Get to Know Bonsai
- tiny trees with a long history -

Posted on October 10, 2018

Get to Know Bonsai

Plant bio: Part gardening, part flower arranging, bonsai is the ancient Japanese art of training trees or large shrubs over many years to grow in pots as miniature replicas of mature tree specimens.

Plants used: Any tree or shrub, if acquired as a sapling or small specimen, can be pruned, wired, and repotted to turn it into a bonsai. For outdoor bonsai, it's best to pick a variety that grows well in your area. Indoor bonsai need to be tropical plants.

History: Seven hundred years ago, the Japanese copied a Chinese tradition, itself over 2000 years old, of creating tiny landscapes from trees and shrubs. The Japanese concentrated on single plants and created the art of cultivating bonsai as both an aesthetic and religious practice. Today, practitioners still spend lifetimes tending to and shaping bonsai trees, with some single specimens having been passed down for generations.

How to get started: Bonsai trees that have been trained for one or more years are available at nurseries and online, often with detailed instructions for their care. You can also pick up a sapling from your local garden center, start your tree from seed, or try to replant a specimen you find outdoors. There are many books on training bonsai, groups and clubs that hold regular conferences, and public collections that you can check out for more information on how to cultivate your bonsai.

Watering: Because bonsai trees are grown in small containers, proper watering is especially important. Water when the top half inch of soil feels dry to the touch. Lightly water the soil surface until water flows out the drainage holes. Another watering method is to place the bonsai in a bucket or sink and fill with enough water to just cover the entire container and soil. Allow the soil to soak for a few minutes to absorb moisture then remove the container from the water.

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Ficus microcarpa - Ginseng ficus - Bonsai

Several Ficus species are popular for shaping into bonsai trees.

Ficus are tropical plants, best grown indoors as a houseplant or outdoors as long as temperatures are 60°F (15°C) or higher.

400 year old white pine bonsai in the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C.

Fun Fact:

The National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. has a Japanese white pine bonsai that's almost 400 years old. The tree was passed down through the generations of a Japanese family who donated it to the United States in 1976. Even more impressive: gardeners at the Arboretum recently learned this particular bonsai survived the blast from the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War II.

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