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About Bonsai

The Art of Bonsai

Personal and Spiritual


The art of bonsai is a personal and subjective art that can be seen as an extreme form of gardening or a path to spiritual enlightenment.  It is an art form fused with horticulture that takes aspects of culture, religion, craftsmanship and discipline.  It is created, shaped and maintained to represent an ideal of nature.


Like Ikebana, the art of bonsai is a form of Wabi-Sabi, the Japanese art in which beauty is found in the imperfections and impermanence of art objects and art styles.  Bonsai origins are dated to China prior to being seen in 7th century Japan.  Japanese Bonsai is a less stylized Japanese art form due to the lack of formal schools that dictate style and shape. Even though there is a lack of formal schools and styles, there are around 14 distinct styles.


Bonsai Styles

  • Cascade

  • Semi-cascade

  • Slanting

  • Informal upright

  • Formal upright

  • Broom

  • Windswept

  • Literati

  • Raft

  • Kasheki

  • Twin trunk

  • Rock planting

  • Root-over-rock

Caring for Your Bonsai

The right soil type, soil condition, amount of water, and fertilizer are key to managing a bonsai successfully.  The roots and foliage must be managed effectively to create the right balance. 


How much water

Different species have different needs.  Learn about your bonsai species natural climate.  For example, the California Juniper is drought and heat resistant, however, you will want to water it regularly and assure that the soil is good.   Too much water or an inadequate drainage system can cause an imbalance in the microbiology resulting in less oxygen for the roots. 


What kind of fertilizer

Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are the nutrients that make up fertilizer.  Avoid inorganic nutrients as these will damage the tree and have a negative impact on the soil microbiology killing beneficial bacterial and mycorrhizal fungi that promote healthy growth.

  • Nitrogen—helps vegetative/green growth

  • Phosphorus—helps roots and flowers

  • Potassium—drought resistance, fruit and overall health


To help with growth and thickening the trunk, fertilizing at the right time of year will help.  Once the tree has matured to the desired level, then decreasing the amount of fertilizer will minimize tree growth.  A light dose of nitrogen fertilizing the tree in the spring once the shoots have been pinched and the leaves have hardened off is recommended versus a heavy dosage that will result in uncontrollable growth.  Heavily fertilize in the fall with phosphorous and potassium.


When you start pruning and shaping a bonsai, you want to create a strong framework.  Start by removing any dead branches and leaves.  This will allow you to get a better idea of the shape you can achieve. Remove any branches that cannot be adjusted or that are not attractive. If there are crowded areas, thinning out can help strengthen the tree because more light will be let in. If more than one branch comes out of a node, then remove all but one. 


Prune to shape the tree into the desired bonsai style, e.g., slanting, dome shaped. Cut branches that extend beyond the desired silhouette.  Then you want to prune back to the are above the first leaf joint. New shoots are encouraged to grow with this method. 



Wiring is the Bonsai designer’s artist tool.  To style a bonsai tree, copper and aluminum wire at varying gauges is to be used.  The varying gauges allow for increased bending and holding power.  You want to assure the tree does not get damaged.  Manipulate the branch ends with wire but avoid trying to manipulate to close to the point that it comes out of the trunk. 


When considering how to wire, look at where the curves will be.  The wire is to be on the outside of the curve to act as a brace so as to prevent breakage.  To wire a major branch with secondary and tertiary branches, start off with a moderate to thick gauge wire on the trunk leading up to the main branch.  Same gauge wires can be used for the secondary branch and lighter gauge wire for the tertiary branches, which are the smaller diameter branches.


When to remove shaping wire

You want to avoid scarring of the branches.  This is where the branch grows into the wire.  When the branch grows thicker to the point the wire appears to be too constricting but not scarring, you will want to adjust or remove the wire. This can be within a month or within years.  Each tree type with the multitude of conditions will vary.


Removing wire

With a pair of pliers, start removing the wire from the outermost point on the branch.  Be sure to support the branch area just behind the wire that is being removed.  Try not to damage small buds and branches. Always leave the wire anchor point for last.


Seasonal Care


  • As tree emerges from dormancy, increase watering

  • Fertilize

  • Reshape trees if needed



  • Weed regularly

  • Continue pruning, wiring, watering and feeding

  • Reduce or remove fertilizer when air temperature is over 90° F (32° C).



  • Reduce watering as growth slows

  • Check wires on branches

  • Protect from frost if weather drops

  • Prune deciduous trees

  • Clear away dead leaves



  • Watering continues but still reduced from Summer

  • Protect roots from freezing

  • Avoid moving wiring on deciduous trees as they can be brittle

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