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10 Neat Things About Bonsai
by Dorothy Dobbie
September 28, 2014

1. Man knows more than nature.

In the Japanese book, The Tale of the Hollow Tree, written in 970 AD, the author said, "A tree that is left growing in its natural state is a crude thing. It is only when it is kept close to human beings who fashion it with loving care that its shape and style acquire the ability to move one."

2. The Chinese did it first.

As with many things from the East, the Chinese originated bonsai, which they called "penzai", to create pleasure for the viewer and a pleasant exercise for the grower. The Japanese, as with many things from the east, adopted the practice and improved on it.

3. We did it my way.

Both the Chinese and the Japanese traditions are highly stylized and prescriptive. So it is with bonsai. There are a limited number of recommended styles that include upright, semi-upright, slanting, cascade, semi cascade, split trunk, weeping, raft, litarati, group forest, windswept and driftwood.

4. The root of the matter.

Training a tree or shrub to stay miniature takes times and patience. Not only is it necessary to prune branches and leaves, it is critical to do the same to the roots. And whenever you heavily prune one, you must equally prune the other. This also stimulates growth of the fine feeder roots hairs that keep the plants nourished. Root bound plants will show signs of chlorosis no matter how much you fertilize.

5. A likely specimen.

Not every tree or shrubs makes a good candidate for bonsai, although both deciduous and evergreen woody plants can be used. Look for plants with small leaves or needles.

6. Haircut times.

Early spring and late fall are the prime pruning times for newbies. You are looking for periods when the temperatures are low - below 55 degree F for temperate plants when growth is slow.

7. Once a year or more?

Some plants require more pruning than others. Crabapples, cherries, apples, plums all demand annual root pruning and repotting. Willows may require attention twice a year. Large pines, cedar and spruce may not need any work for five to 10 years.

8. Like raising a baby.

Bonsai is not for the casual gardener. It takes loving care and attention to detail. Bonsai plants need regular watering, regular repotting, careful fertilizing, special pruning and other tools, including wires, clamps, and pruners, as well as special pots with big drainage holes or platforms such as rocks or faux rocks that can hold mounded soil - of course, choosing these is all part of the fun.

9. The dark days of November, December, January.

Winter is not the friend of the indoor bonsai artist. It is a tough time for plants and their human planters. First, it is dark and secondly houses tend to be very dry, a killer for delicate evergreens. Do you have a cold, but not freezing place to over winter your pet plants?

10. You don't care and you still want to do this?

That's the spirit! So here's how you get started. Choose a likely candidate, maybe a stunted tree from the nursery in late fall. Begin by combing out the roots and pruning, bit by bit, maybe over years, larger thicker roots, but not too much at a time. Do the same with the top growth. step by step.

- Dorothy Dobbie Copyright© Pegasus Publications Inc

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