Bonsai Serissa
Bonsai For Beginners



It is most definitely winter in New Zealand with snow in the South Island and wind and rain here in the North Island.

Winter is a fairly quiet time for bonsai; it is however a good time to start to plan ahead. Make sure you have all the pots,soil and mesh you will need for repotting in spring. Trim back any branches on your maples that have grown away from you. It is a good time to wire deciduous stock while you can see the branch structure.

Pines will continue growing through the winter so watch any wire on them don’t let it damage the bark.

Indoor Bonsai
Serissa foetida


While I still maintain almost any plant will respond better to being grown outdoors, there are a few that will tolerate the indoor environment better than others,in the winter months it is nice to be able to bring the odd tree in to decorate the hall table.

There is no reason you can’t bring a plant in for the evening if you are having people over. They make a fantastic centre piece on the dinner table or with correct light will brighten any room. We had people over for a meal last week and I brought in a NZ tree fern bonsai to decorate the side table, with a series of small spot lights above it, it looked fantastic and created quite a focal point.


New Zealand tree fern Dicksonia fibrosa.
I must do a section on this plant in the NZ bonsai page on the website.


One tree that will brighten up a room and will tolerate being indoors for a period of time is Serissa Foetida. I saw a short clip on the internet on how to make a bonsai from this plant and it inspired me to make another one of my own.

Serissa is a small genus of less than three species native to south eastern Asia. Foetida refers to the vaguely unpleasant odor which is said to arise from the crushed stems or roots. It is unfortunate that this pleasing little shrub should bear such a name for it seldom if ever gives offence.

It forms a dense, twiggy shrub with small slender pointed leaves. There is a mass of 12mm mauve shaded white starry flowers with three lobed petals almost the whole year through but more particularly during spring, summer and autumn. I had trouble finding a plain green leafed variety but found two good looking variegated varieties.




I have never seen this tree without flowers in the three years I have had it

They grow very easily from cuttings and are prone to suckers growing from the roots. I will wait for a plain green reverted shoot to spring from one of these plants and propagate from that to get a plain green tree.

Serissia as Bonsai


As mentioned Serissa will tolerate being indoors but do well outdoors in New Zealand. The trees I have are still in flower and have never been inside. One thing to watch is they don’t like sudden changes in temperature so don’t bring them in and put them near the fire or throw them outdoors from a warm house into the frost.

Feed them every 20-30 days from spring to autumn and a light feed or two from autumn to spring wont hurt. Trim off any suckers that pop up from the roots and remove old faded flowers.

Be careful when wiring, the branches will snap if pushed too far and the bark may need some protection if major changes need to be made. Keep the soil moist at all times but make sure it is free draining.

So here is my new tree.


This is the stock plant we picked up from a local nursery for NZ $ 6.00. It has plenty of branches and is in a PB 8 bag.


Cut the top section of the bag away to expose the roots. Serissa can develop very nice roots and they look good if lifted slightly in the pot.


You need to be a little careful with these roots they damage easily. I am using a chopstick to expose the roots, if you are outdoors you can hose away the surface soil.


Serissa quite often will send suckers up from the roots. These can quite easily be removed and replanted as I have done here. You can see how much more of the trunk has been exposed by removing the soil.


Just my luck this plant has been over potted and the main stem has rotted away. The plant has sent this side shoot out to recover and bring its roots back to the surface. We may have to re-think the design. This is a demonstration of why it is always good to check under the soil surface when picking a suitable plant.


I think if we cut away the dead section of root we may be able to get the plant to climb up this rock. This may turn this defect into a feature. It is always best to start with a healthy plant and not have to cover up defects, so spend time with your stock selection process.
I picked this plant on purpose to demonstrate this.NOT


Carry on, remove unwanted branches, if possible cut to a downward pointing branch they are best to clip and grow and avoid wiring if you can.


I will use a little wire mainly to create a new leader. Be careful with wire the bark damages easily and the branches are quite brittle especially where they join the main stem.


Pick a suitable pot and prepare it with some mesh. With this plant being a flowering and variegated tree a glazed and delicate pot is ideal.


You can see better here the dead section of root to be removed. What you can not see is the scar goes all the way up to almost the first branch on that side. You can just make out new roots developing under the first branch on the right hand side. I hope to pack these new roots with muck and help them anchor the tree to the rock.


With the dead root removed the tree can be placed on the rock and potted using good free draining bonsai mix. The tree seems to be made for this rock and supports itself, if it was loose it could be tied to give it extra support.


I am going to pack the roots with some muck to help support the tree and to encorage the development of new roots that will grow into the scoria rock. The muck I make up is a mixture of clay from our driveway bank and shredded sphagnum moss, to this I add a small amount of blood and bone. This is some left over from another job and is a little wet. It should be mixed with enough water to make it workable.


The finished tree.
As stated earlier it is best to clip and grow these trees and there is a lot of development to go on the branch structure of this plant. I will let this plant recover and put on some new growth before pruning it back closer to the desired shape. I will update its progress on the photo demo page of the website. Or maybe just shoot you a picture as it develops.

Here is a link to that video of a serissa bonsai being made that I mentioned at the start.
Serissa video

Don't forget the Auckland Bonsai convention is comming up.
Click here for more information