Maple Bonsai image copyright California Garden
Bonsai is a Japanese art form using cultivation techniques to produce small trees in shallow containers that mimic full sized trees. The Japanese tradition dates back over a thousand years, to the original 6th Century Chinese practice of Penjing. There are three forms of Penjing which focus on miniature trees, landscapes and water within landscapes. Penjing use deeper bowls as well as shallow dishes, and often have rocks and figurines.
Lingnan (Cantonese) Penjing – image copyright The Little Bonsai
Many of us living in cities don’t have the luxury of gardens, but love to have some greenery growing, no matter how small. When I left home for University one of my first house plants was a Bonsai tree, and I just loved tending it. Not only are the plants beautiful but the ceramics that they are contained in bring their own unique appeal.
A Bonsai is created beginning with a cutting, seedling or small tree of a suitable species. Bonsai can be created from nearly any perennial woody stemmed tree or shrub that produces true branches and can be confined with crown and root pruning. Small leaved species are appropriate for the visual aesthetic of Bonsai. The plant is shaped throughout the year to limit growth.
Shohin Bonsai – has to be under 25cm tall to fit the genre. Image copyright The Bonsai Museum, Tuscany
In the UK it is easy to find grafted Ficus microcarpa ginseng Bonsai, which thrive in most light levels. The plants that IKEA sell are good quality and a decent price. Varieties of Maple, Elm, Olive, Cypress, Conifer, Crassula, Guava, Azalea and even Banyan Fig make great Bonsai.
Ficus microcarpa ginseng
Correct watering, ensuring air flow and giving your Bonsai enough light are all important factors in your plant’s life. Watering depends on the species, size of tree and pot and time of year. Bonsai should be fertilised during their growing season, to replenish nutrients. Bonsai should be repotted every couple of years, with more mature trees being repotted every 5. When the roots are looking ‘pot bound’ this is the time to repot to give the roots more space to develop. Pruning of the roots, leaves and branches will keep your plant small, not the size of the pot.
Close up of well structured Bonsai soil
You can buy ready packed Bonsai soil, which include correct nutrients and substrate. However, if you wanted to create your own, for your chosen species the main things to consider for soil for your Bonsai are: soil with good water retention, good drainage and good aeration. A well structured inorganic (mineral based) soil allows good drainage and air to flow around the soil particles.
The New Year is a great time to get a new plant to brighten up your space and life, so why not try a Bonsai. You can create something simple or more elaborate, the choice is yours…
Penjing image copyright curvetube