Ampelopsis, including Ampelopsis glandulosa (Ampelopsis) bonsai trees are members of the genus Ampelopsis and the family Vitaceae. These climbing vine or liana shrubs are also known under the common names peppervine and porcelainberry. Etymology reveals that Ampelopsis is a plant that resembles the grape vine. The name of the genus is derived from two Ancient Greek words, ‘ampelos’ and ‘opsis’. ‘Ampelos’ means ‘vine’ (or ‘grape’), and ‘opsis’ means ‘resembling’.
Ampelopsis has a large and vigorous taproot. It has been reported that during a growing season, some Ampelopsis species can expand rapidly by producing copious sucker shoots. The leaves are 6-12 cm long and 3-11 cm wide. The edge of the leaf can either have lobes or both teeth and lobes. There is only one leaf per node, and the leaves have stalks. The stem does not have thorns or spines.
Ampelopsis plants are hermaphroditic or polygamo-monoecious. The tiny, inconspicuous flowers are radially symmetrical, with yellow or green thin and delicate petals. They grow in flat-topped clusters, and are pollinated by many insects, including the honey bee. The bush owes its common name, porcelainberry, to its pea-sized iridescent fruits, which can be pink, amethyst purple or turquoise-blue in color. The fruit is spherical, shiny, fleshy and contains 2-4 seeds. The tree produces a clear and watery sap, and is mainly odorless.
There are 25 species in this genus of self-clinging, woody climbers. Most of them are native to Asia (China, Eastern Russia, Japan, India, Nepal, Myanmar and the Philippines). As many as 13 species are endemic to China. Three species of Ampelopsis are found in eastern North America, and parts of Central America. The native habitat are mountains in temperate zones. Some Ampelopsis species thrive at mid-altitudes in subtropical to tropical zones.
Ampelopsis glandulosa var. brevipedunculata, a species native to Japan and northern China, was introduced into the USA in 1870. As a garden plant, it was highly valued for the unique color of its berries. Today, Ampelopsis can be found in many anthropogenic terrestrial habitats. Ampelopsis is a common ornamental garden plant used for walls, fences, trellises and ad a grand cover. This vine can climb up to a height of 6 meters or more, by means of coiling tendrils.
In Asia, the species Ampelopsis brevipedunculata has been used in traditional medicine. Anti-inflammatory, anti-hepatotoxic and diuretic properties have been attributed to this plant. Scientists still research this plant for its pharmaceutical potential to treat liver disease.
Ampelopsis has also been classified as a vigorously invasive weed due to its rapid growth and fast spread. In just one season, Ampelopsis plants cultivated in a garden can grow as much as 4.5 meters. In several eastern USA states, this has led to uncontrolled growth of Ampelopsis over vast areas. Moreover, birds and some small mammals feed on Ampelopsis fruits, and disperse the seeds in the wild. Ampelopsis cordata, for example, is favored by raccoons. Due to this, the plant is also known under the common name raccoon grape. Certain Ampelopsis species are known to uniformly cover the surronding shrubs, trees, and smaller plants. Through such a spread, they quickly start dominating the local vegetation, and pose a threat to biodiversity and the ecosystem.
Most commonly used for bonsai cultivation are the species Ampelopsis brevipedunculata (wild grape) and Ampelopsis glandulosa (Amur peppervine). This guide provides the foundations of Ampelopsis, including Ampelopsis glandulosa (Ampelopsis) bonsai tree care.
How Long Does It Take To Grow Ampelopsis, including Ampelopsis glandulosa (Ampelopsis) Bonsai?
Being a creeper shrub, Ampelopsis is a very fast growing bonsai tree. Some bonsai enthusiasts, especially amateurs, may be tempted by this and consider it an advantage. More experienced bonsai artists, however, see this as a challenge. Rapid growth implies continuous and timely interventions in terms of training, trimming and wiring. Very quickly, the Ampelopsis bonsai tree forms a knobby woody trunk, so proper shaping and styling is of utmost importance.
How to Plant and Grow Ampelopsis, including Ampelopsis glandulosa (Ampelopsis) Bonsai?
Ampelopsis, including Ampelopsis glandulosa (Ampelopsis) bonsai, is mainly an indoor bonsai tree.
Ampelopsis is not the only vine-like or liana-like plant used in bonsai cultivation. For example, wisteria and grape bonsai are also popular bonsai trees. However, like any other bonsai, Ampelopsis, too, has specific requirements in terms of soil, watering, light, temperature and feeding.
There are thee ways to propagate Ampelopsis, including Ampelopsis glandulosa (Ampelopsis): from seeds, by softwood cutting and by simple layering techniques.
To propagate from seeds, it is necessary to cold-treat the seeds first, and sow them in spring. This can be a long and more complex process, not recommended for novice bonsai growers. The seeds have a very low germination rate and typically take more than a year to germinate. Once they sprout, the seedlings need to be monitored in a greenhouse for well over a year.
Ampelopsis can be (relatively easily) propagated from softwood cuttings during early spring. Using a sharp knife, the cutting should be taken from a soft section of the stem, below an internode (‘eye’). The curing need to be 7-10 cm long. Lower leaves should be removed, keeping only a few leaves on the top of the cutting. The cutting should be placed in hormone rooting powder, before inserting it into a pot or tray of well-drained or sandy soil. It is reported that the growth of these cuttings is rather vigorous.
Layering can be performed from April to May. Layering is a fast but advanced method of propagating Ampelopsis bonsai trees, better suited for advanced bonsai enthusiasts and professionals. If attempted, layering into pots needs to be done in late summer. The stem is then severed in spring, and the new plants are lifted in autumn.
Position, Lighting and Temperature Requirements
Ampelopsis plants, especially the variegated forms, prefer a lot of light, but tolerates partial shade. Although some bonsai experts consider Ampelopsis a hardy three that can survive lower temperatures, it is advised never to expose it to a temperature lower than 12° C.
Soil and Watering Needs
Ampelopsis, including Ampelopsis glandulosa (Ampelopsis) bonsai trees need plenty of watering in summer. In winter, the watering should substantially decrease. The plant likes moist soil rich in organic matter, since in the wild it often thrives in woodlands, at mash edges, stream banks and pond margins. The soil can be acid, neutral and basic (alkaline), with pH ranging from 3.6 to 5.5.
In spring and autumn, the plant can be fed with a slow-acting organic fertilizer. A good practice is to use a heavy-phosphorus fertilizer in autumn, as this can prevent winter die back of the tree.
How to Care for Your Ampelopsis, including Ampelopsis glandulosa (Ampelopsis) Bonsai?
Due to its very fast growth, most bonsai experts recommend the weeping style and the cascade style as suitable for plants from the genus Ampelopsis. To establish a right foundation for an attractive Ampelopsis bonsai tree, in the first couple of years the focus should be on the trunk and no more but a few major branches. In the consecutive years, more new growth can be promoted.
Pruning and Wiring
In winter, some trailing branches die back, and they need to be pruned. From spring to fall, after 3-5 points of growth buds have appeared, the plant can be pruned to one or two. Leaf-pruning in late spring/early summer promotes leaf reduction.
While Ampelopsis blooms several times a year, only the flowers of late summer/early autumn produce beautifully-colored berries. Therefore, some bonsai experts recommend dead-heading of early flowers. This practice boosts consecutive flowering.
The Ampelopsis bonsai tree can be wired, and the best time to perform this technique are the spring and summer seasons. Wiring should not be done aggressively — only the trunk and at most a few major branches should be wired.
It is recommended to repot Ampelopsis, including Ampelopsis glandulosa (Ampelopsis) bonsai tree every alternate year. The best time to repot the plant is in April. While for most bonsai trees the rule of thumb is not to remove more than 25-30 percent of the root mass, the roots of Ampelopsis can be trimmed more generously. Some sources state that, in the case of a fast-growing Ampelopsis specimen, up to a half of its root mass can be removed. The tree should be then placed in a new pot filled with basic soil mix, preferably enriched with organic components.
Pests and Diseases
Ampelopsis, including Ampelopsis glandulosa (Ampelopsis) bonsai tree is commonly susceptible to scale, mildew and black rot. Particularly vulnerable are the leaves of the plant, but pesticides should be used sparingly as they, too, easily damage the leaves. A recommended solution is to use a systemic pesticide in early spring.
The leaves are very susceptible to insect damage. Unfortunately, the leaves are also quite sensitive to pesticide, when sprayed. A systemic applied early in the season may be the best solution. During winter, the plant enters a dormant period, undergoes leaf loss, and its trailing branches typically die back. This is considered normal, and should not be a reason for concern.