Bonsai Care- Bonsai Tree
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How to choose your Bonsai tree
The history of bonsai goes back countless ages, with the first evidence
of small potted trees showing up in Egyptian tombs over 2000 years ago.
Records show Indian herbalists keeping prized plants dwarfed in containers
to increase their mobility 1500 years back. But bonsai as we know it shows
up in Chinese history around 700AD in the Tang dynasty (again in tomb
paintings). This was also a period of great cultural learning for the
Japanese, who sent emissaries to China and were borrowing much of its
culture, especially the arts.
The Chinese pen tsai (pot tree) became the Japanese bon
translation). During the 14th century, as east-west trade became established
there was a brief interest in miniature trees, which rekindled again in
the 17th century when Japan again opened to trade. But the reports of
the time refer to “oriental magics” that western collectors
were blaming for the demise of their trees, and the thread broke off again.
It wasn’t until Japan exhibited at the 1878 World Exhibition in
Paris that bonsai resurfaced on the international stage, along with a
clearer knowledge of the process. Today bonsai is a world wide art form
with clubs in nearly every country on the globe.
Two kinds of Bonsai
Generally speaking, bonsai are one of two types, tropical or temperate.
Tropical bonsai, such as serissa, ficus, or bougainvillea
can not adapt to freezing temperature and must be protected against frost.
(I leave my tropicals out for the first frost or two if they’re
not too severe; the plants appreciate the brief “dormancy Temperate
bonsai (junipers, maples, etc.) can survive lower temperatures, but because
of the shallow root system, generally need some protection from the cold
(I dig a 2' deep pit and cover it with a PVC frame and white plastic;
not pretty, but functional).
Temperate bonsai need a dormancy period and will just peter out if you
try to keep them like tropicals. People often refer to tropicals as “indoor”
bonsai and temperates as “outdoor” bonsai, but I dislike this
terminology as it gives the impression that is o.k. to keep bonsai indoors
year round if it is a tropical.
Bonsai should be outdoors at all times they are able to handle it. It
is all right to bring them in for a day or two to show, providing they
get decent light and more water than usual, but in good weather ALL your
trees should be outside.
In the cold months the tropicals need to come indoors to that bright
window and religious watering, the temperates can go in your frame (or
similar set-up; a friend in New Jersey keeps his under his deck and I
have seen them over-wintered in a open cardboard box with a layer of leaves
over the pot in milder areas) and the watering requirements drop to once
a week or so (if it warms up even temporarily, you should check more often.
Acquiring a bonsai should be thought of as getting a pet plant. It needs
the same continual feeding, watering, and grooming that a puppy would
need, but the tree can’t whine at you when it’s thirsty or
hungry, so it requires a strict schedule to maintain optimal health. Much
like a good pet, bonsai can be a good companion for decades and if well
kept should outlive you! (and they don’t go on the carpet…
Let’s determine what kind of bonsai you want. Styling breaks into
two groups, single trunk and multi-trunked. Let’s look at the single
trunk styles first. There are four main groups…
- Chokkan Style (Formal upright)
This is a most complex style with very specific rules for branch placement,
pot selection and such. It is NOT a style for beginners, and even experienced
artists approach this one with caution. Some of the sub-categories of
Tachiki - (Informal upright, the style I feel suits most beginners),
Hokidachi - (Broom Style),
Sabamiki - (Split Trunk),
Saramiki - (exposed trunk, the bark is MOSTLY stripped off)
Sekijôju - (Root over Rock; the plant is grown over a
rock and into the soil of a pot)
Ishitsuki - (planted in crevices in a rock) and
Neagari - (exposed root, like a mangrove)
- Shakan Style (Slanting Style)
This style is fairly common and not too esoteric for the budding enthusiast.
Some other similar styles include Bunjingi or Literati Style
(a few branches at the top of a long slanted trunk, usually in a small,
shallow pot), and Fukinagashi Style (Windswept Style, with
all the branches coming off one side of the trunk).
- Kengai Style
The Cascade Style is easily recognized as the trunk dips below the bottom
of the pot. Two other styles that are offshoots are Dai Kengai,
the formal cascade, where the first branch plunges down below the bottom
of the pot, but the rest of the branching proceeds as a Formal upright,
and Han Kengai, or Semi-cascade, where the trunk descends below
the rim of the pot, often in a windswept style.
- Bankan Style
The Twisted Style is probably closest to what came over from China;
the Chinese are very fond of this style and often refer to them as “dragon”
trees (In Feng Shui, the Green Dragon is an auspicious presence in the
garden) especially in the East). The tree coils around itself like a
Chinese dragon The secondary styles for this one include Nejikan, or
partially twisted style where the trunk does not make a complete turn
on itself, and the little seen Takzukuri Style, or Octopus, where even
the branching is twisted on itself from a very distorted trunk
There are styles that incorporate two or more plants in one pot;
Two Trunks Style is usually used in the Wedded configuration with one
trunk subservient to the other. An adjunct of Two Trunks is Sôkan
Style, or double trunk, where one trunk splits just above the soil line
and the two branches are treated as separate trees.
Group plantings are denoted by how many trunks are in the planting. Sambon-Yôse
(3 trunks), Gohon-Yôse (5), Nanahon-Yôse (7) and Kyuhon-Yôse
(9) are the usual groupings. These groups are all done with roughly the
same caliper plants Yôse-Ue Style is any group with more than nine
trunks; Yomayose Style is a naturalistic grouping with different calipers
and heights of trees. All these different styles have a corresponding
Kabudachi style, where the different trunks all spring from a single root,
and a Tsukami-Yôse style, where the different trunks all spring
from the middle of the pot.
Raft Style copies that tree we’ve all seen that has fallen over
and the branches on one side have all grown as individual trees. In this
first style the trunk rest partially below the soil level. The Ikadabuki,
or Straight Line Style keeps the trunk (at least the middle) wholly out
of the soil and straight, as the name suggests. Netsunagari Style is the
Sinuous Style where the root twists and winds through the pot and the
trunks are more twisted.
Other Bonsai groups
There are some other groups we should touch on as they are often seen
in conjunction with displayed bonsai.
Bonkei, or landscape trays, often include a small pruned tree,
along with rock, mosses, grass and other perennials, water and little
figurines. The Chinese still like the occasional figure or under-planting
with their pen tsai, but the Japanese frown on it and relegate it to it’s
own slot, a decidedly lower slot than bonsai (If you brought a tree to
a judged show with a figure in it, they won’t throw you out, but
you lose BIG points. And that’s internationally in the bonsai world…)
Kusamomo plantings are small tray plantings of grass or bulbs
used as a compliment to bonsai displays.
Suiseki are miniature mountains, displayed on beautifully carved
wooden stands called daiza. Rocks are selected for their appearance as
a mountain, hill, a hut, island or even an animal. One cut is allowed
to give a flat side to rest upon, and the daiza is custom fit to the stone.
More cuts or polishing the stone demotes it to biseki, or pretty
stones, with the same loss of prestige that bonkei suffer. These are not
bonsai, but can definitely add to your enjoyment of the real thing. And
that's the key to Bonsai, to enjoy.
Have a question about your Bonsai? Ask it at our forum.
We have the friendliest bonsai forum on the net. Give it a try!
Many of them qualify for free shipping, too. They also carry some indoor
bonsai, which makes them a thoughtful gift, or for your home or office.
More Bonsai Articles
you should know about Tree Dormancy
Bonsai Care: Watering Requirements
Bonsai Pots and Soil
to Choose the Right Bonsai
to Prune a Bonsai
Care: Changing the shape of your tree
Photos of Bonsai