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Bonsai: Making choices


Today I thought I’d give you a little insight into things to consider when choosing a bonsai. Taking into account I live in N. E. England.

Indoor or outdoor?
Such a simple choice. Yeah, you’d think. There’s more to it than that.

Indoor Bonsai;
Generally need higher temperatures than outdoor bonsai.
Are usually temperate, semi-tropical or tropical trees/shrubs.
Usually need misting or need to be stood on a tray of damp pebbles/grit to create a moist atmosphere around the tree.
They don’t like sudden changes in temperature or draughts.
Even indoor bonsai need fresh air occasionally and will benefit being stood outside during the warm Summer.
Are more difficult to keep watered sufficiently without accidentally drowning them.
Are more susceptable to pests and diseases.
Are more likely to be stressed.
Most bonsai gifts are indoor bonsai because the buyer knows NOTHING about bonsai (I blame the seller for not explaining, not the buyer ). Growing an inside bonsai is likened to growing a tropical tree in the desert . . . not impossible but quite difficult.

Outdoor Bonsai;
Easier to obtain. GC’s, supermarkets, your own garden, friends garden, waste ground, etc.
Easier to care for.
They don’t need to acclimatise.
Can withstand local weather (except very extremes).
They get plenty of fresh air.
Have sufficient light.
So many species.

Lets say you’ve seen a movie and in the background you see a beautiful bonsai on a low table in a executives office or a corporation building or even in the baddies pad. The bonsai stands about 2’ 6" tall and has a canopy spread of 12" to 18" and a 4" trunk at soil level. You think you’d like that. So would I but it’s probably 300 years old, really owned by a bonsai master who owned it for decades after his father left it to him and its worth £15,000 minimum. Yes we all would like that. That tree was probably an outdoor tree. Yes, you can bring them indoors to display . . . but only for four to five days and never during the dormant season.

Unfortunately we have to start smaller and younger. I don’t mean smaller in height I mean smaller in trunk girth also branch length and girth. Younger because it’s cheaper and younger trees are usually more vigorous, flexible and more forgiving.

Conifer or Deciduous?
Conifers are all softwoods.
Are mostly evergreen, only two or three exceptions.
Conifers come in several types of leaf shapes; Needles, scales, flat.
And many Species; Pines, Cedars, Yew, Cypress, Juniper, Etc.
With many varieties within the different species (too many to mention).
Often shown with jins (dead sections of the tree, be it trunk, branch or part thereof) treated and washed with lime to bleach the said part.

Are all hardwoods.
Mostly drop their leaves in the Autumn (Fall) There are exceptions. Bonsai growers who grow deciduous trees often display them in the Autumn (Fall) to show off the fantastic fine ramifications of branchlets.
Choose a species with small leaves as they look more natural. Most large leaves will reduce size in time. I have a Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) and in about 25 years the leaves have reduced to a quarter/third size making them just a little smaller than my palm length. While thats a good reduction it’s still far too big for the tree height (20").

There are many styles to grow bonsai in. Formal (Upright and straight). Informal (upright, slight ‘S’ curve). Leaning or sloping (speaks for itself). Semi-cascade (tree leans over but top of tree does not extent below the top of the pot). Cascade (tree leans over and top of tree extends to below the top of the pot). Raft (looks like a fallen tree that lies flush with the ground and its branches revert to trees themselves). Group or Forest planting (planted to look like a piece of forest or a copse of trees). There are other types; with rocks, on rocks, in rocks and many more.

You’re trying to reproduce a real tree in minature as it would appear in nature.
Some of the best trees in bonsai have been collected from the wild often from inaccessible places like cliff faces and mountain crevasses. Because of their location, elevation, being blasted by freezing winds, extreme winter conditions coupled with the lack of soil and nourishment, the trees often look ancient, gnarled and tortured. They truly have struggled and fought for survival.

Remember, real trees don’t look like lollypops (popsickles). A bare trunk near the base of a tree is called the browse level, this is where animals have browsed or eaten the foliage and twigs. Also caused by dieback of lower branches due to lack of light/shading out by higher branches. The overall silhouette of the tree should ideally be triangular.

Bonsai pots come in all shapes, sizes and materials, even slabs of slate.
Japanese styles tend to be shallow and chinese traditional styles are cauldron and similar shapes, meaning the pots are a lot deeper. Bonsai grown in the Cascade style should use a tall pot.

Growing medium:
Bonsai soils should be able to retain moisture without being detremental to the tree. All excess water should FLOW through the drainage holes.
Should not dry out too quickly.
Partical size should be the size of grit. Allows lots of air to the roots (Essential for tree growth).

you can either pinch and grow, grow and prune or a mix of the two.
Pinch and grow means you pinch out the growing tips throughout the growing season to get the desired shape.
Grow and prune means you let the tree grow for a full season then in the dormant season prune to the desired shape or to remove unwanted growth.

Root pruning:
Should be carried out during the dormant season for conifers or before bud break in the spring for deciduous trees.
Depending on the species and age of the tree, root pruning should be done every six months, anually , bi-anually or four yearly.
Pines can be very difficult to root prune. on medium to large mature Pines only do 1/4 to 1/3 of the roots per year.
Important note
If any roots on one part or side of your PINE dies off, it will never regrow! To fix this problem you will need to graft a fresh piece of root to the appropriate place.

Making my bonsai bigger quicker.
The best way to increase height and/or girth of your tree is to plant it in the ground for two or more years, undercutting the roots anually to create a system of fine feeder roots near the trunk. Also plant it on a piece of slate or thin flat stone to create a good root flare radiating from the trunk and a shallow root system for transfer to the pot when the time comes.

I hope this blog was helpful.
If you have questions, please ask and remember the only silly question is the one you didn’t ask ^_-

Ians Insights Thoughts of a hopeless gardener.
#06. If you accidentally cut a worm in half ensure the band-aid you use to fix this is waterproof.

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Useful blog SJ... well done :o)

30 Jan, 2016


They are a work of art almost - a sculpture

30 Jan, 2016


Sounds like a lot of dedication! I have a little yew in an ordinary pot too small for it. It grew from a seed about 10 years ago and is now 18 inches high. I have fed it from time to time, perhaps once or twice a year. Its a nice shape, and the needles are more or less full sized. I've hesitated to put it in a bonsai container as it seems cruel and I'm a bit erratic with watering - daft isn't it?
Not sure where to go from here.

30 Jan, 2016


Thanks, TT. I try to make my blogs easy to follow as I often found many books and web pages were too complicated.

Bathgate, bonsai are also called living sculptures. ^_-

Steragram, check out my blog 'plants in pots (outdoors)'.
Remove the tree from the pot, shake off loose soil. Tease out roots and remove 1/3 of the roots. Fill 2 -3 sizes bigger pot 3/4 full with new growing medium of your preference. Spread out the Yews roots on top of the growing medium. Top off to top of roots at base of tree. Make sure there are no gaps around the roots or the roots will die. do not wire tree for 2 months (or you'll stress the tree too much). Water well. do not allow to dry out. Stand tree out of full sun. Tree may need support during this period. Do not feed for 2 months. I hope this helps.

30 Jan, 2016


Thank you. I have saved this blog for future reference :)

1 Feb, 2016


You're welcome and thank you

2 Feb, 2016

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