Cotoneaster for Bonsai
by Brent Walston
Cotoneaster is currently our best selling plant
for bonsai. A number of factors are responsible
for this phenomenon, including coral to bright
red berries through the Fall, white or pink
flowers in the Spring, small neat foliage, twiggy
and often arching branch habit. Last, but not
least from a grower's point of view is the fact
that it is possible to grow a plant suitable for
bonsai in a relatively short period of time.
Cotoneaster for Mame
Cotoneaster for small bonsai, 4 to 6 inches,
can be grown from cuttings in a year or two.
The leaves, flowers and fruit are all in
proportion to this size. They are also quite easy
to maintain in this small size, needing little
trimming, and repotting only every year or two.
It has been suggested that Cotoneaster can
also be used for indoor bonsai, but on this point
I have my doubts. Plants for this size can be
grown out in 3 to 4 inch pots, which they will
soon fill and the resulting root confining
condition will begin to dwarf the plant by
shortening the internodes (the distance
between the leaves or buds).
Cotoneaster for Shohin
For Shohin (under 10 inches tall), Cotoneaster should be grown out
in one gallon cans, and pruned back frequently
to obtain many breaks on the trunk from which
future branches may be selected. This process
takes 2 to 4 years. During this time no
branches should be removed. It is permissible
and desirable to let them get a little wild to
develop trunk, but if you let the branches go
too long without pruning they will be too fat in
relation to the trunk for bonsai. The branches
should be continually pruned back to a
diameter a little greater than the can and into a
cone, to maintain proper branch proportion. All
of these low branches will help develop good
trunk size and taper. The excess branches are
removed at the time that the plant is put in the
Cotoneasters make better broad headed little
trees rather than upright narrow trees. To keep
the branches in proper proportion to the height
for these squatty little trees, the first branch
should be lower than the traditional one third
the height level. The branching may be trained
either horizontally or weeping depending on the
species used. For some cultivars it is
impossible to do anything other than weeping.
Species for Bonsai
Species that grow very quickly are not really
suitable for bonsai, their wild growth is simply
too hard to tame. Most of the species and
cultivars are deciduous in our Northern California climate, although
in a milder area they may
remain evergreen. The one species that
remains reliably evergreen in our area is C.
buxifolius 'Nanum'. This nice little plant will reach
about four feet if planted in the ground. It has
gray green fuzzy foliage and black stems. The
flowers are white and the berries are small at
less than 1/4 inch and are very red with no hint
of orange. It makes very fine bonsai.
My favorite diminutive Cotoneaster for bonsai
is C. microphyllus 'Cooperi'. This is a low
growing and actually rock hugging cultivar. It
arches naturally and if left alone will nearly
bonsai itself. It is suitable only for weeping
styles and may be made to cascade. The 1/4
inch leaves are very deep green and shiny. The
bark is dark brown and soon takes on rugged
characteristics. I keep them pretty much
confined to make the arching habit tight,
growing them out only in four inch pots. I have
some of these that are almost five years old
with nearly one inch trunks standing about 6
inches tall. They are so beautiful that I cannot
bring myself to sell any more of them.
Other species suitable for bonsai include C.
adpressus 'Praecox', C. apiculatus 'Tom Thumb'
and 'Little Gem', C. congestus 'Likiang', C.
dammeri 'Emerald Spray' and C. microphyllus
'Thymifolius'. 'Praecox' and C. horizontalis have
pink flowers, the others are white. Another fine
cultivar with a very nice arching habit is C. dammeri 'Streib's
There are probably another dozen or so
species and cultivars that are also suitable for
bonsai, just look for nice tight habit, attractive
berries and small foliage.
Cotoneaster is an excellent beginners plant,
they are tough, easy too grow, not too thirsty,
tolerant of all sorts of light conditions and most
soils. They are also a great plant for beginners
workshops because they are easy to obtain,
inexpensive, and result in a very nice small
bonsai with flowers and fruit. If you are new to
bonsai, try one!
return to Bonsai Articles
return to home page
copyright 1996 all rights reserved