Serissa Bonsai Care Guide [Snow Rose Bonsai] Updated

Serissa is a genus that includes flowering plants from the Rubiaceae family. It is also known as the “Snow Rose” and “Tree of a Thousand Stars” due to its tiny white flowers. It is a popular Bonsai tree due to its small leaves, beautifully gnarled trunk, and continuous blooms.

Serissa bonsai tree, Serissa foetida, isolated on white
Serissa bonsai tree, Serissa foetida, isolated on white

There are two types of snowrose: tree of a million stars and tree-of-a thousand stars.

Serissa Bonsai Care Guide

Serissa is a subtropical plant that can be grown indoors. They have small leaves, and textured bark, they flower, are easily trained, and ramify quickly.

Serissa bonsai is easy to grow with a few basic guidelines. 

Watering

Serissa bonsai like to dry between waterings. Every day, feel the soil. Lift any rock from the plant and feel underneath it. If it is not, you can stick your finger in the soil about 1/2 inch to 1 inch. You should water your bonsai if the soil feels dry. 

Your bonsai should never be left completely dry. 

For about 5-10 minutes, soak your bonsai in water. Allow it to drain. You can also top water your bonsai by watering, waiting a few minutes and then water again. This process should be repeated several times until your bonsai receives a thorough watering. You will eventually be able to establish a watering schedule that suits your climate. 

A humidity tray or plate with water and stones can be used to maintain the humidity around your Serissa bonsai. The tray can also be used to place your bonsai on top. Your bonsai will be protected from the water draining off the tray or plate. 

Misting the bonsai once per day can also be helpful, but it is not meant to replace watering. 

Light Requirements

Serissa thrives in bright, sunny areas. Better growth will be possible with more lighting. Be aware of the intense afternoon sunlight shining through your windows in summer. 

Sometimes it can cause damage to tender tree leaves. 

If your leaves are yellowing and you are watering correctly, it’s heat stress. Move it to more shade. They can also be grown in just high-filtered light.

Serissa bonsai like as much sun as you can give them, without stressing it.

In summer, I give them morning sun and then high filtered light from noon on. When I want to develop the Thousand Star variety, I will grow it in full sun.

Fertilizer

Bonsai Serissa above by author of this article David VanBuskirk.

From spring to fall, lightly fertilize your Serissa bonsai every two weeks. 

An organic liquid fertilizer, such as an organic fish emulsion and an organic seaweed fertilizer, is recommended. 

You can use chemical fertilizers, but they should be reduced to about one-half strength so valuable roots don’t get damaged. You can also use organic pellets, such as rice cakes, in conjunction with regular fertilizers. 

In addition to your normal fertilization, a supplement of nitrogen will help. Ironite and fish emulsion can be used throughout the summer with great success.

Also, magnesium (Epsom Salts – 2 tablespoons per gallon of water) will help the plant absorb nutrients more readily.

Repotting

Serissas should be repotted every two years. 

Although Serissas can be repotted at any time of the year (except in the spring), it is best to repot them in the early part of the season. 

Water thoroughly after repotting and place the plant in a sunny area for several weeks to allow new roots to grow. 

They are fast growers and don’t like to be root bound. You may have to repot your younger trees every year, older ones every two years.

Serissa Bonsai Temperature

Winter Care Serissa bonsai must be kept indoors in the winter. Serissa bonsai must be kept above 25°F. As bonsai, protect from heavy frost to prevent tip burn. Their fastest growth is in spring, fall, and the first half of winter, the slowest in midsummer.

Penjing by Qingquan ‘Brook’ Zhao was created with old imported serissa from China. Now in Montreal Botanical Garden.

Training for Bonsai

They can be easily wired, and branches are fairly flexible. You can get quite a bit of movement, even in old and heavy branches. In the initial styling of a Serissa bonsai, bring them back to a trunk line and some main branches (if possible). With their quick growth, a nicely ramified tree can be accomplished in 2-3 years.

Pruning

Serissa bonsai responds well to severe top and root pruning; although it will cause them to root sucker. This will subside the longer the tree has been potted. They do well with directional pruning and create nice ramification.

Prune back to the second node for they tend to elongate after that. Let them grow out some in summer to reduce heat stress, then prune back in early fall.

Where to Buy Serissa?

One of a Kind Bonsai Plants - Serissa for Sale

There are a few reputable vendors online that sell Serissa varieties.

Bonsai Boy of New York is one of those sellers. They have a revolving stock of “one of a kind” bonsai plants, and we’ve seen quality Serissa bonsai on their

website from time to time. Click here to see what’s available.

Serisssa Varieties

There are many varieties of Serissa, including the “Snow Rose” Serissa and Japanese White Serissa (Tree of a Thousand Stars), Japanese Pink Serissa, Variegated Serissa, and Chinese Serissa. 

Serissa foetida comes in many varieties. Most commonly used are Chinese Snow Rose, Cherry Blossom, Kyoto, Mt. Fuji, and Thousand Stars.

Favorites are Thousand Stars for larger bonsai trees and Kyoto for great little mame or shohin.

Serissa Care Experiences

These serissa bonsai stories come from two very different climate zones. The following two authors share their unique experiences.

Serissa Bonsai Notes from Carl Rosner, New Jersey, USA

Living in Zone 6/7 I made a bold move when I decided that my Serissa did not like the warmth of my Tree house (green house to most).

The Serissa seemed to like the cooler temperatures, and about eight years ago, I decided to place my Serissa forest outdoors in my flowerbed for the winter. I had read somewhere that places in the cooler climates use the Serissa as a hedge. Hmmm, I thought!

We have mild winters in Southern New Jersey, but there are always cold snaps when the temperatures drop down into the single digits for a few days. Nothing-ventured etc….

I was dumbfounded by the results after my first year of the Serissa in the ground during the winter.

When I dug it up I wasn’t even sure it was still alive, but the leaves developed quickly. The forest burst into more flowers than I had seen in the years prior, and I have been burying my Serissa in the ground ever since.

This forest is no longer in my possession so I am unable to give you dimensions, but I still have the pot, which measures 13 inches wide by 11 inches deep and 3.75 inches high.

I do have another Serissa, which I call Serissa Mountain, which I dug up on March 15th of this year (2010.)

Arturo Cid – South Florida, USA

I live in South Florida.  I started this Serissa forest 5 years ago from small plants bought from George Buriff’s nursery. I have never wired it until now and have always kept pruning the top and cleaning some of the undesirable growth from below.

When it flowers it really makes a statement and looks like “A Thousand Stars”. Everyone tells of how difficult it is to keep these alive, so I feel a sense of accomplishment just to have had this forest for so long.

I find that as long as it is watered daily and not allowed to cook under the direct sun they do well. I use Miracle-Gro liquid fertilizer every week or so in the summer months and less often in the winter. I also use slow release osmocote every 2-3 months.

The container is a handmade tray about 24 x 11 by a member of the Miami Club nicknamed “Bear” who passed a few years ago. Bonsai enthusiasts are calling these “Bear-trays”.

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