Magnolia Bonsai


While most bonsai fanciers in our great country are finished with transplanting and now defoliating and trimming deciduous bonsai, we in the frigid Upstate New York area are still dancing with moving trees inside and out, daily to avoid frost and freezing temperatures. We are still transplanting and have over a month before we can even think about defoliating deciduous bonsai. In fact, we are expecting SNOW tonight and tomorrow.

Friends frequently ask why I live here. Well, many of my friends are around, are kind of centrally located for visitors, it’s the home of the US National Bonsai Exhibition (still coming up soon) and if you buy one of my bonsai, you know it will be winter hardy in most of the country.



Experiencing long periods of cold we learn to appreciate early spring flowering bonsai, a harbinger of a new fresh growing season where we have another season to enjoy and opportunity to improve our bonsai. So, basically, anything flowering in late-winter and early spring means that the “real” spring is not too far away, and hopefully will last more than a couple of days before the hot weather arrives. Today, the Forsythia and Bradford pears are still in flower.



Magnolias make great bonsai, but are not frequently seen, perhaps because they are only attractive when in flower for a couple of weeks and do not look good because of the large foliage. Well, so are a number of other species such as Cherry, Winter hazel, Witch hazel, and these too are not often seen.


I happen to love the beauty of Magnolia bonsai with the different size flowers, varying colors from white to pink to red and even yellow. The fuzzy buds are especially attractive too.


Last year there was a large magnificent cascade magnolia displayed at the 2019 92nd Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition in Tokyo which also received the Kokufu Prize and People’s Choice Award. It was truly beautiful with large dark purple flower buds. It really impressed me and thought it might be fun to attempt to create a cascade Magnolia bonsai.


Mgnolia 3-2019






In March 2019 I was shopping for plants in South Carolina and stopped at a Lowe’s to see what they had available in the nursery area. I was not surprised to see Magnolias for sale but was amazed to find a specimen with a rather unusually shaped trunk which could be trained into a cascade style with a bit of wire. I purchased it, brought it to Rochester and made a few cuts, wired and transplanted it into a training pot for future development. It grew last season and the wire was removed before cutting into the beautiful white bark. Of course, the tree did not hold the desired shape all the way, so must be wired again this week. But before wiring I wanted to enjoy the flowers which increased in number. I’m having fun playing with this tree.


April 14, looking promising


April 16 after frost and in snow


April 20, after frost


May 1

We also have a Star Magnolia garden tree in our garden. It was originally trimmed for about 15 years by one of my students who worked in a local garden center. When they closed down, I was fortunate to purchase the 8 foot tall tree and with the help of my friends moved it to our garden. That was about 20 years ago. Since planting, Diane has taken over the yearly job of maintaining the compact shape to keep the beauty of the tree. Please note that Magnolias blossom in early spring and are usually hit by frost before displaying their blossoms. We had an early warm March, but frigid April and actually thought we could not enjoy the fragrant flowers this year. The April weather hit the tree, but it still flowered! And it’s the best display we have been able to enjoy in 20 years.


If you like Magnolia bonsai and want to learn how to train and cultivate them, check out the 2007/NO. 1 issue of International BONSAI on “Spring Flowering Bonsai,” which includes two articles on how to train Magnolias and lots of great photos of other spring flowering bonsai.

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