How to Make Bonsai Tree
BASICS OF BONSAI
There are a few simple rules and steps of growing a bonsai successfully and if the guidelines are followed properly, the miniature trees will be things of beauty forever.
STEP 1: SELECTING A TREE
Select a tree that is indigenous to one’s climate and environment and which is easily obtainable. The tree can be a pre-bonsai ready to be worked upon or a tree grown by using seeds or cuttings which will take around 2-3 years before it can be trained. Always select a healthy fresh stock. Secondly, health and structure should not be forfeited for an extra few years of age.
There are a few characteristics that need to be looked for when selecting a tree. The tree should have a good trunk line which is wider at the base and tapers to the top. There must be plenty of healthy branches on the tree with many low branches. The leaves should preferably be small. After removing the top layer of soil, check whether there are any thick main roots radiating from the base of the trunk outwards and if so, these roots could be trained for a good nebari or root flare. This is not a must but is preferred.
STEP 2: STYLING A BONSAI
Once a tree has been bought or grown for the purpose of making a bonsai, the next step is to train, shape and style it. This is the creative and difficult part of growing a bonsai. First, remove the weeds and the surface soil to check the distribution of the main roots. Remove all dead wood and old leaves and also any leaves growing from the bottom of the branches.
Decide on the front side. When viewed from the front, the first branch should be growing at about 1/3 of the height of the tree to the left or right. The next branch should be slightly above and out to the other side. Gaps between the foliage are just as important as the foliage itself. Avoid branches that are opposite to each other and growing at the same height. The third branch should be slightly higher and should be growing from the back so as to give depth to the tree. Follow this pattern up the tree. Remove all unwanted branches.
The viewer should be able to see the trunk line clearly from the front. There should be no roots or branches coming straight out at the viewer from the front of the tree.
The plant should look like a tree and not a manicured shrub. Trim the branches in such a way that they are longer at the base of the tree and shorter towards the top giving the tree a triangular shape which is the basic shape of a bonsai. (Refer Part 6 – Bonsai Styling Techniques in the book “The World of Bonsai – Small is Beautiful”).
The rule of thumb is that the diameter of the trunk at the lowest point determines the maximum height of the tree and should be 6 times the diameter. The canopy of the tree starts at about 1/3 of the height of the tree. Side-branches should not be thicker than 1/3 of the thickness of the trunk at the attachment location.
STEP 3: PRUNING
Pruning is an important technique in bonsai where it is done on healthy trees for shaping the tree and keeping it in a miniature form. The goal is to create a bonsai that resembles nature as close as possible.
The best time to prune a bonsai is during the spring and summer seasons, but again it will depend on the type of tree. Use a good concave cutter while pruning thick branches because the wounds that this cutter leaves behind will heal much better and faster than the normal cutters. (Refer chapter 6.1 on ‘Branch Pruning’ in the book “The World of Bonsai – Small is Beautiful”). Some guidelines on pruning the branches:
- If 2 branches occur at the same height of the tree, keep one and remove the other.
- Remove branches with unnatural twists and turns.
- Remove disproportionately thick branches from the top of the tree.
- Remove vertically growing branches which are too thick to bend.
- Remove branches that conceal the front of the trunk
STEP 4: WIRING
Wiring is another important technique in shaping a bonsai. It is possible to bend and shape branches by wrapping soft aluminum or copper wires around the branches. Wiring can be done throughout the year and is done only for a short period till the branch attains its new position, after which the wire is removed.
There are some rules to be followed while doing wiring. Use a wire that is 1/3 the thickness of the branch to be bent. Anchor one end of the wire into the soil if the trunk is to be bent or anchor it on a nearby branch if two branches are going to be wired simultaneously. Wiring should be done at an angle of 45 degrees and should be quite firm against the branch, but not too tight nor too loose.
The wire should be removed before it starts biting into the bark and scarring it. When the wire is removed and if the branch does not stay in its new position but springs back, then the branch will have to be rewired again. (Refer chapter 6.4 on ‘Wiring’ in the book “The World of Bonsai – Small is Beautiful”)
STEP 5: SELECTION OF POT
Once the tree is wired and brought to the shape required, it is time to plant the tree into a bonsai pot. The pot is very important while planting the bonsai and there are rules of selecting an ideal pot for the trained bonsai. It should be part of the overall design. A good bonsai pot should have fairly large drainage holes for the water to drain out easily. (Refer chapter 8.3 on ‘Selection of a Bonsai Pot’ in the book “The World of Bonsai – Small is Beautiful”)
STEP 6: POTTING
Mix red earth, river sand, vermicompost / dried cow-dung manure in the ratio of 2:1:1. Sand is used as it improves drainage. Perlite or vermiculite can also be added as they retain moisture and is light in weight. Some use leaf mould along with the manure. Each person has their own method and ratio of mixing a bonsai soil. The only point to be kept in mind is that the soil should retain some moisture, should have good drainage and aeration (Refer chapter 8.2 on ‘Soil’ in the book “The World of Bonsai – Small is Beautiful”).
First, pull the tree out from its existing pot, loosen the soil with a root hook and untangle the roots. Prune all dead or rotted roots and remove any large thick roots going downwards including the taproot. Place small pieces of mesh over the holes in the pot to stop the soil from coming out. Fill the bottom of the pot with a layer of coarse soil or grit followed by a layer of potting mix. Place the plant on top of this layer and place it a little off the centre and also a little towards the back. Fill potting mix soil around the plant and using a chop stick push the soil around the roots so that there are no air gaps in the soil mix. (Refer chapter 7.4 on ‘Potting’ in the book “The World of Bonsai – Small is Beautiful”)
STEP 7: WATERING
When a bonsai is newly potted, the first watering should be done by immersing the entire pot in a tub of water right upto the rim of the pot and should be left there for some time. Bubbles will start coming up as the air gaps get filled. Once the bubbles stops, take out the pot from the tub. This is a way of ensuring that all the gaps in the soil are filled and no roots are left to dry out.
As bonsai trees are planted in small pots, the soil tends to dry up very easily. The general rule is that the soil must be kept moist at all times because of the intricate top growth supported by a shallow root system.
The soil mix should have a perfect drainage, so that excess water escapes quickly to avoid any chance of root rot. Cut back on watering during winter, as the evaporation through both leaves and soil will be much lower during that time of the year. (Refer chapter 7.1 on ‘Watering’ in the book “The World of Bonsai – Small is Beautiful”)
STEP 8: LOCATION
The most important rule of growing a bonsai is that it must be kept outdoors. Bonsai is definitely not an indoor plant, but can be displayed indoors for about 2-3 days at a stretch. Choose a location where there is plenty of sunlight and good ventilation. A bonsai must need at least 5 hours of sunlight in a day.
STEP 9: FERTILIZING
Fertilization is another important thing to be kept in mind while growing a bonsai, because the trees are planted in small pots where there is little space and the nutrients available are very less. Fertilizing is recommended when plants show signs of new growth as the weather begins to warm up at the start of spring.
Again, it depends on the tree species when, how much and how often it needs to be fertilized. The brand or type of fertilizer whether fluid or solid does not matter much, as long as small quantities are applied than normal plants would require. (Refer chapter 7.6 on ‘Fertilizing’ in the book “The World of Bonsai – Small is Beautiful”)
STEP 10: REPOTTING
Repotting should be carried out in early spring. It is done when the roots have filled the pot and becomes root bound. Remove the plant carefully from its pot and remove 1/3 of the soil and roots. The plant is then put back into the same pot with fresh soil. Repotting helps in keeping the tree healthy and also promotes new surface and feeder roots. (Refer chapter 7.5 on ‘Repotting’ in the book “The World of Bonsai – Small is Beautiful”)
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