The living sculptures of bonsai (pronounced bone-sigh, Japanese for tree in a tray or pot) are potted plants that are intentionally dwarfed by pruning the branches and roots, then shaped to resemble miniature landscapes. Bonsai originated in China more than 2,000 years ago, before becoming popular in Japan. In bonsai, Zen ideas of man, nature, elements, and change combine in a unique method of meditation and expression. With regular care and attention, many prized specimens grow to be so old that they are handed down from one generation to the next.
Bonsai plants can be gathered from volunteer seedlings in the garden, created from nursery plants, or bought ready-made from bonsai nurseries. They can be evergreen or deciduous trees or shrubs, and even seasonal bloomers, such as azaleas, crabapples, or wisteria.
Bonsai plants are grown and trained in shallow pots, so they do require attention and may need to be watered daily in warm weather. In the winter, tender bonsai go indoors or in a greenhouse, while hardy plants can stay outdoors but are protected from drying wind and direct sun.
Many botanical gardens offer classes and demonstrations in growing and training bonsai. Although it is a very individualistic practice, there are many artists willing to advise.
Remove the plant from its nursery container, and cut off the bottom two-thirds of the root ball. Rake through the soil on the surface to expose the roots. Moisten the roots using a spray bottle.
Remove dead branches and any branches that distract from the vision you have for your tree. Remove any dead roots and any large roots that will interfere with potting. Position the plant in the pot, and work soil in well around the roots. Top the soil with gravel or moss. Water well.
Decide which branches would benefit from shaping. To achieve the desired shape, apply wire snugly but not so tightly that it inhibits growth. When the branch has grown accustomed to its new shape, remove the wire.