franchetti is a relatively common native species in the UK.
They are often found in dry soils where they are fast growing
shrubs that produce tall arching branches (to 12ft/3.5 metres)
and numerous suckers around the base. They are not
an ideal species for bonsai , principally due to their large
leaf-size and long internodes, this means that a large trunk
is generally required for maximum effect as a bonsai.
tree that is the subject of this progression series was found
growing in thin dry soil on old derelict ground where it had
produced one tall main trunk surrounded by dozens of suckers
and self-sown seedlings that had germinated around its base.
2005: Due to the sheer size of the trunk and its interesting
movement I decided that the trunk of this tree would be worth
collecting and in February 2005 I dug it up. As with most dry-soil
loving species, this cotoneaster had a very shallow and compact
rootball and despite its size (approximately 3 metres before
being trunk-chopped) collection was relatively easy.
image above shows the tree on the day of collection, here it
can be seen after soaking in water for an hour and it had been
bare-rooted to remove all ground soil. The large terracotta
bulb-pan was approximately 20"/50cm in diameter but relatively
shallow, an ideal container for the roots of this tree.
hour later the Cotoneaster had been potted up and pruned back
hard leaving only the growth that I felt was necessary for the
final design of the tree. At this point I was intending to produce
a multi-trunk bonsai and so 3 principle trunks were left along
with two smaller shoots that had possibilities as minor trunks.
2005: The tree recovered strongly from collection as is normal
with cotoneaster species. After just 7 months, the tree had
back-budded well along the trunk and had produced plenty of
vigorous growth throughout the summer. These side shoots were
allowed to grow strongly to help thicken them in preparation
for development as branches, however, they were occasionally
nipped back to encourage maximum growth in the new leader at
the top of the trunk. This leader was allowed to grow to nearly
2 metres in height during 2005 so that it would thicken and
produce convincing taper within the top section of the trunk.
(During the following Winter this leader was cut back to just
5cm before being grown out again the following year)
2006: By the following summer the majority of the primary branches
had been chosen. I had also decided that the tree would need
to be a single-trunk bonsai; unfortunately the large leaf size
of this species would mean that the smaller trunks I had hoped
to use would never really look good while the tree was in leaf.
tree was (and still is) very apically dominant so that it needed
continual pruning to direct vigour to the first branch (on the
can be seen in the image above, the main movement of the trunk
is towards the right, therefore I needed the first (or 'character')
branch to also grow towards the right to compliment the overall
image. During the previous Winter I was faced with deciding
which of the new shoots to develop into the first branch; as
can be seen, I decided to use a branch growing from behind the
trunk nearly 2/3 of the way of the trunk.
often quoted bonsai 'rules' or guidelines will state
that the first branch should start a 1/3 of the way
up the trunk and will also be the lowest branch. I
feel this tree is a good example of where enthusiasts
should remember that the bonsai rules are ONLY guidelines.
the available options of using this 'rule breaking'
shoot as the new first branch or possibly waiting
several years for a bud to break in the 'correct'
position of the trunk purely because some enthusiasts
may see it as a 'fault' (for a variety of reasons
grafting isn't really an option here), I chose the
sensible route and used what was available to me.
Looking at the final images of the tree as a bonsai,
does it really matter that the first branch breaks
a few rules?
image shows a close up of the trunkbase; this large wound was
the result of removing a sucker/minor trunk. While the presence
of deadwood at the base was not an issue in my eyes and could
be carved to look pleasing, I did have a worry that the wood
would eventually rot away, reducing the visual impact of the
trunkbase. So the wood was carved to give a pleasant outline
and treated with several applications of wood
hardener. The deadwood was then masked with a combination
of acrylic paints and bark with a resulting effect that can
be seen in the images below.
2006; the tree has been pruned back; each and every branch has
been wired to provide plenty of interest and movement. As can
also be noted, the tree was transferred to a nursery container
as the terracotta pot split during a particularly hard frost.
2007; the tree had continued to develop well through 2007, as
can be seen the first branch was allowed to grow unchecked again
in an effort to thicken it up.
2008; the bonsai was potted up into a 13" diameter round
bonsai pot from ErinBonsai.com, the trunkbase including the
roots is approximately 6.5"/16cm in diameter.
2008: Previously I had removed all flower buds as they slowed
the development of the tree into a bonsai but in 2008 I allowed
it to flower for the first time. However, all flower buds were
still removed from the first branch to encourage maximum vegetative
growth in it.
flowers of Cotoneaster franchetti are small and insignificant
and last only a few days before quickly turning to green berries.
As can be seen in the image above, it is common for there to
be a mixture of flowers and newly-formed berries on the tree
at the same time as flowering is spread over a number of weeks.
2008: By August the berries have ripened and are a spectacular
bright red. They will persist on the bonsai well into the Winter;
unless the birds get to them first!
2009: Following winter pruning and wiring. The berries have
survived on the bonsai through the winter and are one of the
few splashes of colour in the garden at this time of year.
June 2009: Cotoneaster bonsai. Current height 30"/77cm
Cotoneaster Bonsai Video
Update November 2010: In the Autumn of 2009 I decided to hard prune the branches of the bonsai with two purposes. Firstly to remove some upper branches that had become out of proportion (too thick) for their position on the tree. And secondly, to improve the taper of all branches throughout the tree.
As ever, the berries make a superb display through the Autumn