Gardening: Tips for Growing Bonsai Tops
Native to Japan, a bonsai is a miniature form of a mature tree, which has been meticulously pruned and repotted. Bonsai specialist Iqbal Khan says ensuring a bonsai tree is kept “in scale and proportion” is an essential part of the growing process.
“Some people mistakenly think that a bonsai tree is a single species, but that’s not the case – any tree can be made into a bonsai tree,” said Iqbal, whose company Mikbonsai Ltd specializes in sale of a wide variety of miniature trees.
Many people may have purchased a bonsai only to find that it did not survive. So what specialized care do they need to thrive?
Potting and pruning
Repotting a bonsai ensures that the tree remains a miniature size. Iqbal advised repotting a bonsai every two years and pruning the roots.
“During the summer months, the foliage of the tree is pruned and this is how the tree stays beautiful, small and healthy,” Iqbal said.
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The branches of a bonsai tree should be six inches long before they are pruned back to an inch and a half to two inches long, which will ensure that their branches grow thick.
When the tree is repotted, Iqbal advised placing chicken pellets between the soil layers to provide food for the bonsai throughout the season. When the tree is repotted the following year, it will then need more food.
Common bonsai foods include organic chicken pellets, organic food, Crystal Specialist fertilizer, and 10-10-10 fertilizer.
Bonsai require special soil that contains pure Akadama, pumice, lava rock, pine bark and horticultural grade sand.
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Soil contains equal amounts of nutrients to manage excess water.
“The soil is for drainage, and excess water drains through the drainage holes in the bottom of the bonsai pot,” Iqbal said.
It is essential that the bonsai pot has drainage holes at the bottom. To prevent the soil from falling through the gaps, Iqbal said it was a good idea to place a net at the bottom of the pot, with a hairpin to secure it in place.
After repotting, he said it was a good idea to use netting to hold the bonsai in place until the roots, which are extremely delicate and hair-like, have grown out.
Newly repotted bonsai trees should be protected from direct sunlight and placed in full shade for three weeks until the roots have grown sufficiently.
Iqbal advised repotting Japanese maple bonsai in February and deciduous trees in March.
It is essential that a bonsai receives the right amount of water. Overwatering or underwatering will kill the miniature tree.
A useful tip to tell if a bonsai tree needs watering is to touch the ground – if it’s damp it doesn’t need watering, but if the humidity level is low it’s the case.
Bonsai should be watered abundantly. They require watering all around the tree and should be watered until they emerge from the drainage holes.
Bonsai trees that are kept outdoors can be placed anywhere in the garden but thrive when placed in a south facing position where they are exposed to plenty of sunlight.
Indoor bonsai can be placed either on a window facing south, southeast or southwest, where there is plenty of sun and light, and within half a meter of the window.
A bonsai should be kept away from artificial heat, including a heater, or it will die. Iqbal advised that the miniature tree should be turned over regularly to ensure even growth.