Growing Bonsai in the Houston and Gulf Coast Area

Traditionally, bonsai are grown outdoors all year long and brought into the house for display only on special occasions. It is, therefore, a must to consider the needs or the plant over the desires of the grower. In theory, almost any woody plant can be grown as a bonsai since, by definition, a bonsai means something grown in a shallow dish. In more temperate climates, evergreens have become very popular because they keep their foliage and look the same all year. Growing bonsai in more tropical or dessert-like regions presents challenges while offering new opportunities. Along the Gulf Coast of Texas we experience sustained high temperatures during the summer and rains that range from very heavy to nonexistent. Avoid plants that cannot take these extremes. A fairly good rule of thumb is to look for Texas natives or introduced varieties that have proven their ability to make the adjustment. Start with “volunteers” from your garden, find in the wild or are inexpensive, hardy nursery plants and add others as you become more experienced. I particularly recommend Yaupons because they are readily available, can be pruned to almost any shape, do very well even in full sun and are green all year long. Some plants, even natives, will need to be watched for signs of too much sun and moved into a more shaded area during the height of the Texas summer. I also recommend growing common moss as a “ground cover.” This is both attractive and will help prevent soil from being washed out during heavy rains.

RECOMMENDED PLANTS FOR OUTDOOR BONSAI

These recommendations are based on personal growing success in the Houston/Clear Lake area.

• Acacia (Acacia farnesiana)
• Barbados Cherry (Malpighia glabra nana)
• Crepe Myrtle (Lagestroemia indica)
• Dwarf Elm (Ulmus parvifolia sempervirens hokkaido)
• Dwarf Gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides prostrata)
• Dwarf Yaupon (Ilex vomitoria nana)
• Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana)
• Flowering Quince (Chanomeles speciosa)
• Gingko (Gingko biloba)
• Holly (Ilex dimorphophylla) – a species holly
• Holly (Ilex X. ‘Rock Garden’)- a hybrid holly
• Japanese Red Maple (Acer palmatum rubrum) or any Japanese maple
• Parsley Hawthorn (Crataegus marshalii)
• Rosemary (Rosemarinus offieinallis)
• Serpentine Bougainvillea ( Bougainvillea, x. ‘pink pixie’) – use an upright bougainvillea and train into an “S” shape as it grows, protect from temperatures below 50o F.
• Sophora (Sophora affinis)
• Sweet gums (Liquidambar styraciflua) – great for a “forest” effect.
• Texas Mountain Laurel (Sophora secundiflora)
• Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipfera)
• Vitex (Vitex agnus-castus)
• Texas Ebony (Pithocellobium flexicaule)

Other plants suitable for Bonsai along the Gulf Coast (others have reported success with them)

• Taxiodium distchicum – Bald Cypress
• Juniperus procumbens – Weeping Juniper (the mall bonsai!)
• Acer rubrum – Red Maple
• Ulmus crassifoloa – Cedar Elm (species name to be added)
• Pinus thunbergii – Japanese black pine

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