Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Cultivating Bonsai Trees

The art of cultivating bonsai trees is a Japanese tradition for hundreds and hundreds of years.  Bonsai literally translates to "tray planting," and involves actively cultivating trees into an artistic dwarfed version of themselves.  A bonsai tree is not a special dwarf or hybrid species of a common tree; they’re genetically the same as their much bigger relatives.  It’s the careful cultivation and shaping techniques that keeps these trees miniture is size.  However, the trees are not sick or damaged.  In fact, given the correct attention, the bonsai version of a tree can live longer than the same tree if it was allowed to grow in the wild.

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

Cultivating bonsai trees is actually as much about art as it is about horticulture.  Bonsai trees are not only kept small, they are also formed into pleasing shapes.  They often follow a number of different growth patterns, from elaborate waterfall shapes cascading down over their pots to simple triangular pattens.  The various shapes are normally a product of both the pruning of the tree and by the wrapping the branches and trunk with wire, shaping the tree into its desired form.  The pots themselves are part of the art as well, chosen to compliment the shape and color of the tree itself.  Rocks and mosses are often added to the base for aesthetic appeal. 

Care of a bonsai tree is more complicated than maintaining most houseplants.  Since the bonsai, by definition, has has a smaller root system than most plants, it needs water and fertilizer more frequently than most garden-variety houseplants.  Pruining is also essential occasionally, since without pruning the bonsai tree would grow into just a normal big tree.  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.  Since moisture in the soil, leaves, and branches of the bonsai is important, they need to be misted occasionally to remain healthy. 

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