In southern Manitoba, we have many tree choices and members of the Bonsai Society of Winnipeg know what it takes to successfully grow various species here. We are challenged with a short growing season and a long harsh winter. All the advice we provide in this site is specifically tailored to our climate, our seasons and our geography.
Bonsai and potential Bonsai trees are readily available at local nurseries and garden centres. Shelmerdine Nurseries and Garden Centre in Headingley, carries the largest selection of bonsai and starter bonsai. Some florist shops also carry “gift Bonsai” trees, and occasionally you will see small Bonsai in big box stores or home centres. Be very cautious when buying ready-made Bonsai trees. Buy them from a reputable retailer who offers a guarantee or can provide expert care instructions.
Collecting Trees from the wild
Southern Manitoba is a great place to get trees from the wild. The club offers two guided field trips a year. One in the early spring, once the ground has thawed and in the late fall, after the trees are dormant. It is legal to take trees from provincial road allowances in the ditches and from the edges of logging roads in the provincial forests. Be sure you have the owner's permission if you are on private land. Don't overlook overgrown shrubs from your garden, you may have a potential bonsai ready to style.
Weather In Southern Manitoba
Manitoba, midway between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of North America, has a ‘continental’ climate, characterized by extremes. (Too hot! Too cold! Too wet! Too dry! Usually windy!)
Koeppen’s Climate Classification (1997) lists Manitoba as COLD.
Long, cold, bright winters and warm, sunny, short summers are normal, but the weather is changeable, especially in spring and fall. The horticulture zones are 3a or 2b, depending on local conditions.
Protection is a basic for Manitoba bonsai enthusiasts, including especially:
- protection from sudden frosts in late spring or early fall
- protection from heavy rains, thrashing winds, and hail storms
- protection from extreme summer heat
Protection during the long, cold winters varies according to the tree species in question.
Winter-hardy trees are much easier for beginners to work with and look after. Popular species are winter-hardy tamarack (larch), jack pine, white pine, spruce, cedar, wild plum, hawthorn and birch. We find these species growing in the ditches along road allowances all over southern Manitoba, where it's legal to dig them out. Twice a year, the club guides outings in designated areas where members can harvest potential bonsai trees.
Some other popular outdoor species which can be treated quite similarly are mugho pine, birds nest spruce, dwarf Alberta spruce, juniper, Siberian elm, Amur maple, Manitoba maple, cotoneaster, lilac and potentilla. Fruit trees such as crabapples and plums are also grown as Bonsai. These species can be purchased from Garden Centres and Retail Nurseries. The best time to buy is late fall when end-of-season sales make them more affordable. Look for healthy trees with radiating surface roots, a thick, interesting trunk and lots of low branches.
Winter hardy trees spend the winter in dormancy, outside in your garden, protected by mulch, snow and wind breaks. Deprived of their dormant period, these trees soon peter out and die.
Winter Protection for Outdoor Trees
Manitoba-hardy trees, (native trees, garden centre cultivars), must be buried or mulched to the rims of their pots into a sheltered, shaded corner of the garden, and must be covered with snow until the ground thaws in the spring. Transition in spring and autumn, between the summer/winter extremes is gradual and uneven.
The Manitoba bonsai artist is ever alert to the conditions of the day, especially the overnight forecasts, and must be prepared to react quickly in the event of sudden temperature drops or late/early frosts.
Tropical trees can be grown indoors if you have a well lit area in your home, with reasonable means to keep humidity levels high in winter. Popular species include ficus (species with naturally smaller leaves), serissa, fuschia, myrtle, pomegranate, bougainvillea, jade, fukien tea. All trees are best kept outdoors in the summer, some in shade, some in full sun.
If you live in an apartment without a balcony, tropicals will be best for you. Look for tropical species that require moderate light and humidity and are as easy to keep as houseplants. Ficus varieties make good bonsai under these conditions.
During our long winter, tropicals do best under grow lights. The best light sources are metal halide and fluorescent bulbs. Bright window sills facing south or west will provide enough light for many species. An east window in a cool room or a north window can provide a cool area to site the sub tropicals for their rest period. In all cases, humidity levels can be maintained by daily misting and/or keeping the tree above, not in, a tray filled with water and gravel.
Moving Tropical Trees Outdoors
Tropicals must be hardened off in the spring before moving outdoors for the summer. Hardening off means slowly getting the trees slowly accustomed to the outdoors and strong effect of the sun. For the first few days, place the trees outside in full shade but bring them in at night to avoid the cool nights and the unexpected frosts. Slowly introduce the trees to more light over a few more days, bringing them in at night until the danger of a late frost is over. When the nights are warmer you can leave the trees out full time. In early September, as the nights get cold, bring the trees in at night and return outside during the days. Do this until the days become too cold for the trees. Different species will tolerate different temperature ranges. Become familiar with your trees' specific requirements and keep your eye on the weather.
Rest Period for Sub-Tropical Trees
Sub-tropical trees need a cool rest area from September, when you bring them indoors and hold back on fertilizer and light, to December, when they are given more light, warmth and humidity and you start fertilizing again.