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Incoming BYTES
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Friday, October 28, 2011

Bonsai are Real trees: Grow one, Ready or Not

A lonely  12 y.o.  White Spruce Bonsai waiting to be put to bed for the winter
For some unknown reason, it is often thought that Bonsai are exotic, difficult, and beyond the skill set of the average gardener.

Upon close observation, nothing could be further from the truth --excellent gardeners already know what plants and trees need to survive; soil containing nutrients and moisture.  The only thing missing is the patience required,  the  will to do so --and some basic techniques that make the process not more difficult, but faster, and  more likely to succeed. The white spruce above is about 12 years old and "designed" to some degree.
If you can successfully keep a potted plant alive from year to year, you can grow a bonsai.
10 yr. old Trident Maple Bonsai  (c) r.a.kukkee

The truth is that bonsai can be exotic species, or  made exotic. With formal rules of design, the art can be both difficult and exacting at times, if one insists on starting out with all  formal bonsai rules to the letter--not a smart place to begin, since we do not become NASCAR champions, Olympians, or NHL stars instantly either.

The average gardener CAN, with reasonable effort, grow and maintain a 'bonsai' -- for a bonsai is, with all of the mystery stripped away, "a tree in a pot".  

Ready or not, (and green thumb or not)  the ancient art of Bonsai--can be dabbled in, experimented with, and enjoyed, inexpensively and successfully, --by growing your own using several  methods of propagation.
Don't be fooled by "bonsai kits" offering expensive "bonsai seeds"--for they are little but overpriced, quite ordinary seeds from mature trees.

How about just planting an ordinary tree seed yourself--or   grow a new tree from a twig.   Find a baby sapling and work with it. Use indigenous species to start, --if only because you have lots of material to work with that will  survive in the climate  in your area.

That sounds easier already, doesn't it?  Why "grow" a bonsai?  The preferable question might  be "why NOT  grow a bonsai?"    Mostly because they're beautiful and fascinating.  They also teach one patience and offer an affinity with nature. 

The red leaves displayed above are flaunted by one of my favourite trees,  a trident maple  in full  autumn colour,-- and the leaves are even a bit faded.   It is in an ordinary clay training pot.  Beautiful, isn't it?  I started this one from a mere slip of a twig with a couple of tiny leaves on it--  you got it--about 10 years ago. 

You can grow one too.   Stay tuned, we'll get to that later. This week we're putting our bonsai to 'bed' for the winter using our own method.  Over about 15 years, we've  lost fewer than  a half dozen trees and a couple of soft clay pots from freezing--an excellent record for a climate with severe weather. 

Trident maple,  White Spuce, et al,  good night--for the winter. Sweet dreams.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it. 


  1. You can collect stunted trees for Bonsai from rock cuts. I used to have a collection that started this way. All you need is to keep them stunted and they'll do fine. I used to select trees that were already gnarled.

  2. I like it! Another lesson in gardening...as if I need something else to play around with.

  3. A how-to re. Bonsai is forthcoming.... ":)
    Bonsai is as enjoyable as any art form--in fact, more so, as you are able to watch your art change month by month. You can stand at a bench working with bonsai for hours--hardly realizing how much time has passed--is that enjoyable or what?
    Gnarled trees in rock cuts are actually a good source of bonsai material, if you can remove them without breaking off the roots. Trees growing in those conditions are very tenacious! Sometimes it's even a good idea to leave those grow, depending on how well established they are.... ":)

  4. four years ago, i planted a few citrus seeds into a medium sized clay pot for a child..as expected, he neglected watering the 'babies' the result was a stunted-yet beautiful orange tree. glistening waxy green, and strong, though only a foot and a half tall..a miniature survivor.
    i brought it in their house where he could care for it--- only to find that 'care' meant bragging rights only..i watered the tree with soda leftovers from the children's wasteful habits, also trimmed a couple of branches which were an artistic burden on the aesthetics..and lo and watch it! a bonsai be live...and it still lives along as a show and tell wonder--i doubt it will ever come to fruition; but who cares?..it lives, it lives!.

  5. Nadine, that is how beautiful bonsai occur, as a divergent point of circumstance and will to live. Citrus trees can make beautiful bonsai, and not only that, they can flower and produce fruit! "It lives, it lives!" is the most important part of the experience. Now you can use other indigenous species to do the same thing! Thanks for commenting!


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