Bonsai is a Japanese word that means “planted in a container.” Bonsai gardening is a horticultural art form that involves growing small plants into tiny trees. The gardener’s objective is to coax a plant into the shape and appearance of a tree with branches and leaves. Gardeners use a variety of growing techniques to direct this beautiful and innovative growth. Bonsai gardening is popular among people of all ages, and it is easily performed in the comfort of one’s home during any season of the year.
“Bonsai” may be a Japanese word, but this art form began in China. Hundreds of years ago, Chinese people pursued a special type of gardening that involved growing tiny trees in containers. In the beginning, only the top echelon of Chinese society pursued this form of gardening. Later, as Japanese people borrowed heavily from Chinese culture, bonsai became a popular hobby in Japan. Bonsai eventually moved west into Europe and then into the United States. A bonsai tree was featured in the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, which illustrates the rise of bonsai in the West.
Bonsai may be miniature trees, or they can also be larger dwarf-sized trees that grow in wooden boxes that are deep enough to accommodate the root systems. One of the first decisions a bonsai gardener will need to make is in choosing the plant to grow. A tropical bonsai will need protection from cold temperatures. A temperate bonsai will enter a dormant period during the winter, much like outdoor deciduous trees do. Most bonsai gardeners strive to keep their plants outdoors as much as possible. Even tropical bonsai can likely spend some time outdoors during the winter on sunny, mild days. Growing bonsai requires daily efforts to style and train the branches.
A suitable bonsai style for a beginner might be the shakan style, which features several branches at the top of the plant with a slanted trunk. Some bonsai might feature more than one plant in a container, resembling a forest or a grouping of trees. Other containers might have just a single plant. Watering the bonsai is a crucial part of care to ensure that the plant remains hydrated and vibrant. Slow and thorough watering is recommended to ensure adequate moisture in the soil. To train the plant to grow in the directions desired, the gardener will need to prune regularly. Pruning eliminates growth from the plant, and it also encourages the plant to grow in the desired direction.
Bonsai gardening is often an outward expression of the individual style and personality of the gardener. Bonsai gardeners often enjoy the process of designing a tree to adopt a specific shape and style. Re-creating a majestic tree in a tiny plant growing in a container is rewarding for many gardeners. Experience will help the bonsai gardener develop more growing skills to encourage the plant to adopt the desired shape.
Although bonsai gardening requires ongoing maintenance, the process is not difficult. Keeping the soil evenly moist will be one of the most important tasks of the gardener. The plant will also need the correct amount of sunlight for optimal growth, and the ambient temperature will need to match the plant’s needs. For optimal growth, the gardener will need to fertilize the plant to provide it with important nutrients. Wiring branches helps the gardener direct the growth of the plant to make it resemble a tree. This practice is known as “styling” the bonsai.
Joining a bonsai club or organization is an excellent way to learn more about this hobby. Bonsai clubs hold meetings of members to share knowledge and tips. Clubs often organize shows, which may involve competitive judging. A bonsai show enables the gardener to show growing techniques and results. Beginning gardeners can explore the displays of more experienced growers to learn tips and techniques. Entrants often have their plants critiqued by a panel of judges for prize awards. Bonsai clubs may hold workshops or classes with experienced gardeners teaching growing principles to students. By joining a club, a beginning gardener can meet other people who share similar interests in bonsai gardening.