Native Material for Tropical Bonsai
Privets are all members of the olive family. These plants have opposite leaves, and grow as shrubs or small trees. There are over 500 species included in the Olive family, with about twenty species found in Florida. The privets that are more well known in the landscape belong to the genus Ligustrum,which means “privet-like” in Latin. There are eleven species and one hybrid of Ligustrum that grow in the southeastern US, with over 22 named cultivated varieties. Common varieties of Ligustrums found in our area are the Chinese Ligustrum (L. sinense), and the Wax Leaf or Japanese Ligustrum (L. japonicum). Both are used quite frequently as hedge plants here in Southwest Florida.
Another group of privets includes the Florida natives which belong to the genus Forestiera. Four species are known in Florida- three of which are found in North Florida, but there is one that grows in the lower half of the state as well. Forestiera segregate is best known as Florida Privet, but may also be called Wild Olive or Ink-bush in some references. Florida Privet is a common plant found in coastal areas, and is well adapted to salt spray, occasional flooding and alkaline soil conditions. It has small oval leaves that measure less than 2″ to 4″ in length. The plant can grow to a width of six to ten feet, and can grow upwards to 10 to 15 feet in height, with an upright oval, vase shape. It adapts well to hedge pruning and is quite frequently recommended by the extension service as a species for planting in areas of poor drainage or soil quality.
The plant is described as semi-evergreen, so expect a natural thinning of foliage in January and February. New leaves come in the spring occurs after Florida Privet flowers. The flowers are small yellow/green in color. This plant is deciduous, so only the female plants will produce the small blue to purple colored berries. The seeds will grow into new plants quite readily. The plant can also be produced from cuttings. It is listed as tolerant on USDA Zones 8B to 11. So it will take cold temperatures, USDA states frost is not a problem with this species.
I have been using Florida Privet as bonsai for about 10 years. My first one was a small plant purchased at another bonsai nursery. It developed into a nice shohin sized bonsai after a few years of training. I began to grow this species from cuttings taken off that original plant. It wasn’t until some years later that I began to collect some larger specimens. In my experience they handle root pruning quite well in spring through summer months, (temps above 50 degrees at night). I will bare root and plant in a well draining mix of Lava Rock, Turface, and Pine Bark.
Plants are kept in the shade till they push new growth, usually 2 weeks. Repot every 1 to 3 years depending on pot size. I grow Fl. Privet in full sun and they do very well year round. I do protect my bonsai from temperatures below 38 despite the claim that they are cold hardy, however the nursery stock is exposed to many nights with temperatures around freezing and I have not had any loss. I prune and wire this species year round.
Branches are very flexible and in some cases require several wirings to retain the desired position. Allowing the wire to cut into the branch slightly will help speed the process. Trees can be cut back hard to develop an initial shape and bud back well on old wood. Leaves reduce well when pruned as bonsai and in most cases will maintain a size smaller then ½ inch. I use a well balanced time release fertilizer year round. I have not had many problems with pests on Florida Privet, but I have treated them with various pesticides without any problems. The trunks of many of the larger collected trees have been colonized by various species of ants. After a pesticide drench, softer wood can be carved away and the rest can be treated with wood hardener. Most of the larger collected trees have multiple trunks, excess trunks can be removed or carved to create deadwood. Wounds are slow to callous over so wherever possible place large cuts to the rear or carve as deadwood to enhance the look. They will continue to try to produce new shoots at the base of the tree but these are easily removed when they occur. When they flower and fruit they are quite attractive. To guarantee fruiting select a tree when it is in fruit. Kept as bonsai they will flower and fruit close inside the canopy so you can enjoy it.
Wigert’s Bonsai Nursery