Bonsai is an art that creates miniature trees from regular, full-growing trees. It is regarded as one of the most beautiful art forms. Creating a bonsai tree is a combination of artistic skills, a good eye for detail and balance and patience. If someone would ask “How to make a bonsai tree?” it would be a bit challenging to answer. It is not simply making a bonsai tree but creating an art that has been defined for centuries.
The word bonsai actually does not come from the tree you want to grow but from the way you grow the tree. The talent, skills, and passion of a bonsai master allow him to make a variety of bonsai trees. A bonsai is also a form of relaxation and meditation. You will find that working with your bonsai will help calm you. And with these instructions, you will be able to learn the basics of creating bonsai. It’s entirely up to you to refine your skills as a bonsai grower and enthusiast.
What you need to follow this tutorial
Gather all the items you need to create your bonsai tree. You must have all the tools you need right at your fingertips. It’s also important to use quality tools and materials. Here is a list of what you will need.
- Bonsai plant
- Bonsai plants or bonsai trees are available in most bonsai nurseries and also from online stores. There are a variety of trees that can be made into bonsai and the key is to understand how trees grow and how to take care of these trees as well.
- Bonsai Pot
- You need the right kind of pot to grow your bonsai. Traditional pots may be plain, may be wide with a circular, triangular or rectangular shape. It must have adequate drainage to remove excess water and fertilizer to drain away from the roots.
- Bonsai potting soil
- Potting soil that is perfect for bonsai growing is available from garden stores and bonsai nurseries locally and online. Potting soil is usually soil that has good nutrient and water absorption properties. You need soil with good aeration. You need soil that can retain water and nutrients and drain the excess.
- You must improve the drainage and aeration properties of your soil by using aggregate materials. These are small pieces of rocks and materials that are placed at the bottom of the pot. These will let excess water to drain and will let oxygen enter the soil. You can purchase aggregate materials from local garden shops or from bonsai nurseries as well.
- You must use clean and safe water on your bonsai plants. You may use rainwater or tap water but this has to be clean water which won’t pose any risk to your bonsai plants. Have your water tested for quality and safety before watering this on your bonsai if you are unsure.
- Balanced fertilizer
- Your bonsai should be fed balanced fertilizer to recuperate. On the other hand, some trees need specific fertilizer formulas. You can purchase this type of fertilizer from bonsai nurseries, garden shops, and garden centers.
- Pruning shears
- Pruning shears will let you prune and trim your bonsai depending on the style you wish to achieve. There are many kinds of pruning shears but always use clean or sanitized shears to stop the spread of disease or molds from one area of the plant to another.
- You need the ideal wire to train your bonsai to the style you want. Wires come in a variety but only two are commonly used: aluminum and annealed copper. Aluminum wires are for bonsai with young branches while strong annealed copper is for older and thicker branches and trunks. Wires are also available in different gauges from as thin as 1 mm to 4 mm thick.
- You need a good pair of pliers to cut the wire and to remove it after training is over. A good pair of pliers is also needed to trim tough roots, branches, and trunks, especially on mature trees.
Step by step instructions
1) Selecting the tree that you want to make into a bonsai
Now you can’t simply plant a tree and make it into a bonsai. You need good skills and a lot of patience to be able to grow and cultivate a bonsai tree. And although almost all trees may be grown into bonsai, you must pick the right one that’s right for your skill level and the environment you are in.
If you are new to growing bonsai then there are a few easygoing trees to grow. The environment you are in also affects the kind of tree that you will grow. Consider that some trees will grow well in an environment that has wintertime while some are tropical trees. There are two ways to get a good specimen to work with:
- Collect your specimen from nature in your local area
Collecting tree specimen from where you are will make it easier to grow bonsai. This way your trees will have the growth specifications to grow successfully in your climate.
There are bonsai growers who still persist in growing bonsai from trees that are not found locally. However, the downside is you will have to use rooting hormone and let it take root, which will add to the failure rate.
- Purchase good cutting from a local nursery
This is considered the best option, especially for first-time growers. The reason it is the best way to start making bonsai is the large selection of different specimens at one shop. All you need is to look at them and pick whatever matches the design of the bonsai tree you wish to grow.
2) Caring for your bonsai
Now that you have your bonsai specimen in a small pot, you must be diligent in your bonsai maintenance. Take note, one of the most important things that you need to consider is that bonsai trees grow in a small pot with only a small amount of soil to hold. Therefore, bonsai trees get the only limited amount of nutrients. This is one of the reasons why you need to re-pot, replace the soil, feed and water your bonsai more often.
With such a small root system, the tree can easily and quickly suffer from under-watering. A few bonsai care tips you need to remember
- You must research bonsai species for exact watering, feeding and re-potting requirements and adapt them to maintain the best watering regimen for your bonsai.
- Look for the best mixture of organic nutrients for your species.
- You can place your bonsai tree indoors or outdoors in the right weather as long as it receives the right amount of light that is specific for the tree species.
- Use the best soil for growing bonsai
- Every type of tree has its own specific soil requirements. It’s important that you understand these so you can provide the ideal soil to grow your bonsai tree. Most growers use sandy loamy soil. This type of soil is perfect for growing most plants because this can hold nutrients and water plus can drain excess soil and water. Sandy loamy soil can also improve aeration so oxygen will flow through the soil to the roots.
- Add a layer of aggregates to properly drain your soil
- Aggregates could be sand, pebbles or any small natural material that can improve soil aeration and drainage. This should be placed inside the pot as the first layer to be followed by bonsai potting soil.
- Water your plants according to their watering needs
- Some bonsai trees can tolerate dry environments while some would like moist soils. But no matter what, you must never water when the soil is moist to risk developing root rot or mold growth in the roots. Water only with clean water, whether you use rainwater or tap water. If you are in doubt, you can have your water tested before using this on your bonsai.
- Re-pot your bonsai according to the ideal re-potting schedule for the tree species. Generally, fast-growing trees need to be re-potted at least yearly to make up for the growth of the roots. Slow-growing trees should be re-potted at least two to three years.
- Replace the bonsai soil when you re-pot
- Never reuse soil when you re-pot. Always use new soil with fresh nutrients.
- Feed your plants with the right nutrients
As there is a wide variety of trees that you can turn into bonsai, the nutritional requirements of each one vary as well. This is where good research of the needs of the tree comes in very handy. You must look for the ideal fertilizer that will work best for your tree.
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The ideal fertilizer for most bonsai trees is a balanced N-P-K fertilizer. The letters stand for the most important nutrients that plants need: Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium. There are different formulations of N-P-K in a variety of fertilizer. You must identify the right combination of N-P-K that is right for your kind of tree.
Also, when it comes to feeding nutrients to your bonsai tree, you must always check the instructions provided by the manufacturer. Feeding is also scheduled. Some bonsai trees need regular, yearly fertilization while some monthly. Again, learning about the basic nutritional needs of your tree would be a good idea
3) Training your bonsai tree
In bonsai, there is a wide range of techniques applied to shape your tree to make it look how you want it to be. 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. The bonsai should look as if it naturally grew into the design. Therefore if you must keep a branch wired make sure to carefully disguise it.
Pruning branches and roots
Training techniques consist of pruning of branches and roots, leaf trimming, wiring, clamping, and grafting. Branch and root pruning are important because it will define the shape of your tree. Trimming branches will encourage new growth so you can shape it accordingly. On the other hand, trimming the roots will remove diseased roots, shape the root to fit a container or pot and to improve nutrient and water absorption. Trimming the roots and branches require years of practice but no doubt achievable. You also need the right tools to prune like a pair of pruning shears or scissors.
Pruning is also scheduled. Most of the time it is done when the tree is at its dormant stage like coniferous trees. But some trees may be pruned any time.
Trimming achieves the ideal shape of your tree. Trimming also encourages new growth of leaves and buds. Leaf structure is very important if you want to achieve a variety of shapes and styles. An example would be a windswept style wherein plumes of leaves only grow on one side of the tree. This shape is achieved by carefully trimming the leaves until you achieve the ideal shape.
Basically, you will want to trim all of the larger leaves and branches that are very large to properly train your tree to the ideal shape. When you trim branches try your best to cut close to the main trunk of the tree to make the cut look as natural as possible. As time goes by almost all things will heal and with a little bit of imagination, you can make any injury or mark look natural.
After you have your bonsai in a small pot and the tree is pruned keep it healthy it will begin its life cycle as a miniature version of the regular tree. This is a hobby that takes time, but with diligence, you can create lovely and healthy bonsai trees.
Wiring and clamping your bonsai tree
Once your tree is healthy and well-adjusted to its new life as a bonsai you must start training the branches according to your style as well as the traditional Japanese guidelines on bonsai. One traditional method is to make sure the tree is not symmetrical.
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To achieve this rule, you must wire and clamp your tree. When wiring and clamping your trees, you must protect it from damage by using cloth or cardboard as a protective material where the wire or clamp touches the actual tree branch. This will also avoid leaving a scar or mark on the branch because you want to make every aspect of your tree as natural as ever.
Types of wire used for bonsai trees
Bonsai wiring is done with either copper or aluminum wire. The wire must be at least 1/3 the diameter of the branch or trunk. Copper wire is more durable than aluminum and, because of that this wire can hold its form and stays in place. Copper wires can damage the branches and trunk if these are not carefully monitored. This can bruise or cut the plant as well. If you use copper wire, you should monitor the growth and condition of the wired branches and trunk regularly. On the other hand, aluminum wire is easier to use and manipulate. It may not be as sturdy as copper wire but will not hurt delicate bonsai tree branches. It is more forgiving especially for anyone new to wiring. Aluminum will require monitoring every two weeks.
Both beginners and professional bonsai artists use aluminum wire because of the greater ease of use. Both wires will accomplish good results but no matter what you use, you must monitor your plants regularly to ensure their good health.
When is the right time to wire?
Wiring should be when the tree is young and healthy to create the best results. Wiring is done when the plant has been re-potted. Choosing the right time to wire depends on the type of plant. The proper time to wire is also different between deciduous and coniferous trees.
Deciduous trees should be wired during the early spring. This is done when there are new buds on the limbs. Wiring at this stage of the tree will give the best appearance of the trunk and branches before the leaves and new growth emerge on the limbs. At this point, you will be able to the structure of the tree clearly and apply the wiring without new leaves and branches getting in the way of your project.
Coniferous trees should be wired in the late autumn or early winter. This is when coniferous trees renew their foliage annually so the limbs have a certain amount of foliage. Wiring is performed when the sap is lowest in the branches so the branches are more flexible and will respond well to wiring.
Do not wire a tree when it is sick. Do not wire weak branches because these could snap off. Provide well-balanced fertilizer to the tree and improving its strength before you start applying any mechanical training. Avoid wiring a plant that is freshly watered because it will hard to do so. The branches and limbs are most flexible when they are a bit dehydrated. Wiring when the limbs are less flexible will only lead to breakage and damage to the limbs.
How to Wire Bonsai Trees
You need a healthy, young plant and the ideal wire. Do not be in a hurry because you need to be very careful about wiring your delicate bonsai plant. As you apply the wire, hold the limb in both hands. Bend the wire to the branch and not the branch of the wire to avoid any injury.
Always start with the trunk and then move from the thickest branches to the thinnest ones. The key is to bend the wire from the trunk and outwards on the branches or from the trunk to the tip. When you start wiring, place yourself in a comfortable position to give you maximum control over your bonsai. You need to position this way so you can even wrap the wire.
Wrap the wire around the limbs of the tree at a 45-degree angle. This should be done like a “barber pole” style. The wire should form the limb and guide it according to the style you wish to achieve.
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Never wire the bonsai too tight because your plant is growing and needs space for its increasing size. The wires will be guiding the growth of the tree so you must never choke your tree as it develops.
You must anchor the branches to stabilize the part and prevent crossed wires or too much tension on the different limbs. Every time you start wiring, you must start with the trunk and have a strong foundation. This should be anchored on the soil or on a strong root. The tree should feel steady with a moderate amount of movement. Once you have a steady foundation, you can now start wiring the rest of your tree.
- Start wiring at a tight angle as the wire emerges from the ground.
- Wire at a 45-degree angle throughout the trunk and limbs.
- Wire the branches by winding the end of the wire closest to the trunk around the wire that holds the trunk.
- You can adjust the 45-degree angle if the limb has a sharp bend in it. Wind the wire at a smaller angle when you move past the turn. This will provide the additional support.
- You may use the same piece of wire on two branches if these have the same thickness.
- Anchor the wire around the trunk to secure and balance of the bonsai. Never wire branches that have different thicknesses. You must use separate wires for each branch.
- If you have a strong branch, you can use two or three wires winded together to manipulate it.
Removing the Wire
Once the wire has achieved its purpose it may be removed. This is usually done during the same season when it was applied which is the most common practice for moderately-growing trees. The wire should also be removed if it begins to grow into the plant.
When removing wires, cut off the wire turn after turn with wire cutters. Do not unwind the wire from the limb or reuse wire. This will cause damage to the plant and even break the branch. Cut the wire at every turn so you can remove the wire without injuring your bonsai tree.
One advanced method of training is grafting. This is done by using a clipping from another species of tree. This is inserted into a specially shaped slit on the host bonsai plant.
The young plant will be able to take root in the area and soon this can be removed and be grown into a bonsai.
4) Bonsai as a lifelong hobby
Growing bonsai could later become a lifelong hobby. This is basically something that will eventually happen because some bonsai trees even outlive their growers! There are bonsai species that can grow and survive up to 500 years and of course, this is only possible when the grower takes good care of his trees.
As a grower, you have a lot of responsibilities over your plants. You must improve your skills to be able to care for your plants. There are bonsai expositions, trade shows and bonsai-related events that you can attend to help you improve your skills. You may also connect with people who love bonsai online and learn and share growing techniques.
Cultivating bonsai from regular trees is possible when you possess the right skills and have the best tools or materials to use. You also need to be patient with your bonsai plants because it could take a long time for bonsai trees to form and shape. You must learn the basic skills of bonsai growing like trimming, pruning, grafting, shaping, feeding, watering and more. All these will help you care for your bonsai in the best way possible.