Bonsai Tips for Beginners

images (8) Bonsai! (And we’re not talking about the cheesy 80’s "samurai" scream)

The word bonsai, or as the Chinese call it, penzai, is literally translated into the phrase ‘tray plant.’ Widely accepted and viewed as both an art and a spiritual practice, bonsai is the act of dwarfing plants in an aesthetically pleasing fashion.

Typically, one grows bonsai from cuttings, seeds, young trees, or even naturally small trees transplanted into containers. Technically classified in subcategories, bonsai come in these sizes:

  • Miniature bonsai are less than 6 inches
  • Small bonsai are from 6 to 12 inches
  • Medium bonsai are from 13 to 24 inches
  • Large bonsai are over 24 inches

Part of the wonderful artistry that is vital to bonsai horticulture is the shape and attitude of the trunk:

Formal Upright bonsai are the classic bonsai from which all other bonsai are shaped. The trunk is perfectly straight and perpendicular to the tray, narrowing as it elevates from the soil to form a beautiful point at the pinnacle.

Informal Upright bonsai are another classic bonsai, straying from the formal upright style in that the trunk is curved rather than straight. Like its formal counterpart, the informal upright style features the apex directly above the center of the root system, no matter how twisty the trunk becomes.

Slant style bonsai feature a trunk that leans, the apex of the trunk being to the left or right of the trunk base.

Cascade style bonsai lean from just above the soil line over the edge of the tray or pot, with the branches and greenery laying out and dangling. A derivation of this bonsai is called ‘semi-cascade,’ and displays the apex of the bonsai plant reaching down to somewhere near the center of the bonsai’s pot or tray, below the soil line.

Bonsai: The Art Form

That’s right, bonsai is primarily an art form. True bonsai (even that store-bought Wal-mart bonsai crap) is the product of hours and hours, days and days, sometimes years and years of painstaking work from a horticultural artist. It is an act of patience, and is an art that everyone can perform.

There is great symbolism in bonsai, various flowers and trees carrying with their bonsai a certain meaning. For instance, to bonsai a pine tree is to create a work of living art representative of a healthy and happy old age. Such a plant would be a lovely gift for a parent or grandparent.

Your First Bonsai

Your first bonsai project may be inexpensive, or it may be costly. It may be simple, or it may be extravagant. Your initial foray into the world of bonsai should always be meaningful, enjoyable, and even if met with failure, be experienced with introspection. As you begin your planting, take time to consider what of yourself you are putting into your bonsai. What your hopes, desires, and wishes are for the plant matter throughout the process of planting, pruning, shaping and cultivating your various effects.


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