I do not own a Bonsai tree. I have never really taken time to appreciate these man-made miniature trees until lately; in fact, i do not know they are called Bonsai until recently. But one thing is undeniable: Bonsai trees are genius creations and they are absolutely gorgeous.
Earlier today, I was reading a post by Mark Hall of the Christian music group Casting Crowns on Bonsai Trees. He wrote:
“Any kind of tree can be turned into a bonsai tree. Pine trees, oak trees, maple trees. Anything. Want to know how? First you pick a small pot. You have to convince the tree their pot is as deep as it’s root system is ever going to get it. And soon the tree will begin to believe it. Then you begin saying “no” to the tree. Every time it tries to grow you prune it. Every time it tries to stretch you stop it. You keep saying “no” to the tree until it is convinced that the pot is as big as it’s world will ever be and this is as big as they will ever get. Soon the tree begins to believe it.”
Well, while this sounds like an oversimplification, it is true. How can you convince a Mighty Oak to spend its entire lifetime in a tiny bowl on the breakfast table? But this art form has been around for well over a thousand years with astonishing success.
So, what is a Bonsai Tree?
Bonsai Tree is a miniature piece of breathtaking natural scenery grown in a small pot. It is not a potted plant; and unlike potted plants, the marvel of the bonsai tree lies in the delight gained from recreating in miniature plants as seen in the natural world.
Bonsai is a Japanese art form using miniature trees grown in containers. Similar practices exist in other cultures, including the Chinese and Vietnamese. The word “Bon-sai” is a Japanese term which, literally means “planted in a container”. The ultimate goal of growing a Bonsai is to create a miniaturized but realistic representation of nature in the form of a tree. Bonsai are not genetically dwarfed plants, in fact, any tree species can be used to grow one.
Full-grown trees can be as small as 6 inches (15.2 cm) tall to as large 3 feet (0.9 m) tall, depending on their species. Larger plants are usually more ‘demanding’.
How to Bonsai: The Basics
1. Tree Choices – First step is to acquire a tree, which can be done by buying prebonsai (a rough material to be pruned and wired) or you can choose to cultivate it yourself, or buy ready-made mature specimens from a commercial grower 🙂 If your original material has lots of branches, it mean lots of choices, which is good. Taper in trunk and branches is a huge asset; and a good nebari (i.e. the lower trunk and surface roots) is also a major asset. It is important to select a suitable species of tree for your climate. Let someone else try weird and strange trees from other zones :D.
2. Decide whether you plan on having an indoor or outdoor tree. Indoors tree limits your options to (sub)tropical trees that can survive indoors whereas if you would like to put your Bonsai outside, most trees will grow perfectly fine.
Examples of commonly used trees:
Indoor: Ficus, Hawaiian Umbrella, Serissa, Gardenia, Camellia, Kingsville Boxwood.
Outdoor: Juniper, Cypress, Cedar, Maple, Birch, Beech, Ginkgo, Larch, Elm.
Note that some of the hardier varieties, like junipers, are suitable for both indoor and outdoor use, provided they are properly cared for.
3. Size of Bonsai – Select a tree size that you can handle. Best bet is a medium size tree, one you can lift. This works best for most people. Very small trees are more difficult to create as good bonsai and they do require more attention; likewise, large bonsai are difficult to lift or maintain. It is also best to position your bonsai at a comfortable height for working. As in other art forms, the closer to eye level, the easier to enjoy and to work on.
4. Select a pot. The hallmark feature of bonsai trees is that they are planted in pots that restrict their growth. The most important factor in deciding which pot to use is to make sure the pot is large enough to allow enough soil to cover the roots of the plant.
Train and style
Now, it’s time to get started with training, shaping and styling your new mini-tree. This is the creative part of growing Bonsai trees, as well as the difficult part. Let’s begin with looking at the single most important technique to Bonsai: PRUNING. Pruning is crucial in keeping trees miniaturized as well as to shape them so as to achieve the goal of creating a Bonsai that resembles nature as close as possible.
5. Prune The Root. Carefully remove the plant from its current pot, making sure not to break or tear its main stem. Clean the roots of all dirts and it’s pruning time!! Prune the roots. If their growth is not adequately controlled, bonsai trees can easily outgrow their containers. To ensure your bonsai tree remains manageable and tidy, prune its roots before you pot it. Cut any large, thick roots and any upward-facing roots, leaving a network of long, slender roots that will sit near the surface of the soil. Then re-pot it. Seek professional advice on – What time of year to prune? How often? Should you comb out the roots? What about sawing the root mass? Also, prune the trunks, and prune the branches! If two branches occur at the same height of the tree, keep one of them and remove the other. Remove branches with unnatural twists and turns. Remove disproportionately thick branches from the top of the tree.
6. Trim, Trim, Trim. No excuses. Leaf trimming is the selective removal of leaves (or needles) from a bonsai’s trunk and branches. It is important to keep your trees trimmed. Learn how to directional prune! If you’re not sure where to cut, at least “hedge prune”. This type of pruning will give you many options when you are ready to prune more appropriately.
7. Wiring – To have fine bonsai, you will have to wire! Wiring branches and trunks allows the bonsai designer to create the desired general form and make detailed branch and leaf placements. Learn to wire properly. If you can’t wire, consider “tie-downs”. If done right, “tie-downs” can be an easy way to get a branch started in the right direction. Remember to remove the wires before they damage an otherwise good tree or create an ugly scar.
8. Other training and styling techniques include: Clamping, Grafting, and Defoliation. Deadwood bonsai techniques called jin and shari is also a creative technique which can simulate age and maturity in a bonsai.
9. Understand Certainties – Expect your bonsai to change. No bonsai ever stays the same! Watch for opportunities to have a new branch in a better location or perhaps remove an old one. Eliminate criss-crossing roots early on! At least once a year, give your collection a serious critique. Sort out any trees you no longer love and ones that have no future. Don’t worry about “getting your money back” (easier said 😉 ) If they gave you pleasure and hopefully many lessons, you got your money’s worth.
10. Bonsai care: Maintaining the long-term health of a tree in a container requires some specialized care techniques: watering, re-potting, and use of specialized tools are requirements of maintaining bonsai. Soil composition and fertilization must also be specialized to the needs of each bonsai tree, although generally speaking, bonsai soil is almost always a loose, fast-draining mix of components.
Some Really Elegant Miniature (Bonsai) Trees.
I found some really elegant bonsai trees, I thought I could share a few of them.
Lessons from The Bonsai Tree
Although they are really beautiful, Bonsai trees represent a bunch of creatures that have been limited and prevented from achieving their full potentials. There is someone who is constantly pruning them, traumatizing them, cutting off their tap roots and preventing them from growing ‘out of control’. And eventually, they believe they could only grow that big and they stop trying.
Moral lesson: “You are not a defeated little bonsai tree. You are a tree planted by streams of water that you will yield fruit in its season.” – Mark Hall
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers.
All scriptures are from The Holy Bible, New American Standard Bible