Growing and Caring for Bonsai Trees

Growing and Caring for Bonsai Trees

What are Bonsai Sizes ?

Another great bonsai exhibition has taken place in the UK, it's the Shohin Bonsai 2013. It tends to get increasingly crowded by the year and the exhibition draws international media attention. The exhibition is popular for small sized bonsai, and here goes the term ''Shohin'' which literally means ''small goods'' and basically refers to small sizes of trees encompassing mame, kifu and gafu sized bonsai from a mere inch to 1 foot in height! Although such are not my personal favorites, it is still worth to visit the exhibition and study the different techniques and ways of display.



The reason for increasing popularity is due to limitations of time, space and finances that fans and enthusiast encounter. And it is understood that to grow bonsai well you must have at least one of the following, time space and money. But beside the Shohin exhibition which is popular for small sized trees, there are plenty of others around the world for different types of sizes as well..the basics are simple, the smaller your apartment the smaller the bonsai. I would suggest Omono to start with a good type of maple. Here are some important ones:






If you ever wish to take part in an exhibition, please take note of common names for bonsai size classes as it is important. Not every exhibition will offer to view all size classes.

Here another perfect example of deadwood combined with the tree itself. It makes a perfect match and marvelous for in and outdoor display. This type of three might be a little bit pricey and not the right thing for beginners to start with a bonsai. Did you also know that wounds on bonsai trees do not heal in the same manner as the wounds of humans or animals. The best is to start with a small bonsai, maples and chinese elms are ideal for beginners.

That is to say, trees are not able to repair damaged tissue, instead they continue to manufacture a new layer of cells with each years growth, until the wounds is entirely covered over. The length of time this healing process depends upon the size of the wound and the overall size of each new annual growth ring.






Start a Bonsai from Seed

If you really wish to start a Bonsai from seed, then you must be aware that it can take ages to see first results. Not mentioning about time and effort that must be invested in wiring and shaping the Bonsai. There is no such thing as Bonsai seeds, these are normal trees and you the one in charge to make it happened! You should of course be aware that trees used in Bonsai are not 'special', not genetically different, they are the same trees as you see all around you.





For those that still may wish to grow a tree from seed. This will give you absolute control over the tree from its beginning. The best advice I can give you is don't do it, simply because life is to short.






You may have been the lucky recipient of one of the many Bonsai Kits available, go on try it!, follow the instructions, watch those precious little seeds germinate, poke their heads above the soil, and die. On closer inspection you will probably find the seedling has rotted at about soil level, this is called 'Damping off' and is a fungal attack. You can overcome this by adding a fungicide to the first watering and then as directed by the instructions. Bonsai 'kits' put people off the hobby, convincing them that bonsai are difficult to keep, as such they should be avoided.

All of us have access to tree seeds, in parks or woods, our own gardens or perhaps through specialist suppliers. These will be 'fresher' than other sources.

When you have your seeds divide them into two lots. If you live in a temperate part of the world the chances are that your seeds will need to be chilled to start them growing, this is called 'Stratification'. Put half of the seeds in a container (a plastic bag) and place them in the refrigerator (not the freezer) for a few weeks. Plant the remainder straight away. If you come from the Tropics plant the seeds soon after collection.
They should be planted in a sturdy pot, or tray, and left to their own devices. This may take a year or so but provided they are not disturbed by birds, mice, or you, they should if fertile germinate. Last but not least, you have to put special importance on surrounding environment before you start.





Passionate Students

I happen to subscribe to a Hobby Bonsai channel from this guy in California, he is very passionate about Bonsai and this has been going on for years now. The Bonsai's in this video are his artifacts from years and years spent with lot's of effort in wiring, shaping and passion for his trees. Here the latest Bonsai collection from Bonsai Student on Youtube. 

Update 2017: With a heavy heart I have to inform you that Bonsai Student passed away in 2016. I've read the news on his YouTube channel. He was passionate and talented Bonsai lover.



Another passionate Bonsai fan is Graham Potter, he shows different Bonsai techniques of wiring and shaping Bonsai. He uses a very different approach in shaping the branches and develop the trees. Even the pots that Graham displays are distinctive from other Bonsai channels on Youtube.






In a best sample, he displays a Mugo Pine collected from northern Italy and explains very detailed the various steps and reasons not to over stress the tree. In this demonstration he is showing a brilliant image of unique master piece!




Basically my message is don't 'buy a bonsai'. That is a poor way to begin this fascinating hobby and usually doomed to failure. Bonsai is not about 'owning' bonsai plants, but rather the enjoyment of caring for them and especially creating them. One learns the basics of Bonsai best by creating them, even your first one!

Without these basics, it is unreasonable to expect that someone could keep one alive, let alone maintaining it as art. There is also the cost factor. Any 'real' bonsai will take at least five years of development to be convincing. To buy such a bonsai would cost several hundred dollars. Of course you can find 'mall bonsai' everywhere, even grocery stores. These are junk, they are not bonsai. A two year old juniper cutting plunked unceremoniously into a bonsai pot is not bonsai. It is the care and training that makes bonsai; these plants have none.


Here some golden rules for Bonsai beginners:

Be persistent
Be patient

Don't buy your first Bonsai
Select a one gallon nursery plant for your first victim.
Prune and style the top of the plant into a shape that pleases you.
Do not repot or prune the roots
Keep your plant outside, even in winter (with protection) unless it is a tropical.


All starts with passion and good intention, so if you think that you have what it takes, then start with your first Bonsai ! Have fun and good luck!






Easy Steps to Bonsai Wiring Techniques


Wiring techniques can be applied easily when the student get hands on to do the job, otherwise it will seem mission impossible to fix the branches the way you wanted. For strong and firm type of wood e.g. pine tree, I would rather select a strong and thick wire whereby for softer and smaller branches the opposite. Wire is placed on the trunk and branches of bonsai for one purpose… to assist in making branches and trunks bend to the desired location. Like a hammer or a screwdriver, wire is a tool designed to accomplish a specific task in the most efficient manner possible. When it has served its purpose, it is removed. Interestingly, a segment of the population seems determined to believe that wiring a bonsai is the key to some sort of ancient Asian secret for keeping the tree small. People have ask if the purpose of the wire was to cause the tree great pain. They were sure that the creation of bonsai had something to do with the ancient Chinese practice of binding the feet of noble women. When I would smile and patiently explain what the wire was actually used for they seemed…. somehow…. disappointed. Wire serves the same purpose as braces on a child’s teeth. It is a temporary shaping device designed to be removed after it has done its job. We wire because it allows us, to train, to shape, to style and to create a bonsai that fits our aspiration and immagination! Bonsai is a living art form. It is a collaboration between nature and us. Wire provides us with our artistic license. That license gives us the freedom to place a branch where our imagination tells us one is needed. It allows us to give movement to the motionless. It provides us with the ability to supply stability where stability is required. Wire is an essential tool of the bonsai artist and wiring is an essential skill of the bonsai artist. So, it behooves anyone serious about bonsai to become proficient at
and familiar with wire and wiring.

The objective is to bend trunks and branches. In most situations wire is the simplest and quickest way to get that job done. However, it is certainly not the only way to bend a branch. Other methods include: tying branches to the edge of the container with string; hanging weights from the branches or using trunk jacks and branch clamps. It should be remembered that the objective is to move the branch. How that task is accomplished is of secondary consequence.

In fact, the use of wire in bonsai is not even mandatory. One school of bonsai in China known as the Ling Nan School, prohibits its practitioners from using wire. Ling Nan proponents insist that the use of wire gives the tree too much of a finished/refined appearance and that a more natural and pleasing effect can be achieved by simply clipping and growing branches.

While this artistic viewpoint has some merit, most of us will, at one point or another, wish to alter our bonsai’s appearance by bending a branch using wire.

On the surface, the process sounds deceptively simple. 

1. Put wire on tree. 
2. Bend branch to desired position. 
3. Wait for branch to harden in that position. 
4. Remove wire from tree. Nothing is as simple as it first appears.

For beginners, wiring can be a frustrating experience, but with practice and time comes control and precision. Eventually beginners discover a fact that experienced bonsaists already know. Wiring is one of the most relaxing and enjoyable processes in the creation of a bonsai.




Understand The Task

Bonsai wiring
Professional Bonsai Wires
Understanding the growth habits of the particular variety of plant material being shaped is one of the keys to success. Once a branch has been wired and moved to the desired position a certain amount of time is required for the branch to “harden off” before the wire can be removed. How much time will vary and is based on the kind of plant material being shaped; the thickness of the branch and the extremity of the bend involved.

Pines, for instance, are soft wood trees which are full of sap. They grow slowly and often take a long time before they can put on enough new wood to hold their position. Junipers on the other hand grow vigorously and will adapt to their new shape quickly. Some trees will take a month, some a year. Unfortunately, the only way to know for sure is to remove the wire and see if the branch remains where it was placed. If it does not, it must be rewired. To purchase bonsai wires you can click on here.

It is worth noting that some species of plants are such vigorous growers they will defy any attempt at shaping with wire. Weeping willows and Alberta spruces are two excellent examples and can be depended upon to move branches back into their original positions within days, if not hours after having their wire removed.

Because one can never be absolutely sure how long to leave wire in place, bonsaist will often leave wire on the tree for as long as possible. This can be very dangerous. It is possible to destroy a good piece of bonsai material by doing so.

If left on for too long, the branch will begin to grow into and around the wire. As it does it will leave spiral shaped marks on the bark. Horticulturally speaking, the tree could care less about wire marks. In most cases it will eventually absorb the wire and keep on growing.
Final result of a perfect Bonsai

However, from an artistic standpoint wire marks are a disaster. The objective in bonsai is to replicate nature’s patterns. Nature does not leave wire marks on her trees. Neither should you. Wire marks are a sign of bad artistic technique because they indicate that the artist was not doing his/her job. When such trees are entered into a competition judges will certainly deduct points for wire scarred trees.

Obviously it is good idea to watch a freshly wired tree closely. If the wire starts becoming too tight, remove it immediately, even if it means the branch will not hold its shape. The wire can always be reapplied later in a different position.

Trees can generally be wired and shaped at any time during the year. Extensive wiring in the early springtime, however, should be avoided. Most plants get a vigorous spurt of growth during this period and will develop wire marks quickly.

Also remember the majority of trees send their most vigorous and active growth to the top of the plant. The horticultural term for this habit is “apical dominance”. It means that branches in the upper regions of the plant are enlarging faster and will therefore be more inclined to develop wire marks more quickly than lower branches.

Types Of Wire?

There are two types or kinds of wire used in bonsai: copper and aluminum. Copper wire is stronger, but in my experience, is less forgiving. If it is not monitored very closely, it will invariably bite into your bonsai, scaring bark and branches alike. Aluminum wire, on the other hand, has one-quarter the
strength of copper wire, but it is easier to apply and easier to remove. These two fundamental characteristics make aluminum wire an advantage for the beginner and a blessing for the experienced.

How Should You Wire?

The rule of thumb for selecting the proper gauge wire is to use a wire that is roughly one third the width of the section of your bonsai that you are planning to wire. Apply the wire at a 45-degree angle; making certain that it is wrapped neither too tight, nor too loose. Bending the trunk or branch, should be done using both hands. It is important to support the trunk or branch, as much as possible, as you proceed. Be sure to hold the wire from behind with your thumb, as you proceed forward, bend the wire and not the trunk or branch. If you are wiring the entire bonsai, it is best to begin with the trunk and then move on to the largest branch and then to the next largest branch and so on. Also, it is imperative that you wire in the direction of yourself. It is easier and safer, because you will be able to avoid wiring over any buds, leaves or twigs that may be hidden by your arms or hands; and on a pragmatic level, you will be able to cut off the excess wire as you reach the very end of the branch.
Bonsai Book
Bonsai with Japanese Maples by Peter Adams

When Should You Wire?

You should always secure a bonsai that has just been re-potted with a wire running up from the bottom of the pot through the drainage holes. In regards to what season is optimal to wire your bonsai for styling purposes, the answer is: it depends upon what type of bonsai you're styling. If you grow pines, it is often recommended that you wire in the late fall or early winter, when sap levels are low and trees are more flexible.

If you grow deciduous trees, then early spring - before your bonsai leafs out - is a good choice, as a leafless tree allows you to see the entire branch structure clearly. As for when to remove the wire from

your bonsai, the safest answer is: before it bites into the bark of the tree. If you are using copper wire, checking weekly is prudent. If you are using aluminum wire, checking bi-weekly is advisable. You should only remove wire with the use of wire cutters. Trying to unwind a wire usually results in a crack or split, which is followed immediately by inconsolable weeping.



General Guidelines For Placement Of Wire On A Bonsai

1. If you are unsure about whether or not to remove a branch, it is usually better to wire the branch

2. Always begin with the thickest branches and the heaviest wire first. Gradually work toward thinner branches and thinner wire. This will greatly assist in the task of keeping the wire placement organized and orderly.

3. Avoid crossing wires when possible. Follow previous strands up the trunk and out the next branch. The result will be increased holding power and a much more professional appearance.

4. Wire needs to be applied so that it is snug against the bark with no spaces or gaps, yet not so tight that it cuts into and damages the bark. You should not be able to see daylight between the wire and the bark. Loosely applied wire will increase the risk of cracks or stress fractures in the branch.

5. Wire needs to be coiled at about a 45 degree angle perpendicular to the branch or trunk and placed snugly up against it. An angle of about 45 degrees seems to provide the best holding power. Wire coiled too close together will tend to behave like the spring on a screen door and will want to “spring” back. Wire coiled at an angle greater than 45 degree may leave such wide unsupported sections of the branch exposed that breaks and cracks may more easily occur. This is a critical consideration on heavier branches, but becomes less critical with smaller branches.

6. When wiring any given branch you have the choice of applying the wire in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction. Plan what you are doing. Don’t simply “throw” wire onto the tree. If your plan is to move a branch down and to the right then placing wire on the branch in a clockwise pattern will cause it to tighten slightly during the bending process. Counterclockwise placement would cause it to loosen slightly and therefore lose holding power. Think about what direction you are wiring and how you plan to bend the branch. Again, this is a consideration which is more critical for thicker branches than for thin ones.

7. Any given piece of wire applied to a tree needs to be secured to some other part of the tree if it is expected to hold when bending pressure is applied. A piece of wire has two ends. Always attempt to wire two branches (of the same diameter) with one piece of wire. When doing this make sure that the wire makes at least one circumference of the trunk (more if necessary) before going out the next branch. This “required” turn around the trunk will insure that when branch #1 is moved, it will not cause branch #2 to also move. Instead, the “torque” will be against the trunk and not the other branch being wired. If you have only one branch to wire, secure the opposite end with a couple of wraps around an adjacent branch.

8. When applying wire always support the branch being wired with the thumb and forefinger of your

9. Place wire on the outside of any intended curves or bends you plan to make. When bending a branch the wood of the tree is compressed on the inside of the curve and stretched on the outside of the curve. Placement of wire along the outside of the curve provides critical support where it is most needed.

10. To determine the correct gauge of wire needed to hold a branch securely in place you can try pushing on the branch with an extended piece of wire about 8 or 10 inches long. As you “push” against the branch you will discover that: 1. the branch will move, or 2. the wire will bend. If it is the wire that bends, it is probably of insufficient strength to hold once coiled into place. Go to the next thickest diameter and repeat the test. At some point the wire will remain rigid and the branch will move. This is probably indicates you have selected a gauge of wire sufficiently thick enough to hold the branch securely. Note that we said probably.

If the branch does not remain in its new position, you have two options: 1. remove the wire and replace it with a heavier gauge that will hold, or 2. Place another strand of wire on the same branch by coiling it alongside the first one.

The development of good wiring technique is dependent upon practice more than any other thing. Remember that if the branch goes where you bent it and does not break… you did it correctly.

Admittedly you will probably use more wire than necessary in the beginning and its organizational structure on the tree will look a little like a road-map in the mountains, but with time and practice your technique will improve. And try to work its placement into the final design than to cut it off. The branch can always be removed after the fact.
Bonsai Tool Set
Bonsai Tool Set from Japan
opposite hand.

Bring the wire to the tree and rotate the wire slightly as you wrap it about the branch. This rotation will cause it to seat more snugly against the branch. When working with very thick wire you will find a pair of wire pliers handy for assisting with this task. When that wrap is complete, inch forward with your thumb and forefinger and support the next section as you apply the next wrap. Continue in this manner until you have reached the end of the branch. This technique guarantees that the branch will always have the solid support of the artist’s hand as the wire is moved into place and that unnecessary breaks will be avoided.





Bonsai - Japanese White Pines

Japanese White Pines (Pinus Paviflora) is one of the striking elements in a garden landscape. Very solid wood and harsh weather resistant. I happen to visit my relatives in downtown,  it’s always  amazing to admire the white pines in their backyard nearby.  


Often seen as a dense, conical form when young, Japanese White Pine develops into a 25 to 50 foot tall, irregularly-shaped tree, with an equal or greater spread, and a broad, flattened canopy.
The 1 to 2.5-inch-long needles are stiff and twisted, forming blue and green tufts of foliage at branch tips, and creating an overall fine texture to the tree's silhouette. The brownish-red cones are one to four inches long and persist on the tree for six to seven years. The needles grow in groups of five, so this tree is also known as "five-needle pine".



Watering is very easy!
As with other Pines, good drainage is very essential.

Pruning and wiring
The root system should be pruned gradually in the course of repotting, so as to always leave a strong root system. Branch pruning and wiring should be done in late autumn, and the wire left on the tree for 6-8 months at most. Pinch new shoots in spring to 1/3 of their length. Every 1-2 years it is possible to remove all of the new shoots in late spring,
if the tree is healthy and well fed. This will result in buds forming in the fall at the sites where the shoots were removed. The reason this might be done is to form very short internodes on the branches.


Chinese Elm Bonsai

Chinese Elm Bonsai


This type of tree is the most common kind of bonsai and generally the first one most people will own. Without some information on how to look after them they are also usually the last one they will ever have after it struggles and then finally gives up. Bonsai in general symbolise peace, harmony, order of thoughts and balance. Known as 'The tree of harmony', the Elm symbolises inner strength, intuition and wisdom. A beautiful bonsai which signifies love, balance, calm and a peaceful energy. Here an illustration from the popular channel Bonsai Empire;



They are tough and able to survive the hazards of life indoors, difficult for any tree. Chinese Elm have very small leaves, rugged bark, fine branches and nice roots. Large trees have real charisma and the wow factor. Small ones can be bought cheaply. The tree is semi-decidious and will either keep or partially loose its leaves depending on the conditions in which is it kept. Branch protection is vital for Bonsai's to survive in the long run. Efficient would be tree raffia which can be found here --> Bonsai Tree Raffia

Positioning
The Chinese Elm is an easy bonsai to care for. It is not overly fussy about positioning but prefers a position with good natural daylight but out of direct sunlight, especially during the hottest summer months. We recommend a position away from radiators if possible. A window sill would be great but avoid south facing window-sills in mid summer.

Temperature
As an indoor bonsai the Chinese Elm is not fussy about temperature. If you are growing your bonsai outside, please place in a sheltered position in the garden. Outside this bonsai is semi-evergreen so you should expect the leaves to drop. For very cold nights (below freezing) we would recommend that you bring the bonsai into a shed, glasshouse or cool room. Once nightly lows begin approaching the 40 degree mark, it is time to bring your indoor bonsai inside. The ideal indoor location is on a window sill facing south. An east or west exposure is second best. A northern exposure will work, but will necessitate the use of "grow lights" to provide sufficient light to keep your bonsai healthy. Four to six hours of sunlight per day should suffice. If you can provide more, so much the better.

Watering
Aim to maintain an even level of moisture. The species is quite thirsty especially in hot or sunny conditions. Pot emersion watering can be done or the tree can be watered from above. It largely depending on when the tree was last re-potted and what mixture of organic or inorganic soil medium was used.

Pruning 
Chinese Elms can be very vigorous growers which can resemble fluffy bushes in as little as a couple of weeks. the leaves group alternatively on straight shoots.If you seek simply to maintain the existing shape of a pre-made bonsai, cut the shoots back to the first set of new leaves after the shoot has got an inch or two in length. It also responds will to finger pinching of small shoots on an ongoing basis.

Growing Chinese Elm
We are frequently asked for bonsai seed kits but the reality is that thee kits are rather a disappointed. They frequently don't germinate and it is not the best way to propagate indoor bonsai trees. You are far better to purchase a bonsai, so you can enjoy growing it, and propagate new bonsai by taking cuttings. These are best taken in spring. Allow new shoots to grow 8-10cm and then prune with clean pruning scissors. Pop these cuttings into some fresh multipurpose compost in a small pot. Water them and then keep misting to maintain humidity.