Bonsai is actually two words they are: 'Bon' meaning tray and 'sai' means growing or planting, or to put this another way it reads; "tray growing or tray planting"
Which is contrary to many people's conception of it meaning "miniature tree growing'".
The facts are that one can use many types/species of plants to grow in trays or 'bonsai'.
Another misconception is that the art of bonsai actually originated in China not Japan, as many people seem to think.
What do you need?
The first thing that springs to mind is dedication and patience without which, success will be limited.
Add to this some good information,and a bit of trial and error, then there is no reason why an element of expertise should not follow.
Joining a Bonsai Society can be intuitive in so far as you can discuss your needs with like minded people.
Here are a few examples of the sort of specimens that societies often demonstrate at major shows:
Where does one start?
The key is to choose the right bonsai starter tree.
What is the right starter tree?
The Japanese Maples / Acer Palmatums can be a good choice as they usually offer a season of interest.(subject to variety)
For instance in spring the foliage can be a vibrant purple/red followed in the autumn with red / orange foliage, plus,during the winter months the bark adopts some very interesting colours.
They are also relatively easy to source, and are usually reasonably priced.
Acer palmatum 'Sankake'
In fact; they can even be grown from seed but this would take a little or more time and effort to get to the desired size.
Other factors for this choice are:
- It is an upright variety
- The leaves will reduce in size relative to the overall dimensions of the specimen.
In recent years Fuchia growers have started taking an interest in applying Bonsai techniques to their Fuchsia plants with a degree of success as seen here:
Unlike Bonsai growers who buy or cultivate their stock plants then train them by using 'wiring' techniques, Fuchsia growers tend to use 'stock' plants that have become somewhat 'woody' and are unsuitable for use as 'exhibition' plants.
Basically they select plants that have an odd number of woody stems (3:5:7 etc) or cut out surplus stems until they have an odd number of stems.
Once they have the desired number of branches they ensure that no young growth grows along the first few inches of each branch, but encourage new growth to grow at the end of the branch to form 'pads' of new growth.
Once this new growth is established the grower constantly nips out growing tips as they would when training Fuchsias traditionally.
In effect the are trying to form what could be described as horizontal rather than perpendicular 'Mini-Standards'
When in flower the blooms hang down from the canopy formed by each pad as can be seen in the examples above.
Bonsai trees are often tropical or sub-tropical in origin, therefore we should try to recreate such conditions indoors, i.e. try and keep the humidity around them quite high.
The ideal minimum temperature should not fall below 50°F (10°C).
Trees indigenous to the UK are generally frost hardy and can therefore be left outdoors.
However, ensure the root system is not allowed to freeze.
This is probably the first and most important consideration after purchasing your tree.
The Bonsai needs to be in a position so it gets plenty of natural light, but avoiding direct sunlight as this may cause the leaves to scorch and the tree to dry out rapidly.
The area must be well ventilated but free from draughts.
Do not subject your tree to direct heat e.g. on top of the TV, or heater.
The immersion method:
Immerse the tree/s in tepid water daily to approximately 1 inch (25mm) above the pot rim, and allow to stand until the air bubbles stop. (Do not use cold water this can shock the tree)
Always keep the compost moist and do not allow it to dry out.
In the event this happens leave the pot standing in water overnight.
In areas where the water has a high lime content it is better to water with distilled water or rain water.
Spray the leaves often with tepid water.
An added advantage is to stand pot and tree on a drip tray filled with pebbles or grit and water this should create the necessary humidity.
Do not leave the pot sitting in water, other than when you are specifically carrying out your watering routine.
Liquid feed and spray the foliage once a fortnight during summer and once a month during winter.
Mix the feed with water to the recommended strength as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
Allow new shoots to grow 5 or 6 leaves then cut back by 2 leaves growth. If any new growth spoils the overall shape of your tree cut it off!
Re-potting & Root pruning:
Check your tree every year (circa Week 11)
If the tree is root bound open the root ball and cut off the bottom 1/3rd of the root and re-pot in fresh compost and water in well.
You may find with some species, this only needs to be carried out every 2 years.
This article has been written to give the reader an appreciation of the art form and not necessarily an in depth insight of it.
If and when this is required, the writer suggests that the reader seeks advanced tuition from the many books written on the subject, and or joining a Bonsai club.
Failing that join an internet forum and discuss the subject with like minded people.
Here are a few unamed examples showing a variety of shapes:
Similarly here are a few named varieties: