Chinese Fringe Flower Care Guide
Loropetalum chinense, or Chinese Fringe Bonsai, is a genus of flowering shrubs (related to Witch Hazel) that originated in China and Japan. While the original form has green foliage and white blooms, in 1989 a Japanese nursery provided the first pink-flowered variation of the plant to the U.S. National Arboretum. Within just over a decade there were numerous cultivars of Loropetalum chinense var. 'rubrum' being offered in the trade and the bonsai world had begun to take notice of this attractive specimen.
The red varieties of this plant differ slightly in their traits. Depending upon the type, the Chinese Fringe Bonsai may grow to a height between 5 and 12 feet, with proportionate width. The 'Ruby' cultivar is a popular one for its compact size, shiny, rounded, ruby red leaves, and pink flowers. The flowers on 'Purple Majesty' are fuchsia and its leaves gradually turn a vibrant purple.
The leaves are usually ovate, alternating, and grow up to 1-2" in length. Their color varies depending on cultivar and time of the year – most have a red, copper, or burgundy tint, with some fading to green by the end of the season. The flowers are one of the unique draws on this plant – the 2" blooms are comprised of skinny petals that give them the look of a pompom. The brown bark exfoliates over time, giving way to a smooth, lighter grayish-brown.
Read the rest of our Chinese Fringe Flower care guide to learn its temperament, watering, pruning, and more.
Chinese Fringe Flower is extremely heat tolerant, and can survive fairly cold temperatures as well. While the plant may be able to withstand weather down to 10 degrees, keep in mind that all container bonsai need root protection in winter. This plant does well indoors during the winter as long as it has light; no dormancy period is required. Outdoors it should be placed in full sun or partial shade (less than 50%). More sunlight helps some varieties to maintain their colored foliage and bloom vigorously.
As an evergreen the Fringe Flower has similar watering needs to others in this classification. It should not be permitted to completely dry out, but should not be consistently soaking wet either. Moderate moisture levels will do. Check the plant twice a day, morning and evening, to ensure that it has not become too dry, particularly in summer.
Loropetalum is an acid loving plant, so a pH of 5.1-5.5 should be maintained. Feed after the first burst of blooms in spring, using a fertilizer made for evergreens. Always apply fertilizer at the drip-line of the Chinese Fringe Bonsai, not directly under the plant where it could burn the feeder roots. Water it immediately following application.
The wide spread of this plant makes it suitable for many forms, including broom, cascade, windswept, and informal upright.
Pruning Loropetalum can be challenging due to its resistance to budding back. One way to work around this issue is to plant it in a five gallon pot for the first few years, which convinces the plant that it is planted in the ground. This allows you to prune with more successful back budding.
Once you begin pruning, do so in early spring, or right after flowering occurs. Start by conservatively pruning a few branches, then when you see healthy growth from those, go ahead and do a few more. This method will take time to result in the bonsai shape you desire but it will be worth it, because if you prune more aggressively the tree may die. Chinese Fringe Flower tends to grow in a wide horizontal spread with a dense branch structure. Once new growth occurs it will be fast and vine-like, then you will be able to use clip and grow for maintenance.
This species takes easily to wiring, however because it is a fast grower you will need to watch the wires closely to avoid cutting in.
You may propagate by sowing seeds in late winter or early spring; a warm greenhouse is best. Cuttings of semi-hardwood about two inches long with a heel may be rooted in the middle of summer.
Repot every other year into moist but well-draining soil. This plant prefers acidic, compost-rich soil but will adapt to conditions that are less than perfect. It is, however, important to maintain the pH level to an acid balance, otherwise the Chinese Fringe Bonsai will show signs of chlorosis (yellowing leaves with green veins).
Insects/Pests & Diseases
Fringe Flowers are incredibly disease and pest resistant, adding to their allure as a bonsai. Occasionally aphids will infest new growth, in which case you can usually just spray the plant with a gentle jet of water, or rinse the leaves with a spray of one teaspoon dish detergent and a quart of warm water. Rinse with plain water after applying the soap mixture.