No one seems to give much thought to bonsai trees. They make great decorations, and everyone agrees that miniature versions of almost anything are cuter and more interesting than their full-sized counterparts, but very few people understand how they are created.
Growing bonsai trees can be a very fun, relaxing, and even a profitable hobby, if you are patient. Few people know that bonsai trees can grow to be large trees, simply because a bonsai tree is not a specific kind of plant. Bonsai trees are normal trees that are trained and pruned. It takes a person with a certain amount of horticultural skill to be able to create bonsai trees that you see in stores; however, learning to grow bonsai trees is quite easy.
Considerations Before Growing
If you buy a bonsai tree at the store, it can be quite expensive. Fully grown and fully trained bonsai trees can cost as much as a few thousand dollars. To achieve a gnarled and fully grown look most bonsai trees have requires several decades of training and pruning, thus skyrocketing the cost for their care and creation.
Do your best to remember that although you can plant the tree outdoors if you tire of it, the tree will need almost monthly maintenance to keep it small. Bonsai trees rely on the continuous clipping of both their branches and root system. This allows the tree to seem to never grow, while never dying.
The best trees for bonsai trees are ones who leaves never fall, otherwise, you may be left with a barren twig in a pot for 3-4 month. Avoid the fast-growing varieties of evergreens as well, unless you are a dedicated pruner. Even so, many of these may not be sturdy enough to become a bonsai tree. In fact, one of the best trees for beginners to use as a bonsai is a bay leaf tree. These are best kept small and serve a useful function.
Gathering the materials needed to grow your own bonsai tree is not difficult. If you can find a genuine bonsai pot, it will give a more authentic feel. If not, choose a shallow dish that either has holes or that you can easily drill holes into. Good drainage is essential to a healthy tree. This should be lined with a coco fiber mat, cheesecloth, or something else that will prevent anything from falling out of the drainage holes.
Small river stones or aquarium stones is next on the list. You need enough to add a small layer over the fiber to ensure proper drainage. Over this you will put a mixture of 50% potting soil or coco fiber and 50% vermiculite, but this will be added once the tree is in place.
Planting The Tree
Once you have prepared the pot you will need to prepare the tree. The best way to do this is to find a heavy-duty wire that will keep its shape while still being able to bend. You will use this to wrap around the tree and fix it into place. Leave at least a few feet of wire at the base of the tree. Experiment with anchoring the tree, it does not need to be straight up. If you want to train the tree to a certain shape, anchor it so it faces the bottommost direction.
Wrapping the entire plant in wire also helps it to retain its shape when it starts to grow. Likewise, you can train any new growth to conform to the shape of your existing branches using wire. Just be sure not to use too much force or you will damage the tree.
After you have positioned the tree, use the wire at the base of the tree to wrap around the pot. This will help the tree stay upright until it is able to on its own, and prevents the tree from changing its direction of growth.
Once the tree in anchored to the pot, you can add the aforementioned potting soil mix. For a more decorative touch, cover the potting soil with sphagnum moss and a few large sandstones.
When the tree is planted, you must continually prune the tree to maintain its small stature. Immediately trim off the largest leaves once it is planted and water the soil. You may want to use wire to bind the branches into a certain shape. Just remember to never exert excessive force on the tree, because stress on the tree is likely to cause a rupture in the trunk later. Just the same, do not trim the branches without covering the exposed flesh of the tree, or else you may kill the tree.
Caring For Bonsai Trees
For a bonsai tree to develop the typical thick trunk and branches takes almost a decade. However, bonsai trees can be kept in a pot indefinitely, as long as they are properly cared for.
Bonsai trees need to be kept in their native environment. For most, this means to keep the tree inside where it is warm. Should you live in a warmer climate, it may be okay to leave the tree outside. Bonsai trees also need plenty of light. They may start to die after a few days of little to no light. The shallow root system means they depend on photosynthesis for all their food. Likewise, you should never allow the root system to dry out.
After a decade, the tree will not need as much training, and you should be able to remove the wire. The tree will be used to growing in such a way and will continue. Pruning will still be needed, of course, but the overall shape should stay the same.
Just as you trim the branches, you will need to trim any roots you see growing outside of the pot. The main reason for a shallow pot is not purely aesthetics. It places a limitation on root growth, which helps to keep the tree small. Any gardener will tell you that a tree is basically a mirror reflection of itself underground. If it has big branches, it will have big roots, while small roots mean small branches. Trimming will create no lasting harm on the plant, and will make its potting circumstances more livable.
Caring for and shaping a bonsai tree is an age-old method of relaxation and meditation. As most bonsai pots suggest, the practice came from the East, in Asia, and was picked up by Westerners. Some consider it a form of Zen gardening, while others are just interested in the “cute” aspect of bonsai trees. Whichever the case, it is a living, breathing plant and needs to be cared for or else it will die. Who knows? With practice you may be able to create your own bonsai forest within your house.