Bonsai (盆栽) is a beautiful art form in Japan that aims to blend horticultural skills with Japanese aesthetics. Its two kanji—bon (盆) meaning basin or tray and sai (裁) meaning planting—literally translates to “planted in a basin” or container. Bonsai trees are intended to bring the core aspects of nature – balance, harmony, and simplicity – into your home or workplace.
Being in nature nourishes us and feeds our souls. However, most of us don’t have space in our gardens to grow large trees or enough time to spend in woodlands. This is where bonsai comes in – we can keep numerous trees inside our homes or office, and they don’t need much space.
In this video, we are coming up with a qualified Bonsai Artist who has attended many workshops of Bonsai Masters like Peter Chan and Susumu Nakamura, and Hirau Nakamura, who will teach us the art of making Bonsai. So watch this workshop which was conducted on Saturday 27th Nov 4-5 pm, based on “Basics of Bonsai to be with Nature” with our speaker Mrs. Shailaja Krishna. She has learned many Bonsai skills by talking and walking with Bonsai Masters from Japan, Thailand, the USA, and Dubai. Through her Instagram page bonsaikapilaas she provides training material for Bonsai Enthusiast, sells Bonsai plants, conducts Bonsai training classes in the art of Bonsai for interested students, she also conducts group workshops which include Demonstrations and practical sessions, and Terrarium making Classes are also held regularly. To learn more visit “bonsaikapilaas”
Shailaja Ma’am and her tips for bonsai making:
“Hello, everyone. Today we have with us, Miss Shaileja Krishna. Today’s workshop is on Bonsai basics, and Ma’am is an expert at it. She conducts workshops on various platforms, and today she will tell us about the basics of bonsai. So, let’s just start without further delay,” said Zehra.
“I started a few years back as a hobby. For doing bonsai, many people think they have to give in a lot of effort, which is not the case. I started with a fighter’s plant, and gathering information was actually quite tough 30 years back. So, Bon means a shallow container that is a pot having very less depth. The plant growing in a shallow container is called a Bonsai. It started 2000 years ago in China, and it was modernized by Japan. There is a lot of difference in the bonsais depending upon the countries. The Japanese Bonsai is different, the Chinese one is different, and so is the case with the various different countries. It is also related to Jainism and Buddhism, where they give importance to five different elements: The panchabhutas, water, sky, Air, and Fire. This bonsai is similar to meditation, and you will need a lot of concentration for the same.
When you are starting a bonsai, the first thing required is the seed. There is no specific bonsai seed in the market. You can give a shape to the plant when it is growing with you. For example, when you’re planting a mango plant, it would take a few years to fruit. Once it starts fruiting, you can put it in a bonsai pot,” said Shaileja.
“So, we can shape the Bonsai even when it is in a bigger pot?”
“Yes, of course. It can be done.
Now the second one is when you are creating a bonsai from branches. Many plants can be grown from branches. First, we have to take a branch and cut it in a horizontal manner, and put honey and dalchini powder mix at the base. Then, it would start giving out branches. After three years, you can shift it to a bonsai pot. The third one is Grafted material. Chiku, mango, etc., are grafted materials we are getting from the nursery, which would give us fruits in 2-3 years. There are two things in grafting: in the first process, we take a branch, remove the bark, and we are putting some dalchini and honey, and we are putting a plastic pot beneath. So, the roots will grow gradually. After some time, we can cut a branch and use it as a bonsai. In grafting, we have a one-year-old plant, and we are taking another 15-year-old mango tree. We are taking a branch from the plant and planting it by the mango tree in the same thickness of soil. We bind them together, and from next year onwards, it starts giving fruits. There will be a difference in the bark, after all, due to their age gap. We can buy grafted plants from nurseries and then make them into bonsai,” said Shaileja.
“Can we make bonsai of a papaya plant?”
“No. Papaya, coconut, etc., are not have any branches. They give big fruits. If you try to put them in pots to make bonsais, the fruit size decreases due to lack of space. So, it is preferable not to go for making bonsais out of these plants. However, you can try mango, chiku, etc., since they would give fruits of considerable size,” said Shaileja.
“Do we have to wait for all the fruiting trees to reach their fruiting period before they can be shifted to bonsai pots?”
“Actually, once the fruiting starts after that if you transplant it, then the fruiting will continue as normal. However, if the fruiting has not started, and you put it into bonsai, you have to fertilize the soil every month because there is a lack of proper manuring and other needs in the thin layer of bonsai soil. If you stop fertilizing, it will not get the required nutrients, and there will be a long gap in fruiting.
We see a wild collection of plants growing on constructions and buildings. You can bring that home and make bonsai from those as well. Let the plant settle to the surrounding since it won’t be having proper nutrients in the wild surrounding. It takes some time for it to grow, but gradually it will grow new leaves. This wild collection, such as Banyan, and peepal, can give very good bonsai plants.
The last category includes nursery plants. We need to give proper shape to the plant, and we need to make it into bonsai. It is called ready bonsai,” said Shaileja.
“Do we need any special pots for the bonsai?”
“Yes, pot selection is very important. Eptom pots have a lot of micropores, and hence the plant can absorb air from the atmosphere. After some time, you may find a moss sort of structure on the pot. Hence, after 2-3 years, it is breakable. That is why we aren’t using Epsom pots. The plastic pots are not porous. Hence, we won’t be using them. Cement pots aren’t suitable either because it absorbs a lot of heat which can damage the roots inside the pot. Lastly, we have ceramic pots, which are made with ceramic clay. They are slightly porous. Now, the pot should be shallow, it should have holes for drainage, and it should have legs below the holes.
Now, there are different colors and shapes of bonsai pots. You need to take light-colored pots for bonsai, brown color, etc. If you take colored bonsai pots, your eyes will naturally go toward those colors. The color of the pot should be balanced with the plant and not dominate over the plant.
There are various shapes of pots: Oval, rectangular, glass-like, and round. Depending on the shape of the pot, the plant will adjust its style. If it is a slanting plant, we can put it in an oval or rectangular shape. You need to place it accordingly so that the flow of the plant remains within the pot. For round pots, we are using bunjin style, where the flow of plants will be downwards. When we are going for Bonsais, we need to observe and study the nature of the plant- how the primary branch and secondary branches are spreading. You will find age differences in the branches- the primary branch will be thick, secondary ones will be thin. Accordingly, we will go for the styles of the plants.
- The first style is the formal upright style, where the plant grows straight. The pot, in this case, will be oval or rectangular.
- Then there is the informal upright style, where the top portion will grow in a bent shape. We put them in an oval pot.
- In rock-grown bonsai, on the rocks, plants are growing. We use oval pots for them.
- We have the driftwood style, for which are taking a hardwood and placing it in front of the plant.
- In multi-trunk style, at the same place, three or more trunks would be coming out at the same place.
- In raft style, all the rafts will be coming out from one place.
- We have cascade-style bonsai, for which we need long pots to replicate the nature in which it grows.
- In gunjin style, we are taking a round pot.
- We have landscaping, which can be done with one plant or even more than one.
- In forest style, we place the plants on one side while the plants grow on the other. So, the entire growth remains on one side. They are two types: formal and informal. The tropical ones are informal forest types, while the formal forest type includes coniferous forest plants.
There are three sizes of bonsai: big, medium, and small or manne bonsai. Plants around 4 feet are big bonsais. However, it varies continually. If it is below 4 feet, it is medium bonsai. Two to twelve inches bonsais are small bonsais. Any plant that fits in your palm is shoheen bonsai. The ones that fit in your fingers are kaishi bonsai,” said Shaileja.
“Is there any criterion about which plant can be grown as large bonsais or small ones, or is it completely our choice?”
“For manne bonsais, generally, we take the small leaf ones. Likewise, the pattern follows for the medium and large bonsais.
The bonsai soil is also very important. They are of two types: bottom soil and bonsai soil. The bottom soil consists of only the big pieces and pumice stones, which are porous in nature and give coolness to the plant. For bonsai soil, we use three materials to make the mix: the first is garden soil, which needs to be cleared of stones and other such things. We use small pumice stones or very small brick pieces in it. Thirdly, we use dried cow dung in the soil. We take one part of garden soil, one part of pumice stones, and three parts of cow dung. Don’t take vermicompost since the pot is very small. It may lead to the development of worms,” said Shaileja.
“Can we create yellow bamboo bonsai?”
“Yes, in fact, most Chinese people make up bamboo bonsais. It is also a good choice for landscaping.”
“How to control the Singapore cherry bonsai leaf size?”
“Reduction in leaf size actually takes 10-20 years. Every year you need to defoliate the leaves. When new leaves develop gradually, they will be smaller in size.”
“Next, I will show you how you can shape some of the bonsais. The tools include:
- Sharp scissors
- Wild cutters
- Anodized aluminum wires, should be able to move freely. Depending on the plant, we will select the gauge of the plant.
Firstly, clear the main trunk line. While you are removing secondary branches, you can use those to make secondary bonsai. Always cut above the node, not at the nodal point, or else it will result in drying up of the area due to lack of water supply. We can give a shape like this, and this is called the clip and grow method. We only cut the branches to make the bonsai by this process,” said Shaileja.
“While selecting a plant from the nursery, do we need to look out for the age of the plant?”
“Yeah, you need to check the health, the structure of the plant; everything needs to be studied prior to selecting a bonsai.
For littering styles, we need to wire the plant after the cutting process is done. When willing to wire a plant, stop watering a day prior to it.”
“How often do we need to water the plant?”
“It depends heavily upon the place where you are keeping it and the weather. If it is under direct sunlight, water it every day. If under shade, water on alternate days. Simply check by putting a finger in the soil. If it remains dry, water it; else, don’t. So, you can do the wiring based on what shape you are aspiring to get. You can also do slight cutting and trimming if needed. Now, before potting the plant, we need to take a 4-5 inches wire, then put it in a U shape. It should fit the pothole size to prevent soil seepage. We will also apply a mesh on the hole for the same purpose. To keep the plant stable, you need to tie the plant. Then, put in a little amount of bottom soil to cover the drainage holes, and on that, we put in the bonsai soil,” said Shaileja.
“When do we prune the roots, and how often?”
“When you are repotting the plants, about once in a year. If you are not able to find proper root growth, then also you need to prune them.”
“You need to trim down new branches at least once in six months. For the first three months, do not put any fertilizer; post that period, start with organic ones once in a month. Gradually after a few months, you can also add NPK. After repotting, keep it in a shady area at least for first fifteen days,” said Shaileja.
“Thank you so very much, ma’am, for such an interesting and informative session. It was a pleasure connecting with you today.”