bonsai tree in a circle

Creating a Work of Art: The Fascinating Process of Making Bonsai Trees

How Bonsai Trees Are Made

Many people stare in wonder when they see a bonsai tree with so many different questions on how a tree come to be so small and yet so refined. Seeing a small tree that looks older then a fully grown tree can be confusing so in todays article we are going to explain the process of how a bonsai tree is made and also cover some general care tips for bonsai once you have established your tree.

Choosing The Correct Species

This is an important step to the process not only to choose a tree that is aesthetically pleasing to you but it also needs to be a species that can live and thrive in your environment and be able to fit into your daily schedule. Some species have higher water requirements, light requirements and are higher maintenance so making sure you have a tree that fits your available time will be an important factor to the success of your bonsai tree. You can read our article here for a few suggestions for beginner bonsai tree species.

Growing The Tree ( The Development Stage )

This is often a stage a lot of people skip in bonsai, most people just want a little tree in a pot, but as they progress they can begin to wonder why their tree isn’t starting to look like the ones they see in books or on the internet. This is because the impressive bonsai you see spent years in the development cycle.
So what is development for a bonsai?
This is the stage in which we grow the material to gain thickness in the trees trunk, create taper in the trunk, create movement in the tree and also begin to develop the first branches in the correct locations for the design we are chasing. We need to actually build the material to be a bonsai. The first step is creating the foundations, then later we can create fine detailed branching on top. Without building the structure first you will always have a young looking immature tree which is referred to as a stick in a pot in the bonsai community.

The normal steps of development would include ( not always in this order )

  1. Growing a strong root system ( Essential for a healthy tree )
  2. Growing strong top growth ( will help thicken the tree )
  3. Once the tree has a little thickness the trunk can be wired for movement
  4. Letting the tree grow wild to thicken
  5. Slip pot the tree each season to give the roots more room to grow
  6. While slip potting lay out your surface roots to create Nebari
  7. Cut back and grow again to create taper
  8. As the trees trunk begins to reach the thickness required start to select shoots to be branches in optimal spots for the design.
  9. Let branching grow and thicken, as it gets thick enough to wire start to shape the branches.
These are just a few of the things that we concentrate on most while developing. During this phase normally the tree doesn’t look much like a bonsai tree, it wont start to take shape until late development. We also use organic soils and high nitrogen fertilizer to help with the growth rate. This all changes though when the tree moves over to Refinement.

The Refinement Stage ( Designing the Bonsai Tree )

In the second major stage of a bonsai trees life it moves into the refinement stage. This stage is where all our techniques and goals change from growing fast and thick and creating structure and foundation to growing slow and delicate and concentrating on fine design. Once a bonsai tree is moved into the bonsai pot it is now considered a tree in refinement as the bonsai pot and the substrate we use in a bonsai pot are part of what slows the tree down and gives it the small growth we are now after. We can now begin to really hone in on our design through detail branch wiring and ramification through strategic pruning and fertilising. Once we have got the tree to a point in which we are happy with the design the tree will enter a stage of maintenance where the tree is now just looked after and pruned to keep the profile of the tree.
So that is typically how a bonsai tree is made, I say typically because not everyone follows this process, but any tree that is at the highest level most certainly did go through both the development and refinement stage. So now that the bonsai tree is made what about some basic care tips?

Regular maintenance required for bonsai, such as pruning, wiring, and repotting

Regular maintenance is an essential part of caring for bonsai trees. Bonsai trees are living plants that require attention and care to thrive, and regular maintenance is critical for ensuring their long-term health and beauty. Some of the most common types of maintenance that are required for bonsai trees include pruning, wiring, and repotting.
Pruning is the process of cutting off parts of the tree to control its growth and shape. Pruning is typically done with specialized bonsai tools to make clean, precise cuts. This technique is used to remove unwanted branches, buds, and leaves, and to promote the growth of new branches in the desired areas. Its important to learn the proper techniques and timing for pruning, if done at the wrong times with the wrong technique you can weaken the tree.
Wiring is a technique used to shape the bonsai tree's branches and trunk.
Bonsai Wire is wrapped around the tree's branches or trunk, and then bent into the desired shape. Wiring must be done carefully to avoid damaging the tree, and the wire must be removed promptly to prevent it from cutting into the bark.
Repotting is the process of moving the bonsai tree to a new container with fresh soil. This is typically done every two to three years to ensure the tree has adequate space to grow and receive proper nutrition. During repotting, the tree's roots are pruned and trimmed to promote healthy growth.
In addition to these techniques, regular maintenance for bonsai trees also includes watering, fertilizing, and protecting the tree from pests and disease. Bonsai trees require consistent care and attention, and failure to provide adequate maintenance can result in the tree's decline and death.

Common problems that bonsai face, such as pests and diseases, and how to address them

Bonsai trees are susceptible to a variety of pests and diseases, which can be harmful to their health and appearance. It's important to be able to identify common problems and take appropriate steps to address them. Here are some of the most common problems that bonsai face, as well as tips on how to treat them:
  1. Scale Insects: Scale insects are small, flat, oval-shaped insects that can damage the tree by sucking the sap from the leaves and branches. They can be identified by their hard, shell-like covering. To address this problem, you can use insecticidal soap or horticultural oil to kill the insects.
  2. Spider Mites: Spider mites are tiny, spider-like creatures that can quickly multiply and cause damage to the tree's leaves. You can identify them by their fine webs and the yellowing or browning of the leaves. To treat this problem, you can use a miticide or insecticidal soap.
  3. Fungal Diseases: Fungal diseases can cause various symptoms, such as brown spots on the leaves or stems, wilting, or the death of the tree. To treat fungal diseases, you should remove the affected parts of the tree and dispose of them. You can also use a fungicide to help prevent the disease from spreading.
  4. Root Rot: Root rot is caused by overwatering or poorly-draining soil, which can cause the roots to rot and the tree to die. To address this problem, you should stop watering the tree until the soil dries out. If the roots are severely damaged, you may need to repot the tree in fresh soil. If your tree is in a bonsai pot you can pretty much avoid root rot all together by using a fully in-organic bonsai mix such as Akadama, Pumice and Lava Rock.
  5. Inadequate Light: Bonsai trees require adequate sunlight to thrive, and lack of light can cause them to become weak and unhealthy. If your tree isn't getting enough light, you can move it to a brighter location or use artificial light sources, such as grow lights.
In addition to these common problems, bonsai trees can also be affected by other issues such as nutrient deficiencies, water stress, and improper pruning. It's important to monitor your tree regularly and take appropriate steps to address any problems that arise. By providing proper care and attention, you can help your bonsai tree stay healthy and beautiful for many years to come.

Tips for ensuring the longevity of a bonsai tree

Bonsai trees are living works of art that require proper care and attention to ensure their longevity. Here are some tips for keeping your bonsai tree healthy and beautiful for many years to come:
  1. Watering: Bonsai trees require regular, consistent watering. It's important to avoid overwatering, which can cause root rot, as well as underwatering, which can cause the tree to dry out and die. Water your bonsai tree when the soil begins to dry out, but before it becomes completely dry.
  2. Light: Bonsai trees require adequate light to thrive. Place your tree in a location where it will receive enough sunlight ( at least 6 hours a day ). If your not home to water through out the day position your tree in a spot where it gets plenty of morning sun but is shaded by the afternoon from the hot sun.
  3. Soil: Bonsai trees require well-draining soil to prevent root rot. Use a soil mix that is specifically formulated for bonsai trees.
  4. Pruning: Regular pruning is necessary to control the tree's growth and shape. Use specialized bonsai tools to make clean, precise cuts, and avoid cutting too much at once.
  5. Wiring: Wiring is necessary to shape the bonsai tree's branches and trunk. Use care when wrapping bonsai wire around the tree to avoid damaging the bark, and remove wire promptly to prevent them from cutting into the bark.
  6. Fertilizing: Bonsai trees require regular fertilization to promote healthy growth. Use a balanced, slow-release fertilizer that is specifically formulated for bonsai trees until you know enough about bonsai and fertilizer to start adjusting your fertilizer according to your goals.
  7. Repotting: Bonsai trees should be repotted every two to three years to ensure they have adequate space to grow and receive proper nutrition. Repot the tree in fresh soil and trim the roots as needed.
  8. Protection: Protect your bonsai tree from pests and diseases by monitoring it regularly and taking appropriate steps to address any problems that arise with a professional pest and disease spray.
By following these tips and providing regular care and attention, you can help your bonsai tree thrive for many years to come. With patience and dedication, you can create a beautiful living work of art that will bring joy and tranquillity to your home or garden.
If you want to learn more you can see our video here on What Makes Bonsai Small?

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Author : Joshua Hooson

Joshua Hooson is an author and enthusiast of the art of bonsai. He has built his knowledge and understanding of bonsai through a combination of self-experience, lessons learned through hands-on practice, and extensive research. His articles reflect his passion for the subject and offer insights gained through his own personal journey in the world of bonsai. All the information provided in his works is a result of his own experiences and the knowledge he has gained through his studies. He is dedicated to sharing his love of bonsai and helping others grow in their understanding and appreciation of this ancient and beautiful art form.

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