Basic Care for a Bonsai Tree

Many people are intimidated by the prospect of attempting to grow a bonsai tree. It is not as difficult as it may seem. The main requirements are patience, patience, and patience.

The art of bonsai is a Japanese form that has attracted people for centuries. Specific horticultural techniques are employed to grow purposefully dwarfed plants. A well-grown bonsai is meant to show the appearance of great age, but in a miniature outline. The bonsai is intended to evoke a traditional image of a stylized landscape. It should be aesthetically well balanced and pleasing to the eye.

Bonsai plants are primarily grown outdoors in a place where they will receive filtered or dappled sunlight and where they will be sheltered from strong winds. They can, however, be brought inside for short periods if you can provide them with a cool, light, and airy spot. Many people in apartments find they can have success with bonsai on a patio, deck, or even a shelf hung from a window. Therefore, if you have a suitable growing area and you think you have the patience, you might try working with bonsai plants.

Suitable and classic choices for bonsai plantings include evergreens such as camellia, cedar, larch, cypress, cryptomeria, and pine. Also acceptable are deciduous trees such as Japanese maple, Chinese quince, flowering cherry, and hornbeam.

The care is similar to that for any plant. However, for bonsai, nourishment is provided in as small a quantity as possible, and just in the nick of time, in order to dwarf the plant. The challenge is to sustain health while limiting size. This seems quite contrary to the normal view of things. You know you are succeeding if you are producing robust foliage and new branches each week. A bonsai may be ten years old and your measure of success is the appearance that it is hardly growing at all.

Water the plant only when it is dry. Give a small amount of water, and allow it to soak in thoroughly. Most plants are misted at least dally to minimize surface evaporation from the leaves. In hot weather, a plant might therefore even need to be misted four or five times a day. The dwarfed roots are simply not up to supplying the plant with the required water. No fertilizer is given for an entire year after re-potting. After this, a well-balanced houseplant food is supplied at half-strength every week during the spring and summer period of growth. This process further conditions the plants to their limited growing space. It also sustains the health, while curtailing significant increase in the size of your bonsai.

Re-pot bonsai plants as infrequently as every three years. You can do this with the deciduous types every two to three years, and the slower-growing evergreens can get by with the same pot for three to five years. Repotting is done in early spring, just before new growth appears. It is important that you work in a sheltered spot because you will be exposing some very delicate roots. Choose a small glazed pot that really appeals to you. Remember, you will be looking at this pot for several years to come. Place wire mesh over the drainage holes to discourage outbound wayward roots and keeps out unwanted pests. Next, add a layer of pebbles is added to ensure drainage. If the plant is large enough, its roots are pruned at each repotting. Remove about two-thirds of the old soil and cut back the roots of deciduous plants to nearly half. If you are using an evergreen, cut about a fourth of the roots off. You then work new moist soil into the root ball, working gently but assuring good contact with the roots. A good soil mixture would include rich sandy soil with additional humus (3: 1) or two parts loam, one part sand, and one part either leaf mold or peat moss.

Well-conditioned, established plants are then set higher in the new pot than they were in the old one. This will encourage a disproportionately large and gnarled trunk. Place the bonsai off-center to provide a graceful balance to the open, asymmetrical outline of the plant. Next, bottom water the plant, mist the topsoil and leaves, and allow it to drain. It is essential that you then provide frequent misting and shelter from drafts and high temperatures, allowing a complete recovery period to protect the investment of your time over the last several years.

A well-tended bonsai is also pruned and pinched periodically to direct growth into desired shapes. An open, broad, asymmetrical outline is usually the desired outcome. A clean open top is encouraged to allow great visibility of the miniature’s stylized outline. Use copper wires to support the spreading horizontal branches and to mold the growth into less upright forms. Pass the support wires through the drainage holes during repotting, and then bring them up through the soil. Wrap this wire around the trunk and perhaps a larger, heavy branch. New growth is similarly shaped. Use moderately stiff copper wire to wrap around the branch that you want to shape. If the bark is tender, enclose the wire in rice paper to prevent scarring. The wrapping begins at the top of the branch, and finally the wire is pegged into the soil near the base of the trunk. Then bend the branch gently but firmly in the chosen direction. Leave these wires in place for six months to a year. After this, you can begin another round of training with some new wire.

You can begin to appreciate the devotion with which growers view their well-established bonsai plants. For many years, these bonsai have been artfully trained and shaped. Plants are passed from generation to generation as a loving heritage. However, you can go away for a vacation without worry. These hardy bonsai plants will survive the winter outdoors with only basic sensible protection from any severe freeze. You need not treat bonsai with kid gloves. You might find that growing your bonsai is a meditative and relaxing project. It is an art form that you may pass down to your grandchildren.

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