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Beginners Guide to Bonsai

Growing a bonsai tree is an amazing journey that anyone, regardless of experience, can enjoy. The art of bonsai growing has been refined and studied for centuries. In this article, we will be going over how to grow and cultivate, style and shape, and care for your bonsai tree.

Growing and Cultivating Your Tree

First things first – you need to get a tree! There are a few options: you can either buy a pre-bonsai, which is a bonsai tree that has not yet been wired or pruned, or you can use a cultivation technique.

When choosing a tree you want to turn into a bonsai, you should first choose whether you want your tree to be an indoor or an outdoor tree. Indoor trees are tropical or subtropical trees that need high temperatures all year. For outdoor bonsai, it is recommended you grow a tree that is indigenous to your area, or one that can survive in your climate.

Once you have selected what kind of tree you want, it is time to buy one. As mentioned before, you can buy a pre-bonsai, which is a raw tree that is ready to be styled the way you want it to be. You can also buy a ready-made bonsai tree online. Taking a tree from nature is also an option, but be sure you get permission to do so. Cultivation is another viable option, and while this is less expensive, it takes much longer than buying a tree. If you use cuttings or seeds to cultivate your own tree, it could take anywhere from three to five years before the tree is able to be styled.

Styling and Shaping Techniques

Once your tree is ready, it is time to style and shape. The styling and shaping part of growing a bonsai tree is the perfect place to be as creative as you’d like. These techniques have been refined for decades, but don’t let that deter you. There are several basics that can be learned in no time.

The first technique we will go over is pruning. Pruning is the single most important aspect of bonsai shaping. Not only does pruning help maintain the shape of the tree, it also keeps the tree miniature. You want to keep the look of the bonsai as close to nature as possible. Pruning should be done in the spring and summer, though this depends on your tree’s species. When pruning thick branches, use a concave cutter, as this will leave behind hollow wounds that will heal better than the wounds left behind from normal cutters.

Every tree is different, but there are some instances in which you should prune.

  • Branches that have unnatural looking turns and twists
  • Branches towards the top of the tree that are disproportionate 
  • Two branches occurring at the same height; remove one, keep another

Wiring is another important aspect of bonsai styling. This is done by wrapping annealed copper or anodized aluminum around the branches to shape and bend them to an extent. While this technique can be applied at any point in the year, it is important to check on the branches regularly. Wires will cut into the branches very quickly and will cause scarring.

Caring For and Maintaining Your Bonsai

Taking care of your bonsai tree is another crucial part of bonsai growing. Here we will go over the basic care guidelines for any bonsai tree.

The frequency at which your tree should be watered depends on factors like soil, climate, tree species, and pot size. It is crucial that you check the bonsai soil before watering it, and never water on a routine. Some trees need to be watered daily, others weekly. One of the top bonsai killers is over-watering. The soil that the tree is planted in can make the bonsai thrive – or die. Repot your tree every two years or so, so that the tree doesn’t become pot bound, meaning unable to soak up and store water.

Since these trees are planted in such small containers, they require fertilization that trees growing in nature don’t. The amount and kind of fertilizer your tree needs depends on the species.

Lastly, placing an indoor tree outdoors, and vice versa, will surely kill your tree. Indoor trees, tropical and subtropical, need high temperatures and lots of light. They will only survive outdoors in very warm climates. Outdoor trees need to be exposed to the elements and go through dormancy in the winter. These trees are not able to go into dormancy indoors, and they will die if placed inside.

Taking care of a bonsai tree is not as hard as one might think. You must first figure out what kind of tree you want: indoor or outdoor. Your tree can be styled and shaped as soon as it’s ready, when it’s three to five years old. Styling and shaping will be done all throughout its life. Caring for your tree is crucial for its survival. Happy growing!

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