How to Bonsai
It seems that there is still a little bit of mystery attached to growing bonsai, but in reality learning how to bonsai is not as difficult as most people think.
To bonsai something is a combination of techniques to grow and style a tree with the end goal being to miniaturise it and create a realistic illustration of nature.
Learning to style a tree, wiring and some of the more advanced growing techniques can take time to learn and be proficient at, but just creating a visually pleasing tree that can be nurtured and moulded into a quality bonsai is certainly within most peoples ability, (as long as you can keep it alive you have hope of it becoming something).
If you have purchased a pre-trained tree (already shaped and potted in a bonsai container), or you have been given one as a gift, then you will firstly need to learn how to care for that variety of tree so you can keep it alive long enough to learn the other aspects of growing bonsai.
The basic care requirements for most varieties is satisfying the watering needs of the tree, and then where you position it so it gets the right levels of light it needs to stay healthy.
You can learn more about the basics here General Bonsai Care
Your second step will be to identify the style that your tree has been pre trained in so you can continue to train it in this style, or decide if you are going to train it to fit into one of the other styles.
Understanding the different styles allows you to have some direction and guidelines to follow when your tree requires pruning or wiring of foliage and/or branches.
You can learn more about styles here 5 Basic Styles of Japanese Bonsai
Pruning and Wiring
The next step from here is learning pruning to keep your tree in a compact shape, and wiring to manipulate the trunk and branches to help give your tree the appearance of age that we are wanting to work towards.
A simple pruning goal is to trim your tree to a triangular shape starting from the tip of the first branch to the apex of the tree, down to the tip of your next branch on the opposite side to the first branch, and then back to the tip of the first branch again. Keep all the foliage trimmed to the inside of this imaginary triangle and this can improve the look of a tree almost instantly.
Wiring starts to get a little tricky as you need to choose the right thickness of wire and then apply it correctly to hold a branch or trunk in place and to be able to bend them without causing damage.
You can learn more about wiring here Bonsai Wire and Wiring Techniques
Apart from the basic bonsai care of watering and correct position to keep your tree alive, the other ongoing care of your tree will entail the use of fertiliser when necessary, keeping it pest free, annual root pruning and re-potting.
Fertilising in the growing season is important for the health of the plant and also to keep it growing strongly to allow us as much opportunity to refine our tree throughout this season. An unfed tree can be slow growing, become stressed and possibly loose foliage, limbs or die completely.
You can learn more about fertilizing here Fertilizing Your Bonsai
Pest and disease
Pest and disease are the silent killers and pose a real threat if they are not found and eradicated as soon as possible. Being vigilant and regularly checking your trees for any sign of pest or disease, and then manual removal of any pest is usually the best method of control, but using natural pest sprays, chemical pesticides or fungicide may be necessary depending on the type of pest and how badly the infestation is.
You can learn about pest and disease here Pests the Silent Bonsai Killers
Root pruning and re-potting
This is probably one of the most daunting parts of the bonsai process that even I still get nervous about no matter how many years I have been doing it to my trees without a problem.
For a tree to stay healthy it needs it’s roots to be able to absorb nutrients and feed the tree as efficiently as possible, to do this we need to remove the tree from it’s current container and prune back around a third of the roots every 1 to 2 years.
This process will allow us to plant the tree back in the same container for another year, or into a larger one should the look or size of the tree require it.
You can learn more about root pruning and re-potting here
Growing bonsai can be a rewarding hobby that you can enjoy no matter what level of skill or knowledge you have about the art.
If you can keep a tree alive then as it grows you can grow your knowledge and skills on how to grow, style and care for a tree, not necessarily learning it all at once but over time as the tree reaches new phases of it’s growth.
Don’t be scared to have a go and try training different varieties of common trees from your local area, try from cuttings or even seed to propagate your own and experiment with them to learn pruning and wiring techniques without fear of damaging or killing off an expensive tree.
Step 1: Keep it alive (Watering and position)
Step 2: Choose a style and train your tree to resemble this style
Step 3: Use pruning and wiring techniques to keep your tree in shape and to imitate age.
Step 4: Keep out pest and disease
Step 5: Feed regularly, root prune and re-pot yearly to keep the tree at its peak of health.
Step 6: Never stop learning.
Step 7: Sit back and enjoy what you have created.
For a more in-depth look at how to bonsai you might like to check out my bonsai e-book
The full video course version of the e-book “Bonsai a Beginners Guide”.