How To Make A Bonsai (bone-sigh)

Is the age old art of growing and training trees in containers.In fact the literal translation from japanese is 'tree planted in a tray'. Although they are only a few inchs to a few feet tall, they convey the feeling of full size trees growing in their natural environment. The art has been practiced for more than 1,000 years, originating in China and spreading throughout the Orient, Early Japanese aristrocrats showed great interest in Bonsai and contributed greatly in the development of the art. Bonsai culture first became popular in the U.S. among Japanese- Americans living on the West Coast. Then in 1976 Japan presented The United State with 35 Masterpiece Bonsai which are now on display in Washington D.C. at the National Arboretum, The art of Bonsai is now practiced throughtout the U.S. and in many other nations around the World. The art of bonsai involves carefully selecting a tree and giving it constant and proper care until it matures into visiully pleasing living stulpture. The plant must receive adequate sunlight, water, fertilizer, and a suitable soil mix to achive healthy and controlled growth. Careful repotting, wiring, pruning, trimming, and other techniques, all go together to simulate age, and to train the Bonsai into the desired style.
One of the most important aspects of cultivating Bonsai is careful attention to watering. because of relatively small pot size and limited amounts of soil, bonsai can become dry very quickly. Most failed attempts at keeping bonsai are due to misconceptions on how and when to water. Not only will lack of water cause capillary roots to wither and die, but air penetrating the dry soil will also make it more difficult for later waterings to be effective, because the soil particles shrink up and water just runs thru and does not wet the soil. This results in even more dead roots. So it is imperative that watering be adequate and timely for your bonsai to be successful.
As a general rule, bonsai should be watered before the surface soil becomes dry. Instuctions that come with most bonsai sold at malls and flea markets, say to water once a day, maybe twice in hotter months. But to follow such a rule is misleading since soil density, pot size, time of year, amount of light, and species of tree all dictate how much water it will drink.
Watering is best done when the soil is still slightly damp, a lightening of the color of the surface soil is a good visual indication that water is needed. Watering should be done thru the foliage with a fine spray and continue until it pours from the drain holes.
A bonsai grower must be constantly alert to the condition of the soil. A healthy tree will require water periodically, and if it does not (that is if the soil remains wet over a long period of time) it is safe to assume that there is something wrong. If this happens refrain from wetting the soil to much, and try to find the cause of the problem. On the other hand overwatering can be just as life threatening as underwatering, Roots need oxygen to survive and if the soil is kept constantly saturated the roots can not breath and will begin to rot and die.
So as you can see watering skills are probably one of the hardest things to learn, but once you get used to it, it is very easy.
Repotting must be done regularly to keep roots healthy, when the roots fill the pot the tree will dry out very quickly and there will be less soil to hold nutrients. So your trees should be put on a schedule of repotting according to how fast their root systems grow, and it should be done at the proper time of year. Some trees can only be done when they are dormant, some only in the heat of the summer, and some can be done at almost anytime. So you should find what the best time of year is for your particular tree.

Repotting should be done out of the direct sunlight and somewhere blocked from the wind, and the root ball should be misted with water often, so roots do not dry out during the process. Have everything you will need on hand so you can finish the job as quickly as possible. Carefully remove the tree from it's container, using a sharp knife around the outer edge only if needed. Once the tree is free from the pot carefully rake out the outer edge of the root ball with a chop stick or root rake to loosen roots, then trim off about 1/3 of the outer roots.
If you are going to be using the same pot clean out all old soil and scrub it in some plain water. Then put a layer of fresh soil in the bottom of the pot. Position tree in proper location, using wire to hold tree in place if needed, and start workingsoil in around the roots. A chop stick is handy here to work soil in around the roots to fill all air spaces. Avoid packing soil down with hands as that tends to break roots and makes the soil compacted and not as well draining.
Once you have the tree repotted it should be put in a pan of water for about 30 min. or so to thoroughly wet the soil. When all done the tree should be put in a area protected from wind and directsun for a couple of weeks to let it recover from the shock of all your work. Misting is also helpful during this time. After it has recovered it can be moved back to it's normal site.
The soil mix chosen for bonsai is vital. Since your trees roots cannot reach out beyond the confines of it's pot, it will be forced to depend on this soil to sustain life for one, two, or maybe three years.
This soil must meet four major criteria,
1. It must remain loose and porous so the
tree's roots can breathe.
2. It must hold enough water to meet
the plant's specific requirements.
3. It must contain or be capable of holding a
constant supply of essential food elements.
4. It must be (or be ajusted to) the proper ph
Most lists (encluding mine) that give suggestions of soil requirements list it as Loam-Peat-Sand percentages. This should be used only as a guide and you should use many ingredients to makeup each group.
Some of these ingredients include.
LOAM - Rich soil which is composed of a mixture of finer particles of clay, silt, sand and organic matter. For use in bonsai you should sieve out the very fine stuff, anything that will go thru a regular window screen should not be used, commercial house plant potting soil is a good starting point for bonsai soil mixes but should not be used alone.
PEAT - Organic mulch used to loosen the overall composition of the mix, and add fertility which is released slowly as it breaks down.
Leaf Mold: Partially decayed leaves, fresh
ones must be dried and shredded.
Sawdust: Must be aged and fairly large in
size, Hardwood's are best.
Pine Bark: Ground up pine bark chips about
1/8 to 1/4 inch is one of the best
ingredients to use.
Peat: Holds lots of water and should be
used with caution.
SAND - Used to insure good airiness and drainage. These materials hold their granular shape indefinitely.
Sharp Sand: Aquarium, well-point, river
gravel, etc..
Chick Grit: Holds almost no water,
encourages good root systems.
Calcined Clay: A specially processed clay
sold under the trade name 'Turface'.
Sharp edges encourage good root

Pruning and trimming of bonsai must be done on a regular basis to keep the desired shape. A well shaped bonsai needs to have it's small branches, buds, and new shoots removed in order retain small leaf size and encourage branches to multiply. You can look at this process as sort of a haircut in which you use sharp scissors to trim excessive growth that you no longer desire. Before you begin make a mental picture of what you want your bonsai to look like. Then slowly, delicately, and with a lot of forethought, shape your tree. If you are not sure what to do with a particular area always start out trimming less than you may need, you can always cut more off, but you can't put it back. Some basic guidelines to follow are, If two branches are growing directly opposite one another, remove one all the way back to the trunk. Make sure that your cuts are slightly concave to help the wound heal quickly. Branches that are long and strait with very little taper should be cut back about half way to the trunk and let any new shoots grow wild for awhile until one of the shoots is chosen for the new leader, then it can be wired to desired shape. Trimming of deciduous trees, such as Maples, Elms, Etc., is best preformed during the growing season, and major pruning done when tree is dormant and has no leaves. Whereas evergreens like, Junipers, Pines, Cypress, can be done throughout the year. and needle type trees should be finger pinched instead of using scissors to keep tips from browning.
The feeding of bonsai is a major factor in their overall health. Trees lacking in proper nutrients may show signs of; Poor Color, Slow Growth, Deformed Leaves, Weak Branches, Bug Infestation, and the list goes on and on, so it's mush easier to stick to a regular feeding schedule than to try and nurse a weak plant. Bonsai can be fed most anything used on regular house plants. However due to small amounts of soil involved, they should be fertilized more often but with weaker solution. A general rule is use a mixture at 1/2 strength about every 2 to 4 weeks, during the height of the growing season, less in cooler months. The decision whether to use organic or chemical fertilizer is strictly up to personal preference. Organics are slow acting but last longer, whereas chemicals show results quicker but need to be applied at the 2 to 4 weeks interval. Most organic products should be used with caution, as large amounts can burn fine root tips, but if used in moderation orgaincs can be very benefical.
All living plants, including bonsai, are subceptible to insects and diseases. However, there are a number of preventive measures that may be taken to ensure the health of your tree. Perhaps the easiest yet most important way of protecting your bonsai from problems is to inspect it regularly. You sould be aware of the fact that insects and diseases do not useally attack healthy trees, they tend to go after weaker, more susceptible trees. Thus, it cannot be over-ephasized that controled amounts of sunshine, air, and water are the best safegaurd against problems. If you do detect a problem with your bonsai and it cannot be traced back to improper care, then the first thing you should do is remove the tree from it's container and check the roots. If the tips of the roots are firm and light colored it means the roots are healthy and your problem is probably a superficial pest or disease. If however the roots show signs of rot, evident by soft dark root tips, then you should trim off all rotted roots and dip the root ball in a BENOMYL (fungicide) solution and repot in fresh soil. If insects are the suspected trouble you should try to identify what type of bugs they are, enlisting the help of your local garden center if needed, and use the proper insecticide carefully following label directions. Most importantly, DO NOT let the problem get out of control.
The use of wiring on bonsai to attain desired shape is often used in place of, or in association with, long-term clip and grow pruning. The use of wiring techniques permits us to train trees almost any way we chose. For example, it is used if you want to make a bonsai look older by means of low hanging branches, or if you want to put a bend in the trunk or want one eliminated. The best material to use is either malleable copper or anodized aluminumwire. The thinnest wire that will hold the branch in the desired position is the right diameter for the job. Always wrap the wire in the direction the branch is to be bent in order to prevent loosening of the wire. Do not put wire on to tightly because it will cut into the bark doing, sometimes, permanent damage. The wiring process takes approximately six to eight months, according to type of tree, before the shape will be set. In many cases it will be necessary remove and rewire some areas when branches grow and wire starts to cut into the bark. There are several other techniques that can be used to shape branches. You can fix wire around the lip of the pot and attach string or wire to it and pull branch into place. Or you can do the same thing using the trunk as the anchor point. You can also use lead weights tried on to branches to weigh then down.

For the most part bonsai are strictly outdoor plants, there are a few that will survive indoors, but most can not. Trees need lots of light to do well, and should be exposed to filtered sunlight, whereas long term exposure to direct sun, in the heat of summer could be lethal. Good locations for keeping bonsai are, a screened patio, inside a caged pool area, in a lath house, under a big tree, etc.. just so you have something to shade from the hot midday sun. Bonsai may be brought inside the house as a decoration for a few days at a time, however, one should not hope to keep bonsai indoors at all times. The best scheme for keeping a indoor display would be to have several trees that you could switch out every couple of days.

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