August: Clearance Rack Bonsai (Duranta Erecta)

It’s pretty common advice: Whenever you go to your garden center, if you see a clearance rack, give it a once over. You can get a bargain on decent pre-bonsai material.

Garden centers are generally catering to people looking to plant in their yards (or their patios, or business grounds, or whatever, you know what I mean). What’s desirable for a yard shrub is generally something that looks like a large square or circle. Trees like a stick with a ball on top. Plants should be full of dense foliage, and be respectably large.

But what’s desirable for pre-bonsai is generally something that looks old and small. Most garden center customers don’t care about trunk taper, nebari, movement and placement of the trunk and primary branches. They probably don’t even notice those things. So what you’re hoping for with a clearance sale is something conventionally ugly, not sick.

My local Lowes had a clearance section that was up when I was there at the beginning of August and was still there closer to the end of August. I picked up a new tropical called Duranta Erecta (Sapphire Showers). It was lanky and growth was in clumps. Stringy as anything. It cost me $5.00.

I chose the one I did because it had a bit of a central trunk of size, whereas the others looked mostly like the base of a rose bouquet stuck in dirt: eight or ten thin stringy trunks if you could call them that.

(These were the ones I didn’t pick – with the bouquet like clumps of stems)

I haven’t worked with Duranta Erectra before but I liked the look of the berries.  This particular plant had a main trunk or stem that had a shape a bit like Maui’s fishhook.  The combination of the hooked shape and the yellow berries was reminiscent of a Dr. Seuss book.  For $5 I figured why not.

As a side note it turns out those adorable yellow berries are totally toxic.  If you have a cat, dog, or toddler watch it with these.  Both the berries and also the leaves are absolutely deadly.  Which I didn’t know until after I took it inside.  Next time I’ll trim this one while staying outside.  It may end up back at my local bonsai club raffle table just to make sure it’s not in the yard.

 

(Here it is after bringing it home).

 

Base of the trunk half way through.

 

Trouble is when I got a good look at the trunk lines I kinda liked some of the lines down there. There’s also a small point of interest on one side. So instead of committing to my previous plan to just use the one main trunk and make an informal upright, I left the door open to a clump style.

I started by trimming what obviously shouldn’t be there. These two branches or trunks cross on this side, so I trimmed the straight one. There’s a section with several little trunks out of the center but too many – I took out a couple of those.

That straight branch off to the left was just one big long straight branch. But it conjoins the trunk in an interesting way, so I didn’t commit to removing it entirely. Instead I cut it way back. Touched up a few stray bits that clearly weren’t doing anything for any of the remaining parts and this is what was left. Given the demise of the loropetalum I wanted to be conservative.  Because I had taken off more than half the foliage I stopped.  I put just a touch of wire on two side branches in an attempt to get them to grow more in a V shape and less on top of one another, and considered myself done for the time being.

Turns out that was hardly necessary.  Duranta or Sapphire Showers is native to Mexico and Central America (warm like Florida).  It’s prolific and fast growing.  In Australia it’s considered an invasive species.  Some call it a weed.)  Which makes sense because two weeks later I came back to find it had filled in nicely.

As the Duranta was clearly in better than stable health I sat down again for another round and thinned it out a bit more.  I probably cut off half the foliage again.  This time around I was better able to begin making pre-bonsai choices.  Before I was more hacking off a hunk of clay to work with, here I’ve started to carve an actual shape of what I might see).

 

There is a long way to go on this before it is bonsai material.  But for $5.00, why not.  This one is a toss up.  It will either go to bonsai club to find another home somewhere with no pets or children.  Or it will be watered and stuck in a corner of the yard, to be revisited in the spring.

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