Fukien Tea Tree (Carmona retusa) Bonsai: How To Grow And Plant Care

While Fukien Tea Tree bonsai trees are not recommended for beginners, they are something to aim for, as the end result is a very satisfying sight. 

It does take more experience to shape this bonsai properly, but you will get one of the most graceful bonsai trees available.

The Fukien tea tree works perfectly as a bonsai once you have all of the basic care skills mastered, such as the watering and feeding schedule, pruning and repotting your Fukien tea tree bonsai. 

So why work towards that? Well, Fukien tea tree bonsai trees gain very thick trunks over time, which turns a striking gray, and forms knots and an uneven texture, adopting the appearance of a much older tree. 

At a Glance: What You Should Know about the Fukien Tea Tree Bonsai

The Fukien tea tree is also known as the Philippine tea tree. Scientifically, it is classed as Ehretia microphylla, also known as Carmona retusa, Carmona heterophylla, and Carmona microphylla, among others. It is also part of the borage plant family.

The common name Fukien refers to the Chinese province of the same name. 

Depending on the shape of the bonsai tree and its age, Fukien tea trees can reach anywhere from 6 to 29 inches tall, growing about 8 to 16 inches wide. 

In the wild, found across eastern and south-eastern parts of Asia, these shrubs can reach as tall as 4 meters. 

Given the right care, a Fukien tea tree bonsai can grow for more than a hundred years as a cultivated tree, which makes the time and effort you put into it more than worth it.

How to Recognize a Fukien Tea Tree Bonsai

The Fukien tea tree bonsai typically features rich, glossy dark green leaves, which contrast well against the light trunk. 

The Fukien bonsai tree also flowers, producing petite white flowers that carry a light tea-like fragrance (for another bonsai tree that produces scented flowers, you might also try the Chinese Perfume Plant), these blooms measure a maximum of a centimeter in diameter. 

Once these flowers have finished, this special bonsai tree also produces small fruits, which grow to about 6mm in diameter. These look like miniature rose hips. 

Should You Grow a Fukien Tea Tree from Seed, or Propagate it?

You can do either. If you want to start a Fukien tea tree from seed, simply wait until the bonsai tree produces fruit, and remove the seed from the fruit. 

Prepare some bonsai soil by watering it, and plant the seed. This may take some time to germinate. For best results, try to leave the pot somewhere humid, light, and warm.

If you want a shortcut, you can also take stem cuttings from the plant. This will take a lot less time for the Fukien tea tree to establish itself, but it doesn’t always work, so take a few cuttings at a time.

You may even notice a few seedlings appearing at the base of the bonsai tree.

Fukien Tea Tree Bonsai: A Care Guide

Soil & Position

If you’re wanting to keep the Fukien tea tree bonsai inside, you’ll need to make sure it gets plenty of sunlight. 

As this tree thrives on humidity and warm temperatures, you can use a humidity tray to make sure it doesn’t suffer from the dry air inside.

Outside, this tree is less fussy about light, so you can place it somewhere shadier, or somewhere a lot brighter. It will need protection from temperatures lower than 60°F (15°C).

The soil needs to be well-draining, and moist most of the time. A good bonsai potting mix will do the trick nicely.

Watering

Watering can be tricky to get right, as the soil needs to stay moist, but this means it is very easy to overwater, and this leads to a quick plant death.

Allow the soil to evaporate some moisture before you water it again. One good way of telling if the plant requires more water is the leaves will start to shrivel, and you should water it immediately at this point.  

If you notice the plant does this, and you leave it longer, the leaves may fall off completely.

It’s worth noting that the Fukien bonsai tree is sensitive to hard water, which causes chlorosis. You can prevent this disease by using an iron fertilizer, which will heal any leaf damage.

It’s also good practice to always fill a water bottle from the tap, and leave it at least overnight for some of the chemicals to dissipate. This will go a long way into making sure the plant stays healthy.

Fertilizing

When you should feed a bonsai tree has always been a source of argument among growers. 

What most agree on is that you should use specially formulated bonsai tree fertilizer, as this has the correct amount of nutrients to keep the plant’s growth balanced.

How and when you should feed your bonsai depends on the species and time of year. For the Fukien tree, feed it once a week during the growing season, at half strength.

Hold off fertilizing the plant if you’ve just repotted it. Wait at least a fortnight, otherwise you risk plant stress.

Repotting a Fukien Tea Tree Bonsai

You’ll need to repot this bonsai tree once every two years in spring. Trim the root ball to prevent the tree from getting pot bound, and replenish the soil. 

How and When to Prune a Fukien Tea Tree Bonsai

The best time to prune a Fukien tea tree bonsai is to do so in the growing season, and never do it in the winter months. Use a clean pair of small scissors to shape the bonsai as you see fit. 

Pests and Diseases to Watch Out For

While the Fukien tea tree bonsai tree is relatively robust compared to other types, it is not invincible. 

Pests and diseases will take hold when the growing conditions are not adequate for the tree, which means it’s weaker and more susceptible to infection and pests.

Some of the most common pests which can affect a Fukien tea tree bonsai include whiteflies, scale, and spider mites. 

You can treat these with insecticides, but quite often this will weaken the plant, and kill any beneficial insects within the soil. 

The best cure – unfortunately – is prevention. When you water, always inspect the leaves closely, especially the undersides where any pests may be hiding. 

Make sure to have a good look at the surface of the soil, and get rid of anything that shouldn’t be there. 

Where to Buy a Fukien Tea Tree Bonsai

The best place to source a Fukien tea tree bonsai is through a dedicated bonsai retailer or nursery, whether that’s going to a physical store or ordering one online.

This is because while you may find a cheaper one in a nonspecialist retailer, there’s no guarantee that it’s in the right soil to begin with, or it has received the right care to make it healthy to start with.

Where you can, always travel to a physical store where you can actually see the bonsai trees, and you can pick one in a shape you like, but more importantly, you can assess its health before you actually buy it.

This also prevents any stress put on the plant when sending it through the post. 

It takes a couple of weeks for plants to acclimatize to new environments at the best of times, longer for it to recover from the trauma of being in a cold, dark box for a week or so, making it difficult to know if you’re giving it the right care. 

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