Bonsai is the ancient art of growing and maintaining miniature trees. The growth of the trees is stunted using various techniques that include pruning and wiring.
The word “bonsai” consists of two Japanese words, bon meaning shallow container or tray, and sai, meaning a plant or planting. Whilst bonsai has been practiced in several east Asian countries for centuries, it has been held in most prominence in Japan.
The art of bonsai is complicated if done right, but for enthusiasts, is a deeply relaxing and rewarding past time. I spoke to Mariquinha Kara, a bonsai enthusiast with 20 years experience and over sixty trees in her garden in Greendale. The trees pictured are all her work.
“Bonsai is a discipline, requiring years of dedication and practice to achieve worthwhile results. It requires commitment and enthusiasm. You will discover that you achieve better designs as your expertise increases,” says Kara.
So where does one begin? If you wish to start bonsai as a hobby, it is recommended that you obtain a few trees of different ages. Try to get some starter trees and always try to buy a few mature bonsai trees so that you get the idea of what you are trying to achieve with the younger trees.
There are five essential elements to note when caring for your bonsai. These are watering, placement, fertilizing, re-potting, pruning and disease.
There’s no specific schedule or routine for watering a bonsai. The best way to know how often you should water is to constantly check the soil which should never be completely dry. Try to keep it moist and wet but be careful not to overwater it because this can harm roots. If the leaves of the tree start to turn yellow, you could be overwatering it.
Caring for your bonsai also includes finding a nice spot for it. Some miniature trees need at least some direct sunlight on them, others not too much.
Fertilizers are another important component of caring for your bonsai tree. A general multi-purpose fertilizer should be used and applied by hand to each tree. Small amounts frequently are better than over-doing it as too much can cause leaf burn. Fertilizer must be applied to damp soil. For best results, apply immediately after watering.
When you grow a bonsai, there’ll be a point when you will have to think about taking it from an old pot to a new one. This is called re-potting. Different species of trees have different re-potting periods, ranging from two to five years. To re-pot, soak the tree in a tub of water. Now remove the plant from the pot and take away all the soil from the roots without damaging them. Examine the plant carefully, removing any diseased portions. Always prune the roots according to how they will fit into the new pot to be used.
Pruning is important for shaping your miniature tree. You must prune it constantly to form a design and to keep it looking the way you want it to look.
Just like full size trees, bonsais can be affected by pests and disease, although some creatures such as worms can be of benefit. If you have many bonsai and one gets infected with a fungus or virus, make sure you separate it from the other trees.
Horticulturist Andrew Mangwarara adds, “Only a few people are able to grow bonsai due to the nature of bonsai care. It requires daily attention. Growing bonsai requires skill, and the patience to learn potting, pruning, the selection of trees and feeding. Few nurseries also sell these special trees because they are difficult to produce and usually take many years for a finished bonsai. The older the tree, the more valuable it is.” And indeed this is true. One bonsai, that is centuries old, was recently sold for $1.3 million at a bonsai convention in Japan.
Image Credit: Graham van der Ruit