June Meeting 2018

Lindsay Hadland from the Yarra Valley Bonsai Group gave a talk on bonsai.

Main points:

  • The literal Japanese meaning of ‘bonsai’ is ‘tree in a pot’, but the accepted definition of the term is ‘a miniaturized but realistic representation of a tree found in nature.’ The craft dates back to ancient India, when travelling apothecaries carried living herbs in pots.  The Chinese copied this custom from the Indians and developed it into an art form, practised by learned men over 1000 years ago. From there it was soon taken up and further developed by the Japanese. It has been depicted in paintings from at least 706 AD.
  • Parts of a bonsai:
    • Trunk line – the most important feature
    • Nebari – where the base of the trunk meets the soil – the second most important feature
    • Branches
    • Twigs and canopy
    • Taper – important to stop the plant just looking like a stick in a pot
    • Pot – must blend with and complement the tree
  • In nature, tree shapes vary from the mountains to the plains, due to differing environmental conditions: soil, wind, water, light.  Bonsai aims to emulate this. The various styles of the individual trees are
    • Informal upright
    • Formal upright
    • Slanting (as if leaning toward the light)
    • Semi-cascade
    • Cascade
  • The form of the bonsai in the pot can also vary:
    • Forest (groups of the same species)
    • Clump (single tree with multiple trunks coming from the base)
    • Multi-trunk (similar to clump, but with the trunks coming from further up the main trunk)
    • Raft – emulating the situation in nature where a tree has blown over but still has its roots in the ground and sends up multiple trunks
    • Windswept
    • Literati: simply a work of art rather than emulating natural growth
    • Root-over-rock: as when a seed in nature sprouts on top of a rock, sending its roots over the rock and into the soil below
    • Broom – the whole clump forms a broom-like structure.
  • Rules of bonsai – which can be broken at times!
    • Branch placement going up the trunk: leftžrightžback
    • First branch should be ⅓ of the height of the tree above the pot
    • Branches should be progressively closer together going up the trunk
    • Apex should be domed
    • Height of tree should be 6 x diameter of trunk at nebari
    • Width of the pot should be ⅔ the height of the tree
  • Suitable trees for bonsai: In theory, any tree can be used but some are much easier than others. Look for the following attributes –
    • Small leaves
    • Tree able to back-bud on old wood
    • Able to tolerate extensive root work
    • Vigorous
    • Small flowers or fruit.  If these are not small, the tree can still make a convincing bonsai, provided it is not allowed to form flowers or fruit.
    • Deciduous trees are easier to work with than evergreens, especially Chinese elm, trident maple, beech, hawthorn, ash, larch
    • Easiest evergreens are pine, cedar, fir, spruce
    • Australian natives are becoming popular: banksia, melaleuca, leptospermum, ficus, callistemon, casuarina. Eucalyptus are difficult.
    • Flowering and fruiting plants: crabapple, cotoneaster, pomegranate, wisteria, pyracantha, azalea.
  • Bonsai tools: for beginners, just secateurs and ordinary workshop tools will suffice.  Specialized tools for the more expert include scissors, branch cutters, knob cutters, wire cutters, jinning pliers, tweezers, chopsticks, root rakes, fine saws.
  • Bonsai potting mix: there is no such thing as one ideal bonsai soil. It depends on what is locally available: pine bark, scoria, diatomite, zeolite. The mix must be free-draining with uniform particle size (sieve it!).  Avoid mixes with fine particles, including the commercially-available mixes. (Although the commercial mixes can be sieved to remove the fines, this wastes about 40% of the product). One recommended mix is 50-50 diatomite and orchiata pinebark from NZ, both with particle sizes 2 – 7 mm.
  • Bonsai sizes: tree heights range from 3-8 cm up to >1m. In Australia the classification is generally limited to 3 sizes: 5 – 15 cm, 13 – 20 cm, >20 cm. Based on weight, the 3 categories are: able to be lifted with one hand, able to be lifted with two hands, and requiring a forklift.
  • Creating a bonsaGrow the tree seedling in the open ground or in a growing potKeep it alive! Keep it moist but not too much – allow it to partially dry out between waterings.Fertilize quite heavily, aiming for rapid growth (but be aware of growing conditions in the tree’s natural environment). Opinions vary as to the frequency of fertilization. Lindsay uses Charlie Carp every Saturday during the growing period.
      • Let the treeling grow, clipping it back as required.
      • When the trunk is about ⅔ of the desired size, chop off the branches, leaving a small stub. This  will form a new leader below the stub.
      • Repeat the process with successive leaders.
      • As each leader grows longer, it will thicken, as will the trunk below it.
      • When the desired trunk thickness is achieved, cut off the branch.
      • New branches can be wired to grow in the desired direction.
      • Lift every 1 or 2 years to prune the roots. The ideal is to have fine roots close to the trunk.
      • Place the tree into suitable bonsai pot when it has reached the desired size.
    • Learning more about bonsai:
      • Join a club (e.g the Yarra Valley Bonsai Group)
      • Take a training course – available at YVBG, some nurseries etc
      • Attend workshops with a Bonsai Master, either local or international
      • Bonsai apprenticeships are available in Japan – a  very demanding 5-year course.
      • Books
      • Internet sites and blogs
      • You-tube videos (be sceptical)
      • Trial and error
    • Yarra Valley Bonsai Group
      • A young club, only 10 years old
      • Based in Mt Evelyn.
      • Meets 2ndTuesday of every month from 7.30 – 9.30 pm
      • Workshops last Saturday in the month, from 1 – 4.30pm
      • See website for more details.

    Lindsay brought a number of bonsai trees to illustrate his talk: a trident maple forest, a cedar, Chinese elm, leptospermum, banksia serrata.

      • Let the treeling grow, clipping it back as required.
      • When the trunk is about ⅔ of the desired size, chop off the branches, leaving a small stub. This  will form a new leader below the stub.
      • Repeat the process with successive leaders.
      • As each leader grows longer, it will thicken, as will the trunk below it.
      • When the desired trunk thickness is achieved, cut off the branch.
      • New branches can be wired to grow in the desired direction.
      • Lift every 1 or 2 years to prune the roots. The ideal is to have fine roots close to the trunk.
      • Place the tree into suitable bonsai pot when it has reached the desired size.
    • Learning more about bonsai:
      • Join a club (e.g the Yarra Valley Bonsai Group)
      • Take a training course – available at YVBG, some nurseries etc
      • Attend workshops with a Bonsai Master, either local or international
      • Bonsai apprenticeships are available in Japan – a  very demanding 5-year course.
      • Books
      • Internet sites and blogs
      • You-tube videos (be sceptical)
      • Trial and error
    • Yarra Valley Bonsai Group
      • A young club, only 10 years old
      • Based in Mt Evelyn.
      • Meets 2ndTuesday of every month from 7.30 – 9.30 pm
      • Workshops last Saturday in the month, from 1 – 4.30pm
      • See website for more details.

    Lindsay brought a number of bonsai trees to illustrate his talk: a trident maple forest, a cedar, Chinese elm, leptospermum, banksia serrata.

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