Starting Your Own Bonsai Tree
The word bonsai surprisingly does not come from the species of tree you grow but from the way you grow it. Bonsai is considered by many to be a modern art form with ancient roots that can be both fun and relaxing. You will find that working with your bonsai will help to calm you. With these simple instructions you can start on your own today.
First, you want to gather all the items you need to make your bonsai tree. It’s great to have all the tools you need right at your fingertips, especially with a hobby like bonsai! Here is a list of what you will need.
(Please note: this list does not include the bonsai cutting, which we will cover later.)
A small pot: for aesthetic purposes, you will want to get a square or triangle pot, though any small pot will work.
Pruning tools: a small set of garden shears or heavy-duty scissors work well.
Aluminium or copper wire: you may want clamps for more severe manipulation of branches.
A sharp knife or scalpel: techniques known as “deadwood”
Rooting hormone: preferably the gel formulation. Note: if you collect your own cutting, you will need this
Selecting Your Specimen
One assumption that some new bonsai enthusiasts make is that you can just plant a tree in a small container and train it into a bonsai. While this is possible, it is not very practical. It would take ages just for the tree to get to the stage where it looks old, which is a major characteristic in bonsai.
There are basically two ways to get a good specimen to work with:
1. Collect your specimen yourself from nature in your local area. That way it will have the growth specifications you need to grow it successfully in your climate. You wouldn’t want to grow a Japanese bonsai species in Minnesota due to the drastic difference in climate. The downside is you will have to use the rooting hormone and let it take root, which adds to the failure rate.
2. You could buy a good cutting from a local nursery. This is considered the best option for most growers. The reason it is preferable is the large selection of different specimens at one location; you can just look over them and pick whatever matches your vision of how you would like your bonsai tree to look. You’re the artist, so if you see something that draws your eye, go for it!
Now that you have your specimen that has taken root in a small pot, you must be diligent in your maintenance. Since the tree is in such a small pot it is very important to water it often. You do not want your soil to dry out. With such a small root system, the tree can easily and quickly suffer from under-watering. You will want to research your specific bonsai species for exact watering requirements and adapt them so that you keep the soil perfect at all times. You will also want to find the best mix of organic nutrients for your species. Depending on your climate, you can place the tree outdoors in the right weather as long as it receives the right amount of light for the specific species. Otherwise, you will just want to keep it indoors and monitor its light intake.
In bonsai, there is a wide range of techniques applied in order to shape your tree to make it look how you want. This is the fun part, where your artistic side will shine. If you want to make a traditional Japanese bonsai, keep in mind the number one rule: when displaying, you never want to leave anything that shows human intervention. If you must keep a tie down on a branch, please be sure to carefully disguise it.
These techniques consist of pruning (both branches and roots), leaf trimming, wiring, clamping and grafting. You will want to trim all of the larger leaves and branches that are too large to properly train to your liking. When you do trim branches try your best to cut close to the main trunk of the tree and make it look natural. Remember, with time almost all things will heal and with a little bit of imagination you can make it heal to look natural. After you have it in a small pot and have pruned it and kept it healthy it will begin its life cycle as a miniature version of its species. This is a hobby that takes time, but with diligence you can feel at peace just by looking at your beautiful bonsai tree.
Once it is healthy and well-adjusted to its new life as a bonsai tree, you will want to start training the branches according to your style and the traditional Japanese guidelines on bonsai. One great traditional method is to make sure the tree is not symmetrical. For this, wiring and clamping is used. When using these tools for training, you will want to protect it from damage by using cloth or cardboard as a protective barrier where the wire or clamp touches the actual tree. Remember, you do not want it to leave a scar showing you tied it down; you want it to look completely natural.
One advanced method of training is grafting. This is where a clipping from another species of tree is inserted into a special shaped slit on the host bonsai. For example, you find a species with roots that have desirable growth qualities, but you are not happy with the foliage. You can have the roots of one tree support the branches of another!
Bonsai: A Lifelong Hobby
With proper care and patience, you will have a bonsai tree that will be a delight to have around the house, and a good conversation piece. You will be surprised how proud you will become of your bonsai tree. And the good thing is you can keep it forever!