Serissa Bonsai

For a long time this beautiful Serissa bonsai flowering gem was considered to be a tropical.  Many South Floridians (even some of the best growers) killed them by treating them as tropical plants.  Today, we can all agree, this is not a tropical plant.

Penjing by Qingquan 'Brook' Zhao was created with old imported serissa from China.

Now in Montreal Botanical Garden.

David and Linda VanBuskirk own the D & L Nursery located in the picturesque Ocala National Forest in Central Florida. David knows how to grow Serissa and agreed to share the basics.

The How-To of Serissa Bonsai

by Guest Author
David VanBuskirk

Serissa foetida comes in many varieties. Most commonly used are Chinese Snow Rose, Cherry Blossom, Kyoto, Mt. Fuji, and Thousand Stars. They have been given an unjustified bad reputation, mainly because they were grown under the wrong conditions.

They have small leaves, textured bark, they flower, are easily trained, and ramify quickly. My gosh, they sound like a perfect bonsai tree.

My favorites are Thousand Stars for larger bonsai trees; and Kyoto for great little mame or shohin.

PRUNE - Serissa bonsai responds well to severe top and root pruning; although it will cause them to root sucker. This will subside the longer the tree has been potted.

They do well with directional pruning and create nice ramification. Prune back to the second node for they tend to elongate after that. Let them grow out some in summer to reduce heat stress, then prune back in early fall. 

Serissa bonsai by David Van BuskirkBonsai Serissa by author of this article David VanBuskirk.

TRAINING - They can be easily wired and branches are fairly flexible. You can get quite a bit of movement even in old and heavy branches. In initial styling of a Serissa bonsai, bring them back to a trunk line and some main branches (if possible). With their quick growth, a nicely ramified tree can be accomplished in 2-3 years.

WATERING - Proper watering is one of the main keys to growing this plant. They strongly dislike continually wet roots, it will cause the leaves to turn yellow and fall off. (One of the ways they got their bad reputation.) With our afternoon rains that is sometimes hard to avoid.

In the summer, water every morning and have the trees go into night somewhat on the dry side.

Letting them dry down between waterings is important.

If you suffer heat stress with this schedule, then also water "soil only" in the heat of the day. They actively grow in the winter here (near Ocala, FL) so water accordingly.

FERTILIZE - The other key is to avoid heat stress. Mt. Fuji and Snow Rose especially tend to heat stress. In addition to your normal fertilization, a supplement of nitrogen will help. I alternate use of Ironite and fish emulsion through the summer.

I also found that magnesium (Epsom Salts - 2 tablespoons per gallon of water) will help the plant absorb nutrients more readily.

LIGHT - Serissa bonsai like as much sun as you can give them, without stressing it. In summer, I give them morning sun and then high filtered light from noon on. When I want to develop the Thousand Star variety, I will grow it in full sun.

If your leaves are yellowing and you are watering correctly, it's heat stress. Move it to more shade. They can also be grown in just high filtered light.

REPOT - I have repotted here (Central Florida) year round, except in severe cold. They are fast growers and don't like to be root bound. You may have to repot your younger trees every year; older ones every two years.

They prefer fast draining soil; I use 25% organics in my soil mix.

SEASONAL These plants can handle cold down to 25 degrees!

As bonsai, protect from heavy frost to prevent tip burn. Their fastest growth is in spring, fall, and first half of winter, slowest midsummer.

Where to Go From Here

More Serissa bonsai pictures and two stories from different climate zones.

Thinking about bonsai indoors

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