How to Grow and Style Bonsai
How to Grow a Bonsai Tree
A friend of mine always has at least two small evergreen trees in pots on either side of his front door, growing outside of his home and gaining strength in order to become future bonsai trees.
A bonsai tree is not, in fact, a dwarf tree that was bred to be small. It is a standard tree of any of numerous types or it is a shrub that is grown in such a way as to become short.
This growth takes patience, much time, and focused attention to the root base and trunk of the plant before the bonsai grower and artist can ever attempt administering wiring and pruning. It is a long process.
How Does One Achieve Bonsai?
A bonsai tree can be developed from cuttings at home. These cuttings can be made from trees in your own backyard, including softwoods, hardwoods, and conifers (pine, evergreen, etc.).
Many believe that bonsai originated in Japan. However, this tree-growing art began in China, and was adapted by the Japanese after 1000 AD, a little over 1000 years ago.
These trees can be started from seeds, cuttings, immature garden nursery trees, and a few other methods. Here, we will look at the easy "cuttings" method.
Developing a Bonsai Tree From an Evergreen Cutting
In the spring or first month of summer, choose one of your backyard landscape's evergreen trees or shrubs. Next, look at the branches and "leaves" of the evergreen and notice where the new growth is for this current year. Have a nice shaded place ready to store this cutting that you will make, because otherwise, the sun will dry it out and destroy it.
You will plant the cutting in a large pot or some other appropriate contain, but you will not use topsoil, simple potting soil, or backyard dirt. Use a combination of equal parts of peat moss and sand or of peat moss and perlite (looks like Styrofoam pellets). Remove a new branch from your evergreen with a bit of bark and wood attached to it and take off the leaves or spiny growths near the bottom, where it was attached to the tree or plant.
You will need to have 4-5 leaves left at the top. Next, put the wounded end in a good rooting compound briefly and then place that end carefully into your mixture of potting element in your pot. Be careful not to place it so deep that it touches the bottom of the pot. Press the potting mix firmly up around the stem of the cutting and water it very well with a water mixed with an anti-fungal (ask at your garden nursery).
Make several cuttings and proceed with them as above, placing them all into the same pot. Place a clear covering over the pot, such as a clear trash bag. When several new growths appear on a cutting, you may feel free to transfer it into a smaller pot. If this does not occur until autumn, then leave the pot over the winter so as not to shock the newly formed roots with transplantation in cooler weather.
The Trunk Is the Foundation of Bonsai Success
The most important part of a new bonsai tree is the trunk. While some folks want to get right to the wiring and pruning, perhaps because of what they may have seen in movies, these steps are far off down the line in bonsai cultivation. Bonsai tree trunks must be patiently attended for a lot of time.
Bonsai cultivation teaches the artist patience and can bring peace into a chaotic world. This is similar to the Japanese art of flower arranging, which is not simply to stuff flowers into a vase. That also requires time and Japanese police departments often require officers to participate in flow arranging weekly in order to reduce stress and bring perspective.
A bonsai tree needs to grow outside for quite a while before it is ever brought indoors. These trees, grown outside, must be reduced in size several times in order to develop into a strong, beautiful and short tree. They must not be allowed to become "leggy."
Viewing a Bonsai or Dish Garden
A bonsai tree is sometimes referred to as a dish garden and such dish gardens often contain more than just one tree as an exhibit. However, you will see three elements to any bonsai, including:
- the tree;
- accents like a stone, a small cup, a figure; and
- the base dish or pot.
The three of these elements make up a triangle and you may need to stand back in order to see that triangle the first time you look.
Notice that the top of the bonsai tree itself is the upper triangle point. The accent piece will be off to the left or right as another triangle point, and the opposite end of the dish will be the third triangle point. Indeed, once you see the first triangle, you may notice many smaller triangles possible within that picture, much like puzzles you may have seen in magazines and mathematics books. For example, the top of the tree and lowest two branches can make another triangle.
Bonsai Styles and Stylings
Two Fundamental Styles and Five Basic Stylings
Two traditional two umbrella cultivation styles exist, including
- Classic Koten Style
- Informal "Comic" Bunjin Style or Literati or Chinese Style
For Koten, the trunk is wider at the base and pointed at the top.
With Bunjin, the tree is wide at the top, with the point at the bottom. So inverted, the tree is comic in attitude and may remind one of old relatives wearing a wide hat.
Formal Upright Examples of KotenClick thumbnail to view full-size
Nanga painting was also called "Bunjinga" in Japanese and proliferated throughout the Late Edo period among artists who thought themselves to be intellectuals or literati as well as painting masters.
Literati Style (Bunjin)
Modern Styling Varieties of Bonsai
We have 5 modern bonsai tree stylings recognized by many, listed below with examples.
- Formal Upright: Larches, some evergreens, maples;
- Informal Upright: Japanese maple, some conifers, crab apple.
- Windswept (Slanting): Conifers are most successful.
- Semi-Cascade: Any that does not stand up straight.
- Cascade: Cedar, juniper, flowering crab and cherry.
From ancient times as far back as 1000 BC comes the Land and Water Chinese Penjing style of bonsai that includes six elements:
- The Implied or Suggested. One must read between the lines to grasp what is truly there. Emptiness in the tiny landscapes symbolizes water.
- Movement. As in a Japanese sand garden, one should look at the penjing and ffeel energy moving through.
- Opposites. Yin and yang types of combinations like black and white, tall and short, wide and slim. A tall tree can be made to curve gracefully. A curving tree may be trained to stand up straight.
- The Void and Matter. Empty spaces are meant to stimulate the imagination of the viewer and to create energy.
- Relationships. No tree stands alone in penjing. You might notice the slant of a bonsai branch reproduced in a design painted on a small accent cup or in the pattern of the grain of a rock formation in the dish.
- Harmony. The whole is much greater than the parts. A penjing balances the opposites and the contrasts and creates more power and energy in so doing.
Extreme BonsaiClick thumbnail to view full-size
- Bonsai Empire. This organizations maintains information on clubs in English-speaking countries. www.bonsaiempire.com/locations/clubs Retrieved October 2, 2018.
- Ikebana International, Washington DC Branch. Personal expression in flowers. IKEBANA is Japanese artistic flower arranging. A disciplined art form involving a living thing. Mankind can beomce closer to nature in this art. https://iichapter1.com/ Retrieved October 1, 2018.
- National Bonsai Foundation. The United States National Arboretum. National Bonsai and Penjing Museum. http://www.bonsai-nbf.org Retrieved October 2, 2018.
The Ohio State University courses on Japanese arts and culture: JAPANSE 2231 - Elements of Japanese Culture; JAPANSE 5400 - Performance Traditions of Japan; JAPANSE 5454 - Japanese Literature: Classical Period.
Questions & Answers
© 2007 Patty Inglish MS