All posts by Craig Coussins

Growing white pine bonsai

There are many varieties of white-pine (Pinus parviflora and pentaphylla), but all have one thing in common the white, central or stomatic band down the length of the leaf or needle.

The popular white-pine bonsai came from China, Japan and elsewhere in the Pacific Asian-rim area. They are generally styled very simply, with a twist or two in the trunk, and invariably grafted onto a black-pine base, which is stronger. 

Some varieties have very dense needle growth, while others have very short needle clusters. However, all are Pinus parviflora, with many various cultivar, including Kokono, Miyajima and Brevifolia. The difference between the white pine and other pine species is that the white-pine has a cluster of five needles around each bud. Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) and Black-pines (Pinus thunbergii) have two clusters of needles, and some species such as Red-pine (Pinus densiflora), can have clusters of two or three needles, depending on variety.

The white-pines natural growth habit is low and spreading, while as a bonsai it can take any shape. The common style however, is a pyramid form, with the branches rising in clearly defined steps to the apex, or tip of the tree.

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Watering Pines

Pines need semi-dry conditions in the winter, and the soil should be kept slightly damp in the growing season. Pine bonsai do not like very wet conditions. Only spray the needles from summer to early autumn, in the morning and late evening.

 

 Next Article: Bud development in Pines

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Keeping your bonsai healthy

In general, every two weeks feed bonsai with a high-nitrogen fertilizer from late spring, and then in summer feed them with a balanced fertilizer, stopping for four weeks during the hottest part of the summer and starting again in late summer with a low-nitrogen or tomato fertilizer. High-nitrogen fertilizer feeds leaves and buds, and low-nitrogen fertilizer feeds twigs, roots, trunks and branches.

Spray bonsai with foliar feed every two weeks in spring, and mist the foliage with water in the warm summer to keep the humidity levels up. To avoid lush or soft growth initially, such as in pines or maples, use a zero-based nitrogen fertilizer, 0-10-10 or at the worst a low-nitrogen fertilizer such as tomato fertilizer at the beginning of the season. to get bright autumn colours in maples, do not feed them more than twice in the entire season.

It is important to remember that using liquid feeds allows the food to pass quickly through the soil, and if the soil is correct, then some will be retained during the feeding process. While watering during rain is sometimes unavoidable, soil and foliar-feeding of bonsai with large canopies of foliage during rain is not a good idea, as the water will wash through the soil much faster.

Small trees can be immersed in a bucket or sink filled with feed, and when the bubbles stop rising the tree will have received sufficient food  and water. Do not do this every day if you have outdoor trees. On the other hand it may be the only available method for an indoor tree. (if you live in a flat or apartment) In that case, you will probably find that your tree will only need watering once or twice a week and feeding once every two weeks.

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Period Very Young Trees Trees in Training Established Trees
Winter Dormancy No Feed No Feed No Feed
Early Spring (At bud break wait until the leaf has fully opened) Start feeding high-nitrogen fertilizer at half strength. Feed every week. To avoid lush growth, feed a zero nitrogen fertilizer, such as 0-10-10, or tomato feed. Feed two weeks at half strength. Zero-nitrogen feed once in early spring.
Late Spring (Leaves are now fully developed and candles are swelling on pines. Protect from winds, as the leaves are soft) Feed at half strength every week. Increase to full strength at the end of this period. Continue to feed every two weeks, but now start introducing high-nitrogen fertilizer. Feed once with high-nitrogen fertilizer at half strength.
Early Summer (Leaves are now firming up, so continue with feeding. Protect from pests) Increase to full strength high-nitrogen feed. Use a balanced fertilizer towards the end of this period. Use a balanced fertilizer at help-strength every three weeks. Or start to use slow-release cake fertilizer: Maples, elms and zelkovas need less feed, to develop fine twigs. One feed of high-nitrogen fertilizer and plant tonic during this period. Do not overfeed established trees, as they will grow to length.
Mid-Summer (The tree enters a semi-dormant period at this stage, so it is wiser to stop feeding for between two to four weeks) Stop feed. Stop feed. Stop feed.
Late Summer (This is the period prior to leaf change, but after the heat of mid-summer) Start using a low-nitrogen fertilizer every week at full strength. Use a foliar feed as well each week. Start using a low-nitrogen fertilizer every week at full strength. Use a foliar feed as well each week. Two applications of low-nitrogen fertilizer or, even better, 0-10-10, during this period. Foliar feed once.
Autumn (Leaf change heralds the onset of dormancy in deciduous trees) Stop feeding when leaves start to change. Keep feeding evergreens. Reduce feed when leaves start to change. Keep feeding evergreens. Stop feeding deciduous trees, but give evergreens one more application in late autumn.

 

 

Always Remember:

 

  • Do not feed deciduous trees before bud break
  • Do not feed in winter, because trees cannot absorb the feed
  • Do not feed sick trees, as they will not be able to absorb nutrients easily
  • Do not feed after repotting for at least 6 to 8 weeks, as the delicate roots can be damaged

 

 

 

Which bonsai species to start with?

As a beginner of bonsai one of the key questions that you will always ask is, which species to start with? Craig Coussins explains your options.

The best species to choose largely depends on whether you live in the northern or southern hemisphere. Popular outdoor species in temperate areas of globe, such as northern USA, Canada and northern Europe, parts of South Africa, New Zealand (South Island), Japan, and other temperate areas of Asia, include junipers (Juniperus), pines (Pinus), maples (Acer), larches (Larix), cotoneaster (Cotoneaster), hemlocks (Tsuga), oaks (Quercus) and beeches (Fagus).

These are also many local species that have their own particular requirements.  In the USA these include buttonwoods (Conocarpus), cypresses (Taxodium) and desert junipers (Juniperus). South Africa has acacias, white olives (Buddleja), peaches (Kiggelaria) and figs (Ficus). Australia also has figs as well as gums (Eucalyptus), while New Zealand has Tortaras, Pohutukawas and Rimus. Local climate differences will determine the species used.

For complete beginners cotoneasters are almost impossible to kill, and cypresses, such as the Chameacyparus pissifera, are very easy to develop. Maples are excellent, except that you must keep them out of frosts, but conversely they are also a temperate species, and conifers, pines, larches, cedars etc., are a little slow to grow.

Elms (Ulmus) and Zelkovas are excellent for bonsai and can be grown almost anywhere in the world because there are so many varieties of indoor and outdoor elms these days. Any of the indoor species used in temperate climates such as Sageritia, Serrisa and Chinese elms, are also very to grow. It is a good idea to find a species that are quick-growing, so that you can see the result, or else growing a bonsai could end up like watching paint dry!

Seed culture is extremely slow, and in my opinion should only be tried in addition to other methods.

Buying a bonsai is easy and is the usual route into the hobby, but only buy a tree that is workable. Avoid pines to start with, as they can be slow to develop if you are a beginner. A maple, juniper, or cypress will be an excellent first tree as they are all vigorous plants. In colder climates, the indoor varieties consist of tropical trees. These include figs, a succulent known as the money tree (Crassula), sageritia, serissa and many other species. 

Styles of Bonsai

cedar-forestThere are many styles of Bonsai and all refer to natural styles in nature. Many have Japanese names such as Ikadabuki, Netsuranari, Nebari and Shari. These terms have become generic although originating in Japan and they work in the same way as Latin terminology works with garden plants. It allows everyone, no matter what country he or she is in to understand each other.

In China where the other great art of Penjing, the Chinese name for Bonsai, originated they have many styles reflecting the landscape in the many regions that these styles are commonly seen in nature. The five main regions of China have within these regions a number of forms.

My point is that while we grow Bonsai or Penjing outside Japan or China, we have to work with our own native trees and try and reflect the styles that we see around us in our own countries landscapes. This means that we should be taking the opportunity to create unique styles of American, Australian, African or Scottish Bonsai and not just Japanese or Chinese styles.

John Yoshio Naka, a great American Japanese teacher and authority on styles and size definitions, identified both the major styles and heights, which help us, determinate the style descriptions.  John is no longer with us and like many others having studied with him over the years, I was taught these styles by John and I have put his descriptions in the following chart. This is a good start to the understanding of the names in both Japanese and in English. Chinese styles have their own terminology. I teach in many different countries where English is not the prime language so the terminology is useful as everyone will understand Chokkan rather than Formal Upright. I prefer using the English terminology in English speaking countries though.

 

Japanese Name English Name
Chokkan Formal Upright No curves or bends in trunk
Moyogi Informal Upright –Trunk changing direction.
Shakan Slanted
Sho-Shakan Small Slant
Chu-Shakan Medium Slant
Dai-Shakan Extreme Slant
Hankan Very coiled trunk
Fukinagashi Windswept
Bankan Old coiled trunk
Saba kan Hollow trunk
Shari Kan Exposed deadwood on the trunk- Shari miki dead wood with dead branch stumps like fish bones
Neijikan Twisted in wind trunk and- or – branches
Kobukan Lumpy trunk, gnarled with age
Kengai Cascade.
Han Kengai Semi cascade
Dai Kengai Straight cascade, extreme or long.
Gaito Kengai A tree that is on the edge and cascades with a round Ju Shin, apex.
Taki Kengai A cascade changing direction
Ito Kengai Multiple thin cascades
Takan Kengai Twin or more trunks cascade
Netsuranari Raft style from roots
Ikada Raft style of trees from fallen trunk
Ikadabuki Raft style from a fallen tree, branches takes root.
Soju Twin trunks
Sokan Two trunks of differing size from single root
Yose-uye(pr. Yohsay-ooay) Forest / group style
Tako Zukuri Octopus style. Very twisted branches and trunk
Ishi-zuke Root over rock
Ne-agari Exposed root style-erosion exposed roots
Hoki dachi Broom style. Fan shape with even growth
Bunjin Literati. Similar to elegant Sumi paintings long trunk with slight growth at top. Not heavy
Some Trees in Japanese English Names. I have listed just a few here for general reference
Momji or Kaede Maple
Sugi Japanese Cedar
Keyaki Japanese Grey Bark Elm
Ichijiku Fig
Shide or Soro Hornbeam
Goyo-Matsu (mats) Five needle white pine (also Pinus pentaphylla)
Kuro-Matsu (mats) Japanese Black Pine, two needles
Shimpaku Juniper. The most popular Juniper grown as Bonsai
Kashu Shimpaku California Juniper. Also Utah and other similar species such as Western Juniper and Common Juniper (communis)
Benishitan Cotoneaster
Botangi Buttonwood. Silver Buttonwood. From warmer climes in America, Florida etc.
Kashi, Kunugi, Oak. Many varieties
Maki Podocarpus pine
Satsuki Flowering Azalea. Kurume Azaleas
Ezo-Matsu Spruce, Japanese. Jezo, Ezo or Yezo spruce
Ichii Yew. Japanese, American or English
Sarusuberi Crepe Myrtle
Tsuge Box. Stiff when old but great for Bonsai
Other Terms*
Ara-kawacho & Arakawa Rough bark
Mastu (Mats) Pine Bonsai
Ju –Shin Top of a Bonsai tree
Shoki Collected Bonsai that is  well established as a Bonsai
Yamadori* Collected Natural material for Bonsai or Natural Bonsai not yet refined into a Bonsai
Tangei Bonsai material or material good for making Bonsai
Bonsai A tree in a tray or container-From the Chinese Pentsai-later Sung Dynasty.
Bonkei Landscapes with other plants, animals figures, buildings etc. In China its Pentsai.
BonsekiBonsekei Landscape planting but no figures Only rocks, moss and trees.
Uro Hole in trunk with healed edges
Nebari * Surface Roots
Saba miki Split trunk
Shari kan Bark split from trunk
Shari, * & Shari Miki Exposed areas on trunkDead trunk areas with jinned twigs sticking out like spines
Jin,  & Jinn * Jinning Exposed areas on branches or tipsTo remove bark and create dead wood
Dai Table to display a Bonsai
Daiza Shaped Table or a base for a Suiseki

 

  • · common terms

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Bonsai heights and names

 

Many years ago John taught us that we need to have a structure of size descriptions as well. Bonsai come in a variety of heights ranging from one inch up to six feet. Essentially the larger Bonsai are known as Garden Bonsai or Yard Trees while most Bonsai are of a reasonable size around a maximum of 40 inches. In some instances trees that require two persons to carry it are simply big trees in pots and not accepted (in some quarters) as true Bonsai. Nothing is fixed as to what is a Bonsai however and this size chart is a guideline.

 

Sizes are measured from soil level to the Apex of the Bonsai. The right size of pot to enhance the tree acts as a frame to a picture. It should be seen but not seen. A pot should not take over from the tree but have a quiet elegance in its own right. A pot should not be a distraction.

One inch = 2.5 Centimetres

 

Height Name English or other Name
1” Keishi Tsubo Thimble size –Within the Shohin category
1-3” Shito Mini size-very small-Within the Shohin category
3-6”
Mame*
Mini size –Within the Shohin category
6-8”
Shohin*
Katade –Small Size also Gafu-Bonsai, or  Miyabi-Bonsai. (Gafu is a term for excellent small sized Bonsai)
8- 16”
Kifu
Sho or Kifu – Small to medium size
16-24”
Chu
Chuhin Medium Size
24-40”
Dai
Also Oomono – Both terms mean Large Size but Oomono means a large size that can be carried by one man.
41—65” Very large sized Bonsai. Sometimes termed as Yard Bonsai. Needs two men to carry this size. Not always accepted as Bonsai in Competition (subjective)

Article by Craig Coussins©   

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Bonsai Care Tips

BONSA~10 Aftercare and development of Bonsai

 

While understanding the fact we need to water, feed and repot from time to time, the most important aspect of Bonsai and Penjing care is the maintenance or ongoing after care.

  1. Wiring a tree and unwiring is a regular event and takes place in most species once a year and sometimes twice in warmer countries with different and fast growing species.
  2. Checking wires to ensure that it is not biting onto the structure is an ongoing and daily chore.
  3. Cutting the wire off stage by stage is necessary-usually from the strongest parts first such as apex, tips of branches etc.
  4. A regime of correct feeding will need to take place to make sure that the tree is healthy.
  5. Checking for insects is an ongoing and daily part of the cycle which will include a soil drench to combat sub surface pests.
  6. Turning the tree around every week to make sure that equal growth is happening.
  7. Removing moss from lower trunk area and nebari-surface roots. Both to stop dampness on the bark and insects being harboured in that area.
  8. Weed removal is also a weekly chore and this is important to increase the amount of food available to the tree rather than the weeds.
  9. Placement through the year to either gain light or reduce light such as in mid summer days when the trees may need some shade.
  10. Constant pruning of tops unless growing onto a shape. Tip pruning is to encourage new twigs and so increase ramification or twig structure development.
  11. Taking photographs twice a year, in leaf and out of leaf if a deciduous tree. This is to let you see the development of the tree.
  12. Protection in cooler climates over winter or on high elevations on cooler climates throughout the year where frost can hit any time in the year.

Article written by Craig Coussins and from his fourth book, Bonsai Masterclass-available from Amazon.

Craig Coussins  designs a Hinoki Cypress

It does not matter what the tree is that you design but this example shows the potential of a basic garden plant into a Bonsai.

Hinoki Cypress-Chamaecyparis obtusa. This was  designed at the Mid Atlantic Bonsai Societies. The bush was grown as a garden plant but was purchased to make a Bonsai. I spent the previous day preparing the tree, wiring all the branches etc, which left me time to explain what I was doing and how I was to do it. I believe that many potentially good Bonsai are lost when not enough effort is put into the demonstration. When I am privileged to be invited for a major event I insist on getting the previous day to prep large material and take the time to study it. Its not about showing off and making a bonsai suddenly appear in an hour. Its about creating art and making sure that it stays alive at the end of it. Perhaps entertaining my audience as well. Cant do those if I am not sure what I want to do with the material. I enjoy finding the tree in the wood!

Images are in Sequence see my website

There are a number of other stylings here

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Watering-essential information

Elm-forest-by-Craig-1992I would like to go into this with a little more depth, as it is very important. One of the big killers of bonsai in incorrect watering. I am sometimes weary of people that still wish to immerse pots into buckets of water in every case or do not think it’s necessary to mist the foliage.  After nearly thirty years I probably manage the watering side fairly well – or at least my wife does these days, if I am  away teaching somewhere in the world.

The roots may become either dried or rotten because of too little water or too much water.

A free draining soil will assist in the transition of water through the pot. A compacted soil is obvious as water will collect on the surface. Ideally, when you water the Bonsai the water will flow freely through the soil.

Keep the soil moist in the summer but water less in winter. In winter just keep the soil damp and do not let it dry out.  Bonsai is not a cactus and needs a damp soil to keep the roots alive through its dormant period.

In most cool to temperate climates, watering once a day during the growing period is enough, but just check your soil. In hotter months watering will need to be done up to three times a day. If in a hot country, leave the trees in some shade for part of the day to keep the tree cooler. In some countries hot winds can also damage the tree by drying it out very quickly.

If your soils surface is looking a bit on the light coloured side it’s probably dry. However check just under the surface.

How to water your Bonsai.

Automatic watering systems are very popular and reasonably easy to set up.  Use a sequenced automatic time switch, sometimes called a ‘Computer Watering System’ but are really simple timers that start and shut off the water in a desired sequence.  This is good when you want to water some of the trees at a certain time and more than once a day in hot weather. You can rig up the hoses to a gadget sometimes called an octopus that has around six to eight hose attachment nipples and these can then be set to go off in a sequence that allows a different hose to water a different section, the next time the timer starts. It’s quite easy, as the timer can be set to go on and off six times through the day and if one section needs watering twice, then you attach a Y piece to two shorter hoses at different sides of the octopus.  Here is what I set up in my own place.

One and six waters the deciduous trees for 10 minutes each. The timer is set to 7am and 5pm.

Two comes on after one and waters the pines and conifers for six minutes in hot weather. Set for 4pm.

Three comes on after that and waters the Ficus and Willows etc –water loving plants, for 12 minutes. Set for 4.30pm

Four then comes on and waters the trees growing in beds, Yamadori etc. Set for 5pm

Five waters the rest of the garden plants and borders. Set for 5.30pm

If I need to water during the day in exceptional heat I can do so by hose without touching the Computer as the water faucet is rigged with a split tap to allow a separate hose connector.

 

The kit comprises a Water computer timer, a multiple hose distributor unit for six hoses and a water reducer that changes the flow from the hose into the narrower hose for the drip feeder nipples. I also use different nipples that allow different rates of water to travel through the feeder nipples from one litre an hour to ten litres an hour.

The one thing that is not good about auto systems is their reliability. The drip feeds can clog or stop working, battery powered ones are less reliable than mains powered, junctions in the piping may come apart when pressured up suddenly after softening in the sun on a warm day. They still water when the tree does not need any during rainy spells. Some systems I have looked at have a ‘cloudy day ‘ feature but it can be very warm on a cloudy day and the soil may still need water. Therefore, you are stuck between a rock and a hard place. You turn that feature off and the tree will be watered if it needs or does not need it.  Now all that is not too bad some of the time in a hot climate as the temperature is more than likely to be constant and so the trees will need watering anyway as rain would be rare in the warmer seasons. In humid climates the system is not so good of course. In any case the soil should be free draining and the water should run through fast of course. Use wooden wedges to tilt the Bonsai that need less water and will benefit from free runoff such as conifers.  Just ensure that the pot and wedge are secure and unlikely to topple of the bench. Alternatively, remove the drips from the pots every other day.

More expensive systems are available that have a sensor to determine moisture levels in the soil. Even these aren’t completely satisfactory, as one trees water needs may be radically different from another’s.

Automatic watering systems are not a great problem though and can be a benefit if you are off on vacation. The only thing you need to ask your neighbour is to just check that all the pots are being watered and that the soil is damp. Point out the potential weaknesses in the system and a good neighbour should manage.

Using a hose:

I still need to use a hose in other locations and I always attach an adjustable trigger spray or multi-spray unit to the hose. Water pressure is crucial here and if you have a lot of trees you will need to have a powerful spray that is still fine enough not to wash the soil out or damage the buds.

Hose spraying is most growers normal method of watering as this can be a more controlled way of making sure the right trees get what they need. Use the adjustable trigger spray to control intensity of water delivery. Feeder units that are supplied by most of the major plant food companies can also be added easily.  Just make sure that you do not overfeed. I prefer using pellet feed such as Biogold. This is a rather expensive Japanese food but is excellent at developing fine feeder roots.

 

Winter and summer watering.

This depends on the climate requirements.. Essentially you may water anywhere from once to three times in any one day. I would suggest that it may be better to water twice on a hot day and mist once or twice damping down the benching and ground to create some humidity around the Bonsai or Penjing. Not essential in cooler months. Essential for species that have fine needles like Junipers

Misting the foliage

Misting is giving the foliage a fine spray. While part of the general watering, spraying the foliage acts like rain. If you have warm days the foliage may dry up through dehydration. Misting will replenish the moisture in most cases. Extra misting can be very important in warmer climates, in hot weather and under shade net. Pine – Pinus need more misting that deciduous. Species outside India that are dense such as Cryptomeria and Sequoia need daily misting while others need misting every two or three days. Misting will clean the leaves, reduce pests and, as Chase Rosade the famous master once said, highlights the small webs of spider mite. Deciduous trees can trap water between the leaves and it’s therefore best to spray deciduous trees once a week or three times in hot weather. Water droplets will not act as magnifying glasses and burn the leaves. That is a myth. In colder climates, misting is rarely done in winter. In these cooler climates, the soil is kept just barely damp through the winter months. Many deciduous trees need very little light and water when under winter storage, though there is the danger of a tendency to forget all about them. Just remind yourself to check them at least once a week. I will reiterate that while misting is not the only watering given, it forms part of the general overall watering programme and if you grow tropical trees then you will need to mist two or three times a day.

Sub Tropical

This climate is more humid and while experiencing little colder weather, some cold days can still occur. The rainy season is generally more prevalent and the summers can be extremely hot. However, in many places the humidity levels can also be a factor in this climate.

 

Tropical. Mountains and lowlands

This climate does not experience cooler weather unless there are mountains where the cooler air can get to these peaks. I find that Bonsai and Penjing growers have seen changes in weather conditions recently that can be partially attributed to what is happening in warmer climates. I would like to discuss the general climatic changes that the globe is experiencing and comment on the results of these changes . I teach Bonsai  in many countries and I live in Scotland. We have seen a marked change in temperatures, humidity levels and rainfall over the most recent years. I am an avid photographer of landscapes and have been very fortunate to travel to many countries both as a Bonsai teacher and as a photographer. The reduction of natural habitat is in, my opinion, a very serious issue and we should be aware of the changes caused by deforestation around the world.

Deforestation is causing climate changes as is other factors. This means that temperate and cooler areas are having warmer, and sometimes wetter, weather than they had in previous years. Many very hot countries have high mountains such as Nepal with its vast mountainous terrain and deep jungles in the lowlands. In Africa, where the plains can be very dry in the summer months, Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro, celebrated by Ernest Hemingway in “The Snows of the Kilimanjaro” have inspired many writers is, due to its altitude, permanently covered in snow. Climate is changing all the time but this particular ice cap will probably disappear by 2020 due to the deforestation of the lower slopes for pasture. This causes a change in the microclimate of the mountain. That indicator will mean that other mountains from across the globe with glacial ice caps will lose their ice caps if similar deforestation to create grazing areas at the mountains base happens elsewhere.
Using this analogy I remember my own Bonsai teacher talking about microclimates nearly thirty years ago and teaching us that each area, each bench and each pot can have its own microclimate. What you do to that tree can affect the trees microclimate. Understand the trees microclimate and you will understand what it is telling you. Short of talking to the trees, I suppose that learning everything about what affects us in climate and conditions is the only way that we will understand what the Bonsai are saying.

In the case of worldwide deforestation, this apparently could create higher temperatures in some parts of the world causing loss of ice caps, rising waters and in some cases more rain. We can do very little about these changes but we should be aware of the climate changes that may affect us in the short term. Recently we have seen some countries with exceptional storms, high winds, freezing winters, excessive rain and unusual weather patterns. Farmers in some temperate countries have lost crops through excessive rainfall.

Anything that I suggest in caring for your trees should therefore be read with the understanding that the weather really is beyond my control.

Article written by Craig Coussins©

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What is a Bonsai and how it works!

Autumn-Shishigashira-Craig-CoussinsBonsai has become one of the most popular hobbies worldwide. Some hobbies such as Ikebana are based on artistic expression while growing cactus is based on horticultural knowledge for that particular range of species. Bonsai straddles the artistic and horticultural worlds. Yes, we need to know the means required to take care of, grow and maintain the tree but the tree that is growing will only grow in a random style and would take many years of growth to achieve its final mature image.

The artistic input means that we can develop that tree onto a miniature image of its final destination in a very short period. Keeping the roots and branches dense and healthy, while growing the plant in a shallow container and pruning and shaping the branches into a tree like structure that will eventually give the illusion of a mature, full grown, or very old tree, requires knowledge.

Growing Bonsai is an art form. Reading this article and attending a convention will contribute to your artistic knowledge, as will going to classes by Bonsai Masters. Without the artistic knowledge, it can be difficult to understand the techniques that are required to get to this point of its development into a Bonsai. Perspective, placement and design are all part of this process. Looking at nature and seeing ideas from the forests, plains, deserts and mountains can all help us become better Bonsai artists.

Understanding perspective is probably the most important element in Bonsai Design.

We are creating illusions, an illusion perhaps, to something that can be anything from 50 to many hundreds percent larger. Skill is necessary to do this and this book should help you with some projects that look at different ways of creating that illusion. For example, perspective planting where the illusion of distance is achieved by planting a tall Bonsai slightly towards the front of the pot while placing a similar shaped but much  smaller one slightly to the rear and one side of the pot will give the illusion of distance.

What we should also look at  the work from Bonsai Masters from around the globe as they deliver their own thoughts and designs. This should give you some insight into how these quite different artists approach a subject.

In many countries other than the west and Japan, Bonsai are called by other names. In Vietnam the style of planting preferred over Bonsai are called Hon Non Bo and in China, Penjing. Of course, the art has developed in different ways around the world and no more so than in the west. The generic name of Bonsai was taken originally from the Chinese Pentsai nearly one thousand years ago and translated in a literal form by the Japanese as Bonsai.  The present day Bonsai that is practiced in places outside Japan can be quite different to that practiced inside Japan.

Naturally, each country has its own species, climatic conditions and the practitioners of the art of Bonsai are at many differing levels of competence.  As a teacher of Bonsai, I feel that it is always better to return to a ‘back to basics’ section in any article that I write to bring the newer growers, as well as more experienced growers, the opportunity to see new techniques or perhaps offer some suggestions to develop their own abilities based on correct basic techniques.

Article written by Craig Coussins and originally published in his third and fourth books, Bonsai School and Bonsai Masterclass. Available from Amazon Books.

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