Bonsai trees were first conceived over a thousand years ago. Creating a bonsai has been considered a work of art, and the finished products are revered as living souvenirs in decorative containers. Although the miniaturized trees and the containers are the focal points, small landscapes are often created at the bases of the trees which create their own allure.
Small clay pagodas or nice gravel rock beds are frequently used in the “landscape” around these trees to simulate a tiny world. Carpets of moss are used in place of grassy fields, making these trees very captivating and intriguing.
The Purpose of Bonsai
Large trees are difficult to maintain, and they envelope a large area of any landscape. This was one reason that bonsai was developed—to enjoy a variety of trees but on a smaller scale. These living sculptures are the product of much patience and creativity on the part of the bonsai artist.
How to Develop a Bonsai
To those who have a passion for small, decorative trees, the time and effort involved in maintaining these beautiful masterpieces passes very quickly. However, much practice is required to keep them looking their best.
Not only branch pruning but also root pruning is necessary to preserve the dwarf growth form of these unique trees. For instance, on pine trees, new growth emerges as cylindrical buds at the branch tips, called “candles.” These can be cut back considerably in early spring before needles emerge, to dwarf the growth and ultimately keep the plant more dense.
Root pruning is performed by digging the plant from its container and quite literally cutting back on the roots so that it will not outgrow its small container. These types of pruning prevent the tree from growing too rapidly and keep it easy to maintain.
Copper wires are sometimes used to manipulate branching in such a way that it looks aesthetically appealing, and some branches are literally broken to gain a desired angle. The result is thick, very fascinating branch structures that make the plants look ancient!
Conifer and Maple Varieties Commonly Used for Bonsai
There are particular varieties or cultivars of both maples and conifers that are commonly used as bonsai. Acer palmatum ‘Mikawa yatsubusa’ has a wonderful, densely-set leaf arrangement that naturally makes it look like a large tree on a miniature scale. The sculptural branching and rich dark-green leaf color augment its remarkable form, making it among the most popular of our offerings for use in bonsai.
Seedlings from ‘Mikawa yatsubusa’ inherit the same characteristics as the parent plant, making them less-expensive, more unique, and just as beautiful alternatives to ‘Mikawa’. Their varied forms makes no two quite alike!
Dwarf Hinoki Cypresses are often used as bonsai as well. Their incredibly slow growth rate (1-3” per year) make them choice selections! Many forms develop excellent trunk structures, causing them to have an ancient appearance. These naturally-sculptural plants are one of the most popular conifers for use in bonsai.
A pine that is often used in bonsai is Pinus mugo. Its naturally-short, green needles provide excellent structure for the numerous mounding cultivars available. These can easily be cloud pruned or done in the Japanese pan style to display unique forms.
Japanese White Pine has also commonly been used in bonsai over the years due to its attractive, often windswept, form. The silvery-blue needles are frequently curled at the tips. The branching habit of Pinus parviflora makes niwaki-style pruning very easy, and it develops very attractively.