page contents The Little Bonsai: August 2013

Growing and Caring for Bonsai Trees

Growing and Caring for Bonsai Trees

Find your Bonsai from the Wild

Collecting, styling and taking care of a tree from seed will take you ages. So, the easiest way to find a good master piece of nature is from the woods nearby your house. Unless you living in the tropics, it should not be a big issue. Things that you must bear in mind is that you can get a young tree from the wild, but consider whether you really want to. The point of collecting a tree is to get something that has, at least a little, character. If you are willing to start with a simple sapling there are better ways to acquire one. Although I usually suggest avoiding growing from seed at first, that certainly is an option. You can also purchase seedlings or, better yet, buy a nursery tree that has the first years behind it.

Knowing where to look is the important thing! We often forget that a bonsai tree is a tree that can be found in our surroundings! To get a tree worth doing, you have to look in a place which is inhospitable to the species. It causes them to do exaggerated things to survive. So try and find a place which is hostile to trees, but still has them... and then find out who owns the space. Most land owners don't really care about what's on the back 40, and would likely be willing to let you take out the trip hazards that we love. Often times, if it's state land, you can get a "logging permit" to take out small trees.

That's why places like high mountain areas are most suitable to find a lonely and strong maple tree that suits to bonsai.Very inhospitable place where trees eek out a bare existence over hundreds of years.

In this video you can see an expo in Japan from trees mostly collected from nearby woods of the region. These aren't bonsai trees that have been grown from seed, or at least most of it has been taken out from somewhere..

Good luck in finding your own bonsai !

Pruning Techniques for Juniper

It's a very fascinating and distinctive tree in comparison to many others. I simply like Junipers due to easy maintenance and romantic look. Interestingly pruning techniques for this type of trees are not rocket science and if you just started with Bonsai, it's a good way to put hands on and try pruning it the best you can. Don't forget, nature is very forgiving so if happen that you accidental  prune the wrong way, Junipers will easily forgive you and incredibly recover foliage pretty well.
Junipers, with their many shapes, colors and sizes, are prized in the landscape for a variety of purposes including privacy screens, accents and ground covers  with heights upwards of 30 feet and colors ranging from blues to grays and greens to yellows, it's no
 wonder you can find a juniper in almost any landscape design. Because of their dense foliage, junipers require little pruning to maintain their shape. However, if you feel you must prune, there are a few delicate rules to follow. Not pruning a juniper the correct way can lead to bare spots, uneven shape and disease. Additional, it's very important to sharpen shears and cutters as needed to keep cuts clean and less stressful to the tree.

  1. Look at your juniper for pruning needs in early spring just before the new growth begins; early spring is the best time to prune junipers. Start pruning and shaping while the tree is young and do a small amount each year.
  2. Identify areas you would like to prune back and mark with ribbon individual branches to be cut.
  3. Identify the "dead zone" of your juniper -- the inside of the plant that is full of bare branches and wood. Never cut back to this dead zone or wood that has no needles on it, as junipers will not produce new growth on this type of wood.
  4. Cut individual branches back to a side shoot or leaf of an upward-growing branch, using pruning shears. Cutting to this type of shoot will make the tree look younger and healthier while maintaining a pleasant shape.
  5. Cut any completely dead or broken branches back to the main trunk using loppers, as the juniper is wasting energy on these branches that could be better used to promote new growth and keep the remaining branches healthy.
  6. Avoid cutting your bottom branches shorter than those above them, as tapering in towards the bottom creates too much shade and thus will kill off the bottom. Make sure the base of the juniper is wider than the top.

Please feel free to let your trees grow naturally. I prefer to practice a craft where I get to decide what the tree looks like. Just letting a tree grow naturally is not and will never be bonsai. If you spend time looking at natural trees there is certainly much beauty but very little perfection in terms of bonsai.

The Right Pot for Your Bonsai

Choosing the best pot for a particular tree is not easy. As well as the more mundane factory-made Chinese and Korean pots there are a number of bonsai potters and potteries throughout the world that are able to offer individual and diverse pot designs and glazes to the enthusiast. There are so many available colors sizes and designs that it can become very difficult to identify exactly which ones are best for your tree.

Pot choice is also subjective; ultimately some of the final decision will be made according to your own personal tastes. Some enthusiasts prefer more conservative pot shapes, textures and glazes, other enthusiasts prefer to make more unusual 'individual' choices.
Choice 1: Pot Dimensions

The first thing to consider is the size of the pot that you will need. The correct pot dimensions can be achieved using some basic rules according to the dimensions of the tree itself. The general rule of thumb is that the pots depth should be equal to the diameter of the trunk just above soil level. For oval or rectangular pots, the length of the pot should be 2/3 the height of the tree. For round pots, the diameter of the pot should be 1/3 the height of the tree.

For trees with especially wide canopies a wider pot can be necessary and this can be compensated by using a slightly shallower pot. As equally, a tree with a very thick trunk (in comparison with the height of the tree) may suit a slightly deeper but narrower pot It should be remembered that these guidelines are based on aesthetics only. For horticultural reasons, some tree species require larger or smaller pots. Species with very fast growing roots such as Trident Maples often require deeper pots whilst flowering and fruiting species such as Crab Apples require more root run and therefore deeper pots.

Choice 2: Pot Shape

The style of pot that you choose will need to harmonize with the tree. You need to take a look at your tree and evaluate it's characteristics. Try to decide whether your tree is masculine or feminine. Many trees are a combination of both although usually one is dominant than the other. This is very subjective; for some people a tree may be masculine, for others, it might be feminine. Ultimately as the owner of the tree it is for you to decide. It should be noted though that a firmly masculine tree will never look right in a very feminine oval pot; in turn a feminine tree will always look awkward in a masculine pot.


What makes a tree feminine or masculine?

A masculine tree gives an impression of strength, it might have a heavily tapered trunk, have craggy, mature bark, strong angular branching, it may have deadwood. It may have a straight, powerful trunk or a dense canopy. A feminine tree will have a more delicate appearance, a smooth trunk line, smooth bark, sinuous movement in it's trunk and branches. A light canopy and slow taper.

Some tree species are predisposed to being considered feminine or masculine; Pines or angular Hawthorns are often considered masculine whereas delicate Japanese Maples will be considered as naturally feminine. However, a strong, heavily tapered Japanese Maple with delicate leaves and branching could be considered to be a feminine species with masculine features, whilst a tall Hawthorn with craggy, rough bark, gentle curves and very gradual taper could be considered a masculine species with a feminine characteristics. With trees such as these it is necessary to identify which is the strongest feature and reflect it. Is it the craggy, fissured bark of the hawthorn or the gentle curves of the trunk that have the strongest visual impact? Is it the delicate branching of the Maple or the powerful tapered trunk that attracts your eye most? Fortunately, it is possible to find pot designs that can reflect both femininity and masculinity.

Pots are considered feminine or masculine. Deep pots with strong angular features are considered masculine whilst more feminine pots are shallower with softer lines. For instance, strong chunky, deep rectangles with sharp corners are very masculine pots, as are square pots. These are suited to thick heavy trunked masculine trees, especially conifers. For thick-trunked deciduous trees, the corners of the rectangle can be rounded thus reducing the masculinity of the pot a little. Working down through the scale of masculinity, deep chunky ovals come next and then we have drums/round pots that are androgynous i.e are suitable for a masculine or feminine tree. After this we move into the feminine pots which are shallow delicate ovals and very shallow round literati pots.

Pot Shape Basic Guidelines

Rectangular pots are suitable for coniferous species and big deciduous trees with very pronounced taper, wide base, heavy buttressed nebari. These are used for masculine trees to add a feeling of strength in the tree

Oval pots Suitable for reflecting the femininity of deciduous trees, clump style bonsai, groves and forests. The less taper the tree has the more feminine it tends to become, sinuous curves can also dampen the masculinity of a tree.

Round. Suitable for coniferous or deciduous feminine trees, particularly (but not exclusively) for literati bunjin trees. Tall straight or sinuously curved trees with very little taper are the most feminine and the pots that tend to suit these trees are very shallow rounds.

Pot Lip or Rim

A lip on the upper rim gives additional strength to a masculine tree.
A straight rim is softer for more androgynous trees
A bowl/convex side is more suited to feminine trees

Pot Corners

Sharp, right-angled corners are masculine and suitable for masculine trees
Indented corners on a rectangular pot soften the masculinity of a pot.
Rounded corners softens the pot further, beginning to resemble a oval pot and more suitable for masculine deciduous trees

Feet of pot

The main purpose of feet on a bonsai pot is to allow for good drainage and airflow, but feet can also be used to change the pots appearance. Feet can be subtle and decorative or strong and robust. These qualities can be used to influence the over all feel of the pot, big chunky feet can add strength to the design and understated delicate feet will have the opposite effect.