Last week, you learned a little bit about what bonsai trees are and what types of plants could be used to make a bonsai. This week you'll find out how to plant them and prepare them to become dwarfed.
Early spring is an ideal time to start a bonsai. The main growing season is just starting for most plants. Some tropical plants can be potted at any time. You will need your plant, sharp scissors, a pot with at least one drain hole, a small piece of plastic canvas or screening, a small, sturdy stick such as a chopstick and a good grade of potting soil that is loose and won't compact when it is wet.
To start, allow the soil to dry slightly on your chosen plant or tree. This makes it easier to remove it from its pot. Sharply tap the sides of the pot to loosen it. Then gently remove it from the pot.
To clean the old soil away from the roots, gently shake the plant. A good deal of the dry soil will fall off. Then take your stick and gently begin to loosen and remove the soil. Sometimes it is necessary to wash the roots to loosen compacted soil.
Do as little damage as possible to the the fine, hairlike roots. You will lose some of them, but don't worry. It won't kill the plant.
Next, cut away approximately one-third to one-half of the roots. Obviously, the less you need to remove, the better it will be for your plant. Cut evenly around the plant.
Look at your plant, then decide where the front of the tree will be and what style you can train it into. See how the branches grow. Are they very full on one side? Does it seem as if it wants to hang below the pot's edge? Is the trunk straight, slanted or twisted? Place your plant into the pot and see how it looks. Turn the plant. Turn the pot. Really look at what you have. When you decide what you want, it is time to put in new soil.
Place a piece of plastic mesh or screening over the hole(s) to prevent soil from trickling out. If you have chosen a very shallow pot that may not offer the plant much support, you can run a piece of copper wire through the hole(s) to secure your plant later.
Remember that the soil you use serves two purposes. It must support your bonsai and it will feed your plant. Place a shallow layer of soil on the bottom of the pot and place your plant in the chosen position. Spread the roots on all sides of the plant. This will stabilize it and help it grow evenly.
If you are using wire to hold your tree in the pot, now is the time to carefully wire it in place. Don't plant your tree flush with the top. Allow it to sit slightly above the pot lip, much like a tree in the wild sits on a small hill. Next begin to fill in with soil, using the chopstick to gently work it in between the roots. Continue this until the roots are covered. It is a nice finishing touch to run the soil through screening and use the resulting fine soil on the top of your plant. You can place moss or some small plant, like artillery plant, on the surface to help hold the soil in place.
Now you must water your bonsai. The easiest way to do that is to set it in a pan of water that reaches just below the lip of your pot. Let it sit in the water until you can see that the surface is completely damp. Lift it out and let it drain.
Place your bonsai in an area where it will receive bright light but not direct sun or wind. Your tree may lose a few leaves. Don't worry. It needs a few days to recover from the shock of transplanting. In a week or two, it may be moved into a place where it will receive more sunlight.
There are very few plants that can't be used to make bonsai. As you do more you'll be tempted to try just about everything. Go ahead. If you lose a plant, don't feel bad. Even bonsai masters have that happen. Sometimes a plant just won't grow, no matter what you do. Just hang in there and have fun.