Bonsai (pronounced bone sigh) is quite simply a tree in or on a container. The art is as old as the pyramids and the trees themselves resemble trees of great age. Although many bonsai have lived for hundreds of years, from their beginnings they are pruned, formed and created to look like miniaturized, ancient, full-sized trees. At its best, the art creates an aged effect as though the tree has been buffeted by nature over years and centuries.
Patience and persistence are key words to creating and maintaining bonsai. Because they have such limited root structure and soil, the plants require care daily or perhaps several times a day and a great deal of time is required to see the results of training and pruning. They may grow in any container — a pot, a wooden slab, a rock or any artificial device. The system was developed in Egypt to transport living trees to the east. The Chinese developed it into an art and the Japanese refined it even further.
Trees must be healthy and sturdy and displayed to enhance their impact. Select pots carefully to enhance the tree. The branches, density of leaves, size and shape of trunk all play a part in the overall appearance. Enthusiasts also plan to use color, size and texture to harmonize the overall look.
Some bonsai plantings focus on a single plant while others represent forests and groves. The containers could be large ceramic pots, rocks or concrete slabs. The art of grouping trees also requires careful attention to size and proportion of all of the plants. Less formal upright styles are similar to more formal plantings, but all trunks and branches are curved. The curves determine where plants are located and their size and proportion. Where the curves begin and end is an element of the art. Slant styles may be formal or informal. These trees are appealing with their tips pulling to one side as though they were shifted to that direction by the ravages of wind and other forces of nature.
Cascade styles are just what they sound like. Most of the tree is over the side and below the top of the pot or container. All the elements aim downward, representing a tree growing off a cliff or high part of a mountain.
Semi-cascade styles combine the slanted and cascade styles. Most of the tree leans to the side, but mostly it is above the bottom of the pot. A wind blown style can be any shape, but the branches and leaves are on one side with secondary branches pointing the same direction as if the wind were blowing strongly. You may see a bonsai with no branches on the lower part of the trunk. It looks relatively tall with a small amount of growth at or near the top. These are known as Bunjin or Literati styles. The grower may remove a lot of living tissue and bark to make the look more dramatic.
Bonsai enthusiasts may use any tree with a woody trunk and secondary branches to create these effects. You may see bonsai of pine, deciduous and flowering trees. Bonsai does not do well inside. They thrive on sun, rain and fertilizer. If conditions dictate taking the plants indoors, they do best in a well-lit greenhouse.
Soak plants with water daily, and in dry climates, water even more often. The pots must have a drainage hole in the bottom to prevent standing water and its attendant root rot. Although the plants look like they have been clinging to a certain spot for many years, most are repotted annually. The easiest way to keep up with fertilizer needs is to use a “slow release” type with occasional applications of liquid fertilizer. Branches are very sculpted and most often very brittle. Do not touch bonsai. A tree with a broken branch could take five to 10 years to replace.
These delightful plants represent the beauty of the ages, but they are not for the lackadaisical or faint-hearted. If you opt to own one of these plants, plan to dedicate some time and care to it and you will be rewarded over the long haul with a lovely, specimen of dignity and grace.