Cotoneaster – A friend to everyone

An extremely versatile and easily grown plant. It enables the grower to happily style away with very satisfying results. Bruno Wijman shows the amazing results after a few hours’ work.

1. Analysing the tree

This shrub originates from a very large bonsai nursery in Spain, Mistral. In Spain the climate is almost perfect for the cotoneaster to achieve rapid growth. It results in long and flexible branches which ease its styling.

First of all, the tree is carefully examined. This is made easier when I cut away the edge of the plastic pot in which it has been planted. I can now remove a layer of soil to see where the root base has the best qualities. The aspects that determine what would be the front are:

The nebari, or root base, the trunk line, the tapering of the trunk and the branch setting.

In practice, I know that it is rare to have all these qualities on one side. Often one must compromise between these good points. For me, the nebari is the essential and most important. After looking at the pros and cons, I decide to style the tree in the moyogi style.

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The tree before any work was done, all its structure is hidden behind the many criss-crossing branches. 

A: I could make a top from some of these branches.
B: Lots of long branches which I need to shorten.
C: I need to remove a layer of soil to see from which viewpoint the root base looks at it best

2. Removing unnecessary branches

Now that I have selected the front and chosen the style, all the
unnecessary branches can be removed.

-These are branches all growing from the same spot; I select only the best.

-Branches that are in the wrong place on the trunk.

– (Very) Long branches are shortened.

By making these choices, I keep in mind that the front may change during the styling process, because the current back has some very good points, too. So to be safe, I keep some extra branches just in case I do change my mind.

At the top, a very thick branch is removed leaving a large stump. I nibble away at it with concave pliers leaving just a smooth wound surface. The wound is treated so that it won’t disturb the tapering flow of the trunk. The branches close to the wound will help its callusing and healing.

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The front
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The wood has been smoothed over and I will cover it with some cut paste to allow it to heal

There are still too many branches in the top. The middle one is cut off

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Result so far . . .

The result after the heavy pruning.

A: will become the top.
B: the main character branch.
C: a side branch for balance.
D: At the base of the trunk some branches were removed to reveal the trunk line

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3. Wiring the branches

This tree is wired with aluminium wire; you could use copper wire alternatively. The tree is wired branch by branch. Only the smallest branches are not wired because at this general stage of styling, it isn’t necessary to go into much detail. Try to combine one piece of wire with two branches with at least one anchoring coil around the trunk. The branches are flexible so relatively thin wire (1.5mm or 2mm) can be used.

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Run the thinner wires parallel to the thicker

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4. The result so far . . .

The tree is slightly tilted to the right front to improve the movement of the trunk. The basic shape has been set and now branches need to set and grow denser. During the coming years I will do some adjustments and make refinements. The repotting is to be carried out next spring.

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Right side

Wow! It’s amazing . . .

Bruno: I had great results with this cotoneaster in Han Kengai (semi cascade) style in just 3 to 4 years. It’s from the same nursery, but had a bad nebari. By tilting the tree to the left I solved the problem. Over the following years it became a very strong tree and after 2 years, I could exhibit it at the Nöelanders Trophy.

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Cotoneaster – SPECIES

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Common name: Cotoneaster
Genus: Cotoneaster
Higher taxon: Rosaceae
Species: Cotoneaster dammerii
Skill level: Beginner to advanced
Soil type: Medium rich, but well draining, with 40-50% fine gravel added to the mix.
Flowers and fruit: Small, pink-white flowers appear in mid to late spring. Berries appear as the flowers fade. They are green at first, becoming bright shiny red by autumn.
Foliage: Small, rounded spear shaped leaves. These turn bright red in autumn.
Bark: Young shoots are green and the bark ages to buff silvery brown.

Cotoneaster – HUSBANDRY

Propagate: Cuttings and air layerings work extremely easily with cotoneaster.
Placement: Grow in good light all year round, but avoid strong summer sunshine that can blacken the fruit. Avoid direct frost contact in winter.
Pruning: Branches may be pruned in early spring, then new shoots push out vigorously in late spring. In May/June they may be trimmed back very closely for compact growth, grown on, or removed according to the design of the tree.
Repotting: Younger plants are root pruned annually and older plants every other year in early spring when the buds swell.
Watering: Keep cotoneasters evenly damp — they like water.
Wiring: Wire the new growth in the early summer. Use aluminium wire. Older wood is hard — sometimes very hard — it may need cutting back to redirect growth rather than risking splits or breaks. 

Text: Bruno Wijman – Photography: Bonsai Focus Studio