Pearls of Bonsai Wisdom
- Apples are not oranges; maples are not beeches. All deciduous trees cannot be handled the same. Some are more vigorous; some are more brittle. Therefore, know your trees. If you are not sure how trees will react, ask someone or go by the book.
- Small pot = small trunk. You can’t build a large trunk in a small pot. Therefore, plant the tree in an extra-large pot or in the ground until the desired trunk size is achieved. If you admire a small plant because of its nice branches, don’t expect to grow it into a large plant. Buy trunks, or trunks and superb roots — everything else is easy.
- Branches feed roots; roots feed branches. Balance is important, but don’t balance by removing all energy sources. Living bonsai are best. Therefore, don’t do major surgery on both roots and branches at the same time.
- Bad when young – bad when old. Trees usually don’t grow out of their major flaws. Therefore, remove large flaws (bulges, bar branches, coarse branches) early, or choose plants without such flaws. Trunks can’t easily be changed — choose your trunk carefully. Roots can be grafted or layered; branches and twigs can be re-grown. Bad trunks last forever.
- Summer friendly – winter not. Leaves hide or distract from flaws in the summer. Winter reveals everything. Therefore, if you don’t want to correct the tree’s flaws, show the tree in full leaf.
- Long straight – cannot wait. Straight is the enemy of quality in deciduous bonsai. Long and straight branches show your impatience - or that you haven’t mastered the concept of scale. Therefore, let new shoots grow to 3-5 nodes (depending upon the thickening desired) to build strength in the shoots; then, shorten to one node. Change direction with each node for best refinement. Rule of thumb: no node greater than 3/4″ in length; for shohin, no node greater than 1/4″-1/2″ in length.
- Many twigs – small leaves. Leaf size takes care of itself. Therefore, don’t worry about the size of leaves. Create more twigs and the size of leaves will shrink. Defoliation produces more twigs and usually also reduces the size of leaves.
- Bonsai imitates nature, not other bonsai. Use nature as your guide for tree and branch shape. Deciduous trees should not look like pines. Therefore, don’t remove all flaws; some are features. Don’t remove all up or down twigs – they add three dimensions to the branches and help to keep the branches from looking too stilted. Foliage “pads” don’t always exist on deciduous trees. Twigs and texture are an acceptable substitute.
- Best trees better. Not all your trees are equal. Concentrate your efforts on the best ones to make them better. Therefore, if you have more trees than you can attend to each year, give your attention to the best trees to ensure that they become even better.