The goal of most bonsai artists is to emulate nature, while at the same time stylizing it. This effort extends beyond the caring and shaping of the tree itself to every element of the display. That includes ground cover.
In far too many bonsai simple moss or rocks are used to complement the tree or plant. But with little effort the bonsai enthusiast can expand the choices to include deadwood, ground cover plants, or even entirely artificial miniature sculpture. These, too, occur in natural settings in Japanese gardens.
A popular choice is a plant whose common name is Baby Tears. With small, round, green leaves and a penchant for spreading rapidly, it makes for an easy to start and maintain ground cover for many styles of bonsai. It’s also attractive in its own right.
Ground cover helps to keep moisture from evaporating from the soil too rapidly and Baby Tears perform this function well. In fact, over time it can perform it a little too well. Take care not to let the Baby Tears overwhelm the design.
It’s rapid spread and thorough ground covering can result in a mass of leafy tendrils lopping over the sides and spilling down onto the display table. Some small amount hanging over the edge of the pot can lend a pleasant touch to the bonsai design. But, the tree should always remain the central focus of any effort.
Baby Tears can be especially prone to distracting the viewer, since its delicate flowers provide color that attracts the eye. It’s best used, therefore, with non-flowering bonsai, unless your goal is to create a deliberate color contrast.
Another native Japanese plant that complements a bonsai tree well is the Dwarf Mondo grass. It is a perennial evergreen, meaning that it only needs to be planted once and with proper care will stay green year-round. Some evergreens do brown up slightly in winter, but come back to full color in spring.
Dwarf Mondo does very well in medium-wet, well-drained soil and so is perfect for application to bonsai design. The grass is used in full-sized gardens, as well. It doesn’t tolerate full sun well, though, so be sure to keep the pot in a shady spot.
Since Dwarf Mondo grass spreads by underground tubers, you will need to examine under the surface every few years – during re-potting of the bonsai is a perfect time – to ensure that it isn’t taking over space needed for the bonsai tree roots.
Remember, too, that a certain amount of sunlight penetrating into the soil is healthy. That provides the warmth and radiation necessary to stimulate growth. As a human example, moderate sunlight helps stimulate the production of Vitamin D in skin cells. So, limit the grass area so that it doesn’t cover the ground entirely.
These are just two of the many choices available to heighten the beauty of your bonsai design, while at the same time enhancing the health of the tree. Emulating nature, with an artistic flair, is both lovely and practical!