In nature, Podocarpus bonsai trees are evergreen shrubs (or trees.)
They usually have straight trunks, horizontal branches and grow from about twelve feet to over 100 feet depending upon the species and location.
Leaves have a spiral, alternate arrangement. Linear in shape, the leaves look very much like enlarged flat needles. Many species have potential as bonsai.
P. macrophylla, P. maki (a shrubby variety) and P. nagi are common subjects with dark green leaves.
P. elongatus (also known as P. gracilior) has a more delicate appearance -- longer, thinner, pointed leaves (lighter in color) and weeping branches. Perfect for weeping style Podocarpus bonsai!
At one time, the wood was popular for furniture. As bonsai, the dense wood lends itself beautifully to jins and shari.
Because of its natural growth pattern, Podocarpus bonsai trees are most often styled as uprights. Old trunks are difficult, if not impossible, to bend. Large branches are also difficult to re-shape, but can sometimes be moved using guy-wires or other times with raffia.
Young branches and new growth are flexible and can be easily trained by traditional wiring.
The Buddhist pine tree is successful in a variety of growing conditions. Most species do equally well in full sun and semi-shade.
They are not bothered by tropical heat and are salt tolerant. This bonsai also adapts to indoors under good light.
Keep them evenly moist. Like many conifers, they will not tolerate roots in very wet or soggy soil. Fast draining mixes are good for all bonsai but especially those less accepting of wet feet.
By observing them as hedges and/or topiary, you can see how dense the foliage becomes with frequent pruning.
You can also see the wonderful trunk bases (nebari) Podocarpus will develop!
This plant tolerates lower temperatures than you may expect. It is found in landscapes as far north as North Carolina in the United States.
To be on the safe side, protect your Buddhist pine bonsai from freezes.
This bonsai was created from a very tall landscape tree. Always keep your eyes open for property renovations, both commercial and residential.
You just may find a perfect urban yamadori podocarpus.
Many times landscapers will be happy to have you drag away their "debris".
The roots of this tree are very dense. It is best not to comb them out when repotting. This will cause considerable breakage.
If the existing soil is very poor, pressure from a garden hose may be the best technique to remove it from around the roots.
When collecting these trees for bonsai from the landscape, it is not unusual to remove more than half of both the top and the roots without harm.
Most hobbyists agree late winter and early spring are the best times to collect.
As bonsai, check the roots annually, however this species may go two or three years without needing a trim.
Prune tip growth of foliage frequently to encourage branching.
Aphids are the most frequent pest on this tree. Aphids can cause leaves to become disfigured, stunted and/or even yellow.
More significantly, aphids (including the ‘blue’ ones that favor Podocarpus bonsai trees) are vectors (carriers) for plant viruses.
It is important to eliminate aphids as soon as possible. Sometimes a hard spray of water from a hose will remove them.
Ants are often attracted by the ‘honeydew’ of aphids. If you have ants look for aphids. Encourage Ladybugs - sometimes called Lady Beetles - they are an important beneficial predator of aphids.
Most hobbyists agree, this “Japanese yew” (another of its common names) is otherwise easy to grow and has few problems.
Podocarpus bonsai can be grown from seed, but it is a very slow process. Seeds of most varieties take approximately two years just to germinate.
Air layers will work and are a good way to turn a good branch into a better bonsai. See this example of how to create an air layer here.
Cuttings are another way to propagate. Even large cuttings have known to root successfully in South Florida. (Not as likely in less than tropical environments.)
If you're buying a Buddhist pine bonsai tree, it's best to purchase a plant with the size trunk you want. Podocarpus trunks develop very slowly, especially in a container.
When buying a collected tree, be sure it has been in its current container for at least a year (preferably two.) This is a good rule of thumb for purchases of any yamadori!
Many books and articles say: “Podocarpus berries are edible, not poisonous but not very tasty.” Have you tried one?
The late Joe Samuels always laughed when he shared his story.
While he was Director of Parks for the City of Miami Beach, FL, Joe planted many Podocarpus in the landscape of the islands. However, he told no one of the tasty fruit.
He said he "feared the beautiful berries would disappear" from all the city’s trees. Then, neither he nor the birds would have any!
When the fruit is ripe, remove the top section (seed with fleshy covering).
ONLY Eat the dark purplish colored portion. If the first one isn’t tasty, it may not have been ripe, try another.
According to Joe, they taste like blueberries! I agree.
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Know the basics? Ready for more?
Watch these amazing Colin Lewis bonsai class videos