Tag Archives: first bonsai

A Bonsai Journey – Beginners view

Remember “Gulliver’s Travels?” Do you ever wonder what it felt like to tower over your surroundings? Ok, forget about the little men with their arrows and ropes and uppity attitudes. Let’s just concentrate on the trees. Wander down the pathways of a Japanese garden and sooner or later you will come across tiny trees known as bonsai. Delicately sculptured, elegantly poised, they are perfect replicas of their larger cousins and yes, you do tower over them rather than the reverse.

Take advantage of the situation. This is your opportunity to see a tree the way a bird sees it, from the top down. We humans normally study the branches of a tree from ground level, or perhaps for the more daring or agile among us, from a perch within those branches that we’ve managed to climb to without breaking a limb of our own. But a bonsai tree lets us look down and study the symmetry of branches in a whole new fashion.

Though bonsai is normally associated with Japan, it is actually the Chinese that created this living art form. Thought to have come about in the Han Dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD) there are, as in many things Chinese, legends that surround the beginning of bonsai. A favourite is the tale of the emperor that created his entire empire in miniature inside of his courtyard so that he could gaze upon it at will.

Eventually Buddhist monks brought bonsai to Japan during the Heian period (794 to 1191). At first the art form was only practiced by the rich but the invasion of Japan by the Chinese in the 14th century changed all that. All classes began to take up the art of tending the tiny trees and plants and the art was refined and perfected into the bonsai tradition of today.

What makes a great bonsai? Many types of trees have been used to create bonsai. Two popular favourites are the Japanese Red Maple and the Chinese Elm. Both are fairly easy to care for and train. The Japanese Red Maple is known for its vibrant reds and greens, both in the leaves and the trunk and branches. The Chinese Elm adapts well to growing indoors. Its leaves decrease in size year after year which helps them keep in proportion to the trimmed branches. A full grown Chinese Elm bonsai is usually less than ten inches tall, perfect for taking an appreciative look from Gulliver’s point of view.

January Bonsai News

Winter is a dormant time for your trees, but not for yourself.   Their is plenty of planning and maintenance work to be completed.


You will have an exciting year ahead with your trees. So to get this moving you should start by planning how you would like your tree to be styled.

Take a photograph of your tree and sketch over it with tracing  paper and modify what changes you plan to make. Visualise the end result. Any pruning or wiring you intend to do must be done in late winter.

Prepare your soil mixtures and pots for repotting. Best to clean your pots with vegetable oil, if you have a tree living in it.

Inspect your tree seeds, especially those that are being stratified.

Maintaining your Indoor (Tropical) Bonsai in the winter.

Light for your tree.

Winter as we all know is a time of low light and giving your tree adequte lighting is a challenge. Their is a temptation to place your tree at a South facing window for good light. This is not a good option as the strong mid-day Sun could scorch the leaves. The best solution is to place your tree on a North or East facing window. Sometimes I use day light bulbs to help give extra light.

Watering you tree.

Less watering is required in the winter months, your indoor tree also has a dormant period. Still use the scratch test.

Humidity for your tree.

Okay it’s -5 outside and the eco heating is on full blast.

Although your plants are tropical they can dry out fairly quickly and being tropical they do need a good rainforest effect. Use a humidity tray as previously mentioned. Get a large flat tray place small pebbles in it, even decorative stones and keep a reservoir of water. Through normal evaporation (and precipitation) this will help keep the moisture level up. You can still mist your leaves. (Great therapy)

Something to try out…

For the Indoor Bonsai novice why not pay a visit to your local garden center and pick out a suitable Indoor tree that could shaped as a Bonsai. The best one to start with is the Ficus microcarpa also known as the ‘Banyan Tree’. ficus_microcarpa

Other suitable trees would be the ‘Dwarf Myrtle’, ‘Jade Plant’ or ‘Heavenly Bamboo’.

Bonsai Styles


Once you have mastered the basic bonsai styles such as the formal upright style of chokkan, the informal upright style of shakan and the cascade style of kengai, you may want to try some more advanced bonsai styles for a better challenge.

Image courtesy of  Jacques Graulus

Intermediate Bonsai artists may try some of the more common advanced styles such as the Bankan (Twisted), the Fukinagashi (Windswept), or the Bunjin (Literati). Here’s a brief explanation of each.

Bankan (Twisted)

Thought to have originated in China, this style features trunks that are twisted and gnarled. Some expert artists can even form them Into animal shapes, the dragon being the most popular in Japan.

There are some styles to the Bankan which include the Nejikan with a trunk is only partially turned. Another style, the Takzukuri, is also called the octopus and in this style the trunk is quite twisted with the branches following it in the shape of a vortex. This style emulates the natural wind which shapes the full-size species of the tree.

Fukinagashi (Windswept)

This style is an attempt to emulate nature’s effects on the tree but in miniature.

In the Fukinagashi style, the trunk is slanted as if it has been blown by a strong wind coming from one direction. The branches follow suit in that direction as a result of the bent growth.

This can be seen in areas near a class or a hill such as coastal regions. In these areas Fukinagashi is formed by nature. netsuranari

of course, the bonsai artist cannot emulate a forceful wind and must use different means to cause the plant to grow in one direction. One could use wire, although this is most often used for the branches, and use a cord tied to a stake to force the tree to grow in the direction you want.

Often times, the bonsai artist who makes sure the foliage is sparse to emulate the natural conditions where leaves would’ve been blown away by the strong winds.

Bunjin (Literati)

This is one of the most popular bonsai styles and no it is simple, it is deceptively difficult. The style consists of a thin trunk with very few branches and is inspired by Chinese paintings that show trees growing in a harsh climate. While this might sound sparse it produces rather dramatic results.

The trunk has frequent twists and branches come out at sharp upward angles giving the tree a different view from every angle. A popular species for the Bunjin style is the Japanese Red Pine but it can be done using many other types of trees.

These advanced styles require a lot of skill and patience so they would be quite frustrating for the novice bonsai artists. However, once you are bored with the basics you might want to try your hand at these styles which will reward your skill and patience with beauty.

Article by Lee Dobbins

Pine Bonsai

pinebonsaiIf you are new to the world of bonsai, you may want to consider starting with a Jack Pine bonsai tree. Jack Pines (Pinus banksiana) are pretty hardy and may be a little more forgiving than some of the more delicate trees typically used for bonsai gardening.

A novice to this type of gardening may achieve better results, and gain confidence along the way, when starting with a Jack Pine bonsai that is already potted and well established.
Pruning, watering, and otherwise maintaining the optimum growing environment can be mastered without having to worry about the intricacies of the sprouting process.
Once you have become confident of your ability to maintain your with jack pine tree a measurable degree of success, you may feel adventurous enough to attempt bonsai beginning with a seed instead of an established plant.

It takes quite a while for a pine tree seed of any variety to sprout so patience is in order at this stage as well as at all other stages of cultivation for your Jack Pine bonsai. When in its natural habitat, Jack Pines grow less than 12 inches per year. The growth rate in the bonsai environment is much smaller, of course.

In a natural setting, a Jack Pine thrives in poor, sandy soil and can withstand windy sites. They’re often used for their hardiness when conservation measures and ease in growing are important.

When cultivating your Jack Pine bonsai, either from seed or from an established plant, try to recreate the tree’s natural environment as much as possible for the best results. You’ll be stifling its natural growth process so it’s more important than ever to provide the very best growing environment for it.

Since this tree is known for its hardiness in its native habitat, trying a Jack Pine bonsai project may be one way to take a little of the intimidation out of this fascinating gardening method.

Tracy Ballisager