The word bonsai is of Chinese or Japanese origin and means, roughly translated ‘tree-living-in-a-pot’, the under-lying thought being that the tree referred to must be a very special and therefore valuable plant. The term also implies that a normally huge creature, has been reduced to manageable proportions. In the beginning, it was a Buddhist practice to collect and pot woody freaks of nature out of rock fissures. These were then used to decorate their temples. Together with other aspects of Oriental culture and sport, especially Japanese, the desire for possessing bonsai-trees quickly spread throughout the Western World. Growing bonsai is a quiet occupation. The plants thrive under loving care and become more beautiful with age. It is as if their mentor embodies in his bonsai, the inner tranquility he experiences by being intimately involved in their wellbeing.

Is Caring For Bonsai a Lot of Work?

How To BonsaiNo. When you acquire a bonsai, you commit yourself to care for a living being. Like any other potplant, it depends on its master for its survival. You must accept the fact that trees are light-seeking plants. But, be aware of the fact that a bonsai will wilt sooner in direct sunlight because of the heat. They must therefore be placed in open shade or very close toe bright window. The water needs of a bonsai must be established and satisfied according to the dictates of its placement and the climate.

You may either allow your tree to dictate its shape, or you may create one of the many styles described in books. The height and shape of bonsai are controlled and the foliage is kept compact by pinching off the shoots found at the tips of the twigs. Sometimes, soft wire is coiled around young branches to bend them in shape. Style pruning is done during winter and wiring during the summer months

How Often Must It Be Re-potted?

Bonsai must also be re-potted now and then, not only because they benefit by a fresh supply of soil, but because their roots are also in need of attention. The need for root clipping can only be determined by inspection. The roots of young trees will have to be trimmed more often than those of old bonsai, because young plants grow faster whilst old trees are more sedate. With few exceptions, taproot excision, root trimming and re-potting must be done as bonsai awaken from winter dormancy.

As a rule, the roots of young bonsai are trimmed every spring for the first three years of their lives. There after, the roots should receive attention every third to fifth year. Maintenance root trimming is very beneficial for the plant.

The procedure is uncomplicated but should nevertheless be done correctly. Beginners are usually afraid to work with roots and should therefore learn under the guidance of a specialist nurseryman or an amateur of proven competence.

Can I Start My Own Bonsai?

Yes. If you love trees and understand the theory, it will be easy for you to select suitable young and old plants from nurseries. Amongst African trees, the Acacias, White Stinkwood, Boerbean, Wild Olive and certain Wild Figs are the most rewarding. From introduced species, choose Chinese Elm, Japanese and Chinese Maple, Cotoneaster, June Snow and Firethorn. Beginners should seek advice before making a choice from the many conifers stocked by nurseries, because not all the species are suitable bonsai subjects.

Bonsai in containers

The selection of containers is important. Choose the best you can afford because good pottery is an investment. It is made of quality materials and testifies of good workmanship. An authentic bonsai pot is well pro-portioned; principally rectangular or oval in shape. Its bottom will never be in contact with the surface it stands on because properly spaced, short legs are an integral part of its design. Genuine bonsai pots also feature very large drainage holes. Because a pot is as complementary to a bonsai as a frame is to a painting, art pottery is unacceptable.

The glaze of the pot should be of a subdued colour, blazing hues and bold designs shatter the serenity good bonsai projects. The composition of the potting soil is also important. In order to improve drainage and aeration, up to 50% of sharp clean river sand can be mixed with normal potting soil

How to feed a bonsai tree

During dry, hot summer weather, soil must be watered frequently to prevent wilting. Each time water is applied to the soil, some of its nutrient reserves are lost through the drainage holes. We compensate for these losses by regularly incorporating small amounts of fertiliser in the water. The physiologically correct method of sustaining any plant, is to do it indirectly by enriching the soil. Soil organisms convert nutrients into food the roots can absorb. In China and Japan, fish oils have