Monday, November 30, 2009

6 Important Tips for Beginner Bonsai Tree Caretakers

By Jon Weaver

Bonsai trees are a wonderful hobby to enjoy for a lifetime. However, when most people start out, most of their bonsai trees fall sick and die within a few weeks. Bonsai trees are extremely sensitive to their conditions and the caretaker needs to learn how to properly take care of these wonderful and attractive plants. Here are a few of the most commonly asked questions about caring for bonsai trees, and their answers.

Q: What about selecting the proper containers, and should they have drain holes?

A: All containers have one or more drain holes; otherwise the trees will not be healthy, they will soon look sickly and finally die.

Q: What proportion between tree and container do you advise?

A: What is generally considered the ideal or artistic proportion is the tree 80% and the container 20%; or for dwarfer shrubs or low spreading trees, the plant 60% and the container 40%. In general, the smaller containers are better.

In a shallow oblong or elliptical container, the tree should be planted at a point 70% of the distance from the right or the left end, according to the spread and shape of the branches, so that the bulk of the tree greenery is centered in relation to the container. In a square or round container, the plant is placed in the center, except cascade forms; these are planted toward the edge.

Q: I need information on pruning, both theory and practice.

A: Both root pruning and proper pruning of branches are important elements in caring for bonsai. The constant renewal or re-growth of the root system is essential to the proper health of the trunk and branches above ground. The root system will itself remain healthy only if properly pruned. This operation is associated with transplanting, and detailed directions of that can be found for free at -- the fundamental rule in root pruning is to keep the root system "happily" within the limited dimensions of the container.

Q: Suppose I find a tree 3 feet tall at a commercial nursery that has healthy low-growing limbs and other qualities that would make a good bonsai. Shall I buy it?

A: Yes. But understand that it will need special culturing. When you get home with it (assuming that it was balled and bur-lapped at the nursery), here are the main steps to take:

1) Pot it in a container large enough not to disturb the root ball. This may be a large commercial clay pot or a small wooden tub. Better yet, make a square or rectangular container, 6 to 8 inches high and just wide enough to accommodate the root ball. Fill in with additional soil around the root ball, and press firmly. Leave an inch at the top of the container to facilitate adequate watering.

2) A tree 3 feet high is too tall for a good bonsai. Cut off the terminal 1.5 feet (approximately). Make the cut just above a side branch that can then be wired into the terminal position.

3) After 2 years in the container, with appropriate and continuous pruning and wiring of side branches, as needed, the tree should be transplanted to a container of smaller dimensions, both shallower and smaller in diameter. After a year or two in the smaller container, transplant to a still smaller authentic bonsai pot, and you are on your way!

Q: Should one deprive the little trees of as much water as possible?

A: Bonsai should be kept drier than ordinary ornamental plants in pots; but if the object is to dwarf the trees or to keep them dwarfed, it is no use to make them bone-dry. Want of water only makes them stunted or unhealthy.

If there is such a thing as a fundamental principle in watering bonsai, it is this: water liberally but be sure that the soil drains amply. In most cases, it does not matter how many times a day bonsai are watered if the soil has perfect drainage and does not hold the slightest excess of water.

This fundamental principle may be modified to suit the individual case, according to the kind of soil obtainable, the climate, the kinds of trees grown, the containers used, and the amount of time one can spare each day for bonsai.

Q: What do I need to know about winter care?

A: Winter care differs for hardy and non-hardy or tender plants.

Hardy plants are those that can live outdoors in the coldest weather without danger of winterkilling. They are not house plants but are real outdoor plants. Hardy species growing in bonsai containers present a special problem if left outdoors in below-freezing winter weather. Soil in the containers will freeze, and the containers will break. Moreover, it is impossible to properly water bonsai growing in firmly frozen soil.

If a sun porch or cold but light room is available where the night temperature never falls below about 36 degrees F, this would provide a good place for wintering hardy or semi-hardy bonsai.

Here is another suggestion for wintering hardy or semi-hardy bonsai in a freezing climate: keep them in an insulated deep cold-frame. It should be shaded by a lath house. The soil in bonsai pots, with such protection, should never freeze if the night temperatures do not go much below 0 degrees F. The bonsai should be watered as needed, and on warmer non-freezing winter days, it is well to remove the protective covering and give the plants full air. Be sure to replace the covering sash before sunset!

Many non-hardy or tender species trained as bonsai should be treated as house plants and never left out in the cold.

Just follow these few tips to help ensure that your bonsai trees stay healthy and attractive for decades to come. However, as with most hobbies and skills, experience will be the ultimate teacher.

FREE information on how to grow, train and care for Bonsai Trees. Advice, tips and tricks for beginners and advanced growers alike. It's FREE! Click here:

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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Caring For Bonsai Trees - Pruning, Thinning and Pinching

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Story by Christine McKinnon

As a beginner to caring for bonsai trees, I was keen to start making it grow the way I wanted, but perhaps I was being a little impatient. Bonsai are not like house plants, they take years to form into the beautiful works of art that I admired. I am a newcomer to bonsai and are just learning the basics of keeping my tree alive. What I really needed to know about pruning at this time was how to keep my tree 'under control' and keep it miniature and in the original shape by removing any excessive new growth.

To keep the growth balanced and in shape, pruning is necessary and this is without doubt one of the most enjoyable and satisfying aspects of the hobby. Do not be afraid of pruning - it is an essential part of caring for bonsai, helping to create miniature trees, rather than overgrown bushes.

Branches help to thicken the trunk and you although you will often find too many branches on the Bonsai's that are sold commercially it pays to keep in mind that you can not put it back once its been cut it off! When removing branches, if unsure whether the branch should be removed completely, prune back and leave some buds that could grow back if desired, so that your options are left open. So don't go crazy, my advise would be: if you're not sure, leave it be.

It is said that 'as you cut for the roots, you cut for the branches.' That is to say, when you are pruning the branches of your Bonsai tree, you are going for a balance of the foliage and root systems. There is a close relationship between new shoots and new roots - when a tree's shoots are extending, so are the roots. This is an important fact to remember when caring for bonsai trees.

This is another reason why it is best to prune at this time, before there is excess foliage that would place too much demand on a smaller root system.

Pruning branches must be done carefully and thoughtfully to ensure that you end up with your desired shape. When you are branch pruning, you are removing the thicker branches that clutter the style of the Bonsai tree. These may be 'sticking out' at all angles and detracting from the basic design of the tree.

The types of branches to prune in particular are crossing branches, which are the branches that cross the trunk or each other.

To remove these thicker branches it is a good idea to use a pair of concave cutters. These specially designed cutters allow you to remove the heavy branches without leaving ugly scars.

Trimming is the pruning of the lighter branches and foliage butterfly shears' are usually used for this.

Pinching is simply removing any new growth such as buds and foliage before it extends so that it is placed more evenly amongst the branches of the tree. It encourages growth nearer to the trunk and lower branches by not letting the leaves of the higher branches 'take over'. If you omit this stage when caring for bonsai trees, the lower branches and foliage become weaker and won't grow as well.

Bonsai trees tend to be broad at the trunk base and taper towards an apex. It's important to 'pinch' the leaves and buds once you have as many as you want as this will stop the tree from expending unnecessary energy growing foliage that is not required.

You can do this using your thumb and forefinger or on very delicate areas you can use a pair of tweezers to remove small buds from within shoots.

With a little knowledge, over time, I will be able to trim and pinch my tree to train it to grow into an interesting, aesthetically pleasing shape that will impress my family and friends with my knowledge of caring for bonsai trees. In the meanwhile, I will be looking at different trees to develop an idea of what mine might eventually look like.

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