Podocarpus Bonsai Tree Care Guide
Podocarpus macrophyllus is a slow-growing evergreen also known as Yew and Buddhist Pine. This native of China and Japan may grow to 40 to 50 feet tall in its natural habitat and is popular as a bonsai because of its graceful elegance and easy care.
The foliage on this tree resembles needles but is actually comprised of leathery green flattened leaves about two inches long. The bark tends toward a gorgeous cinnamon shade, and the trunk bears a gentle curvature. The tree may produce fruit that is green to purple, darkening to black by fall.
The Yew prefers warmer temperatures and should not be in an environment that dips below 55 degrees Fahrenheit. This tree likes a lot of light so if grown indoors should spend plenty of time in a sunny window. When outside, give protection from hot summer afternoons as the leaves could become burned. Podocarpus does not enjoy dry heat, so misting or the use of a humidity tray (a shallow tray of water filled with stones or other buffering material to keep the plant from sitting in water) can be useful in dryer areas.
Buddhist Pine bonsai should be kept moist enough so that the root ball does not dry out, but not so saturated that root rot becomes a problem. It is not a drought-tolerant tree, so careful attention should be paid to the moisture level of the soil. Gray needles can indicate over-watering.
Podocarpus bonsai love fertilizer cakes and fish emulsion. If grown indoors the odor may be too much; in that case apply a liquid bonsai formula every other week during the spring and summer and every six weeks in the winter. This tree will also do well with chelated iron dosed twice a year, as well as being watered for about a week with a blend of one tablespoon Epsom salts in one gallon of water.
Styles – Yew bonsai are suitable for a variety of shapes including formal upright, informal upright, literati, slanting, group, and root-over-rock.
This tree can be encouraged to develop side branching by aggressive pruning, which stimulates vigorous back budding. Pinch back growth as desired according to the shape you're trying to achieve, and remove large leaves. Pinching off half of the bud will result in leaf reduction; do not cut the leaves because they will brown and it may not result in a smaller leaf growing back.
Wiring may be carried out on Podocarpus, however it should be done cautiously as older wood tends to become rigid and break if bent too far. Leave wires in place for two to three months, monitoring frequently for signs of the wire cutting into the bark.
Driftwood incorporated into the area at the base of the trunk makes an especially striking design element with this species.
The Yew may be propagated easily by way of cuttings. Take softwood cuttings and place them in water until you see roots, then move them into a good quality, well-draining soil made for bonsai. Hardwood cuttings may be used but they will require rooting hormone and possibly bottom heat. It is possible to grow this tree from seeds, if you can obtain them.
Repot this specimen in the spring, every three to four years. Be judicious with root pruning – about ten percent removal is sufficient. Replant in slightly acidic, well-draining soil.
Insects/Pests & Diseases:
Podocarpus macrophyllus is susceptible to a number of pests and problems, namely sooty mold caused by sucking insects like aphids, scale, and mealy bugs. Watch carefully for signs of spots that looks like dirt on the leaves and branches of the tree. This could indicate the presence of sooty mold – a fungus that grows on the honeydew (sticky, sweet substance) left behind by these insects.
If you do see sooty mold, it's important to understand that a fungicide will not cure the problem. You must eradicate the pests, then the fungus will usually go away on its own. If you see any of these sucking bugs on your bonsai (mealy bugs can sometimes only be seen on the roots, although they can appear as little white dots at the bases of leaves as well) immediately give the plant a rinse in a jet stream of water. Then spray with a solution of a teaspoon of liquid dish soap in a quart of water. Rinse the plant with plain water after the soapy bath.
Scale will need to be removed one at a time by hand or by applying rubbing alcohol to their hard outer shell.
If the fungus does not begin to subside shortly, an insecticide may be necessary. Do not wait too long to treat the bonsai, as sooty mold can overtake a plant very quickly.