The beginner's guide to bonsai: everything you need to know to get started - Bonsai-En

The beginner's guide to bonsai: everything you need to know to get started

Introduction To Bonsai

 
Bonsai is an ancient art form that originated in Japan, which involves growing miniature trees in small pots and shaping them to resemble mature trees found in nature. The practice of bonsai is a combination of horticulture and art, and it has been gaining popularity all around the world.
 
This article aims to serve as a beginner's guide to bonsai. We will cover the basics of what bonsai is, the different types of bonsai trees, the basic tools and techniques used to shape and care for bonsai, and the principles of bonsai care. We will also touch on the history and cultural significance of bonsai. By the end of the article, you will have a solid foundation on which to start your own bonsai journey.
 

Bonsai offers many benefits and is an incredibly rewarding hobby to pick up. Here are a few reasons why:

 
1. Relaxation and stress relief: The process of creating and maintaining a bonsai tree can be meditative and therapeutic. The act of pruning, shaping, and caring for the tree can be calming and help reduce stress.
 
2. Connection with nature: Bonsai brings the beauty and tranquility of nature indoors, allowing you to enjoy the company of a tree in your own home.
 
3. Learning opportunity: Bonsai is a fascinating hobby that requires a lot of patience, skill, and knowledge. By learning about the different types of bonsai trees, their requirements, and the various techniques used to shape and care for them, you can continue to develop your skills and knowledge.
 
4. Sense of accomplishment: Seeing a tree you have nurtured and shaped over time grow and thrive can be very fulfilling.
 
5. Increases focus: The activity of pruning, wiring and maintaining the bonsai tree can help to increase focus and attention to detail.
 
6. Improves dexterity: Bonsai requires a delicate touch, which can help improve dexterity and fine motor skills.
 
7. Appreciation of beauty: Bonsai helps to develop an eye for beauty and aesthetics. As you create and shape your own bonsai tree, you'll learn to appreciate the balance, proportion, and overall aesthetic of different bonsai styles.
 
Bonsai is not only a hobby, but also a way of life, and is enjoyed by people of all ages and backgrounds. And, Whether you are interested in horticulture, art, or just looking for a relaxing hobby, Bonsai can be an incredibly rewarding and enjoyable experience.
 

What Is Bonsai?

 
The origins of bonsai can be traced back to China, where it was known as "penjing" and was considered an imperial art form. Penjing was then introduced to Japan in the Kamakura period (1185–1333), where it became known as "bonsai" which literally means "planted in a container".
 
During the Edo period (1603–1867), bonsai began to be appreciated by the general public in Japan and started to develop into the art form we know today. Bonsai artists during this period began to refine the techniques used to shape and care for the trees, and the use of shallow pots to create the illusion of age and maturity.
 
During the Meiji period (1868–1912) and into the 20th century, bonsai began to be exported from Japan to other parts of the world. This led to an increased interest in the art form, and bonsai clubs and societies began to form in various countries.
 
In recent years, bonsai has continued to evolve and grow in popularity around the world. Today, it is no longer limited to Japan, and the art form is enjoyed and practiced by people of all ages and backgrounds all over the world. Many countries have their own bonsai styles and traditions, and it's not rare to see bonsai shows, exhibitions, and competitions being held around the world.
 
In summary, Bonsai has a long history that started in China and then moved to Japan, it evolved in Japan, where techniques and aesthetics were refined, From there it was exported to the rest of the world and now it's an internationally-known and appreciated art form.
 
Bonsai is an art form that involves growing miniature trees in small pots and shaping them to resemble mature trees found in nature. Bonsai trees are grown from regular tree seeds or cuttings, and are trained and pruned to keep them small and maintain their shape.
 
Bonsai is different from other miniature tree forms in a few ways. One key difference is the amount of time and effort that goes into creating and maintaining a bonsai tree. Bonsai is not a "one-and-done" kind of project, it requires constant maintenance and care to keep the tree healthy and maintain its shape.
 
Another key difference is the emphasis on aesthetics in bonsai. The goal of bonsai is to create a miniature tree that looks like a mature, full-sized tree. This is achieved by using various pruning, wiring and shaping techniques to create the illusion of age and maturity in the tree. This is one of the reasons bonsai is considered as an art form.
 
A third difference is that Bonsai is a living art form, Unlike other miniature trees which are made of plastic or metal, Bonsai is a living, breathing tree that requires proper care and maintenance to survive. This adds an extra layer of responsibility and commitment.
 
In summary, Bonsai is an ancient art form that involves growing miniature trees and shaping them to resemble mature trees in nature, it requires a lot of time, effort, and skill to create and maintain and is different from other miniature tree forms in that it is a living art form that requires constant care and attention.
 

The Different Types Of Bonsai Trees

 
Bonsai trees can be classified into three main categories based on the type of tree they are: deciduous, coniferous, and tropical.
Deciduous trees are trees that lose their leaves during the winter or dry season. These types of bonsai include maples, elms, and linden. Deciduous trees are generally considered to be easier to care for, as they require a period of dormancy during the winter when they are less active.

Coniferous trees are trees that bear cones and have needles or scale-like leaves. These types of bonsai include pines, spruce, and juniper. Coniferous trees are known for their hardiness and ability to withstand harsh conditions. They are popular with bonsai enthusiasts because they can be shaped into many different forms, from formal upright to windswept and informal upright.

Tropical trees are trees that are native to tropical regions and are typically evergreen. These types of bonsai include ficus, banyan, and bougainvillea. Tropical trees are known for their lush foliage and ability to grow quickly. They require more care and attention than deciduous and coniferous trees, as they need higher humidity, warmth and light levels.

It is worth noting that not all species are suitable for bonsai, and not all species behave the same, one has to do research on which species work well as a bonsai and which don't. Furthermore, It is also important to note that some species may be considered "indoor bonsai" and other considered "outdoor bonsai" depending on their natural growing environment and requirements.
 

Here are a few examples of popular species for each type of bonsai tree and their characteristics:

Deciduous Trees:
  • Maple (Acer sp.): Maple trees are popular for bonsai due to their delicate leaves, vibrant fall colors, and distinctive bark. They do well in both full sun and partial shade.
  • Elm (Ulmus sp.): Elm trees are popular for bonsai due to their graceful, spreading shape and attractive bark. They are tolerant of a wide range of temperatures and are well suited for both indoor and outdoor cultivation.
  • Linden (Tilia sp.): Linden trees are popular for bonsai due to their attractive, heart-shaped leaves and sweet-smelling flowers. They do well in a range of light levels and temperatures, but prefer well-draining soil.
Coniferous Trees:
  • Pine (Pinus sp.): Pine trees are popular for bonsai due to their attractive, needle-like leaves and distinctive bark. They can be trained in many different styles, from formal upright to windswept. They are tolerant of a wide range of temperatures and light levels, but prefer well-draining soil.
  • Spruce (Picea sp.): Spruce trees are popular for bonsai due to their attractive, needle-like leaves and distinctive bark. They can be trained in many different styles, and are tolerant of a wide range of temperatures and light levels, but prefer well-draining soil.
  • Juniper (Juniperus sp.): Junipers are popular for bonsai due to their hardiness, scalelike leaves and distinctive bark. They are tolerant of a wide range of temperatures and light levels, but prefer well-draining soil.
Tropical Trees:
  • Ficus (Ficus sp.): Ficus trees are popular for bonsai due to their attractive, glossy leaves and aerial roots. They are best suited to indoor cultivation, and require high humidity, warmth and light levels.
  • Banyan (Ficus benghalensis): Banyan trees are popular for bonsai due to their aerial roots and large size. They are best suited to outdoor cultivation, and require high humidity, warmth and light levels.
  • Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea sp.): Bougainvillea trees are popular for bonsai due to their colorful bracts and small size. They are best suited to outdoor cultivation, and require high humidity, warmth and light levels.
It's important to note that not all species will thrive in all climates, and some species may be better suited to indoor or outdoor cultivation, it's essential to research the specific species before starting a bonsai to make sure the conditions match the species requirements.
 

Basic Tools And Techniques

 
Bonsai cultivation requires a variety of tools and equipment to properly shape and care for the trees. Here are a few of the most essential tools and equipment needed for bonsai cultivation:
  1. Bonsai Scissors: These are small, sharp scissors used for pruning branches and leaves. They come in different sizes, shapes, and types such as regular, concave, knob cutter, branch cutter, and many more.
  2. Wiring tools: Wiring is used to shape branches and give a bonsai its desired shape. You will need bonsai wire and wire cutters to properly wire your bonsai. There are also different thicknesses and types of wire to choose from (copper, aluminum, etc)
  3. Bonsai Pots: Bonsai are grown in small pots, which are different from regular plant pots. They come in different sizes, shapes, and styles, such as glazed and unglazed, round and rectangular, and are made from different materials such as ceramic, plastic, and unglazed pottery.
  4. Rakes and scrapers: These tools are used to clean the surface of the pot, and to remove old moss, debris and weeds from the pot.
  5. Root hook : These tools are used to remove debris and for opening up the surface of the soil once it becomes compacted so it can continue to take on water.
  6. Light equipment: Many bonsai trees require specific levels of light to thrive, depending on the species. This could include shading screens or other equipment to provide the right level of light.
  7. Humidity Tray: Some species of bonsai require higher humidity levels. A humidity tray is a shallow container that holds water and is placed under the bonsai pot to increase humidity levels.
It's worth noting that this is not a comprehensive list and you may need other tools and equipment depending on the species you're working with, but these are the most basic tools that are needed for most bonsai trees. As you progress in your bonsai journey, you will gain more knowledge and may find that you need other tools to meet the specific needs of your bonsai tree.

 

Here are brief explanations of three basic bonsai techniques: pruning, wiring, and repotting:

  1. Pruning: Pruning is the process of removing unwanted or excess branches, leaves, and roots from a bonsai tree. This technique is used to control the size and shape of the bonsai, as well as to encourage new growth and the development of a compact root system. Pruning should be done at the appropriate time for the species of tree, and care should be taken not to over-prune as it can damage or kill the tree.
  2. Wiring: Wiring is the process of bending and shaping branches to give the bonsai its desired shape. This technique is used to create the illusion of age and maturity, as well as to give the bonsai its desired shape. Wiring is done using thin wires, usually made of copper, aluminum or anodized aluminum, which are wrapped around the branches and then bent into shape. The wires should be checked periodically and removed before they cut into the bark.
  3. Repotting: Repotting is the process of removing the bonsai from its pot and replacing the soil. This is done to refresh the soil, to remove old roots, and to reduce the size of the root ball if necessary. Repotting should be done at the appropriate time for the species you are working on as not all trees are repotted at the same time of year.

Bonsai Care

 
Bonsai care requires a combination of knowledge, skill, and attention to detail. Here are some basic principles of bonsai care:
  1. Watering: Bonsai trees require regular watering, but the frequency of watering will depend on the species of tree and the environment in which it is grown. Over-watering and under-watering can both be harmful to bonsai, so it is important to understand the watering needs of the specific species you are growing. One way to check if your tree needs watering is to stick your finger in the soil, if the soil is dry it needs water, if it is damp it doesn't.
  2. Fertilizing: Bonsai trees require regular fertilizing to provide them with the necessary nutrients for healthy growth. Different types of bonsai have different fertilizing needs, so it is important to understand the specific requirements of the species you are growing. It is also important to use the right type and amount of fertilizer for the species, and to follow the instructions on the package carefully.
  3. Pest Control: Pests can cause significant damage to bonsai trees. Common pests include spider mites, scale insects, and mealybugs. Pest control can be accomplished using pesticides or through the use of natural methods such as introducing beneficial insects or using neem oil.
  4. Humidity and temperature: Many bonsai species require specific levels of humidity and temperature to thrive. These requirements vary depending on the species. It's important to research the specific needs of the species you are growing and to provide the appropriate environment for them.
  5. Light: Many bonsai species require specific levels of light to thrive. These requirements vary depending on the species, for example some species do well indoors and other species do well outdoors. It's important to research the specific needs of the species you are growing and to provide the appropriate environment for them.
  6. Trimming and shaping: Bonsai trees require regular pruning and shaping to maintain their desired shape and to encourage healthy growth. This process involves the use of various pruning, wiring, and shaping techniques. It is important to understand the species of tree you are pruning and its growth habits as some species rely heavily on their foliage to stay healthy.

 

The requirements for bonsai trees can vary greatly depending on the species. Here is a general outline of the requirements for different types of bonsai trees:

  1. Deciduous Trees: Deciduous bonsai trees such as maples, elms, and linden require a period of dormancy during the winter when they are less active. They can tolerate a wide range of temperatures, but need to be protected from frost and should be kept in a sunny location. They generally prefer well-draining soil and need to be watered regularly during the growing season.
  2. Coniferous Trees: Coniferous bonsai trees such as pines, spruce, and juniper are known for their hardiness and ability to withstand harsh conditions. They can tolerate a wide range of temperatures and light levels, but prefer well-draining soil. They should be protected from frost and should be watered regularly during the growing season. They generally don't require humidity and need to be pruned and wired regularly to maintain their shape.
  3. Tropical Trees: Tropical bonsai trees such as ficus, banyan, and bougainvillea are native to tropical regions and are typically evergreen. They require high humidity, warmth and light levels and therefore indoor cultivation is usually recommended for them. They need to be kept in a sunny location and should be protected from frost. They should be watered regularly and fertilized regularly during the growing season.
 
Conclusion
 
In this article, we have discussed the basics of bonsai cultivation, including the different types of bonsai trees (deciduous, coniferous, and tropical) and the tools and equipment necessary for bonsai cultivation. We also covered the basics of bonsai care, including watering, fertilizing, pest control, and maintaining the appropriate humidity and temperature levels for the specific species of bonsai tree.
Bonsai is an ancient and rewarding art form that requires time, effort, and attention to detail. It's not a one-time project, but rather a journey that requires constant care and attention. Each bonsai species has its own specific needs and requirements, therefore, research and learning about the specific species you're working with is important.
By following these basic principles and guidelines, and with patience and perseverance, anyone can start their own bonsai journey and enjoy the beauty and serenity of these miniature trees. So why not give it a try and start your own bonsai journey today!