Growing a bonsai is not only about a miniature version of gardening, it has therapeutic value, enables patience and fortitude and it’s a great activity for relaxing. A bonsai can be with you until the end of your days. In fact, ancient Chinese believed that those who could take care of a miniature tree for a long time got eternity granted for their soul. For them a tree could be the connection between the holy and the human, between heaven and earth.
SELECTING A SPECIES
The type of tree you grow should be reliant on the environment where you’ll be keeping it. Your climate and your home environment are both factors to be taken into account.
Deciduous species such as the Chinese or Japanese elms, Magnolias, Oaks and Crabapple trees are good selections if you would like to grow your bonsai outside
If you prefer coniferous trees, Junipers, Pines, Spruces or Cedars will all make excellent choices
If you want to grow a tree indoors , consider a tropical species, Jade, Snowrose and olive trees may be grown as bonsais.
Any tree can be grown as a bonsai. As long as the basics are followed and your tree is cared for properly, your bonsai can live as long as their original specie.
BONSAI TREE CARE AND MAINTENANCE
Bonsai care is not as hard as commonly thought However as Bonsai trees are planted in small pots a few basic guidelines have to be followed.
Bonsai trees are a little more delicate compared to the average indoor plant, but by following a few basic rules anyone can take care of this tree successfully. Most importantly are watering, fertilization and choosing the right position to plact it.
WATERING A BONSAI
How often a bonsai needs to be watered depends on a wide range of factors including species of the tree, the size and also the climate. Do not water your tree every day, instead, monitor carefully and water it once the soil gets slightly (but not completely) dry.
When watering it is advised to give it a good thorough soaking so the entire root system is wetted. To do so, keep watering until water runs out of the draining holes and possibly repeat the process a few minutes later.
Water a tree from above using a watering can with a fine nozzle, this will prevent the soil from being washed away. Using collected rain water is better (as it does not contain added chemicals), second best is using tap water that has been allowed to stand overnight (the chemicals in the tap water would have evaporated). If only tap water is available there is no problem using this.
There are three basic elements of any fertilizer
Nitrogen (N) – increases growth of leaves and stems
Phosphorous (P) –encourages healthy root growth
And Potassium (K) – encourages growth of fruits and flowers
Fertilization is needed during the entire growth season of the tree from early spring to mid autumn. Indoor trees can be fertilized year round. Do not fertilize re-potted trees for about a month, and do not fertilize sick trees.
As bonsai trees are generally in small pots, regular fertilization is required to replenish essential nutrients. Using a special “bonsai fertilizer” can be convenient, but any fertilizer will do. Be careful not to use too much as over fertilization can cause the roots to burn and damage the tree. Follow the instructions on the packaging regarding quantity and timing.
WHICH FERTILIZER TO CHOOSE
During early spring use a fertilizer with a relatively high Nitrogen content (something like NPK 12:6:6) This will boost the trees growth.
During summer use a more balanced fertilizer (like NPK 10:10:10)
During autumn use a fertilizer to harden off the tree for the coming winter (NPK 3:10:10)
A few exceptions are worth mentioning though :
To encourage your bonsai to flower, use a fertilizer with a high Potassium (K) content (like NPK 6:6:2)
For older trees you may want to use a slightly lower Nitrogen (N) content or reduce the quantity of fertilizer applied.
HOW TO FEED TREES
Feed your trees according to the quantities and frequency stated on the fertilizers packaging. You can choose to reduce the recommended quantity slightly for trees that are not in training anymore in order to balance their growth instead of stimulating it.
When using solid fertilizers it helps to use fertilizer covers which helps the fertilizer stay in place.
Never over feed your trees as this will negatively impact their health.
POSITION, TEMPERATURE AND SUNLIGHT
Deciding on the right place to put your tree is crucial to its well-being. First make sure that indoor trees are placed in a warm environment, outdoor trees generally require much lower temperatures and should be placed outside. Next, most species of trees prefer a bright spot, normally with at least some direct sunlight.
A general rule of thumb is that outdoor trees are best placed in a bright spot, about the half the day in direct sunlight, but protected from the wind.
Indoor trees are best placed on a bright position as well, some species prefer lots of sunlight while others prefer half shade. Place indoor trees somewhere with a constant temperature.
STYLING AND SHAPING BONSAI TREES
Plants used for bonsai are not genetically dwarfed plants as common misconception states. Bonsai trees are normal plants that are trained to keep them of small stature. The main styling of bonsai trees make use of basic techniques such as regular pruning and wiring.
Styling by Pruning
Styling and regular maintenance pruning are is essential to create and maintain a miniature tree. When shaping a tree, deciding which branches fit the design and which need to be removed can be tricky at first. Take the trees natural basic shape and decide what should be the front of the tree. From that position prune branches to improve the overall shape and design. After the styling, regular pruning is essential in forcing the tree to grow dense foliage and branch structure within its shape.
Training by Wiring
Wiring is an essential technique in styling Bonsai trees. By wrapping copper-wire around the tree branches you are able to set the shape and angle of the branches. When wiring a tree, start with the main branches. A rule of thumb is to use wire of about 1/3 to ¼ thickness of the branch you are going to bend.
There are several training styles to choose from. Some are meant to resemble a tree in nature, while others are more stylistic. There are dozens to choose from, but the most popular by far are
- Chokkan – This is the formal upright form, think of a tree growing strong and straight with branches that stretch evenly around it.
- Moyohgi – This is the informal upright form, the tree has a more natural slant, rather than growing straight upward
- Shakan – This is the slanting form, the tree looks windblown and striking
- Bunjingi – This is the literati form. The trunk is often long and twisted with minimal branches
RE-POTTING YOUR BONSAI TREE – HOW AND WHY
To prevent your tree from being pot-bound and starving to death, regular re-potting is crucial. Re-potting your Bonsai will not keep it small, but will supply the tree with new nutrients that it needs to grow.
How often depends on the size of the container and tree species.
Fast growing trees need to be re-potted every two years while older mature trees need to be re-potted every 3-5 years. Do not re-pot on a routine, rather check the tree every early spring by carefully removing the tree from its pot. A bonsai needs to be re-potted when the roots circle around the root system.
Re-potting work needs to be done in early spring while the tree is still in a dormant state. This way the damaging effect of re-potting is reduced and the damage done to the root system will be repaired fast when the tree starts growing again
Bonsai Soil Mixture
Soil should be draining enough to prevent the roots from rotting while absorbing enough water to supply the tree. We do supply a soil mix suitable for most bonsai trees in-store.
Choice of Bonsai pot
Choose a pot that fits your bonsai size and style. Various bonsai pots in colour, style and size are available in-store.
Step by Step – Re-potting your Bonsai
Prepare the pot
Put a plastic mesh on the drainage holes
You may want to attach a copper wire to the drainage holes in the pot, this can be used to attach the tree
Cover the base of the pot with a layer of grit to create a good drainage
Now use the prepared soil mixture as the second layer, on which the tree will be planted
Re-pot your bonsai
Carefully take the tree out of its pot
Inspect whether the tree needs to be re-potted or not
By using a root-hook or chopsticks, carefully remove the soil and disentangle the roots.
Prune back the roots, this helps your tree to grow a more compact root system suitable for bonsai pots. Prune up to ¼ of the total root mass
Place the tree slightly out of the middle of the pot and attach it with the copper wire.
Fill the pot using the soil mixture up to about 1cm below the rim. Make sure the soil fills the pot and no air pockets are left between the roots.
Water thoroughly as this will settle the soil and full up any remaining air pockets
Protect the tree from strong winds and sun for about 2 months. Start fertilizing a month after re-potting.
OVERWINTERING YOUR BONSAI TREES
(SPECIAL CARE DURING WINTER)
During autumn outdoor trees prepare for the winter by hardening up new growth and (for deciduous trees) dropping leaves to reduce moisture loss. During overwintering your tree will enter a period of dormancy, so don’t overprotect them by placing them inside.
PROTECTING YOUR BONSAI TREE IN WINTER
In nature trees are subjected to minus 10 degrees Celsius and lower. Trees roots are too deep under the ground to freeze, therefore as long as the roots of a Bonsai tree is protected, low temperatures are not a serious problem.
A greenhouse or a cold frame during winter is recommended for those living in cold areas as the shallow roots of the bonsai can easily freeze. When living in warm environment, you can leave your trees unprotected.
When in dormancy, be careful not to expose your trees to extended periods of high temperatures (ie open greenhouses when they warm up during the sunny days in winter) as this might bring them out of dormancy.
When overwintering, keep a close eye on your trees. Water when the soil dries out, trees don’t need much water in dormancy so be careful to not over-water them.
During spring you can place your trees outside again, but be alert to protect new growth against late frosts.
BONSAI TREES PESTS, DISEASES AND COMMON MISTAKES
Like any living plant bonsai trees can get infected by any kind of pest or disease, but you reduce the risk to a minimum when your plants are healthy and cared for properly.
IDENTIFYING PESTS AND DISEASES
- DYING LEAVES ON A BONSAI
Leaves turn yellow suddenly and fall of the tree. This is often the result of a sudden lack of water. When the leaves slowly turn yellow and die it is most often the result of over-watering, overfeeding or underfeeding.
- VISIBLE PESTS ON THE TREE
Chewing insects : grasshoppers, ants, borers, caterpillars, carpenter bees,Cicadas, leafminers, slugs and snails
Sucking insects : aphids, scale, mites, spittlebugs, wasps, weevils
Soil organisms and parasites : nematodes, maggots, grubs
Beneficial bugs : ladybugs, spiders, lacewings, praying manis, worms
- Once you have identified the insect, use an insecticide to treat the trees with. Be careful to follow the instructions using a half dose first and increase the dose later on
- VIRUSES AND FUNGI
A virus can be detected by discoloured leaves and sudden die back of branches. Place the infected tree away from any other trees to prevent cross-contamination. Treat by removing the infected parts from the tree and apply a fungicide spray