Japanese Bonsai Trees

by Lyanne Thomas
(Manila, Philippines)

About Japanese Bonsai Trees

The cultivation of Bonsai plants or trees in Japan began during the Kamakura period at around 1200AD. The word “Bonsai” is a Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese term “Penzai”. Bonsai in Japanese means a tree in a pot.

Bonsai trees are miniature trees grown in a pot or a container. Different trees are used for bonsai and the most common of these are: Japanese black and white pines, Japanese cedars and maples, and of course the smallest of bonsai called “mame.” There are various kinds of Japanese bonsai tree styles and this includes the formal and the informal upright, the cascade and semi-cascade, the raft, the literati, the forest, the broom style and the windswept style.

Most of the bonsai cultivation techniques were developed during the Edo period; such as leaf trimming or the selective removal of leaves or needles, pruning, wiring the branches and trunks, clamping to shape trunks and branches, and defoliation (which is necessary for short-term dwarfing of foliage for certain deciduous species), and the deadwood bonsai techniques that simulate age and maturity in a bonsai tree.

A bonsai may come from any woody plant or source specimen. The source specimen may be a cutting or a seedling.

(Pictured right, Bonsai by Beate W)

The source specimen should meet the aesthetic standards of a bonsai plant and these include things such as:

the root spread, the rise of the trunk and the most important element - the arrangement of the bonsai's branches.

When the tree has sprouted or nears its planned final size, the bonsai grower or artist can begin shaping it and placing it in a pot designed for bonsai plants. Other than the regular pruning throughout the year, the pots limit the growth of the plant.

Miniature trees like bonsai need special attention and care such as watering,re-potting, soil composition and fertilization checking, and overwintering.

Watering of bonsai trees must be regular. It is important that you make sure that the soil doesn't get too wet or too dry. Re-potting is dictated by the vigour and the age of the tree, and this is done at intervals. Re-potting is also done to prevent your plant from becoming root bound.

It is likewise a good time to thin the plant's foliage mass during re-potting. Soil composition of Japanese bonsai trees varies depending on the needs of the bonsai tree, while fertilization is just as important to these small trees as to their bigger counterparts. Like the soil composition, location and overwintering are also species-dependent.

Bonsai Implements

For the tools, several devices have been developed particularly for bonsai plants.

Bonsai Originated in China

Similar methods of planting can also be seen in other cultures such as “penjing” from China and “hon non bo” from Vietnam. In fact the art of bonsai cultivation is said to originate from China and was later on developed and was spread in Japan. A Chinese legend says that it was in the Han dynasty that the art of bonsai cultivation began, though the earliest documented proof of bonsai was found in 1972 in the tomb of a prince of the Tang dynasty.

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