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Bonsai Magic? Making Leaves Smaller!
September 14, 2018

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- Making Leaves Smaller -
Bonsai Magic?

To be clear ... we do not actually shrink leaves!

Defoliation (removing leaves,) to reduce the size of new leaves, is one of many bonsai techniques beginners often find mysterious.

As seen in this photo, where the stem of a leaf is attached to the branch, there is a dormant bud. The bud eventually sprouts new leaves. By removing the larger existing leaf, the dormant bud will be stimulated to develop.

If given proper care, the new leaves will be smaller.

Some people pull off old leaves. I recommend cutting leaves off, leaving the stem of the leaf undisturbed so as not to damage the dormant bud.

Despite many recommendations to place the bonsai in the shade to recover, don't do it!

Return the tree where it was growing. (Hopefully, in high light or sun.) If it gets too much shade, the new leaves will arrive searching for light and therefore become large.

Never try to push new growth with fertilizer during this process.

Defoliation does not work on all trees. Before you give it a try, ask a more experienced bonsai person.

Serious Leaf Reduction!

I have never grown the Premna tree, so when I received this email from Rick Jeffery, I was very surprised.

"Mary ... thought you might like to see how tiny the leaves reduce with Premna serratifolia ... the large leaf came off a 2 foot plant that was started as a cutting from the little 5 inch bonsai!

The flowers and clusters of berries are rather large and are unlikely to be used in a finished bonsai.

Rick, who lives in Florida, got his first Premna starter from another bonsai club member. He said "it's a fast grower, they root easily from cuttings, but do not like the cold!"

"They do not like to dry out, but they do a good job of alerting with drooping leaves when they need water!"

Premna is a tropical genus, with 100 species (at least.) Many of the species look similar and are difficult to distinguish from one another. It's a tropical plant and very popular as bonsai in Southeast Asia. So of course, it loves Florida, especially south of Orlando.

Louise Leister, also a Florida resident, owns this amazing little Premna bonsai. Louise enjoys shohin size trees and this one is only 4 inches tall (approx. 10 cm.) from soil line to top of tree.

... which makes the above picture just about life size!

Large Premna obtusifolia on Display in Taiwan

If I still had my nursery in South Florida, I would definitely consider planting a field of Premna for future bonsai!

Not Ready for Reducing Leaves?

There are many plants with naturally small leaves recommended for bonsai.

The smaller the better, especially when creating very small bonsai. Read more about Shohin.

Chinese Elm Bonsai is one of the most popular small leaf trees and easy to care for. It is especially popular with beginners. It's fast growing and easy to care for.

Although the trunk develops slowly in a container, the branches grow very quickly.

Frequent trimming of the branches creates beautiful ramification.

Another plus is, they can be either indoor bonsai, outdoors, or a little of both.

Bonsai Mary Gets Mail

Marc G.
South Africa

Hi! I'm looking for a little insight on the care for 'London planes as bonsai' - there isn't much on these trees online. Are they as sensitive as maples as far as bleeding after hard pruning is concerned? Can they be cared for as any typical deciduous bonsai? Many thanks.

I responded: Marc - To be honest, I had never heard of the London Plane tree. I've lived in the tropics most of my life, and it is not a tropical tree. So I did a little research.

This was the only thing I found about 'Plane tree' bonsai. It is long and it takes about 5 minutes before the collector finds a tree to dig: 'YouTube' Plane Tree collecting, but the scenery is beautiful.

After I sent Marc the first email, I sent another, as I discovered "London Plane" is also known as Sycamore! Speaking of leaf reduction! If anyone reading this has one of these interesting trees, we would love to see pictures!

Lynn R. - Central FL
RE: Last Month's BonsaiBanter
Thank you Mary: This newsletter was very helpful for me. It really made the whole beginning process of creating a Bonsai make sense. I have taken a few classes, but always walked away a little unsure of where to start. I moved from Vermont last year to Central Florida and am still trying to adjust to the change. I have lost a few plants ... from lack of water? ... and seem to be fighting with a few bugs here and there.

I am happy to get your newsletter. It has inspired me to get back at it.

I welcomed Lynn to Central Florida and recommended a great bonsai nursery nearby - D & L Nursery

Until Next Month

We are entering the tricky weather months. Make preparations now for any of your change of season plans.

Using a greenhouse? Are the benches clean, empty and ready for winter guests?

If you're taking tropicals indoors, make sure you have enough light!

And for my friends in the tropics, if your frost blankets are worn and torn, it's time to get new ones!


Mary Miller

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