The main definition of bonsai as an outlet for both art and horticulture is quite wide. There are many myths which are associated with bonsai. These not only provide confusion for budding enthusiasts, but gives the pastime a bad name for anyone not majorly experienced in the area. A bonsai is not a genetically dwarfed plant and is not kept small by cruelty in any way. In fact, given an adequate supply of water, air, light and nutrients, a properly maintained bonsai should outlive a full size tree of the same species. The techniques of Bonsai are no more cruel than that of any other horticultural endeavour. It is also common belief that bonsai are only a few centimetres tall. This is untrue, although bonsai are small in comparison to their huge life-sized brothers, most are over 25 centimetres tall and up to 1 metre in height.Bonsai can be developed from seeds or cuttings, from young trees or from naturally occurring stunted trees transplanted into containers. Most bonsai range in height from 5 centimetres (2 in) to 1 metre (3.33 ft). Bonsai are kept small and trained by pruning branches and roots, by periodic repotting, by pinching off new growth, and by wiring the branches and trunk so that they grow into the desired shape.

The bonsai with its container and soil, physically independent of the earth since its roots are not planted in it, is a separate entity, complete in itself, yet part of nature. This is what is meant by the expression “heaven and earth in one container”. A bonsai tree should always be positioned off-center in its container, for not only is asymmetry vital to the visual effect, but the center point is symbolically where heaven and earth meet, and nothing should occupy this place. Another aesthetic principle is the triangular pattern necessary for visual balance and for expression of the relationship shared by a universal principle (life-giving energy or deity), the artist and the tree itself. Tradition holds that three basic virtues are necessary to create a bonsai: shin-zen-bi standing for truth, goodness and beauty.

Given proper care, bonsai can live for hundreds of years, with prized specimens being passed from generation to generation, admired for their age, and revered as a reminder of those who have cared for them over the centuries. Although these bonsai are extremely beautiful – meticulously cared for over the years and containing such a wealth of knowledge, age is not essential. It is more important that the tree produce the artistic effect desired, that it be in proper proportion to the appropriate container, and that it be in good health.

Bonsai are ordinary trees or plants, not special hybrid dwarfs. Small leafed varieties are most suitable, but essentially any plant can be used, regardless of the size it grows to in the wild. In Japan, varieties of pine, azalea, camellia, bamboo and plum are most often used. The artist never duplicates nature but rather expresses a personal aesthetic philosophy by manipulating it. The bonsai may suggest many things, but in all cases must look natural and never show the intervention of human hands (with the exception of Chinese bonsai which in many cases depicts images of dragons and other influential symbols of the culture at the time of origination). Grown in special containers, bonsai are primarily kept outdoors (with the exception of some plants suited, trained and grown indoors), although they are often displayed on special occasions in the tokonoma, the alcove in the traditional Japanese rooms designed for the display of artistic objects or on a polished stand.

Types of Bonsai

The two basic styles of bonsai are the classic (koten) and the informal or ‘comic’ (bunjin). Classic has the trunk of the tree wider at the base, which gradually tapers towards the top; Bunjin however is just the opposite and easy to master.

There are five main types in Bonsai, Formal upright, Informal upright, Slanting (or windswept), Semi-cascade and Cascade.

Formal upright: A tree in this style typically has a straight trunk tapering naturally and evenly from base to apex. The branches are ideally well spaced out and is mostly grown out in the open. Well, it’s quite a demanding style. But nothing is difficult for a Bonsai enthusiast. You could grow Pines and Maples in this style.

Informal upright: If you have observed the growth of trees, they change direction on the basis of light or wind. In an informal upright bonsai the trunk will be slightly bent to the right or left but never towards the viewer. In fact in all types of Bonsais neither the trunk nor branches point towards the viewer, when it is viewed from the front. The style still requires a tapered trunk, however the trunk direction and branches are more informal Japanese Maple, Trident Maple, Pomergranate and all conifers can be grown in this style.

Slanting: During the early stages of development plants exposed to lots of shade and wind tend to slant. The stronger roots grow at the side, away from the trunk and this helps hold the tree. Here the trunk maybe curved or straight. It has to curve to the left or right and not in the front. This is simple and can be achieved by wiring the trunk at an early age until you get the desired shape. You could also try slanting the pot and growing the plant in that slanted pot.

Cascade: Here the trunk has a natural taper and has a winding look. Branches seem to seek light desperately. This is aesthetically pleasing. A narrow pot will help give you a cascading Bonsai. The main trunk needs to be wired so as to spill over the sides of the pot.

Semi Cascade: Like the cascade, the semi cascade falls around the rim of the container but does not drop down. You could have cherries, cedars and Junipers.

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 makes proper watering somewhat difficult. Watering techniques vary, from watering with a fine hose on a watering can or hosepipe, to using automated watering systems or simply immersing in water. 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 when needed. The soil should not be allowed to become totally dry, even for brief periods. Deciduous trees are more at risk and wilt quickly giving obvious signs; evergreen trees, which tend to cope with dry conditions better, do not display signs of this problem untill long after the damage is done, and may even appear green and healthy despite having badly damaged or dead root system for quite some time after damage occures.

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 are preferred.

While most people have heard of bonsai trees, there is still a large number that are unaware you can train a bonsai fruit tree, which is an actual standard fruit tree that has been trained to grow miniature. The fascinating thing about this type of bonsai tree is it produces fruit, edible fruit, just small. Some of the more common choices include lemon, tangerine, apple, fig, peach, lime, and cherry. The key when growing a bonsai fruit tree is that you want to choose the species of tree that will grow best in the part of the country where you live. Obviously, if you live in Montana, Vermont, or other cold states, then citrus trees such as lemon and lime will not do well. In addition, some types of apple and cherry trees do not grow fruit properly in some areas with mild winters simply because they require long periods of cold temperature. Therefore, when you get ready to choose a bonsai fruit tree, you can work with your local nursery, bonsai grower, or gardening center to choose accordingl.

You need to look for a tree that has a symmetrical appearance around the trunk. However, more importantly, the tree should not have any diseased or broken limbs. In this case, what you want to avoid is root bound trees, which means the roots are circling the container. Once you have chosen your bonsai fruit tree and you get it home, take a few minutes to prune away any damaged or broken roots. Once that is complete, you can plant your bonsai and start the fun.

The next option for your bonsai fruit tree is choosing the right type of container. Typically, you want a pot or container that will complement and enhance the tree, not the other way around. That means for a fruit tree, one that will grow fruit but often blooms as well, you want the color of the container to look great with the tree. If you had a cherry tree, then a red or lime green container would look bad with the soft, pink blooms and small red cherries. However, choosing black, yellow, or even certain shades of blue would look beautiful. Be sure the container is made from untreated wood that is also rot-resistant. If you go with clay, you will need to keep an eye on the water since this material dries out quickly and you will be faced with bacteria and fungi growth because of the porous surface.

Sources: Wikipedia, Bonsai Gardener

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