Bonsai tree trimming is a hobby that more and more people in the Pacific Northwest area are taking up. Simply put, it’s the art of cultivating small trees—often artificially kept at a smaller size than they would otherwise reach—and trimming them in a way that is aesthetically pleasing.
Cultivating your own bonsai trees is an art and science in and of itself. It’s up to you how much time and money you want to spend on this project. If you wish, you can cultivate bonsai trees from saplings or even seeds. If you want to minimize the effort on your end, you can also purchase bonsai trees that have been shaped ahead of time for you.
Regardless of how you prefer to proceed, you’ll need to begin with the right tree, and that means one that is appropriate for your climate and soil conditions. While the art of bonsai began in China (called penjing there) and evolved into what it is today in Japan, there are plenty of Pacific Northwest trees that are perfectly suited for the art of bonsai tree trimming.
Below, we’ve listed five native trees that are perfect for bonsai. If you decide you wish to use any of them, contact Mr. Tree, the best arborists in the Pacific Northwest, to discuss planting options.
1. Pacific Yew
A tree native to the temperate climate of the Pacific Northwest, the Pacific yew is a hardy and versatile evergreen shrub. It can tolerate drought conditions well, as well as survive in the shade that larger fir trees create. As a smaller tree, the yew is particularly well suited for bonsai, especially since it grows slowly and is made up of particularly hard wood, excellent for deadwood sculpting.
As a bonsai tree, a Pacific yew will need to be repotted around every two to four years. The tree can survive indoors, although it will prefer a bit more sunlight. If it’s kept indoors, however, it’s possible for the tree to receive too much light, which can weaken and ultimately even kill it. An indoor tree should be given the same number of hours of light as it would receive naturally outdoors.
Note that you should avoid this species if you have pets that could approach the tree. They can be quite poisonous.
2. Vine Maple
Another tree that can thrive in the shade of other, larger trees, the vine maple is a deciduous shrub that is native to the western coast of North America. It’s especially attractive in the fall, as its normally green leaves begin to shift toward brilliant reds and oranges. It is a moderately fast-growing tree that doesn’t reach especially large sizes, even naturally.
To cultivate a vine maple as a bonsai tree, you will need to repot it every two or three years. Regular pruning is important to maintain a vine maple bonsai. Each time two pairs of leaves appear, you will need to prune the tree slightly. The tree will need to be fed with a special bonsai food that will help to keep it at the desired size.
3. Western Juniper
A conifer tree that also calls the Pacific Northwest its home, the western juniper can reach a height of 80 feet if it’s allowed to grow naturally in ideal conditions. The leaves on this tree have the look of scales, although as this is a conifer tree, they are actually needles. Like the others on this list, the western juniper can tolerate shade, however, it does tend to prefer full sunlight. Soil conditions for this tree can prove to be a bit of a challenge, as it does best with a neutral pH.
Despite being relatively difficult to cultivate, the western juniper remains extremely popular for bonsai tree trimming. It will need to be repotted more often than some of the trees on this list, approximately once every two years. However, if your tree is very old—and some can live for thousands of years—you may be able to get away with repotting less.
4. Western Red Cedar
Despite its name, the western red cedar is not a true cedar. It can grow incredibly tall—the largest one known is about 195 feet—and develop a thick, red trunk. The wood of this tree is somewhat resistant to the common diseases and pests that plague trees in the Pacific Northwest. The tree is also known for its inviting fragrance, and growing a few on your property can surround your home with a pleasant scent. It can tolerate various soil conditions, from very acidic to slightly alkaline, and it can succeed when grown in partial shade. It does require a good amount of moisture in order to thrive.
If your bonsai tree is a western red cedar, it can be repotted once every four or five years. It must be protected from freezing during the winter months, as this can do a great deal of damage to the tree. No matter how cold it gets, you will need to make sure you water the tree, as it needs moisture regularly. In fact, investing in a good quality moisture meter will help your western red cedar to thrive as a bonsai tree.
5. Ponderosa Pine
One of the most common tree species in the western United States is the ponderosa pine, also known as the yellow pine. This tree can reach heights of over 200 feet tall and live for up to 600 years, at least. It can be identified by its long needles, which come in bunches of three, and its oval-shaped cones. It is more drought-tolerant than many of the other trees on this list, requiring less moisture to thrive. It also doesn’t require a lot of nutrients in the soil, which is why it can thrive in so many different areas across the country. The tradeoff is that the ponderosa pine does not tolerate shade, with its growth being majorly stunted if it does not receive enough sunlight.
For bonsai tree trimming, the ponderosa pine provides a few unique challenges. Its needles are naturally somewhat too long for a bonsai tree, so they must be trimmed in order to maximize the bonsai aesthetics. Reducing the size of the needles requires you to fertilize the tree a great deal during the early years of its life. This will eventually encourage back budding, shortening the needles naturally and creating an incredibly appealing bonsai tree.