There is a lot of misconceptions in the world of bonsai trees, so i'm here to help clear some of them up, and give some knowledge about bonsai. Bonsai is an art form that has been around for almost 2,000 years, and is something that can take up to years to master, so i'll start out with some basics about taking care of a bonsai tree and why it really is such a fun and relaxing hobby to get into.
What you need to know about bonsai
One common misconception is that bonsai is a species of tree. This is completely wrong.
Bonsai trees are just normal trees that are trimmed and trained to stay in their miniature versions. You can use almost any species of tree to turn into a bonsai, as long as you have the dedication as some are a little more finicky than others.
Just like a sculpture or piece of art can be finished, a live bonsai can never be finished because it is constantly growing and changing. It is a living, growing, breathing piece of art.
Getting started with your bonsai
If you don't already have a bonsai tree, you have a couple options. If you do, feel free to skip ahead to the next section.
One option would be to buy a pre-grown tree online. This is what I did for my very first tree and I was very happy with it. The trees come already trained and pruned with food for the trees already in the soil. They will also come with a pretty cool little pot. When I bought my tree it was already five years old and had a nice look to it. I would recommend this for someone buying their first tree. I would recommend the ficus ginseng bonsai tree, as it is pretty low maintenance to take care of, very resilient, and can live inside or outdoors.
The second option would be to go to your local gardening store and find a shrub or other small tree that is already a good size. After you buy it, you can prune it and trim it back to a normal bonsai size. The advantage with going this route would be that the trees will look older compared to buying them online, since they were allowed to grow out so they can have a lot thicker of a trunk which will give it a nicer look. I wouldn't recommend this unless you already have some experience with bonsai as it can be a little more daunting of a task, but if you feel up to it, go for it.
The last option would be to grow your tree from seed which can take many years before it even starts to look like a bonsai tree. I would only recommend this to people who are very knowledgeable to bonsai already and have a few extra years to kill.
The trunk of a bonsai tree
The trunk of a bonsai tree is one of the most important features of the tree. A thick, large, trunk can display age and weathering in a tree. This will give the impression that your tree is very old and will look a lot more like a miniaturized tree than an underdeveloped still growing tree The goal of bonsai is to make your tree appear old and look as close too a real tree as possible.
Having a bend or curve in your trunk is a very important feature. A straight trunk can be boring so, twists and turns in the trunk and branches can add a lot more features for the eye to catch. Your eye will pass over a straight trunk a lot faster than it would if it were curved, which allow the eye more time to focus on the tree's main features. In other words, a bent trunk is more visually appealing.
Here is a real helpful article on how to get a thicker trunk on your tree.
Having a smooth trunk with no imperfections will give the appearance of a young tree while, a large, rough, gnarled, and scarred trunk will give the impression that the tree is mature and has been through a lot of weathering and harsh conditions out in nature.
Pruning your bonsai tree
Regular pruning is a very important part of owning a bonsai tree and is just a fancy word for trimming. The pruning is what keeps the tree in its miniature shape. Pruning is what will give your bonsai its general shape and feel, so you can be creative with it and make something your proud of. As a general guideline, here are some things to follow:
- If two branches occur at the same height of the tree, keep one of them and remove the other one.
- Remove vertical growing branches, which are too thick to bend.
- Get rid of branches with unnatural bends in them.
- Remove branches that hide the front of the trunk.
- Get rid of disproportionately thick branches from the top of the tree, as branches at the bottom should be thicker than at the top.
Having a full, dense canopy is also very visually appealing. Pruning should be done in-between growing seasons, so late autumn or early spring work best. Pruning should also be done every few months to give the tree time to heal in-between.
Watering your bonsai tree
Watering is an important step that is often overlooked. You can not water your tree on a regular schedule. Sometimes I have to water my tree everyday, sometimes it's once every four days. The reason behind this is there are lots of factors that determine how fast your bonsai will use up it's water like, how hot it is, how big your tree is, how large the pot is, etc.
To check if your bonsai needs watering, stick your finger half an inch into the soil. If you feel no moisture at all, it's time to water. Never let your bonsai's topsoil become completely bone dry. This is a fast way to kill your tree. After owning your tree for a while, you will start to be able to tell when it needs water just by the color and look of the soil. Generally a darker soil has more moisture in it.
When watering your tree, allow water to flow on the soil until you see the water leaking out the drainage holes from underneath. After this wait ten minutes then water it again, until water starts to flow out, just like before. You can even do this a third time if you would like. You will notice the first time you water it that the soil will not accept the water as well. After your tree realizes it's being watered, the water will flow smoother. During the second watering, you will notice the water absorbs into the soil much faster.
To wrap everything up
In the end, bonsai is a very fun, rewarding and accomplishing hobby and art form to get into to ease and relax the stresses of everyday life. The feeling of knowing you personally have changed something for the better in this world is an indescribable bliss you could only hope to experience in life. Bonsai can be an extremely calming and meditative hobby to get started in and I would recommend it to anyone curious about trying it out.
Best of luck folks.
-Brandon The One
M J Street on June 08, 2016:
Well , quite interesting, you can never know too much. However , I don't agree with bent Bonsai being any better to look at. I think that beginners will find this useful for tying to create a Bonsai from wild saplings or nursery plants, maybe literati style as well. However some superb trees grown to look like exactly perfectly straight full grown deciduous trees can be breathtaking. The Chinese have a habit of putting an S bend in nearly all new bonsai. This is particularly true of the Chinese Elm which is by no means the easiest Bonsai to start with. Whilst often cheap , it is difficult in the UK to decide where to place the pot . In my younger days I tried to keep these indoors, and lost many. Most people will keep these on a window sill near the light, which they do need. However most window sills have a radiator below which is totally unsuitable for any tree. The result is either drying out with soil like dust , or the tree misses its fall of leaves in Autumn. Elms are deciduous, and deciduous trees must have a period of dormancy. Keeping them "evergreen " will kill them for sure. Best is to keep them outside , but protect them from really cold weather. So little is given to the complete beginner on similar cheaper Bonsai, in the form of growing instructions. Better to go for trees like Zelkovas , easy to keep , cheap "starter trees ". Look on ebay.
But expect cheaper trees to arrive in bad soils, often garden soil .
Buy a good book , they are invaluable. There is a good beginners guide by Bonsai Empire. A really excellent good is Bonsai by Peter Warren. Superb pictures, well illustrated. Learn how to air-layer : a very simple way to get mature Bonsai quickly and very cheaply. BUT beware of old guides on bonsai as the hobby has leapfrogged in knowledge. There are so many old/old fashioned ideas in say 1960 books. Get 2015/2016 books. Whilst these books are a bit more expensive, some are beautifully illustrated with breath taking examples. Such books are just a pleasure to read and ideal for younger / teenage enthusiasts as well.
Growing Bonsai is a superb hobby and does not have to cost a lot with the right knowledge !!!!!!!!!