Bonsai Myths

At first people are enchanted and mystified by the small trees. There are lots of misconceptions and myths surrounding the Art and Hobby of Bonsai.

Dismissal of the most common Bonsai Myths:
1. Bonsai are special types of tree and you can’t bonsai most trees!
2. You don’t need to water or feed the trees much, as they don’t need it and thrive on neglect!
3. A Bonsai tree is a finished article and needs no further maintenance!
4. Bonsai are up to 12″ high and look like small versions of trees in the local park!
5. Any tree in a Japanese pot is a bonsai!
6. Leaves on Bonsai are always small and in keeping with the scale of the tree!
7. Small trees are cheap – big trees are expensive!
In reply:
1. Most trees can be Bonsai but steer clear of large leaves. Trees such as Sycamore, and Chestnut which will not reduce enough to be believable. As there are so many other varieties why waste your time trying. Try Larch, Scots Pine and varieties, Yew or Junipers for starters – naturally small leafed plants like – Cotoneaster Lonicera, if you don’t overfeed them, then the leaves won’t suddenly enlarge to an unrealistic scale.
2. Bonsai need constant attention to the moisture content in the soil. They are growing in a small container and if the tree is healthy and vigorous in hot weather it may need watering thoroughly twice a day and misting to cool the foliage as well. The soil should never dry out completely as feeder roots that do not carry moisture to the plant will die within 5 minutes of becoming completely dry. The root ball should be moist but not soaking or standing in water. Humidity is also beneficial in most cases except in winter. Good airflow is also important to stop fungal spores growing on leaves. Because of the amount of watering nutrients are washed out of the soil and need to be replaced with a program of feeds, which I will go into at a later stage. In other words, if you don’t look after them they die (really quickly).
3. Bonsai are in permanent training and are never finished. Leave them without pruning and they will turn back into normal trees or bushes. Don’t re-pot them regularly they will become pot bound and eventually will die
4. Bonsai means translated from Japanese – “Tree in pot.” Any tree from 4 inches to full size can be styled to conform to Bonsai standards. In Japan, park trees are pruned and bent to evoke more impact than one left to it’s own devises. There are many classifications of styles that have come about as a result of exhibiting and competitions in Japan over many years. This will be examined in fuller articles. Some of the styles reflect the characters of the area in which they grow. Mountains/windswept forest, lowland, or cliff-face will create different growth patterns, and we as Bonsai keepers try and reflect this natural style in our trees.
5. Some real rubbish masquerades as Bonsai by virtue of the pot it’s in. A twig in an expensive pot is still just a twig in a pot. The tree is everything the pot is just a frame in which it sits. The balance and harmony is important and in specimens the pot does add to the impact. You can have a collection of nice pots or nice trees. The aim is to eventually have both, but the trees must always come first.
6. Bonsai are in general ordinary trees unless they have a prefix of Yatsubusa or dwarf. With careful management watering and feeding leaves will reduce in size. In general the more branches and fine twigs, or ramification of the tree, will create smaller leaf size. Defoliating can also create smaller leaves but should only be attempted with advice.
What to look for is – taper of trunk. Aged bark, Ramification of branches and leaf size. Healthy vigorous trees – not yellow sickly or wobbly trees in their pots, indicating lack of roots.
7. The price generally reflects the amount of time and effort put into the trees sometimes over many years. Top quality small is better than mediocre big – Quality is everything.