Chinese pepper bonsai care

Care Styling

Chinese pepper tree (Zanthoxylum) bonsai care

A Chinese pepper tree bonsai is easy to care for and is suitable as a bonsai for beginners. The Chinese pepper tree can be cared for as an indoor bonsai or as an mediterranean bonsai. This bonsai tree is notable for its pleasant, sweet-peppery smell and its glossy green leaflets. If you are looking for a simple but unusual bonsai, the pepper tree is recommended.

Chinese pepper tree bonsai care in a nutshell:

  • Fertilisation: Fertilize abundantly with organic bonsai fertilizers (such as Biogold, Hanagokoro and the commercially available liquid fertilizers) in the growing period from March to September
  • Irrigation: Never let it dry out, best kept moderately moist
  • Overwintering: Can occasionally tolerate temperatures down to the frost line. When hibernating as indoor bonsai, keep it very bright and cool
  • Repotting: Pepper tree bonsai should be repotted into a well-drained bonsai soil every 3-4 years at the beginning of spring


Fertilize | Watering | Location | Overwintering | Repot | Diseases, Pests | Propagation


Fertilize

A Chinese pepper tree bonsai is fertilized especially in the growing period from March to September. Fertilize abundantly with the usual bonsai fertilizers such as Biogold or Hanagokoro.

If you use liquid bonsai fertilizers, give twice the amount stated on the bottle during the growing season. Most liquid bonsai fertilizers do not contain too much fertilizer. We give significantly more fertilizer in our bonsai nursery than is contained in the liquid fertilizer and we have had good experiences with it.

After repotting, especially if many roots have been removed, fertilizing should be suspended for a few weeks.

Watering

Chinese pepper tree (Zanthoxylum) bonsai - stock after import
Zanthoxylum bonsai - stock after import

Like most indoor bonsai, the pepper tree should not be kept too wet or too dry. When the surface of the soil is dry, you can water it again. In summer this can be twice a day, in winter in the apartment 1-2 waterings a week is often sufficient. If the bonsai soil is not well permeable to water and air, the pepper tree bonsai should be planted in a coarser bonsai substrate the next time it is repotted.

The ball showers offered in the shop are very suitable for watering indoor bonsai. The irrigation water is easier to dose and runs less over the edge of the bonsai pot.

Since a pepper tree bonsai is usually cared for in the apartment, a drip tray for the bonsai pot is useful. It collects the excess water when watering the bonsai. These coasters are often included with the purchase of an indoor bonsai. Alternatively, we also offer bonsai pots with drip trays as a set in the shop.

Location

After importing in early spring, the pepper tree (also Szechuan pepper) bonsai are more or less without leaves. If we put the bonsai trees in the greenhouse (where it is very bright and war) that changes very quickly. Under such conditions, pepper tree bonsai grow very quickly and form a dense crown in a few months.

In summer, a pepper tree bonsai should be placed outdoors in a sunny location. In the heat of midsummer, a partially shaded location is better because the bonsai pots can get quite hot in the sun. A pepper tree doesn't like that.

Overwintering

In winter, especially in the apartment, the location of a pepper tree should be as bright as possible. It's best to place the tree straight to the window. A Xanthoxylum bonsai can be placed outdoors from May when the frosts are over. It should be noted that a healthy pepper tree bonsai can withstand light frosts. It then throws off the leaves and the buds sprouts again at suitable temperatures. It can also be hibernated like a mediterranean bonsai in a cool to cold greenhouse or a plastic tent. Only permanent frost below -10°C should be avoided.

Repot

Pepper tree bonsai are repotted every 2-3 years in early spring. A part of the roots can and should be removed. A well drained (not too fine) bonsai soil should always be used as a substrate so that the root cells are well supplied with oxygen.

The pH value of the bonsai substrate should be in the neutral to weakly acidic range (6-7). Akadama bonsai soil is very suitable here. The fine ingredients are screened by many bonsai friends before repotting to increase the permeability. Another possibility is to mix dimensionally stable bonsai substrates such as expanded slate.

In healthy pepper trees Mycorrhiza for bonsai does not necessarily need to be added to the substrate. With weakened Chinese pepper tree bonsai, it can have a supportive effect and does no harm.

Diseases, Pests

We have never found any fungus infestation on our pepper tree bonsai. No other diseases either.

At the end of winter aphids sometimes develop on the bonsai. In the event of a mass infestation, you should spray with a commercially available agent against the aphids. In summer, especially outdoors, there is almost never aphid infestation.

Propagation

A pepper tree bonsai can be propagated by tree seeds, but also by cuttings. The easiest way to propagate is through root cuttings, which may arise when repotting the bonsai. The root cuttings are simply put in a well-drained soil and must then be kept warm, bright and moist.

Bonsai styling

Chinese pepper (Zanthoxylum) bonsai styling in a nutshell:

  • Wiring: The shoots become hard after a few weeks i.e. the bonsai wire does not need to stay on the bonsai tree for too long. Elder shoots should be bent carefully, otherwise there is a risk of breakage
  • Pruning: Wound healing is good but can be promoted by applying wound closure agents. A well cared pepper tree bonsai must be pruned about 2-3 times a year


Wiring | Pruning | Styles | Bonsai pots | Flowers, Fruits | Bark, Roots | General


Wiring

Wiring a pepper tree bonsai is well feasible. However, since the shoots harden quickly, you should not wait too long with wiring the bonsai. If older branches are wired, be careful when bending. Older branches break easily. Due to the hardness of the branches, a slightly stronger bonsai wire may be required compared to other bonsai tree species.

The quick lignification of the pepper tree shoots also has an advantage: you only have to wait a few weeks to remove the wire. If the shoots already hold the new position you can unwire the bonsai with a wire cutter.

Pruning

With plenty of fertilization and plenty of light, a pepper tree grows quickly in spring and summer. An increase of 5, sometimes 10cm per month is not uncommon. Under our conditions in the bonsai nursery, we cut the pepper tree bonsai about three times a year (in early May, late June and often again in mid-August). If the bonsai is still with us after one year the bonsai will be pruned again in early spring (end of February). Since the wood is very hard, thick branches must be cut off with sharp concave pliers.

To sum up: Let it grow 5-10cm and then cut back to the original crown with a sharp bonsai scissor. Then the pepper tree bonsai shoots out quickly and forms an ever denser crown. For larger cuts, it is best to apply wound sealant. It improves wound healing.

Styles

The Chinese pepper tree is usually designed in the bonsai style of the Freely upright shape (Moyogi). But also the Slanting bonsai shape (Shakan) and semi-cascades work very well. The strictly upright style (Chokkan) and the broom bonsai style does not work so well.

Matching bonsai pots

Chinese pepper tree (Zanthoxylum) bonsai - stock after import
Zanthoxylum bonsai - stock after import

Glazed bonsai pots are best suited for pepper tree bonsai. Since the pepper tree does not belong to the hardy outdoor bonsai, you do not necessarily need to take a frost-proof, handmade bonsai pot (exception if you overwinter a pepper tree as a mediterranean bonsai down to the frost limit). The cheap bonsai pots for indoor bonsai are often suitable. Here it must be pointed out that the quality of these inexpensive pots cannot keep up with the handmade bonsai pots.

Unglazed bonsai pots are less suitable. If an unglazed pot is being considered then it is best to choose one from the handmade pots. Here the range of different clay colors is much larger. Gray bonsai pots go very well with the gray trunk. For large bonsai, you can find suitable pots under Large bonsai pots.

Pepper tree bonsai with their rounded crown fit quite well in an oval bonsai pot. Rectangular pots are also suitable. In the case of rectangular bonsai pots, we would choose a pot that has somewhat rounded corners or possibly playful pot feet. Tall, round bonsai pots are particularly suitable for bonsai in a semi-cascade or cascade bonsai style.

Plastic bonsai pots are suitable for prebonsai in the growing phase. The dark brown color of the pots doesn't go very well with the gray trunk of a pepper tree bonsai. However, these plastic pots are impact-resistant, UV-stable and unbeatably cheap. For 2-3 year old young plants it is best to use plastic plant pots.

Flowers, Fruits

The groups of small, yellowish-white flowers of pepper trees form early in the year (from January). A pepper tree bonsai belongs to the dioecious plants, i.e. male and female flowers occur on different plants. If you want fruits on your pepper tree bonsai you need at least 1 female and 1 male specimen.

Bark, Roots

The bark becomes gray and cracked even with younger trees, which goes very well with a bonsai.

What is unusual about a pepper tree bonsai is its yellow wood and yellow roots. The botanical name (Zanthoxylum = yellow wood) indicates this.

General

Szechuan pepper (also known as Japanese pepper, anise pepper, Chinese pepper, mountain pepper, botanically Zanthoxylum piperitum, also Operculicarya decaryi, Xanthoxylum piperitum) originally comes from the Himalayas and is now found in China (Sichuan province), but also in Korea and Japan. The pepper tree does not get too big with 2-3m and not too old with 50 years.

When torn off the young leaves smell very aromatic and are used as a kitchen spice. The pepper tree is not, as the name suggests, related to the pepper, but to the citrus plants.