Common Myrtle as bonsai

TheAntiquarian

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Does anyone on this page have any experience with common myrtle as bonsai? I've been thinking of starting one and I wonder how far it tolerates being cut back and what precautions one ought to take. My only experience in bonsai has been with a schefflera, with my background in gardening and some valuable help from the Internet that hasn't proved to be too hard, so now I'd like to try with this myrtle I have, which is a few years old. I've been wiring it a bit to expand the structure and I like the structure of its trunk and branches, I've been fantasizing of it becoming a bonsai. I just wonder if it would tolerate to be completely cut back to a small size, and at what time of the year it might be convenient to do this. Probably early spring...?
 

Forsoothe!

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If you go to the upper right hand corner and click on your Icon, you can add your location and people will be able to customize advice for you.





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TheAntiquarian

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Ok, thank you, I added the location. I had been wondering how to do that. I'm in a big city in a coastal desert, the latitude is technically tropical but the desertic coast makes plants dry faster and also the heat is tempered by the El Niño current, which cools things down to an extent. Winters aren't very cold at all here, but summers are hot, which together with the desertic surroundings make plants dry fast in the summer. It rarely rains at all, moisture for plants has to be provided artificially at all times. Like many gardeners do, it helps to have plants in a greenhouse or wrapped in plastic when they start to sprout or bud back after prunning.
 

Esolin

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Myrtus communis backbuds very readily, even from old wood. I'm in the process of reducing a variegated one, which seem to be popular around these parts, and I've got buds pushing lower on the trunk after a hard prune. I've not done a lot of root work to them, but I did once separate a cluster grouping of young trunks. I savaged them badly in my attempt, pretty much tearing off all their roots. Two (out of 3) miraculously survived and started to grow again--until a heat wave killed them. Myrtles will not tolerate drying out--it only takes one hot windy day without watering, so beware.

I've read elsewhere on the forums that the dwarf variety is different, and hates root work, but I've no experience with the dwarf variety. I hear that luma and other South American myrtle species are excellent for bonsai.
 
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TheAntiquarian

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Myrtus communis backbuds very readily, even from old wood. I'm in the process of reducing a variegated one, which seem to be popular around these parts, and I've got buds pushing lower on the trunk after a hard prune. I've not done a lot of root work to them, but I did once separate a cluster grouping of young trunks. I savaged them badly in my attempt, pretty much tearing off all their roots. Two (out of 3) miraculously survived and started to grow again--until a heat wave killed them. Myrtles will not tolerate drying out--it only takes one hot windy day without watering, so beware.

I've read elsewhere on the forums that the dwarf variety is different, and hates root work, but I've no experience with the dwarf variety. I hear that luma and other South American myrtle species are excellent for bonsai.
Thank you very much for your advice. In fact I've always thought that Lima weather is very much like California weather. I think I have underwatered this myrtle, but it is alive - your advice on daily watering is very enlightening. I will definitely try cutting this one back to make a bonsai out of it. I will create a humid weather for it to back bud, covering it in plastic. Would you recommend, then, cutting back all the branches at once, to the approximate desired shape? Here are a couple of images of my myrtle:
1615078635084.png
1615078655386.png
 

Esolin

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Yes, I imagine your climate is similar in many ways! I would not put it under plastic after cutting it back. With fewer leaves, it will not lose as much water, so it is not necessary. Watering is a delicate balance, and there are many factors which affect how often you must water, such as how much shade the plant gets, and the type and quantity of soil. Your pot is deep and looks to have normal garden soil in it, so it holds a lot more moisture for longer than a shallow bonsai pot with coarse bonsai soil in it would. Your plant looks very healthy, so you are taking good care of it and probably watering it just fine. You don't want it too soggy, or the roots will rot. You just don't want to let the soil dry out completely. Especially on a hot day.

But I wonder if your plant is one of the South American varieties? The leaves don't look like the European myrtle to me. This is what mine looks like (again, it's variegated, but otherwise the leaf growing pattern and shape is that of regular myrtus communis). You can see I did not take all of the leaves off, but it's backbudding low on the trunk.

Because I am not sure of the exact species of your plant, I would suggest cutting back only a small portion and seeing how it reacts before doing anything drastic. Little experiments are best when you don't know much about a plant. I was not entirely sure about backbudding either on such an old trunk, which is why I left some up top on mine. ;)
 

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Hmm... I’m wondering.... could this actually be a Peruvian Myrtle? Luma apiculata. Mine looks eerily similar with leafs and trunk color. Only difference if the young one I have has smoother bark.

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TheAntiquarian

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Hmm... I’m wondering.... could this actually be a Peruvian Myrtle? Luma apiculata. Mine looks eerily similar with leafs and trunk color. Only difference if the young one I have has smoother bark.

cheers
DSD sends
It might well be that species! Here they just call it a myrtle, so it makes sense that it's the most local possible kind of myrtle. I chose it as a possible first bonsai experience, but I went for a schefflera instead to cut back first and experiment. Now I would like to cut this one back, while temporarily keeping it in the same pot. I had thought I liked it natural and large, but the apical dominance of the growth and the heat of the summer have made it lose its lower leaves, and it will just become a tall lanky plant if I leave it as it is.
IMG_0206.jpg

I'm also moving to a smaller space, where I have an inside greenhouse, so cutting it back makes a lot of sense now. The weather being much like the California weather but with much warmer summers, perhaps I can pull off cutting it back now. I've heard myrtles back bud much more energetically the more drastic the pruning. The question is, will I prune now or will I wait for the Winter to pass...
 

Sputnik 184

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I have a number of small myrtles grown from seed and they are indeed susceptible to any form of drying from heat, cold or wind. Last summer hot dry weather caused them to lose their leaves but rehydration brought them back to full health. Our recent cold snap again caused the leaves to dry out. I am quite confident new shoots will start to sprout from the branches soon.
 

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TheAntiquarian

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What I wonder is what will be the reaction to a very hard cut back, and if in my weather I can do it around this time, perhaps in two to four weeks. No other way to find out than trying, perhaps.
 

Esolin

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You're in the Southern hemisphere, so you're entering Autumn, yes? It may not be the ideal time, but if your winters are mild (it doesn't freeze) and plants generally keep growing in that season, then it will probably do okay. It does look healthy enough to chop hard. Have you tried researching 'luma apiculata bonsai' to see what is recommended for pruning?

If I were going to chop one in the Fall, I'd at least leave a few of the lower green stems with leaves attached, so it could still draw on some sunlight to speed new growth, rather than just relying on the reserves stored in the trunks. But if your plant really is a luma, they are supposed to be very vigorous growers, and should do fine either way.
 

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I have been growing Luma apiculata for a few years however the bark on mine is always smooth. The bark in the pictures appears to be flaky so this one may be a different species.
I have found Luma apiculata is an excellent species for bonsai. They grow fast. They back bud really well so I can cut right back to bare wood and be sure of getting lots of new shoots - pruning so far has been in spring. They tolerate root massive pruning so I can reduce the root ball a lot at one time. They also flower with small white flowers. Everything you really want for bonsai.
I have started developing some smaller, shohin sized bonsai with this species.
 

TheAntiquarian

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You're in the Southern hemisphere, so you're entering Autumn, yes? It may not be the ideal time, but if your winters are mild (it doesn't freeze) and plants generally keep growing in that season, then it will probably do okay. It does look healthy enough to chop hard. Have you tried researching 'luma apiculata bonsai' to see what is recommended for pruning?

If I were going to chop one in the Fall, I'd at least leave a few of the lower green stems with leaves attached, so it could still draw on some sunlight to speed new growth, rather than just relying on the reserves stored in the trunks. But if your plant really is a luma, they are supposed to be very vigorous growers, and should do fine either way.
About five hundred years ago, when settlers from temperate Northern countries first arrived, the first coastal settlements in this country were spoken of, by them, as places of eternal spring, and garden cities. Precisely because there are no real winters to speak of here. Just cool, humid weather, where a long walk can be very pleasant. In the context of an indoor greenhouse, I think there will be enough light and heat to keep things growing as if from "autumn" the weather went on directly to "spring". In fact, plants are much greener in the "winter" here than in the summer, because it's the hot desert coast's summer sun that most hurts the plants in these lands, drying their older leaves and their new growth, whereas the non-existent "winter" cold does little or nothing to stop them from growing.

Bonsai seems to be the best way to learn about pruning. If one already has a background in being able to keep plants alive, it seems that the amateur who gets into bonsai can progress on to learning how to prune in order to keep plants compact and full instead of tall and lanky, which is of course what happens if one doesn't prune. This so far seems to be the most important thing the bonsai art is starting to teach me: To go into great depth to really learn exactly how to prune, in careful detail, in order to shape garden plants and keep them short and full. If I discover that pruning is feasible in the "autumn" here, then perhaps keeping the new growth alive over the "winter" will be easier than keeping it alive and sprouting in the dry summer, which is the real plant killer in these desertic lands.

The experiment seems worth a try and will be good learning.
 
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Maiden69

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Hmm... I’m wondering.... could this actually be a Peruvian Myrtle? Luma apiculata. Mine looks eerily similar with leafs and trunk color. Only difference if the young one I have has smoother bark.

cheers
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Chilean myrtle? Arrayan, palo colorado, Luma.Apiculata. This one is definitely not it... luma's bark is smooth and peels off like sheets of paper revealing a cinnamon color "new" bark.

Thanks a picture of mine when I received it last year, I will try to get one today when I get home with the peeling bark.

Luma.A2.jpg

Here are some crappy cropped out pictures of mine from before the snow storm last month.

Luma bark.jpg

Luma bark 1.jpg
 

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TheAntiquarian

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Whatever the species is, it is what gardeners call Myrtle in Lima, Peru. It's a plant that's commonly sold in nurseries here and is found in many gardens. As in most other topics, Peruvians wouldn't get too intellectual about it. It's just the local myrtle. It produces white myrtle flowers.
I bought this one in a nursery because I liked the low ramified structure. Today I took it out of the pot and completely washed the root structure, which was quite small for trying to support such a large bush, no wonder it shed most of its leaves in the hot, dry local summer weather. I decided to chop it to this size and pot it in a plastic basket so it will hopefully develop and ramify its root structure in the next two to four years or so. It has nice, big roots that I think would make beautiful surface roots, particularly if the secondary roots develop well. It also has one higher root which I have not wanted to chop, thinking it would look nice if perhaps some rocks were eventually placed under it, or some cosmetic solution like that. The ramification of the branches is nice. It's the height of a hot El Niño summer here now; the weather will be scorching hot for probably two more months. The apices of the branches were all growing, a new sprout in each and every one of them, so the plant surely has enough of whatever it takes to bud. Under a full plastic cover it will be protected from the drying effect of the heat, and I think it will quite probably bud back very well. Buds develop very well here in the summer if one protects them against the drying effects of the heat.
 

TheAntiquarian

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Here's the result of this repot and chop. I've covered the surface root structure in soil so it will keep growing.

IMG_0216.jpg
 

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