Magnolia stellata, also known as star magnolia belonging to the family Magnoliaceae is native to Japan and China. Magnolias are splendid looking bonsai when in bloom. This deciduous shrub blooms early in spring way before the leaves open. However, many do not prefer magnolia bonsai as they have big foliage and look good only when in bloom.
Magnolia genus consist of over 200 species. Magnolia stellata grow 5 to 8 ft tall and are often found in moist, marshy areas. The foliage of young shrubs are oval and spread further as they age. The twigs are coarse with large green leaves and huge flowers. Its blooms last only a few weeks, they are mostly white flowers and some are pale pink and the blooms have a gentle citrus fragrance.
Magnolia stellata is the most ideal species for bonsai out of all other Magnolias. They also bloom at a relatively young age. Due to the large foliage, they often fall under the medium to large bonsai category. They come under the spring flowering bonsai type. They are a sturdy species that require limited care and pruning. This guide is curated for beginner stage bonsai enthusiasts.
How long does it take to grow star magnolia Bonsai Tree?
Magnolia stellata is slow-growing and take years to form thick trunks for a bonsai. Star magnolia is large bonsai with a smooth greyish brown trunk and shiny brown bark. They also have large but narrow dark green leaves. The bonsai sheds all leaves and stands naked in the winter. The roots are thick and fleshy and grow closer to the surface.
Position and lighting
Magnolias prefer direct bright sunlight or even partial shade. Bright sunlight is essential for their proper growth and blooms. If kept in shaded areas, make sure you expose them to direct sunlight frequently as it is an outdoor flowering plant. This hardy bonsai can survive a harsh climate but protect them from strong frost and wind. Move them indoors during winter or keep them inside a greenhouse, but do not keep them away from light for too long. They can grow indoors or outdoors in places with moderate cold.
Magnolia bonsai ideally grow in warm conditions. Keep them outside where the temperature is above 450F. Magnolia bonsai loves humidity, 50% or higher is the ideal humidity for its growth. Magnolias can cope up to a temperature ranging 140F and this makes them one of the hardiest bonsai. Frost and strong wind will fade the flowers and make them wilt faster. Protecting the bonsai from rain, frost and wind can extend the life of the blooms.
While planting a bonsai, the most important thing to keep in mind is the right soil type. The soil must be light, sandy and well-drained. Soil pH is an important factor as well. You can easily purchase any good quality bonsai mix from the store. Magnolia stellata thrive in slightly acidic soil, they also grow on neutral or slightly alkaline soils. But highly acidic or highly alkaline pH is a big no. Sandy, loamy or clay type soils are suitable for growing this bonsai. Make sure you avoid soil compaction, you can layer potting soil between gravel layers to create good drainage. To accelerate the growth of your Magnolia, use soil that is organically rich and loamy. You can place a pebble tray beneath the pot and add water to it, this artificially creates a humid atmosphere.
As a general thumb rule, Magnolias do not require frequent watering. You can water these bonsai once every week as soon as planted. They require a lot of water during the growing period and during the spring and summer seasons while they bloom. Also, be careful to not let the soil dry out completely. The root ball of Magnolia stellata should be kept moist. You can slowly reduce the frequency to alternate weeks. The ideal pH of water is slightly acidic (5.5) to neutral (7). Try avoiding hard water and use rainwater.
Water needs vary according to the soil type they are planted in and also the temperature. If they are planted in clay type soil you will have to deep water the plant, but reduce the frequency. Do not overwater and make sure the planter has good drainage to prevent waterlogging. If the soil is sandy then slightly water the bonsai regularly. At 70 to 800F temperature, water the tree once a week and if the temperature rises, increase the frequency to twice a week.
Organic rich soil is ideal for the good growth of your bonsai. While the plant is growing, and during blooming season, add nitrogen-rich fertilizer once a week. After that feeding the tree with a balanced fertilizer once a month is sufficient. If you are using liquid fertilizer add it once a week. Keep in mind to not fertilize newly planted Magnolia until the next growing season.
There are many styles of bonsai, like formal upright, informal upright, slanting, cascading, semi-cascading, literati, windswept etc. The most suitable for a flowering bonsai, like Magnolia stellata, is the informal upright, single or multiple trunk styles.
How to plant and grow star magnolia Bonsai Tree?
With the right guidance and care you can easily plant a Magnolia stellata bonsai tree. The right time to plant one is during the spring or summer. Given below is a few things you need to keep in mind while planting.
There are various types of propagation methods.
Stem cutting: During early summer Magnolia can propagate from greenwood cuttings or in early fall from semi-ripe cuttings. Dip a clean cutting in rooting hormone and plant it in well-drained but moist soil and water regularly.
Root cutting: You can take these cuttings while pruning the plant during summer and propagate them.
Ground/Air layering: This is one of the best options to propagate star magnolias in spring. Air layering is a method of propagation where the new plant is grown while attached to the parent plant. Remove a small piece of bark from the lower trunk and wrap this part with sphagnum moss. Roots will slowly start developing on this stem. Cut it out once it’s grown more than an inch and plant them in moist soil.
Leaf propagation: Take a fully grown leaf and safely place it in moist soil. Let the root develop and you can plant this in a small bonsai container.
Seed: Star magnolias produce knobby, reddish-green fruits. It matures and opens to exhibit deep orange seeds in the early autumn. The fruit mostly falls off before developing fully. Propagation by seed is very hard, rare and requires a lot of patience.
Pruning and wiring
Winter: Magnolia bonsai goes into a dormant state in winter. This is the right time to prune those extra-large branches and trim the overgrown roots. The roots of older magnolias are tender so prune them lightly. Remove less than 1/3rd of the rootball. The branch structure is easily visible without the dense foliage. Wiring is also done during this season. The best option to shape the branches is by using a guy wire.
Summer: The canopy grows widely in the summer. You should remove the large leaves and restrict the number of leaves per stem to 3 or 4. Trim new shoots to maintain the shape you desire. Do not let the leaves shade the inner branches. You can also cut the leave diagonally by folding to restrict the size.
Spring: Do not prune in the late summer or early spring as this is the time when the magnolia starts preparing to bloom. Pruning at this time will reduce the number of blooms in the spring. You can wire the soft branches in the early spring. Monitor the growth to prevent the wire from causing cuts as the plant grow.
You can regularly trim new leaves or branch growths to maintain the desired shape. Clearing out dead or damaged branches regularly will ensure airflow through your bonsai.
As the Magnolia bonsai grows, it is important to re-pot them to the right size containers. Though they are slow growers younger trees need to be repotted once every three years without causing any major disturbance to the root system. Use a new well-drained potting mix with pH 7 or less while repotting. Also, use a bonsai pot one size bigger than the previous container. You don’t have to re-pot the older trees often. The right time to re-pot is during the early spring.
How to care for your Magnolia stellata Bonsai Tree
Magnolia stellata is a hardy bonsai and can survive with minimum care. These bonsai are ideal for small outdoor gardens. Placing the Magnolia bonsai in the right conditions is the key step to growing and caring one. Magnolia bonsai requires proper spacing to grow well, you should not position it in areas overcrowded by other plants. Star Magnolias are slow growers and need minimal pruning. To maintain the shape and style of your bonsai, careful pruning at the right season is a necessity.
Pests and diseases.
Pest attacks are rare with star magnolias. You can use organic insecticides or pesticides to keep aphids or scales away during the blooming season. Keeping them indoors will also reduce the chance of pest infestation.
Root rot is caused by overwatering the tree. You can prevent chlorosis by avoiding calcareous water or giving the right amount of fertilizers. If the leaves turn yellow, adjusting the pH of the soil to slightly acidic will help.