For many years, the fashion for forming bonsai trees is not weakening. Even in supermarkets you can buy small trees in flat pots. Is it really worth it? Are such trees real bonsai? Read our guide – learn how and how to form bonsai trees.
Beginner’s cultivation and care guide
At the beginning of this article, we would like to cool down all those who think that bonsai tree formation can be learned in a few weeks. Unfortunately, good intentions and even reading this guide several times are not enough! Bonsai is an art combined with mastering a complicated technique and understanding the complexity of the natural world. This is the knowledge that has been gained over the years. This guide is only an introduction to fascinating, many years of adventure.
Bonsai – a technique for obtaining dwarf plants using a number of special treatments – including cutting shoots and roots, wiring to give a specific shape and planting in special flat pots.
We choose a tree: i.e. where to start the adventure with bonsai?
A bonsai tree can be created from virtually any plant, but the most commonly used are those species that have relatively small leaves, form flexible shoots prone to forming, have a clear trunk (or several) and resemble “trees” by means of good bonsai tools.
These can be popular garden plants:
Trees: maple (mainly palm maple), oak, beech, white spruce (most often ‘Conica’ variety), birch, hawthorn, ginkgo, larch, pine (usually small-flowered), creeping juniper, cypress, plum, cherry (most often serrated) elm;
Shrubs: horizontal cotoneaster, dwarf mountain pine , witch hazel, firethorn, quince, rhododendron, azalea; and a lot of houseplants : ficus (blunt or benjamin), small-leaved, myrtle, crassula , olive, citrus, camellia , hibiscus, pomegranate, sageretia, fuchsia, gardenia, adenium, chef’s and many others.
Flowering bonsai can be obtained from many plants, e.g. azalea, apple tree, cotoneaster, cherry, wisteria, bougainvillea, citrus, camellia, gardenia, pomegranate, and many, many others.
Plants for bonsai can be bought at a garden center or large tropical (home) plant store, but it’s best to earn shopping at a specialized bonsai store – the plants will definitely be more expensive, but during the purchase you will get expert knowledge.
Beginners often choose a “ready” bonsai from the supermarket, but it is often buying a “pig in a poke. ” Rarely, plants are described with a species name (they are labeled with a saying “bonsai mix”) and when brought home it is not known where to look for information about their requirements and subsequent care.
Such “pseudobonsai” is often mass production from Asian countries. It has strongly undercut shoots and roots to give them the desired shape. The trees are often in very poor condition and die quickly when brought home.
You can buy them and try to mold, but it is always a big risk. Sometimes, discounted plants are worth buying only for best pots.
It is much better to buy an unformed plant in the store or dig a seedling from the garden and start creating a “bonsai from scratch” – unfortunately, it takes much longer because the first effects will have to wait at least 2-3 seasons.
It is worth buying a small plant “in the shape of a small tree” 20-40 cm high, a thick trunk at the base and narrowing towards the top, with evenly arranged side shoots. It’s best to choose specimens with an unusual shape – e.g. a fancifully curved trunk or irregular or crooked crown shape (and submit to nature’s plans).
Plants that at first glance seem “ugly” or “shapeless” may be the best “material” for future bonsai.
Special pots are necessary! There is no discussion about it. Even the most beautifully formed tree in an ordinary pot will not resemble a bonsai. It must be transplanted into a flat container that will give it the right character.
The best bonsai pots are containers made of clay (glazed or not) or stone trays and shells. Those made of plastic can be used at the initial stage of molding, but it is worth moving them to the target containers as soon as possible because they look shoddy in plastics.
The pot is half the beauty of a bonsai! The tree must be well-chosen for the container to harmonize with it in terms of colors, texture, size, and shape.
For tall plants, we choose flat pots with a depth equal to the diameter of the trunk, those with dangling shoots look best in narrow and tall containers.
Trees with straight trunks are best planted in square or rectangular pots, plants with irregular crowns and sticks are better planted in the round and oval pots.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to buy suitable bonsai pots. They rarely appear in DIY stores and garden centers. They can be bought online, but quality can often disappoint. It’s best to go to a professional bonsai store – there, in addition to pots, we’ll also buy special tools and substrates.
Tree in a pot – the name bonsai comes from two words from the Japanese language: bon – container and sai – tree.
Plants growing in the ground or in ordinary, deep pots, even if they are cut in fancy shapes will never be bonsai! Such fancy vegetable sculptures are topiary.
Forming: giving shape to bonsai trees
The best inspiration for forming bonsai trees is nature – it creates the most beautiful shapes. All you have to do is go for a walk to the park or the forest to see unusual, fancy forms, which we define as “natural”. Old, centuries-old specimens “gnawed by a tooth of time” look most beautiful. They were the inspiration for Japanese masters who created over a dozen bonsai forming styles. The most popular are:
Chokkan – upright regular style, trunk, branches formed in the shape of a pyramid growing out in all directions, also backward.
Moyogi – straight, irregular, similar shape to the previous one, however, its trunk is not perfectly simple.
Shakan – the sloping style is a tree with a straight trunk, leaning left or right.
Yose-uye – a small grove or several trees, preferably more than 3 planted in a flat container, sometimes on a flat rock slab.
Kengai – cascading style, has a twisted trunk, flowing like a cascade from top to bottom. The top of the tree should be below the bottom of the container.
You can also let your imagination run wild and create a tree, according to your own, imaginary shape, however, for plants to maintain diamonds growth and shape, you will need regular wiring and pruning of shoots (and sometimes also roots). It is worth remembering, however, that not all plants will take any shape we invented! Bonsai is a beautiful art but limited by the laws of nature. We can create almost any shape, but we are limited by fragile shoots, too large leaves, flowers or fruit.