How to Grow Bonsai
TOOLS AND POTS
Growing bonsai need not involve a vast outlay of money on pots and tools. There is a great deal of scope for improvisation. Many everyday garden implements can be adapted for use as bonsai tools.
Perhaps the most essential tool for bonsai is a pair of sharp secateurs. Those which have the scissor action are better than the anvil type. Secateurs are used for pruning branches and bits of trunk which are not needed for bonsai. The other useful tool is a pair of ordinary household scissors. These are useful for root pruning and trimming shoots and twigs. A pair of wire snips can come in handy for cutting wire used for training the branches.
Pots come in many shapes and sizes, each suited to a different style or species. Shallow ones suit groups, while deep pots are best for. Literati bonsai look good in round pots, and ovals combine well with elegant maples or zelkovas.
Proper bonsai pots can be expensive as they are usually high quality stoneware pots imported from Japan and China. If you have facilities for making pots yourself, or know a friend who can make them, then this could be a very convenient, inexpensive source. However, the pots should be made of stoneware and modelled after classical bonsai pot designs.
Plastic bonsai pots are easily available and are considerably cheaper than traditional stoneware pots. Small seed trays, such as the half and quarter size trays, are a good substitute for bonsai pots as they are the right shape and size. Plastic ice-cream or margarine tubs painted dark brown could also be used for training trees. Some bonsai enthusiasts make pots out of cement and concrete and these can be quite successful too. A nicely shaped piece of rock or slate could also be used as a substitute for a shallow pot. Forest and group plantings look particularly attractive when planted on slate.
The compost is essentially the same as any other ordinary potting compost. The main requirement is goodand to ensure this, extra-coarse grit or sand should be added to give the compost a more open texture. A suitable compost which is readily available, is John Innes No. 2, which is basically a mixture of or , and sharp sand. You can buy this from most garden shops or make it yourself. You can substitute for peat if you wish. Coarse building sand which has been left to weather in the open for some time is a good substitute for grit or horticultural sand. These are all very good ingredients for making bonsai compost.
The wire for shaping the branches should be fairly pliable and for this reason copper or aluminium wire is generally used. Galvanized iron wire may be used but this is not ideal as it is too stiff to bend. Green plastic-coated garden wire is a reasonable substitute, but for most beginners copper wire from the inside of electric cables is probably as good as any of the wire used by the professionals.
You must be prepared to prune in order to create bonsai. Much of the dwarfing process is achieved by pruning and the techniques used in bonsai are really no different from those for pruning ordinary garden shrubs and trees. Prune cleanly, avoid crossing branches and always prune to an outward pointing bud.
There are many who imagine that root pruning is what makes a bonsai dwarf. This is not entirely true. A bonsai should be root pruned only when it is pot bound — when the roots completely fill the pot — not as a matter of routine. The frequency of root pruning depends very much on the variety of tree. Certain varieties of tree are more vigorous than others. The more vigorous varieties may require repotting and root pruning once a year, although it is perhaps better to root prune once every other year if in doubt. Older bonsai which have reached maturity are root pruned much less frequently — say once every five to eight years.
The best time for repotting is in the early spring. If you have aor cold , repotting may be done at any time between late autumn and early spring.
Root pruning is like cutting hair. Simply comb out the roots and snip off the long ends. By cutting off the excess roots this will encourage new and finer roots to develop. Do not cut off more than is absolutely necessary. As long as there is sufficient room for fresh compost to be introduced into the pot, this will do. An old table fork bent into the shape of a rake is ideal for teasing out the roots. Many tools can be improvised for the same purpose. A chopstick or hook is equally suitable.