Larch - Larix sp.
Larix is an unusual genus, one of the handful of deciduous conifers. Larix
bears bright green to bluish-green needle-like leaves that turn yellow in
autumn. It has tiny cones which are purplish on most Larix species.
Larches are pioneer trees and will not grow properly in the
In areas with suitable temperatures, Larch is quite
popular as bonsai. It is recommended by its quickly thickening trunk, and
its foliage, which is fresh, bright green in spring and lovely golden
yellow in autumn. Unlike many conifers, Larix cones are small and seem in
proportion to most sizes of bonsai.
Lighting: Semi-shade in
sumer, full sun otherwise.
are cold-weather trees. Most varieties encounter difficulty in regions
warmer than zone 6, and some are hardy in areas as cold as zone 2. The
colder and drier the climate, the more compact the needle growth will
Watering: Larch can be
very sensitive to watering - as I've learned the hard way. Nursery grown
trees must not ever be allowed to dry out, or to stand in water. Some
larches grow naturally in boggy areas, and these have no problem remaining
in water for days. They can eventually be trained to survive with less
water, which is a good idea, as larches kept a bit dry develop shorter
Feeding: Every two
weeks during growth, stopping for 6 weeks in midsummer, for developmental
growth. Mature larch bonsai are fed very little, again with the hope of
keeping needle length reduced.
Pruning and wiring:
Shorten the shoots during growth. The branches may also be pruned in
autumn-winter, but always leave 2-3 buds on a branch. Wire from late
spring-autumn. Another tip reinforced by experience - do not wire before
bud burst as this tends to damage or kill larch cambium. During the growth
season, larch responds extremely well to wiring, and it is easy to
position a branch exactly where it is wanted. Larches are often seen as
formal and informal uprights, and in forest plantings, although they are
suitable for all sizes and styles except broom.
Propagation: From seed
sown in April/May - they take a while to germinate. They can be gathered
from the late-ripening cones in autumn/winter. The cones must be left in
the sun to open, and then the seeds may be shaken out. Cuttings may be
taken in late summer from new shoots, and require the use of rooting
hormone and a lot of moisture.
repotting depends much on circumstance. Young, unrestrained larches grow
quickly, although the foliage grows at a greater rate than the root ball.
The rate of larch growth can be slowed considerably through bonsai
techniques, and by reducing feeding frequency. Tomlinson recommends
repotting often, even annually, due to strong root growth. Other sources
recommend repotting every 2-4 years, and gradual reduction of the root
mass. Repotting should be done in early to mid-spring, or late summer. The
books recommend transplanting before bud burst, but American larch may be
best repotted after the buds have opened slightly, forming tiny "shaving
brushes." Eliminate unwanted branches to encourage rooting. Use
fast-draining soil mix.
Pests and diseases:
Aphids, wooly aphids, bark beetles, caterpillars, rust, honey-fungus,
canker, and the dreaded "mysterious wilting disease" which is always fatal
Some species suitable for bonsai:
- Larix decidua: European Larch - this European
native can grow to 75 feet tall, and is hardy in zones 4-6. It is a high
altitude tree, and can even be found at altitudes above 8200 ft. The
flowers are tiny - yellow for male and red for female.
- Larix decidua 'Diane': contorted larch.
- Larix x eurolepis (decidua x kaempferi): Dunkeld
larch - a hybrid between the European and Japanese species.
- Larix kaempferi (also called L. leptolepis):
Japanese larch - the Japanese variety of larch is similar to the
European larch in size. It is hardy in zones 5-6 and has bluish-green
- Larix laricina: American larch, tamarack,
hackmatack - smaller and hardier than the previous larches, the American
larch grows to 60 feet, and can withstand zone 2 temperatures! It has
finely flaking dull pink or pink-brown bark. This Larix has significant
flowers, which are tiny, but bright red.
- Larix sibirica: Siberian larch
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