Among the plants used to create bonsai, succulents are considered a very rare option. And one of the best crops capable of storing water in the leaves and well amenable to containment and formation is the unique portulacaria. This is a charming plant with very beautiful bark and even more beautiful light fleshy leaves, which is pleasantly different from other types of bonsai both in appearance and in hardiness.
Intemperate succulent plant for bonsai
Indoor bonsai are mainly represented by the familiar gigantic shrubs and trees, which in nature and in gardens are associated with oriental design. But there are exceptions among bonsai. Portulacaria can rightfully be ranked among the unique plants – a fast-growing and surprisingly spectacular succulent, which began a completely new career as a bonsai. Portulacaria is not very popular, not only in floriculture but also in landscape design. And they can be found only in the form of bonsai and very rarely in ampelous culture, but in this capacity, they will outshine even the most eminent competitors.
Portulacaria is often associated with the Portulac family, but the plant has long been transferred to the genus of perennial succulents Didier, whose representatives in room culture can be counted on the fingers. Portulacaria is represented by one and only species. This amazing plant from the number of giant succulents came to us from the African deserts. Adaptation to the most extreme conditions on the planet, even in the form of a bonsai, it can be considered an extremely unpretentious plant.
African Portulacaria ( Portulacaria Afra ), despite the ease of formation and control, is considered one of the largest species of bonsai. Young portulacaria 15-20 cm high quickly transform into seemingly ancient multi-stemmed trees with a height of 50 to 80 cm. In nature, this shrub with gradually woody, fleshy, drooping shoots and amazing bark can grow up to 3 m, striking in its size. Without measures for the constant formation of purslane, it can grow up to two meters, so pruning is considered a vital measure: rapid growth needs constant monitoring.
The bark of the portulacaria is very beautiful, with grayish-reddish shades, quite catchy, glossy. The most surprising thing about the plant is a red hue, the same tone, characteristic of both young twigs and a trunk with old bark. The only difference is that on the trunk, the bark gradually becomes more and more wrinkled. The shoots contrast with the green in such a way that they seem to illuminate the crown from the inside. The leaves of this unique bonsai are also fleshy, only about an inch in length, bright green, obovate, although visually appear to be flat, round discs. Sitting opposite leaves perfectly emphasize the drooping shape of the fleshy shoots. Elegant, curly, all consisting of small discs of the crown of the portulacaria looks amazingly impressive, and the light green color is combined with the bark of the tree just amazing.
In indoor culture, African portulacaria almost never blooms. A plant only at a very considerable age and under ideal conditions can please with single light pink flowers, but you can only admire this spectacle in botanical gardens.
Caring for purslane at home
Portulacaria is ranked among the easiest bonsai species to grow, but this statement is only relatively true. It is truly a drought tolerant plant. But otherwise, the care should be very thorough. Purslacaria love fresh air, it is easy to make mistakes with watering, and temperature conditions need to be controlled.
Very rarely, portulacaria are found as ampelous succulents. They are grown in the same way as bonsai, but excluding permanent formation from the care program.
Lighting for purslane
This type of bonsai will only be comfortable in the brightest possible lighting conditions. Portulacaria prefers sunny or brightly lit places, is not afraid of direct sunlight. Lighting for the plant must be kept constant even in winter, moving the bonsai to lighter places. Artificial supplementary lighting, like most succulents, does not like portulacaria. With an increase in daylight hours in spring, the plant must be carefully accustomed to growing lighting, especially to direct sunlight.
This plant grows well on southern or partly southern windowsills, as well as on western-oriented windows.
Like almost all types of bonsai, purslane prefers to hibernate in a cool environment, but it can adapt to warmer hibernation. The air temperature should not drop below 8 degrees Celsius. Optimum performance is from 10 to 16 degrees. The maximum wintering temperature for portulacaria is limited to 22 degrees. In the active period, the growth of extreme heat is best avoided, but within the range of 22 to 27 degrees Celsius, the portulacaria feels very comfortable.
One of the important conditions, without which purslane cannot be preserved, is access to fresh air, not just regular, but frequent ventilation. The plant will prefer to spend summer in the fresh air or in rooms with constant ventilation. But you will have to ventilate rooms with purslane even in winter, taking measures to protect the plant from cold air currents.
Watering and air humidity
Purslacaria will need gentle watering throughout the year. Waterlogging is destructive for a plant, but a succulent tolerates drought even in the form of a bonsai very easily. In the summer, the soil is allowed to dry out not only in the upper layer, but also almost completely; abundant, but frequent watering is carried out. But in winter, watering of portulacaria should be economical, only maintaining the lightest moisture content of the substrate and still allowing it to dry out between waterings. The plant withstands any drought well.
When watering purslane, it is important to ensure that the plant does not experience constant fluctuations in moisture. It is necessary to transfer purslane from summer to winter watering regime and back slowly. The plant is watered so that there is no constant fluctuation in dampness and dryness, creating as stable a light soil moisture as possible.
Like other succulents, even in bonsai, portulacaria is not afraid of dry air. The plant does not need any measures to increase air humidity. Spraying is not carried out for it. It is better to remove dirt from the leaves with a soft brush, and not by scenting.
Topdressing for portulacaria
This plant allows you to select different feeding strategies. Some flower growers apply fertilizers for this type of bonsai only once a year, at the very beginning of the active growth phase: it is enough to feed African portulacaria with a standard dose of complete mineral fertilizers. But it is better to divide fertilizers into rare, but regular fertilizing from spring to autumn, in order to create the most stable conditions for the plant during the period of active growth and development. With this strategy, fertilizers are applied 2 times a month, using half of the manufacturer’s recommended dose of drugs.
Pruning and shaping the portulacaria
Portulacaria can be shaped as you wish. This plant is not afraid of even very strong pruning, it is easily restored. You can carry out the formation at any time convenient for you, focusing on the desired aesthetic characteristics, shape and size.
It is much more important than formation to contain the portulacaria in time. In this culture, it is better to regularly pinch or shorten young shoots, preventing the plant from building up in height too much.
Any pruning on purslane is best done in the spring, but pinching the tops can be continued throughout the active growth period.
The need to constantly restrain the plant by pruning is explained simply: it is impossible to guide and shape the portulacaria with wire, the use of wire always leads to injuries. Forming branches with wire is a very complex process that is best left to professionals. In order to create a silhouette and limit growth, it is better to limit yourself to cropping.
Portulacaria transplant and substrate
Portulacaria is rarely transplanted, only as needed. Young plants are transplanted about 1 time in 2 years, but adults will need a transplant no more than 1 time in 4-5 years. A transplant is carried out only after the complete development of the earthen coma by the roots and an obvious lack of soil.
For this plant, you need to select stable, heavy containers. As with all bonsai, flat containers are used for purslane, but when planted in pots of other parameters, the plant will feel good provided a high layer of drainage is laid.
The substrate for portulacaria is not chosen according to the rules for growing bonsai, but in the same way as for other indoor succulents. It should be lightweight, water-permeable, and qualitatively loose. For the plant, you can choose any succulent or cactus growing medium containing sand and clay, or add sand to a regular bonsai growing medium. An earth mixture is prepared independently, combining gravel-sandy soil with clay-sod and leafy soil in equal proportions. The soil reaction for portulacaria can range from 4.5 to 6.0 pH.
When transplanting purslane, be sure to shorten the roots, cutting off about a third of the entire root mass in order to restrain the growth of the plant. A high drainage layer, up to 5 cm, is always laid at the bottom of the containers for purslane. The plant grows well with top drainage or decorative mulching of the soil with stone chips.
Diseases and pests of portulacaria
Portulacaria is relatively resistant to diseases and pests. But if there is a deviation in care, waterlogging, stagnant air, plants can be affected by powdery mildew. Of the pests on African portulacaria, the most common are scale insects, aphids, and mealybugs. You can only fight insect pests by treating them with insecticides.
Common problems in growing purslane:
- shedding leaves in poor light or with a decrease in light in winter;
- pulling shoots in low light or high humidity;
- yellowing and wilting of leaves with waterlogging.
Reproduction of African portulacaria
It is one of the easiest bonsai species to breed. Portulacaria root cuttings easily and quickly, which allows you to get your own offspring and experiment with the creation of bonsai. For reproduction, you can use the shoots left after pruning. The main thing is that at least 2-3 leaves remain on the handle. You need to cut off the stalk at the very base of the leaf.
Before planting, the sections are dried for 24 hours, and the bottom leaf on the shoot is removed. It is better to plant cuttings in small individual containers, where they will be grown. The cuttings are deepened by 3 cm in a standard purslane soil mixture, mixed with sand. Rooting is carried out in bright but diffused lighting with light soil moisture without a cap.