A Beginners Guide to the Art of Bonsai

Many of us have spent the past 12 months mastering new skills in the garden but if you’re after a new challenge for autumn then why not join the hordes of horticultural enthusiasts that are embracing the growing trend for bonsai trees? It’s proved so popular over the past few years that societies dedicated to these miniature trees have sprung up across the UK. In addition to helping you, literally, bring the outside in, it is believed that the addition of a bonsai to your interior design scheme can actively help to evoke a sense of calm within the home, let’s explore more…

A potted history of bonsai - According to Bonsai Empire, many believe that the ancient art of bonsai can be traced back to Japan, thanks to its Japanese name ‘bon-sai’, meaning ‘tree in pot’. However, it actually originated in China back in the year 700 AD when the Chinese embraced the art of ‘pun-sai’, using special techniques to grow dwarf trees in containers. When the Japanese later adopted this practise, heavily influenced by Zen Buddhism, the bonsai was already gaining recognition as a realistic representation of nature in its truest form – a tree. While it’s a common misconception that bonsai trees are genetically miniaturised plants, the reality is that any tree species can be used to grow one – with the right blend of artistic flair and horticultural skill. Pinching buds, pruning, wiring branches and restricting fertiliser feeds are used to redirect and limit healthy growth, resulting in stunted plants that usually remain under four feet in height.

The techniques take years to master and the skills and age of the plant often affect their value.

Choosing your perfect specimen - The good news is that there’s a bonsai to suit even the least green-fingered of growers and tips and tricks that you can employ to ensure you keep yours in prime health. Online bonsai specialist Bonsai Direct offers an interactive guide to choosing the tree that’s right for you, based on factors such as location (indoor or outside), light, warmth and appearance. Some of the top suggestions for beginners are: Chinese Elm – a fast growing option that’s easy to care for, versatile and perfectly proportioned. Oriental Tea Tree – An artistic plant with a striking appearance, glossy leaves and white flowers. Ficus – the easiest Bonsai to maintain with deep green leaves and textured bark.

Caring for your bonsai - Maintaining a miniature indoor tree may seem like a daunting prospect but, while they are a little more delicate than most indoor plants, the key is to follow basic advice regarding the ideal conditions for your individual variety. Watering correctly is essential to your plant’s health and should only be done when the soil gets slightly dry, check 1 cm under the top of the soil. Once ready, make sure that you water from above to maintain the soil and ensure that the roots are entirely soaked, repeating as needed until the water runs out of the drainage holes. All of the plant’s nutrition will come from the soil it’s planted in so regular fertilising will aid nutrient retention. Remember to apply smaller quantities of fertiliser than for normal plants. Finally, most bonsai need to be re-potted every two years, with fresh soil to maintain plant health and ensure they don’t get pot-bound, limiting water and nutrient intake.