A Beginner's Guide to Growing Mame Bonsai
Mame, or miniature bonsai, could well have more of a place in small houses or flats than the larger forms, as they are much smaller—often only 2–8 or so inches high. On the whole, however, they do not survive to such great ages, mainly because the containers have to be so small, possibly only a little over an inch deep. The containers, as with the larger bonsai, must have a drainage hole and can be of any shape to suit the particular mame bonsai in question. The soil mixture and methods of watering and feeding are also the same as for larger bonsai. For obvious reasons, however, they will need watering more frequently, especially in hot, dry weather.
Mame specimens can very often be ready for display in a shorter time than the larger forms, and this in itself is a considerable advantage.
The simpler styles should be chosen for mame bonsai, because their size does not make it possible to train them into the more complicated shapes such as Winding or Clasped to the stone. The Upright, Oblique and Cascading styles all make attractive mame bonsai, and a group planting can be most effective.
The easiest way to raise mame bonsai quickly from seed is to sow the seed directly in the final container. A pinch of seed is sown, as described in “How to Grow Your Own Bonsai Tree,” and then thinned out as desired when germination is complete. For a single specimen, all the extra seedlings are removed, but for a group planting, two, three or five are left to grow on. In order to avoid too much disturbance in the very small containers when thinning these seedlings, it is best to nip off the surplus seedlings with sharp scissors close to the soil surface. The strongest seedlings should be pinched early in the first season to encourage the growth of side shoots, and if a ‘clean’ stem is wanted, the lowest of these side shoots must be removed.
Leaf pinching is particularly valuable as far as mame bonsai are concerned, as it not only corrects any over crowding and helps to check growth, but also causes smaller leaves to be formed in place of the removed leaves.
Acer, Pinus and Picea species and Cryptomeria japonica all form mame bonsai from seed satisfactorily and of course, if seedlings are obtained, these can be potted up in the spring in the final container. If they are on the tall side, they should be cut back to almost two inches to cause new shoots, one of which is then selected as the leader. If the seedlings have grown very much too tall, the reduction in size should be spread over several reasons.
Three subjects which make good mame bonsai comparatively easily from hardwood cuttings are Berberies thunbergii ‘Atropurpurea’, Tamariz juniperina and willows. It may seem strange that such normally large and strong subjects should be recommended for such bonsai, but with careful and judicious pruning and pinching good results can be obtained. When cuttings of four to five inches are well rooted, they should be potted in the final containers.
In the spring a suitable wire is wound round the stem, which can be shaped gradually, usually by bending down; this will naturally have a dwarfing effect. All new growth should be trimmed, almost entirely, early in the growing season to induce more new and dwarf growth. In the case of Tamarix this trimming is done after flowering and subsequent growth is left untrimmed, till the dormant season, for flowering in the following year.
When grown from cuttings, Kurume azaleas will also form quite satisfactorily flowering mame bonsai after three or four years.
Some Plants Suitable for Mame Bonsai
Two Typical Mame Bonsai Subjects
1. Cryptomeria japonica
Styles: Cryptomerias have an attractive neat and upright pyramidal shape, and it is in this natural shape that the mame bonsai will be most successful. In only five years a pleasing and interesting specimen can be formed by starting with a seed.
First Potting: Propagation by seed is the most satisfactory method or raising a Cryptomeria mame bonsai. The seed does not need stratifying and in order to eliminate the risk of damaging the young seedlings it is wise to sow a pinch of seed in the selected container in the spring after harvesting. When the resulting seedlings are established, the strongest and the best seedling should be selected and the others removed by cutting off at the soil level.
If the direct sowing method has not been used, a seedling of about five inches in height should be potted in the spring.
Repotting: This is also best carried out in spring as soon as new growth begins to appear but will only be necessary every 3 or 4 years.
Wiring: If wiring is necessary, the wire should be covered with paper to protect the rather soft bark on the young shoots, and should be applied in May when they are at their most flexible stage.
Shoot-nipping: At the time of potting the seedling the leading tip should be nipped out in order to encourage branching; if there are any branches at the time of this first potting, these should be nipped also. Growth will be steady throughout the growing season and pinching must be systematically carried out until the growth shows signs of slowing down. Towards the end of the season it is advisable to leave some shoots untrimmed so that the specimen does not have too ‘severe’ an appearance throughout winter. At the same time, as it helps to dwarf the specimen this continuous pinching also promotes the foundation of young growth which is so pleasing with its fresh green color. Japanese growers advise the use of fingers only, as the metal of scissors and knives seems to have a detrimental effect on the wound.
Pruning: When the older branches have to be pruned – for example if they are overcrowded or too large – this should be done as growth starts in February or March.
Watering: Cryptomerias appreciate plenty of water and syringing in the summer. To prevent frost ‘scorch’ or damage some form of light protection should be given in frosty spells; a cold frame would be sufficient.
2. Tamarix juniperina (Tamarisk)
Tamarix juniperina has minute, scale-like leaves and plumes of small pink flowers; each plume is about one and a half to two inches long. The tamarisks will be familiar to many people who have seen them growing as quite tall hedges at the seaside; however, when they are subjected to regular pinching, training and root pruning they can be formed into pleasant little mame bonsai about 10 inches tall. When raised from cuttings they will have a quite aged look about them in four to five years only.
Tamarisks flower on the previous season’s growth and for this reason Tamarix juniperina has been chosen as it flowers in May, this enabling pinching to be carried out for the first part of the growing season.
Styles: Tamarix juniperina is suitable for Oblique, Cascading and Clasped-to-stone styles.
Cuttings: Cuttings about six inches long are inserted in the autumn in a shallow container and left to root in a cold frame, or at least sheltered from extreme cold, until the following spring. The lower ‘feathers’ are removed either by rubbing with the fingers or with a sharp knife.
First potting: In the spring after insertion the rooted cuttings may be potted in the final containers. At the time of potting unwanted shoots are removed either by rubbing with the fingers or with a sharp knife.
Wiring: Using paper covered wire, one may begin wiring one year after the first potting. The main trunk is wired and trained to the desired shape. Before wiring shorten the branches so as to make a balanced framework to form the bonsai.
Shoot-nipping: Where the branches are overcrowded, shoot removing is carried out as usual until the late spring, when all branches are cut back to the second of third leaf. This will promote secondary growth which is smaller and more proportion to the mame bonsai. This resulting growth is left untouched until the dormant period, when it is pruned to give a well-shaped specimen. The many flowers will form on this framework.
In subsequent springs the pinching of the early new shoots is carried out up to flowering time and then all growth is cut to two or three leaves as described above.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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