Bonsai for Beginners

In News and Tips, Tips by Charlie Cole

“Bonsai is not a race, nor is it a destination. It is a never-ending journey.”

Don’t let the fact that ‘bon-sai’ is an art studied and refined for many centuries scare you off, because you are perfectly capable to learn how to grow Bonsai trees without green thumbs. Make sure to pick the right tree species for your surroundings and stick to the basic care guidelines.

Basics of Bonsai Aesthetics

Several aesthetic principles have been passed down through the ages, suggesting what’s attractive and what’s not. The most general principles focus on:

  • Form: The general shape or silhouette of the plant; usually an asymmetrical triangle with the leaves pointing upward.
  • Balance: Location of branches and foliage and location of the plant in its pot, avoiding perfectly symmetrical proportions in favor of natural proportions inspired by the golden ratio.
  • Proportion: Relationship of the elements to each other.
  • Line: How the apex (the tip) relates to the trunk.
  • Details: We’ve added this one ourselves in order to group several of the smaller things that make a nice bonsai. These elements include the size of the leaves, exposed roots or nebari, and how the base of the plant has been decorated.

Step 1 – Pick a Plant

Fall is the perfect time to shop the garden center and nursery for great starter plants for bonsai. While there are plenty of plants to choose from, (including many houseplant varieties), you might want to stick to evergreens such as:

  • Junipers
  • Pine
  • Yew

Look for plants in two gallon pots or smaller as these will be the easiest to handle. You might also check out our greenhouse for:

  • Ficus
  • Azalea (florist)
  • Schefflera
  • Jade

Step 2 – Shaping and Styling Techniques

Let’s begin with the single most important technique to Bonsai; pruning. Pruning is crucial in keeping trees miniaturized as well as to shape them. The goal is to create a Bonsai that resembles nature as close as possible. The spring and summer are the seasons to proceed with significant pruning; though this will depend on the type of tree you have. Make sure to buy a good concave cutter when pruning thick branches. The hollow wounds these cutters leave behind heal much better than normal cutters would.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but it’s not a bad idea to study from the masters. Most styling is going to occur through selective pruning and trimming as well as wiring techniques. Here are some of the more traditional forms:

  • Formal Upright or Chokkan: A perfectly straight, upright trunk.
  • Informal Upright or Moyogi: The trunk may have a curve or slight slant.
  • Slanting or Shakan: A more severe curve, with the apex extending outside of pot.
  • Windswept or Fukinagashi: Similar to slanted but all branches and leaves look like they’re being blown to one side by the wind.
  • Cascade or Kengai: The trunk grows upward with an abrupt turn downward, sometimes extending far below the pot.
  • Semi-Cascade or Han-kengai: A trunk that grows upward then cascades slightly lower than the top surface of the pot.

Step 3 – Care & Maintenance

A crucial part of information about how to grow a Bonsai tree is its maintenance and care.

How often Bonsai trees need to be watered depends on a wide range of factors, including species of tree, pot-size, soil and climate. Over-watering can result in root-rot, one of the most common causes of death. However, as Bonsai are planted in such small pots they also tend to dry up very easily. Choosing the right soil mixture and re-potting regularly (on average every two years, to make sure the trees don’t become pot-bound, making it hard to soak up and store water) is crucial to keep your tree healthy. An important rule for watering is to check frequently on your tree (instead of simply watering it once per day), and when watering to do this thoroughly (to make sure the soil absorbs the water properly).

Besides watering and repotting, fertilization is another important thing to keep in mind. Since the trees are put in small pots, with few space and nutrients available, fertilizing regularly in the tree’s growth season is key to keep it healthy. Again, it depends on the tree species when, how much and how often it needs to be fertilized. The brand or type of fertilizer (fluid or solid) doesn’t matter all that much, as long as you make sure to apply smaller quantities than normal plants would require.

Step 4 – Placement

Finally, placing an outdoor tree inside (or vice versa) is a sure way to kill it. Before buying (or cultivating) a Bonsai, think where you like to place it! Sub-tropical trees generally need much light and relatively high temperatures and can only live outside if you live in a warm enough climate; these trees will do perfectly fine indoors though. In case you prefer an outdoor tree, a safe bet is to choose a tree that is indigenous to your environment. In case winters get very cold some additional protection from frost is required, since a Bonsai is put in a small pot.

Much of the information in this blog post is from: https://www.bonsaiempire.com/basics

For more information on pruning and wiring please watch this video…