Looking for a way to enjoy the rewarding feeling of gardening while staying comfortably indoors? There are many available options when it comes to indoor gardening but one of the most artistic, delicate and intricate is the Japanese practice of Bonsai.
In this article, we’ll take a little look at bonsai, how it works and how you can get started if you’re interested.
What is Bonsai?
Bonsai is the process of maintaining small potted trees, which are often carefully pruned for aesthetic pursuit. Bonsai is a Japanese art but comes from the Chinese “Penjing” which is the creation of potted scenery – small creations including tiny trees and rocks in artistic arrangements.
Growing bonsai trees is a highly delicate and intricate process and they will require a lot of your care and attention. Naturally, trees are designed to grow much larger with huge, sprawling root systems. Thus, it doesn’t take much to kill a small dwarf tree living in such a claustrophobic environment. Anything from a slight change in temperature to over pruning can be lethal for these trees.
At the same time though, bonsai trees have the potential to be highly beautiful and incredibly calming. Their small size makes them perfect as gifts and perhaps more so than many other kinds of indoor gardening, it can really feel as though you are bringing the outdoors inside when you have a beautiful bonsai on your desktop.
The History of Bonsai
The history of bonsai can be traced back to the 6th Century when Japanese Buddhist students would visit China and return carrying âcontainer plantingsâ as souvenirs. Around the same time, the Japanese were also beginning to take interest in the historical practice of Shosoin which was a small and elaborate tree display comprised of a wooden tray with carved mountains. The small trees could then be placed into the sand to make a table-top landscape.
A similar practice was referenced in the 970 book Ustubo Monogatari (The Tale of the Hollow Tree). We then begin to see paintings of more traditional looking bonsai trees in hand-scroll paintings during the Medieval period. The poem Bonseki no Fu would then outline the aesthetic guidelines for bonsai in 1300 but it wasnât until the 19th century - often referred to as the “classical period” that the word “bonsaiâ” was first used. In 1921, the first issue of “Bonsai Magazine” was printed and following World War 2 the practice began to spread to the West where it also gained popularity.
Several decades later, you read this article and decided to give bonsai a try yourself!
Getting Started With Your First Bonsai
So how do you get started with your first bonsai tree?
The first step is to choose the type of tree you want to grow. This is an important point, as it will ultimately impact quite strongly on your chances of success. For absolute beginners, the juniper is a particularly hardy evergreen that can take a little more punishment than some other choices.
The next step is propagation. This is the point where you begin growing your bonsai. To do this, you will likely take a cutting from the tree â such as a small branch â and will then plant it. This is quicker than planting a seed and results in a more “aged” looking bonsai for more dramatic effect.
Another option is to use a technique called layering. Here, you simply encourage the branch of another living tree to take root in the soil it is in and then detach it when it is capable of surviving on its own.
To do this though, you will of course need to choose a pot. Do this carefully, because the type of pot you choose will ultimately impact on the shape of the tree. Popular shapes for bonsai trees include the “literati form” which is long and narrow, or the “cascade” which billows over the edge of the pot. The cascade requires a deep pot, whereas the literati requires a shallow pop. The “informal upright” meanwhile is a more chaotic and random upright potted tree and requires a medium pot.
Care and Maintenance
Once your bonsai is planted and starting to grow, you will then be tasked with caring for it. This involves styling, which in turn means pruning and leaf trimming. This is what will turn your plant specimen into a potential bonsai tree and itâs also what will help to keep it small. Wiring involves the use of narrow wire wrapped around the branches and trunks which will encourage the tree to grow into particular shapes.
While styling you will also need to care for your tree, which is the part most similar to other types of indoor gardening. Of course maintaining a bonsai tree is much more difficult than maintaining a houseplant however due to the restriction of the small pot.
Depending on the species of tree you are growing, the requirements will vary somewhat. However, you will need to make sure you stay on top of:
- Soiling - bonsai need a fair amount of soil to encourage the growth of their roots
- Insulating – the shallow soil leaves the roots subject to small fluctuations in temperature which can be devastating. Insulating the roots can help to prevent this.
- Fertilizing – fertilization options vary as with any type of gardening. You can pick from organic fertilizers and chemicals.
- Pest control – natural pesticides can be used to prevent your tree from becoming diseased
- Providing light – You need to ensure that your bonsai is getting a lot of natural and direct light
Finally, you should look into using the following tools to aid with your care, maintenance and pruning:
- Leaf cutter
- Specialist soils
- Leaf cutter
- Cutter for pruning larger branches
- Turn table â for reaching your tree from every angle
- Anodized aluminum wire or annealed copper wire for shaping
- Trunk benders
- Rakes for the soil
All that should have covered the basics and you should now have a good idea of how to jump in and get started with your first bonsai tree. You wonât really know though until you jump in and give it a go. So what are you waiting for?