. The best soil mixture for this tree is Akadama with a little humus and pumice for added water retention.
It is very important not to fertilize your tree for two weeks to a month after repotting to give it a chance to get used to the new soil.
Wiring Your Bonsai
Wiring isn’t usually necessary for Fukien bonsai, however, if wiring is done, keep the duration as short as possible (no more than 3 months). Prolonged wiring will damage and scar your tree. It is much better to shape your tree by doing hard pruning.
Q. How Often Should I Water My Fukien Tea Bonsai?
A. It is very important to keep your Fukien Tea tree moist at all times, but be careful not to overwater your plant. Soaked soil can cause root rot, but dry soil is just as bad. Water your tree generously as soon as the top inch of the soil feels dry to the touch but never leave your plant standing in excess water.
Q. Is Fukien Tea Bonsai Poisonous?
A. The leaves of the Fukien Tea bonsai are mildly toxic when consumed by humans and pets. Ingestion usually caused mouth and stomach irritation with the possibility of vomiting.
Q. How Much Sunlight Does A Fukien Tea Need?
A. Fukien Tea bonsai prefers one hour of direct sunlight every day. It is best to place your bonsai in early morning or afternoon sunlight since midday sunlight may damage your tree. Throughout the rest of the day, your bonsai should be kept in a bright, shady location.
Q. Do Fukien Tea Bonsai Lose Their Leaves?
A. Fukien tea bonsai tend to drop some leaves. These leaves are usually replaced fairly quickly and will never fall completely. If your tree got damaged due to underwatering, it may also lose some of its leaves.
It can take 2 to 3 months for your tree to recover from such an episode.