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Chinese Pepper Bonsai Care Guide

General Information

Zanthoxylum is a genus of deciduous pepper plants used in Chinese cuisine, specifically Sichuan cooking. This family of plants is native to mountainous regions of China and the Himalayas, as well as Korea, Japan, and Manchuria. Zanthoxylum comes from the Greek for "yellow wood". In its natural environment this shrubby plant grows to about three feet tall.

Tree's Attributes

The leaves are small, ovate, and glossy bright green. The tiny flowers grow in clusters beginning in January, and may be white or yellowish. The trunk is fissured and has a striking aged look much desired in bonsai, even at a young age. It may twist or bend, giving it even more character. The Chinese Pepper Tree gives off an aromatic, peppery and sweet odor. The unique scent along with the ease of care make this a great tree for beginner enthusiasts.

Temperature/Lighting/Location

This specimen makes a great indoor tree. It should be given plenty of sun and warmth if grown indoors, and also enjoys a humidity tray (a shallow tray lined with rocks or another barrier that keeps the plant from sitting directly in the water – the evaporating water keeps the air around the plant moist). It can be grown outdoors and brought in during the coldest months. Outside the tree should have semi-shade or full sun.

Watering

Bonsai are killed more frequently by watering errors than by any other cause. The soil should not be allowed to completely dry out, but should not remain soaked either (this can invite fungus and cause root rot). Feel the soil in the morning and evening to see if it feels moist or just damp or dry. If it is close to dry or dry about a half inch to an inch down into the soil surface, give a thorough watering until water runs out the drain holes at the bottom of the container. Misting is a good idea for Chinese Pepper Plant care, if kept as an indoor plant.

Fertilizing

Bonsai depend on their owners to deliver nutrients into the soil. Particularly with flowering varieties like the Chinese Pepper, fertilizer is very important. A good balanced liquid feed should be administered about every 15 days during the growing season and monthly during the cooler months. Specific bonsai fertilizer is preferable. Apply according to the instructions. Yellowing of leaves can indicate a nutrient deficiency.

Pruning/Training

Styles – the Chinese Pepper Tree lends itself well to formal upright, informal upright, slanting, broom, and semi-cascade.

As a deciduous species, Zanthoxylum can be pruned during the growing season. When pruning branches, set the tree at eye level for the best view, and use bonsai scissors to make flush or concave cuts so that the wounds will heal faster.

Allow shoots to get to five or seven leaf sets then trim back to two pairs. Undesirable foliage growth should be trimmed according to the shape you are trying to achieve. You should never remove all new growth at one time as this stresses the tree too much at one time. Zanthoxylum may be wired, however a heavy grade wire may be necessary as the branches can be resistant. Wire in summer.

Propagation

Chinese Pepper may be propagated by seed, soft cuttings, suckers, and root cuttings. To grow from seeds, they are best propagated in the fall, as soon as they are ripe. Stored seeds can be germinated but may require a few months of cold stratification. Sow the stored seeds in a cold frame, as early in the year as you can. Germination may take place in spring, or it might take another full year. Once the seedlings are big enough they may be transplanted and grown in a cold frame.

Half-ripe softwood cuttings may be rooted in a frame in July and August. For root cuttings, take a three centimeter length and root horizontally in containers inside a greenhouse. Root cuttings tend to produce a good percentage of successful plants.

Repotting

This should be carried out between early and late spring every two years or so, when the roots have taken up the pot. At this time prune off any discolored, mushy, or smelly roots. Removing about a quarter of the root ball is a good conservative practice. A well-draining bonsai soil mix is good for this bonsai.

Insects/Pests & Diseases

Bonsai are sometimes attacked by aphids, scale, or spider mites. To remove scale (which appear as brown or black lumps on the branches and/or leaves) pry off carefully with the tip of a sharp knife. Alternatively, rubbing alcohol may be applied to the outer shells with a small brush.

Aphids and mites can normally be removed easily by spraying with a mixture of a small amount of dish liquid in a quart of water. Spray until runoff occurs, then spray clean with plain water.

A non-toxic insecticide may be applied to your bonsai every couple of months in order to keep pests at bay. Do not spray when soil is dry. Available pest control and other supplies can be found here.

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