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Tree Care Guide

Watering

Because of limited space in the confines of a bonsai pot, bonsai care can be quite difficult. The shallow containers limit the expanse of the root system and make proper watering practically an art in itself. While some species can handle periods of relative dryness, others require near-constant moisture. Watering too frequently, or allowing the soil to remain soggy can promote fungal infections and "root rot". Sun, heat and wind exposure can quickly dry a bonsai tree to the point of drought, so the soil moisture should be monitored daily and water given copiously when needed. The soil should not be allowed to become "bone dry" even for brief periods. The foliage of some plants cultivated for bonsai, including the common Juniper do not display signs of drying and damage until long after the damage is done, and may even appear green and healthy despite having an entirely dead root system.

In cooler climates, soil must not be allowed to become waterlogged as this may lead to root rot. In warmer climates, bonsai should be sat in a shallow watertight tray when not in use, and allowed to absorb water through the bottom of the pot throughout the day to prevent dehydration.

Repotting

Bonsai are generally repotted and root-pruned around spring time just before they break dormancy. Bonsai are generally repotted every two years while in development, and less often as they become more mature. This prevents them from becoming pot-bound and encourages the growth of new feeder roots, allowing the tree to absorb moisture more efficiently.

Wiring

Bonsai wiring is one of the most powerful tools to control the shape of the tree. The best time to wire a tree is in spring or fall when there is not as much foliage and the tree will not be too stiff. (Trees become stiff in winter while dormant because the sap pressure of the trunk and branches is much lower.)

To wire the tree wrap the trunk, and then each branch in spirals of bonsai wire so that the branch may be bent. The tree will then train the branch to grow in the desired direction. Another method of wiring involves attaching weights to the branches, causing them to sag and creating the impression of age.

Generally, wire is left on for one growing season. The tree should not be allowed to outgrow the wire, since this could cause the bark to become bound to the wire, making removal traumatic. When the time comes to remove the wire, it should be cut away in small pieces (rather than winding it off) as this will cause less damage to the foliage.

The thickness of the wire used should match the size of the branch— larger branches will require lower gauge wire. Two pieces of thinner wire paired together can be used in lieu of heavier wire. It is bad form to let any wires cross; this is most readily accomplished by starting from the base of trunk and working up.

When bending the branches, one should listen and feel for any sign of splitting. When bending a branch near the trunk extra caution should be used, as the branch is generally most brittle near the trunk. It is possible to gradually bend a branch little by little over the course of several months.

When working with the branches, consideration should be given to the style desired.

Tools

Special tools are available for the maintenance of bonsai. The most common tool is the concave cutter, a tool designed to prune flush, without leaving a stub. Other tools include branch bending jacks, wire pliers and shears of different proportions for performing detail and rough shaping. Aluminum or anodized copper wire is used to shape branches and hold them until they take a set.

Fertilization and soil

Opinions about soil mixes and fertilization vary widely among practitioners. Some promote the use of organic fertilizers to augment an essentially inorganic soil mix, while others will use chemical fertilizers freely. Bonsai soils are constructed to optimize drainage. Bonsai soil is primarily a loose, fast-draining mix of components, often a base mixture of coarse sand or gravel, fired clay pellets or expanded shale combined with an organic component such as peat or bark. In Japan, volcanic soils based on clay ( or "red ball" soil, and kanuma, a type of yellow pumice) are preferred.

Containers

Every bonsai pot is equipped with drainage holes to enable the excess water to drain out. Each hole is typically covered with a plastic screen or mesh to prevent soil from escaping. Containers come in a variety of shapes. The ones with straight sides and sharp corners are generally better suited to formally presented plants, while oval or round containers might be used for plants with informal shapes. Quality bonsai containers are ceramic, and are high-fired so that they can withstand exposure to freezing temperatures. The most common containers are unglazed and brown in color. Glazed containers are also used, typically for deciduous and flowering trees. Economical containers of molded plastic or "mica" are available for developing bonsai, but most any container that provides good drainage can be used for developing bonsai material. Some enthusiasts construct their own "growing boxes" from scraps of fenceboard or wood slats.

Location

Contrary to popular belief most traditional bonsai are temperate climate trees and are kept outside all year. While certain tropical plants (Ficus, Schefflera, etc.) may flourish indoors, most bonsai are developed from species of shrubs or trees that are adapted to temperate climates (conifers, maples, larch, etc) and require a period of dormancy. Most trees require several hours of direct or slightly filtered sun every day.

Overwintering

Some trees require protection from the elements in winter and the techniques used will depend on how well the tree is adapted to the climate. During overwintering, temperate species are allowed to enter dormancy but care must be taken with deciduous plants to prevent them from breaking dormancy too early. In-ground cold frames, unheated garages, porches, and the like are commonly used, or by mulching the plant in its container up to the depth of the first branch or burying them with the root system below the frost line

 

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