Nathan and Rachel learn how to start a bonsai.

Nathan and Rachel learn how to start a bonsai.

Nathan wanted to know about the art of bonsai and his mother referred him to me.  I thought that the best thing I could do would be to show him how to start a bonsai tree for himself.  Nathan showed up on a nice Wednesday evening with his delightful friend Rachel.  They had been shopping at the Lavender Mountain Hardware nursery and had picked out some rather nice plants with which they would practice the art of bonsai.

Ready for lessons on "how to start a bonsai"

Ready for lessons on “how to start a bonsai”

I had also been shopping that day and picked up a Sergeant’s juniper that was left over from the year before and overgrown in its container.  Nathan and Rachel had brought a Japanese boxwood, an American boxwood, and a Juniper procumbens ‘nana’.  We had all experienced difficulty in finding some nice bonsai dishes, so I rounded up three “hypertuffa” concrete pots that I had made years ago. We had plenty of good, compost based potting soil.

My teaching experience from long ago had acquainted me with the three steps for teaching a concept:  “Tell them how to do it. Show them how to do it, and Let them do it.”  So I used the Sergeants juniper to demonstrate.  The first step is to study the plant, finding the main trunks.

Look at the plant. "There's a bonsai tree in there somewhere"

Look at the plant. “There’s a bonsai tree in there somewhere”

I explained that cutting the apical buds from the plant causes it to branch.  Information on what happens when you prune a plant may be found in my article on “pruning as an art form.  You may find this information on pruning if you CLICK HERE.

The first principle of bonsai, "If you cut off the apical buds, the plant will spread out"

The first principle of bonsai, “If you cut off the apical buds, the plant will spread out”

We cut the root ball in half for two reasons:

1.  To make the root ball fit the pot.

2.  To cut or “root prune” the root ball so that new roots will form.

root pruning the new bonsai candidate

root pruning the new bonsai candidate

The next step is to isolate the main trunks of the tree.  During this selection process, it is best to select an odd number of trunks which will form three or five levels of the plant.  This design concept is called “Ikebana” and isolates three levels which are representative of “Heaven, Man, and Earth.”  After isolating the main trunks, the lower growth is cut off to expose them.

cutting the side growth of the trunk for the new bonsai

cutting the side growth of the trunk for the new bonsai

We plop the plant with the exposed stems into its pot and study the tops.

Study the tops of the tree for possible Ikebani effect

Study the tops of the tree for possible Ikebani effect

After deciding on a direction for the tops of the plant to take, we prune the tips so that, with time, the plant will branch and grow out into a lovely tree.  The bonsai process is never finished.  This is basically how a bonsai tree is started.

carefully trimming the tops of the bonsai will promote branching and filling out.

carefully trimming the tops of the bonsai will promote branching and filling out.

It was time for Rachel and Nathan to practice by starting their own bonsai trees.  Rachel studied her own bonsai tree and we discussed which trunks and branches needed to be either cut off or saved.  She decided to shape the bonsai sort of like an oak tree growing on a mountain.  I told her that I once knew a man who could study an interesting tree in its native habitat and then go home and make an exact miniature of the tree as a bonsai. Rachel also isolated roots to be exposed and grow over rocks which would be inserted after planting.

Deciding what and where to cut for the finished bonsai.

Deciding what and where to cut for the finished bonsai.

Nathan began studying the trunk of his well chosen American boxwood.  I think that isolating and trimming on the tree trunk is the most important part of the project. He also looked at the tops of the stems to decide how to get the Ikebana effect on the finished bonsai.

Study the trunk for the bonsai.  Are there any roots that can be placed over a rock?

Study the trunk for the bonsai. Are there any roots that can be placed over a rock?

The evening proceeded with everyone talking and pointing and cutting and finally potting.  The plants were planted firmly in the pots, using good potting soil to fill in the spaces.  Rocks were added for interest.  Nathan and Rachel plan to find some nice moss to fill in between the rocks, creating a miniature nature scene

The bonsai project works out well

The bonsai project works out well

The procumbens Juniper was turned into a “cascade” bonsai and planted in a pot that was made by the brilliant potter, Jerry Jankovski.

a cascade bonsai from a dwarf trailing juniper (j. procumbens "nana")

a cascade bonsai from a dwarf trailing juniper (j. procumbens “nana”)

That was fun.  We all had a good time working with the plants.  Nathan and Rachel thanked Dekie and me for helping them.  We thanked them for a delightful, fun evening.  Here are the results:

Beautiful bonsai trees all potted and ready to go home

Beautiful bonsai trees all potted and ready to go home

Now, why don’t you start your own bonsai?  It’s easy and fun.

I will write another article on bonsai maintenance and trimming in the near future.

For related articles:

“The simple basics of pruning- Pruning as an art form”, CLICK HERE

“Zen and the art of Crape myrtle pruning”  CLICK HERE

“Summertime care for knockout roses”  CLICK HERE

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9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. ponygirl
    Aug 15, 2010 @ 12:53:53

    I love it! The bonsai demo made for a delightful evening, which in turn led to this fun and informative blog post.

    I’ll be watching for the article on bonsai maintenance . . .

    Reply

  2. sara
    Aug 31, 2010 @ 19:55:52

    I love all the pictures! Great job guys! I was noticing that your bonsai pots leave a bit to be desired though. I just got some beauties at my favorite bonsai shop and wanted to pass the info to you in case you wanted to upgrade. Your bonsai are too pretty to showcase in anything less…;o)

    Reply

  3. Trackback: Foundation planting with containers creates “a changeable garden” « johntheplantman's stories, plants, and gardening
  4. Trackback: How to prune and reshape an overgrown bonsai tree « johntheplantman's stories, plants, and gardening
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  6. SoundEagle
    Jul 05, 2012 @ 22:02:42

    Reblogged this on Potted Plant Society.

    Reply

  7. Trackback: Nathan and Rachel learn how to start a bonsai. | Potted Plant Society
  8. Trackback: Pruning an Overgrown Topiary | Johntheplantman's stories, musings, and gardening.
  9. Trackback: Trucking Buddies Stumble Upon a Bonsai Show | Johntheplantman's stories, musings, and gardening.

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