Bonsai is a Japanese word that simply means ” Potted Plant”. The ancient art of growing bonsai trees has been practiced in Asia for many centuries. Bonsai gardening is a horticultural art form that involves growing and training small trees into tiny trees – bonsai trees. But it is not only about gardening when it comes to growing bonsai trees. It has something more than that – therapeutic value since it’s great activity for relaxing purposes. When growing and training a bonsai, you are not only training your tree but also your mind – make you become a calmer person. Ancient Chinese believed that those who could take care of a Bonsai for a long time got eternity granted for their soul. They also think that a tree could be the connection between the human and the holy, between earth and heaven.
Though usually associated with Japan, this form of gardening began in China, where the trees eventually came to be associated with the religion of Zen Buddhism. In the beginning, only the top echelon of Chinese society pursued this art form. Later bonsai became a popular hobby in Japan. And today Bonsai is very well known in the west and used mainly for decorative and recreational purposes.
Bonsai is surrounded by mystery and generates curiosity, at first sight, some even believe bonsais are genetically dwarfed plants. The truth is gardeners use a variety of growing techniques to direct this beautiful growth and keep bonsais small if done properly, the tree can live as long as their original species. To create a beautiful and healthy bonsai, it requires a lot of time and patience from gardeners, so consider this before growing your own bonsai.
Caring for a bonsai give the gardener a chance to take a contemplative yet creative role in the growth of an emblem of natural beauty. Generally, any tree can be grown as a bonsai. However, to grow a real bonsai, you have to dig deeper and get to know more about this beautiful miniature gardening technique. It is not really difficult once you grasp the fundamentals. In this guide, you will learn how to grow, care and train a bonsai tree so that it stays healthy for many years to come.
Bonsai Gardening: Choosing the right Bonsai Tree
Selecting a species
When selecting a species, it’s important to consider your region’s climate and your home environment. For example, some trees die in freezing weather, while other ones actually require freezing weather to enter a dormant state and prepare for the spring. So, make sure select species of Bonsai tree that fit well with the environment you want to keep them in. A safe bet is to select an indigenous tree species or ask the staff at your local garden supply for the recommendation.
A considerable range of plants can be grown as Bonsai including many flowering plants, shrubs, and climbers popular amongst which are Camellias, Gardenia, Wisteria, Serissa, Azaleas and Crab Apples. If you prefer coniferous tree, spruces, pines, juniper, and cedars all make excellent choices.
If you are a novice Bonsai grower, the juniper is a great way to go since it is easy to raise, responds well to pruning and other training techniques. However, it is rather slow growing. Other options for starters are the Chinese elm or the Japanese black pine.
Indoor or outdoor
Most starters have a common misconception about Bonsai trees is that they should be kept indoors. In fact, most common Bonsai species, including virtually all plants native to temperate climates, should be placed outside in order to get enough light and experience seasonal changes in light and temperature just like normal trees are.
If you plan to keep your tree indoors (or if you live in a hot climate), you must choose tropical and subtropical plants that can survive in the indoor climate of your house, where temperatures are high and stable throughout the years. Even then, these Bonsai trees may suffer from insufficient light. If you have space to keep your tree outside, there are viable bonsai plants suited to any climate.
If you want to grow a tree outdoors, deciduous species such as Japanese or Chinese elms, oaks, magnolias, crabapple trees are good selections.
If you’d like to grow your Bonsai inside, consider these popular indoor Bonsai trees include the Crassula (Jade), the Schefflera Arboricola (Hawaiian Umbrella), the Carmona (Fukien Tea) and the Sageretia (Sweet Plum).
Bonsai Size Matters
The size of your bonsai is very important because if everything goes well this bonsai can be with you until the end of your days. If you grow a large Bonsai tree, it will require more care from you (Pruning), more water, soil, and sunlight, so consider this before choosing your tree.
Unfortunately, there is no definitive guide to sizing in bonsai, but most full-grown trees can be small as 6 inches tall to as 3 feet tall, depending on their species. If you choose to grow a Bonsai from a seedling or a cutting from another tree, they can start off even smaller.
Grow from Seed Or Buy a “prebonsai”
This is also an important thing that should be thought about when planning to grow a bonsai. You can start from seeds by buying them from a shop or picking them up near the trees that you’d like your Bonsai to be in the future. It’s important to know: Bonsais are not genetically dwarfed plants, so there are no “bonsai seeds”. The seed that a bonsai comes from is just a natural tree seed, bonsai is created, after it is germinated, by using a variety of growing techniques.
Growing a Bonsai tree from seed is a slow and hard working process. It can take years and you may fail at first, but as long as you keep trying, you will be amazed by the results – Success comes with practice.
But if you are a starter or simply don’t have much time to grow from seed, then you will want to buy a pre bonsai or find one in a forest near your home. If you choose to find one in the forest, remember to ask the landowner for permission, and also be careful about not damaging the roots when you dig. Keep also in mind that any tree can become a bonsai if it’s trained properly, but details like leave size should be thought about. You will want to choose a tree with small leaves since it is easier to model.
Overall, choosing a Bonsai tree will depend on your answer to a few questions:
How much effort and time will you spend on this tree?
If you don’t want to wait for a long time to grow a Bonsai tree from seed, go with a “prebonsai”.
How much do you want to spend on a Bonsai?
You can buy bonsai tree in various quality ranging from $50 to thousands of dollars. Or You could star from zero, which means picking seeds up near the trees around your home or find a young tree in the wild.
Do you have space to properly overwinter outdoor bonsai?
If not, consider something more tropical that will be able to spend winter indoors in a south-facing window.
What is the size of the tree should you get?
If you live in a condo with a small balcony, a large bonsai tree that takes three people to move will be impractical. Keep to smaller bonsai trees that are easier to care, to protect from bad weather or to display.
Bonsai Gardening: Bonsai Caring
Make sure to place your Bonsai in a bright spot because when light intensity is too low, growth will decrease, eventually weakening your tree.
Even when you place the tree in front of a window facing the south, chances are that the intensity of light is still low. Your tree can benefit from artificial lighting or light-emitting diode lighting about 10 hours a day.
Most outdoor Bonsai trees need sunlight for at least 6 hours a day. Most conifers should be placed in full sun for healthy growth. During the summer, bring your tree inside overnight when temperatures dip below about 40 degrees.
Watering is one of the most important parts of taking care of your Bonsai tree. This can be once in three days during cold winter months, or a little water every day during the summer. The exact watering frequency depends on many factors such as climate, species of tree, the season, size of the tree, soil. So that is hard to say how often you should water your Bonsai. However, understanding the following general guidelines will help you to get Bonsai watering right:
- Never water on a routine
- Monitor your Bonsai and water when the soil begins to look dusty or dry
- Use the right soil-mixture
Fertilize the tree with a special fertilizer meant to keep bonsai trees healthy. Normal trees always extend their root system looking for nutrients. However, your Bonsai is planted in a small pot so it needs to be fertilized to replenish the soil’s nutritional content.
Feeding regularly during the growing season, from easy spring until mid-fall, is crucial for your Bonsai to survive. Indoor trees can be fertilized around the year.
- Early Spring: Use a fertilizer with a relatively high Nitrogen content
- During Summer: Use a more balanced fertilizer
- During the Fall: Use fertilizer to harden off the tree for the coming winter
- Do not fertilize re-potted trees for about a month and also do not fertilize sick trees.
- Use a fertilizer with a high Phosphorous content to encourage Bonsai to flower
- Use a fertilizer with a slightly lower Nitrogen content for older Bonsai trees.
Basic Bonsai Training
As you know, Bonsai trees are really normal plants that are kept small by sophisticated techniques. Bonsai training will be based on the style you want for your Bonsai tree. The styling of Bonsai includes basic methods like pruning and wiring and more advanced techniques.
For the beginners, your first bonsais should be based on the shape of its original tree and later you can start experimenting. Inspiration, balance, and beauty are all important factors for a beautiful and elegant Bonsai tree.
Choose a training style
There are many traditional training styles that you can choose for your Bonsai tree. Here are some of the most popular:
- Formal Upright Bonsai (Also known as Chokkan): These bonsais have an upright and straight trunk with branches that stretch evenly around it. These Bonsais have strong and noticeable roots.
- Informal Upright Bonsai (Also known as Moyohgi): These trees have a more natural slant, rather than growing straight upward. The trunk is also thicker in the soil.
- Slanting Bonsai (Also known as Shakan): These are a mostly formal upright tree with a small lean.
- Broom Bonsai (Called Hokidachi in Japanese): The trunk is straight and doesn’t finish at the top of the tree but around the middle. And all branches with the same size form a ball-shaped crown.
Pruning is one of the basic methods to shape the Bonsai’s style and correct defect. It’s very important not try to change too much the original shape of the tree. Pruning must be constant and you should have regular spots for it on the tree to create a beautiful bonsai with strong and numerous leaves.
This can be done by trimming with bonsai clippers (not scissors) or pinching out the new growth buds.
Bonsai tree species are different, some can be prune during the whole year, but most are better to be treated during early spring or in fall. You should also give a few weeks to your Bonsai recover afterward in order to keep it healthy.
This is another important technique to shape Bonsai trees. By wrapping anodized aluminum around branches it is possible to bend and shape the tree. However, you have to do it all carefully, otherwise, you may end up with a worst and messy Bonsai.
Wiring can be applied all year, but make sure to remove the wire before it starts cutting into the bark and scarring branches that grow thicker. Bonsai can be re-wired to shape but never allow the wires to cut into the bark.
For More Information on Bonsai Gardening Check these useful links
- The History of Bonsai
- An Informal History of Bonsai (PDF)
- The Long and Very Short of Bonsai
- Bonsai Trees, or How to Delegate a Lattice Basis (PDF)
- The Bonsai Wire (PDF)
- Bonsai: Growing Interesting Small Trees (PDF)
- Bonsai Trees: Tips for Choosing a Container (PDF)
- The Art of Bonsai (slideshow)
- What Are Bonsai? (PDF)
- Horticulture: Bonsai (PDF)
- The Art of Bonsai (PDF)
- What Is Bonsai?
- Sphagnum Moss Potting Technique (PDF)
- Critical Branch Bending (PDF)
- Bonsai Collection (PDF)
- Pine Bonsai Foliage Control (PDF)
- Preparing Your Bonsai for Display (PDF)
- Selecting a Bonsai Style
- Thoughts on Bonsai Wiring (PDF)
- Bonsai Pruning (PDF)
- Moving Branches (PDF)
- Monthly Tips for Bonsai (PDF)
- A General Guide to Bonsai Potting (PDF)
- Cascade Style Bonsai (PDF)
- Four Seasons of Bonsai (PDF)
- Why Winterize Your Bonsai? (PDF)
- Juniper Bonsai (PDF)
- Bonsai Growing Guide for Beginners (PDF)
- Maintaining Your Bonsai (PDF)
- Growing Bonsai (PDF)
- Care of Bonsai Tools (PDF)