Stayin’ Alive: a monk explains how not to kill your bonsai

It’s not every day you get to interview a monk. And it’s even rarer to interview him about bonsai. But Brother Gerard Gross has been in charge of bonsai cultivation at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit for twelve years, so he seems like the right person to discuss this notoriously temperamental plant with. Here he shares his insights.

To the south : What do you enjoy most about working with bonsai?

GF: It’s good to get your hands in the dirt, in the beauty of God, God’s creation. It teaches patience, it shows life and creation, and it helps others discover beauty. It transforms us.

To the south : We love the sound of this. What types of bonsai do you grow?

GF: Japanese garden, maple, boxwood, elm and juniper. There are also tropical bonsai grown indoors.

To the south : What kind of care does a bonsai tree need? Aren’t they hard to grow?

GF: Bonsai trees are like pets. They don’t live alone, they need attention, they should not be neglected… Bonsai management is very important. The right amount of light, water and soil is essential to keep trees alive. Size and height are also very important. Most require you to prune them throughout the summer. Others, like boxwoods and conifers, only need pruning about once a year. Bonsai roots should also be pruned every three to five years.

To the south : What is the average lifespan of bonsai trees?

GF: The maturity of bonsai varies; it depends on the type of tree it is. Trees typically grow up to hundreds of years old, so with the proper care and atmosphere, the same can be said for bonsai. Most mature in about five to six years and reach between two and three feet tall.

To the south : I am new to bonsai growing. What is the most forgiving type to start with?

GF: If you want to get into growing and caring for the beauty of bonsai, maple bonsai are my favorite – they require simplistic maintenance. I also recommend Cotoneaster, Japanese Garden, and Juniper Bonsai because they are easier to keep alive.

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