for Designing Bonsai Trees
by Francesca Black
Bonsai are shaped by trimming the branches or by wiring them into
You are dealing with living things, and you must be respectful
of that. You will kill trees. This is a sad fact of the activity,
especially as you start out. Commit yourself to understanding why
every tree dies and what can be done to prevent it. Learn from your
mistakes and do your best to prevent them in the future.
Every tree is different. Learn to care for a few different types
of plants, and grow your collection from there.
How to Begin
Remove the tree from the plastic pot by turning the pot upside down,
tapping the bottom, and letting the tree slide out into your hand.
The soil should not be too dry, so that the root ball remains intact.
Gently scrape away the topsoil around the base of the tree, to expose
the lower trunk (about one quarter to one half inch). Try not to
break too many surface roots. First thing is to look at the roots
of the tree and check to see if it gives the appearance of a strong
Cut off the bottom third of the soil and roots, and flatten out
the remaining root mass. Prepare the bonsai pot by placing a piece
of screen over each drainage hole, and pour a layer of potting soil
into the bottom of the pot. Place the tree in the pot, pour in the
remaining soil, and pack it firmly. Finally, submerge the bonsai,
pot and all, in water, up to the base of the trunk, and let it sit
in the water for a few minutes.
Interesting Visual Effects
In bonsai, the rule of thirds states that the first (lowest and
biggest) branch should be at about one third of the total height
of the tree. It is the trunk that gives the tree its visual strength,
and every effort should be made to have at least the bottom two-thirds
of the height clear of branches at the front of the tree.
Next is checking the trunk. The shape of the trunk will basically
determine the style you choose. In almost all cases, however, a
thick base, which tapers gradually and gently to a thin apex, will
make for a nice tree. Which style you prefer will depend on the
movement of the trunk.
Look at the branching pattern. The lower branches should be thick
while the upper ones should be thin. The branches should be laid
out like the spokes of a wheel with some going to the back. This
will give the tree depth when you look at it. No two branches should
leave the trunk at the same level.
The handlebar effect is unnatural looking and, if left, will cause
the trunk to swell at their level causing an ugly bulge in the trunk
line. If your tree has such a fault you should, if a deciduous tree,
remove one of the branches entirely. Try to avoid having branches
spaced evenly down the trunk. Reduce the distance between the branches
as you go toward the top of the tree.
Finally examine the plant to see if it is healthy. Be sure not
to wire so tightly that you cut into the bark, or so loosely that
you do not have support. Minor wire marks can sometimes add interest
and show that the tree has been trained, giving branches character
after several years. However, major wire marks are very ugly. To
hide any marks that look unnatural you can strategically place foliage
at intervals in front of the trunk, so that the trunk line is not
It may be ten years (or longer) before your plant will actually
be a bonsai. Don't be discouraged by this, but think of it as part
of the experience. Perhaps most importantly, understand that when
you put a tree in a pot you are committing yourself to the care
of that tree. You cannot simply ignore it or it will die. Bonsai
is a responsibility as well as a hobby. If you practice it with
care and patience, the rewards are tremendous.
About the Author
Francesca Black works in marketing at Bonsai Garden http://www.bonsai-garden.com
and Pilates Shop http://www.pilates-shop.net
leading portals for bonsai gardening and natural exercise.