When people hear the term “bonsai tree,” most likely they begin to think about a small tree that is growing in a small pot, and then they connect with Asian culture.
Those who know about the art of bonsai trees know that it is more than just a “small tree in a small pot,” but something that takes a great deal of care, time, and dedication.
Those who do not know much about bonsai trees think that it is an oversimplified form of gardening. But the truth of the matter is that there is so much more than just some simple gardening.
While “bonsai” is a Japanese word meaning “planting on a low pot”, this art form actually started off in China.
However, it was the Japanese who grew and expanded the art form to make it much more aesthetic, and then shipped it off to all the corners of the world.
Bonsai is also associated with Zen philosophy, a part of Buddhist culture focusing on mediation and enlightenment. It is said that tending to a bonsai tree is a Zen-like task that can bring about meditation and relaxation.
Therefore, it is much more than “oversimplified gardening,” but a beautiful art form and a fun hobby.
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Bonsai adheres to its own aesthetic, which incorporates the theories of Zen Buddhism, making the practice quasi-religious to some and intended to be meditative for all.
Over centuries, the Japanese culture has infused the gardening with its influence, particularly the notion of wabi-sabi (beauty in imperfection and transience).
Through this, popular forms and theories have gone into guidelines that allow the Bonsai gardener to express their own ideas, emotions and principles through their thoughtfulness in shaping.
And then express it again by simply changing the order and shape or contents of the garden according to their own progression on the path to enlightenment.
Choosing Your Tools
The choice of trees, stones and shapes parallels a person’s paths, or just their moods. And in practice, many simply like how it looks, but still adhere to certain basic formulations out of respect for Bonsai as a meaningful cultural ideal in Japan.
As its own reflective art, a very particular set of skills and tools has been developed in order to perfect and enjoy growing bonsai trees and gardens. Different gardeners and artists use the tools that best serve their needs and imaginations.
So not everyone uses all of the tools, but this will be a discussion of all of the most popular tools hat people use in different combinations to make their garden truly reflect their own personality.
Once you have envisioned the shape you want your bonsai to take, there are some basic tools to help you achieve your goal.
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Bonsai Tree Tool Set
For those interested in taking up bonsai trees as a hobby, it is first important to understand all the maintenance aspects about bonsai trees as well as the materials and the tools that are necessary in ensuring a perfectly healthy, properly growing, and beautiful bonsai tree.
While a plethora of materials and tools are not required, some basic materials and tools are needed to maintain the bonsai tree and craft a beautiful one.
Materials for a bonsai tree include pot, humidity tray, a device to measure the water amount in the soil (rather than the chopstick method discussed above), and fertilizer. For those just starting with bonsai trees, here are some basic tools that are required.
Also called a root rake, the root hook is used to disentangle any roots of large bonsai trees without causing a lot of damage. If it is a smaller bonsai tree, chopsticks or any device similar to chopsticks will do just fine.
Bud Trimming Shears
The narrow, long body of bud trimming shears makes them perfect for trimming the buds on a bonsai tree and reaching far into the tree with minimal disturbance to any of the foliage surrounding the area. They look similar to a pair of scissors but are a bit smaller. They should not be used for anything but the buds as it can cause the blades to become dull.
Spherical Knob Cutter
To remove roots and trunk knobs, this tool will do the trick. It creates a circular, hollow cut as to ensure the bonsai tree heals quickly and there is relatively no scarring.
Concave Branch Cutter
This tool is razor sharp and will cut branches flush to the tree’s trunk. The wound heals quickly with minimal scarring. It is an extremely important tool to have in a bonsai tree tool arsenal.
Traditional Trimming Shears
This tool will help trim branches, twigs, and roots with relative ease. It is another essential tool that all bonsai tree owners should own.
Bonsai Wire is sold in a number of materials and sizes. Best for beginners would be aluminum. Copper is stronger, but more difficult to use. It is sold in millimeters of thickness and sizes will vary according to the weight of the branch being wired. It is often a trial and error process and will become easier with experience. A 1-2mm wire is usually good to start.
Bonsai Wire Cutters
These are specifically made for cutting bonsai wire. Beginners may try to substitute standard wire cutters, but they will soon see the need for the rounded head of the bonsai cutters. The specially designed wire cutters will prevent damage to the trunk and branches, but still maintain sufficient jaw pressure to cut evenly in precarious spaces or crevices.
Concave Branch Cutters
This tool is extra sharp for shearing away branches all the way to the trunk of the tree. When it is flat to the trunk, it heals almost seamlessly, to minimize scarring. The cutters have to stay razor sharp to prevent marking and must be one of the tools that a beginner invests in before starting their bonsai garden.
Spherical Knob Cutters
This tool has a ball shaped head and is used to cut away roots and knobs on the trunks of bonsai. They make hollow cuts that heal in place without much significant change in space or texture.
Traditional Beginner Bonsai Shears
These large handled shears are an essential tool for all types of bonsai gardeners. The traditional shears are the most multi-functional of the shears and allow trimming of roots, branches and prominent buds or leaves. They allow movement of all kinds and the easy application of strength for roots and large branches. To assist with the large jobs and large number of uses, the blades are very sharp. This is another must-have for bonsai gardeners starting out.
Satsuki or Bud Trimming Shears
These long narrow shears help to reach buds at all angles and deep within the tree or shrub. Their finger rings and length also allow for maximum direction and shaping without collateral damage to adjacent foliage.
Root Rake (also called a root hook)
Its single point, round hooked, steel end is used to separate and disentangle different sized roots, especially during transplanting or moving and repotting, without causing ancillary damage to a larger bonsai.
The Japanese saw is the size of a long knife and have small handles that allow you to maneuver them into smaller places with precision. They cut with little force and allow the removal of branches without stubs, especially important for the initial shaping or any large changes. They are not for use on roots. Not necessary to start, but they will make the beginner’s job much easier.
These are not completely necessary, but are desirable to allow for fast, but precise pruning that scissors won’t allow. They are similar to traditional chopsticks, connected at the base, but with very sharp tips for use on even the most dense foliage.
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The hemp brush is a key aesthetic tool for the particular bonsai gardener. It is used to smooth the top of the soil after trimming, pruning or shaping and is helpful when cleaning up a Penjing. The right hemp brush for bonsai is firm but not too stiff.
Bonsai Tree Branch Bender
Essential to manage the training of your bonsai tree, a good quality tree branch bender is a smart investment for any level gardener. Some branches won’t yield to wire and a bender will help you get the shape you are looking for to expel just enough effort to push and pull it into the desired position.
Bonsai Tree Care
While it is not difficult to care for and maintain a bonsai tree, there are some basic guidelines regarding maintenance that need to be followed when it comes to a bonsai tree. Bonsai trees are much more delicate than a typical indoor plant and following these maintenance guidelines will help the bonsai live a long, long life. The four main aspects of maintenance are watering, fertilization, repotting, positioning.
When it comes to watering bonsai trees, how much and how often it is watered is based on a large number of factors, including the climate, size of the bonsai tree, and of course the bonsai tree species.
Bonsai trees do not require water every day. Individuals need to monitor the water amount in the bonsai tree. The bonsai tree soil should always be moist but it should not be oversaturated as this can cause the roots to rot and decay.
They should be watered when the soil gets slightly dry. A good, easy way to check this is through the “chopstick method.” Stick a wooden chopstick about an inch to two inches into the soil and let it stand in the soil for ten minutes.
After the time is up, take it out and feel the part of the chopstick that was submerged. If it is wet, the soil is fine; if it is dry, the soil needs water.
Because a bonsai tree is placed in a small pot, it is necessary to regularly fertilize the bonsai tree to ensure that it continues to get all the essential nutrients.
There are three primary nutrients – nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
The nitrogen enhances stem and leaf growth, phosphorous boosts health growth of the bonsai tree roots, and potassium increase the growth of any flowers or fruits that bloom on the bonsai tree.
While there are fertilizers that are made specifically for bonsai trees, it is not necessary to purchase as a regular fertilizer will do. However, it is important to not use too much. It is also vital to make sure the right level of nitrogen is used.
For a majority of bonsai trees, a high level of nitrogen is needed during the spring to enhance the growth of the tree.
Throughout the summer, balanced fertilizer content is needed. During the fall months, a very low level of nitrogen is needed to ensure the tree remains hard during the cold months.
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Regular re-potting of a bonsai tree is essential to ensure the bonsai tree does not starve and get pot bound. By re-potting the bonsai tree, it will guarantee the bonsai continues to flourish and grow.
Re-potting a bonsai tree often depends on the bonsai tree species and the size of the pot being used. Bonsai trees that are fast growing require re-potting once every two years; while more mature bonsai trees can go three to five years before needing to be re-potted.
Most of the time, re-potting a bonsai tree should take place in the early months of spring as the tree is still considered to be in dormancy. It will ensure that any damage is kept to a minimum because there is no foliage that is full-grown.
As well, if there is damage done to the roots, it will repair on its own as the tree begins to grow again.
The last important factor that cannot be ignored is the positioning of the bonsai tree. Always do research to determine the best type of positioning for the species of bonsai tree purchased.
For example, some need to be positioned outside the home for optimal growth, while others do better when placed indoors. For outdoor bonsai trees, it is best to position them in a spot that gets lots of sun for parts of the day, but still ample amount of shade as well.
Bonsai trees that are kept indoors should be put in a bright location in the home. Some indoor bonsai trees require an abundance of direct sun while others need some shade.
Again, it is important to look for specific information regarding where to position the bonsai tree as every bonsai tree species is different.