Cultivating Bonsai Trees

Posted on November 20, 2008
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Bonsai tree cultivation is a Japanese tradition stretching back hundreds of years.  Literally translating to “tray planting,” growing a bonsai tree involves actively shaping a tree into a dwarfed, artistic version of itself.  Bonsai trees are not special hybrids or dwarf species of common trees; they’re genetically identical to their much taller relatives.  It’s the careful cultivation that keeps these trees small.  Surprisingly, the trees are not damaged by this process, however.  In fact, with the correct care, the bonsai version of a tree can exceed the life expectancy of the same tree if it were grown in the wild.

Bonsai trees can either be grown from seeds or from cuttings of trees, and they normally range in height from two inches to three feet.  They are kept miniture through pruning both branches and roots.  Additionally, new growth is often pinched off when they are periodically repotted. 

There is a much about art as there is about horticulture in the cultivating of bonsai trees.  Bonsai trees are not only kept small, they are also formed into pleasing shapes.  They often follow a number of different patterns of growth, from simple triangles to waterfall shapes cascading down over their pots.  The various shapes are usually a product of both the pruning of the tree and through the use of wrapping the trunk and branches with wire, pushing the tree into its desired shape.  Chosen to compliment the color and shape of the tree itself, the pots are also part of the art of bonsai.  Rocks and mosses are frequently added to the base for aesthetic appeal. 

Taking care of a bonsai tree is more complicated than the growing of most houseplants.  Since the bonsai has has a smaller root system than most plants, it needs fertilizer and water more frequently than the majority of garden-variety houseplants.  Occasional pruning is also essential, since the bonsai tree would grow into just a normal large tree without pruning.  Also, if wire is used to help mold and form the tree, it is important to take care that the wire doesn’t dig into the bark of the tree, scarring the branches permanently.  Depending on the type of bonsai tree and your climate, you may be able to keep some bonsai trees outside year round, while others will need to be kept inside for at least part of the year.  Moisture is also important, not only in the soil but in the leaves and branches of the bonsai.  They need to be misted occasionally for the bonsai to develop healthily. 

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