In Japan, spring is the season of festivals, fireworks, yukatas and—you guessed it—cherry blossoms. Prunus serrulata, the most famous of bonsai cherry trees, comes in varieties and is commonly called the Japanese cherry.
It is a deciduous tree that blooms beautifully delicate pink and white flowers in spring and bears tiny, black, round fruits after blooming.
Although, originally from China—the tree and the art, both—the dainty blossoms are famously associated with Japanese art and flora. The bonsai cherry were once a symbol of royalty in Kyoto, the capital of ancient Japan. Nothing exemplifies Japanese bonsai than the sakura themselves.
Searching for the right species won’t give you a headache. Of the 430 varieties of the cherry genera—the Prunus spp—majority are suitable candidates for bonsai cultivation. Here are a few you can choose from based on their characteristics:
Cherry trees are not common backyard trees to most of the world. Luckily, germ material can be conveniently purchased from reputable stores. A bonsai cherry tree can be grown from seed, sapling or cutting. When purchasing cuttings, take the time to inquire about the timeframe. Grafts are at the most optimum in early spring.
A tree in a small pot will naturally need a lot of nutrients to stay healthy. All the same, cherries are not more fastidious than the average bonsai when it comes to soil composition. They do not require specialized additives other than the regular bonsai soil mix—organic material and nonorganic substrate—recommended for most bonsai plants.
Bonsai cherries are as delicate as their blooms in their high susceptibility to the turning of seasons. They would need to be grown indoors or outdoors, depending on the area’s climate and temperature.
Cherries have a three-month period of winter, during which they enter a dormant phase. They do not bloom nor bear fruit. At this time, they must be kept in a cold environment. They can be placed in an unheated room or be exposed to the snow outside; strategically located where sunlight will not be able to reach.
In spring and autumn, the trees will want to see the sun again. Unlike in winter, they cannot be kept inside at these times. Place them in the direct path of morning sunshine and weak afternoon light.
The summer sun may be too harsh. Depending on your area, they maybe be kept under filtered, indirect sunlight in the morning and full-shade in the afternoon.
It rains twice for the bonsai. That’s a Japanese saying for hydration. Bonsai cherry trees are extremely particular with water. Never leave the soil entirely dry but do not overdo it. Trees soaked with water are vulnerable to rotting and can quickly die. The Prunus tormentosa species need even less water than its brethren. Secure drainage and install a watering meter if feasible.
Summers can get overbearingly hot so frequent watering may be needed. Spraying at intervals is also suitable. In the winter, plants can be watered only once every 2 weeks.
Bonsai cherries need regular feedings of organic fertilizer. They can be fed once in fall and once in winter. Ease up on nitrogen as they do not promote flowering. In summers, feedings are every two weeks. Gradually switch to high potassium formula toward summer’s end.
Pruning is a crucial routine in maintaining your cherries’ tininess. It is done after the falling of the last flowers at the end of spring and can also carried out in winter. Leave about 30% of the new growth and prune the rest.
Spring and summer are seasons for wiring. But you won’t want to hurt the fragile trunk so it’s best to have most of the wiring done by a professional.
To replenish nutrients with fresh soil, repotting is done every two years. The ideal time to make this change is between late winter to end of spring.
That said, Prunus serrulata can be transplanted yearly and, along with Prunus mahaleb, can be repotted after the leaves fall in late autumn.
It is a good idea to be prepared in spring when birds flock to nom-nom on cherry blossom flower buds. Aphids and caterpillars also love to munch on leaves.
A bonsai cherry tree may be susceptible to the fungi Taphrina wiesneri that cause witch’s broom and Taphrina cerasi that causes cherry leaf curl. But take heart as it’s nothing serious. Affected branches can easily be removed to prevent spreading of infection.