It is spring and my garden is beginning to display brilliant colors, so what am I doing sharing information on chrysanthemums now? There is an active thread on the Bonsai Nut Bonsai Forum discussing chrysanthemums for bonsai. I began to write a response but developed “diarrhea of the mouth” and my reply became too long, so decided to share it here.
Chrysanthemums make great, colorful bonsai for autumn display. In the early 1970s while apprenticing in Omiya Bonsai Village, Japan I also had the opportunity to study bonsai chrysanthemums with Tameji Nakajima, co-author of The Art of the Chrysanthemum, the foremost book on chrysanthemums. He co-authored the book with H. Carl Young, who introduced Seiju elm. Mr. Nakajima hybridized chrysanthemum cultivars and selecting those which have small blooms and develop thick trunks for bonsai. I was fortunate to introduce about a dozen of his bonsai chrysanthemum cultivars in the 1970s and traveled the country teaching how to train bonsai chrysanthemums. When I stopped training bonsai chrysanthemums I made sure they would not be lost in commercial production and sold them to King’s Chrysanthemums in California, now located in Oklahoma.
Bonsai chrysanthemums are actually started in autumn, from stolon growth (small shoots) at the base of a plant. That small growth is what is trained for the following year’s bonsai, NOT the original cutting. This technique creates a great lower trunk and surface root system. During the summer growing season the chrysanthemums are transplanted MONTHLY and wired and unwired several times. If successful in developing a bonsai chrysanthemum bonsai they will present you with beautiful small colorful flowers for perhaps a month. Mostly the bonsai chrysanthemums seen in Japan are one year trees.
Bonsai chrysanthemums are extremely labor intensive and difficult to overwinter. They do not overwinter well, and when they do, I have discovered, are not as vigorous as one-year old plants.
As I have grown up the bonsai community I have learned that my time is too valuable to create a bonsai which can only be enjoyed for one year. I want to develop a bonsai which can be kept and appreciated for many years, decades.
So, currently I’m not training bonsai chrysanthemums. However, I am growing another chrysanthemum for bonsai which is long lived. The Nippon Daisy, Chrysanthemum nipponicum, is a woody perennial which is winter hardy in the Upstate New York area and develops great trunks, old bark and bright pure white, daisy-like flowers in autumn. The flower stems are a bit long, but attractive. Recently the Nippon Daisy chrysanthemum has been reclassified as Nipponathemum nipponicum.
Yuji Yoshimura next to his Nippon Daisy chrysanthemum bonsai.
My Nippon Daisy chrysanthemum originally came from Yuji Yoshimura who imported a plant from his father’s Tokyo bonsai garden in the early 1960s. The original plant was started in the 1950s so it must be 70 years old now. When I purchased the bonsai at Mr. Yoshimura’s auction in 1995 it had three trunks.
The lowest branch developed into a cascade bonsai in 2012.
I removed the left trunk and developed it into a cascade style bonsai which continues to flower and presents an aged appearance. Several other plants have been developed from trunk sections, all trained in the cascade style.
After I removed the left lower trunk the remaining two trunks were trained into a stunning twin trunk bonsai. Through the decades the smaller left trunk rotted away and a single trunk bonsai was developed. It is planted in a rather unusual Japanese Tokoname-ware container which was a wedding gift from Hiro Yamaji.
The left trunk rotted away, don’t forget its 70 years old!
The Nippon Daisy chrysanthemum is easy to root and grows great in the garden. In fact, heavy clay soil promotes rapid trunk thickening. Only a yearly spring trimming to keep the plant growing with only one trunk is all that is necessary. In three to five years it is easy to get a 2-3” trunk. Then the plant is dug and branches can be developed to form a bonsai in a container.
Old bark quickly develops.
They grow quite quickly and are trimmed several times during the growing season. However, I try to stop trimming in July or August to allow the plant to set flower buds. Usually I repot them in early to mid-summer when I have time. They prefer deeper containers because the thick leather-like foliage is heavy and demands quite a bit of water. Often I have the container sitting in a shallow saucer of water. Normally, my Nippon Daisy chrysanthemums blossom in late-October to mid-November. After flowering the small twigs are usually pruned leaving only the major branching. Thus branching is easily developed the following year.
I promise to share photos of the colorful maple bonsai in my garden soon.