How can this be? Don’t we know that flowers can’t be dwarfed, at least to any serious degree? And if we can’t dwarf flowers, how can we make them in scale? Is there a trick? Well, it’s not exactly a trick, but it is a secret of sorts. At least it’s not a deliberate secret, but it hasn’t been talked about much; in fact, it’s even hard to find out much if you were to search for it in “Google” for an answer.
The secret lies in the fact that flowers don’t grow individually but rather in groups which together are called a “florescence”. A florescence consists of many flowers growing out of the same stalk and secondary stalks, as it were. Importantly, the florescence consists of a different kind of plant material with different growth characteristics than the flowers themselves. Thus the flowers don’t need to be dwarfed (which won’t happen anyway) to reduce the scale and size of the overall mass of the flower mass, the florescence. If we could just dwarf and shorten the stalks on which the flowers grow, we could make the florescence smaller without doing anything else. But how?
Here again there is a trick that has been developed over the past few decades and it involves using chemicals which have been formulated for just such a purpose. Collectively, they are called “growth retardants”, PGRs, or “growth regulators”. The part of the plants that these chemicals have been developed to retard are, for the most part, the stems. There are several parts to the stems, primary, secondary and tertiary. All have the same characteristics of growth as a result of which we can treat them similarly. The primary stem that is the attachment of the florescence to the rest of the plant is called merely the stem. The secondary stem, which attaches to the primary stem, is called a peduncle, and the smallest part of the florescence, which themselves carry the flowers, are called pedicels. Fortunately for us, they all react the same way to the PGRs, as “stem” material.
Much work has been done to create different growth patterns, especially including products which can cause a more compact form of growth. That is something that is in great demand in ornamental plants which have, as their purpose, their looks, rather than a particular function of the plant. Even grasses have had formulations prepared to keep them from having to be mowed as often. There is even a formulation designed specifically for grasses, called “Cutless”, for obvious reasons.
Other formulations, which have different effects on different plants, but which are all designed primarily to make the ornamental plant and/or its blooms more attractive, include those with names like: A-rest, B-nine, Cycocel, Trimtect, ethephon and paclobutrazol, or bonzi (not recommended, for when used in a concentration slightly too high, it can cut off any more growth almost permanently), and bud ignitor, which does several phase-specific bud boosters for different aspects of the blooming cycle. And there’s much to discover. To read more on this recent development, Bud Booster, for example go to:
Ethephon, as another example, which has a different mode of action than inhibiting gibberelic acid (GA). GA inhibition is one of the most used methods of reducing growth. Application methods vary too. Some are designed as foliar sprays and others as soil drenches. The literature has become so all-encompassing that it is impossible to do more than touch on some of the highlights of a few of the best known. For more information, just Google “Plant Growth Retardants” and you will find everything you need to know – and much more.
The crape myrtles, being vigorous growers, for the most part, will generally need more powerful PGRs. The more forgiving sprays are probably the best to experiment with first. We’ve found Cycocel, B-nine and Ethephon among the best – all foliar sprays – for our personal purposes. Much experimentation is still worth doing. For each size of growth florescence, and its speed of growth also, there may be another PGR that is best for it.
Another thing that needs to be kept in mind is that many of these are designed only to be applied in commercial quantities and thus only available in large (and expensive) quantities. If so, you will want to share your acquisition with others to make it affordable. However, there are some good ones for our purposes which can be bought in smaller quantities. Bud Ignitor is one such PGR; Bud Blood is another that is similar. These last two mentioned are commonly used in the marijuana growing trade, but I am not suggesting this. The fact is, there is a great growth of knowledge among those growers, perhaps for obvious reasons, and as a result their prices are coming way down as they become more popular. They are still expensive, but perhaps affordable, and available in smaller quantities – and for our purposes and quantities used for bonsai, they will last a very long time.
There’s another way we can reduce the size of the florescence, also: by reducing the number of flowers in the florescence. Simply cut back the remaining flowers on the remaining stem to only the bottom few, perhaps even just one, while they are in the budding stage, and remarkably the remaining flowers will fill the gaps to create a complete mass of flowers that look as well as if they were the complete florescence from the start.