Bonsais Throughout the Seasons

Spring Color

Spring, with its welcome return of color and growth after the bleakness of winter, is a particularly exciting time in the bonsai world. New buds begin to swell and break, furnishing fresh new foliage and some of the earliest flowers. Gradually, the rate of growth quickens, until every tree and shrub is bursting with life and vigor.

In early spring, the Japanese larch, Larix kaempferi, is one of the first trees to break into leaf, its bright green new needles heralding the coming season. The Japanese maples, Acer palmatum, especially the red-leaved cultivars ‘Seigen' and ‘Deshojo', and the lime-green ‘Ukon', unfold their leaves into a brilliantly colorful display. Even those deciduous and evergreen species that have green leaves exhibit a breathtaking range of different hues and textures.

In mild weather throughout winter and spring, the autumn cherry, Prunus subhirtella ‘Autumnali's, can be relied on to produce flushes of white or pale pink blossoms. Flowers in vivid reds and pinks, and pure white, adorn the flowering quinces, Chaenomeles japonica, C. speciosa, and C. x superba. As the weeks pass, other trees start to unfurl their leaves, while beautiful flowers clothe the branches of crab apples and cherries.

The wisteria makes a lavish show with its cascading clusters of fragrant blue, mauve or white, pea-like flowers against a background of fresh green foliage. Finally, in late spring, the many spectacular cultivars of the azaleas, Rhododendron, burst into richly colored flower.

Summer glory

One of the greatest attractions of summer for bonsai enthusiasts is the variety of greens produced by the leaves of the various trees and shrubs. Other bonsai provide a striking contrast with their colored or variegated foliage. By midsummer, the deciduous trees and shrubs are in full leaf, and the evergreens look noticeably fresher for the addition of new foliage.

As the summer advances, all bonsai are growing very vigorously and changing constantly, lowering trees are especially attractive now. The sensational blossoms of the brilliant Satsuki azaleas, or Rhododendron, are one of the glories of early summer. The different varieties of the pomegranate, Punka granatum, produce scarlet, white, yellow, or pink flowers in high summer, and the potentilla is spangled with small blossoms in a similar variety of shades. Cotoneaster and pyracantha species also flower in summer, and by the end of the season have begun to form their colorful fruits, as has the crab apple, Malus.

Early in the season, you can leaf cut some deciduous trees, particularly maples, Acer, and by late summer new leaves will sprout to give a second display of the glorious colors of spring.

Autumn Tints

The season of autumn is as colorful as spring, but its brilliance lasts longer, allowing more time to appreciate its beauty. The leaves of some deciduous species may be changing hue and beginning to fall, while others have not yet begun their most striking color changes, and still others have already fallen to the ground.

The rich, strong tints – yellow, orange, red, and purple – of the maples, Acer, are sensational in the fall. The euonymus and stewartia produce even brighter reds, while the leaves of the gingko change to a distinctive buttercup yellow, and the needles of the larch turn from bright green to vivid gold. The leaves of beech, Fagus, become a russet brown, while those of the birch trees, Betula, take on a rich golden hue. The luscious red berries of the rowan or mountain ash, Sorbus aucuparia, cluster decoratively among its orange and golden foliage. As the leaves fall from other fruiting species, such as crab apples, Malus, the Japanese winterberry, Bex serrata, and some cotoneasters, the fine structure of their branches is exposed, covered with bright fruits.

Winter Interest

Winter is an important season in the world of bonsai, for it is considered that many bonsai can be best appreciated when the structure of deciduous trees is unobscured by foliage. The Japanese traditionally display their bonsai, and hold major exhibitions, at this time of year.

Winter is also a prime time for viewing evergreens, which seem to express an air of strength and perseverance throughout the harshest conditions, as well as providing a pleasing contrast to the lighter, more fragile tracery of deciduous trees.

When bare of leaves, deciduous trees, such as the Chinese elm, Ulmus parvifolia, and trident maple, Acer buergerianum, reveal their mass of delicate twigs. Others, such as the crape myrtle, Lagerstroemia indica, and stewartia display their fascinatingly textured and colored bark. Fruit hangs on some trees throughout the winter, enlivening the sombre scene with splashes of vivid color. The Chinese quince, Chaenomeles sinensis, looks especially attractive with its winter combination of strongly patterned branches, decorative bark, and bright fruits.

In late winter, the pale, fragrant blossoms on the bare wood of the flowering apricot, Prunus mume, herald the coming spring. They are followed shortly afterwards by the cheerful yellow flowers of the winter jasmine, Jasminum nudiflorum, also carried on leafless branches.

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