Bonsai Tree Gardening

ultivating bonsai trees has been a Japanese tradition for hundreds and hundreds of years. Literally translating to “tray planting,” cultivating a bonsai tree involves actively working to shape a tree into a dwarfed, artistic version of itself. Bonsai trees are not special hybrids or dwarf species of common trees; they’re genetically the same as their taller brothers and sisters. It’s the careful cultivation that keeps these trees small. However, the trees are not sick or damaged. In fact, given the proper care, the dwarfed version of a tree can live longer than the same tree if it was allowed to grow in the wild.

Growing Bonsai Trees

Bonsai juniper squamata, on wooden stand, moss covered base.

Bonsai trees can either be grown from seeds or from cuttings of trees, and they usually range in height from two inches to three feet. They are kept small through pruning both branches and roots. They’re also repotted periodically, and new growth is often pinched off.

Cultivating bonsai trees is actually as much about art as it is about horticulture. Bonsai trees are not only kept small, they are also formed into pleasing shapes. They often follow a number of different growth patterns, from simple triangles to waterfall shapes cascading down over their pots. The shapes are usually a product of both the pruning of the tree and through the use of wrapping the trunk and branches with wire, pushing the tree into its desired shape. The pots themselves are part of the art as well, chosen to compliment the shape and color of the tree itself. Mosses and rocks are often added to the base for aesthetic appeal.

Bonsai Care

Taking care of a bonsai tree is more complicated than taking care of most houseplants. Since the bonsai, by definition, has a smaller root system than most plants, it needs water and fertilizer more often than most garden-variety houseplants. Occasional pruning is also essential, since without pruning the bonsai tree would grow into just a normal big tree. Also, if wire is used to help mold and form the tree, it is important to take care that the wire doesn’t dig into the bark of the tree, scarring the branches permanently. Depending on the type of bonsai tree and your climate, you may be able to keep some bonsai trees outside year round, while others will need to be kept inside for at least part of the year. Moisture is also important, not only in the soil but in the leaves and branches of the bonsai. They need to be misted occasionally for the bonsai to develop healthily.