2020 Australian Plants as Bonsai - Trialling Native Material

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2020 Australian Plants as Bonsai - Trialling Native Material

Post by Rory »

For those poor souls unable to attend the 2020 Symposium on Native Plants as Bonsai, here is a sample :


Allright, so while I’m talking, please feel free to come up and browse the different natives.
They should be labelled so if you want to trial anything, just take a photo or write it down.


Trialling rare and unusual native plants started because I wanted to find new material that wasn't widely used or experimented on.
I was also curious as to why you don't usually see less common genus as bonsai. So I wanted to try them for myself and see which ones worked well and which ones didn't.
When you go for walks in our national parks or heathlands, you'll often see amazing trunks and tiny leaves.
And it always made me contemplate whether they'd make good bonsai material....
Thats me contemplating natives


Thats me contemplating if they'd make good bonsai material.
So thanks to my superior brain power I was able to conclude that I should stick them in a pot.
I mean, what could go wrong?

It was at this point that my Mother learned of my interest in using native plants as bonsai.
So she gave me the greatest book on natives to use:


Australian Native Plants, by John Wrigley.

This was a defining moment. Now I could read about the plants before I bought them.
...yeah okay, thats not really true. I still bought anything I liked.
But at least now I could research what probably killed it.

So I started trialing visually appealing candidates to see how they went.
The criteria was pretty easy.
Find species that are :


-Hardy, and tolerate all leves of sun
-Have small or reduce-able leaves, and short internodes
-Thick trunks, with attractive bark
-Unusual and aesthetically pleasing features
-Axial flowers, not just terminal flowers. (I really dislike bonsai that only flower on the ends)

So for about 20 years I've been visiting common plant nurseries.
However, when you ask nursery staff how a particular native tolerates root reduction...
You always got the same look....


'You're one of those bonsai people aren't you?' And then I would always get shown the exotic gunk that they recommended instead.
Unfortunately at the time, the bonsai nurseries in Sydney still weren't using much native material.

So eventually that lead me to find nurseries that specialized in Australian Natives....


The Newcastle Wildflower nursery at Glendale is really good for native material.
They constantly bring in new material to try. I'm like a kid in a candy store here.


Plants Plus at Castle Hill, Sydney.
This nursery is enormous, and its really good for Eucalypts and Banksias.
But unfortunately they also sell some exotic material.... booo!
Sorry I couldn't do a selfy that day,.... I was having a bad hair day.


I tend to get a bit over excited with native material.

This is another great nursery for rare natives.
'The wildflower place' at Erina on the Central Coast.
These guys also specialize in getting rare and unusual stock.
Over the years, I've discovered some of my favourite species from these guys.
But remember if you don't have any good native nurseries in your area, you can always buy online.


I have a few sellers I've bought from over the years for rare material.
So now I just trial whatever I find attractive, and see how they go.


The first thing you'll usually find when you grow most natives, is that the vast majority of them prefer a lot of sun.
Some in fact, wont grow well at all without a lot of sun.
So I had to clear a lot of area to allow more sunlight in.

"What could go wrong now?"


When you tell people you have a problem with a possum, they always say the same thing:
"Oh, thats so cute. They're lovely animals aren't they!"
...I didn't notice. I was too busy chasing them at midnight, armed with harsh language and a torch.

So now my trees were getting eaten every day and going downhill rapidly.
Then it got worse when the possum found a mate.
I really hoped the possums were gay.... otherwise I was soon going to have a whole family with possum babies, eating my bonsai.

So I googled 'how to build a greenhouse enclosure' to keep the possums out...


...Yep, thats what I needed. So I went about constructing an exact copy of this....


And there you have it. Yep....I know what you’re all thinking. He nailed it!

So thanks to my supreme handyman skills, I could now grow trees, free of possums.


So, here is my own approach to growing native material:

-Firstly, I don't usually defoliate natives. The foliage keeps the tree healthy, especially over winter.
Now, evergreen leaves require more energy to create than deciduous leaves. So if you've defoliated a tree, and weeks later when the new shoots finally emerge, if they get eaten by a grasshopper or some other pest, your trees health can start to decline.
Because now they have to put out a 2nd flush which can further stress the tree.

And don't repot natives in winter, or when nights are still below about 10 degrees.

Don't repot soon after you've cut back foliage. In other words, if you've just cut a lot of the foliage back on a tree, you need to wait for a few months, until after the new growth has appeared and hardened off, before you cut the roots.
Ultimately, in my opinion its best if you haven't recently cut back the tree at all before a root prune.

I usually bare root most of my natives. I very rarely leave mix on the inner root ball.
This way you're providing a clean slate and getting fresh potting mix deep into the root structure.
Its also easy to check for curl grubs and root-rot if you’re looking at the entire root structure.


The best blanket recommendation is to repot your natives when your figs start putting out new shoots.
Most natives are best done around late Spring for Sydney.
But it'd be later for areas further south.

The reason I don't recommend repotting in late summer, is because most trees need time to send out new shoots and harden off before autumn sets in, and it can really set some trees backwards.
Repotting a few months before winter normally means the tree will sulk for quite a while, and throughout winter. Then you can be faced with issues like root rot.


-I no longer use liquid fertilizer on my natives. I only use Osmocote native slow-release fertilizer, especially with Banksia.
Generally speaking, a lot of trees like Casuarina, most Melaleucas etc love liquid fertilizer.
But to be on the safe side, I just use slow release fertilizer on everything now.

I found liquid fertilizer (even at low strengths) is just too dangerous for dwarf varieties of Banksia and some dwarf genus.


Plus, it frees up your hand for a beer, instead of a watering can.


Washed coarse river sand.

Most natives I've grown don't like a heavy mix. They prefer medium or fast drainage.
Washed river sand makes the mix drain fast, (although it does make it a lot heavier).
I found this is one of your best assets for growing Australian natives.
But be aware though, DO NOT use beach sand which has salt in it. Only use coarse washed river sand.

I use a lot of river sand for material that needs fast drainage.
But with material that might be in danger of drying out too quickly, only use about 25%


For a brief example I use the approximate percentage guides:
Last edited by Rory on March 10th, 2020, 11:52 am, edited 1 time in total.
Central Coast, NSW
Bonsai: Casuarina Leptospermum Banksia Phebalium Melalueca
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Re: 2020 Australian Plants as Bonsai - Trialing Native Material

Post by Rory »


So to give a heads up on the hardiness of each species I'm talking about, I've categorized them into 3 levels of sensitivity.

Each species has a traffic light, indicating green, yellow or red.
So after a few beers with your root cutters, you should easily know what to do.


Green light

This material is harder than Ripley.
It is very hardy and tolerates most conditions.

You can remove almost 60-70% of the roots for the first root work with little drama.
You can happily remove about 70% of the foliage.
You can be quite aggressive with the handling of the roots and very carefree.
You shouldn't have any qualms about using the hose on a slightly stronger setting.


Yellow light

This material is moderately sensitive.

It may tolerate a 40-50% root reduction on the first repot. But try to keep a lot of the fine roots on.
It should tolerate a 40-50% reduction in foliage.
Don't have the water hose on a strong setting in case it strips the roots, which can cause die-back on roots.
You can usually tell if you've got the hose setting too strong, because the stripped area of the root starts to change colour from brownish to white.


Red light.

This material is a pain in the derrier.
This material is very root sensitive. So try to minimise root removal for the first repot to only the outer areas if you can.

I recommend gently separating the roots, and removing nothing, or as little as possible.
This way if it survives, you can simply reduce the outer roots each subsequent repot. Because then you've already dealt with the inner tangled mess.

Generally, I’d assume you're going to lose ~50% of the stock that you start with.
A good tip for this type of material is to untangle the roots, but still leave a few sections of large fine-root mass attached.
Then you can position this extra attached root mass at the bottom of the pot to continue feeding the tree.
This way you've worked apart the main root structure, but you've still got a long fine root mass attached to keep feeding the tree.

Don't reduce more than about 20% of the foliage.
Repot once a year or once every 2 years.
Set your hose to a very soft spray to minimize any damage or stripping of the outer layer of each root. Otherwise it can cause sections of the roots to die.

Go slowly, and allow the roots to soak in and soften, which makes it easier to separate them.
This is when you learn the REAL meaning of the word 'patience'.
You need to be patient with the root separation.
If you get impatient towards the end, and spray the roots hard with the hose to remove the last bit of soil thats hard to get at, you may kill it.
If you 'pull' the roots apart instead of easing them apart, you may kill it.

...And so with this type of material....'Sacrifice growth' must be used.
So here's a Leptospermum scoparium to explain 'sacrifice growth'.


Sacrifice growth is a term I've made up.
I highly recommend it for root-sensitive and/or foliage-dependant material, like this one.
This is not related to a sacrifice branch, which is a term used for thickening the trunk.
Now, ordinarily a person who's branch-cutter-happy would say, 'Ah yes, I can see the inner-tree within!'

There it is.... the inner tree. Then they cut off all the excess growth that isn't highlighted green to reveal a nice little shohin.
However it would be safe to assume its going to sulk badly or possibly die. Why?
Because it had a big red traffic light on it, thats why.

Sacrifice growth means you still look for the inner tree structure, but you allow a lot of the unwanted growth to remain and continue growing.
So the red lines are the parts I would cut off.
The green, is still your inner tree.
But the remaining foliage you can still see is kept on.
This supports and feeds the tree, to provide the 'inner tree' with more food to put out new growth and branches.

And in the mean time, you can strip some of the leaves inside this orange circle to allow light to penetrate into the inner tree.
And try to encourage the outer branches to grow even longer so the middle doesn't strongly shade the 'inner tree'.
Then in a years time, you can cut back on the unwanted areas more, and leave the new growth on the inner tree to remain and build up.

It basically means you allow the unwanted growth/and branches to extend and feed the tree, rather than giving it toxic shock syndrome.
Most natives stay in exceptional health if they have a lot of foliage. And there isn’t really an advantage to cutting off all the foliage (especially on small leaf material), because this really sets the tree back.
Too many enthusiasts cut back to a bare minimum during their development phase, and with these types of material it can sicken or kill the tree.



If you don't have a Casuarina, get one.
This photo is one of my favourite Casuarinas. This is how I like to style a Casuarina. Wild and natural.

They all love sun. If you can provide full sun, they love it.
Most grow well in medium to fast drainage, but don't let the mix get bone dry, especially on a windy day.
They develop the greatest root spread of any genus I've ever worked with.


Here's an example of a typical root spread with Casuarina.
The roots are really easy to work with, and they're really hardy.
If the tree was really healthy, you can remove a lot of the roots.


Allocasuarina torulosa

It prefers medium to fast drainage. It doesn't usually grow well in a heavy mix, especially if its continuously staying wet more for than about 48-72 hours.
The bark is deeply fissured and fragile. (but its an absolute pain in the bum when repoting, because you can easily damage 3 or 5 years worth of bark with one bump)
The needles eventually develop a very graceful droop, often combined with weeping branches.


It has the thinnest needles of all the Casuarina I've grown.
And it continuously shoots all over the trunk, so it gives you a lot of design options to work with.
Plus I love the natural look you get from multiple trunks.
But remember, a lot of torulosa multi-trunks aren't always from the base, they often start further up the trunk.

One of the most difficult things about this species is moss.
You should try to avoid moss developing on the trunk. It can eventually rot the fissured bark in winter.
And its almost impossible to remove it once its got hold. If you do try to remove it, you'll pull off or damage the fragile bark.

The only successful way I've got rid of moss from this species, is....


...with one of these bad boys. I got mine from Bunnings. Just remove the soldering option part so you have the naked flame.
But don't get too close to the bark or it briefly ignites. You just want to singe the moss.

Start about 20cm away, and gradually get closer.
Have the flame setting on the short intense blue-flame mode, and not the 'Sigorney Weaver from Aliens - flamethrower mode'.
Plus, once you've killed the moss it creates a really nice bushfire look afterwards.

That was immediately after the moss was burnt off.

....Moving along, I recently discovered an unusual subspecies of torulosa, which is an albino version.


Albino torulosa

Beautiful isn't it. And you can convert your normal torulosa into one quite easily....
Just don't water your torulosa for a week, and you can have one of these special trees too.

....In regards to Allocasuarina littoralis, its pretty much the same care as Torulosa.

The main differences are that littoralis will not tolerate low levels of sun, the foliage doesn't droop like torulosa, and the bark doesn't develop as deeply fissured.
I find littoralis slightly less hardy than torulosa.


Casuarina cunninghamiana

Very hardy, but it really needs at least half-day sun to be in good health.
It has strong, rough bark.
The needles grow very upright. And it doesn't like branches growing below the horizontal point.
So if you do, make sure you expose the whole branch to a lot of sun otherwise it might die back.

The needles usually get quite thick.
It will routinely shoot all over the trunk so you don't usually have to wait long till you have more design options.

But my favourite casuarina is...


Allocasuarina nana

Absolutely beautiful, but this is not for beginners.
It has very short internodes and short needles. The needles are slightly thicker than torulosa, but thinner than cunninghamiana
It flowers prolifically in Winter/Spring with tiny, blood-red flowers all over the needles.
I recommend about 35-50% washed river sand. This MUST have good drainage.
Add washed river sand so that the mix is drying within about a 36 hour period of half-day sun.

If the mix is too heavy, these WILL eventually die, and it can happen within about 2-3 months.
On the flipside, never allow the mix to dry out completely. They usually don't recover after being bone dry.

Now to the peculiar, and sometimes painful trait of this species:


Don't chop the trunk down low, below the foliage. Die-back will occur if the vertical veins are not supported.

Now, the 2 green lines show where the growth was before I cut.
The red lines show where I cut.
So basically all the green highlighted area died. And it died all the way back to the first branch.


And this what I was left with after the die-back.

Now if you look closer at the main trunk, you'll notice only the actual vertical veins remain alive.
The highlighted red part is all deadwood, where its died right down and even died between the 2 vertical veins.
It creates an interesting look, so I'm looking forward to watching this one develop over the next 15 years.

Unfortunately, any material that I trunk chopped without leaving foliage below the cut, usually died altogether.
So you need to allow the material to shoot down low by cutting back branches over time to stimulate lower growth below.
But always leave branches below the proposed cut to stop veins dying off.



Banksia are so diverse and there are so many different types.

I found that with Banksia you can remove a huge percentage of the roots and still leave most of the foliage on and not worry about any die-back.
They're the hardiest tree I've ever worked with in regards to root removal.

I've since changed my mind on Dwarf Banksias. I now recommend dwarf Banksia varieties for Bonsai, as I've managed to keep all the new trials alive.
I found the difference is mainly how you apply the fertilizer, the drainage, and the time of year you do the rootwork.

When I'd previously used liquid fertilizer on dwarf banksia, they'd usually die soon afterwards. Now this was even after removing any proteoid roots.
So I only use slow release fertilizer pellets, such as Osmocote.
Don't keep dwarf Banksia varieties in heavy mixes ; keep them in a fast-draining, open mix with plenty of washed river sand.

Don't remove a lot of the foliage on Banksias.
With the first root prune, you can go hard on the roots of Banksia, but leave at least 60-70% of foliage on the tree to fasten the recovery - sometimes I don't even cut any foliage off!

Only cut back roots on a banksia when nights are over about 10 degrees, and don't do it at the end of summer or in autumn.
It needs time to push out a lot of new growth and even more time for the leaves to harden before winter.
It needs time to regain health before coming into winter and you want to have the roots constantly pulling water out of the mix, not sitting in a wet mix over winter.

Now having said that, if the roots are staying wet too long and drainage becomes an issue, then repot immediately.
Separate the roots (cut off any that are rotten), bare-root and remove all the old soil and replace it with a fresh mix, adding in washed river sand.
I've lost more Banksia from root rot, than from drying out. With a few exceptions I've trialled, most Banksia can tolerate drought really well.

So I recommend repotting in mid Spring or late Spring, or even at the start of summer. But if you're in a colder climate, that might be later in the year.

The hardiest and easiest to grow for beginners would probably be:
Banksia integrifolia and Banksia spinulosa.


Banksia integrifolia

This ones a no-brainer. Its fast growing, hardy and shoots back anywhere from a cut.

You can cut back to the first node and be confident it will shoot from there.
However, I have struggled to get older integrifolias to shoot back low on older wood.
So if you want branches down low, you really need to start with younger material and keep the branches on.
I've found this species has a very high tolerance for drought too.


They tolerate all levels of sun.
But be careful, as with most banksia its susceptible to root-rot.
So make sure the drainage is fast and its not sitting in a damp mix for extended periods.
You can happily add 50% coarse washed river sand to improve drainage.

The leaves reduce really well, but you have to stay on top of it.

These can be very prone to bulging as new growth often forms in 3 or 4 shoots from a junction.
You can cut back to 2 shoots if this bothers you, but I usually cut back to 3, because I prefer the natural slightly bulging look.


Here's an example of the different ages of Banksia integrifolia.

A 1 year old seedling, 3 years, 5 years, 10 years and about 14 years.

It doesn’t take long for a Banksia to thicken.
If the mix drains fast, and you feed it well over Spring and Summer, you'll have an inch thick trunk in no time.

But remember the scar doesn't heal all that fast, so you want to cut more often to reduce scarring.


Banksia spinulosa

This tree is really hardy.
It has long, thin serrated leaves, and they reduce really well with just pinching the new growth, or cutting back the ends and then pinching again.

I've removed a lot of root from these and never had problems with die-back.
They tolerate all levels of sun fairly well, but prefer full sun.
They shoot all over the trunk continually, and will usually shoot from where you cutback too.
Central Coast, NSW
Bonsai: Casuarina Leptospermum Banksia Phebalium Melalueca
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Re: 2020 Australian Plants as Bonsai - Trialing Native Material

Post by Rory »


Banksia serrata and Banksia aemula

I've grouped these together as they're almost identical.

Banksia serrata, (on the left) has slightly longer leaves.
Banksia aemula, (on the right), has a much higher tendency to shoot from all over the trunk and the base.

They grow fast, but they prefer an open and free draining mix.
Be cautious on hot windy days when you're mix is almost dry though.
Fortunately the younger branches and foliage wilts, and gives you a warning that they're about to badly dry out.

These guys are the most prone to fungus and root-rot of all the Banksia I've tried.
Its probably the humidity in my area, but I've never had strong success with either of these species.

Out out of these 2 I'd lean more towards serrata now, because they can eventually survive bad root-rot and fungus better than Aemula can.
Just don't overpot either of these. (in other words, the roots should take up most of the pot).


Banksia integrifolia 'sentinel'

The only reason I give this a yellow traffic light, is because in the past I've lost so many from liquid fertilizer.

With all dwarf Banksia varities:

- I use ~50% washed coarse river sand
- Don't use any sort of liquid fertilizer on these, even in low strengths. Only use slow-release native pellets.
And for me, I only apply fertilizer about a month or so after the material has been root pruned, just to be safe.

Only repot at the start of the strong growing season, NEVER towards the end of the growing season.

Since changing to this method, I have not lost any Banksia dwarf varities and I'm quite excited about growing them.
They have the same attributes as the parent ; they're incredibly hardy and I've found them just as tolerant of drought as the main species.

The leaves are naturally shorter, but they can get a little fat.
The leaves also reduce well, and the tree usually shoots anywhere from a cut.


Banksia occidentalis

This is one of my favourite Banksias.
The growth is really graceful and the branches eventually develop a slight droop.
But I haven't had them long enough to trial leaf reduction.

It really needs to be on the drier side, with a free-draining mix.
I use 50% washed river sand with this one. It sulks badly if its left in a heavy mix and after about a month the health begins to decline.

Its a little slow to grow, but its well worth the effort.
Tolerates 60-70% heavy root reduction no problems.

Needs strong sun, basically full sun, as it sulks badly in shade and then the health starts to decline.


Banksia formosa

The foliage is like serrata, but thinner and shorter
Lovely material. Prefers a medium draining mix, not too fast.
But be careful not to let them dry out. It doesn't tolerate drought well and it will die if its allowed to get too dry.

Grows very fast and shoots all along the trunk. It buds back well from anywhere near the cut.
Tolerates a very heavy root removal and you can remove a lot of the foliage.


Banksia spinulosa var. cunninghamii

Incredibly hardy. Prefers a very free and open draining mix.
Lovely short needles, and shoots from all over the trunk.

It naturally produces a lot of shoots from each junction and bulges very quickly, so its best to remove them to 2 shoots if you want to stop significant bulging from occuring.
Although bulging can look natural, its up to the individual grower what appeals to them.
But this is a lovely tree to bonsai, and well worth your efforts.
I've accidentally let this get very dry on a few occasions, but after a good watering it always bounces back in a few hours.


Banksia tricuspis.
Although at first glance, you'd be forgiven for mistaking it for a pine tree.
It seems to grow well in a medium paced draining mix, so not fast and not slow.

Both specimens I've tried didn't like a root reduction and sulked for almost 2 months or more.
When they're growing well they grow fast, and have long, thin needle-like leaves.

I haven't tried leaf reduction yet, but I do love the look of the bark and the slender leaves.
Once this gets a bit pot bound, the health declines really fast though.

Don't let them dry out. I may have lost one just recently from allowing it to get too dry and it doesn't appear to have survived.


Banksia marginata.
This ones the bane of my Banksia efforts.

I do love them. On paper, they sound like the perfect Banksia:
-Small leaves
-Nice aged bark
-Shoots well from a cutback

However they don't appear to like a lot of humidity.
You need to use an open, fast draining mix. Don't let them sit for extended periods in a slow draining, wet medium.
Only cut the roots and repot at the start of the strong growing season.

I don't recommend heavy trunk chops. You're best off cutting back more often to promote ramification over time, instead of a trunk chop.
They don't seem to shoot down low very often.
With young material, try not to cut the trunk if there’s no foliage below that point. Otherwise its a 50/50 survival rate.

Don't shade the lower areas or they can die off.
This banksia really needs a lot of foliage kept on it to maintain good health.
Never remove a lot of the foliage or it really slows it down, sometimes to a slow sulk.


Banksia paludosa ‘little pal’

This is quite hardy. It grows well in a medium draining mix, but tolerates a heavy mix too.
The leaves are nice and compact, and it has really nice colours on the base of new growth too, (reds and oranges)

Don’t overpot these, or they’ll sulk a bit.
Its very hardy with root reduction and foliage reduction. It easily let me remove 60% of the roots.

Again, being a dwarf I would only use native slow release fertilizer, and wait about a month after repotting to apply it.



Some of these genus can be incredibly hardy and rewarding.
While others can be incredibly sensitive and difficult.


Leptospermum scoparium 'pink cascade'

This is the best scoparium for beginners.
Apart from the initial rootwork, its not as difficult as people believe.

It tolerates most situations as long as you don't do a lot of removal in one go.
Work at reducing them gradually over time.

For the initial rootwork, I don't recommend removing any roots. Just separate the roots as best as you can.
I also recommend leaving a lot of foliage on them after root prunes, only reduce about 20-30%

They usually shoot back well on older wood.
Try to start with younger material, as the roots get more sensitive on older material.
And don't get disheartened by starting with young material - they'll grow fast and they'll thicken quickly.

Use a medium draining mix.
But they can tolerate heavy mixes, and love water.


Leptospermum scoparium 'burgundy queen'

This is the most visually stunning Leptospermum in flower.
As you can see, even Mother nature agrees with me, so she put a halo above this one for the photo.
But it can be very, very difficult to grow:

I recommend to assume you're going to lose ~50% of your starting stock. But don't let that scare you off.
Those that do survive the initial repotting shock should be okay if you follow this advice going forward.

It buds back on older wood very easily. It tolerates wiring fairly well.
It can be grown in all types of mix: heavy/medium/light, but medium is best.

It can die-back significantly if you do any of the following:
-Leave the material to dry out
-Take off too much root
-Or repot when night temperatures are below about 7 degrees.

*If the root prune was too much of a shock, it usually drops all the foliage at the same time, which is not good. But keep monitoring it for months, they can stay dormant for up to 2 or 3 months recovering sometimes.
*If the root prune was light and done gently, it usually keeps all the leaves on.
*And if the root prune was only slightly too much or a bit too rough, it usually dies back from the ends inwards. However, this is when you know it should eventually come good, as its slowly adjusting to the reduction of the roots.

But if all the foliage drops off simultaneously, its a 50/50 guess if it survives.

And always leave 'sacrifice growth' on the material to keep it healthy after a cut-back.


The flowers are spectacular.
You usually get 2 flushes of these spectacular flowers, but the winter/spring flush is the most prolific. The summer flush is usually quite sparse.

The foliage is small (1 to 2cm) and has beautiful colour changes.

So at the first rootwork, don't remove ANY roots...just separate the roots as best you can.
Then each year you can gradually reduce the roots a little each time.

Only cut about 20-25% of the root mass and foliage each subsequent repot.
Think of it like you're trying to reduce your bonsai collection ;
You can't simply lose half of your trees in one day, otherwise ....



Leptospermum 'flavescens cardwell'

I highly recommend this Lepto for beginners as starting material for bonsai.
This is the hardiest and easiest Leptospermum I've ever grown.

It grows very fast and is very, very hardy.
It tolerates heavy root removals and has no problem having most foliage removed.
It tolerates anything. It prefers a medium to fast drainage, but still tolerates heavy mixes.

I've had them survive both drought and over-watering.
They will usually shoot from any cut, and often sprout from all over the trunk.

The small white single-petal flowers aren't anything special to look at but...


it looks delightful when the tree is covered in these flower buds

I find that most Leptospermums look best just before the flowers have actually opened...and you get those little pinkish balls developing all over the tree.
Its just lovely when the whole tree is covered in these.


Leptospermum brachyandrum

This is very hardy material.

It tolerates a lot of root removal and foliage reduction.
It tolerates all types of medium, but I find a medium to fast draining mix best.
It even tolerates strong shade.
From my experience it shoots anywhere from a cut and is good with back budding.

The real feature of this tree is the trunk, as I find it somewhat resembles a crepe myrtle as it ages.



These bad boys of the bush often make great bonsai.

Just ask your local nursery what Mels grow well in your area if you want to trial them.

I'm just going to give a few examples of the different ones I particularly love.


Melaleuca micromera.

This is my favourite Melaleuca.
Its like a botanical dating show, where an old conifer and a paperbark got together and had a baby.
The tiny foliage looks like Shimpaku juniper, but its got paperbark.

Its growth is naturally twisted and contorted, so its a great candidate for styling.
It shoots back all along the trunk naturally.

Don't allow the mix to get bone dry. I've lost a few already from this.
I'd probably recommend a medium mix that wont dry out within 24 hours.

It has to have full sun or at least half-day sun. Low sun will kill it.

If they're grown in strong shade, a peculiar growth occurs: the minute 1mm foliage morphs into larger leaves about 4mm long, resembling an ordinary Melaleuca.
However if its put back into higher levels of sun again, fortunately most of the growth eventually reverts back to the micro foliage.


Melaleuca linarifolia 'purpurea compacta'....what a mouthful.

This tree is one of the hardiest trees for bonsai I've ever grown.

The new growth has a lovely purple colour to it, not like the reddish/orange of 'claret tops'. I think its more aesthetically pleasing than claret tops.
I've had a few of these trees survive being continuously stripped of their new growth for almost 3 years, and still survive.

They can survive in very strong shade.
They can tolerate very poor drainage and heavy potting mixes.
They have minute growth and easily shoot on older wood, often without being cut back.

But if you can't find this particular species...


...just use the normal Melaleuca linarifolia or you can try 'claret tops'. They all make lovely bonsai.
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Re: 2020 Australian Plants as Bonsai - Trialing Native Material

Post by Rory »


Melaleuca thymifolia

This tree is one of the most beautiful flowering Mels I've trialled.
It has gorgeous small cluster flowers that form on the stems.
The only drawback is that the old flower pods are hard to remove afterwards and sometimes slight reverse taper will result on the stem, but its not that noticeable.

They are reasonably hardy, but prefer medium to fast drainage.
Don't overpot this species or they can sulk.
I wouldn't recommend removing more than about 40% of the roots.

I have had no success with root reductions on the dwarf versions of Mel thymifolia. I'd avoid them and only use the main thymifolias.
I have noticed that they are often mislabelled. The dwarf leaved varieties are usually ~ 6-7mm long, while the parent leaves are usually 1 ~ 1.5cm long



The reason I trialled Phebaliums was because of their lovely floral display... allright, thats a lie.
I trialled them 'cause I suck at growing Wattles, and I wanted a wattle.
Who doesn't love a flowering wattle?

Unfortunately I've never had much success with Wattle.
I found them to be temperamental after a root reduction, and I've had a few older material that just drops dead soon afterwards.

So when I discovered Phebalium, I jumped at the chance to try them. They're basically a hardy version of Wattles.
The hardiness of most of the Phebaliums I've tried are far superior to Wattles.

Also, they are very tolerant of shade.


Phebalium squamulosum ssp lineare

This tree is marriage material. I recommend putting a ring on it.
Its really hardy, and the foliage literally sparkles.

Its gold.... well, emerald would be more appropriate.
Because the slender leaves have a delightful emerald sparkle to them.

The leaves grow 2 to 2.5cm long and are only a few mm wide.
It looks a bit like a short needled Pine tree.

And like most Phebaliums, the new stems and underside of the foliage can have a slight rusty coloured tinge to it.

It shoots all over the tree and back-buds really well, but not usually from the base.
It tolerates heavy root reduction with no problem at all
It tolerates both over-watering and drought.

Thankfully I haven't seen anything eat the leaves.
Apparently cockroaches are the only things that'll survive a nuclear fallout.
But they forgot about this Phebalium….


So when the cockroaches evolve and take over the planet, at least they'll have something to bonsai.


Phebalium glandulosum ssp. eglandulosum

Another hardy Phebalium.

Its leaves are tiny. Less than 1cm long.
Don't allow this to completely dry out or it can die.
It shoots everywhere.

Tolerates heavy root reduction and heavy foliage reduction.
Grows really well in part-shade.
Grows well in medium draining mix, but sulks in a heavy medium.


Phebalium stenophyllum

Another hardy Phebalium.

Its leaves are about 2cm long and it can develop quite a creepy look, like something out of a Tim Burton nightmare.
Don't allow this to completely dry out otherwise it sets it back really badly.

Tolerates heavy root reduction and heavy foliage reduction.
Grows well in a light mix but sulks in a heavy medium.
It shoots everywhere.


Phebalium squamulosum

Very hardy Phebalium.

Prefers part sun and likes a fast draining mix.
Tolerates heavy reduction of roots and foliage.

Lovely profuse flowers all over the tree.


Indigofera australis

This is spectacular in flower. This is Australia's answer to a Wisteria.

The leaves are pinnate.
Very hardy and tolerates a heavy root removal.

Don't use a heavy mix, use at least 40% washed river sand but not so much that its drying out too fast.
You want a mix that is drying out within about a 36 hour period in summer. The mix needs to drain well.
If its allowed to get bone dry it will slowly die-back or die altogether.

If you see the leaves or branches drooping, WATER IT immediately. Don't wait till the afternoon or the drooping foliage may die.

Leave 'sacrifice growth' on the material and cut it back in stages.
You should build up the trunk by continual trunk chopping which helps to keep it bushy.

In temperatures over 40 you will get leaf burn, so its best to move it into shade in these temps. But I find its such a fast grower I'm not concerned and just cut off the burnt leaves.


Backea clarence river.
I can't recommend this enough.

This is an exceptional bonsai candidate. The gradual droop of the branches and the 1-2cm needle leaves make it a visual winner.
It is very, very hardy and tolerates all mixes, including heavy mixes.
It grows well in full sun, but also tolerates strong shade.
It routinely shoots from all over the trunk.
It tolerates heavy root removals, and large reductions in foliage.
But for much faster recovery I recommend leaving a lot of foliage on this species.

The leaves close up at night and open in the morning - its pretty cute.
It bears nice clusters of small white flowers.

I seriously recommend you trying this tree if you can get one.


Stenanthemum scortechinii

This is very hardy.
Its leaves are about 1-1.5cm long.
It tolerates a heavy root reduction and massive foliage reduction easily.

However I’m a little disappointed in this genus, as it doesn't have axial flowers, so the flowers generally only appear on the terminal stems.
Although, this might look nice as a bushy tree covered in terminal flowers.



I wouldn't add more than about 25% course river sand to Eucs, otherwise it drains too quickly.
The Eucs love the sand, and I find it keeps them happy.

I don't usually recommend cutting Euc branches until they're about 7mm thick or more.
I cut back hard during Spring, and then just keep the growth in check over Summer.


Angohora bakeri

This is a very hardy species.
Its leaves reduce really well just by cutting back the new growth by about half.
It loves full sun, and also tolerates heavy shade.

You can safely remove 60% of the roots and foliage.
It continuously shoots all over the tree, from the base up to the top.

However, it can get attacked by gall wasps quite badly.
Having said that though, if the branch doesn't die off, the resulting look from an attack of gall wasps creates the most amazing natural look.


Eucalyptus crebra

This is a very hardy species.

It loves full sun, but doesn't do well in strong shade.
You can safely remove 50% of the roots and foliage.

I find with this species, its best to trunk chop at an early stage to promote lower branching, or continually trim the canopy to try to encourage shoots down low to appear and encourage them to grow.


Corymbia citriodora

**** Break off branches and send them around the audience****

This is another very hardy Euc. Its been described as the most beautiful of all the Eucalypts.

Now while I talk about this Euc, you guys should hand this around and smell it.
You don't even have to crunch the leaves to smell how strong it is.

I often rub my fingers on the leaves because I love that smell while I'm working on my bonsai.

It tolerates about a 60% root reduction, and if its in excellent health you can defoliate it, but only do this in about late Spring.

The advantage of defoliating this particular species is the fresh jeuvenile foliage.
The jeuvenile foliage has the most beautiful fragrance of any leaf I've ever smelt, but they're rough, almost like a sandpaper fig.
The adult leaves are large and smooth and don’t usually have any fragrance unless you crush them.

The adult leaves can grow to be enormous, so if you are happy with the structure of your tree and want to concentrate on leaf reduction I recommend the following:

Make sure the tree is in excellent health and has pushed out about 3 sets of new leaves.
Then cut back about 2/3 of the new growth.
But keep the older mature leaves on the tree to support its growth during this time.

Then allow the 2nd flush to produce about 3 more sets of leaves again and reduce the 2nd flush again by about 2/3.
This usually keeps the 2nd flush a lot smaller and you can then remove the older mature leaves to keep these lovely new jeuveniles smaller.
But be mindful of pests when you do this. They love young Eucalptus leaves.
This is why I recommend keeping mature leaves at the base of the branches to maintain health, and for insurance against pests if you’re trying to reduce the leaf size.

They love water. Don't allow this to get bone dry. It may not come back.
It grows really fast in Spring and Summer, and I wouldn't add any more than about 25% river sand to these.

Do not cut them back during Autumn or Winter. I find its too late, and you likely get die-back.

It gets hard to promote shoots down low, so you're best off continually trunk chopping to create a bushy tree.

As the the tree ages, the bark peels each year, and reveals lovely dark green colours, transitioning to white/gray as you go up the trunk.


Micromyrtus ciliata

These are delightful specimens. Tiny minute leaves, and lovely little white/pinkish fragrant flowers.
The trunk is very sinuous, and looks beautiful even on young material
But they're really, really difficult to grow.

Assume you'll lose about half of your starting stock.
You really need full sun, and fast drainage. I use roughly about 75-85% washed river sand in the mix. Its that simple.

When you repot: try not to remove any root at all, and try not to cut off more than about 10% foliage. Just separate the roots.

The roots can't stay wet, and the mix needs to drain really fast.

Only trim the roots and foliage at each subsequent repot.

And don't overpot them.


Homoranthus papillatus

This was my first attempt at Homoranthus, but I've had them on the radar for many years.

I'm actually disappointed that I've taken this long to trial them.

The short leaves are a lovely soft bluish/green.

This species seems to naturally twist as it grows, making it a really good candidate.

They definitely seem hardy. Within 7-10 days of a heavy root prune and a hard foliage reduction, they were putting out new growth.


Breynia ‘ironstone range’

Dark mauve colours appear on the new growth. This species appears pretty hardy.

It grows small berries.
Its the Australian equivalent of Loropetalum.

But don't grow this in a fast draining mix. I was told it grows well in a fast draining mix, but I found too fast was dangerous.

It needs a medium rate of drainage otherwise it will get bone dry and dieback occurs.
Like other previously mentioned material, you get warning that the material is in danger of drying out, as the foliage starts to droop.
Then once you give it a good watering it will spring back in a few hours and have no dieback.


So recently I've 'branched' out into some new genus, and so far I'm loving how these guys are responding to root pruning and foliage reduction.

Theres nothing more exciting than trialling a genus you know nothing about, and then seeing for yourself how they respond.

These trials nearly all put on new growth very quickly, even after a 50% root removal and foliage reduction:


Agonis parviceps

-Very small leaves, (less than 1cm), and very hardy.


xAstackea winter pink

(Astartea clavulata x Baeckea astarteoides)

-Very small leaves and the most beautiful flowers I've ever seen.
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Re: 2020 Australian Plants as Bonsai - Trialing Native Material

Post by Rory »


Hakea purpurea

I havent trialled a lot of Hakea over the years, so I’m excited about the small foliage on this one.
Adorable small foliage


Mount Spurgeon black kauri pine - Prumnopitys

Painfully slow to grow, but quite hardy.
Your children will grow up and age before this does.

It has nice compact foliage too. Reminds me of a redwood.


Hakea orthorrhyncha var. filiformis

Lovely rough bark

I hate how the nursery trade use those strong duct tape pieces to tie material together. It always digs into the material.
So far they tolerate a 50% root reduction, and after a month have started growing strongly.


Eremophila alternifolia


Style your natives like actual native trees.

The worst mistake you can make is to apply a standard approach to all your natives. Don’t listen to what others tell you, and instead look at the actual tree in the wild.

Look closely at the branching in the wild. Reverse taper, cross-branching, bar-branching, long straight branches, branches growing upwards, bulging, its all natural and can look beautiful on natives.

Style your bonsai by looking at real trees, not by looking at other bonsai.

I rarely use wire when I'm styling. I still continually trunk chop to create taper, but I prefer to allow the tree to grow and develop its own character over time.
I clip-and-grow to style the growth. If need be, I move main branches in a different direction by anchoring them.

And lastly, try opening your mind with native alternatives to common exotics.
They have the advantage of having evolved to our climate, so you'll probably have better success:


Casuarinas are a fantastic alternative to Japanese Pines.

In fact, in some of these you may not be able to tell which is which.


Banksia are best for having that strong old oak feel


This one is probably obvious.

Leptospermum laevigatum is a great replacement for buxus.


You’ll probably all be able to guess the Wisteria, but our native Indigofera is still beautiful.


Breynia as a nice replacement for Loropetalum.

This ones a bit harder. Unless you’ve grown Loropetalum you probably wont be able to tell.


Melaleuca micromera is so much wilder than Juniper chinensis.
It styles itself too!


Okay, this is the hardest of them all to tell apart I think.
Crepe Myrtle vs Leptospermum brachyandrum. They both have really nice trunks.


Juniperus procumbens nana vs Melaleuca incana 'seamist'


And finally, crabapple vs syzygium smithii
This is probably obvious which is which, but its a great alternative.


So thank you all for watching, and I hope you guys have an awesome day.

You can email me anything you would like to know,

or you contact me on Ausbonsai.

I’m cunningly disguised with the online nickname of “Rory”
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Bonsai: Casuarina Leptospermum Banksia Phebalium Melalueca
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Re: 2020 Australian Plants as Bonsai - Trialling Native Material

Post by Keels »

Thanks for sharing Rory. I attended on Saturday but couldn't make the Sunday. Annoying that I missed it but glad to see it posted here :tu:
Check out my instagram account. It's a good laugh and i cover most local events.

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Re: 2020 Australian Plants as Bonsai - Trialling Native Material

Post by melbrackstone »

Sorry I wasn't able to make the symposium, so thank you so much for sharing your presentation Rory! As always, a mine of information!
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Re: 2020 Australian Plants as Bonsai - Trialling Native Material

Post by shibui »

That was hilarious Rory.
Laughing so much I forgot to take notice of all the important info so I'm going to have to read it all over again.
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Re: 2020 Australian Plants as Bonsai - Trialling Native Material

Post by MJL »

A ripper post. Thank you. An excellent greenhouse to keep possums out too....

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Re: 2020 Australian Plants as Bonsai - Trialling Native Material

Post by juan73870 »

Awesome and extremely comprehensive presentation, Rory! I'm really into natives at the moment and this has come at just the right time, as I had questions that you have answered. Fantastic! Thanks very much for uploading!
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Re: 2020 Australian Plants as Bonsai - Trialling Native Material

Post by GavinG »

Excellent presentation, good to see the whole thing. Compliments to the graphic designer, it all worked for me.

I'm just curious - how long do Phebalium live?

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Re: 2020 Australian Plants as Bonsai - Trialling Native Material

Post by Ryceman3 »

I had an albino littoralis at one stage which was nice, but probably not as good as your torulosa. I guess there’s always something to strive for! Thanks for posting your presentation, that was an entertaining and interesting read.
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Re: 2020 Australian Plants as Bonsai - Trialling Native Material

Post by shibui »

I currently have an albino Banksia marginata. Sometimes they regain colour after a few weeks but this one looks like it will stay 'albino'
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Re: 2020 Australian Plants as Bonsai - Trialling Native Material

Post by TimS »

I enjoyed that post immensely even though I‘ve no interest in growing natives; I especially liked the description of the Prumnopitys :lol:
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Re: 2020 Australian Plants as Bonsai - Trialling Native Material

Post by Rory »

Thank you everyone for the kind words.
It was a great weekend and very enjoyable.
shibui wrote: March 11th, 2020, 7:17 pm I currently have an albino Banksia marginata. Sometimes they regain colour after a few weeks but this one looks like it will stay 'albino'
Now that sucks bad. I can imagine for you to mention that, it must have been good. I’ve put B. marginata as a red traffic light for quite a few reasons. I’ve lost many more than I’ve kept alive.
I still have some great trunk material that I’m hoping will be something special in years to come. Provided they don’t expire before that.
GavinG wrote: March 11th, 2020, 1:01 pm I'm just curious - how long do Phebalium live?
Definitely not as long as you :lol:

So far, they live more than 394 days.
I’ve scienced the crap out of it!

Yes, my wife did a great job on the presentation, thank you.
I told her I met my future self that weekend, to which she replied that hopefully you’re rich.
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Bonsai: Casuarina Leptospermum Banksia Phebalium Melalueca
Thread on growing Australian natives as Bonsai:
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