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Barbados Cherry Care Guide

General Information

Malpighia punicifolia is a dwarf evergreen shrub native to the Lesser Antilles, Curacao, and parts of South America. It is also known by the names acerola, wild crepe myrtle, and West Indian cherry.

Its genus, Malpighia, was so named in honor of Italian physician, physiologist, and anatomist Marcello Malpighi (1628-1694). Malpighi is sometimes referred to as the "Father of microscopical anatomy, histology, physiology and embryology" and was Pope Innocent XII's (1615-1700) personal physician.

Non-dwarf varieties – in ideal conditions – may reach both a height and width of 20 feet.

Tree's Attributes

Malpighia punicifolia has small, spiny-toothed, opposite leaves and unique pink flowers arranged in an open and airy pattern. It often has a multi-trunk and is capable of flowering all year round.

The small size of the tree as well as its small leaves and interesting trunk make this a popular choice among bonsai enthusiasts.

Temperature/Lighting/Location

As a subtropical, Malpighia should not be exposed to temperatures below 45° F. Freezing temperatures will kill this tree. In order to see flower buds a nighttime temperature above 60° F is required.

Any sun position will do, however for small leaves, flowers, and fruit full sun is ideal. The bonsai should be protected from full sun during the hottest summer months. In winter five hours of sunlight is ideal and in summer they can be placed in shade or filtered sunlight.

If grown inside the Barbados Cherry should have 14-16 hours each day under a grow light.

Watering

The soil should be allowed to dry out a bit between watering's, without drying out completely, as these plants do not prefer to be wet all the time. Overwatering will cause the leaves to yellow, as will excess sunlight.

The exception is the cultivar Malpighia coccigera, which prefers heavy watering. Water on the flowers will ruin them so misting is not a good idea.

Fertilizing

This bonsai likes heavy feeding in spring and summer months. To encourage optimal blooming you may apply a diluted feed every day, or a regular application once a week. It's advantageous to switch between a balanced formula with minor elements, like 20-20-20, and a super phosphate formula.

If the leaves begin to yellow give the plant a dose of chelated iron.

Organic fertilizer is best. Try to maintain a pH between 6.0 and 7.5.

Pruning/Training

Styles – Malpighia punicifolia is a versatile bonsai and will take well to almost any style. It is particularly suited to informal upright, with multiple or twisted trunks.

It's important to maintain this tree with clip and grow. If the branches are allowed to grow too long it will lose leaves and the limbs will develop in a leggy, bare fashion.

This species does back bud well so if the branches get too leggy, clip them back to the last two leaves.

Routine pinching of growth is required.

The tree can be wired, however this must be done carefully as the branches are rather brittle.

Propagation

Barbados Cherry can be propagated by softwood cuttings. Take the cuttings in April and place in compost. Bottom heat is beneficial, at a temperature between 70° and 77° F.

Repotting

This should be carried out when nighttime temperatures are at least in the low to mid 60s F. You can repot at any time during the summer, being careful not to be overly aggressive with root pruning.

Malpighia plants are very vulnerable to nematodes, so the soil should be pasteurized. A well-draining soil mix is a good choice for this bonsai. Organic material in the soil mix tends to encourage vigorous blooming and fruiting.

The pH should be slightly acid, with a level of 5.5 to 6.5.

Insects/Pests & Diseases

This bonsai is fairly resistant to pests like aphids, mites, and scale. Pruning in a way that permits air and light to get to the center of the tree can help prevent these nuisances.

Root nematodes are microscopic but can be detected by the presence of nodules on the roots. These nodules will not be on the side of the root and easily broken off, rather they become part of the root because of the nematode invasion. This problem will be easiest to discover during repotting. To eradicate these pests all infected roots must be cut out above the node. After pruning, you may use a nematicide; it's best to start out with a weak solution and increase if necessary.

Another interesting method of getting rid of these invasive bugs is to wash, cut up, and crush some crab leg shells. Mix these with your bonsai soil and some granular diatomaceous earth then transplant the bonsai into this mixture. Crab shells contain a substance called chitin. Nematode eggs and parts of the creature also contain chitin. The bacteria that feeds on this substance will multiply in the presence of more food, thereby – hopefully – disrupting the life cycle of the nematodes. Be sure you have pruned the affected roots before trying this method.

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