One of the most fascinating hobbies is the raising of trees from seeds sown directly in a shallow container in order to learn how to grow bonsai. If the seedlings are allowed to grow for a few years, they appear like a miniature forest; the same may be done with cuttings. The bonsai basics include first selecting a tree suitable for cultivation. I will mention here some suitable varieties.
Peaches and Pears. Though rarely seen as dwarfed potted trees they make lovely ones. These are, with a few exceptions, called by the “dignified” connoisseurs merely “potted lowering trees”
Birches. By planting several very young seedlings a few inches high in a shallow container the shape of a rectangle or an ellipse (with a depth of two inches or more, and about one by two feet, or less) the beautiful scenes of a birch community are easily achieved in less than ten years.
Every birch that attains one to two feet in height is limited and kept to that height easily, and needs only pinching to regulate growth. The dwarfed trees possess the fine slender white-barked trunks, with handsome foliage. I highly recommend that you try birch. Place the container, in summer, into another larger and shallower basin filled with water and carry it to your room. It will be cheerful to both the birches and yourself.
Pines. Pines, the inhabitants of the poor, dry, sandy soils, become weakened or die off if the drainage is poor in the containers. But as pines are vigorous in their nature, the repotting is only necessary once in every three or four years. With deciduous trees it is generally better to repot each year. In either case, the best season for reporting is in the spring.
The bonsai basics involve removing the tree from the container, with its ball of soil. Very long roots will be seen on the underside; these must be shortened rather severely. Some soil should be removed from all faces of the ball, and the exposed root and rootlets cut off. In repotting, put coarse sand sparingly on the bottom of the same container; place the pine on the sand and fill the container with new soil to take the place of the old.
For dwarfed and denser growth, pinching of new growth must not be neglected. As the tree becomes older the pinching should be lighter. The thickly cork-barked Black Pines are much admired for their trunks; the bark is thicker than the trunk itself. Japanese Red Pines are not much appreciated, but their slender trunks with impressive reddish bark are very ornamental-whether planted singly or several trees together in a container.
It is more difficult for the average fancier to keep the branches and twigs of Red Pine healthy. The Japanese White Pine (Pinus parvifiora) is extensively grown and dwarfed, though there are also many naturally dwarfed, aged trees of this species. Pines symbolize longevity.
Japanese Flowering Apricots. If you are in Japan in the midst of winter, you will see Japanese homes with flowering apricots (Prunus mume) in dwarfed potted forms. There are numerous named varieties, single flowered or semi-double, upright and weeping. These dwarfed potted Mumes bring life-long joy with their delightful and very sweet fragrant blooms in late winter and early spring. Just after the blooms have faded, every shoot or twig that bloomed should be shortened to the lowest one or two buds, from which new growth soon comes to replace the twigs that were removed.
Bamboo. The bamboos are dwarfed by peeling off the sheath, one a day, while the shoots are very young. The dwarfed potted bamboos are very decorative indoors and out.
Learn the art of bonsai with these basics and enjoy your cultivation of these lovely potted trees!