Documents: Special Interest: Bonsai:

A Three Step Guide To Growing Bonsai Trees
by Oscar Jonker
October 19, 2014

Always been interested in the art of growing Bonsai? This guide will help you get started, by looking at how to cultivate, train and take care of Bonsai trees. We head off with looking at cultivation.

STEP 1: CULTIVATING A BONSAI TREE

A Bonsai tree is not a specific kind of tree, instead, it is a combination of techniques to create and maintain a miniature reflection of nature. This means any kind of tree can be selected to grow into a Bonsai tree; some species however are particularly suitable (as they naturally have small leaves for example). Having said this, there are several methods of cultivating trees intended to be trained into a Bonsai, which will be discussed accordingly.

BUYING A BONSAI TREE

The easiest way to acquire a Bonsai tree is simply to buy one. Most garden centers and otherwise a wide selection of online Bonsai shops offer trees at low prices. Be careful to select a tree that fits your wishes well, i.e. in selecting either an indoor or an outdoor variety.

USING SEEDS OR CUTTINGS

Although growing trees from seed or from cuttings will take a considerable amount of patience, it can be very rewarding.

Collect seeds from a nearby forest, or buy them online. Sow seeds in a prepared seedbed (using a soil-mixture of preferably Akadama and potting compost) during autumn, and keep it moist (not wet!). The seeds will germinate in early spring.

In case of cuttings, choose small branches of about 10cm / 4’’ long (at any time of the year) and cut off the ends at an angle. Stick the cuttings in a seedbed using the soil mixture described above and keep them moist. It will take a few weeks before roots start growing.

Make sure the young seedlings or cuttings have enough space and let them grow unrestricted for 2 to 3 years before starting to shape them into a Bonsai.

COLLECTING FROM THE FOREST

Another way of acquiring trees suitable for Bonsai purposes is to collect trees growing in forests or parks. Please note however that permission in most cases is required. Collecting trees has several advantages over the cultivation techniques described above, most noteworthy the reduced time it takes before one can get started to shape the tree. Digging out trees should be done very carefully, make sure you don’t damage the root system. Use the original soil when planting the tree in a container.

The collected tree can be trained once it exhibits healthy growth.

STEP 2: BONSAI TRAINING TECHNIQUES

Having acquired a tree, we now turn to Bonsai training. A wide range of techniques have been developed that help to create and maintain a tree’s miniature size and shape. Most important are pruning and wiring.

PRUNING BONSAI TREES

Regular pruning as well as an occasional thorough styling is essential to create a miniature shaped tree.

Thorough pruning in order to shape a tree. When shaping a tree, deciding on which branches fit the design and which ones need to be removed can be very tricky. Take the tree’s basic shape as given (do not try to change too much as this would involve radical pruning, something I would recommend only experienced people do!) and decide what will be the tree’s front.

From this position on start thinking about which branches need to be pruned in order to improve the tree’s overall shape. Using normal pruning shears to cut off branches is no problem, though it is advisable to buy a decent concave cutter eventually.

Regular maintenance pruning. After having determined the tree’s basic shape by removing branches that don’t fit the tree’s design it is important to regularly prune young shoots to maintain the tree’s shape. Regular pruning will eventually force the tree to grow a dense foliage and branch structure, while remaining small in size.

WIRING BONSAI TREES

Like pruning, wiring is an essential technique to set the shape of the tree’s branches. Copperwire, which is most often used to wire Bonsai, can be purchased at most online Bonsai shops, in varying thicknesses.

When wiring a tree, start with its main branches. Thick branches need thick wiring, as a rule of thumb use wire of about 1/3 to 1/4 the thickness of the branch. Try to wire two branches of equal size with one piece of wire. It is important to maintain an edge of about 45° when wrapping wire around the branches, providing some room for growth (see picture 1).

After having wired the larger branches start wiring increasingly smaller branches until you’ve wired the entire tree. Only now you can start bending the wired branches carefully into the shape you desire. Again, do not try to change the branches’ main shape too violently.

STEP 3: BONSAI CARE

Bonsai trees are often thought to be very hard to care for. Though Bonsai are a little more delicate when compared to the average indoor plant, some basic rules should enable anyone to take care of its tree. Most importantly are watering, fertilization and choosing the right position to put it.

WATERING BONSAI

How often Bonsai need to be watered depends on a wide range of factors, including tree species, size and climate. Do not water your Bonsai every day or every two days, instead, monitor your tree carefully and water it once the soil gets slightly dry; it should be damp. When watering, do it thoroughly though.

FERTILIZING BONSAI

As Bonsai trees are generally potted in small pots regular fertilization is required to replenish nutrients that are essential to the tree. Using a special ‘Bonsai fertilizer’ can be convenient, but any fertilizer will do (be careful not to use too much though!). Follow the instructions as stated on the fertilizer’s packaging regarding to quantity and timing.

POSITION

Deciding on the right place to put your Bonsai tree is crucial to its wellbeing. First make sure that indoor Bonsai are placed in a warm environment, while outdoor trees (although depending on species of trees) generally resist much lower temperatures and should be placed outside. Next, most species of trees prefer a bright spot, normally without too much direct sunlight.

CONCLUSION

This article described some basic techniques on how to grow Bonsai trees and should enable you to get started with this amazing hobby. For more advanced techniques as well as for examples try to buy a good book or Google for Bonsai websites!

Author: Oscar Jonker webmaster of Bonsai Empire (www.bonsaiempire.com)

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