The Ancient Art of Bonsai

Friday, July 11th, 2014 by Jenny Watts
    • Gerberas Daisies with their large, bright-colored flowers are a standout in containers. Water them infrequently and give them plenty of sun for flowers all summer.
    • Asparagus plants should be fed with good, rich compost when you have finished cutting spears. Keep the bed mulched and weed-free all summer, and the soil moist.
    • Ivy geraniums make wonderful hanging baskets for partially shaded spots where they will bloom all summer.
    • Tomatoes are the most popular summer vegetable. Choose from the many varieties available now so you can enjoy delicious home-grown flavor.
    • When you plant your vegetable garden, why not grow a little extra to donate to the Willits Food Bank this summer.

The Ancient Art of Bonsai

One of the most fascinating of all the varied garden arts is Bonsai. Centuries ago, the Japanese collected and cultivated trees in miniature form, capturing the spirit of nature, and thus creating a unique art form. Bonsai is a Japanese word, meaning ‘tree in a tray.’

Nature’s forms are so exactly reproduced in these elegant trees, that you can almost feel the wind blow as you contemplate a weather-beaten, windswept mountain tree.

As with other hobbies, there are skills involved, but with practice wonderful results can be achieved. Your initial attempts, though not perfect, will bring you joy and pride as you watch them grow. A young tree has the potential to grow into a great work of art with your careful attention.

Spring is the best time to start a new bonsai while the trees are strongest and growing vigorously. When you visit the nursery to select your tree, examine the basic form of the trunk since this is what you will work with. Specimens that are lopsided or deformed often make very good bonsai subjects.

The easiest plants to start with are juniper, cotoneaster and Japanese maples. Keep in mind that you are creating a tree in miniature – small leaved species will help the beginner to create this image. Small starter plants are easiest for the beginner, while the more experienced may look for larger, overgrown nursery plants.

Choose a pot with large drain holes. This will help prevent overwatering, which is the leading cause of death with bonsai. A netting or screen can be placed in the bottom of the pot to keep the soil from falling through the holes.

The soil should be light and porous. You can buy a premixed bonsai soil, or make your own with three parts loam, two parts sand and one part peat moss.

After your tree is potted, pay close attention to its water needs. Daily watering is necessary during very warm weather, but may drown the plant in mild weather.

Bonsai plants like to be kept outdoors. They are not house plants, unless they are made with tropical plants that tolerate household conditions. Find a location where they will receive as much sunlight as possible without overheating or burning. This will vary according to the kind of plant. A high-branching tree or latticework can shelter them from excessive heat. Also protect them from strong winds and heavy rain.

To create the weather-beaten or windswept look, branches are often removed and tops are trimmed. Branches and trunks can be temporarily wired to produce twisted shapes. The goal is to create a plant that looks like a small old tree. The Chinese frequently use figurines and/or rocks in their compositions.

Bonsai is a very popular horticultural hobby that can be enjoyed by young and old alike.