Bonsai

By Richard Flowers, ACCNP-Green Thumb Nursery-Ventura

For centuries the Japanese have cultivated the potted botanical wonder called Bonsai. The literal translation of Bonsai is "tray culture", but the word more broadly refers to bringing a desired part of nature into the home. The popular art of putting a tree in a pot originated over 1,300 years ago from China where it spread to Japan and Korea. The root word literally means bon” “sai” originates from the Chinese term “pen” “tsai” or “tree in a pot”. The art has grown and reached all over the world, with the practice adopting different forms and styles. Your participation and involvement in Bonsai is ever changing and nature may bring you a sense of pleasure and relaxation. A common misconception about Bonsai is that the plants used for them are miniature species used specifically for that purpose where in fact they are just the regular /common plants you see around.

With their twisted and gnarled trunks these picturesque and symbolic creations come to life and show their form slowly over time. With patience, skill, creativity, and wisdom the Bonsai comes into its own more and more as time passes on. The Bonsai is a miniature garden creation and represents an imaginary world all of its own. Any angle or position you view tells a different story and changes its perception. The shadows cast by the light, the way the sun rays gleam off the Bonsai is outstanding. The Bonsai tells its own story of what ever you make of it, a fisherman on an island, mountains, hills, valleys, solitude, peacefulness, relaxation, creativity or what ever adjatiave you think of that applies to the Bonsai. They create a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction knowing that you are able to create a living and ever changing piece of art.They are a sense of wonderment, curiosity, puzzlement, and discussion on how, why, what or when someone decides to cram a little plant inside a small flat pot, with many of its roots cut off, secured to the bottom with wires and branches and limbs pruned and tied with wire and after all that the plant could live for many hundreds of years, Isn’t that amazing.

Welcome to Bonsai.  Bonsais are much easier to care for than what most people think. For beginners, it is recommended getting a firm grasp of the basics in keeping your Bonsai plant healthy and thriving. Continue reading and you will discover the basics of Bonsai.  

The essence of the art is cultivating a tree in a pot. This can include any tree and any species. However, not all species enjoy being placed in a small container. That is why many certain types of plants are commonly used for Bonsai. The majority of our plants we have for sale have already been “pre done” for you (meaning they have already have a shape and appeal to the plant for you to get started with) It is wise for you to carry on the legacy and continue the trimming, shaping, and over all care of the masterpiece. If you wish, we have individual Bonsai starts (raw material for you to grow your own Bonsai).

Follow the below steps:
Step 1:  Collect raw material. (noted above)
Raw material refers to nursery stock or collected material in its rawest form. These trees are grown naturally without any shaping or training.

Step 2. Shaping and Styling
From raw material, trees will enter the shaping and styling stage. This stage can last a single season to many years depending on the quality of the raw material. During this stage, the goal is to encourage desired branch growth. Selecting branches and the overall style is determined during this stage.

Step3. Pot Selection
Once the tree has been trained to the desired shape, a pot is chosen for the tree. The tree is then repot into that pot. May times they are wired down from underneath. The tree will continue to grow but at a slower rate once placed in a pot. As the tree continues to grow and develop, the artist may change the style or replace the pot.  Usually you repot Bonsais after several years or when the roots come out of the sides of the container. Repotting is usually done in Spring.

Step 4. Maintenance And Growth
Once in a pot, the tree will require maintenance to keep its form. This includes providing nourishment as well as pruning and shaping as the tree continues to grow.  Pruning is a crucial practice used to shape trees and keep them miniature. The goal is to create a Bonsai that accurately replicates a miniature version of a full-scale tree in its natural environment. The best time to prune your tree is during Spring. Make sure to buy a good pair of concave cutters when pruning thick branches. They create a more
hollow wound that heals much better than those made by standard cutters.

Some instances in which a branch should be removed include:
• When there are two branches at the same height on the tree trunk, cut one, and keep the other.
• If you have a branch with unnatural twists and turns.
• If you notice disproportionately thick branches at the top of the tree.

Trimming your Bonsai can be done as you notice new shoots causing the tree to lose its original shape. Major pruning should be done early in the growing season with maintenance throughout the year. Use a pair of sharp Bonsai trimming shears to remove unwanted leaves and branches. Trim downward growth as well as the growth that comes from between branches. If one reframes from trimming, the Bonsai will look horrendous and unappealing.

As your knowledge increases you will soon develop methods and skills for manipulating the branches of trees. These methods include shaping trees by pruning or even using techniques to bend branches and expand your creativity with your Bonsai.

Almost any plant can become a Bonsai. A Bonsai is not a particular type of plant but instead it is more a plant is cared for and a way of a plant. The most common and easiest type of plant that is used for Bonsai is the Juniper. Due the flexibility of the branches and growing characteristics, the Juniper is very easy to train and shape.

Junipers have a bushy style along with flexible trunk that makes them an ideal candidate for Bonsai because they very easy to train with wiring. It’s important to trim your creation to keep it to the desired form you want. Just think of a form, remember it, and prune it too that form.  Most bonsais you see are planted in a shallow pot, usually these pots are ceramic or made out of a material that is porous. The soil that Bonsais prefer is also porous and
drain very well. Shallow pots especially porous ones coupled with a fast draining soil means that your Bonsai plant should be watered when the top of the soil appears to be dry. Bonsais like consistent water. For most trees kept outdoors this will mean daily watering during the warmer months. When it is cooler, less water evaporation occurs and thus you Bonsai will demand less water. Water should be applied gently from a fine nozzle or watering can to avoid washing away soil. Water should flow through the holes in the bottom of the pot to be sure its thoroughly soaked at each watering. I recommend when watering, water once and let that water drain then reapply water for a second time and remember to water slowly so the water seeps into the soil. The moisture level of your Bonsai should be checked on a daily basis. Changing temperatures and seasons mean that the water needs of your Bonsai may vary. It is not wise to let the soil shrink
or part ways from the edges of the pot, that is too dry and repeated episodes of that is often detrimental. Never let the soil to dry out.

Your favorite Green Thumb Nursery carries a soil specifically designed for Bonsais and it is aptly named as such. We also carry a wide variety of Bonsai accessories, tools, figurines, and a fertilizer that I recommend is Shultz All Purpose Fertilizer or Eleanor’s VF-11. Besides getting food from the sun, Bonsais however also need minerals and nutrients from fertilizer. It is not recommended to use most commonly available garden
fertilizers as they can cause elongated and uneven growth and root burn. Shultz and Eleanor’s VF-11 are both liquid fertilizers that stimulates dense, compact growth while reducing the risk of root burn. It is advised to feed your Bonsai March-October. See fertilizer packaging for application instructions.

Most types of Bonsais will benefit from morning sun with filtered sun throughout the remainder of the day. A good place to place these treasures is in a covered patio or under the shade of a tree with good natural light. Most Bonsais like fresh air and natural light for them to thrive. However the conditions that are best for your Bonsai will depend on the particular species of tree. Most of the Bonsai Green Thumb carries are Junipers,
Jade, and sometimes Elms or some Ficus which will benefit from that type of light described above. Avoid placing your Bonsai on or next to extremely hot surfaces or in total shade. Most types of Bonsai do best outdoors, with that said, if you decide to have an outdoor grown Bonsai indoors there are options. Keep your Bonsai outdoors and occasionally bring it in for a few days to display. If you have a collection of trees, you can rotate them so that you always have one on display in the house. The best option if you want to have a Bonsai to be grown inside is to select a houseplant or one that can
handle artificial light (e.g. Ficus). Be sure to keep it in a well ventilated bright room, but away from heating and air conditioning vents that might dry it out too quickly. Keep an eye on moisture, as water needs may be different from outside.

Happy growing your Bonsai!


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