Marcela Ferreira is a Melbournian passionate in her interest in Australian native trees as bonsai. Marcela has dedicated her bonsai interest in working with hundreds of natives from tube stock to yamadori and has achieved a reputation as an authority on these plants. Her attitude is- grow lots, kill lots, learn lots. Marcela gets a number of each species and watches how they grow to determine the best way to handle them, learning from the ones who don’t thrive, as well as the ones that do. Marcela feels that natives are better than exotics and not that much harder to grow.

At the June Bonsai by the Harbour weekend Marcela worked on a Sannantha virgata. This plant has previously been called a baeckea but more research and more noted differences and it has been recategorised. This is happening to a number of natives as more of their individual characteristics are studied and documented.

Marcela put a lot of emphasis on the importance of learning the actual variety of plant you are working with, so you know its growth habits. With Sannantha, it is important to put exaggerated movement into young trunks and branches as the tree will grow into the curves. The bonsai artist needs to be guided by the growth habit of the tree in nature. While exotics are styled with a lot of horizontal movement, Aussie natives want to grow up and this is a serious styling consideration.

Marcela is not a fan of jins on natives with the exception of eucalypts. Whatever is done to the tree must look natural and tell a story. Don’t push natives to do what they normally don’t do. Work with the tree’s characteristic growth habits. The same bonsai principles apply to natives with the exception that the branches should go up.

If you want to know if a tree back buds cut off a branch you don’t need and see if it back buds. Some natives tend to grow on the tips of branches and not along the branch.

As Marcela worked the mature Sannantha, she changed the angle of the tree and removed the cascading branch. She left a stub for the owner to remove. She feels that natives don’t need sealant as they have a natural ability to seal wounds and she never uses it.

At the start of Marcela’s demonstration the Sannanath virgata

Angle changed and cascading branch removed

The finished Sannantha virgata

Once a tree is styled Marcela gets kind of bored with it. She really loves growing-on trees and learning how they grow and the initial styling. She loves experiments, that’s exciting. She starts tube stock in the smallest orchid pot, leaving it untouched for 1-2 years. Then it gets root pruned and returned to the same pot for another 1-2 years. Next root prune, it is potted up in the next size orchid pot. Marcela only uses orchid pots. She does not ground grow as the natives thicken rapidly in controlled growth and planting in the ground means the trees need to be lifted annually for a good root prune. The tree grows 20-30cm and then she pushes it back and lets it redevelop. As the tree is growing and developing, she lets it grow wild and only prunes the roots, leaving the styling until the tree is ready. When she is happy with the trunk she starts developing the branches. Only when she is happy with the branching does the tree goes into a bonsai pot.

Marcela does not like keeping trees in show condition all the time, she lets her trees do their own thing and does serious pruning and shaping in advance of a show. Then she lets the tree grow merrily along again. This way the tree remains healthy.

With natives Marcela does not root prune and style in one session. She will root prune first and then let the tree recover for several months before styling. If she styles first, she will again let the tree recover before touching the roots. She does not follow the practice of balancing root removal with foliage removal at the same time. In her experience this does not work with natives. Only do one thing at a time. If you get a neglected tree work on the roots first, wait until it recovers- at least a year- and then start the styling.

When you come to repotting – first style but no root pruning for 4/5 months. If tree needs root work do the roots but don’t style the tree.

Listen to the tree. We are only just starting to work with natives. Some of us are impatient and bonsai is an art form of patience.

Repot in warmer weather- Sept ember to March. The tree stays sheltered for 2-3 weeks until new buds start then it’s back on the bench. Wouldn’t repot anything that is flowering. Once flowering is finished then repot.

Marcela wants to style a native mimicking the natural style of species, not in a Japanese style. “If I find a tree I like I try to find natural examples to learn how to best style it.”

Fertilisers- uses organic. Stopped using Osmacote because she felt the outer casings were not dissolving and the fertiliser wasn’t being utilised. Uses Neutrog products, finds them very good and beneficial and totally natural. Other preferred fertilisers – Bardee Super Fly- nitrogen about 2%. Charlie Carp now in pellet form as well as liquid.
Marrcela suggests changing fertilisers as each has something different and the change will benefit the plant, as long as the fertilisers are natural and not chemical. She uses Seamungus at repotting and periodically during winter months.

Marcela’s Potting mix: 1 part zeolite, 1 part diatomite, 1 part orchid bark, 1/2 part coir.

Regarding water trays – Marcela uses some in the summer but does not advocate repotting and putting a tree in a water tray. The soil needs aeration. Some trees don’t mind but you have to watch the tree – at some stage it could start objecting. You need to understand the species and where it grows best. Banksias are very thirsty but they don’t like sitting in water. All of this depends on the microclimate in a bonsai grower’s patch. As well as knowing your species, you also need to know your microclimate to determine the best ways to handle your trees.

Marcela’s demonstration was enlightening and informative and definitely encouraged enthusiasts to delve deeper into our native trees as ideal bonsai subjects. She also had a few words to say on pots – handmade Aussie pots which reflect bush conditions are best for our natives.