For Your Garden

The Art of Bonsai – how to do it at home, tips and tricks 

If you have nurtured a wonderful garden in your home, with all your plants growing lush and green, it may be a good time for you to take it to the next level by starting a bonsai. There are many people who believe that bonsai is actually a species of plants and trees. What they do not know and realise is that bonsai is a fine art which requires a lot of precision and hard work, practised on any plant or tree. 

So, what exactly is bonsai? Bonsai is a Japanese art of cultivation in which a tree or plant is grown in a small container, making it look like a mature and full-sized plant or tree, through various techniques and processes. The word bonsai in Japanese means a pot (bon) that holds a plant or sapling (sai.) A correctly done bonsai plants look like a fully-grown dwarf version of its full-scale counterpart.  

Growing plants can be a tiresome and risky avenue. You may not be able to give the right amount of time and attention to the plant. However, it is also a fact that gardening can be a wholesome and enriching experience if you make a small effort. There are plants that require little to no amount of attention as well as those that require constant effort.  

Bonsai is a part of gardening which is a great cocktail of hard work, creativity and a whole lot of patience. If you already have basic knowledge of gardening, all you need is to read up a bit on bonsai to start off. Once you understand the techniques and grasp the tips and tricks that go behind creating a perfect bonsai, you will appreciate these gorgeous works of art along with the effort it requires.   

So, let us discuss how to start the process of bonsai and what you need for it.  

Firstly, you need to select and procure your bonsai plant or tree. A visit to a nursery could help you in deciding which plant or tree would be ideal for you to create a bonsai. There are, of course, some trees or plants which would be better suited to bonsai than others. The location that you plan to keep your bonsai, indoors or outdoors, the climate and environment of your area etc. play a big role in deciding what kind of plant you are looking for.  

Coniferous trees are considered much easier to maintain as bonsai which is why they are ideal choices for beginners; trees like junipers, pines, cedars and spruces. These are much easier to grow, style and suit almost all kinds of climate. They do not shed their leaves easily as they are evergreens. However, they are slow in growth. Once you have mastered the techniques of pruning and styling, it is easy to shift to more leafy or deciduous trees like elm or oak. After you understand how bonsai works and how to care for your bonsai trees better, you can try your hand at fruit trees like mango or orange. The trick lies in training them to grow in a particular manner. If you hone that skill, you can work your bonsai magic on any tree.  

Secondly, you will need a good bonsai pot. A bonsai pot has to be wider with a circular, triangular or rectangular shape. More importantly, it should have the right drainage system to drain excess water and keep the fertiliser away from the roots.  

The soil for bonsai may be obtained from any good nursery. It is important that bonsai soil is nutrient-rich as well as has good aeration properties. Good potting soil will also be able to retain enough water while draining the excess. As the amount of soil used in bonsai making is so less, it is much more important to use good soil, highly rich in nutrients.  

Then, you need aggregates, fertilisers, water, pruning shears and pliers in your reach. This is especially important because the final important thing that you need to set up your bonsai is the wire. A wire is used to style your bonsai plant. Ideally an aluminium or copper annealed wire is used with different thickness depending on which part of the tree you are styling. The thickness of your wire should be such that it is able to hold a branch after it is wired and bent.  

To start the process of bonsai, you must understand that it is not just cutting a plant or tree randomly to make it small in size. Bonsai requires a good amount of patience and some exceptional skills. It is important that you start with a plant or tree that is easy to handle as well as which suits your climate and environment best.  

While some people buy a tree or plant that has already been made into a bonsai and then take it from there, true gardeners build a bonsai from scratch. It means that they buy a plant or tree, let it grow to the required age and then start the bonsai.  

To begin with, take out the tree from the pot and use your hands and water to remove the soil from the roots. This must be done gently so that the roots are not harmed or broken in any manner. Shaking the plant slightly can also work or you can use chopsticks. Cut out any dead branches or dangling foliage using scissors. You also need to check and cut out any dead branches in the interior of the tree. Doing this will make you understand the structure of your tree and give you an idea on how to style it going ahead.  

Then you start with the pruning. Pruning basically means cutting off good branches artistically and creatively so as to make the bonsai look good. Ideally, it would be good to prune branches that are low hanging and those that crisscross the main trunk. As dangling branches hinder the process of wire training, it would be ideal to prune them too. In most bonsai, about 1/3 of the tree’s foliage can be pruned.  

Now you can begin to wire the tree. Take the aluminium or copper annealed wire and start binding it over the trunk. One end should be deep in the root ball, while the other should bind over the trunk, covering the main branch and going towards the apex. Follow this for all the main branches and trunks, if your tree has more than one trunk. You can also wire two relatively thin branches together using one wire. While wiring the branches, it is important that you start with at least one base round on the trunk for stability. Cut off the excess wire bit at the apex using a wire cutter. Once you have wired all the branches, you can start bending and shaping them as per your style.  

Now it is time to prepare the pot. As mentioned earlier, the pot needs to have a good draining hole. In bonsai, it is important that the tree does not stand in water. Then we need to mesh a wire through these holes in a way that both ends come out of the pot and are able to hold and attach the tree to the pot.  

Now you can use the chopsticks to untangle the roots. Start from the bottom, going to the sides and then to the root mass. Use the scissors to prune the long roots, making it all into a root ball.  

Then you can layer the potting soil mix inside the pot and place the tree slightly off centre. Make sure that you angle the tree in a manner that shows off its most beautiful side. Now bind the wires we had snaked through the drainage holes earlier, to the bottom of the trunk to hold the tree in place. Then add more soil to the sides and fill up the pot. Finally, place the tree where you plan to keep it and water it. Make sure that it is kept in filtered sunlight or shade for at least a month.  

One important thing that you need to be careful about is to keep an eye on the branches. Wiring tends to leave scars on the branches which may look ugly. You can cut off the wires or remove them carefully after about three to four months.  

There are a few tips that may help you with your bonsai preparation.  

  • Choose a tree which suits your climate. If your tree is not of the local environment, it may not be able to take to the bonsai process.  
  • Be sure about whether you want to keep your bonsai indoors or outdoors. 
  • Make sure the pot you select has good drainage holes. However, it should not be so big that the water does not stay at all.  
  • Keep your bonsai away from direct sun. 
  • Make sure the soil in your bonsai never dries out. If you live in a cold area, it would be ideal to ensure the soil remains moist.
  • Fertilising your bonsai tree soil regularly is an important aspect of bonsai tree caring. As the soil is only so much in nutrients, you need to introduce fertilisers regularly to ensure that your tree is not malnourished. 

Ultimately, bonsai is about creativity and minimalism. Bonsai draws its influence from Japanese Zen Buddhism which has its tenets in minimalist living. With bonsai, you not only get a great art décor piece for your home but also learn and hone a new skill.  

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