Essential Tips for Growing Indoor Bonsai Trees

The ancient art of bonsai has long been revered for its ability to draw inner peace, centre the mind, and cultivate a deep connection with the natural world. What’s more, if you’re keeping an indoor bonsai tree, science tells us they also help to purify the air we breathe in addition to serving as a stunning ornamental centerpiece for the home or office.

Here I’ll share a few essential tips and considerations if you’re looking to grow and nurture a bonsai in your home. What’s great is bonsai trees aren’t as arduous as you might think and with a few well followed guidelines you too can enjoy the great benefits of bonsai.

 

Bonsai tree

©Shutterstock – Bonsai trees are easier to grow than you might think!

 

Picking a Suitable Indoor Bonsai Tree

It’s important to note that only tropical or subtropical trees should be considered for indoor bonsai. All temperate trees require a period of dormancy during the winter season to complete their annual growth cycles.

Great choices for indoor bonsai (particularly if you’re new to bonsai life) include the Carmona (Fukien Tea Tree), Zelkova (or Japanese Elm), Ligustrum (Privet), Ficus (Retusa and Ginseng), and the Sageretia (Chinese sweet plum).

Where to Place Your New Bonsai Tree

Much like caring for a houseplant, a key factor is going to be the light conditions you’re able to offer the bonsai tree throughout the day. 

 

Bonsai tree

©Shutterstock – A bright spot with indirect sunlight is ideal.

 

As a general rule, aim to keep your bonsai in a position where it mainly receives indirect light for the majority of the day (short periods of bright direct light are fine).

Definitely avoid any south-facing window ledges, particularly during summer months as this may cause your bonsai tree to overheat. Similarly, avoid close proximity to radiators or free standing heaters during the winter.

Watering Your Bonsai Tree

Ensuring your bonsai is regularly watered is absolutely essential. Your exact living environment, relative humidity, and the type of tree will play a factor but you should aim to monitor soil moisture levels daily initially. A few key pointers:

  • A bonsai should never be allowed to dry completely. Check the relative moisture level approximately 1cm under the soil’s surface (your finger is fine or you could also use a soil moisture probe as well). If dry, your tree is ready for it’s next watering.
  • When watering, aim to cover the entire soil surface so the roots have the best chance of receiving a good soaking.
  • A good technique is to water the tree from above using a watering can with a fine nozzle to avoid disturbing the soil on the surface.
  • I’d recommend investing in some form of tray to catch the drained water as it flows through the soil. This will also help to create a nice humid atmosphere around the tree in-between watering cycles.

 

Bonsai tree

©Shutterstock – Ensuring your bonsai is regularly watered is absolutely essential. 

 

When to Feed Your Bonsai Tree

Bonsai trees require a little help with feeding as the natural roots aren’t able to dig deep into the ground to draw nutrients as a regular tree would do in the wild.

It’s really important to use the correct type of bonsai fertilizer with a high phosphate level. Follow the instructions detailed on the package but generally the tree should receive a feed every 1 to 2 weeks from spring through to the end of summer and monthly from late autumn through winter.

Pruning Your Bonsai Tree

The cornerstone of the art of bonsai is maintaining a regular pruning and trimming schedule to preserve their overall beauty and aesthetics.

The trick is to keep an eye on new growth (particularly during spring to summer months) and aim to pinch back to the overall shape you’re looking to maintain. These will typically appear as growth from the tree’s main branches and trunk. Once they reach around 3cm it’s a good time to cut back with sharp scissors as neatly to it’s parent branch as possible.

Don’t be too over-vigorous as a little growth is important for the tree’s overall health and wellbeing.

 

Bonsai tree

©Shutterstock – Use scissors to prune new growth.

 

When to Repot Your Bonsai Tree

Bonsai trees will typically outgrow their pots every 1 to 2 years. The best time to check the root structure and consider re-potting is early spring. If the roots have completely filled the current pot it’s a good time to consider stepping up to the next container size. 

When repotting, it’s important to use a suitable bonsai soil mix. These will have the correct balance of peat and perlite with some added feed to ensure your tree gets all the nutrients it needs.

Wrap-up

Nurturing a bonsai tree at home is a really rewarding pastime. By following a few simple steps each week you’ll quickly learn to understand your own tree’s unique needs and preferences. Before you know it you’ll be well on your way to becoming a master in the art of bonsai. Enjoy!

 

Peonies – 6 Fun Facts & 5 Essential Growing Tips

The peony is a famed ornamental flowering plant in the genus Paeonia. Their stunning, voluminous blooms are on show for a short season each year running from late spring through to early summer. They’ve long been a favourite of many a gardener and the best floristry studios where they feature prominently in weddings, bridal bouquets, table centrepieces, and floral arrangements. What’s more, the venerable Peony also has a fascinating story to tell across history and in modern culture. Plus, we’ll share 5 of our favourite peony growing tips. Read on!

Peony bouquet

©Thompson & Morgan – Peony flowers feature prominently in weddings, bridal bouquets, table centrepieces, and floral arrangements.

Peony flowers – rooted in Greek Mythology

Peonies are native to the Mediterranean in addition to Western parts of the United States and China. Whilst there are references to the flower in ancient Chinese texts dating back as far as 1000 BC the name ‘Peony’ is thought to originate from Greek Mythology.

The story is centred around Paeon (or Paean), who was a student of Aesculapius – the Greek God of medicine. When Paeon healed Pluto using the root of a peony plant, Aesculapius became jealous of his young maestro’s talents and tried to kill him. Fortunately, Paeon was saved from death thanks to the mighty Zeus who transformed him into a flowering ‘peony’ plant. A flower Zeus was sure others would long admire and look on with affection.

peony flower

©Shutterstock – Peony flowers are rooted in Greek Mythology

The healing power of peonies

Peonies have long been coveted flowers for both their medicinal benefits as well as the gorgeous flowering displays.

Across China, Korea and Japan, peony seeds and roots are utilised to treat an array of ailments including convulsions and insect bites. Dried peony petals are also a popular herbal remedy in teas.

Peonies: The go-to petals for your next tattoo

The peony for many centuries has been one of the most popular floral symbols used in tattoos. For instance, in Japanese and Chinese body art you’ll often find an interplay between powerful animals and mythical beasts (such as lions and dragons) with delicate floral components. The peony is one of the most popular floral symbols representing the intersection between power and delicate beauty.

The Official 12th Wedding Anniversary Flower:

Peonies also have a deep association to romance and with gestures of the heart and are officially recognised as being the 12th Wedding Anniversary Flower.

Peony flowers

©Thompson & Morgan – Peonies are the recognised flower for 12th wedding anniversaries.

The ‘Queen of Flowers’

China, in particular, has long held a deep cultural appreciation of the peony flower. Before the plum tree, the peony flower was considered the national flower of the country. It was also adorned the title of ‘Queen of Flowers’ and came to symbolise both honour and wealth.

Red, White and Pink Peonies (each symbolise different emotions)

Peonies have an underlying association with love, compassion, good fortune and prosperity. As with many flower varieties, symbolism is often tied to the colour of the petals.

red, white and pink peonies

©Shutterstock – Peonies have an underlying association with love, compassion, good fortune and prosperity.

Whilst shades of red peonies lend themself to romance, white peonies are often associated with sorrow, remorse and regret. The mighty pink peony, so often the centrepiece in a bridal bouquet, is a symbol of young, early love and a celebration of life.

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5 Essential Peony Growing Tips:

Here are 5 essential tips I’ve picked up over the years to help your homegrown peonies thrive:

1) Plant Peonies in late Autumn

Whilst you could plant peonies in early spring, they never seem to do as well. Aim for late September into October to give the plants an opportunity to settle before winter draws in. You’ll see the benefits come May the following year, especially if you give them a feed at the time of planting out.

2) Peonies love full sun-light

Once bedded in, peonies are actually quite self-sufficient. Just ensure you plant in conditions with maximum light as they adore the sun’s rays to flourish.

Grow Peonies in full sun

©Thompson & Morgan – Grow Peonies in full sun.

3) Ensure enough spacing between peony plants

I’d recommend a minimum of 3 feet between each plant to ensure enough space for the plant roots to breathe and grow. There’s nothing worse than overcrowding to create an environment where disease and rot can spread.

4) Support the stems!

Peony flowers aren’t shy in terms of their size and volume. Sometimes the sheer weight can place a strain on the stems so ensure they’re suitably supported with a wire support, or bamboo stakes and cable ties if required.

Peony Frame

©Thompson & Morgan – Support Peony flowers with a frame.

5) Ants love peonies too (leave them alone!)

You might notice ants have a particular affinity to the peony flower. Worry not. The ants are just after the sweet nectar and help protect the plants from other invaders which would be a much bigger concern.

 

 

 

What to do when your plugs arrive

We’re so pleased to see so many photos on social media of the plug plants that you’re receiving in the post. Some customers – perhaps those of you who are turning to your gardens during this time of social distancing and self isolation – are asking us about what to do with their plug plants when they arrive. We’re aware that many of you may be new to gardening and might need some help and advice, so here’s a quick guide to what to do when your plants are delivered.

What to do when your plugs arrive

  • Unpack your plants as soon as they arrive – even if you haven’t got time to plant them up straight away – they’ll need some air after being enclosed in their packaging.
  • Give them a drink! The plants may well be thirsty after their journey, so moisten the plugs of soil at the roots of the plants if they are dry.
  • Don’t worry if the plants look a little sad on arrival; they should perk up once you give them a drink.
  • When you’re ready, gently tweak each plug plant out of its packaging and plant each one into a 7-9cm pot, filled with a good quality, multi purpose compost. This is what is known as ‘potting on’.
  • Gently press the plug plant into the compost, adding more to top up the pot if necessary. Don’t fill the pot to the very top with the compost – you need to allow for watering.
  • Place your pots somewhere where they will stay fairly warm and get lots of light – a windowsill, or a table near a window is fine if you don’t have a greenhouse or conservatory.
  • Keep the compost moist, but try not to overwater.
  • Your plants will start to grow; getting bigger and stronger by the day.

Once your plants have developed more leaves and are looking more robust – usually in late April to mid May (depending on the weather/climate in your area) – you can toughen them up ready for planting out in the garden by popping them outdoors during the daytime and bringing them in at night. You should do this for 7 – 10 days prior to planting out. This is known as ‘hardening off’. It’s important to protect your growing plants from any possible spring frosts, so do keep an eye on the weather forecast!

After you’ve ‘hardened off’ your plants, they’re ready to be planted out into the garden where you can watch them continue to grow and flourish – just remember to water them!

NOTE: If your plants are destined for baskets or containers which can be easily moved indoors and out again, then you can plant your plants into their final containers a little earlier if they have made good growth. You can then harden them off as explained.

Drought-proofing my garden

The recent dry spell has really made me think about the plants I am growing. The drought has taken its toll on a favourite tree in my garden.  In truth, it has been many years since it performed at its best.  This year, I’ll be lucky if there are any leaves left come autumn! I’m blaming my thin, silty soil and a lack of regular rainfall, coupled with hot, drying winds over the past few weeks.

This has had me pondering – do I take some softwood cuttings now to replace it if it dies? Or is it better to accept what nature has given me; to find plants that naturally cope well under drought conditions. After all, the Trachycarpus (Windmill Palm) growing close by is positively flourishing.

Contrast between trees surviving drought

©Sue Sanderson, T&M – Sorbus vilmorinii (left) is suffering drought, while Trachycarpus (right) flourishes.

 

Preparing for dryer weather conditions

I’m a great believer in choosing the right plant for the right position. Why spend hours nurturing a moisture-loving plant that will never thrive on a dry soil? Unfortunately it’s far too easy to be led astray by a pretty flower in the garden centre. I’m sure I’m not the only one! So I’ve decided to let nature take its course and start planning for a more drought resilient garden…

 

Limit your plant choices

A good starting place is to look at what thrives in your garden already, and let these plants become the basis of your planting palette. This will often mean a smaller range of plants used in larger, bolder groups. Apart from being more in tune with the natural order of things, I find that planting in this way is often more attractive than a jumble of individual species, all fighting for attention.

Sempervivums (Houseleeks) are definitely ‘in’ this year. Mine seem to be flourishing since repotting them into a gritty soil mix, and ‘pups’ are popping up all over the place!

sempervivum

©Sue Sanderson, T&M – Sempervivums are resilient little plants that cope well with dry conditions.

These resilient little plants are steeped in folklore! They have been used throughout history for medicinal purposes such as using the sap from their fleshy leaves to soothe burns and abrasions – an outdoor Aloe vera, if you like!

Sempervivums come in a surprising range of colours too, like T&M’s Chick Charms Collection which would look great inserted into the cracks in my garden walls.

Sempervivum 'Chick Charms'

©Newey Plants – Sempervivum ‘Chick Charms’ will add colour to wall crevices.

 

Encourage the colonisers

Speaking of cracks in the walls, these Hart’s Tongue Ferns are definitely some of the top performers on my plot! One small plant that was introduced over a decade ago, and now they have colonised the length of the steep steps that descend to the bottom of my garden.

Take advantage of natural colonisers

©Sue Sanderson, T&M – Take advantage of natural colonisers, such as Hart’s Tongue Ferns (left) and Trachystemon (right).

Another big coloniser is my garden is Trachystemon orientalis with its coarse, heart-shaped leaves and pretty Borage-like flowers in spring. This is a great performer for dry shade and creates dense ground cover. In very dry weather the leaves will flop, but generally there is little that upsets it.

It’s related to the white flowered Symphytum orientalis, another success story that’s growing in the thin, dry soil around the edge of my pond. Both are from the Boraginaceae family, and provide a valuable supply of nectar for pollinating insects in early spring. Clearly this is a group that is worth exploring in my new planting palette!

Stipa tenuissima does well for me too. This billowing grass adds movement to borders. It self-seeds freely but is always easy to manage.

Stipa and Bergenia

©Sue Sanderson, T&M – Stipa tenuissima (left) adds texture, while Bergenia (right) makes good ground cover.

Geranium phaeum and Bergenia cordifolia have really found their stride this year too. I planted a few Bergenia many years ago and they have finally bulked up to create a pleasing clump of glossy foliage, which makes excellent ground cover.

 

Plant drought tolerant species

There has been huge interest in drought tolerant species this year, particularly succulents such as Hylotelephium takesimense ‘Atlantis’ (known to most of us as Sedum). This showy plant was awarded the prestigious honour of RHS Chelsea Plant of the Year 2019 and it certainly is eye-catching.

Sedum Atlantis

©Plantipp / Visions BV, Netherlands – RHS Chelsea Plant of the Year 2019 award went to drought resistant Sedum ‘Atlantis’

There are plenty of other Sedum available too. Given a sunny spot with good drainage, they are always happy to tough it out at the front of my dry borders, attracting pollinating insects as an added bonus!

It’s not all ground cover perennials in my garden. Euonymus is another genus that thrives here. Deciduous Euonymus europaeus is best known as our native Spindle Tree. The curious pink fruits and vibrant autumn colour make it a lovely focal point in autumn. I’m always surprised at how well this tree copes – it seems to thrive on neglect!

Euonymus plants

©Sue Sanderson, T&M – Euonymus europaeus (left) and E. japonicus (right) are surprisingly drought tolerant species.

For year round reliability, you can’t beat the variegated evergreen foliage of Euonymus japonicus ‘Ovatus Aureus’. This tough, resilient plant provides structure and colour throughout the winter months, tolerating the dry summer without issue.

 

Put the pretties in pots!

Of course, we all have to have a few delicate ‘pretties’ in our gardens, but I tend to grow mine in pots close to the house. Not only do I get to appreciate them more, but it also allows me to focus all my watering efforts in one place. As one pot fades, another fresh pot can take its place, and the tired plants can be retired to a less visible spot.    I also use saucers under each pot during the summer to catch the escaping ‘run-off’ and save on water wastage.

Flower in containers

©Sue Sanderson, T&M – Grow flowering plants close to the house to make watering less challenging.

Do you have any top tips for gardening drought-proofing your garden? We’d love to hear about your favourite drought resistant plants. Why not share your tips and pictures with us on our Facebook page?

 

Get growing in the garden this Easter!

The long Easter weekend conjures thoughts of Easter egg hunts, family roasts, and the promise of warmer weather. But Easter is also the beginning of the gardening year for many, as they make use of the bank holidays to get the garden sorted – before things really get out of hand!

Easter egg hunt

©Sue Sanderson. Set up an Easter egg hunt for the kids in your garden.

Get mowing!

If you haven’t started already, then it’s definitely time to get the lawnmower out. Your first cut of your grass is probably overdue, so raise the blades to their highest setting and get mowing. While you’re at it, give the lawn a feed to set it up for the season ahead.

Mow the lawn

Begin mowing the lawn again this month – set the blades to their highest setting.

Divide and conquer!

By now, most perennials have poked fresh shoots above ground and new growth is well underway. Now is a great time to tidy up any remaining plant debris from last year and have a good tidy up. Borders that looked tired last year can be given new life with a spring redesign. Lift and divide overcrowded clumps of perennials before they put on too much growth, and then fill any gaps with new plants.

replant perennial borders

©Carly Holloway. Lift and divide perennials now, before they put on too much growth.

Don’t forget that they will need watering while they establish. It’s worth installing a seeper hose now if you live in a dry area – you’ll be glad you did by the middle of July! A layer of mulch will also bring dividends later in the year, providing nutrients and retaining moisture in the soil – as well as making the whole border look much smarter.

Grow, grow, grow!

April is the month for potting up and potting on! Plug plants are the perfect way to get a head start on seasonal bedding. Make sure you have plenty of pots and fresh compost to hand, so that you can get them potted up as soon as they arrive. Never use up half used bags of last year’s compost as this is the perfect overwintering site for pests and diseases. Old compost is best used as a mulch on your borders.

pots of plug plants and seedlings

Pot up plug plants and keep on top of seed sowing throughout this month.

While you’re at the potting bench, it’s time to take out those Dahlia tubers that you were storing overwinter, and start them into growth. Use decent sized pots (2-3 litre) to allow the roots to develop well. If you’ve lost some then there’s still time to replace them with some new Dahlia tubers. Dahlias are having a surprising resurgence in popularity, with events such as the Anglesey Abbey Dahlia Festival which are always popular. Why not create your own festival in your flower borders this summer!

Dahlia flowers

©Sue Sanderson. Create your own Dahlia festival for a fabulous display of colour.

The next 2 months will see a peak in seed sowing – especially for the vegetable growers out there! It’s a good idea to take half an hour to put your seed in order. Keep them in a storage box, ordered by sowing period, with dated dividers. Week by week you can see exactly which seed needs sowing, and this should prevent any being missed.

A breath of fresh air!

Greenhouse with door open

Open greenhouse doors and vents to prevent plants overheating on warm days.

With so many young plants crammed into the greenhouse, it’s important to ventilate, especially as you may well still be using a greenhouse heater at night. An automatic greenhouse vent opener makes a great investment at this time of the year, reducing the risk of your young plants overheating in a hot greenhouse. Open the greenhouse door in the morning, but remember to close it by late afternoon as there is still a nip in the air at night. If you are visited by cats then it’s a good idea to fix a mesh across the door to prevent them snuggling up on top of your new plants!

And relax…

With the garden tidy and everything in order, you can bring out the garden furniture, sit back and relax. Don’t forget to set up that Easter Egg Hunt for the kids. There’s nothing more satisfying than watching the whole family enjoying the outdoor space that you’ve created!

 

Geoff Stonebanks Driftwood Garden Update

I saw this posted on social media recently!

“Gardening is an art that uses flowers and plants as paint, and the soil and sky as canvas”.

It was credited to Elizabeth Murray. It really tugged at my own perception of how I garden myself. As someone who has no formal background in gardening of any sort, and one who, to be totally honest, struggles to find the patience to grow from seed, this description best fits how I tackle my own garden, Driftwood, and prepare it for the 2,000 odd visitors that come to see it every year! I’ve always said I’m a bit of an instant gardener, as I want the area I’m creating or changing to look like the image I have in my head, instantly.

This description of being a painter and using the plants as paint is something many have said to me over the years. Interestingly, many of the plants I’ve used to paint since 2012 have come from Thompson & Morgan. Looking back to 2013, two of the trial plants I was sent were Dahlia ‘Fire and Ice’ and Tulip ‘Silver Parrot’. The former was the most impressive flower to set the borders alight with some dazzling colour, easy to imagine my brushstrokes creating this dazzling bloom. Likewise with the amazing tulip too.

Dahlia ‘Ice and Fire’ and Parrot Tulips. ©Geoff Stonebanks

In 2014 the standout bit of art for me was the stunning Gazania ‘Tikal Sunbather’, whose dramatic pointed petals really set the garden canvas alive on either side of the tranquil pond. By 2015 we took delivery of the outstanding Fuchsia arborescens. This was a much talked about work of art by many garden visitors, lots of whom had never heard of it. All were captivated by its elegance and its twofold purpose in the garden, producing amazing delicate flowers to paint the borders or containers and then to turn into delicious berries that could be eaten.

Fuchsia arborescens and Gazania ‘Tikal Sunbather’. ©Geoff Stonebanks

2016 saw the stunning Petunia ‘Night Sky’ delivered to Driftwood. These were certainly one of the most talked about pieces of flower art in the garden that year, I had lots of them tumbling out of my 200 or more containers and you could just imagine them painted on a night sky canvas.

2017 saw another gorgeous petunia take the crown for the most commented on plant in the garden. Like the night sky, you could just imaging an artist’s brush delicately painting the heart shapes across the flowers petals. Petunia ‘Amore™ Queen of Hearts’ was a great hit.

Petunia ‘Night Sky’ and Petunia ‘Amore™ Queen of Hearts’. ©Geoff Stonebanks

Moving swiftly on to 2018, the outright winner in the stand out colour and longevity category, without doubt, was the Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’ that arrived and was planted into a large container. They started to flower very early on in the season and never seemed to stop until the garden gate was closed in September and beyond. So, what artistic contributions to the garden will 2019 bring? Well I’ve got 13 different plants being delivered by Thompson & Morgan this Spring, 2 are here already, Acanthus mollis and Alstroemeria ‘Summer Red’. But I reckon the stand out plant for me on the artist’s palette this season will be the Salvia ‘Amethyst Lips’. You’ll have to watch this space over the summer months to see how it turns out on my garden canvas!

Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’ and Salvia ‘Amethyst Lips’. ©Geoff Stonebanks

Interestingly, back in 2017, a visitor to the garden posted this review on Trip Advisor after seeing the garden.

“The garden was a picture created by an artist – a delight of colours, secret glades of surprise, intricacies of fronds and leaves, inspiring and challenging, completely enjoyable”.

Read more of Geoff’s garden at www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk

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