Custom Search

Monday, April 14, 2008



The millennia-old art form, still going strongly today!

In Japanese, bonsai can be literally translated as 'tray planting' but since originating in Asia, so many centuries ago - it has developed into a whole new form. To begin with, the tree and the pot form a single harmonious unit where the shape, texture and colour of one, compliments the other. Then the tree must be shaped. It is not enough just to plant a tree in a pot and allow nature to take its course - the result would look nothing like a tree and would look very short-lived. Every branch and twig of a bonsai is shaped or eliminated until the chosen image is achieved. From then on, the image is maintained and improved by a constant regime of pruning and trimming.

It is the art of dwarfing trees or plants and developing them into an aesthetically appealing shape by growing, pruning and training them in containers according to prescribed techniques.

Overall, bonsai is a great interest, hobby or even profession to undertake. Although famous theologians have claimed that it is actually 90% art to a meager 10% of horticulture, it has to be said that a successful bonsai is most definitely a horticultural masterpiece.

Once arriving in the Western World, this enjoyable and rewarding pastime has never turned back, and has gained a magnificently diverse range of plant material and techniques.

Whatever you need to know - you will be sure to find it here - at The Bonsai

Additional Features...

There are functions for everything in bonsai, and mosses and lichens, used as ground covers, are no exception. They, of course, look great, covering the soil surface with 'green velvet' and helping to retain water while holding the soil in the container. For people buying bonsai, the presence of moss is always a good sign. There are a great number of types of mosses and lichens and these can be mixed to provide a very effective result overall. When not used for 'conservation' purposes, they should be planted sparingly so that their effect is natural, and they do not prevent water from reaching the soil.

There is a particular method of mossing a potted bonsai that will produce a smooth mat of deep green, with none of the lumpy growth that can be typical of piecing bits of moss together. With a sharp knife, slice the moss from its growing place, taking as little soil as possible. Put this moss in a container lined with paper, and moisten it lightly (it should be moist, not wet). Remove most of the remaining soil from the moss using sharp scissors, pulling each little tuft away from the larger piece.

Prepare the surface soil in the bonsai pot by scratching it to roughen it up. With long handed tweezers, start inserting each tuft of moss close to, but not against, the trunk. Work out and away from the trunk until you have the look you want, then brush off most of the tufts. Sprinkle dry soil over the moss and press it down with a flat spatula or small trowel (even your hand if you are careful). Mist gently two or three times and the soil will settle down between the tufts.

As an alternative to collecting moss and going through this somewhat time consuming process, you can use dried moss. Gather it, then place it in the shade for a few days until it is completely dry. Put it through a fine strainer - a sieve will do - to crumble it. Mix the particles with some soil and spread it over the bonsai soil in the pot, making a thin, even layer. Press it down with a flat spatula or small trowel and gently mist continually until the soft green moss begins to grow. Some people just scrape soil off the bottom of the moss and put this on the soil of the bonsai, but takes a much longer time to root and is a delight for small birds when looking for worms if left exposed.

Along with the growth of a healthy crop of moss often comes the appearance of a silver fungus around the soil line at the trunk of the tree. This is a sign of a healthily growing bonsai. The fungus develops as the moss takes hold, and it cannot be artificially implanted. In the heat of summer, moss may turn brown. Do not despair - it means the bonsai is getting the water it needs. As soon as cooler temperatures and higher humidity return, so will the 'green velvet'.

Ground Covers for Bonsai...

There are many ground covers that can be used as an alternative to just plain moss. For one, they are a lot more hardy and tolerant of changes in temperature and also more interesting than a simple green covering.

An easy, and very hardy ground cover to use that can be constantly multiplied is 'Helxine/Soleirolia solerirolii' (Baby Tears). A lot of bonsai nurseries use this, providing an instant and bright covering to greatly enhance the plants' appearance. This creeping plant has yellow-green small round leaves and tiny white, pink-tinged flowers, which occur singly in the leaf axils. It has an indefinite spread, and can be invasive if not controlled - but this is no problem in a properly maintained bonsai. It does not crawl up the tree, and if it does hang over the edges of the pot, just pinch the growing tips off. The small flowers are not that prominent, but having the plant is a great asset. The cover is usually expensive if you buy it at the nursery, but if you buy just buy one pot or propagate it of a friend, the plant will multiply quite rapidly after a few weeks.

A good feature plant to be planted sparingly alongside bonsai to give a very realistic effect is 'Kyoto Dwarf' Mondo Grass ('Ophiopogon Japonicus' or 'Liriope Japonica' ). This fine-leafed species is native to Japan and Korea and thus has quite a significant prominence in the world of Japanese bonsai. The short, dark green recurving foliage arises from rhizomes, spreading to form dense, soft mats of at max. 4-5cm high. It is a good cover to use, but should not be allowed to cover more than an sixth of the area of the pot (especially small pots) as this could restrict the bonsai's growth. It should be divided up each time that the bonsai is repotted - every 2-3 years. It is again a very hardy plant and multiplies rapidly from a very small portion. Used frequently in Asian courtyards and formal gardens, it should not be that hard to obtain. (Also used as an accent plant for bonsai.)

An alternative to using a 'live' ground cover is using a very popular medium among bonsai nursery owners called 'iron stones'. These are very small stones (2-4 mm in diameter) not made out of, but in the colour of iron. They are reasonably cheap if bought in bulk. Only a little amount is needed to just cover the area of a bonsai pot. They make the bonsai look very professional indeed, and are an instant solution if you can't be bothered with, or can't get, moss to grow.


Depending on the actual size of your bonsai and bonsai pot, you can also use small bulbs which appear every spring with quite a magnificent show of colour (also used as accent plants) - although you have to be wary that they do not take too much focus off the main tree. Some varieties you could try are 'Ipheion Uniflorum' (Spring Starflower) which have triangular, white, light or dark blue shaped petals; and you can also try 'Rhodohypoxis Baueri/Baurii' (Rose Grass) which is a small tufting shrub with short, grass-like foliage and colourful pink, red or white flowers during spring and early summer. This plant is quite well known and you might be able to find it in pots at nurseries when it is in season - or order it from a bulb mail order catalogue.

Although these plants work quite well in bonsai as either ground covers or plants to complement the main tree - be careful by routine pruning and repotting that they do not take over the pot.

Containers/Pots for Bonsai...

A simple, stylish rectangular pot When it comes to bonsai, it is not just the plant and its styling that makes the bonsai appealing to the viewer. The choice of the container that the bonsai is in is also quite important to the overall look and 'feel' of the tree. The container is as important as the tree in a bonsai design. Usually, growers select the pot after styling the tree, so that the two harmonise in shape, size, colour and texture. Practical and aesthetic factors affect the choice of pot. The purpose of the container is of course to provide suitable accommodation for the tree's needs, but also to compliment its branch structure and seasonal or year-round colours.

The pot must hold enough soil for the roots to develop over a year or two. It should be frost-proof with enough drainage holes. Bonsai containers are usually shallow, but sometimes you may use a deeper one to hold a fruiting tree for example, that needs plenty of water to swell its fruits. (Never try to save on watering time by using a pot too large for the tree, as the roots may become waterlogged and rot.

Vibrantly coloured pots are effective. It is said that unglazed, dark-coloured containers are usually chosen for classic bonsai or to impart a look of age. Evergreens such as conifers, look best in neutral brown pots, but glazed containers should be used for flowering trees or trees with unusual colours or characteristics. Pots of the colour featured above work well with plants such as Cotoneasters - with their bright red berries. Over the years, it has become traditional to select rather neutral shades of brown, grey and red for evergreens and the more colourful pots of green, blue and white for deciduous trees. It has also long been recognised, for example, that flowering trees look good in green, blue and deep purple pots. The exception to this is that trees and shrubs with red flowers look best in white pots. Fruiting trees can handle the competition of coloured pots and certain traditions have developed around them. For instance, it is considered the norm for trees with red fruit in white pots, and trees with yellow or orange fruits in blue pots. Basic brown pots are always correct.

Glazed pots for unformal, interesting trees Both evergreen and deciduous trees known for their highly coloured foliage follow the norms, with almost any vibrant colour looking well in green, red-leafed trees looking well in white, and yellow and orange looking well in blue containers. Again, the finishes can either be glazed or unglazed.

Generally, the more mature and aged the bonsai, the plainer the container should be. The more delicate the tree, the lighter in colour the container should be.

Feel free to chose whatever container that you think looks best for your individual bonsai, but as a general rule, oval containers compliment deciduous trees and rectangular ones suit evergreens best (particularly conifers). Hexagonal pots are softer in effect than other shapes - perfect for trees with arching or short and prominent trunks. The colour, weight and size of a pot should also be given great consideration, as well as whether it should have decoration or not. Larger pots are usually subdued in colour and texture, so that they do not dominate the tree. A smaller pot can be brighter. A container that is too overpowering, is too big, or is not the right colour, takes an enormous amount of the simple beauty of a bonsai away, and detracts from its overall aesthetic appearance.

Simple pots work well with conifers Keep the container in scale with the tree: an individual tree should not look lost in a large pot, nor overwhelm a tiny one. A dense evergreen bonsai, for example, needs a deeper pot than a delicate maple. As a guideline, a mainly vertical tree needs a pot with a length between two-thirds to three quarters of the tree's height. The pot's length should be two-thirds and three-quarters of the overall width of a strongly horizontal tree. As a reservoir for soil and water, a smaller pot needs more depth in proportion to its width than a larger pot does. Certain styles and types of tree demand deeper pots.

The 'Drum Pot' is effective with large, dominating trees. One very important thing to remember when buying a bonsai pot is : never buy a pot with a glazed interior. It may look neat, but this drastically interrupts drainage and heat loss. The roots could rot very easily. Most good quality bonsai pots are very expensive, but it is better to pay more for a container that you know is good quality, than to buy a cheap pot that could turn out to be detrimental to your bonsai's health. Some people might even want to use a slab of rock or slate instead of a traditional container to make a design look especially natural as an alternative to a pot for a forest planting or a bonsai that is spacious and dominating in design. These are usually granite, slate or volcanic rock, but can also be made from painted fibreglass and other materials quite cheaply.

An Unglazed pot mainly used for more elaborate trees Overall, the container of your bonsai should always suit your personal tastes - as you are the artist, but it also should compliment the basic design and layout. e.g. you would have to have a cascading bonsai in a tall, narrow pot. Remember, if you cannot make up your mind on what pot would suit the plant, experiment, and don't be afraid to try something original. You can always repot the bonsai the following year into a more preferred style. Bonsai is a constantly changing process and one that requires a great amount of patience, but is never permanent.

Using Ornamental Rocks...

If you want to increase the impact of your bonsai, introducing one or more rocks is a good idea. Solid, elemental-looking rocks can give the impression that a bonsai is part of a landscape. A single rock can resemble a rugged cliff, a towering mountain, or a rocky island. A group of smaller rocks, positioned as outcrops protruding from the soil of the bonsai container, can recall the rocky terrain in which the tree lives.

The use of ornamental rocks with a bonsai tree was always something of great importance in ancient times. This practice has become less used these days, but can add just that one final touch to your bonsai masterpiece. Excessive use of rock and statues around a bonsai is known as Saikei, but a single one or two rocks along with the tree still classify as a bonsai.

The choice of what type of rock to use basically is up to the bonsai artist. Personally, I use interesting and weathered pieces of granite and slate that I have collected from the wild, but you could basically use anything that looks natural and suits the type of tree for the bonsai, and the pot. Note that if you are going to use rocks collected from the sea, or estuaries, that these have been exposed to the elements for two years at least (such as in a corner of your garden) where this has allowed the salt and any other chemicals to leach from inside. If you do use a rock that has been exposed to chemicals or substances that are detrimental to your bonsai - either do not use it, or make sure that these substances are properly eliminated.

For your rock 'planting' you obviously need to find a beautiful rock that is harmonious and complimentary to the tree's structure and colours. Many types of rock exist around the world, but some are better than others for bonsai. The best kind for bonsai work is a hard type that will not crumble away. It should also have an important colour, shape, and texture. Pay particular attention to the rock's shape and type. It should be intrinsically interesting. A round, smooth rock, for example, suggests a watery scene, so it would enhance trees such as willows. A bland rock is unlikely to produce a good effect. On the whole, pick a rock with a natural-looking shape, but you should not find this a limitation, because nature produces a wide range of fantastically contorted mountains, boulders and rocks. Pleasing texture and colour are also important: black and shades of grey are usually impressive.

A popular choice of rock is the Japanese Ibigawa rock. It is a volcanic conglomerate, a mixture of several rock types welded together by the heat of volcanic activity.

Do not use marble or quartz because their intensively shiny, glittering textures will detract from the natural effect of the trees. Frost may split the strata lines of sandstone and other types of sedimentary rocks.

You can use soft rocks such as lava rock and tufa, but don't rely on these too heavily as they can erode quite quickly. Soft rocks should never be used for clasped to rock or root-over-rock styles.

Bonsai Stands...

Properly displaying your bonsai will enhance its beauty - Enhance your decor with these handcrafted bonsai stands. Each stand is hand carved by Chinese artisans and hand finish with a stain that gives the piece a rich luster while protecting the wood for a long-lasting finish. The quality hardwood construction of these bonsai display tables brings character to your home. They are an ideal way to display personal treasures in an elegant way. The purpose of a bonsai stand:
The bonsai stand is an element of formality. They come in many different designs, shapes and sizes to fit your needs. They are designed to draw attention to the bonsai, not necessarily to the stand. A lovely stand will add to the decor of a room while also bringing attention to the bonsai on display.

Slanting Bonsai style

As a result of the wind blowing in one dominant direction or when a tree is in the shadow and must bend toward the sun, the tree will lean in one direction.
With Bonsai, the leaning style should grow at an angle of about 60 - 80 degrees relative to the ground. The roots are well developed on one side to keep the tree standing. On the side toward which the tree is leaning, the roots are clearly not as well developed. The first branch grows opposite the direction of the tree, in order to balance it. The trunk can be slightly bent or completely straight, but still be thicker at the bottom than at the top.

Shakkan (leaning or slanting) Bonsai style

Windswept Bonsai style

The windswept style is also a good example of trees that must struggle to survive.
The branches as well as the trunk grow to one side as though the wind has been blowing the tree constantly in one direction. The branches grow out on all sides of the trunk but will all eventually be bent to one side.

Fukinagashi (windswept) Bonsai style

Choosing a Bonsai pot

The importance of selecting the right pot to plant your Bonsai in is often underestimated. The pot as well as any grasses, moss, stones, figurines and plant stands are important element of the composition, and should be chosen carefully.

General. Bonsai are planted in small pots, often imported from Japan or China. Japanese pottery is high quality, quite expensive, elegant, natural and often unglazed, while Chinese pottery is cheaper (quality is getting better and better though) and often brightly glazed.
Old Bonsai trees, which do not need to be trained anymore and have been repotted and root-pruned many times over the years, are adapted to live in small pots. Younger trees however, still need more room to grow and will be trained step-by-step to adept to live in increasingly smaller pots, by pruning their roots every time they are being repotted. Young trees should be planted in rather less expensive pots or in plastic containers, widely available at (online) Bonsai shops.

Size. Trees still being trained should be placed in rather large containers, providing the roots with enough space to grow and help the tree to cope with intense training techniques used, like style-pruning. Older trees however have a more compact root-system and can be planted in smaller pots, esthetical considerations are more important now.

Esthetics. Choosing a pot that really suits the tree is difficult, as different variables (like shape, choosing between glazed/unglazed and color) need to be taken into account. A few basic guidelines can be used to select the right pot:
1. Use unglazed pots for conifers and pine trees.
2. For deciduous trees you can use both glazed as unglazed pots; do not use a bright glaze unless the tree has flowers or fruits.
3. Use a pot with a width of about 2/3 the height of the tree.
4. The depth of the pot should be equal to one to two times the thickness of the trunk at its base.
5. For ‘masculine’ trees use angular pots, while for more gently shaped ‘feminine’ trees use rounded pots.

Finally, it is most important to select a container that is large enough for the tree to sustain its health and to use a pot that is subordinate to the tree .

Overwintering Bonsai trees

During the autumn outdoor trees start preparing for the coming winter by hardening up new growth and (for deciduous trees at least) dropping leaves to reduce moisture loss.

During overwintering trees enter a period of dormancy, which is important for Bonsai trees to follow as well, so don’t overprotect them by placing them inside ((sub)tropical trees are an exception and should be placed indoors during the winter).

In nature trees are often subjected to temperatures below 10 degrees Celsius (50 °F) the roots however are too deep under the ground to freeze. Therefore, as long as the root-system of a Bonsai is protected, low temperatures are not a serious problem as the foliage protects it selves when it enters the period of dormancy.
Keeping your trees in a greenhouse or cold frame during the winter is recommended for those living in cold areas, as roots in the shallow pots easily freeze. When such accommodation is not available, use covers around the pots to prevent your Bonsai. When living in warm, (sub)tropical environments you can most of the times leave your trees unprotected.
When in dormancy, be careful not to expose your trees to an extended period of high temperatures (open greenhouses when they warm up during sunny days for example) as this might bring them out of dormancy. Once it gets cold again the trees don’t have their natural protection and buds die off.

When overwintering, keep a close eye on your trees. Water when the soil dries out, the trees don’t absorb much water when in dormancy so be careful not to water too often. Also check your trees for insects or infections regularly. During the spring you can place your trees outside again, but be wary to protect new growth against late frosts.

No comments: