The Art of Bonsai


A Bonsai Shaped to Show Roots - Cowtools

Bonsai is derived from a Chinese word meaning “tray scenery.” People observing these tray scenes don’t always realize how much work goes into creating them. Acquiring a suitable tree is the first step. Bonsai are not grown from seeds but rather after the trunk and branches have developed. Next, care must be taken that the climate does not change drastically or the tree will not flourish. Finally comes the familiar part: the pruning of the tree over many years.

Someone looking to immediately begin shaping a tree to her creative idea will buy either a partially grown tree or an already mature tree. There are two benefits to this. One, the aesthetic qualities that make the tree suitable for bonsai are already manifested. Two, the bonsai artist does not have to wait for the tree to mature enough to begin creative pruning. If one already owns a mature bonsai tree, there are two ways to relatively quickly grow more bonsai.

  • Cutting – taking a sizeable part of a live bonsai (a branch) and planting it so it will produce roots. This method will produce faster growth than from a seed.
  • Layering –a branch from an already mature tree is bent to the ground which encourages it to put forth roots. The branch is then separated from the mother tree and is now a new entity.

Shaping a Bonsai

There are a variety of techniques to encourage a bonsai to grow just how the artist wants. Pruning and leaf trimming are most familiar, where small clips are made from the crown, branches and roots of the tree. Grafting a branch from a hardy species is a technique used on less hardy species of bonsai. For leaf or branch growth in a specific direction, wires are used to direct the way the tree grows.

Popular Trees for Bonsai

Many species pine are used for bonsai. Their branches naturally have a gnarled or twisted look, giving bonsai created from them a lonely and austere quality. Japanese maples are also popular. Their smooth bark and colorful leaves create an atmosphere of peace and tranquility. Both are hardy trees, and outdoor clippings recover well. The long lifetime of trees, up to hundreds of years, makes bonsai a lifelong venture.

With its uncomplicated care and aesthetic appeal, bonsai is an art a wide range of ages can enjoy. Many of the trees suited for bonsai, particularly species of pine, are commonplace in nature, or available from flower nurseries at a reasonable price. For a small investment of time, one can make beautiful tray sceneries that will, quite literally, last a lifetime.

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