Crassula Ovata 'Variegata' Bonsai

tuliper(7B RVA)January 13, 2014

I've recently potted up a 6" bonsai start of jade. Soil: 1 part Perlite 1 part Perlite 1 part Bark. The trunk's circumference is 3" and I'd like to shape it up. I'm wondering how hard should I cut it back percentage wise to achieve an ideal bonsai look? Also, should I wait until spring when I can have it outside on my deck with full sun (in Richmond, Va) so it leafs out more quickly? Thanks for all the help everyone!

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tuliper(7B RVA)

*Correction: 1 part MG cactus mix, 1 part Perlite, 1 part bark

    Bookmark   January 13, 2014 at 6:49PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

What you have there is a Portulacaria afra variegata, common name "Elephant's [Food] Bush," called Spekboom in South Africa where this plant (along with Crassula ovata) originate.

Shaping: Yes, wait until Spring/Summer before doing any more work. Winter is tough on these plants, and mine typically shed a lot of leaves. Give the plant as much light as possible, rotate it so that the light hits all sides, and keep the medium moist but not wet. The leaves are more delicate than Jade leaves, and the plant won't tolerate drying out as much as a Jade plant.

A diluted dose of fertilizer will do the plant good, as well.

Great specimen.

Josh

This post was edited by greenman28 on Mon, Jan 13, 14 at 18:55

    Bookmark   January 13, 2014 at 6:54PM
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Crenda SWFL 10A

Lovely plant!

FYI - it's odd that when I click on the picture it opens a shot that is right side up! Guess there are still quirks with posting pictures.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2014 at 7:01PM
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tuliper(7B RVA)

Thank you Josh & Crenda!! So I will wait until spring. Do you suggest just trimming back to the dripline of the dish, or cut back more than that in spring? Also, after acclimating it, is there such a thing a too much light for a Portulacaria or I should just find the warmest, sunniest spot possible?

    Bookmark   January 13, 2014 at 7:20PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

The plant is from rocky hillsides with full exposure in South Africa, so there Is no such thing as too much light. However, *in a small bonsai pot* it is possible to get the roots too hot. In that regard, you may wish to shade the container itself, while still keeping the foliage in direct light.

As far as shaping goes, that'll be a personal decision. If you want a perfectly rounded canopy, you can shear the foliage to the drip-line. But if you want the plant to develop into a more natural tree shape, you may begin selecting certain branches to work on.

You're in luck because we have some Portulacaria afra growers at this Forum that are great at what they do, and I'm sure they'd offer specific advice when the time comes, when you can take close up pics from various side of the plant, and when you can figure out how to post properly oriented images ;-)

Al (Tapla) and Tom (Tom Termine) are the two guys I would contact for bonsai advice.

Josh

    Bookmark   January 13, 2014 at 8:00PM
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puglvr1(9b central FL)

Beautiful Port. afra!! Best of luck with your plant

    Bookmark   January 14, 2014 at 9:12AM
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tuliper(7B RVA)

Thanks puglvr1 ! And thanks Josh for all the helpful info, I really appreciate it. :) Everyone tells me my pics are sideways, but they always look correct on my iPhone. I've been told it's something about mobile uploading.

I like the idea of leaving 'the canopy' a little bit natural so I will keep that in mind when trimming it up in a couple months.

I have it in a southern exposure window so hopefully that's good enough until I can get it outside. The bonsai pot had a considerable about of room for root growth, how rapidly will it grow in a summer with appropriate fert and full sun? Only a couple inches? Just curious because I don't want to cut it back too drastically if it really does grow painstakingly slow...

Matt

    Bookmark   January 14, 2014 at 12:41PM
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dstroud

Could you tell me a good source for this variety of plant, preferably as a pre-bonsai.
Beautiful speciman

    Bookmark   January 14, 2014 at 4:15PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Matt,
this variegated form does grow more slowly than the straight green species....but it'll still put on a couple inches of growth (at least) with fertilizer, water, and sun.

Josh

    Bookmark   January 14, 2014 at 5:15PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I followed this over from the bonsai forum.

When you prune this plant and jades, wait until around Fathers Day to do your pruning - if you want your plant to look it's best for the long term. There's a reason for that.

Unless you have VERY bright light to keep this plant happy, it's going to get very long in the nodes over the winter. If you prune too early, any subsequent growth it puts on will become tighter and tighter until late August in most of the US. THAT's the growth you want to keep, and you don't want it distal to any rangy growth.

So, if you do your pruning in early summer, you remove all the lanky stuff you don't want, and further open the inside up to back-budding. The plant will grow nice and tight until the days shorten, then it will get leggy again. So, next year you repeat the pruning.

Wherever you find 3 branches emerging from the same point - remove one of them. Bifurcation is good, trifurcation is bad. Also, the plant will tend to get very heavy (branches) in the top very quickly (it's very apically dominant), so if you want a believable bonsai, you'll need to continually restrain the top by pruning it harder than the lower branches.

I can say with certainty that this plant prefers a VERY open soil, so keep that in mind when you water and the next time you repot between Father's Day and Independence Day for fastest recovery if you're N of the Southern US.

If someone tells you to let the plant go dry before watering - ignore them. The plant would rather go dry than be subjected to saturated roots for lengthy intervals, but the plant prefers an evenly moist (never wet) soil.

Josh grows this plant very well, and his point about trying to keep root temps down by shading the pot (when it's hot) can be very important. This plant won't warn you when it has root issues; instead, one day the plant will be lying on its side and you'll be wondering why, so guard against over-watering - something fairly easy to do in the shallow pot/soil combination you're using.

Al

    Bookmark   January 14, 2014 at 5:55PM
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