Part of the mahogany plant family, the Chinese perfume plant, or Aglaia odorata, is commonly grown as an ornamental tree known for its citrus-scented flowers, often used for adding a citrus note to teas.
However, that’s only one of the many uses of this plant. The Chinese perfume plant also makes a great bonsai tree, with its lovely foliage, striking flowers, and interesting berries.
Interested? Here’s what you need to know.
At a Glance: What You Should Know About Growing the Chinese Perfume Plant as a Bonsai Tree
When grown as a normal tree, the Chinese perfume can grow to a maximum of 10 feet high, although it’s more likely to be around 5 feet tall in most growing conditions.
When grown as a bonsai tree, the height will largely depend on the age and shape of the bonsai, but it will be under 4 feet tall, on average at about 60cm.
The Chinese perfume plant is considered a near threatened species in its native China, so make sure you get one from a reputable source.
It’s not long-lived when compared to other plants grown as bonsai trees, as the Chinese perfume plant will grow for maybe just over a decade, so you’ll need to take cuttings.
If given the right care, the Chinese perfume plant will repeat-flower throughout the year. It’s worth noting that this plant is not frost-tolerant, so it’s perfect for an indoor bonsai tree.
While the plant is part of the largest genus within the Meliaceae plant family, it is the only one commonly grown as a bonsai tree.
You’ll also see it sold under several names, such as the Mock Lemon, the Chinese Rice Plant, and the Chinese Fisheye Jasmine.
It’s worth noting that Chinese perfume plants are classed as dioecious, which means that male and female flowers only bloom on separate plants.
Starting Off: Should You Grow a Chinese Perfume Plant From Seed, or From Cuttings?
As with most plants you can grow as bonsai trees, it’s not recommended that you try growing a Chinese perfume plant from seed.
This is because they are difficult to raise from seed, and it’s likely that the result won’t resemble the parent plant. You’ll also need both a male and a female plant to do this, so it’s just easier using a different method.
Instead, you should grow a Chinese perfume bonsai from cuttings or air layering, either in slightly acidic or neutral compost.
How to Make Sure Your Chinese Perfume Bonsai Tree Thrives
Sunlight and Position
While commonly grown as an indoor bonsai, it’s important that the Chinese perfume plant gets some time outside in spring and summer in a sheltered position.
It will benefit greatly from the amount of light and fresh air that only outside can provide.
You will need to keep a close eye on it, however. As soon as the temperature reaches below 50°F (10°C), you’ll need to bring it inside.
While the plant isn’t tolerant of cold temperatures, it needs to sense the seasons in order to know when it should go semi-dormant. Without these signals, it will die.
But how will it know when it’s indoors? Well, you can help with that. In the autumn and winter, pop it near a North-facing window, which has lower levels of light, and no direct sun.
Also, you’ll need to place it somewhere which has a maximum temperature of 55°F (12°C), like a conservatory or garage to mimic the temperature drop in winter.
Keep your Chinese perfume bonsai away from drafts and sources of heat.
When to Water a Chinese Perfume Bonsai Tree
Never let your Chinese perfume bonsai tree dry out completely, but allow the top few inches to dry out between watering.
This will most likely be weekly waterings, depending on the size of the pot, the rootball, how much humidity your plant gets, the surrounding temperature, and the light levels.
Give your Chinese perfume bonsai a good soak each time you water it, allowing the water to drain through the pot.
When your plant goes semi-dormant, you should reduce the amount of watering to match the light level, only watering it about every 10 days or so.
It will also benefit from some extra humidity, as the dry atmosphere of our homes can be a little too harsh for some plants, especially if they are used to outside.
You can do this by misting the plant occasionally, or placing the bonsai on a tray filled with gravel and water, making sure the water can’t wick into the soil.
Should You Feed a Chinese Perfume Bonsai Tree?
Yes. As with most trees grown as bonsai, the soil doesn’t have a lot of nutrients to begin with, and you’ll need to supplement this once a month, holding off only in winter.
You can either use an all-purpose feed, or a specially formulated bonsai fertilizer. Whichever you choose, use half the recommended amount, and only feed it when the plant also needs watering.
Repotting Your Chinese Perfume Bonsai Tree
You will need to replace the soil occasionally, as well as giving the roots of your Chinese perfume bonsai a good trim now and then.
This should be done every two or three years, when the roots begin to grow all around the pot. However, this is a rough guide, as different plants grow at different rates, depending on the type and growing conditions given.
Never repot your Chinese perfume bonsai during winter when it is dormant. The best time to repot this particular bonsai tree is during the height of summer.
Gently remove your Chinese perfume bonsai from its pot, teasing out most of the soil from the root ball.
Discard the old soil, and using sterilized secateurs (see also Looking After Your Gardening Tools ), trim the roots back by about a quarter.
To improve the drainage of the new soil, add a layer of grit into the bottom of the planter.
Grab some fresh bonsai soil, and place your plant into its new home, filling the soil around the tree, making sure to water it afterwards to settle the roots and prevent large air pockets.
Aglaia Odorata Bonsai: Common Problems to Look Out For
As far as pests and disease goes, the Chinese perfume plant isn’t prone to a lot of problems, but there are still some you should keep an eye out for.
Mealybugs or scale can be the biggest issues you might notice, but they usually only occur in Chinese perfume plants which are already weakened by their growing conditions, such as being root bound or overwatered.
You can treat either by using a mixture of a teaspoon of neem oil, dish soap, and a liter of water, spraying the plant. You can also remove any pests that you see by hand, but you’ll need to be vigilant, doing this every day until you see no more signs of infestation.
In terms of disease, the biggest killer is root rot, caused by overwatering. Always check your plant before you decide to water it.
If the soil near the drainage holes is damp, don’t water your Chinese perfume bonsai. Wait a couple of days and then check the plant again.
How to Prune a Chinese Perfume Bonsai Tree
There’s a trick to getting pruning right when it comes to cutting back growth on a Chinese perfume bonsai tree.
While you need to trim it regularly to keep it compact, you should never remove all new growth as it appears. Trim it back by all means, but leave a couple of shoots to help the tree along.
Don’t prune back your Chinese perfume bonsai tree in the winter when it is dormant, as this can shock the plant, and kill it off. Only prune it during its growing season.
The Chinese perfume plant is perfect as a bonsai tree, not only for its compact habit and tidy form, but also for its stunning flowers and the fragrance they bring.
While it’s not as long-lived as some plants grown as bonsai trees, it’s worth it for the fragrance alone.
When it comes to sourcing your own Chinese perfume bonsai tree, you have several options.
You can buy an adult tree straight from a specialist bonsai seller, which may be a little more expensive than you’re willing to pay, but you will get what you pay for.
You can also buy a Chinese perfume plant through cuttings, though this is less reliable, and there’s no guarantee that these cuttings will make it into adulthood, or that the source you got it from is a reputable and sustainable one.