CARE GUIDE: Laryx species

5-15-99 10-1-99 10-1-99

Larch are best transplanted at the end of February or early March, just before their needles appear. The narrow planting window is this wonderful tree's only drawback and must be taken seriously. If your Larch has needles on it, leave it in the RootMaker pot in which it arrived for another year. However the tops of Larches (as contrasted to their roots) can be worked any time of the year. Larches are very flexible; they take wiring easily (meaning they stay where you put them); you can prune them any time of the year.

Because larches throw all their growth to the top of the tree, branches at the top of the tree need to be pruned quite short to redirect the growth to lower branches.

Larch love water. They are the perfect conifer for those who find watering an enjoyable occupation. Water every day from April through October, and two times a day during the heat of summer. Put them where they get morning sun and afternoon shade, or dappled shade all day. Protect Larch bonsai in the summer by placing them in the shade of a larger tree

Between April 1 and mid-July, fertilize this young and vigorous specimen about four times a month. with a mild liquid fertilizer, Peters 20-20-20, for example, diluted to one-fourth the recommended strength, and fertilize every week, after it has become acclimated to its new pot or new environment.

PLEASE NOTE Larch is a deciduous needle conifer. That means that it turns golden in the fall and looses its needles. It will remain dormant throughout the winter; then, at Winter's end "the light goes on" and the tips of the buds, that had been present as needle collars all year, get shiny.That is the time to repot or to transplant. Here in western Washington Larch "readiness" corresponds to the first growth of the daffodil leaves breaking through the earth. Pot from that time until the needles become clearly defined although still quite small. This is about a three week interval.

Success in transplanting bonsai, especially Larch, comes from timing your activity to correspond to the period of root growth.

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 shade.

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.


Semi-shade in sumer, full sun otherwise.


Larches 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 be.


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 needles.


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.


Larch 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.


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.


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. In northern areas of America and Canada, larch is often naturally stunted by its growing condidiots, and collecting larch for bonsai is quite popular.

Pests etc.:

aphids, wooly aphids, bark beetles, caterpillars, rust, honey-fungus, canker, and the dreaded "mysterious wilting disease" which is always fatal to larch.

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.

When to prune:
        Pinch tips of new buds during growth period;
        Prune subbranches in mid spring, main branches in mid winter.

When to repot:
        Early or mid spring.
When to fertilize:
        Spring and autumn,
When to water:
        Requires moisture without constant puddling.

<< Repotting: Larch repotting is controversial.  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.   >>

The Larch is not unlike any other bonsai in that when the water has
difficulty reaching the drainage holes, it is time to repot.  I find it
difficult to place any particular bonsai on a predetermined repotting

Another variable is the bonsai's feeding schedule.  Younger, immature
specimens being pushed with fertilizers to achieve design objectives will
require more frequent repotting than mature specimens on reduced feeding.


        1.      Water

                Where I collect larches, they often grow in boggy areas.
                Their roots are submerged in water for days on end during
                spring run-off, and in my experience those are the easiest
                larches to get to survive collecting. 

                Once they are established in pots, usually after the second
                year, I water sparingly, almost like pines, in the hope of
                keeping the length of the needles down. I am not 100% sure
                if I am succeeding with that. However, the trees don't seem
                to miss being watered abundantly.

        2.      Feeding

                Once a larch is being trained as a bonsai, I feed it very 
                sparingly or not at all, again in the hope of keeping
                needle length down. I repot every two to three years using
                a soil fairly high in humus (up to 50%) and I feel that 
                contains enough nutrients to last the tree for that length of

        3.      Wiring

                I concur with your experience about larches' touchiness about
                wiring when not actively growing. For greater certainty, maybe
                you should say that the damaged cambium will either seriously
                weaken the branch or kill it outright.