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Bonsai4me: Bonsai Basics

Bonsai4me: Bonsai Basics

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Bonsai4me: Bonsai Basics

2.5/5 (3 évaluations)
227 pages
2 heures
May 22, 2013


The Art and Practise of Bonsai conjures an aura of mystery and wonder that draws many first-time enthusiasts to it.

Until the 1990s and the onset of the Internet, bonsai enthusiasts were few and far between. Information was very scarce and only available in a handful books written by Western 'Bonsai Masters' who had worked in isolation for many years. There was a lot of trial and error on the part of both these 'Masters' and enthusiasts.

This trial and error period didn’t necessarily lead to good information...... Individuals lacking in basic knowledge and experience (relative to today’s standards) wrote books and the misinformation contained was passed around as gospel. It is no wonder that people who took up bonsai were often confused. It can be extremely difficult to decipher between fact and fiction when even reference books seemed to contradict each other!

With the advent of the Internet, enthusiasts were finally able to link up across the world and compare experiences, improve their overall knowledge and discovered that many pre-90 bonsai books are inaccurate and in some cases downright wrong! Unfortunately many vendors and 'authorities' on bonsai still hark back to the old days and continue to perpetuate myths and bad practises.

Upon finding that I work as a professional bonsai artist, many people will remark that they once had a bonsai, but it died and with some regret, they gave up.

It is hoped that this book, 'Bonsai4me: Bonsai Basics', will arm those new to bonsai with a solid foundation of knowledge that will enable them to successfully keep their bonsai alive and well, through very simple practises, and continue to enjoy, what for many that practise the Art, is a life-long passion.

Bonsai4me:Bonsai Basics takes the reader through the basics of caring for their first bonsai with honest, simple and straightforward advice from the writer of Bonsai4me, Harry Harrington.

Over 29 chapters, Bonsai Basics offers chapters on subjects such as placement, watering, indoor and outdoor bonsai, pruning, wiring, repotting and root-pruning as well as fertilizing, wiring and styling.

All based on a website, Bonsai4me.com, that has been widely regarded and referred to for over a decade by millions of enthusiasts around the world.

May 22, 2013

À propos de l'auteur

Harry Harrington was born in Oxford, UK in 1970 and after 20 years in and around Manchester now lives near the Chiltern Hills in Aylesbury. Harry started bonsai as a hobby nearly 20 years ago whilst working as a gardener. Harry started working professionally as a bonsai artist and writer in 2000. His website www.bonsai4me.com started life as a collection of private notes about bonsai that were published as 'Species Guides' in 2001; the first comprehensive study of plant species suitable for bonsai available online. Since that time Bonsai4me has grown on an annual basis and now attracts over 1.5million different visitors each year from around the world. The success and popularity of the 'Progression Series' (articles and photo-series showing the development of a bonsai over many years) at Bonsai4me.com has led to Harry writing and publishing 2 books on the subject via B4MePublishing; Bonsai Inspirations 1 published in 2011 and Bonsai Inspirations 2, published in 2012. Harry's first (Kindle only) book based on Bonsai4me.com, 'Bonsai Basics' was published in February 2013. Harry continues to write for bonsai4me.com and further books are planned for the future. He teaches and runs workshops in the area around London and is frequently commissioned to undertake styling work on client's trees. Harry specializes in turning poor quality material into works of art and enjoys the challenge of styling 'unsuitable' material for bonsai. Harry rarely shows his trees to the public, preferring to keep a relatively low-profile within the standard Club and Show circuits.

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Bonsai4me - Harry Harrington


Introduction to Bonsai4me

www.bonsai4me.com started life as a collection of private notes about bonsai that were first published as 'Species Guides' by Harry Harrington in 2001; the first comprehensive study of plant species suitable for bonsai available online.

Since that time Bonsai4me has grown on an annual basis and now attracts over 1.5 million different visitors each year from around the world.

The success and popularity of the 'Progression Series' (articles and photoseries showing the development of a bonsai over many years) in Bonsai4me.com has led to Harry Harrington writing and publishing 2 books on the subject via B4MePublishing; Bonsai Inspirations 1 published in 2011 and Bonsai Inspirations 2 , published in 2012.

Chapter 1 An Introduction To Bonsai

The word bonsai comes from the Chinese words pun sai, meaning quite literally ‘tree in a pot’.

Originally a practice of containerising ancient wild trees in China, bonsai was exported to Japan around 500 years ago where it has become an art form. Regarded as a novelty in the West until the early 20th century, Bonsai has now been embraced as a serious horticultural art form by the Gardening Establishment here in Britain and the West as a whole.

Prunus incisa 'Kojo-no-mai'/Fuji Cherry 'mame' bonsai by Harry Harrington

The ‘tree’ can be a vine, a shrub or a tree. A common misconception for beginners is that the plants used for bonsai are ‘dwarf’ plants or even ‘special bonsai plants’. Quite simply, bonsai are everyday shrubs, trees and vines. For this reason, they go through their normal seasonal phases, flowering, fruiting and shedding leaves. Bonsai require the great outdoors in the same way that their ‘untrained’ garden counterparts do.

Trees growing in the wild can elicit a number of emotions in all of us; they can be powerful statements of age and strength as well as beauty as this Cedrus Libani photographed at Tattoon Park in Cheshire does.

Plants have evolved over thousands of years to take advantage of natural light, wind, rain and seasonal changes. Cultivating them in the unnatural environment of our homes mean they have to cope with poor light and low humidity levels. Your tree may be able to ‘exist’ for a few months indoors but it will never thrive. Continual indoor cultivation for outdoor trees nearly always results in death unless the tree is given a position outside to regain its health. There are a few plants that will cope with indoor cultivation for short periods of time; often these are tropical species that require winter protection against the cold, but even tropical species need outdoor conditions after the threat of frost has passed in the Spring.

Or create a feeling of serenity and calmness as this old Salix caprea growing out over the River Great Ouse does.

Some trees can remind us of lost memories of forgotten times and places as these Fagus/Beech in the Chiltern hills do.

One important concept a beginner has to understand when undertaking the art of Bonsai, is that the plant retains its small stature through regular pruning, without which it will simply continue to grow until it no longer resembles a bonsai but an ordinary garden plant or tree. Though the roots of a bonsai are annually pruned, this is not to ‘dwarf’ it. Root pruning produces a small densely packed rootball that enables the plant to be planted in a suitably scaled container. Without root pruning the plant becomes pot-bound and loses its health and vigour. By the process of removing around 1/3 of the roots each year new soil can be introduced to the pot and room is given to allow new roots to grow.

Bonsai can vary in height from a few centimetres to a metre. There is no strict height limit. It is simply that the tree is cultivated in a pot and creates an image of an ancient tree in nature. A bonsai containing an Oak a metre high may seem large for a ‘miniature’ tree until you consider that Oaks will regularly reach 50 meters when left unpruned!

Not all trees are necessarily things of beauty but will still conjure emotions in all of us; the trunkbase of this old gnarled Quercus robur photographed in Croatia displays so much age and resilience, it is difficult not to admire it.

When first starting out styling and pruning your first trees you will discover there are many aesthetic ‘rules’ in Bonsai, however these should only be regarded as guidelines and you should try to observe and replicate the image of trees that are around you. Try to create a tree that inspires you whilst retaining the feeling that it could actually exist on the side of a mountain or deep in a valley.

A bonsai should create an image which makes it worthy of repeated inspection whilst retaining its natural beauty and shape.

Fagus sylvantica/Common Beech bonsai by Harry Harrington

Current height of bonsai; 22"/55cm

Originally collected by Craig Coussins/Peter Adams during the late 1970's, and grown as part of a forest planting for many years, finally being purchased as a single tree by myself in 2001.

The fine tracery of the branches of the Beech bonsai

Chapter 2 Starting Out In Bonsai

Although bonsai can be very daunting to newcomers when they first start out, in reality it is as simple as you make it. There are many species and varieties of trees available to grow, many new techniques that can be learnt to improve bonsai appearance and a seemingly unfathomable quantity of do's and don'ts, the most important aspect as a beginner is to learn how to simply maintain the shape of your tree and keep it alive.

Learn to look after your first tree successfully and your confidence grows enough to widen your horizons and successfully learn more advanced techniques such as reselling and creating bonsai. But don't run before you walk. The first fundamental rules to learn when embarking on this Art is that you are dealing with something living and ever-changing; the basic rules of horticulture need be learnt before you can successfully maintain your tree.

There are many bonsai techniques available for the bonsai enthusiast to use to reach the ultimate goal of a beautiful tree. Confusingly, information available on the many bonsai web sites and books can often be contradictory. It should be understood that for every objective such as repotting, pruning or styling there are a 100 different techniques or viewpoints. Some are based on horticultural fact, some are based on horticultural myth and some are based on horticultural luck!! In fact many of these techniques will work to one degree or another; unfortunately though not killing your tree, some advice and/or techniques can result in diminished vigour as your trees cope under stress, whilst sound advice based on simple horticultural fact can only improve the health, appearance and vigour of your tree. It is for you to learn which techniques work for you and your tree in your given situation.

Ligustrum ovalifolium/Common Privet Bonsai. Height 15"/37cm. Developed by Harry Harrington from an old hedgerow tree collected in 2004.


Nearly all beginners start out by buying a bonsai from a garden centre, shopping mall or (hopefully) a reputable dealer and are often given summary advice.

Unfortunately, unless you buy your tree from a reputable bonsai dealer, you may well have started on the back foot. The most common misunderstanding that beginners have (and bonsai forum posts can confirm this) is that Bonsai are still trees and need outdoor living conditions.

Trees need good light, good humidity levels, good air circulation and importantly, many species NEED the cold of winter to go dormant. Inside our homes, trees receive comparatively poor light levels and the dry air/low humidity levels created by modern day central heating systems can cause many problems. There are species that will tolerate indoor conditions and with the correct placement and care can thrive; there are also some species that are not hardy enough to tolerate the winter cold.

But, these are in the minority. It is far more difficult to cultivate indoor bonsai than outdoor bonsai. Outdoor species very rarely die immediately when grown inside, they can survive for months. However they slowly lose their health and vigour in the adverse conditions they have to cope with, and become susceptible to bugs and disease until they finally start to show outward signs of ill-health; yellowing leaves, lose of foliage and eventually death.

Unfortunately, unscrupulous dealers take advantage of this delayed response to poor care and will display and sell outdoor trees as indoor bonsai. A tree purchased from such a retailer may have been grown inside for weeks or months and can be near death without any outward sign. The most common bonsai to cause problems for beginners are Conifers and very often Junipers. There is NO coniferous species that can tolerate indoor cultivation for more than 2 or 3 years. It is worth referring to individual plant/tree Species Guides to establish whether you have a tree that can be grown inside or not.

Juniperus chinensis 'San Jose'/ Juniper bonsai. Height 17/42cm, trunkbase diameter 5/12.5cm. Styled over 3 weeks during late 2011 by Harry Harrington


This seemingly easy technique is the second most common cause of Bonsai-related problems. Underwatering or allowing the compost to dry out completely will instantly kill or badly damage most trees; however 'overwatering' can just as equally cause ill-health and eventual death from rootrot and disease.

'Overwatering' is something of a misnomer; if a bonsai is planted in well-drained soil it is literally impossible to overwater. Root-rot is the result of a tree growing in poor-draining soil that remains wet and importantly, is airless, causing the roots to die.

The most important rule to remember is that trees should be CHECKED for their water requirement daily but should only be watered as required. Never, never, water to a routine, this can lead to continually sodden compost which literally suffocates the roots. The surface of the compost MUST be starting to dry out between watering, then the tree can be thoroughly watered again. The time between watering can vary from 12 hours to 7 days depending on factors such as prevailing temperatures, wind and humidity levels.

Small-Leaved Lime/Tilia cordata bonsai. Height 22"/56cm. Developed from a pencil-thick sapling by Harry Harrington since 2001


Don't fiddle! The temptation for beginners is to continually fiddle with their tree(s), cutting bits off here and there, continually watering, misting, moving them around etc etc. Checking daily for water requirements and possible health problems is necessary, but otherwise leave the tree to grow and simply enjoy it.

Pruning back to shape is necessary but don't continually jump onto every out of place leaf. In order to keep the tree healthy and vigorous it needs to be able to grow freely at times. It is also important to remember timing is very important, don't carry out jobs such as repotting or major restyling at the wrong time of the year as this can lead to poor health in the tree and lack of vigour. A tree repotted at the wrong time of year for instance may survive if you are lucky, it may even grow a bit, but, it will very rarely reward you with vigour.

Pruning and Repotting

Bonsai need to be pruned, this keeps them small, an unpruned bonsai simply becomes an ordinary tree. This is an area that you need to investigate once the basics of watering and placement are understood. If

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