A Guide to Growing Bonsai

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Bonsai is a Japanese word, but is now used around the world to describe a tree or shrub planted in a shallow container, and trained to resemble a full-sized tree. The expression “bonsai” actually consists of two Japanese words: bon means a shallow container or tray, and sai, a plant or planting. However, the combined word bonsai means much more than this literal translation: it implies a stylish marriage of artistic expression and naturalistic effect that distinguishes a bonsai from a tree that is merely planted in a pot.

Your goal as a bonsai grower is an idealized recreation of nature, based on a careful study of the way trees grow in the wild. You should not aim for too realistic an approach, however, nor try to reproduce every twig and branch precisely. Rather, you should try to give a general impression of the way the tree grows in its natural state.

Bonsai may fulfill your artistic urges more than many other arts and crafts (painting, photography, pottery, wood carving, and the like), because the bonsai creation is constantly growing and changing. This unique blend of art and horticulture satisfies a love of nature, and trees in particular, so that you can enjoy the variety of the changing seasons, even if you live in a town. Moreover, if you group trees with rocks and other plants, you can create a wonderful impression of a landscape in miniature.

Bonsai for Everyone

Many specialists feel that bonsai is a mystical art or discipline, requiring many years of dedication and practice to achieve worthwhile results, but the reality is that anyone can appreciate or create successful bonsai.

Bonsai cultivation does, of course, require a certain degree of both commitment and enthusiasm, and you will discover that you achieve better designs as your expertise increases. However, the beauty of bonsai is that it can be approached at a number of levels of interest and ability – as a fine art, a specialized type of horticulture, a consuming passion, a livelihood, or a hobby. Bonsai enthusiasts range from those with only one or two lovingly nurtured trees, to dedicated growers whose expertise and artistic expression enable them to produce large collections of exceptional trees.

All this, however, is just the beginning. Gradually, like all artists and craftspeople, you will gain more skill, and learn how to refine and improve your bonsai. The maintenance section tells you how to keep your bonsai healthy, and the propagation tips show how to create your own plant material and increase your stock.

How far you take the art of bonsai will depend on your own interest and dedication, how much effort you are prepared to put into learning to create and refine bonsai, and how much time you have for routine maintenance. Just as the bonsai will mature and improve as time goes by, so too will your pleasure and satisfaction in cultivating bonsai increase. The number of bonsai you can collect is bounded only by the space you have available, the designs only by your imagination or your pocketbook.

One final warning: bonsai are not likely to damage your health (unless you drop a very large specimen on your toes, or apply the pruners too near your fingers). The love of bonsai can and does, however, become an absolute obsession, although one that most bonsai enthusiasts are only too happy to endure.