Bonsai, an art of dwarfing trees

Last Sunday, we had gone to one our friends’ house and saw a bonsai there. A little tree in small pot, like a dwarf in the healthy environment. Bonsai is an art of shrinking healthy trees and shrubs into miniaturised dwarfs! Small is beautiful and small trees look pretty. But it is not an easy task.

bonsai

These small trees are often considered to be priceless objects, as it takes time, labour and a lot of patience. Ficus, tamarind, guva, pine, chikoo, peepal, banyan trees are some which are mainly miniaturised. People say that the art of dwarfing trees started in Japan, or in China. (They were also the first ones to put iron boots on their women to keep their feet from growing!).

bonsai_oak

It is not that we can turn our overgrown guava tree into midgets by trimming, pruning, uprooting and placing them in the redundant fancy ashtrays dotting the drawing room. Though may look simple enough on paper, in practice it is quite difficult. Training a bonsai takes at least 3-4 years. A full grown peepal may take 10 years to complete.

There are several techniques to stunt a tree and make it a bonsai. One of them is leaf trimming. It is selective removal of leaves from a bonsai’s trunk and branches. Leaves are cut to expose the tree’s branches and bark. Other than leaf trimming, people do pruning to get the small size of the tree. They prune the trunk, branches and roots. Improper pruning can weaken or even kill trees and careful pruning throughout the tree’s life is very necessary. People also do wiring to stunt the growth of trees. Wrapping a copper or an aluminium wire around the branches and trunks allows the bonsai designer to create the desired general form and make detailed branch and leaf placements. When wire is used on new branches or shoots, it holds the branches in place till they convert into wood, which usually takes place between six and nine months or even more, depending on the growth of the tree. Bonsai designers also use clamping for trees with stiffer wood. They use mechanical devices to shape the trunks and branches. The most common are screw-based clamps, which can straighten or bend a part of tree. To prevent damage to the tree, the clamps are tightened a little at a time and make their changes over a period of months or years. Trees are also defoliated. In defoliating a healthy tree, most or all of the leaves are removed by clipping partway along each leaf. the leaves later dry up and drop off or are manually removed once dry. The tree responds by producing a fresh crop of leaves. The new leaves are generally much smaller than those from the first crop, sometimes as small as half the length and width. People do defoliation once in two years, as defoliation weakens the tree. Bonsai growers also use deadwood techniques to simulate age and maturity in a bonsai. They remove the bark from an entire branch and create the impression of a snag of deadwood. And also, they strip the bark from areas of the trunk to simulate natural scarring from a broken limb or lightning strike. In addition to stripping bark, this technique also involves the use of tools to scar the deadwood or to raise its grain, and the application of chemicals to bleach and preserve the exposed deadwood. Watering is very important, as heat and wind exposure can dry bonsai to the extent of drought in a very short period of time. While some trees can handle periods of relative dryness, others require near-constant moisture. Watering too frequently, or allowing the soil to remain soggy, can lead to fungal infections and root rot. So, designers use free draining soil to prevent water logging.

Bonsai trees are repotted and root-pruned at intervals depending on the age of each tree. They are often repotted while in development and less often as they become more mature. First they use a larger box called as growing boxes which allow the roots to grow more freely and increase the energy of the tree. In the second stage, they replant the tree in a training box which is often smaller and helps to create a smaller dense root mass which can be more easily moved into a final presentation pot. Unlike common plant containers, bonsai pots have drainage holes to allow excess water to drain. Growers usually cover the holes with a plastic screen or mesh to prevent soil from escaping and pests from entering the pots from below.

Most bonsai trees range from 5 cm or 2 inches to 1 mt or 3.33 ft in height. With good care, a bonsai tree can live for over 100 years, and bonsai lovers pass them down from generation to generation. They are admired for their age.

Here are a few easy steps I got to know about bonsai cultivation.
1. Select a tree. Start with common garden plants like gardenia, hibiscus, holly, juniper, pyracantha and rhaphiolepis. Look for the shrubs with branches that either grow upward or hang facing down, whichever you prefer.
2. Using pruners, make an initial pruning of the plant while it is in the original nursery container. Find its central trunk and remove enough growth until you plainly see the structure of the front or the side that will be displayed.
3. Remove the plant from its container and place the root ball in a bucket of water. This will make it easier to reduce the soil around the roots for fitting into a bonsai container.
4. Remove as much of the soil around the root ball as possible to fit the plant into a shallow decorative container.
5. Trim the roots till they are reduced to 2/3 of their original size. You will have a shallow root ball when you are finished pruning.
6. Place a piece of plastic window screen over the container’s drain holes to prevent the soil mix from washing out as you water. The screen will also prevent insects from entering through the holes.
7. Add a one inch layer of potting soil mix to the bottom of the container.
8. Place the plant in the container, spread the roots out over the layer of soil and cover them with more soil. Make sure you leave at least one inch of space below the rim of the container so you can water.
9. Finish pruning the remaining foliage. Trim away stems and branches in such a way that the remaining growth has the branch structure of a tree. Keep in mind that once you cut something off, you can’t put it back.
10. Water the tree well to soak the soil thoroughly.
11. Cover the surface of the soil with aquarium gravel for a finished appearance.
12. Feed with small amounts of fertiliser at frequent intervals, or choose a slow-release fertiliser. Fish emulsion or cottonseed meal are recommended sources of nutrients.

Comments
  1. Well I sincerely enjoyed reading it. This post procured by you is very useful for accurate planning.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s