A successful bonsai is the product of careful care and shaping. It is an art form which requires a great deal of attention to the growing form of the tree and recognizing the similarities to its full-sized counterpart. Subtle manipulation of the plant and pruning is required. The goal is to achieve “keisho-sodai“, which literally means “small size, great similarity”. This is the desired result of good bonsai artistry.
There are several points to consider when working with your bonsai. In the beginning, it is important to develop a sturdy foundation. Proper root and trunk growth is critical to a successful, healthy bonsai. From there, attention can begin to focus on the limbs. When working with the branches of your bonsai, you will do two basic things, wiring and pruning. Wiring helps mold the form of the developing tree into the desired mature form. Pruning, meanwhile, allows you to manipulate the growth and refine the form of branches and leaves. Individual focus is placed on the pruning of branches, buds and leaves.
Choosing what to allow to grow naturally and what to change requires some basic knowledge of plant physiology. This allows you to predict how your plant will grow and make successful alterations as needed. In addition, an understanding of the species of tree you are growing is necessary. The two major classifications of trees are deciduous and coniferous, and some of your bonsai care differs between the two types. Knowing the exact species is also important so you understand the basic form you are trying to achieve.
The roots of the bonsai are composed of the exposed surface roots and the underground root structure. The external roots are called the nebari. Cultivating a proper nebari is crucial to proper bonsai growth and appearance. If working with an older plant, you will have to take special steps to restructure the nebari if it did not originally grow in a proper fashion. Subsurface roots will need to be pruned for optimal root growth.
Once the root structure and nebari are adequately developed, focus can shift to creating a powerful trunk. The trunk should be characteristic of its full-sized counterpart, keeping with the goal of keisho-sodai. Several qualities are essential to good trunk formation, and careful crafting will aid in forming the ideal trunk. The two elements of trunk development that are most important to consider are the trunk’s kokejun and tachiagari.
Wiring allows you to control the growth of your maturing tree. Wires are wrapped around the developing trunk and branches to guide their growth into the desired shape. Wiring can begin once the roots of the tree have been established and the trunk is beginning to grow. It is an ongoing process that is done in stages and with multiple branches.
Pruning is the process of cutting away unnecessary growth on the bonsai. Branches, buds and leaves are pruned. This controls the progress of the bonsai’s development, allowing you to mold the developing tree as needed and later maintain its mature form. Branch pruning is especially essential to creating and preserving the bonsai’s form.
Bud pruning is often done in conjunction with branch pruning. Like with branch pruning, it is done when working with a developed tree. Both aim to harmonize and perfect the final form of the bonsai. Sometimes bud pruning is preferable to branch pruning. Consider the benefits and drawbacks of both before choosing what to prune.
While bud pruning is predominantly performed on coniferous trees, leaf pruning is mostly used on deciduous trees. Pruning the leaves offers several benefits. It improves sunlight penetration and ventilation to the emerging buds and smaller branches and leaves, which encourages and accelerates growth. Leaf turnover can be rapid, which can aid in recovering from pest infestation. Leaf pruning also aids in branch and bud pruning, allowing better visualization of the tree’s trunk and limb.
All of the efforts involved in creating a bonsai rely on a basic understanding of plant physiology. You need to understand how a plant grows and the factors which affect that growth in order to shape your tree as desired. The art of bonsai is creating a pleasing balance of form. The science of bonsai is the physiology of shaping.