About Buddlejas

By Louis Nel
(Adapted from an article in "Treeview" April 1997)

We are going to share knowledge about the small grey-leafed tree, the Buddleja, especially its development as a bonsai. We are going to concentrate on two ways of creating a bonsai:-

  1. Collected material
    1. stump
    2. budding Buddleja
    3. growing Buddleja
    4. mature bonsai Buddleja
  2. Buddleja from seed

1 (a) the stump .....

which is just that. No long branches, roots or leaves. When collecting a tree, one of the crucial things to remember is not to leave any long roots on the stump. Rootlets develop at the end of the amputated root and when the tree is eventually transplanted into a bonsai container and does not fit because of too long roots, the roots have to be shortened again, sacrificing all the feeder roots. Now there is no life support left to keep the leaves and branches alive. The result of this is the loss of some branches and maybe even the tree itself.

buddleja1Another reason for shortening the roots as much as possible is the space the long roots may occupy in the future bonsai container.

Also pay 'attention to cut the downward growing roots short enough so the plant can fit its future bonsai container.


1(b) the budding Buddleja

The budding Buddleja is doing just that - it is budding; it is alive. Don't confuse this with growing. Don't train these little branchlets yet. Leave them on the tree as they will force the plant to produce rootlets. The formation of small roots heralds the start of real growth. What one can do at this stage is to select branchlets to be used in the future and to get rid of the unwanted growth.

Where would one expect these new branchlets to emerge? Usually where there are what I call "knuckles". These "knuckles" seem to be where branches did not develop in the past but just caused a slight thickening. The bark seems a little thinner and of lighter colour at these slight protrusions. Another favourite place for buds to emerge is on the inside where two branches fork. A third possibility is on the upper side of shortened horizontal branches provided the branch was not left too long. Do not transplant the budding Buddleja

1(c) the growing Buddleja

When real growth is taking place, you will notice it by the change in colour of emerging new leaves. Compared with the leaves produced when the tree was budding, these leaves are more grey in colour and seem healthier. When the tree is growing, it is, at last, time to be able to work on the branches.

The branches can now be pinched, cut, wired, shaped, throttled or knotted! Now is the ideal time to plant the tree into another container or even into a bonsai container. The reason for this is that you will cut off some foliage as well as roots so there is a balance between roots being lost and foliage being lost.

2 Buddleja from seed

At this point I would like to jump forward to the second method of creating a bonsai namely from seed. If one were to sow some Buddleja seeds in a seed tray, the predictable would probably happen:

Firstly two small leaves will emerge; the plant will grow taller and later even sprout side branches.


It is possible to develop Buddleja bonsai in styles from upright to cascade; to create plantings of two or more trees as well as multiple trunks.

Now let us return to the growing bonsai. The most difficult part during the growing stage is to choose which branches to utilise. If we treat the branches of the future bonsai the same as seedlings planted on a rock, it is possible to design some very good bonsai trees. If the seeds were sown on a rock, it really gets interesting:

buddleja4Where on this rock will seeds have the best chance to develop into trees?



The seeds would lodge in cracks or crevices in the rock where dust and soil had accumulated. Once the seed had started to germinate, its continued development would depend on the amount of nourishment available to it. On top of the rock and on ledges at the sides, small trees would probably survive and grow.

buddleja7Consider the last drawing. Imagine that the interior of the rock has disappeared and that you are left with only the two edges.

buddleja8If you move the two outer lines of the rock planting and silhouette closer together, the final bonsai would look something like this:


buddleja10To get thicker branches, we allow the branches to grow wild Branches up to two years old are the easiest to bend and shape with wire. For branches to spread horizontally, the secondary branches must be wired in position. Secondary branches can be developed quickly by cutting the primary branch to about 2/3rds of its eventual length. New branches will now sprout easily on the primary branch.

1(d) the mature bonsai

Lastly we reach the mature bonsai. This is probably the most challenging period for the bonsai grower - and it lasts for most of the life of the bonsai. Now is the time to keep the bonsai looking at its best ... year after year... This is just about impossible.

No Buddleja bonsai looks the same each year. There are small and major changes which occur naturally each growing and dormant season. Then there are the changes which you, yourself, want to make to improve the appearance of the bonsai. Maturity adds value.

The mature bonsai needs enough water and a little fertiliser. It can stay in its container for up to four seasons without having to be transplanted. Transplanting is quite a traumatic experience for a mature bonsai. The tree loses one third of its roots and hardly any branches or leaves. This is an imbalance.

So now the tree gets back at you by losing leaves over a period of two months. The leaves turn brown, crumple and falloff. Get rid of these brown, crumpled leaves which tend to curl around small branchlets.

Losing a branch or part of a branch after transplanting is also not impossible. However, by losing leaves and branches, more of the tree is exposed and thia creates the opportunity for more refinement.

One characteristic of the mature bonsai is that it will certainly keep you occupied. The leaves must be trimmed continuously to achieve leaf reduction, the ideal being for six to ten small leaves to take over the duties of two big leaves. During the peak growing season, the trimming can be done up to twice a week.

Secondary branches have a tendency to grow upwards. The leaves towards the tops are bigger and more vigorous. This causes the loss of the lower pair of leaves.



buddleja13Upward growing secondary branches then tend to become very straggly and unnatural looking. Try to utilise the horizontally growing branches and keep the branches in the horizontal position by severe trimming.

Species Gallery


Contact Us

We would be happy to hear from you should you like to find out more about the club, meetings or bonsai in general.

Send us a mail

Year Programme

We have an exciting calendar of club meetings, events and public exhibitions planned for 2017/8.

Learn more


Last leaf has fallen

Tree will sleep and I will dream

Spring is tomorrow

Random Bonsai Tip

When creating a cascade the root-ground level must be on a horizontal plane. This imparts the stability to the whole style. Do not tilt the tree, bend the trunk.