Make bonsai your home's best friend

Last Updated 15 September 2016, 18:26 IST

Striking a balance between the conflicting need to live in a city and love for nature, is a constant struggle. But you can manage to pull it off, although on a miniature scale. You can achieve this with the oriental art of ‘bonsai’, which, at first sight, generates curiosity and admiration.

In the ancient times, the Chinese believed that those who could take care of a miniature tree for a long time, got eternity granted for their soul. Supposedly, for them, a tree could be the connection between the divine and the human, between heaven and earth. However, it was the Japanese who furthered the art and made it popular.

How to start
Bonsais are not genetically dwarfed plants; they are kept small by a series of techniques and steps, which, if done properly, would allow the tree to live as long as their original species. The good thing here is that any tree can be grown into a bonsai. All you have to do is take proper care of it and know some details before starting. So, where does one begin?

First, pick a tree that you like and match it with the conditions of your home, surrounding environment and climate. Don’t forget to consider the leaf size of the tree for optimal growth. People like to pick up a small-leaved tree as it’s easier to model.

One of the ways is to buy a young plant, called a ‘prebonsai’, which consists of a germinated tree that is in its early stage. That way, the whole bonsai process becomes faster. Perhaps, you can buy seeds for a plant and nurture them the bonsai way. Or you can take the easiest route — buy a grown bonsai plant and look after it well. However, this option takes away the fun and opportunity of learning on how you can grow a bonsai plant. Please know that there is no such thing as ‘bonsai seeds’. So, don’t fall prey to buying bonsai seeds.

The seed which a bonsai comes from is just a regular tree seed. The process of making a bonsai comes later, after it has germinated. When you grow a bonsai from seed, you should do the planting in autumn, so they start germinating in spring. It’s always better to select trees that can adapt easily to the climate of the place you live; that way it’ll work in your favour.

Taking care
“Looking at a tree in a miniature form is a different feel altogether. Bonsai trees in my house are not only an attractive conversation piece, but tending to them is a great stress reliever,” says Delhi-based plant enthusiast Swapna Soni. Pruning is one of the ways to create and shape a bonsai. However, while one is pruning, it is very important not to change too much of the tree’s original silhouette. Constant pruning is necessary not only to shape the tree but also to care for it.

Regular wiring ensures a bountiful bonsai with strong and numerous leaves. “Shaping angles and generating branches can be done by wiring. However, it’s very important to do it the right way, because it can be a disaster if not done properly. If two branches occur at the same height of the tree, keep one of them and remove the other. Take off branches with unnatural twists and turns. Also, remove disproportionately thick branches from the top of the tree,” says Shalini Vohra, a Delhi-based bonsai specialist.

Pruning takes care of two aspects — keeping the trees miniaturised and rendering a good shape. The ultimate goal is to create a bonsai that resembles its natural form as close as possible. Spring and summer are the seasons to proceed with significant pruning. However, this will depend on the type of tree you have.

A good concave cutter is what you need to ensure that the hollow wounds left
behind heal much better than those that normal cutters leave. However, if it doesn’t come easy, do take initial help from an experienced horticulturist or a gardener. Keep in mind some basic aspects, such as removing disproportionately thick branches from the top of the tree.

Another important technique to shape the trees is wiring. By wrapping anodised aluminium or annealed copper carefully around branches, it is possible to bend and shape them to a certain extent at least. Wiring can be applied all year, but make sure to remove the wire before it starts scarring branches that grow thicker.

These aren’t the only ways that you can maintain a bonsai tree. Some ways include defoliating the tree to obtain smaller leaves, or to balance its shape.

Then, there is also the ‘jin and shari’ technique which makes the bonsai look old and mature by creating areas of deadwood on the tree, just like it happens in nature sometimes.

Necessary care
Bonsai trees require constant love and attention; caring for them can also help develop patience. “Indoor bonsai trees add beauty, help purify the air and add freshness to the living area,” avers Swapna. Constantly check the soil of the bonsai and keep it damp. Water, if it gets dry on the top, but make sure that you do not flood it. If you are considering repotting your bonsai tree, simply take it from the older pot and transfer it to the new one carefully.

Ensure that you do not keep your bonsai in a dark corner. It needs adequate sun, water and air to grow. Check the humidity and temperature of the place where the pot is kept. Sub-tropical trees are best grown in climates such India’s. They can also be grown outside as it can withstand any weather changes.

When selecting a bonsai for your home, it is always wise to choose a tree that is indigenous to your environment. To ensure that they grow optimally, there are bonsai-friendly fertilisers available in the market. In addition to these, you can also use the regular fertilisers for the bonsai. Remember to always check for pests and fungal growth. If you notice any growth, arrest it at the very beginning.

Anybody who has love for plants and nature clearly has a compassionate nature and rearing a bonsai yourself further reinforces this bond. As long as you love your plant, it will stay with you and stay healthy too. Remember, growing a bonsai is not a race or a destination. It is a never-ending journey.

(Published 15 September 2016, 17:32 IST)

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