Bonsai dish gardens can be an enriching experience. It is relatively simple to get started creating a bonsai dish garden with the right tree and right technique.
Step 1: Research Bonsai Tree Species
There are many species of trees and shrubs suitable for use in a bonsai dish garden. However, not all species make great bonsai. Good bonsai candidates have small leaves and can survive a lot of pruning. The following list shows just a small sample of trees you could use:
- Trident maple
- Japanese maple
- Fukien tea tree
Step 2: Choosing a Bonsai for Your Climate
When selecting a tree, several things must be taken in account. It is important to choose a tree that will thrive in your climate. If you don’t pick a tree that can handle the cold or heat and humidity of your land, the tree will either die, or it will be expensive to keep alive. Do research on your desired tree species to make sure it will handle the weather in your area.
Step 3: Choosing a Style
Another aspect to consider is what style of bonsai you would like to have. This is important to know beforehand, since only certain species of trees and shrubs can handle certain bonsai styles. There are many different styles to choose from, so research what each style looks like to find which one you like best. A list of five common styles is as follows:
- Formal Upright
- Informal Upright
- Semi cascade
Step 4: Considering Soil
Bonsai trees need a special soil in order to thrive. This soil must retain water well but also allow quick drainage of excess water. Air is important for bonsai and its roots, so soil with good aeration is crucial. A mixture of organic and inorganic soil is usually best for bonsai. A few good inorganic bonsai soil choices include the following:
- Fired clay
- Cat litter
For the organic soil, composted bark or peat are good candidates.
Step 5: Buying What You Need
Once you have decided what species of tree or shrub you would like to purchase, there are a variety of places you can buy them from. A special bonsai nursery would be a good place to get your tree, but any regular plant nursery will do. Akadama can usually be bought at bonsai nurseries, but cat litter and fired clay are more readily available. As for the dish in your dish garden, you can buy any shallow container, preferably ceramic, that is large enough for the bonsai’s roots. Buying a container with drainage holes is more convenient. Additional decorations for your garden may also be bought as well as the tools needed for pruning and shaping.
Step 6: Planting Your Bonsai in the Dish Garden
It is important to cover the drainage holes in your dish with wire mesh in order to keep the soil from spilling out. Before you cover these holes, make sure to thread wire through them to shape the bonsai. When this is done, place a layer of the inorganic soil on the pot. Afterwards, place a layer of organic soil on top of it. Once the dish is ready, take your bonsai and cut the roots to the desired length in order to fit it into your dish. When trimming the roots, it is important not to cut them too much, or the tree could die. Use one of the wires that you threaded through the pot to tie down the root system and keep it in place. Pour the rest of your soil mix on top of the roots, covering them.
Step 7: Pruning and Shaping Your Bonsai
Initial pruning can be more easily done before insertion into your dish. Just a few possible tools for pruning and shaping are:
- Wire cutters
- Small shears
In order to get the desired shape for your bonsai, proper pruning must be done. Wiring your tree to grow in a certain manner is one way to achieve your desired shape. Copper and aluminum wire are both commonly used. Copper is stronger but has a higher chance of scarring your bonsai. Aluminum is weaker but safer. Wrapping the wire around the trunk or branches, you can shape them by gently bending the tree with the wire. In order to thicken the trunk of your bonsai for a more authentic look, you must prune all branches but the ones right above the thinner part of the trunk. This will cause more nutrients to flow and therefore make the trunk thicker. As for the branches and leaves, you can prune any weak or dead growth, and take off the branches near the bottom of the trunk. Pruning the leaves and branches allows you to shape, position, and give the look you want to your bonsai. Depending on what style you have chosen to shape your bonsai, your pruning methods will vary accordingly.
Step 8: Decorating
In order to give the feel of a landscape or garden for you dish, adding small grass, moss, shells, or rocks can give character to your dish garden. Decorative pieces can be added as well. Whatever you feel will give life and beauty to your garden can be added as long as it does not interfere with the bonsai’s health.
Step 9: Maintaining Your Dish Garden
In order to keep your bonsai dish garden healthy and robust, proper nutrition and sunlight are integral. For your bonsai’s nutritional needs, fertilizer pellets or foliar spray are both good choices. When watering your bonsai, a spray bottle works well. Water your bonsai until you see excess water seeping out of the bonsai pot’s drainage hole. Don’t water your bonsai too frequently, or you could kill it. Make sure the soil is dry on the top before watering. Lastly, your bonsai dish garden will need the proper amount of sunlight for optimum health.